Hormonal Rage

Just to recap: I’m from Los Angeles, but I’m currently in the UK, two years into a very fish-out-of-water experience. Being an expat is no joke. I’m not exaggerating when I say that almost everything is different in England than it is in California, where in my homesick memory, even in the traffic is more tolerable.

I’m in England because I’m working on a PhD about childbirth intervention. Somehow, I managed to convince an academic department to fund my project, and now I actually have to DO this massive thing.

Finally, I’ve just had my first baby.

So: 5,000 miles from family + PhD student + new mom. I have no local family support, I’m working on a doctorate, I haven’t slept more than 4 consecutive hours in 7.5 months, I carry/cradle/pick up/put down/walk/dance/bounce my son all day long, I am still exclusively breastfeeding, I am ten pounds lighter than I was when I got divorced and stopped eating for three months, and until two days ago, when I passed my UK driving test, I couldn’t drive here and was walking/taking the train/catching buses with a child strapped to my body whenever I had to go anywhere. So, I’m fucking exhausted and sometimes I can’t think straight or make decisions or get through a driving lesson without coming home and losing my shit because everything is just DEMANDS CONSTANTLY.

Thus, I find it really offensive and dismissive when people tell new moms that it’s okay to feel upset because our “hormones are still settling.” As if not loving every second of our insane new lives could only be because us ladies are forever at the mercy of our hormones. We accept that a person who hasn’t slept well overnight or has a cold might be negatively impacted, but we feel the need to excuse mothers who feel bad. Don’t worry, Mom. You’re just hormonal. I understand that some women really do suffer from hormonal imbalances post-pregnancy, and I don’t at all mean to disparage them. However, patting a new mom on the the head and telling her that all her fears and anxieties and complete exhaustion are just by-products of her hormones does two things:

  1. Ignores that having a baby explodes a woman’s life
  2. Dismisses the very real and very visceral physical and emotional trauma of that explosion

I feel crazy sometimes because I’m sleep deprived and physically drained and walking around with eighteen pounds of squirming, grabbing baby attached to my skeletal frame all day long. I snap at my husband because as much as he loves us, he doesn’t understand what this is like for me. I am uncomfortable with the way I look because I look really different. I get angry or weepy or temporarily mean because I am tasked with something damn near impossible and I am just one human being and I am tired.

Being overwhelmed by a new baby is normal, because a new baby is overwhelming, not because women just can’t hang. I pushed a person out of my body and am now responsible for taking care of him. I think I’m entitled to have some real feelings about it.

The Baby!

IMG_3351_2The eagle has landed! On Friday, July 17th, our tiny little bub was born. We are absolutely in love with the little creep. I haven’t stopped staring at him since he was born, and am only now starting to put him down for naps (as in, not hold him 100% of the time) only because I need to get him used to sleeping in his Moses basket at the side of the bed at night. (I am too high strung to bed share, so every night has been a not-so-delicate balance between being terrified of falling asleep with him in bed with us and being terrified of not having him close to me.)

The following is a ridiculously over-long birth story, which I’ve recorded here mostly for myself, and then also for any moms (or dads) -to-be who might be interested:

Thursday, the day before The Baby was born, was The Boyfriend’s birthday. Randomly, and for the first time since taking his current job, The Boyfriend had Thursday and Friday off work, so we settled in to celebrate his birthday like the old people we are: by staying home for two days, eating a ton of candy and baking a ton of cookies. By late afternoon on Thursday, I had to abandon the remaining cookie dough because I was getting mild contractions every 2-3 minutes. Having gone through the pregnancy with no Braxton Hicks “practice” contractions and having never had a baby before, at first I thought I was having some totally unfortunate bowel trouble. The contractions felt like diarrhea pains, only they were on a regular cycle and they were close together. However, they were also mild and only slightly annoying, and at 39 weeks pregnant exactly, I had gotten used to just ignoring feeling like I had to poop all the time. I called the hospital for advice, and when the midwife heard that it was my first baby and that I could laugh off the contractions, she told me to go to sleep because it could still be days.

