Monday, April 27, 2015
Remember how I haven't done a little 5-things-update for, like, months? Well, I figured it's high time I'd better fix that, so here you go:
1. Five days after giving birth to Raven, I started having these odd chest pains. Sometimes they would just be dull and heavy--like I had a baby sitting on my chest instead of in my arms--and at other times, they would be sharp and cause me to gasp and close my eyes in pain. I called the nurse at my ob/gyn's office in the early afternoon, and she thought the pains were just normal after-effects of having given birth, so I tried to ignore them.
Well, around 11:30 P.M., I could no longer ignore them because I couldn't comfortably lie down in any position. So, even though it was the most inconvenient timing in the world (these are things you think about when dealing with a small human who feeds off of you every 90 minutes or so), Matt drove me to the ER. (Luckily for us, my mom was staying the night at our place, so we left the baby with her until further notice.)
Turns out, if you want to get checked out right away at the ER, just mention that you have chest pains--I had those EKG tape things stuck to me within about 80 seconds. While I was relieved to hear that my heart was fine after all of two minutes upon arriving, it took another 3 hours to get my official diagnosis and release---apparently, I have a huge gall stone that's too threatening to let be.
And that is why on Tuesday, you will be able to find me getting my gallbladder removed in a same-day surgery that I'm kinda sorta dreading (although mostly because I absolutely loathe the feeling of out-of-control-ness that comes from being put under anesthesia--apparently I get really weepy and pathetic when coming out of it, which I discovered about a year and a half ago after my first encounter with the stuff).
I guess people live without gallbladders all the time, but it seems kind of strange that by tomorrow night, I'll be running around (not literally) without one of my organs.
I hope it's not one I'll really need in the future.
2. Because of the diagnosis of gallstones, I was told to adhere to a strict low-fat diet until they pulled the sucker out of me. So ever since, I have avoided red meat of all kinds, mostly cut out the cheese, and only snuck a few fingerfuls of cookie dough here and there. Although I started craving a big ol' steak after about 24 hours of that, I tried to look for the silver lining--this way, I could get a jump start on the whole postpartum weight loss business.
Well, THAT hasn't happened (even after being on this diet for over a week AND after breastfeeding the whole time).
But that's all fodder for another post a little more down the road.
3. Since the baby was born, we've been attempting to take at least one picture of her each day (which, doting parents that we are, is really not too hard of a task...yet). One of these days I'll do a post of the first 30 pics or so, mostly just because she's already changing so much, and I think it will be fascinating to see all those pictures side-by-side as proof of how much she's already grown.
(And I think it's totally funny that this very idea was the first blog post I ever did. Guess I'm maybe finally going to make it a reality?)
4. Raven has this thing about getting kisses--she usually doesn't mind too much when I give her kisses, but whenever Matt tries, she'll either take a swipe at him with one of her mittened little hands, or she'll try to suck on his nose. It's completely hilarious.
How she's had numerous blowouts in the middle of when Matt's changing her (like, on a daily basis), but only done that to me twice.
Looks like I'm the favorite...for now.
Until she finds out how much cooler (and how much more fun!) her Pops is than I am.
5. And the whole new-parent, sleep-deprived thing? Totally true. I have now woken up Matt on two difference occasions and asked him for help on completely bizarre tasks, including taking the measurements to make sure our baby is really ours.
So basically, between these waking-up-every-other-hour-nights and the anesthesia, Matt is going to have a heck of a lot of funny stories/blackmail in the near future...
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Since becoming a mother myself, I seem to be keenly aware at all times of the mothers all around me--I marvel at them in the supermarket as they wrangle with four small children, I nod in sympathy as a bleary-eyed mom attempts to shush her wailing newborn as she straps him in his carseat, and I wonder how I ever went about life before without noticing how absolutely amazing every mother seems to be---how they can simultaneously talk to a neighbor while jiggling a baby on their hip and keeping a mischievous toddler in line or check a grocery list and grab a carton of milk while making sure their small child doesn't get underfoot of the other people in the aisles.
Two weeks in, and the only trip I've taken with Raven in tow (by myself) was to my doctor's appointment last Monday, and I spent an hour and a half prepping for it so I could be prepared for every possible scenario.
