Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Random Assortment

~ A new mom's fashion observation: this looks a whole lot like a moby wrap.

~ "My Year as an Abortion Doula." I had no idea that there was such a thing. While firmly pro-choice, this (really painful to read) article is honest about some of the complications and difficulties and ethical issues with abortion.

~ Some very smart journalism from my favorite journalist: "The Best Urban Innovations Draw on Traditional Forms."

~ What we all need to avoid the horror that is surfing Netflix, looking for something to watch.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Baby Leopard



My favorite things: When he gets worked up and when he nurses he makes a tight little fist and holds it right up to his cheek. His little involuntary smiles, which come fast and furious after a good feeding. His fine eyelashes (I suspect he inherited Francisco's long eyelashes, because mine are nothing to write home about). The way he opens his mouth and throws his head back like a hungry baby robin whenever he sees me.

Also, our 80-something-year-old gardening neighbor met him yesterday. She said that she wants to plant a rose in his honor. She said, "I know you'll move and get a house, but you can bring him back here and show him where he was born."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

JVS on Babies

In response to my comment that taking care of Baby Leopard is harder than reading Aristotle:

"ah the mysteries of life. you will learn more from baby than from Aristotle, and that is not to denigrate Aristotle's wisdom.

... new babies change you and the world, you know where you are supposed to be."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Birth, Part 4

After the nurse and midwife spent time cleaning up the baby and taking our vital signs and putting us all back together, they left us for several hours so that we could sleep. After two hours, halfway through the time we were supposed to sleep, I woke up and felt like I was bleeding a lot. I asked Francisco to check and call the nurse. It turns out I was hemorrhaging. The nurse and midwife were on top of it quickly--giving me pitocin and cytotec to stop the bleeding, and catheterizing me (it turns out that the hemorrhage happened because my bladder filled up really full and didn't give my uterus room to contract). And then the midwife stuck her hand (twice) up into my uterus to get out the clots. I yelled again like I yelled when I was in labor. And the whole time, I was wondering (as was Francisco, poor man) if I was going to be ok. I've read enough romantic novels in which the woman dies of a hemorrhage after giving birth to know it was serious. I asked the midwife if I would be okay, and she said that I might have to go to the hospital next door for a D&C, which turned out not to be needed.

The next morning, I nearly passed out on the way to the bathroom from the blood loss (4 pounds). So then there was talk of discharging me from the birth center to the hospital, rather than to my home. But the nurse let me go home on the promise that I'd stay in bed for several days. The nurse and midwife said to each other, it's clear that this one will listen to us (they could see that I'm perfectly fine with being taken care of).

Thankfully, because my mother was staying with us after the birth, I could be essentially on bedrest for several days. I have no idea how people recover from the trauma of birth without being taken care of as completely as I was by both my mother and Francisco. (My mother was incredible--she put the baby to sleep and changed his diaper and cooked and cleaned and I, all over again, owe her everything--and, after going through childbirth, I am now aware of how much I really do owe her everything.)

The midwife who was there through the really hard stuff ever so nicely said that she noticed in my birth plan that I claimed that I didn't have a high pain tolerance, but she thought that I absolutely did. She also apologized later for hurting me when stopping the hemorrhage, the pain of which, of course, probably saved my life.

I spoke to my grandmother on the phone later, and she asked if I wished anything were different--if I wished for pain medicine or an epidural during the birth. The funny thing is, as much as I thought that the labor and delivery were hell, something I hope I never have to go through again, I never wished for any sort of medicine. Francisco and I were just overjoyed that we were able to deliver at the birth center, where we thought we received very good care.

I haven't mentioned much about Francisco: he was perfect. He supported me through every moment of labor and delivery, providing every comfort that he could. He was excellent, even though he was exhausted, too. I couldn't have done it without his encouragement, without the support he was whispering in my ear throughout the whole process. And now, seeing him be a father might just be the best part of having a child.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Birth, Part 3

So I was out of the water and getting ready to push. The midwife I had for pushing I'd met before, and I thought she was my least favorite: she was very bossy in a way that felt slightly condescending. It turns out she was the perfect pushing coach: she was maternal and bossy, and I was in no position to ask questions or disagree. She coached me to my limits--always asking me to push one or two more times through a contraction than I thought I could. She was grunting and yelling right along with me. (I had a sore throat after the birth.) She suggested new positions every three or four contractions so that it didn't feel too monotonous. In the midst of pushing, she would teach me how to hang on Francisco for a supported squat or tell me about gorilla pushing. It was an education.

