Mini-Me

We got him down in the crib last night for a couple of three-hour stretches. I was up an hour and a half in between, feeding, changing, soothing, and feeding him again. But all in all (including, for me, after the second three-hour stretch, when Ahmed woke up and took over), we both got plenty of sleep last night. It was… kind of amazing.

Of course, it may have been a one-off, and it’s all going to get harder when Ahmed has to get up early and go to work every day starting on Monday. I won’t be as able to pick a night and hand off responsibility for the babe. And I’ll have to learn to get him down in the bassinet in daylight so I can sleep while he safely sleeps.

Thankfully I am starting to feel more human and put together. I even made my own breakfast this morning, and things are shrinking back toward normal. It feels soooo good to start feeling like my old self again.

Meanwhile, a couple of cute photos:

IMG_1342

“One MILLION dollars!”

IMG_1344

That nasty dried crusty dead snail thing finally
fell off his cute little belly button. Woo hoo!

Advertisements

Couple Things

UPDATE: We thought he was gaining weight, and sure enough he’s already up to 8 pounds from his birth weight of 7 lbs 7 oz! And I’m down to 139.

I don’t worry and fret about our son as much as I thought I would. I feel like he’s out of the danger zone now — out of my body. Now that he’s cordless and living on his own on the outside, with his own heart and lungs pumping away, and especially since there have been zero worrying indications and he seems happy and well-fed (and things like slightly crossed eyes and bow legs are very normal in newborns, and we’re giving him vitamin D drops just in case, and in general my body will pull what he needs into the milk other than a few things we supplemented, like the vitamin K shot), I just have a feeling that the worst is behind us. I did enough worrying in the past 5 years to last a lifetime. I’m actually pretty chill, at least for the moment.

That’s not to say I take liberties with his safety, other than co-sleeping sometimes, which statistically is mostly only dangerous if there are a couple of confounding factors, such as drinking or smoking in the home. Anything can happen — in a crib or in a bed — but the odds in our case are very, very low. And he just loves snuggling against his food source to sleep, and I love it, too. I did get him down in the bassinet for most of the night last night (yay!), but then we both fell asleep at the next breastfeeding session.

Parenthood is really about doing your absolute best one moment at a time given your own unique situation. Stats are important, but they can’t determine everything. As expected, I can already feel myself getting less judgy about any number of things as time goes on. Luckily babies — especially healthy babies of healthy parents — are generally pretty hardy creatures. The unthinkable can happen, but you just have to lump that in with everything else that can go wrong in life, most of which misses most families. And dreading it pre-emptively won’t help much. Things are good now, and I’m letting them be.

Another thing is how much my love for my husband is exploding. It’s almost like I couldn’t quite bear to love my husband as much as I do for these past five years because I couldn’t stand someone I love that much to suffer as much as we’ve suffered. And now, finally, he’s happy and things are as they should be, and the lid has been taken off of the pressure cooker of my love. I had a third weeping spell (happened to be while I was breastfeeding), and I sobbed, “I just love you so much.”

My husband assumed I was talking to the baby and joked, “Hey, thanks, I love you, too. Even though I know that wasn’t for me…”

I said, “No, it was for you. I love the baby, but it’s different. I just met him.”

“But you knew him for nine months.”

“Not really. He was just an idea. An idea that could go ‘poof’ at any moment. I don’t think I really believed in him until I saw him.”

I later asked my husband if he was surprised by anything he felt since the baby was born. He said he was surprised how much he loved him. Like me, he had kept at least some distance from the idea of a child until that child was in our arms. It’s so sad that we did that; that we felt we had to for our own survival. But Ahmed was immediately just dead gone on the kid, and while I suspect the stress and exhaustion of the birth and hospitalization and recovery put me a few days behind on bonding, I love this little guy more and more every single day, and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon.

IMG_1326 copy

Showing off some of that Kung Fu fighting he used to do in my belly…

The Well is Full

β€œIs not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?”

― Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

I’ve only cried twice since the babe was born (other than some hyperventilating exhausted-beyond-endurance freak-outs at the hospital, which we won’t count), and both times it was because things are so good now it feels like perching vertiginously at a great height. Mostly I’m just happy, but sometimes anxiety makes a move to try to spoil even this, warning that life is never this good forever. Thankfully I have Khalil Gibran to set me straight when needed, and I’m doing my best to enjoy this pure, clear water of life as it comes.

So that gives you an idea of where I’m at — my main “problem” is that I’m too happy. Our boy is… I mean, you know, he’s a baby. He’s already pooped on our bed twice (of course he had diaper blowouts the two times he wasn’t on a waterproof cover thing), he’s a lazy nurser and likes to fall asleep on the boob or just suck every now and then, turning what could be 20 minute nursing sessions into 40 minute marathons or more, and we’ve redoubled our efforts to get him to sleep in the bassinet (co-sleeping is making us both a bit too nervous), which is mostly going nowhere fast.

But dangit if we aren’t happy to have these as our “problems” right now. He is so sweet and funny and cute, and every time we use our “baby stuff” we feel so blessed by all the people who showered us with so much help and love. I know who it all came from, and I think of them every time we use those burp cloths or that blanket or the Pack n Play or the car seat, and so on. Maybe it’s the oxytocin talking, but I’m just kind of in love with everything.