It was that response, coupled with my desire to labor at home for as long as possible in an effort to avoid hospital interventions, that contributed to my spending the hours of 2am to 8am in a kind of crazy dream state, having increasingly painful contractions, closer and closer together, in the shower, on the toilet, in the bath, pacing the living room, crawling up the stairs. This was just five days ago, and I couldn’t tell you why I didn’t call the hospital back or wake The Boyfriend up, other than I’d never done it before and didn’t know when to say enough and I was also probably in denial. I’d abandoned timing the contractions because when they got painful enough for me have to lean over the back of the couch and moan my way through them, the last thing I wanted was to focus on exactly how long they were lasting. (This is why it would have been wise to wake The Boyfriend and force him to do it. Again: denial is a powerful force.)

I finally decided it was time to go to the hospital when I started feeling like a wild animal. I couldn’t think straight and knew I needed to be where the baby would be born. In addition, I started bleeding, which was scary. I woke up The Boyfriend, and then I called the hospital to tell them I was coming in. She warned me that they were very busy (incidentally, it was the full moon, which is a time when labor wards are notoriously full), and asked if I wanted to wait another hour at home, but I wasn’t about to spend another second in my house.

After I writhed around in the car in early morning traffic for a little while, we got to the hospital and all I wanted was privacy and someone to help me. It wasn’t even pain medication I wanted – I just needed to be where I was going to give birth and have someone close by who could tell me what was happening. As it turned out, they were so busy that there were no free rooms. Instead, I was led to a partner waiting area, where the midwife who dropped me off assured me that “no one would forget I was there.” Totally reassuring.

About fifteen hour-long minutes later, I was moved over to the maternity day unit…to a waiting room full of couples and children waiting to have ultrasounds. The idea, I guess, was that I could be examined in an out-patient room there while they sorted out a room for me on the labor ward, but for me, given no explanation and being guided to a chair in a crowded waiting room while sweating through my clothes and rocking back and forth, I was so upset. I wasn’t getting the help I thought I would at the hospital, and now I had none of the privacy I’d had at home. I went immediately to one of the bathrooms and cried while leaning over the sink. The Boyfriend had to come find me when they called my name, because I refused to leave the toilet until someone came to help.

To make a long story short(er), the midwife tasked with examining me in the out-patient room only got as far as checking the baby’s heart rate (which was perfect) before the blood and my absolutely heathen behavior freaked her out. She sent me back to the labour ward, where I was matched with the head of midwifery.

This woman was like an angel, and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. I remember laying on the exam bed coming to pieces and seeing her name and title on her badge and thinking, Oh, thank God. The Head of Midwifery. She took some rapid-fire notes about what had been going on with me, ran and got a pan just before I vomited all over myself, and then gave me my first-ever (and only) internal exam. To her surprise and my complete and utter relief, I was nine centimeters dilated.

NINE. CENTIMETERS. For those who don’t know, you start pushing a baby out when you are at ten centimeters. At this point, I cried tears of legitimate joy. I was close to having the baby, and I wasn’t being an insane person for being so angry about getting shuffled around. (Yes, even in labor, I was afraid of what people would think of me for being a dickhead to them.) I was in transition, the hardest part of labor which takes a woman from cervical opening to pushing, and had been sent to a public waiting room. In the hospital’s defense, there was no way for them to know how far along I was, as they just did not have the space to examine me when I arrived. Because the active part of my labor had, at that point, only been about six hours and because it was my first baby, I don’t think anyone expected me to be so far along.

Once my angel midwife knew this, however, she transferred me to a bigger, better, more “active” labor room, with mats and yoga balls and a giant bean bag chair to use to keep me off the bed. I was on beds on my back for a grand total of five minutes while in labor and it was horrible. I can’t imagine being strapped to a bed on monitors and having to labor without medication. The only thing that made me feel better was moving around, mostly because it was a distraction. Being on my back on a bed forced me to focus on how much I hurt.