Mothers are amazing.
And because breastfeeding on demand every 1-3 hours has given me ample time to read, I've discovered that I have mom heroes in books as well--mothers who know how to make the best of a bad situation, moms who put their hand to the grindstone when things get tough when all I feel like doing when I have a fussy newborn who needs to nap but stubbornly stays awake is groan in frustration.
So, for anyone who wants a little inspiration from some of fiction's greatest works, I present to you a few of the women I've been admiring lately from the classics:
1. Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath
I just barely finished this classic for the first time, and while this Great Depression novel was nothing at all what I thought it would be, I was absolutely spellbound by Ma Joad in the story. When her family of six children, husband, and brother-in-law are forced to go out to the West due to the failing crops in Oklahoma and the drag of the Great Depression, Ma Joad is the one who keeps the family together. So many times, her sons and others in the party want to give up and leave and try to fend for themselves, but she insists they stick together and have faith enough to ride things out as a family.
Throughout the book, Ma Joad is the one offering comfort, giving kindness to absolute strangers, and being unspeakably strong when things get really rough. She is the one who insists that Casy (an ex-preacher also looking to go West) join their party even though there's really no room and not enough food and money to go around. She is the one who, when it looks like the law enforcement officials will prevent them from going further, has the bravery to insist to the officer they be allowed to go forward because her mother-in-law is sick (only to admit later that the old woman had actually already died and that she'd hid the information from everyone so that they would be able to get across safely). She is the one who represents the best of human dignity in the book, and the fierce nature of a mother determined to keep her family together at all costs.
2. Katie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The first thing I admired about Katie Nolan upon reading this book was her ability to make a decent meal from almost nothing:
"The Nolans practically lived on that stale bread and what amazing things Katie could make from
it! She'd take a loaf of stale bread, pour boiling water over it, work it up into a paste, flavor it with
salt, pepper, thyme, minced onion and an egg (if eggs were cheap), and bake it in the oven.
When it was good and brown, she made a sauce from half a cup of ketchup, two cups of boiling
water, seasoning, a dash of strong coffee, thickened it with flour and poured it over the baked
stuff. It was good, hot, tasty and staying. What was left over, was sliced thin the next day and
fried in hot bacon fat."
Later on, you see Katie's determination to do all she can to provide for her family by cleaning houses and teaching her children the importance of saving money, and you admire her tenacity in educating her children so that they can escape the hard life of poverty she's led. She taught her children from a young age to appreciate the best in literature and to do well in school, which is why Francie (the main character) grows up with such a love for reading:
"Before they went to bed, Francie and Neeley had to read a page of the Bible and a page from
Shakespeare. That was a rule. Mama used to read the two pages to them each night until they
were old enough to read for themselves."
And somehow, despite the difficulties of having a husband who's drunk most of the time and living a life of absolute poverty, Katie still manages to keep her good humor and determination through it all.
3. Lily Potter from the Harry Potter series
Even though Lily Potter is not alive in any of the seven Potter books, her influence is throughout them, a guiding lighthouse of strength throughout young Harry's journey. Not only is she the supreme example of giving the ultimate sacrifice for her son (by giving up her life to save his), but in later books, we get glimpses into her character that are just as impressive.
We learn that she was exceedingly gifted and that she excelled in her studies. We learn that despite being Muggle-born and having to put up with the bullying that accompanied that, she was strong in standing up for herself and for others, including those who were unpopular and strange (i.e., teenage Severus Snape). And we learned that a mother's love can stretch all the earthly bands that we know of, even reaching Harry across the veil of death.
4. Marmee from Little Women
I couldn't very well have a list of exemplary mothers in literature without including Mrs. March, who is basically the epitome of all that is good and right in womanhood. Also a woman struggling to raise a family in poverty (while her husband is away with the military), Marmee is described as "a stout, motherly lady, with a 'can-I-help-you' look about her which was truly delightful. She wasn't a particularly handsome person, but mothers are always lovely to their children, and the girls thought the gray cloak and unfashionable bonnet covered the most splendid woman in the world."