The sleep deprivation did get pretty intense by about day 4, but he’s started sleeping in 2-3 hour chunks at night — occasionally even 4-hour chunks — and we’ve been taking turns being “in charge” of him at night. When I’m “in charge” I nurse on demand and he otherwise sleeps in the crook of my arm and Ahmed just sleeps like normal. But once I woke up and the covers were over his face a bit, and it freaked me out. Ahmed has been trying to acclimate him to the bassinet, and two nights ago he was “in charge” and barely got any sleep since he was always trying to keep Ali happy in that place he didn’t really want to be and making sure he was OK there and of course handing him to me whenever he wanted to nurse. But I got some truly excellent sleep.

I don’t feel like this switching off is sustainable, especially since my co-sleeping nights make us too nervous (and probably confuse Ali), so it’s an ongoing challenge figuring this out. We might get a co-sleeper thing to put in the bed between us, though it seems like it probably won’t leave much room for us and might not work at all. But hey, no one said you were supposed to have parenthood totally figured out in the first week…

We haven’t been too overwhelmed, all in all. Ahmed has even put in a few hours working from home, and I just sent him off to play in his Sunday soccer game. (I insisted. It’ll be good for him. You bet your ass I’d be playing if I could.)

IMG_1315

I’m still just so relieved that he’s here and healthy. Childbirth is absolutely terrifying if you think about it too much. There’s just so much that can go wrong. You can’t think about it too much, because serious complications are rare, and you’re much better off going into things with a positive mindset. But you don’t really know what’s on the other side of labor, for your own body or that of your child. Especially for someone like me who was just holding her breath through the entire pregnancy. Until he was here and we were both fine, a part of me simply could not believe it would ever happen. It was like jumping off a cliff into a void. Would there be a net at the bottom or sharp rocks? I had no way of knowing other than to jump and see.

And it’s such a damn relief that everyone’s still alive on the other side.

Meanwhile I’ve started seeing Ali’s face everywhere. In a wadded up towel or a wrinkled part of the comforter I’ll see his little open mouth or little frowny face. I’ve never heard of this being a thing, and maybe it is just me, but it’s really interesting.

My recovery continues, and while I still feel out of breath at the slightest exertion, I definitely feel better day by day. Bed rest is a drag, but it seems to be having the intended effect, and Ahmed makes sure I have everything I need at hand at all times. My sluggish digestive system seems to have finally started kicking in again (poor thing, it’s been squished up for so long!), and it’s great not having to get up 8 times per night to pee.

I weighed myself at the pediatrician’s office on Wednesday and was down to 146 from 160. I read somewhere that some of the fat stores laid down in pregnancy are there to help you make milk in the early days postpartum (which is ingenious, as I’m sure most mamas are pretty low energy at that point), and my squishy belly has already shrunk a bit, though I’ll probably get to keep the larger belly button. I’m trying to eat as much as I can, and it’s a good amount, but not as much as I would expect given the demands of recovery (including building blood) and breastfeeding. My appetite has just been kind of normal. Three small-to-medium-sized meals a day plus snacks 2 or 3 times a day. I can’t seem to eat a large meal at one sitting.

The lochia has mostly tapered off already, and I only leak a few drops from one breast while Ali feeds on the other. No cracked or bleeding nipples, no apparent clogged ducts, and engorgement didn’t get too bad. The girls got huge for a few days, but not hard or red or hot. Ali is pooing like a champ, though there may be slightly fewer wet diapers than average. We’re scheduled for another weigh-in at the pediatrician’s on Tuesday, and hopefully he’ll still be pretty close to his birth weight and maybe even a bit more.

I’m still gobsmacked that my body knew how to make a new human. From the moment he cartwheeled out of me, it’s been hard to connect this new person dropped into our lives with the formless lump that bopped and kicked in my belly for all those months. He was just an idea tucked away in the dark, and now he’s a little sweetheart with pretty eyes, pink lips, and the cutest little milk-drunk smile. He knows his mama and daddy — we both have our ways and times of soothing him — and he’s open to new people as well.

IMG_1310

I don’t often think of him being a donor embryo babe, I mean any more than I think about any other given attribute, other than just matter-of-factly. I do feel intensely grateful to the donors for giving us the starting blocks for this wonder boy, but I also know that donating gametes is small change compared to gestating, birthing, and raising a child. Nonetheless, one is sometimes not possible without the other, and we’re so lucky that DNA came together and combined in just the right way to make our son. I really hope we’ll get to meet our donors some day and say thank you, if nothing else.

But he’s our son, there’s no doubt about that. No one else’s in the universe. He dropped down from heaven — or from the void, as you will — to join our little household after we willed him into existence. I can’t have any regrets or wish anything to be different, because any slight deviation from our path would have meant this particular unique miracle wouldn’t be here. He is here, thank God, and he is our son, and he is perfect.

Babymoon

We are still pretty much in a bubble of bliss, sleep deprivation and all. Ali absolutely won’t deal with the bassinet, and to our surprise we’ve embraced bed sharing as simply the only way any of us can get any sleep. We know how to make it as safe as possible, and severe sleep deprivation itself can be a hazard on par with being drunk (we were getting quite close to that), so it’s a matter of minimizing risk and misery as well as we can. It’s been beautiful so far. A good night of sleep last night meant so much to all of us.

