Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Beginning of the End of a Long Wait

The only element that the births of my son and daughter had in common was the waiting.  Well, and the cesareans, I suppose!

On my son's due date they gave me a sonogram.  What baby is this for you? the sonographer asked in a hesitant tone.  My first, I answered cheerfully.  Ummm... don't panic, but we're gauging him at just over nine pounds.  With an extra big head.  But maybe that's a mistake!  Let me look back at previous sonos!  Silence.  Oh.  No mistake.  He's always had an extra big head.

I was planning a natural birth in the birthing center attached to the hospital.  They did offer pain relief (this was my one requirement; I knew I wanted pain relief of some sort available!), but not an epidural.  The news from the sonogram shook me, but it felt too late to reconsider the birth plan.  It was my due date after all!

I waited nine days, and went into labor the night before I was scheduled to be induced at 41 and a half weeks.  I had rejected an earlier induction offer, still committed to the closest thing I could get to a natural birth, even though the reality of a great big first baby loomed larger in my mind as the days passed.

I was so pleased when I finally went into labor naturally, and again when I made it to ten centimeters (even though by this time my birth plan had been tossed out the window and I'd been transferred from the natural birthing center to the hospital for both Pitocin and an epidural), both signs (in my mind) that I would be able to birth this big baby.

In fact, I've believed for over two years now that if I had just been willing to push longer, eventually I very well might have birthed my son without the cesarean.  Two different doctors have disagreed with my amateur assessment, but I've stubbornly continued to believe what I believe, regardless.  None of us knows for absolute certain what might have happened, after all.

What I remember most vividly almost two and a half years after the fact though, is not the labor or the delivery. More than the failed attempt at natural birth, or the bitch of a nurse who put Pitocin in my IV when item #1 on the birth plan read: I do not want Pitocin during my labor. More than the relief of the epidural, or the disappointment when pushing and pushing did not result in any progress, and my younger sisters finally had to leave town before my son was born after waiting all day to meet him.

More than any of the vivid details of the day itself, I remember the waiting. The nine days between his due date when the sonogram offered the first confirmation that the child I carried in my belly was, indeed, as big as he felt to me (my OB-GYN, at 38 weeks told me: we have no reason to believe this is a big baby, when I expressed my concern that my belly felt a little out of control, as if I could clear forests by simply swaying side to side, if only they could figure out how to safely attach a blade large enough for the job). Those nine days were endless, an eternity of waiting, a purgatory I sat through; I remember it hazily, but I remember it well.

This time the waiting started --and ended-- earlier. Around 35 weeks I had a number of experiences where I thought I might be going into labor. Add to this my doctors repeated assertions that in my particular case it made sense to wait until my due date to allow a fair shot at a successful VBAC, but less and less sense to wait beyond it, especially if she seemed like another big baby as we got closer to the due date. And my chiropractor's repeated assertions that I was overproducing relaxin and my body felt soft, pliable, and ready for labor. When my coworkers moved my two baby showers up by a number of weeks because they couldn't watch me walk down the hall without fearing that I was going to go into labor momentarily it just felt like the stars were aligning. The waiting began in earnest about a month before my due date.

I had to report to the hospital at 6 am last Monday morning, and at 5 am, I was still waiting. I had worked through the middle of the month, finishing the last pay period before my due date. I had made it to my mom's arrival, which was hugely reassuring as far as child care for my son went. All weekend l I waited for signs that labor might start on its own, seeing some spotting that I thought was my mucus plug (it may have been, for all I know. It stopped after Friday morning.), continuing to experience Braxton-Hicks contractions and watching closely to see if they were anything I could consider regular, no matter how far apart (they weren't). I finished packing last minute items in the hospital bag, put on my coat, took my husband's hand, stepped out into the snowy early morning, and finally stopped waiting.

I'd wondered, when the waiting ended and the cesarean became a definite reality rather than a back up plan for a better possibility, if I'd be disappointed. But I wasn't. What I felt was peace. The sky was grey and white, with a bit of a yellow hue. It was so quiet. We drove to the hospital through some of the worst neighborhoods in the city. Everything was white, quiet and peaceful. We passed a black teenage boy on a bike, stopped to let him cross the street in front of our car. He gave us the teenage chin jut of greeting in return. He has no idea we're going to meet our daughter! I thought with a giddy sort of joy. It seemed like a magical secret that no one knew but us, alone in the quiet white morning, in the sleeping city.