I didn’t have the chance to use any of the active labor goodies, though, because as soon as I hit that room, I needed to push. The midwife threw the bean bag chair onto the bed, I got on all fours leaning over it, and using “gas and air” (laughing gas, effectively), pushed a tiny human out of my body in 45 minutes. The pushing was the most physically exhausting thing I’ve ever done, but it felt productive and didn’t ever hurt, which is strange, considering you’d think that would be the most punishing part of having a baby. I made lots of primal, crazy-person sounds, and tore off my dress and bra like a mad woman. For anyone concerned with how they might look/feel during childbirth: you will not give a shit. At all. I have never been so exposed or looked so insane, but when faced with trying to be modest or trying to be more comfortable, comfort won 100% of the time.

People told me that, but I didn’t think I would ever get to a point where I didn’t care. I brought make up to the hospital and had an outfit planned for delivery. However, I quickly learned that lots of the cliches about childbirth are true. In fact, at one point, I whimpered, “I just want him out already,” which felt like a cliche even as I was saying it.

But, then he was out, and it was surreal. He was beautiful and perfect and ours. We were in the delivery room for a few hours, so I could rest and shower and so that the baby could be examined, and then were transferred to a post-natal ward, where we stayed for just a little while longer before being discharged and coming home. The Baby was born before noon and we were home around 7pm.

Aside from getting a slight runaround at the beginning of the hospital experience, the labor and birth were as straightforward and wonderful as they could have been. My intentions were to avoid intervention and pain medication other than gas and air, and I managed to do it, by some insane stroke of luck.

Having had a baby without an epidural, I can say now that I understand completely why women chose to have them. Labor is scary and it is painful and if you found yourself with an IV or an electronic fetal monitor keeping you on your back in a bed, I can’t even imagine how much more painful and scary contractions can be. On the other hand, I think not having an epidural spared me a lot of complications. I was active and mobile right until the very end, which may have contributed to shortening my labor. I also had a lot of control over the pushing stage, which might have helped spare me any injuries. Ultimately, I think my experience was due partly to believing I could do it, and mostly to being really, really fortunate.

Now, I get to spend all day, every day with The Boyfriend and The Baby, who is basically the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Love, love, love.

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38 Weeks!

I am 38 weeks and 2 days pregnant today, which is just absolutely madness. A friend’s sister, who was due one week before me, had her baby a few nights ago, and even though I am very pregnant and living in a house full of baby things, it still boggles my mind that there could be a baby here at any moment.

For anyone even remotely interested, here’s the third trimester belly progress:
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(In addition to being photos of some random internet stranger’s belly, which are by nature not interesting, I know these pictures are boring because I’m wearing the same thing in all of them. However, that was intentional, because I figured it would be easier to track changes this way. So, sorry, everyone.)

To look at me, it would appear that not much has happened in the last week or so. However, I feel like I am suddenly enormous. That pelvic pain I bragged about not yet experiencing in my previous post is here in full force, making my lower back and inner thighs feel like I’ve spent several days riding a galloping horse. I always thinking about food, but too full to eat anything. I am also totally exhausted. I haven’t officially started maternity leave from my PhD program, because I figure I might as well wait until the baby is born, considering I can very easily do my work from home, but my brain is basically already on a time out. It took me two full days to write an embarrassingly short project proposal, even though I able to crib most of the material from other things I’d already written. Luckily, I’d managed to get a lot done before I became useless because useless I most certainly am.

My PhD project, when it eventually starts really happening and isn’t just a bunch of stuff I tell people I will be doing someday, will focus on childbirth intervention, so I’ve spent many, many months researching maternal health care and childbirth and all its various outcomes. What I’ve found, for the most part, is that as wonderful as modern medicine has been to women giving birth (like, say, in its insistence that people wash their hands before attending laboring mothers), in many ways, processes that might be better left to proceed on their own are often too actively managed. (As an example, there’s the “cascade of interventions,” which is labor induction -> electronic fetal monitoring to watch the effects of medically induced contractions -> mothers laying on their backs in bed -> more intense pain -> epidurals -> the slowing of labor -> fetal distress and/or failure to progress -> caesarean section.) I had a lot of big feelings about this overmedicalization of childbirth when I drafted my PhD proposal, long before I found myself pregnant. Doctors are too pushy, medicine is too incentivized, nature has been abandoned in an effort to keep schedules or avoid lawsuits. And I still think those things. (To be fair, this isn’t just some earth-mother hippie crap being howled at the moon. Statistically speaking, the cascade of intervention is very, very real.)

