What the hell just happened?

I’m writing this as Dempsey sleeps on my shoulder, my computer balanced precariously on the Boppy pillow on my lap, and wondering…how did we make it through this past month?
He is 5 weeks old now, 5 weeks that simultaneously dragged and flew by. And I have to be honest-the first 4 were incredibly rough. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have in adjusting. On top of the garden variety lack of sleep, I couldn’t even sleep when he did, because I had such bad anxiety. Trying to recover from a c-section and care for a newborn, dealing with my mother’s death, and just generally worrying about how I was going to adapt to it all, really took a toll on me. I frequently felt sort of out of my mind, and yes-I was suffering from a little depression as a result of it all. And just as swiftly as it all hit me, it all lifted, on the day he turned one month old. I’m not sure what was responsible for the flipped switch, but I am incredibly grateful to be feeling like myself again, happy, much more rested, and able to more freely enjoy the experience.

It got me thinking about the messages that we’re sent about parenthood, and what to expect. I got the impression that sure, I would be sleepy, but life would be so lovely with a new baby, all mushiness and love. And while there were those moments, there were more frequently really difficult ones. I would cry uncontrollably in response to a simple inquiry of “How’s it going?” And no one ever talks about those things, which then makes you feel like there is something wrong with you. I started to feel like a bad parent for feeling like that, for wishing at times that I had my independence back (or even just a free pair of hands), that I could have even one more night of uninterrupted sleep.

Once I started feeling normal again, I felt more comfortable coming clean about these feelings. As I talked to other moms, I began to hear a lot of my statements echoed in their own stories. So many people said that they experienced the same thing, and that those who had multiple children recalled feeling incredible anxiety when they became pregnant with their second child, unsure if they could do it again. So, the lesson in all of this becomes: talk about it. We as women need to share our stories with one another, support each other, validate what others are feeling. Because if we don’t, we continue to perpetuate feelings of isolation, shame and guilt. Women need to know that they aren’t alone in those feelings, that it’s OK to ask for help. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you normal. Healthy, happy babies need healthy, happy parents, and that’s ultimately what we all want for our families.

I’m amazed everyday at how much easier it gets-how we just adapt to this tiny (yet huge) little person in our lives. I look at Dempsey, watch the way he changes each day, see him growing and developing and becoming his own little person, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be his mom. Even more so, I’m grateful for the support of everyone in my life that supported and encouraged me in those first few weeks-it lifted me up at a time when I needed it most.

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For my mom.

I lost my mom last week. Fifteen months of battling lung cancer that spread to her bones and kidneys, and it finally became too much for her. I knew on the very day of her diagnosis last year that this would take her, and the manner in which it would do so, and so I began to prepare. We all watched as she dealt with the side effects of her chemotherapy, losing a startling amount of weight, her hair, as well as her normally endless energy. We almost lost her last year after her first round of chemotherapy left her so weak with pneumonia that I still don’t know quite how she survived it. I often felt frustrated at the universe for giving my mom so many “sick days”, when I would see other women out shopping with their friends and daughters, clearly battling some sort of cancer, but healthy enough to enjoy life regularly. My mom didn’t get that. I remember telling her that, and her getting upset, having taken what I was trying to say the wrong way. She thought I was blaming her. I wasn’t, I was trying to communicate my sadness for what she was experiencing, but that was the nature of our relationship. Contentious, edgy, misunderstanding each other around every corner.

I never understood who she was, thought she had no interests or hobbies, wondered silently throughout my life why she didn’t “get a life”-go out with friends, cultivate interests, be her own person. In turn, she often felt that I was uptight, had self-absorbed interests and ideas, and I believe that she often thought that I believed I was smarter than her. In fact, she said as much to me, a few years back. During what I thought was a pleasant conversation, she suddenly erupted, “You think I’m stupid, that I’m not as smart as you are.” I remember confusion being replaced by shock, and my dad quietly suggesting to her, “That is your thing, not hers. She’s not implying that.” Our conversations were frequently a near-miss.