Daddy has been running the household while I’ve been on bed rest for a mild prolapse. It was pre-existing, so no surprise, but nice to give everything a chance to shrink back toward normal proportions before giving gravity a chance to weigh in. Of course it’s frustrating because I don’t get to choose any outfits or pick the blankets or even change diapers or burp the little guy. I’m just the milk dispenser and part-time pillow. But he’s been cluster feeding lately, so that’s been a whole lot of time together. I’ve gotten used to never eating my meals hot πŸ˜‰

IMG_1288

My husband is so good with our son it just kills me. It’s the best thing ever. He was meant to be a daddy, and now finally he is, and he’s exactly as spectacular as I expected.

Ali has been amazing, too. Such a good baby. He’s sweet and funny and, yeah, of course he cries, sometimes for longer than one might hope (ha), but once you figure out his issue he generally calms right down. (Hint: He usually wants the boob. A close second is gas, and he’s great at out-gassing with a bit of encouragement.)

My midwife came on Tuesday for a check-up, and we went over the birth narrative and just generally relived the thing like we were firefighters who’d rescued someone from a burning building together. Not that I’m a burning building, but the whole situation felt like something that could very easily have been a disaster and yet everything was great at the end. We did it together, for all those hours, everyone playing her or his part, and at the end we had this perfect new person.

His mama was a three-alarm dumpster fire for a little while, but that got resolved, too πŸ™‚

My recovery is going well. Given that I ended up with at least 20 stitches, and for a while folks were scared I had a tumor or a stroke, I don’t feel too bad. Ahmed is taking amazing care of me. I feel fragile, and I don’t like that feeling, but sometimes it is what it is. Day by day I’m gaining strength and losing soreness. And with almost anything that will ever happen from now on in my life, I can always say, “Well, at least it’s not childbirth!”

Wednesday we went to the pediatrician, and she confirmed he’s a boringly healthy baby. And he was so good when they were sticking his heel (both the midwife for the metabolic screen and the pediatrician for bilirubin), waiting until he was really good and annoyed to cry and then calming right down afterwards. I was so proud of him.

Today my doula came by the house for her check-up and latch check, and we went over the birth story again and she helped me get him on a deeper latch by trying some different holds than my standard side-lying go-to. It seems to have rung some bells with him, and his latch got a bit less pinchy since then.

How lucky am I to have so many people in on my “birth story” as an individual, not just a patient with 20 different people in and out and the baby-catcher just there at the end? It would have been such a different experience in a hospital. I’m in awe that anyone can manage to birth a baby vaginally in a hospital. Maybe (hopefully) most people don’t have quite as hard a time as I did, right on the razor’s edge of a c-section. I only have my own experience to draw from. But I could not have done that at a hospital.

ali1

It’s still hard to soak in that this perfect being is my son. It’s hard to look past a given day when he’s in my charge and imagine 18+ years. For now I’m just taking it one magical day at a time.

IMG_1295

Post-Baby Belly Bliss

I know I’m burying the birth story here (next post), but I gotta say — I love my post-pregnancy belly! It’s so soft and squishy, such a sweet place to rest my baby, and so gratifying to feel my uterus contracting down little by little after a job so damn well done. This new belly isn’t distended or constrictive, it doesn’t kick me, and I don’t have to worry about hurting or killing anyone inside it other than just myself.

I have to say, I didn’t super enjoy this pregnancy. I was extremely grateful it was relatively easy, but it was a post-traumatic situation. Not nearly as traumatic as some, but after four years of failure and loss, it was so hard to have any faith whatsoever in this body’s ability to create a human. Up until the very last day — the very last minute — I was still just waiting for something to go horrendously wrong.

I know everyone loves pregnancy bumps, and I played along as well as I could, but it was a means to an end for me. The end was a baby. Now I have the baby, and I’m grateful for what my belly did, and I’m grateful my belly is off duty (for a while anyway). I’m grateful I can lay on either side and not worry about my baby’s eventual birth position. I’m grateful I can lay on my back and not worry I’m killing anyone. I’m grateful my belly no longer keeps me up at night with kicks. I’d much rather have a baby on the outside keeping me up at night! And/or snuggled in the crook of my arm sleeping like he is now. I’d much rather he be kicking the outside than the inside of my uterus.

And I find the soft, yielding shape of my new belly so feminine and lovely. The pregnat belly is a workhorse belly. This is a pure maternal belly. A welcoming and receptive belly. A “baby is here” belly. A Buddha bliss belly.

Birth Story

As I’ve said before, the data aren’t super clear about going beyond 42 weeks. For some people it’s perfectly natural. For others it could either signal or create problems. In my case, with a genetic mismatch between the babe and the uterus (perhaps my family carries long but my babe is better off with shorter gestations?), I wasn’t keen at all to go past 42 weeks. My midwife suggested an herbal induction protocol that included a small amount of castor oil, not to irritate the bowels into stimulating uterine contractions but to activate prostaglandin receptors in the uterus.