However, what has been really interesting about doing this research while facing my own childbirth experience is discovering that as a pregnant woman, I will do anything to ensure my baby is healthy. I can intellectualize the medicalization of nature as a product of hospital care as much as I want, but I’ve learned that if a professional with an ultrasound wand tells me something might be wrong, I will drive home in hysterics and spend the next three hours on Google, working myself into a panic and vowing to consent to anything to make it better.

Those aren’t two opposing thoughts – in fact, in most of the theory I’ve read, that’s how medicalization works. Doctors and hospitals apply techniques to make childbirth more efficient/more scheduled/ostensibly “safer,” and mothers trust their care providers and consent to them.

It’s just been very eye-opening to experience it myself.

For the first 32 weeks of the pregnancy, I saw the same midwife practicing out of a medical practice near my house. At each of my relatively rare and low-key visits, she would test my urine, take my blood pressure, and then do a fundal height measurement using a tape measure. For the uninitiated, the fundal height is the distance from the top of a pregnant woman’s uterus to her pubic bone. This measurement in centimeters should, conveniently, mirror the number of weeks pregnant a woman is – a woman who is 26 weeks pregnant should measure on (or around) 26 cm. At all of my appointments, I was measuring spot on. At 24 weeks, I was 24 cm. At 28 weeks, I was 27.75 cm. At 31 weeks, I was 31 cm.

And then I moved to another city and had to transfer to another midwife. In the five days between my last appointment with my previous midwife and my first appointment with my new one, the baby turned from head-down to transverse, meaning he was now laying horizontally across my belly as opposed to vertically along it.

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I went from the long belly on the left to the short, stubby belly on the right. I didn’t think much of it, until the new midwife whipped out her tape measure and measured my nearly-32-week-belly at 27 cm. She immediately made me an appointment for a growth ultrasound, because measuring five weeks behind (even by super high-tech tape measure) could be a sign of a growth-restricted baby without enough amniotic fluid.

Now, as a person who knows too much about pregnancy and childbirth due to having had my super dweeb face in journal articles and books for nearly a year, I completely flipped out. In addition to taking me out of a midwife’s low-risk care and placing me into higher-risk “consultant” (doctor) care, this new potential amniotic fluid issue put me at risk of being harangued into an induction, as fears about a baby’s size and amniotic fluid levels are one of the most common reasons labors are induced. Cue the crying in the car on the way home, the drinking of tons of liters of water a day in an attempt to up my fluid levels, and the crawling around on my hands and knees to try to turn the baby.

A week and a half later, when I had the growth scan, the baby was head down again and measured in the 60th percentile for growth, which was lovely. However, the total amount of amniotic fluid measured via ultrasound was 8.2cm, which was still cause for alarm, as the “normal” range is about 8-18cm. I was hovering right at the low range of normal. My new hospital consultant wrote “low AF at 5% at USS” (low amniotic fluid at the 5th percentile at ultrasound) under a giant “ALERT! Please indicate risk:” label on the inside of my maternity notes, and told me she wanted me back for another scan in two weeks. That was great.

Two panicky weeks later, at my second growth ultrasound, the amniotic fluid was up to 11.8cm, which was firmly normal. In addition, the baby now measured in the 90th percentile for growth. In fact, the ultrasound tech thought the baby might be growing too big – she took the femoral length measurement four times because she thought she was making mistakes. The baby that was once thought to be too small was now almost off the charts.

Despite the incredible hulking baby, I passed the growth scan with flying colors and am no longer high risk.

I hope it goes without saying that I am, of course, very happy and grateful that everything ended up being fine. It was, however, really bizarre to know that the difference in fundal height measurements between midwives was entirely due to the turning of the baby and the admittedly insanely subjective tape measure method, and still feel totally nuts when I was sent for extra ultrasounds. I thought that there was something horribly wrong with the pregnancy because of a tape measure.