At some point, it seemed to me that the pushing wasn't going anywhere, because I remember asking, "Is he stuck?" Her response was, there's no such thing as a stuck baby, which convinced me that he was indeed a little stuck. And he was--he was in the posterior position and wasn't making his way out that way (and had quite a bulge to prove it when he finally did emerge). After lots of squatting and wiggling my hips to help him turn, he finally did turn, and my pushes started to move him down.

The feeling of him coming out was unlike anything I'd anticipated. Everyone said that the baby comes down so gradually that everything is numb; this wasn't exactly how I felt. I felt like I was going to split in half, like there was no room at all for him to come out, like I wasn't sure I wanted to keep pushing because I might just break open. Francisco agreed: the midwife had him look at the head emerging in order to encourage me and get me to keep pushing, but later he said that he only saw a tiny part of the head, and even as that part emerged, he wondered how in the world the whole head would fit out.

When Baby Leopard was born, they put him on me for a moment, although they were worried because there was meconium in the amniotic fluid, so they whisked him off to suck it out of his lungs. My mom and Francisco were pretty worried at this point, but I remember not being worried at all: I think I had no emotions or energy left. When they finished, they brought him back and he crawled up my chest (they're supposed to crawl right up to the breast and start nursing, but he was a little mad and just kept crawling up me). I was surprised (and continue to be) at how strong he was.

When the baby was born, I looked at Francisco and saw tears in his eyes. I was surprised that I didn't feel more emotions--I'm probably too selfish and concerned about my own physical trauma. I remember thinking that everyone says that you don't feel the stitches afterward, because you're so happy that the baby has arrived. I had to intentionally focus on the baby because I was annoyed at the stitches.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Birth, Part 2

When we returned to the birth center, we learned a new midwife would be taking over (I think we had four midwives during the time we were there, not to mention four nurses). She wanted me to take castor oil. We also made me a reflexology appointment, since we were willing to try just about anything, and that had given me contractions the last time I'd used it. And at that point, my mom arrived to be with us. We were so grateful for her presence and that she was relatively fresh, since we were both tired out. My mother drove me to McDonald's to buy a milk shake to drink with the castor oil (I'd heard drinking castor oil was terrible, but found it to be just about the most innocuous part of this whole process), and then drove me to my reflexology appointment at a pedicure place. This reflexology person wasn't very good and that was probably a waste. When we returned to the birth center, I was anxious to walk around to get things going, but the midwife insisted that Francisco and I sleep--she said with great confidence that we need to rest now because I'll be getting down to hard work later (she was right). So we napped for an hour and a half or so.

When we woke up we had only a couple of hours left until 5 p.m. I didn't think there was any way I could be in active labor by then. The midwife gave me my first internal exam and said that I was 4 and a half or 5 cm dilated, and we were encouraged by that. At that point, the castor oil, a strong laxative, was really kicking in. And it was ramping up my contractions. 5 p.m. came and went, so I figured that they were happy enough with my labor and they were letting me stay. And I wasn't going to ask any questions about that. Around 6 or 7, they asked me if I'd like to use the Jacuzzi, which they offer during transition. I was really excited to try it. I didn't like laboring laying down (my favorite position was standing up, leaning against the wall in the door frame), but the Jacuzzi was quite relaxing in between contractions, although it didn't really help too much with the pain of the contraction itself (and it was harder for Francisco to reach my back to give me counterpressure for the pain). So I stayed in there. At that point, the contractions were very strong and I wasn't with it very much at all (before that point, there were always points between contractions in which I was myself and could talk and joke, but in the Jacuzzi, my eyes were closed and I was moaning or yelling, and I couldn't even always catch my breath).