We arrived at the hospital. I met my nurse and prepared for surgery. I met the surgical team and we proceeded with all the usual tests, pokes and pricks, weights and measures, questions and forms in triplicate, wrist bracelets amassing like silly bands in a classroom full of children. The surgery proceeded as planned, and when the doctor pulled my daughter from my belly he held her up over the curtain that blocked me from watching what they did to my insides, so that I could see her right away. Then they took her to warm and weigh and measure (she was 8 pounds, 10 ounces, significantly smaller than my son, though I shudder to think what she might have weighed had I not followed the diabetic diet, which prevented blood sugar spikes that act as a growth hormone on an unborn baby!) and begin her collection of wrist and ankle bracelets that marked her entry into this hospital, in this city, on this day, into our family.

My eyes filled with tears.

The waiting was really over now. And her life was beginning.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


She's here!  We're healthy and home from the hospital, released a day early to settle in and enjoy the holidays as a brand new family of four.  I couldn't be happier.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


It is the wee hours of the morning before Saturday begins.  There is no baby yet, at least not outside of my increasingly crowded womb.  I went in for my 38.5 week appointment just over a week ago, hoping for more good news: this baby is significantly smaller than your first; we anticipate a successful VBAC; oh look! you're already 5 cm dilated; would you care for an epidural while you wait for her imminent and painless birth?

Any of these options would have been pleasing to the ears.  In fact, at 36 weeks, the first two pieces of good news above were, indeed, what I received, and from one of the more pro-just-schedule-your-section-already doctors in the practice. 

But at 38 weeks instead I heard:  She's clocking in at over 8 lbs.  Hmmm, she appears to have gained about the same amount of weight as you have in the past two weeks.  How big was your son? (9 lbs, 15 oz)  And how late was he? (9 days)  Yeah, if we let you go that late, you very well might be looking at another baby that size.

To which I replied: What is she EATING in there!?  I'm on a DIET!  I haven't had sugar since AUGUST!  And then promptly developed an overwhelming craving for cheesecake which has neither been indulged nor abated in the past week plus.

But this time I was seeing one of the more pro-let's-try-this-VBAC-thing doctors in the practice, and so, while he did reiterate (which I've been told by multiple other doctors for some months now and more or less come to accept) that they don't want to wait past my due date, he was fine with waiting until my due date and trying the VBAC if she comes naturally by that time.

Tomorrow is her due date.  My mom is here.  My husband started his paternity leave yesterday afternoon.  I'm scheduled for a c-section first thing Monday morning.  And just as I began to wrap my head around the fact that I'm going to have a c-section, I began to lose my mucus plug.  Very slowly, over the past 24 hours.

Which, like the sonogram's estimated weight, could mean a great deal.  Or it might mean nothing at all.  After all these years, so much about birth is still a mystery.  My sister, a veteran of two home births, and I, awaiting and preparing for what might well turn out to be a repeat scheduled cesarean, talk often about how little is guaranteed, and how much available information is emotional and biased.

Which I suppose is preparation for parenting itself!  I'm more vulnerable to the shoulds and the ought-tos around birth.  My first experience turned out very different from the way I envisioned it.  I wasn't traumatized by it, nor even particularly disappointed, but I suppose I did have a story in my mind where I could "correct" the elements that didn't go according to my plan or my liking the first time with my second birth.  That this time, if I did everything right, if I tried hard enough, I could control the outcome.  It's always worth a shot, to try and do things right, to attempt to control your own fate.  But there is folly there too.

And so we wait.  And when she kicks me hard in the ribs I say to her father:  She's grounded after she gets here for that one.  But then I think:  She's alive!  And healthy!

And all the shoulds and ought-tos fade into background noise.  And while we wait, I meditate on gratefulness.  And fantasize about cheesecake, with gloopy cherry sauce and graham cracker crust.  And although I'm not entirely sure I believe it, I think:  Everything happens for a reason.  It's one of those things we say to make ourselves feel better in the face of uncertainty.  Not as good as cheescake would feel, but sometimes what we have are our words, and so we do what we can.