In all the horror of her illness and death, there was a beauty in learning about who she truly was. My mom DID have interests, joys and hobbies-her family and friends. She loved my dad with her whole heart, and never wanted to be a day without him. And each of us, even me-she worried endlessly about our happiness, even if it came out wrong sometimes. “Call or text me when you get there”, she say to me as I left town for work. I would roll my eyes, and say, “No, Mom..I’m a grown woman, I’m not going to do that.” I wish now I had just appeased her anxiety, and said, “OK, Mom”. Her passion and caring often erupted from her in a loud voice, and I would shut down, feeling “yelled at”. She was just trying to convey how much she felt what she was trying to communicate. In the last few months before her death, I spent many days caring for her, and while it broke my heart to have to remind her multiple times about why she was taking medication, or to wash her bald head with “that soap that smells so nice”, I feel so lucky that I had that time alone with her, for us to really connect for the first time, to talk about life and what her greatest joys were, what she would miss. She worried endlessly that she wouldn’t meet Dempsey, and it made me so happy on the day that she was able to rub his little head and kiss him. I feel at ease knowing that she died knowing how much I really did love her.

In the days after her death, there was an outpouring of stories from my mom’s friends, family, co-workers and students about her impact on them. The common thread in all of them was that she made them feel cared about, accepted, worth something. Despite all our differences, I always knew that my sense of social justice, of inclusion, of doing the right thing came directly from her, but I was humbled at the far-reaching impact this seemingly simple woman had on so many people throughout her entire life. I can only hope that I’ll have half the impact on others that she did, that I will raise Dempsey to be a man of strong moral character, with a heart of love to offer the world. Those were her gifts to the people that she loved, and even now, I can feel those things all around me.

To everyone that has shared their love and support with our family over the past year and a half, and particularly in the past week-thank you. You will never know the gratitude that we feel. Each of you has been a beautiful tribute to my mother, and her life.

Holy crap, we have a baby (the birth story).

So, by now, most of you know that we have been graced with a healthy boy. He came on 6/16, which reallllly helped the fact that I was stumped about a Father’s Day gift for Andy, weighing 9lbs, 6 oz, and measuring 22 inches long. So yeah…he was huge. Nothing went the way I had planned…in fact, I pretty much had every intervention that I hoped to avoid. But, as I said in my birth plan, our ultimate goal was a safe delivery and a healthy baby. We got that.

A few days before he arrived, I started having contractions. Irregular, and nothing major, but surely a sign that things were happening. I dealt with it, went about my business, until Saturday evening around 7 when I thought perhaps my water broke. I mean, I don’t know what the hell that feels like…so how would I know? I called my MD, who told me to head up to the hospital, a 45 minute drive away. We did just that, and once in triage, we were met with a nurse with all the warmth of Miranda Bailey. She asked what was going on, then if I was having any contractions, and when I told her…she rolled her eyes. Oh, it’s on now, I thought. She left for a moment, and I tossed up a middle finger behind her. Long story short, my water had not broken, and so we went home.

We got home at 11:30, I drowned my sorrows in a half bag of mini candy bars, and went to bed. At 2:30, I was woken up by a violent, popping sensation followed by….oh yeah, so THAT’s definitely what your water breaking feels like. Contractions immediately got regular and intensified, so I woke up Andy and off we went, 4 hours after we got home. Once back at the hospital, Miranda Bailey emerged again from behind the curtain, and I decided that I should make a joke to repair our relationship. She laughed, and became a fantastic nurse. My water *had* indeed broken, but there was also meconium staining, so I had to be continuously monitored (intervention #1).

We were admitted to a room, and I struggled really hard to stay on top of the increasingly intense contractions. All that BS they tell you about “getting a break” in between contractions is just that…BS. Mine were coming nonstop, radiating from my stomach to my back, and rendering me paralyzed during the peaks. I tried all my pain management techniques-birthing ball, squatting, walking, you name it. I could barely do anything, but stand perfectly still and shake. At 7am, the words “So, can we talk about drugs?” left my mouth, and within 15 minutes, I had an epidural in, and life was restored (intervention #2). They started my IV fluids, and put a catheter in, which was really quite convenient, not having to bother with a stupid full bladder (interventions #3 and 4).

At 9am, they started me on pitocin (intervention #5), to hasten contractions and dilation. I didn’t want it, but given that there was the risk of issues due to meconium, I kept my mouth shut. By 1pm, I was ready to push. And push I did…for 3 f-ing hours. Dempsey was at -2 station when I started, so he was still up pretty high. And after all that time spent, pushing and shedding all of my human dignity on the table, for all to see…he remained at -2 station. While my MD had herself forearm deep inside me (a real pleasant experience while trying to push), she said, “I’m not shy about telling people they are bad pushers…but you are great. This guy just isn’t budging. You can push another half hour, or we can start taking you back now for a c-section.” Terrified, but exhausted, I agreed (intervention #6). I just wanted him here.

