all nightmarish on the western front.

Parental leave has been hellacious, and I don’t say that lightly. This is the first significant (longer than a couple weeks) break I’ve had from either work or school since the late nineties, so to say I was looking forward to it would be an understatement. Here’s a birth story and some haphazardly gathered notes from the front…

The birth

Contractions started at 1:29pm while I was at work but were very sporadic, so I wasn’t sure it was “real” labor yet or if they’d just die down again as they had earlier in the week. Once I was home and we were getting dinner going, they were significantly closer together so  I started tracking them with an app. 4pm, 4:12pm, 4:23pm, 4:32pm. It was the real deal.

I let the midwives know, and I texted Mom to let her know so she could come over and stay with Morella when we had to leave. I remember bathtime being a bit stressful because I was starting to get ~uncomfortable~ and she wanted me to play with ponies etc. as usual. She knew the baby was coming though, so Mom had some trouble wrangling her once they were in bed and she was supposed to be sleeping. At one point we made popcorn to eat while we watched Kimmy Schmidt and dealt with contractions, and she came bounding down the stairs all “I want some popcorn!” That smell travels fast.

Things got significantly more painful after about 10pm, and I talked to the midwife on call pretty regularly into the wee hours as things progressed. I remember at one point I thought for sure she would tell us to come on in, but she said that my voice just didn’t sound super stressed so she figured I could do some more work at home. I was like “That’s fine but I can assure you, I am indeed getting stressed. I just have one of those calm voices.” I must have one of those voices / countenances that is just like –____– even when freaking out on the inside. My mind flashed back to times in college when people would be like “You were drunk last night? Really? Huh you seemed totally sober” and now they’re all like “Your labor must not be all that intense because you seem fine.”

Anyway, by this point I was feeling exhausted and crummy, and she suggested we do the Miles Circuit and call her back. I complainingly complied, with Matt arranging pillows for me and seeming totally nonplussed. When I called back she told me to try relaxing in a chair with my head on the bed to see if I could doze a little between contractions for about an hour or so. I did, and it worked a little. I finally called back and said I just felt like it was time for me to come in before it got more painful.

We headed to the hospital, which is about a four minute drive away. The contractions I had in the car were memorable, because having to be in a normal seated position and unable to stand up / lean on something was pretty horrible at that point in the night. We actually snagged one of those “Stork parking” spots in the hellscape that is the visitor parking deck, so that was a win. The nice thing about hospitals is that when you’re hobbling around and stopping to make pained faces every few feet, nobody gives you a second look. By the time we made it through the labyrinthine halls over to Labor & Delivery, checked in (you try signing forms and remembering today’s date with blazing pain shooting through your bod), and were shown to our room, it was around 3:30am.

The midwife came around to check me, and I remember her head popping up immediately like “Wow you’re ready to have a baby!” No waiting for labor to progress for a billion years like last time because thankfully, it already had. She said it wouldn’t be long now and that we would probably start pushing as soon as my water broke. “I’m proud of you; you did almost all the work at home!” She and the nurse commented on how cool and collected I seemed. I do have experience with remote work, so that’s not surprising.

Lowkey though I was starting to get scared because there’s not really any other way to feel when your body is under so much pressure, and this is where things become kind of a blur. Matt arranged some Christmas lights and put on some music. I changed into my labor dress and the nurse started filling up the tub so I could labor in there for a while. The only thing that was remotely comfortable for me was to stand leaning against the metal door jamb to the bathroom, and that was only a marginal improvement over any other position at this point. I remember being super thirsty and drinking tons of water, but my mouth and throat felt like a desert regardless. I was still getting over the truly horrible upper respiratory infection I had had for the past week, so I ate a bunch of cough drops. Never thought I’d be glad Luden’s was there for me during childbirth.