And here comes Saturday, as the night sky slowly lightens, still grey where I am, over the white snow-covered ground.  Waiting feels fruitless, but it does eventually result in getting you somewhere else entirely.  I hope Saturday wherever you are is lovely!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Other People's Stories

I was awake, sitting at my dining room table sipping coffee and looking out the window onto a cold blustery morning recently between 6 and 7 am.  Looking down my hill I can see two rental houses next door to one another, both with double entry doors and covered front porches.  From the house on the left, a white woman in a white hoodie emerged and lit a cigarette.  From the house on the right, a black man in a black hoodie emerged and lit a cigarette.  I watched them smoke in the still dark morning, their lit cigarettes the only light and heat source around, both of them alone.

Because of their odd symmetry, I wanted them to be friends, but they never spoke.

* * * * *

Earlier this afternoon, I was debating getting on the computer to finish the entry that began with the story above.  I looked out my window and saw two teenage guys walking down the street in the fast-falling snow.  A white dude in a white hoodie, and a black dude in a black hoodie.  Maybe my city -or at least my neighborhood- is self-segregating by hoodie color.  Kind of sucks to be me, because pale-skinned round people (in other words, me any winter, but most especially this one) do not need to be wearing white.  

Shit is unflattering.

* * * * *

The parenting class I taught today had me laughing out loud.  We're talking about managing stress on children, and got onto the topic of having extended family move in with you, and the stress it causes, especially in conjunction with the holidays.  People had stories -oh, did they ever have stories!- and by the end of class we were all roaring with laughter and I could barely get them out the door on time.  I find some comfort in the notion that all of us -no matter our socioeconomic status, background, ethnicity or region of origin- have in common at least one crazy-ass relative we have to deal with.  And that humor is such a universal way of coping.

One of my students, in the midst of a huge family fued, recently put differences aside to support and witness her aunt give birth.  It's amazing what the body can do, she said.  It was beautiful.  It was disgusting.

* * * * *

My son has been demanding and quick to dissolve into tears and whining if he doesn't get what he wants recently.  He woke up from his nap this afternoon and had a hard time telling me what he wanted (a cup of water) without whining and crying.  I was able to ignore the whining and crying and just softly repeated a few times when you can tell me with your words, let me know and I'll help you, then left him to work it out.  Eventually he told me he needed water, and when I gave it to him along with a hug, he said I need you, I need to get up, and reached to me with both arms.  I guided him to the rocking chair in his bedroom where we read books and listen to lullabies at night.  Then I pulled him up onto my lap and we sat, rocking in silence, the only light coming in through the glimpses of window at the bottom of his curtains.  It was pure white, bouncing off the freshly fallen snow, and our house was late-afternoon dim.  We sat until he was calm and relaxed, and then he asked about his daddy.

When I said he was at the hardware store buying a spark plug to fix our second hand snowblower (we've had it for two years, waiting to buy a part for it that turned out -when we finally took action- to be available locally for under $20 with an easily found free online manual with directions for replacing it, although once we did that we discovered it also needed a new spark plug) my son was ready to get up and get going in good spirits.  I need to go to the store, he said.  I  need to get barreties (batteries) and fix that blower for Dada.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Some days I feel so ready to go into labor it's a shock to find myself still pregnant and standing.  Other days I feel so good I imagine I could last forever in this waiting state.  One night I was possessed to pack a bag for my son with clothes and food for the next day.  I told my husband he'd have to be ready to drop him off with his sitter first thing in the morning and meet me at the hospital because I felt the baby was coming sometime that night.  The next morning I woke up feeling fine.  Another night I woke up every few hours and refused to get out of bed to go to the bathroom.  I was certain if I stood, my water would break, and since we didn't have anywhere to take our son until morning, I was determined to remain in bed until then.  Again, the next morning I stood up and walked through the house without incident, feeling better than I had in days.  Every day is different.  If I make it halfway through this month at work, I get a final, full paycheck.  On the bad days, I remind myself of that paycheck.  I envision it like a light at the end of a tunnel.

* * * * *

My husband painted the nursery over the past week.  Walking through our house now, we have color in the kitchen, dining room, one out of two hallways, and both downstairs bedrooms.  Last year at this time we had nothing painted.  It feels like an enormous accomplishment.  Our living room is still stark white, but the paint is in good shape, and I haven't settled on a color scheme for that room yet, so I'm not too concerned.  It's been a whirlwind of activity preparing the house, and I'm glad for so many good days when I can clean for hours, do the stairs and carry laundry, and organize things.  This morning I had to clean a foot of snow off my car, and I realized that three weeks ago, I couldn't have done it.  Today I could.  What a relief!