Back in the OR, I was pumped full of more drugs, and my vitals were going wacko, my pulse highly elevated, and my blood pressure vascillating between hypertensive and bottoming out. I watched the conversation that I imagined the anesthesiologist and his assistant were having with their eyes, and became convinced that something was awry. Being a nurse is frequently the bane of my existence, but that was never more true on this day. I laid on that table, carefully cataloging every possible calamity that could affect us. I think I said, “Am I OK?” approximately 456 times, to anyone that came within earshot. Once everything was in place, they got started.

HOLY CRAP-I was not prepared for that sensation. Sure, the drugs numbed the severity of any pain, but I felt literally every movement made. The scalpel across my skin, the pulling, tugging, rearranging, etc. It was making me super anxious, because it almost felt like I was on the edge of actually really feeling it. Pain, that is. Of course I didn’t, but it terrified me every second. At one point, I turned to the super-stiff, formal anesthesiologist standing to my right, put out my arm, and said, “Will you hold my hand?” He obliged, and I heard my doctor let out a little laugh from the other side of the drape. Guess no one asks this guy for physical reassurance on the regs. He asked me if I was scared, and when I told him yes, he patted my head robotically. Nonetheless, I appreciated his attempt. They finally pulled Dempsey out, and lifted him up over the drape so I could see him. His massive body cast a shadow over me, and he was screaming his face off. Holy shit, he’s huge, I thought to myself. They took him to examine him, and I started getting more drugs pumped through me.

“Nine pounds, six ounces!” the nurse shouted. Good lord, I thought. That came out of me?? I started feeling really drugged up, and Andy came to me with the baby. I looked at him, so perfect, and said, “I feel like I am reacting in an inappropriate manner to my child because of all the drugs I’m on.” So, yeah, my pretty standard response-neurotic. The MD came to talk to me and said that they had to take Dempsey to the nursery, because his temperature was slightly elevated, and there was a concern for infection. So, off he went while I was sewn up and went off to recover. Those drugs were amazing, by the way.

After a few hours, I was taken to the nursery to properly meet my son, and attempt to nurse him. Once I saw him, it was all over. I fell in such hard love with that little face, and he fed like a champ from the beginning. Remember those amazing drugs? Yeah, well, while I was feeding him, I remembered that I needed to count his fingers and toes (you know, since the medical staff can’t be trusted), and I counted…SIX TOES on one foot?! “Andy, oh my god, he has six toes!” I shout-whispered. “Yeah, why don’t you take another pass through on that? There are only five”, he said. I did so, and he was right. Thank God. One deformity safely behind us. He had to spend the night in the nursery to get antibiotics, but was able to come stay with us starting the next morning, and it was ultimately determined that he never had an infection, so he would be able to come home on time, with us.

The next few days in the hospital sucked, to be honest. I wasn’t impressed with the care we received in the postpartum unit (but the labor and delivery unit was amazing), and I was a total and utter emotional and physical mess. If the baby cried, I cried. I couldn’t sleep, so I asked the nurses to take the baby in the night and bring him back to feed. Once they took him, I cried, feeling like a deadbeat mom for passing my baby off to strangers. Never mind that when I worked in L&D, I always encouraged moms to take advantage of the built-in assistance while they could. Oh, and then there was my first postpartum shower.

Once I was able to shower, I was anxious to do so, and the midwife told Andy to make sure that he was able to assist me, because I would need it. I took this to mean that he might stand sentry on the other side of the curtain, should I need help, but what this REALLY meant, was that I showered with the curtain open, with him physically helping me complete this task. The real icing on the cake? The giant, full-length mirror directly on the other side of the tub, allowing me to see my swollen-in-some-places, deflated-in-others body in all its glory. I have never felt less attractive in my entire life. Oh, and those Shrek feet and ankles that wouldn’t quit didn’t help, either.

After a few days, we were finally sprung from that wretched hospital room, and went home. The next week or so continued to be a blur of no sleep, discomfort, tears and anxiety (and Shrek feet), but that shall be saved for another post, because I feel like there’s so much to say, that often isn’t said about this point in time. We’re slowly but surely adjusting to life with a baby, and despite all my worry and doubt, I am assured he is a happy and healthy little boy. Nothing went as planned, but we got everything we wanted. Funny how life works out that way, sometimes.