I wasn’t brave enough to take the full doses she recommended or for the prescribed six hours. I did half-doses for about four hours — some things every hour, some every 2 hours, some every 30 minutes, etc.

Well, I stopped the protocol around 11pm on Saturday, April 7, and contractions started within the hour. (Coincidence? I’ll never know.) I tried to sleep, but by around 12:30am a contraction woke me up and I was too fascinated and excited to keep sleeping. Ahmed had gone to bed super early, like 7pm for some reason, and thank God for that. At least one of us had some energy to get through what was coming!

I can’t remember if I woke Ahmed or my doula up first, but anyway around 1:30am I called my poor doula to let her know I was finally, apparently, hopefully starting labor. My contractions were about 42 second each (on average), 5 minutes apart. I could still talk through them easily. I was excited and unsure of what to look for exactly, but looking back I should have just left everyone alone at that point. Looking back, it was nothing.

My doula suggested I take a warm bath, and Ahmed brought in LED candles and sat with me, and it was really nice. Labor didn’t stop or stall, so we were both excited that this was really it. I was a little concerned about my water breaking or otherwise having super fast labor given that I had gone so late and taken all those herbs. Around 5:30am, when contractions were almost a minute long on average and less than 4 minutes apart for more than an hour, we called the midwife and she said she’d see us at the birth center.

I sat in the backseat of the car and contracted a few times while kneeling in the space behind the pushed-up front passenger seat. Not fun but totally tolerable.

The midwife had told us she was mostly hands-off for the first part of labor unless we needed anything, and my doula lives an hour away, so Ahmed and I were on our own for a little while, which was fine. Then the doula came and we just kind of hung out. I had a kick-ass birth playlist (mostly cribbed from our wedding playlist), and it was lovely hearing so many favorite songs and sometimes singing along with them a little. I also listened to Beethoven’s entire 9th Symphony at one point.

Early on my midwife checked my cervix to get a baseline idea of where I was at and said I was around 3cm. Sounded like a good start to me after so many weeks of not being remotely dilated at all. It perked me up and made me feel like this was something my body really could do.

My midwife says I went into active labor at something like 10am. I had only slept one hour in the past 24 hours and I was starting to feel it, which made me feel daunted again. I had God knows how many hours to go, and it was only going to get harder, and it wasn’t like I could tag team this and get a break for a while. I tried to keep on just taking it one contraction at a time.

Around 1:30pm we ordered soup and sandwiches from Panera Bread (I got a BLT with turkey and avocado), and for some reason I didn’t eat much of my sandwich. Like I had some idea of saving it for later, or I was just still too excited to think about eating, or it just wasn’t very appetizing in that moment. Very silly mistake. By the time “later” came, I was kind of nauseated and didn’t want to eat at all (other than a few bites from fruit cups or coconut yogurt now and then).

I spent quite a lot of time in the birth pool, which was really nice and made the pain so much more manageable. But I was worried it may be slowing labor a bit, so I got out and went through contractions in many different positions suggested by the midwife, doula, or my body, mostly standing, it seemed, but also some side-lying (which allowed me to get little snippets of sleep between tough contractions). Contractions were pretty relentless, getting close to 90 seconds every 2 or 3 minutes, though by 6pm I was only to 6cm or so. My cervix was quite thin, which was good news, as I have a very long cervix and was worried about that. Still, it kind of felt like I was barely getting anywhere. My midwife and doula assured me I was doing great.

All right, back to it. More birth tub. More standing, more side-lying, occasional birth stool (which I really hated). Contractions were, of course, impossible to talk through by then, and there was no thought of a playlist and I didn’t want anyone to touch me. I just had to sway and sometimes moan a little, and I had mantras I repeated to myself like, “Just go with it,” “It’s OK, it’s normal,” “Relax relax relax,” “It’s just a sensation, it’ll pass,” and the like. Sometimes I’d just start telling random, rambling stories that made no sense to distract myself from particularly bad ones.

Meanwhile something was odd: My midwife at some point was able to feel the head and said it was engaged and facing the rear as it should be and as it had been for most of the past many weeks. But when I palpated my belly, I felt not a firm baby back but little kicking arms and legs. Somehow he was twisted in there, maybe wrapped up in the cord, and perhaps this was why progress was so painfully slow.

There was more bad news. The baby was compressing my urethra to the point that it was impossible to urinate, which meant that other than a few drops squeezed out now and then, and my midwife catheterizing me once around 11:15pm, my bladder just kept getting more distended and I had long since stopped hydrating enough, which added whole other levels of misery. I also had a pretty serious anterior cervical lip that seemed to be holding things up, and though the baby’s head was facing the right way, my midwife suspected it was asynclitic (tilted).

Right around midnight my water broke, and I was delighted to hear that the fluid was beautifully clear. “Good boy,” I said. But I was so tired and miserable and dehydrated and undernourished, I didn’t have any idea how I could go on. My life had become a neverending misery in which my body was a minefield that sent more pains almost faster than I could recover from the previous ones, and my ballooning bladder was almost worse than all the rest of it. And I was somehow supposed to “accept” all of this, “work through” it and not fight it, even with zero reserves of energy left? I understood and had experienced that allowing these “sensations” to flow through without fighting them made them so much easier to bear. But tell that to a depleted body poised in fight-or-flight mode (with nowhere to flee to), only occasionally able to access that higher wisdom.