On one hand, it’s nice to know that the people taking care of us are proactive. I have had nothing but wonderful interactions with everyone, and I don’t think any of the extra tests were done to make me nervous or take advantage. However, on the other hand, it was unnerving to find myself ready and willing to submit to any intervention possible (I would have been completely on board with an elective c section, for example, if it meant combating growth restriction, which shocked me, given what I know about pre-term caesareans), when the methods pointing me in those directions should be approached with caution.

The extra growth scans illuminated to me that childbirth interventions are notoriously difficult to manage and are more often than not used based on evidence that is subjective at best. For all the actual problems that are addressed by them, there are hundreds of others that are caused by them. (I lucked out because in my case, the only issues the extra scans caused were emotional.) At the risk of sounding super naive and having to eat these words after I have the baby, my WARNING ALERT SMALL BABY EXTRA SCAN experience has only solidified my desire to try to have as few interventions as possible during the birth.

We’ll see how that goes.

P.S.: I’ve been writing and editing this post for 24 hours and I still feel like it makes no sense. There was a point in here somewhere, guys, but like I said above, MY BRAIN IS ON VACATION AND I JUST CAN’T.

Baby Fiece!

First things first: yesterday, at 1:12 pm, exactly twenty minutes after Fertile Myrtle sent me an update text letting me know that she “might start pushing soon,” Baby Fiece was born, weighing 6 pounds 12 ounces.  So, all of you pregnant women and new moms following her here (or here!) can now totally hate her for the rest of time.  Five hours of labor and ten minutes of pushing, apparently.  As a childless old crone, that means very little to me, but I know enough to realize Myrtle’s giving me a very skewed perspective on what childbirth is like.  My mom’s 36-hour labor with me ended in an emergency c-section, so there’s that.

I went up to the hospital immediately after work and met Baby Fiece, who, at three hours old and less than 7 pounds, was the smallest baby I’ve ever held.  Therefore, I was really nervous and careful with her and absolutely did not hold her in one arm while using the other arm to take a photo of myself:

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Nope.  Not what happened.

She is extremely adorable, and is essentially a carbon copy of her older sister, the Fiece:

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Family resemblance always boggles my mind because while my brothers and I all look like white people with faces, we don’t have very much else in common:

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For example, they are both super tall (this photo was taken in December 2009, and since then The Baby, on the right, has gotten much, much taller), and I am a pathetic, normal 5’6″.  In this picture, I believe I’m even wearing heels.

I really wanted to thank Fertile Myrtle very much and then take the baby home with me, but unfortunately, there are enough crazy people in the world who have actually attempted such a thing that Baby Fiece had to wear an ankle monitor like she was Lindsay Lohan on house arrest:

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The closest I could get the Fiece to her new little sister was this:

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She was really interested in soothing the baby when she was crying, but 100% of the rest of the time, Fiece used a stethoscope to make diagnoses and entertained herself by climbing onto hospital beds, only to then pretend to throw herself off of them, giving all the adults in the room panic attacks.

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Nutcase.

So much love.  I am so very happy for you, Myrtle.  So very, very happy.  Rum and cokes and root beer floats ASAP.  (In high school, FM and I used to write a lot of poetry and share our work, which is how I got to be so good at slant rhymes.  Cokes//floats!)

In addition, I found out today that LOS ANGELES APPROVED MY RECORDS REQUEST AND I CAN START MY THESIS RESEARCH!  (I cannot NOT scream that in all caps.  I submitted the request paperwork at the end of January and have been waiting with baited breath for three months.  This resolution is HUGE.  IT MUST BE YELLED.  THIS BLOG IS MY MOUNTAINTOP.)

Childbirth Without Fear. Again.

Back in August, in the throes of my conception madness, I wrote about Childbirth Without Fear by Grantly Dick-Read and commented that the cover of the copy I picked up at a local library was terrifying.

Exhibit A:

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Is this child being born or escaping from a paper bag?

Just now, I was perusing Amazon to find and order the second and third installments of the Call The Midwife trilogy (more on that later – tomorrow?) and I stumbled upon the cover of the 2013 printing of Mr. Dick-Read’s famous childbirth manual.