And then I was surprised--after not very long I started to feel my body contort and push. I asked the midwife what I was supposed to do when I had that feeling and she said I was doing just the right thing--not pushing at all, but not resisting, either. It wasn't every contraction at the beginning, but some of the stronger ones. She said when every contractions made me feel that way, it would probably be time to push. The contractions made my body involuntarily bend and move, wanting to get that baby out of there.

Soon, she suggested that she examine me and that if it were time, we would push and if not, I could return to the Jacuzzi. At that point, she said I was fully dilated and effaced and that we were ready to push. I had only been in the Jacuzzi for an hour or two: that was the one part of the whole process at which I felt like I'd caught a lucky break; it didn't drag on forever.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Cross

On the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross

We found out last night, on Baby Leopard's one-week birthday, that a dear friend of ours lost her baby in childbirth. I read the email with my son in my arms, and I don't think I've ever reacted so immediately and so strongly to an email or to a death--I couldn't breath and couldn't keep myself from crying. And I wouldn't let Francisco take the baby.

This sad news came in the midst of feeling overwhelmed myself, wondering what I'd gotten myself into with this baby, and wondering how I was going to make it through his infancy, not to mention the rest of his childhood. It made me realize that our baby is a gift, to which the only right response ever, even during the really hard parts, is thankfulness.

My friend went through the troubles of pregnancy, of labor, and even of an emergency C-section before losing her daughter. I can't think of any more difficult cross to bear. At mass today, which was offered for our friend's baby, the priest spoke about the cross--that Christ promises us neither health nor wealth nor success, but only that He will accompany us through our sufferings.

Please pray for our friends in their grief and for the repose of their daughter's soul.

The Birth, Part 1

Our baby was born on September 6th at 10:56 p.m., but the story begins on September 4th. That night, in the middle of the night, I started to wake up with contractions and slept the rest of the night on the couch on and off, so that I could make myself comfortable in the middle of the contractions without bothering Francisco, who I knew would need his sleep so he could help me out for the really hard work to come (little did I know how good the advice of our birth classes was on this point).

I slept myself, with long interruptions. But from the get go, the contractions were very painful in my back. In fact, I experienced them almost exclusively as back pain. I think this happens for one in four births and means that the baby is posterior (coming out facing up, rather than facing down like he should), and back labor is generally longer than average. I remember wondering during those first contractions how this was early labor and not late labor, as it was quite painful--I wondered how the contractions could get even more painful than they already were.

The contractions got regular sometime late morning on September 5th. I wasn't even sure I was in labor as I was just feeling back pain, back pain that required me to focus on it on the birth ball or on my hands and knees or in some other laboring position. But we called the midwives and they said it was probably labor, that I should take some Tylenol for my back and a bath. I ate a meal that morning, as they recommended, to keep my strength up, but from that point on I wasn't too hungry for much. Francisco did some errands for me and beginning early that evening started to support me and try to make me as comfortable as possible--providing counterpressure on my back, walking with me, slow dancing--all the things that they taught us for early labor. Around 5 p.m. I noticed amniotic fluid leaking during my contractions. We were eager for the contractions to progress and get to the point when they were coming every 4 minutes, were one minute long, and had been like that for an hour. That is the magic point at which you can go to the birth center and at which things generally really get going. After walking for 45 minutes, and then sleeping for an hour (in between the contractions), we were at that point. It was 2 a.m. and we thought we were really getting to business.

We went to the birth center to meet the midwife and later learned that she thought that the contractions at that point were mild and we probably came in too early. I guess she's right--she knows what she's talking about, but the back pain never ever felt mild to me. Over the night we continued laboring together--Francisco supporting me excellently through each contraction. But from our arrival at the birth center, rather than continuing to ramp up, it seemed that the contractions were getting more and more infrequent. By the time it was morning, they were noticeably slowed and we started to worry: if I wasn't in active labor (contractions that were 2-3 minutes apart) by 5 p.m., I would have to leave the birth center and be induced at the hospital. This active labor goal seemed impossible to us--my body seemed to be slowing everything down rather than speeding everything up. And induction and our hoped-for natural birth seemed incredibly incompatible: I've heard laboring after being induced with pitocin is very painful.