A huge part of me absolutely wanted to get a permanent catheter put in and an epidural in my spine and let someone else take over for a while (or until it was over!). It just honestly didn’t seem possible that I could keep going for any amount of time, much less all the way to the end.

But when I’d say this to the midwife or doula, they would very kindly and gently say everything was actually fine and everything would work out just fine. And I knew they had seen enough births to know that it was always f***ing hard, and a lot of people were sure at some point that they could not go on. This was often a sign that the end was actually near. Obviously they would have transferred me to the hospital if I had insisted, but somehow they gave me just enough courage to keep going.

Finally some time around 1:50am I started getting urges to push. The midwife helped me push as efficiently as possible, mostly standing up, which I seemed to tolerate best. The head was seen at 2:30, but by then I felt like he should be practically born. So much has to stretch before the head is visible that I just felt like I should be done by then. But there was so much more to go. Every contraction, I would give it everything I had (which didn’t feel like much sometimes) and think, “This is it, this has to be it, I have nothing left, nothing,” and every time he’d disappear back into the birth canal.

At one point I just knew I was a millimeter away from crowning, and my midwife said, “Look, there’s a silver-dollar-sized piece of his head showing even between contractions!” I was so demoralized, I wanted to shout, “F*** your silver dollar, I CAN’T DO THIS.” I did say something along those lines, probably with tears of frustration and near-rage. The midwife said matter-of-factly, “You will do it. Even if we take you to the hospital at this point, they’ll tell you you have to push him out. And you can do it. You are doing it.”

So this was that place I had read about, this rock-and-a-hard-place place where there’s no escape at all. You don’t feel like you can go forward, but you sure as hell can’t go back. You literally have to give birth to this baby or die trying. There’s simply no other option.

The midwife and doula both urged me to reach down and feel the baby’s head for motivation, but honestly it was hard to feel the difference between his head and my body, and when they tried to show it to me with a mirror, it looked like such a small part compared to what was to come, it was hard to feel anything other than hopeless. I was so far out past the end of my rope I didn’t know how I could even keep standing, much less push a baby out.

Well. There was just no choice. I just had to. With each contraction I would push standing up, directed by the midwife based on my physiology, and this felt like it went on for hours. (It was not like taking a poo, despite what I’ve heard so many people say. It was like… well, like pushing a pineapple out of your vagina. I don’t know how else to describe it.)

But the total pushing phase, I found out later, was less than 90 minutes. Sometimes I really didn’t have much to put into it, or just couldn’t rally the reserves, but other times, with the encouragement of my support team, I tapped into reserves I didn’t know I had. My midwife would loudly encourage me when I pushed just right, and my doula would count to ten and I’d try to keep each push going for the full count. I succeeded less than half the time. Still, just getting to 6 felt like a miracle. I looked at the rock ahead of me and I pushed against it with any and all might I could summon. I just didn’t have any choice other than to kill myself and the baby, too. And that wasn’t an option. So.

I’d had these nice dreams and images of “breathing the baby out” peacefully in a birth tub, and I’m sure that kind of thing can happen, especially if you actually eat and/or sleep in anticipation of childbirth and don’t have a cervical lip, an asynclitic baby, or a bladder so distended it almost feels like another uterus and is making you almost as miserable. I feel I could have gotten a handle on the sensations of labor with more forebearance if I wasn’t so exhausted and starved, even with the complications I was dealing with. But sometimes I was just swept aside by it and could only do my best not to be completely churned under by the floodwaters. I tried so hard to relax, to take each contraction one at a time, to know all of this would be over some day, to remember that trying to fight off pain would only make things worse. Sometimes I managed, but often it was all I could do to just keep existing.

Anyway, as for me personally, I did not peacefully breathe the baby out. I grunted and groaned and strained and yelled, focused deeply inwards because there was nowhere else to go. No one else could do this for me. At some point the midwife suddenly ordered me to the birthing stool because she said the cervical lip was coming down with the baby, and she had to tuck it back behind his head to avoid serious injury to me. I knew I had to do that, too, so I did, as much as I hated the birthing stool and knew it would hurt for her to do what she had to do.

Thankfully through all of it the baby’s heart stayed strong and steady. No signs of distress whatsoever. I was so grateful to the little man for staying so strong. At once point my doula reminded me that I had to be just as strong for him, and this kicked my ass for at least a much-needed moment.

As far as I remember, I continued pushing standing up over the birthing stool, and one contraction at a time, one monumental effort at a time (and sometimes smaller efforts when it was all I could do), the baby was actually crowning. I couldn’t stop even though I really felt like every effort up to now should have been more than enough. It wasn’t. I had to keep going. Mentally I supposed it was a relief to finally feel that ‘ring of fire’, but physically all I felt was that this really hurt and would probably injure me but I had to keep going anyway. My midwife later told me my perineum wasn’t stretching enough, and if she did episiotomies, she would have done one on me. I could feel that something was going to give, but I almost didn’t care at that point if I tore. That was for someone else to worry about. Right now all I could possibly worry about was getting this baby out, a task that seemed so monumentally impossible it felt like the whole world had gone mad.