When the bath was ready, I hopped in and kneeled with my head resting on the side of the tub. This was the only comfort measure that significantly relieved the pain for me during the whole labor. I think I told the nurse that the water felt “amazing.” It makes sense, with something pressing down so hard, that the buoyancy of the water would give you at least some relief. After only like 10 or 15 minutes though, my water broke (I always thought it would be hard to tell if it had happened or not, but it was unmistakable), and I immediately turned panicky because contractions suddenly hurt way worse. It felt like one of those Looney Toons anvils was resting on my pelvis, but that image was not even remotely funny at the time. I said “I need to get out” and everyone helped me stumble to the bed, where I climbed onto my hands and knees with my head resting on my arms, which were resting on the raised, sitting-upright head of the bed.

The midwife told me to push when the next contraction came. She explained that when the baby came out, she would catch it and then hand it up to me through my legs. I must have pushed for about an hour, but looking back it seems impossible that it could have lasted that long because the pain was so horrendous. For all my being a pretty pain-tolerant person, this pushed me well beyond my limits. I remember feeling real terror and thinking I might very well die, as it didn’t seem like it was going to end. In my head I knew that everybody reaches this point in labor, and I said as much, but knowing that you can get through something in your head doesn’t help the actual feeling of pain when it comes. I was like “I guess I’m going to be one of those people who gets to this part and demands an epidural.” But of course it was too late for that. So I just defeatedly chanted “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.” The nurse and midwife were very reassuring and kept saying we were almost there and that I was doing great, but the only thing that comforted me at all was the nurse’s hand lighting rubbing my back and Matt holding my right hand.

I have nothing else in this life to compare the feeling to, but the closest thing I can mentally conceive of is being eviscerated. It’s what I can only imagine being eviscerated would feel like. It truly felt like I was being split in two.

Finally the midwife said something that made it click for me — “You have to relax into the pain. You have to let her come.” I think when you’re feeling any type of all-consuming pain like that, especially one that’s pressing down hard on you, your instinct is to be entirely tense as you fight to survive it. But what you actually need to do is somehow both push and relax at the same time. As soon as she said that, on the next push the head came out. It’s a super weird feeling to have a wriggling human hanging halfway out of you while you wait for the next contraction. I can’t even imagine how weird it must have been for her. I was literally screaming “Get her out of me!” as if anybody could accomplish that except for…me. Finally I pushed with all my might and she came out with a gradualness that seemed really nonchalant for the amount of effort I was putting in. The midwife handed her up to me but I was really sweaty and fatigued, and she was slippery as heck, so I remember yelling “I can’t hold her! I can’t hold her!” and everybody had to help me hold her. We somehow got me flipped over and I held her on my chest and she held her head up (right at birth! just like Morella!) and looked all around.

All in all, I tracked about 148 contractions between 1:29pm and 4:30am (after we arrived at hospital and got settled in, I stopped tracking). Coraline was born at 5:50am.

Those first few days

Is there anything quite as soul-crushing as a cluster feeding infant who’s eaten continuously from 6:58pm to 12:35am and is nowhere near sleepy, who you finally have to demand be taken away from your room to you don’t care where because you’re starting to lose it? Noting, of course, that you have literally one job right now and that’s to nourish the child, which you clearly can’t do? No? Okay just checking.

The curious case of the missing umbilical cord stump

So much depends on a
Missing umbilical cord stump
And the creeping wonder about
How it came off
And how it disappeared, to parts unknown,
So far away from her person 🤔

(Matt found it like a week later, buried somewhere in the folds of our bedsheets ugh)

Sleep when I’m dead

The first six weeks or so, Cora would not sleep anywhere except for latched onto my breast, in my arms right next to my breast, or occasionally in the arms of her dad or grandparents. The car and the stroller would usually work too, but were not as available as a person might want since it was the dead of winter. One momentous day Lianna came over and she slept for several hours straight, in the stroller and then at Lianna’s foot as she rocked the carseat gently. But mostly I spent my days and nights bent over her little form in the glider or the bed, wondering when my aching back and neck and stiff hands were going to give out.F I N A L L Y we got her to go down during the night in her bassinet, and the sensation of stretching out my body fully horizontally for the first time in over a month was sublime.