Throughout the book, I admired Marmee's diligence in teaching her daughters Christian values, the ethic of working hard and doing one's work well, and the virtue of a cheerful disposition in hard times. No doubt about it--this woman is the anchor of the story, and it's because of her that the four young girls of Little Women become the women they were supposed to be.
What other moms from literature do you admire?
Monday, April 20, 2015
We've officially survived our first week with a newborn baby, and I've got to admit, it makes me feel both like a rock-star champion and a totally worn-down rag doll. But I have a feeling that overall, those kinds of contradictions might be pretty prevalent in this thing called new parenthood.
Here are a few more contradictions I've discovered in the past seven days:
There are times when I look at my baby girl and feel my heart sing with a joy I didn't even know I was lacking before. There are moments when I just want to breathe in absolutely everything about that exact second because life as a family of three seems perfect and right and already passing by too quickly.
Then there are other moments when I'm fighting back tears that I don't understand--not tears of joy, either, but tears of panic or confusion or just an overall overwhelming sense of responsibility. Sometimes I think about this new role of "mother" that will last forever, and eternity seems like too much to take in since I often wonder how I can get by for another hour on so little sleep and with so many hormones bouncing around inside me.
There have been hours--literally hours!--that I have stared at my newborn's features, marveling in the perfection of her long fingers and big eyes and smooth skin and puckered mouth. I have held her little feet and rubbed them between my fingers and watched as her big toe separates from the others just like mine does. I have felt the glow of pride as others marvel at her beauty and her delicate, tiny perfection. I have discovered such happiness knowing that this precious little 7-pound-and-then-some bundle is mine.
There have been other hours--often hours that creep up on me in the middle of the early morning after I've tried unsuccessfully to put her back to sleep--where my logical brain wonders if I can really do this. How can I take care of this little human being, who will only get bigger and bigger and face things that I have never had to face but am still expected to help her through? How will I be able to handle her first tantrum or her first sickness or her first try at potty training? I am often inundated at those early morning hours with the crushing weight of all that I do not know or understand.
There has been many an instant that I've also been surprised at how Raven just seems to fit right into our lives, as if our whole marriage had been subtly preparing us for this time when we'd be a family of three. It feels like she's always been with us, which is something I've often heard people say but didn't understand until now. I thought it might be awkward for me to take on the motherly roles of nurturing and feeding and teaching and changing out diapers and onesies, but somewhere from deep inside, a motherly instinct that had long lay dormant has bubbled forth, and even her cries don't irritate me like every other kid's cry does. I wondered what I would say to this infant when she came out, and if I would feel strange talking to this tiny bundle that couldn't really respond back. I have been pleasantly surprised at my own reaction to her arrival, and my lack of maternal instinct before must have been due to the fact that I just didn't have my own little person before.
There are other moments when I feel this overwhelming sense of potential loss, and it's something that brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes in the same second of the feeling hitting. The same thing happened when I first got married--the feeling that I now had more to lose than ever before, and how devastated I would be if that loss ever came. I remember in the first several months of my marriage, I would be saying prayers constantly throughout the day that nothing would happen to Matt while we were apart--that he would suffer no car accident or trauma or major illness--because I couldn't bear to lose him. As time goes on, I still treasure my marriage as the most important relationship in my life, but the bubbles of panic and terror have overall subsided, with the terrified feelings only cropping up every now and again if he's a little bit later coming home than anticipated or something.
Those same feelings have started up again though and lead me to check that our baby is breathing several times throughout the day and night and that there is nothing in her crib or around her face that could suffocate her or make her choke. With every sniffling visitor that comes by, I am paranoid that she'll catch an illness that's too much for her to handle. I feel like motherhood is a constant state of paranoid fear and awe-struck reverence. I know it will become more things over time, but that's what I feel right now.
Because of the up-and-down nature of new parenthood, I am frequently giving myself pep talks.
And I remind myself that I not only got through those weeks but also that I found myself thriving under the new experiences. I reminded myself of the two secrets I was lucky enough to come across early on in my mission---that if I viewed the whole thing as an adventure (rather than a looming mountain before me) and if I just poured every ounce of waking energy into working, I would love it.
And I did.