I kept going. And suddenly the head was out. Amazingly, they still told me to keep going, so I did, and thank God the body came out quickly. He had amazing color, and he peed on everyone and then promptly pooped meconium and everyone laughed and said how healthy he was. His Apgar scores were 8 and then 9. He was born at 3:06am.

I looked down as he was caught by the midwife — literally, like someone had dropped a football and she had to catch it — and he was so long and slippery, with such a beautiful cord connected to him, it was hard to believe he had really come from my body. He seemed to drop out of nowhere, like from heaven. But somehow my body had taken a few hundred cells and made this new human.

Mostly I just felt sheer, overwhelming relief. I had done it. He was out. It was over. I had escaped from hell and now life could go on again. And it would go on with a healthy baby boy in my arms.

He was wiped off and handed to me immediately, and I looked at his little face, still with bloody, stringy mucus in his nose and mouth, which he was working on expelling, and I helped him with the towel and my fingers. He was grimacing some but not really crying (that docked him a point on his initial Apgar score, along with slightly blue extremities), and his breath was a little grunty, which my midwife assured me was perfectly normal as babies make their transitions to the oxygen-breathing world.

All pain was forgotten in that moment.

After the cord stopped pulsing the midwife asked if I wanted to cut it. With her guidance I reached down and cut it, in a daze, sight unseen.

My midwife asked me to push out the placenta, and while I was just so damn done, it was laughably easy compared to pushing out a baby. Apparently quite a bit more blood and tissue gushed out that had been “hiding” behind the placenta (?) and got all over the midwife’s feet, and she laughed at that, too. (You just can’t be a midwife and be hung up on bodily fluids.) She said it wasn’t a hemorrage. I believe she said I lost about 800 milliliters total, and 1500 was when she started to get worried. But she gave me a uterine massage (ouch) and misoprostol to help make sure my uterus continued to contract and hopefully wouldn’t bleed too much more.

I had told her I wanted to look at the placenta after it was out, and she tried to show it to me, but I was too tired to even raise my head to get a good look at it. She did manage to show me the “mommy” side of it, and I also caught sight of the broken sac that had protected my son all those months, but I just couldn’t rally the energy to care much, even though I was sad to lose out on this rare opportunity to see something so fascinating: an entirely new organ my body (and my baby) had made and then expelled as soon as it was no longer needed. I’m still bummed I missed out on getting a good look, but it was just beyond me at that moment.

She also saw some asymmetric molding on his head from being asynclitic, and she said he could have rotated 20 degrees to get into better position, but he ended up rotating 340 degrees in the other direction instead, maybe because of cord entanglement. That was part of why things took so long. Apparently the dramatic change happened after I had labored in a side-lying positions with a peanut ball for some time.

Mostly I remember our son just looking around, being alert, looking at me and at his dad. It was hard to connect this sweet little being to the insurmountable roadblock that had made the past many hours of my life such an endless hell. (OK, fine, a lot of it wasn’t so bad and was actually nice, spending time with good people and anticipating what was to come. But Jeezus labor and delivery are no joke.)

What did he look like? You can’t tell anything about nationality from his face. If you posted a picture of the baby, you’d be just as likely to say he’s Turkish as anything. He just looks like a sweet little man, a pretty baby. I’m sure we’re biased, but we think he’s beautiful. It’s almost impossible to grasp a lifetime with a person you’ve literally just met, but we were in such a happy, relieved, excited place. I just couldn’t believe I had done it. I couldn’t believe it was over — at least this first part, which it had taken us so long to get past. Not only a baby — now a cordless baby breathing on his own and in our arms.

We don’t know who this little guy is, but he’s ours for as long as he’ll have us. And that is such an incredible honor. An honor we’ve worked so hard for for so long in so many ways, it can only make him that much more dear to us. But of course he’s his own little man before he’s anything to us. We’re just his lucky guardians.

I didn’t feel an overwhelming rush of love right away. More like awe and a wonderful feeling of stepping into the unknown and yeah, just profound relief. He was perfect. I felt immediate affection for him, like I feel for all babies, but it was surrounded by a glow of something more, something I as yet can’t quite really imagine. Something that will build over time.

I finally stopped mooning over him long enough to remember he might be hungry. He latched on like a pro (my doula helped) and suckled for 20 minutes. I didn’t know if he was getting anything, but after some hours he had a huge meconium diaper, and before the day was over he’d continued to suckle and had one or two more big meco-dumps. He also seems happy and calm as long as we keep him burped and warm and give him the boob as soon as he starts smacking his lips and gumming his hands, before he gets into full-blown crying.

I thanked everyone on the team, just so incredibly moved and honored that they had stayed with me through all of it and provided just what I needed (including cheerfully leaving me alone when I wanted solitude). They knew just what to say to get me through, and I have no idea how I would have gotten through otherwise. I don’t think I would have. I think I’d have been at a hospital in no time. And if I had been at a hospital, I’d have been hooked up to drugs and probably sectioned.