Our sweet midwife, Jane, suggested that Francisco and I walk to a bagel place a couple of blocks from the birth center and have breakfast together, and then come back and have a rest, and then we would talk about our options for helping my body move along toward birth. At that point we were exhausted and unsure of ourselves and I broke down crying to Francisco as soon as we left the birth center. It seemed that my hope for our delivery was slipping away, and I was imagining a C-section. Even though I'm generally a worst-caser, before our labor slowed, I'd been optimistic that I would have a 16-hour labor or something like that, and that was turning out to be nowhere near the case.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Random Assortment

~ A 4-part series by Pete Dexter on a 1982 heavyweight championship fight:

So in boxing, like anyplace else, gifts aren't everything, and the kind you give yourself are the ones that matter most, at least at this level.
~ I love Bill Cunningham.

~ Wow: the Sendak collection will be leaving one of my favorite museums, the Rosenbach (sorry--it's behind a paywall and I don't know how to get around it).

~ An Eliot family summer home for sale. We've been wanting a place in New England... (Via Hopkins.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Best Response to Baby Leopard's Birth

"He's awesome. I heard all the other little baby girls are trying to get his number. I hope you're doing well. I can't wait to meet the little guy." --text from #1tomatolover

A Diary of Pregnancy: The End

Baby Leopard has arrived, but I'll give you the last bits of my pregnancy diary for completion's sake. You can bet I'll write all about the birth in due time (hopefully before I forget about it--it's already seeming a bit rosier than it was, which is to say, not rosy at all, aside from him arriving). We're all getting to know each other now, and I guess I'm still tired, since I tried to put deodorant on my lips instead of chapstick this morning. 

Still 40 weeks:

~ This made my day: While complaining to the department secretary about being overdue, she wrote:

Hope the time goes fast you little setting hen!
~ I called the midwives today to ask them if I should start using Evening Primrose Oil to hurry this baby up. A nurse called back with a message from a midwife--she said it was fine to use Evening Primrose Oil and also to tell me that she promises that I won't be pregnant forever. She knew exactly what was on my mind.

~ Eating pineapple, which is supposedly a labor-inducer.

When I got home after the birth, my mother tried to feed me pineapple, which just brought back lots of bad memories of contractions. I think I'll stay away from it for a while. The same goes for Evening Primrose Oil. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Into Great Silence


Into Great Silence is a nearly three-hour, mostly silent documentary that follows the Carthusian monks who make Chartreuse (more on that later). It documents the asceticism of their order and the beauty of their surroundings. It's quite a film--there isn't much sound at all, and there are hardly any words, although the few that are there are very moving (a blind monk talks about God seeing the whole of our lives whenever He looks at us, and only permitting what works for our good--the monk said he thanks God for making him blind, because he knows it's for his good).

The other words that punctuate the film are lines written on a black background--"Oh Lord, you have seduced me and I was seduced" and "Anyone who does not give up all he has cannot be my disciple."

The filmmaker, Philip Groning, doesn't use artificial light in his shots, so there are lots and lots of vintage-looking grainy shots (Francisco says the technical term is "noise"). Plus, the lives of the monks themselves are stark: they take most of their meals in their cells, like prisoners, coming together on Sundays and solemnities for meals in common. They take a walk once a week. He gives you long video photos of the monks, as they stare at the camera--they seem almost uncomfortable in front of the camera: it's clear they aren't used to being filmed or photographed. In fact, when the filmmaker asked to come and film them, it took them 16 years to agree to it.

One delightful scene is of the monks sledding down a hill. It's amazing to see them being playful in the midst of so much sobriety and ritual.

A word about the Chartreuse: there are extra scenes on the second dvd with the Chartreuse-making, which I was sad that they left out of the main film until I watched them: they don't fit with Into Great Silence at all. The Chartreuse-making was loud and mechanized (probably far less than any other liquor-manufacturing, but still), and not quiet and peaceful. Plus, it's pretty hard to understand a manufacturing process without any words.