My brain, sleep-deprived and hormone-riddled as it is, is still trying to remind me of those lessons. And when those moments of panic or terror come up, I try and tell myself to enjoy the beginning of this grand adventure known as parenthood and that when I truly feel overwhelmed, I just need to burrow myself into doing something--anything--other than sitting there and brooding about it.
I can already tell this parenthood thing will be the most thrilling adventure of my life and that it will be, as some have put it, "the hardest job that I've ever loved."
Let's do this.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
In the end, I figured that those who would want to know can read on, and those who don't can click past.
When it comes right down to it, this is the most likely way that I'll remember this experience forever since becoming a blogger has basically turned me into a terrible journaler.
So here goes.
Two hours into my labor, right before we checked into the hospital
Raven Jade: A Birth Story
By Saturday morning, after a week of being on spring break and having "teaser" contractions for days, I had basically given up hope of her coming before I went back to work and decided to treat the day like I would if I weren't nine months pregnant. So, even though some people probably thought we were crazy, we decided to drive down south about an hour and a half to attend my niece's baptism and spend the day with family.
After a week largely spent alone with my thoughts since my husband still had to work, I embraced the bustle and questions of loved ones before and after the baptismal service, and I felt much more at peace about just letting the chips fall where they may concerning the timing of Raven's arrival.
A few hours later, after a potluck brunch with my family and a long chat with Matt's parents, we were back in our apartment, playing the two-player game Othello and eating homemade cookies when I started to feel contractions that were different than what I'd been feeling before---these were more rhythmic, and I could feel them all around my back and a lot lower down my pelvis. Twenty-five minutes passed with the contractions coming solidly every five minutes, so I decided it was time to contact my sister, who had agreed to drive up from Syracuse to help me through my labor (since she had experienced four natural childbirths herself and would be a great help through my first time).
I'd had a couple false alarms earlier in the week, so she told me to go take a shower and continue watching/timing the surges as they came, and if they didn't ease up, to call her back in 15 minutes and let her know to start driving.
As I hopped in the shower, I felt relaxed and confident--I even had the presence of mind to shave my legs--and I welcomed each surge as it came on, knowing deep down that this was the real thing and that I was ready. We were finally going to meet our baby!
Matt and I took our time getting together the last-minute things for the hospital, although it didn't feel like it at the time--time seemed to be going in a rush as we stuffed last-minute items like deodorant and toothbrushes into our bags and double- and triple-checked that we had what was most important.
Finally, we were off, and we arrived at the hospital around 9:15 p.m. on Saturday night, two hours after my contractions had started.
I'm sure the nurses murmured amongst themselves that I'd probably come in too early--I was cracking jokes and calmly telling them that I was in labor and ready to have my baby. But, sure enough, when they checked me, I'd dilated to a five, and my antibiotic treatment was started shortly thereafter (since I had tested Strep B positive and therefore had to have the line in for at least 4 hours (ideally) before the baby showed up).
Then the doctor came in (a little earlier than planned) and broke my water around 12:30 a.m. Within a half hour, the nature of the contractions changed drastically, and I was no longer joking around and making small talk with Matt and Jill. Instead of just feeling the urge to breathe slowly through each contraction, I knew instinctively that I needed to start "breathing the baby down" (as they call it in hypnobirthing), and my breathing changed from calm and slow to very focused and forced downward.
As each surge got tougher and more intense, I started relying heavily on my two coaches, and I tried to focus on the back massages they were giving me rather than the intense pressure and discomfort I was feeling. Whenever I started to lose focus (which began to happen much more than I thought it would despite my months of training), my sister would direct my attention to her eyes, and she would reassure me through it. When I reached the point that I felt a decently intense urge to go to the bathroom, I thought I must be close and asked for the nurse to come in and check me (which was significant, because the first internal exam at the hospital was so uncomfortable that I'd vowed I wouldn't allow them to check me any more until it was absolutely necessary to check if I was ready to push).
Matt helping me relax through a contraction
I was starting to get really tired by this point (seeing as how it was about 4:00 in the morning and I thought my labor experience would go much quicker than it had because of how much I'd dilated when I went in and going by the "fact" that the transition stage for most women--the dilation from a 7 to a 10--is usually pretty fast), and I fully expected the nurse to give me the go-ahead to push.