By the way, I do not at all judge women for choosing to give birth in a hospital. Every situation is different, everyone takes different data and values into account, and everyone does their best. There can be beautiful magical hospital births and nightmare home births. There are no right answers. Just for me, personally, I preferred the low-tech, traditional yet evidence-based, gentle beginning of a birth center for my son if at all possible. And I would not, personally, take it back and make another choice, though I certainly have a deeper understanding of why people would make a different choice under slightly different circumstances, or even in my exact circumstance. The skill of my team made this tough birth possible along with just enough luck.

But then, some time after the first feeding, things started to get a little hazy in my mind. I started missing words. At first people just thought I was tired and would finish sentences for me. But pretty soon it was clear that not only could I not finish sentences, I couldn’t form them, either. And there were some words I had simply forgotten. “Ensure” meant nothing to me even though I had been drinking the protein drinks to keep me going, and when the midwife asked if I wanted another catheter, I had no idea what she was talking about. I could mostly understand people, but when I wanted to say something, all that would come out would be random words that made no sense and I would forget what I was trying to say.

I could have kept quiet and no one would have known the difference. They already knew my blood pressure was quite low, my heart rate was elevated, and I was undernourished, dehydrated, and about twenty shades beyond exhausted. They were force-feeding me Ensure and the electrolyte drink I had made (I called it Urinade because it tasted not entirely unlike pee, made with Concentrace mineral drops, Calm magnesium supplement, coconut water, lime juice, ginger, and a drop of iodine), and I could have been forgiven for keeping my own counsel for a while.

But it was genuinely scaring me, so I kept trying to speak, to show them what was happening to my brain in case they were in a better position than I was to know if it was serious or not. I would just try to say any random thing, like “I would like some water now,” and it would come out like, “Won… wander… bottle… ball…” I had utterly lost my ability to communicate. I had heard about this — aphasia — a condition that can come about due to brain damage. It was terrifying. They watched me for a while as I continued to try to speak coherently, all of us waiting to see if this was only a temporary blip, but after half an hour everyone was worried enough to call an ambulance.

By the time the ambulance got there (which was quick), I was communicating again (the Ensure whose name I couldn’t remember had apparently done its job) and basically just felt quite drunk. I liked all the ambulance people, who carried me out of the birth center in a kind of medical hammock, but as soon as I was in the ambulance, I knew this was overkill. I was joking around with the paramedics and answering all their questions perfectly. But I was still too half-out-of-my-mind to question them or the decision to send me to the hospital.

The paramedics put an IV line right in the crease of my left arm and random stickers all over my body and other stuff, too, then handed me off to a team of about 8 people in the ER who hooked another line up to my right arm (it was never used but caused a painful bruise), a blood pressure cuff that went off every ten minutes, bracelets, more stickers, probes on my chest, a monitor on my left index finger, and I don’t even know what else. I immediately felt constricted and uncomfortable, and I knew that what I really needed more than anything else was good salty food and a big jug of water, but no one would let me eat or drink anything. (They did give me a saline drip, so there’s that.)

Ahmed arrived shortly after me in our car after getting the baby’s vitals checked — 7 lbs 7 oz, 22 inches long — and grabbing our birth bags.

The first 8 people asked me questions, like what was the date and who was the president. (I winced and said, “Ugh… Donald Trump.”) As more and more different people came in, it was like everyone had been playing telephone, and my actual story sounded different every time another person told it. When one new person asked me what the year was, I said, “1981.” There was dead silence for a moment, then I said, “I’m kidding. It’s April 9, 2018. My son’s birthday.” The person who’d asked me laughed in relief and said, “If you can joke around like this, I think you’re fine.”

I did, too. I was so annoyed I’d let myself get dragged to the hospital. I’m sure they’re going to charge us the same $7,000 it would have cost to give birth at the hospital. Ugh.

The next guy who came in did a chest x-ray (apparently to check for blood clots in my lungs — I had hyperventilated a couple of times when I felt so frustrated by being in a hospital and not being able to eat or drink or rest or spend comfy quality time with my husband and son), then another guy wanted to do like 4 different CT scans. I told him politely, Thanks but no thanks, and he looked at me rather blankly, like no one had ever refused his services before, and retreated. But then Ahmed said the whole point of all of this was to get a CT scan, at least of my head, and I was too far gone to argue or to suggest I just get the head CT scan and not the other scans. (One of the scans revealed that my kidney was swollen due to my son blocking my bladder for so long.)

Soon my mom and step-dad arrived. Ahmed had called them as soon as the ambulance left with me. I hadn’t told anyone when I went into labor, not wanting to fend off text messages or impatient vibes or just knowing anyone was waiting for an outcome that would come in its own time. I wanted to be in my own little world with my husband and support team during that strange and fraught liminal time and space. But it was great to see them and to introduce them to their grandson so soon after he joined us earthside. (They “happened” to be in Tulsa, pretty sure the birth was going to happen at any minute.) They were, of course, thoroughly smitten.

Long story short, the scans and blood work came up fine (or as expected, given my state of exhaustion and exertion), and I knew that if someone would just let me f***ing EAT OR DRINK, I’d feel better in no time. But because I’d left the midwife’s place before she had a chance to stitch me up (I had a couple of second degree tears), they had to do that in the hospital, too. But there weren’t any rooms available, and meanwhile I wasn’t allowed any food or drink in case I ended up under general anesthesia.