My Christmas shopping is also almost finished, and I'm so excited to get the house decorated for the season, and spend our first Christmas together at home.  I'm not a shopper at all, but I've had a blast buying gifts for my boy this year, even when I can barely walk around the stores!  Our tree is up, but we're waiting for the branches to dry and settle before we decorate it.  I will miss the tradition my husband and I started years before we had kids, of polishing off a bottle of red wine while decorating the house for the holidays.  I thought kids were supposed to inspire traditions, not put an end to them!  Ah well, I guess the wine can wait until New Year's, and my husband can have more than his fair share since I'll be nursing.

Sitting in our warm house with our two babies, a brightly lit tree, almost every room painted colors of our choosing, and maybe a fire in the fireplace will leave me warmer and probably happy-weepier than half a bottle of wine anyway!

* * * * *

My sister is now a week overdue.  Her midwife recently decided she doesn't feel comfortable waiting 42 weeks, so she'll try acupuncture to induce, and if it doesn't work she may end up with a hospital birth instead of the home birth she's been planning all along.  She's anxious, but so ready to be finished with a difficult pregnancy that I think it will be a relief to give birth regardless of the circumstances.

I, too, find myself less and less concerned about how the birth plays out, the closer it gets.  I'd like my sister to have her baby first, so my mom is available to help her, as well as travel here when I need her without leaving my sister pregnant, overdue, and waiting.  My sister has other family there to support her, and has been generous about saying my mom can come to me, but I'll feel better if she's given birth and had some time to recover first.  

I've also been piecemeal-ing together child care for my son when I go into labor.  If it's daytime he can stay with his sitter, who is available 8-4.  If it's late afternoon or early evening, I'm sure she'd keep him for the 3 hours it will take my mom to get here.  But she lives in another town and drives back there at 4, so even getting him to her if she's already left would be an hour trip, or double that if the driving is bad (schools are closed today because of snow).  I have a friend just 15 minutes away who's willing to come over in the middle of the night if he's asleep, but she works until 10:30pm.  

My worst case scenario is that my husband drops me at the hospital alone for 3 hours while he cares for our son and waits for my mom to arrive.  Last time I went into labor the contractions started off at 5 minutes apart and were 3 minutes apart by the end of the first hour.  I went to the hospital after that first hour and stayed there.  Because we're attempting a VBAC they want me at the hospital as soon as I have regular contractions this time, no matter how far apart.  I'm trying to psyche myself up mentally to spend a few hours alone at the hospital before my husband can come.  Some moments I feel tough, and tell myself I can handle it.  Other moments I want to hide in my bed and cry at the thought

All these difficult logistics make the possibility that she won't arrive by her due date and I'll end up with a scheduled c-section seem awfully convenient.  I could arrange my mom's visit and child care!  I'll make it home before Christmas Eve!  So if she doesn't come early, there are benefits.  The closer I get, the easier it is to simply shrug, and be willing to accept.

* * * * *

After moving the furniture back into the nursery and setting up the bassinet next to our bed (we're going to share the nursery with our daughter for the first few months and then eventually move into the attic and leave it to her.  I don't want to worry about walking the stairs right away after giving birth, and if I'm nursing all night at first anyway it's just easier to stay downstairs.), I lay down in my bed and looked over at the bassinet, remembering setting it up beside our bed in our old apartment when our son was born.  Then remembering waking up to nurse and change diapers every few hours.

And then I realized that I've been so consumed with preparing for my daughter's arrival: for the birth itself with my doctors, for my leave at work with my colleagues, for the house and holidays with my husband, for the arrival of a sibling with my son, for the logistics of child care with my mom and sister and sitter and friend, that I have given next to no thought whatsoever about what it will be like to be the mother of a newborn baby again.  I'm not a woman who puts myself last most of the time.  I'm inherently rather self-centered and have no problem taking care of my own needs, and asking and expecting others to respect them.  But in this case, I have worked very hard to prepare everyone else for this upcoming event, and it suddenly struck me how unprepared I am! 

I spent a few minutes thinking about incessant breastfeeding, and interrupted sleep, and soft skin and fuzzy hair, and remembering to support the head, and the intoxication of every little thing they do.  And then I got up and gave my boy a bath, and tidied his toys, and folded a load of laundry and put it away, and there was no more time for reverie.  But soon enough there will be plenty of time to sit and soak it all in.  For now, we finish our preparations.