I’d like to thank my constant companions during this awful time: The Crown on Netflix, and the mobile games Two Dots and Words With Friends. New skill unlocked: preparing and drinking a pot of decaf coffee with one hand.

New playlist

I put together a mini Spotify playlist to commemorate this truly rest-less period in my life. These songs were on repeat in my mind while going through all this biz. Enjoy.

A house amok

It occurs to me that this special torture of powerlessness to run your own household is probably most debilitating to someone like me who loves to run a tight (read: orderly and calm) household: the feeling of being utterly off schedule and letting everything go is actually completely unnatural to me and contributes to the weird out-of-it sensation of having a new baby. Probably people who are more tolerant of chaos have a less difficult time with the dialing-up of disorder that happens when your routine is toast. Aaaaand those are the people in this world who have a lot of kids. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Don’t get me wrong, I’m envious of that superpower. The ability to not feel utterly unglued when your responsibilities are swirling around you is something I’d love to possess. As it stands, if I ever became an X-Man I’m sure my superpower would be something like the ability to change all overhead lighting into lamps with a single glance. 💪

Reasons my kid is crying

She hasn’t eaten in 30 mins
She hasn’t eaten in 12 mins
She hasn’t eaten in 3 hours
She hasn’t eaten in 4 mins
Dirty diaper
She hasn’t eaten in 6 mins

Colicky baby hates everything, wants to make sure you do too

I will never forget the depressing merry-go-round of screams that was Easter Sunday this year, a day that I’ll spare you the details of but that culminated in the foreign sound of my own scream bubbling up from my chest as I drove aimlessly on the abandoned rural roads around my parents’ house, trying to calm Cora down after an unsuccessful afternoon. I was a single raw nerve, weeping through the evening and then lying awake, though thoroughly exhausted, jumping at every little noise she made.

Finally I got up and wrote a long post about being in this cycle of sleep deprivation and nervousness about her constantly wanting to nurse and not getting enough milk, but probably unable to produce enough because I’m nervous and not sleeping well, and the biggest problem of all being that I can’t even get any real help from any of the many people who would love to help because she will not take a bottle, and all the million other worries associated with this problem. Thought better of posting it ultimately, and I never did make it back to sleep that night, but I’m grateful as always for being able to purge thoughts that need purging via the dependable old WordPress text editor.

Troubleshooting mode

This week I made many tearful phone calls, wrestled with the fact that our pediatrician cares 0% what else is going on as long as the baby is growing (and she is), and talked to other professionals in the realms of baby sleep and lactation, and got some good advice about the former and some validation about the latter. We’ve implemented a sleep schedule that basically boils down to crazy frequent naps (such that the entire day, you are literally either nursing or putting baby down for a nap or retrieving her from the last nap), and so far she has been much more chipper and alert when she’s awake. Some of the naps have even been significant ones lasting longer than 30 minutes. If it means less screaming, I’ll do anything.

The lactation consultant was super nice and sympathetic, and though she didn’t have a silver bullet for our problem she was also unable to bottle feed Cora, and noted how stubborn she is. Just seeing that and having that conversation was really validating and made us feel like we’re not just missing some obvious key to figuring this thing out.

Since in spite all of these difficulties Cora has already rolled over three times (!!!), we got her a crib on Thursday and set it up in her and Morella’s room. She still needs to be swaddled to keep her face-scratching and self-waking to a minimum, but her naps have been more solid and she’s been easier to put down. The last two nights have been the best nights of sleep I’ve had since 2017 because the baby is cute, but she’s a terrible roommate.

For the record, I do love Cora very much. Her smile could melt the ice caps, I just wish it were less infrequent. Here’s hoping, no praying, no begging, for better days ahead.

Because it is spring in Virginia, yesterday we walked the stroller to the park and played tag in 72-degree weather, and right now it’s dumping snow. And that about catches you up.

As most of the time I’m nursing or trying desperately to sneak in a stint of cleaning my house or my body, and unable to type with both hands, it took me four weeks to write this post. To make up for the lack of comic relief, here’s a picture of a car I saw recently with a 311 license plate. Goodbye! 💻