What? General anesthesia for stitches? I thought this was ludicrously stupid.

Hours later, a room finally opened up and I was wheeled from Emergency up to L&D and a nurse informed me that she was prepping me for an epidural.

Um… what? An epidural for stitches? That sounded almost as stupid as the idea I might end up under general! And they were actually planning on doing it?!

I tried not to sound too incredulous when I asked if local lidocaine might be more appropriate than a giant needle in my spine with its potential for serious side effects (including low blood pressure, of all things!) and complications and probably a much longer period of “observation” that felt like incarceration.

Thankfully they agreed to give me the lidocaine plus some stadol. A nurse secretly training to be a midwife told me stadol was what they gave to laboring women to make them feel like they’d had three quick glasses of wine, and sure enough it made me dizzy enough to distract at least a bit from what was going on. (It’s a secret she’s training to be a midwife because her colleagues do not approve. Thankfully no one was overtly weird about the fact that I was transferring in from a birth center.)

It still wasn’t fun getting 3 or 4 shots in my down-low and maybe 25 stitches, some of them by a student with the direction of the doctor. I really wasn’t in the mood to be some newbie’s guinea pig, and I was far too tired to endure it as gracefully as one would hope. Of course it was a joke compared to childbirth, but I was just so done being poked and prodded and in pain.

Then it took another several hours to discharge us because the nurse assigned to us had been pulled into an emergency situation. So we just sat around until 4pm when we were finally given a paper to sign and released.

All in all we were stuck in the hospital from 6am until 4pm — ten of the first thirteen hours of our son’s life. Frustrating and annoying, and it’ll cost us a fortune. But of course if I had had a stroke or a blood clot or a tumor that was getting pressed on by pushing, it would have been prudent to get that checked out. But half a dozen questions, one CT scan, and a little blood work could have done that, not this giant rigmarole.

Being in that hospital really drove home how glad I am to have given birth elsewhere. I liked most of the people I encountered for sure, but the whole bureaucracy of it is mass produced and in some ways dehumanizing and wildly inefficient. A visit to my midwife can take ten minutes, start to finish. See if you can find anyone who can get in and out of an OB’s office in that time. See if you can find anyone in a hospital who has a dedicated team that knows her pretty well at her beck and call through all stages of labor for far less than the cost of routine hospital care. (But yes, of course there are advantages to being in a hospital as well!)

Anyway. Finally got out of that prison, and my mom and step-dad got us ribs and steak kabobs to eat at home, and we’ve just been happy ever since. Still quite sleep-deprived, but glad to know mommy’s not losing her mind and baby is still doing wonderful at just over 24 hours old. He’s still suckling great, pooping great, and mostly calm as long as we don’t dress him in something he doesn’t like, let him get chilly, miss or ignore his early hunger signs, or let any trapped gas sit in his system. His only minor issue is very dry skin, probably from being post-mature. He sneezes sometimes, also very normal for a baby learning to clear his lungs and breathe.

But mostly he’s just our cute little old man baby. And it’s such a thrill to have burp cloths and baby clothes join our laundry basket. To have our blankets wrapped around him and our shelf of babyness become rapidly disorganized as things actually get used. It’s such a dream. I realize I’m only 24 hours into this, but so far it’s by far the most joyous and wondrous part of all of it. I stay tuned in to the boy (as much as I can), and when he cries, mostly it’s just a little fussing, and I talk to him for a minute and assure him we’re here for him and we love him, and he usually calms down again. If not, we run through the checklist: Hungry? Gassy? Cold? Uncomfortable? Wants to poop? Pooped already?

It’s not always easy to read his mind when he only has one main way to communicate, but we already feel like we’re making good progress. Ahmed took one long cry last night and finally calmed him down with a swaddle. I took another long cry and finally figured out he hated the sleeves on the sleep gown he was wearing, and he also needed to fart. I try to think of it like a game we’re playing, not like it’s some crisis (unless they’re purple puke-crying and you think they have a bowel obstruction or something). It’s never fun hearing a baby cry, but they’re just trying to speak the language they have until you either use your well-developed brain to figure out their issue or they learn to talk themselves.

So yeah. A couple dozen hours into parenthood, exhausted, sleep-deprived, and so so happy. A new world, yet it feels pretty natural to both of us. Mateo, our cat, is still not sure what to think. He mostly ignores the baby but every now and then pulls up short, like, “What’s that weird noisy thing my humans keep paying attention to? And when will they get rid of it?”

Sorry, buddy. You’re a big brother now.

UPDATE: A day later it’s now birth certificate official: Our son is Ali Julian Doğan

IMG_1270

 

He’s Here!

FINALLY welcomed our perfect son at 42 weeks 1 day. Name TBD, he’s 7 pounds 7 ounces, 22 inches long. We are absolutely fascinated and in love with this little guy.

bub

I birthed in a birth center but then a couple hours later was so exhausted and dehydrated, with low blood sugar, low blood pressure, and fast heartbeat, I started talking like I’d had a stroke. Totally my fault, just didn’t plan my sleeping and eating schedule well. I ate one meal in the 40 hours before birth and had 1 hour of sleep in the 48 hours before birth, and apparently my hormones went a little nuts as well. Was sent to the hospital and all is well.