Exhibit B:

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Despite all odds, the publishers managed to make the cover art even more disturbing.  You should buy it anyway, though, because it’s excellent.  Just maybe don’t face it out on your bookshelf.

(P.S. I just showed this new cover design to my husband and he thought I was making it up.  Quote: “The author’s name is Grantly Dick-Read?  This cannot be real.”  End quote.  Unfortunately [or fortunately?], I don’t have the Photoshop skills required to fake something like this.)

Childbirth Without Fear.

I recently rediscovered the joys of the library, which is pretty ridiculous of me because my husband is a librarian.  I’ve always been an avid book collector, meaning that I have essentially just purchased every book I’ve read or been interested in reading for the past ten years.  However, when I started teaching again this summer and needed to run to my local branch for some favorite picture books, I found myself once again enthralled with having so many books at my disposal for free.  And, because I am a baby-crazy nutcase, I wandered into the Pregnancy/Childbirth section “just to look around.”  Right.  This is where I decided I had to read the Jenny McCarthy book I mentioned here.  I also picked up a book called “Childbirth Without Fear,” both because its terrifying cover intrigued me and because I am very into having as little fear as possible.  And because the author’s name was Grantly Dick-Read and I just had to.

Is this not the most frightening cover?

So, I checked this book out mostly on a whim.  And as a joke, because I wanted to show my husband the pregnancy book written by the guy with the words “dick” and “read” in his name.

And then I started reading and my mind was blown.  This book is by far the best, most comprehensive, most reassuring thing I’ve ever read about childbirth.  Grantly (and yes, I will be referring to him by his first name, as uncouth as that is, because I do not have the maturity to type Dick-Read over and over again without laughing so much my tears blind me and prevent me from being able to operate a keyboard) examines pregnancy and childbirth as a bodily function and completely dismisses the notion that pain must be associated with the process: “No other natural bodily function is painful and childbirth should not be an exception.”  As ridiculous as this sounds, this one very simple sentence produced a very large lightbulb moment for me.  You know what, Grantly?  That’s a very keen observation.

He goes on to say that while there should be nothing inherently painful about childbirth, women do experience very real, very torturous pain during labor due to the mechanism of a pain and fear feedback cycle.  Fear, Grantly explains, causes the innermost muscle layer in the uterus to contract up at the same time that the outermost layer is contracting down in an attempt to expel the baby during labor.  These two competing muscle contractions cause very real discomfort, much like one would expect from any other kind of muscle spasm.  This very real pain then goes on to justify a laboring woman’s fear of the pain of childbirth and the cycle is perpetuated.

Grantly spends a lot of time discussing the psychological components of fear and pain in childbirth and often refers to the pity and horror first-time mothers are confronted with when talking about labor with their mothers, grandmothers or friends who have already experienced it.  He believes it is this societal portrayal of birth as being the most horrific experience a woman will ever have serves to plant seeds of doubt and fear, which in turn contribute to real pain in labor due to the cycle described above.  I found this analysis especially compelling considering “Childbirth Without Fear” was first published in 1959, before we had depictions of terrifying labor on television, in movies and in novels.  Before I started really researching pregnancy and birth about five years ago, I envisioned that all births were meant to be like Julianne Moore screaming her face off in terror during the birth of her child in “Nine Months.”  Thanks to Grantly Dick-Read, I am now dedicated to removing all that frightening imagery from my subconscious before I experience labor myself.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a wimp and a realist.  My only attempts at self-actualization and mediation have been 1) when I cut myself as a child and tried to trick myself out of crying hysterically by asking myself such deep thoughts, “What is pain?” and 2) when I took a yoga classes with a coworker twice a week for five months before realizing that I felt like a fake and an idiot saying “Namaste” to a room full of entitled West LA weirdoes.  Therefore, I was not expecting this book’s mystical approach to resonate so deeply with me.  However, I buy it.  I am actually excited to see if this works.  Approaching things positively tends to work out for the best in every other aspect of the universe – I want to start assuming it could work in childbirth too.