When she conveniently "left out" what I'd dilated to after the exam and told me instead I just had a "little bit more to go" before I could start pushing, I was devastated--I knew if she wasn't telling me the number that I must not be nearly as far along as I thought, and my mind went to a pretty dark place. My energy stores were quickly being exhausted, and I'd already started to lose focus. For the first time, I really questioned my ability to do this whole natural-birth thing.
I didn't allow myself to ask Jill and Matt what I'd really dilated to--I just followed the nurse's suggestion to get into the tub and continue laboring there. As the warm water brought a small measure of relief to me, I felt a small piece of myself start to relax just a little bit (something I hadn't been accomplishing nearly as effectively as I thought I would be able to), and even though I had no idea how much longer I'd have to press through, I just kept focusing on my sister's words--"Just focus on one surge at a time---you've gotten through ones just like this before; you can get through another one." I forced myself to look into Jill's or Matt's eyes as each new intense surge came on, and even though I was whimpering by this point (something I'd really hoped to avoid), I somehow managed to push through two more hours of intense contractions.
By about 6 a.m., I once again felt the strong urge to push, and I hesitantly asked for them to send for the nurse again so I could be checked. Mentally, I tried to prepare myself for bad news again, but my strength was withering away quickly, and I didn't know how much more I could take.
Blessedly, she said that I was truly ready to push.
[Insert note here: after the whole ordeal was over, I asked Jill and Matt what I'd dilated to when the nurse was so hesitant to mention how far I [hadn't] come---it turns out I was still at a 7, which I stalled at for about six hours out of the whole twelve-hour labor. It's a level of intensity and endurance I hope I never have to endure again through another labor.]
Outside, the sky started to lighten a bit as I was instructed to use each surge to my advantage and focus all my energy on breathing and pushing the baby out. When I arrived at this point in the labor, I was surprised to find that, though the contractions were intense, I actually welcomed them this time because with each contraction, I could literally feel myself and my baby making progress together. Finally, there was something I could do besides just try to keep my head on semi-straight as I attempted to steady my breathing.
But, like every other part of my labor, the pushing also took me longer than I'd anticipated---in the majority of the hypnobirths I'd heard about, the mother only pushed for anywhere from 10 - 45 minutes or so, and as I started nearing the hour mark and the doctor still hadn't come in, I once again felt myself getting a little frustrated. But with encouragement from everyone present, I continued to utilize each contraction the best that I could, and when the excitement in the room started growing because the baby's head was crowning, I felt second and third waves of energy surge through my body. While pushing, I felt much more in my element---I was able to almost fully relax between surges, and I felt like I was able to regain my sense of control (something I had lost somewhere while getting stalled in that stage 7).
When the doctor arrived (blessed moment!) and started to guide the baby's head through, I just kept telling myself that I was close and only had a bit further to go. After a particularly productive contraction, the doctor made the prediction that the baby would likely come out fully after one or two more solid pushes, and right as I felt the next surge coming on, I looked out the window and noticed that the sun was about to break over the mountaintops in all of its glory.
That was all I needed---
I gave it all I had, and I felt my baby slip out of me and heard everyone say, "You did it! Here's your baby girl!"
And, for that moment, everything was right--I had done it. I had somehow made it through everything, even when so many times I had felt like giving up. I could see the look of wonder on Matt's tear-streaked face, and in our first moments as a family of three, I felt a wonderful sense of completeness.
But then, something was terribly, horribly off---I knew there was still some work to be done (with getting my placenta delivered and perhaps getting some repair work done), but suddenly and without warning, I felt the most intense and excruciating pain I've ever felt in my life. I knew dimly in my mind that it had something to do with what the doctor was doing, so I started yelling at him, demanding him to tell me what was going on and begging him to stop. Surely, I had thought the worst was over, so why on earth did I feel like I was about to be ripped apart from the inside out?
In this state of delirium, all I registered is that he firmly told me something about my uterus flipping inside out and that if he didn't do this now, I would bleed to death.
At that point, Matt and Jill (my faithful partners through it all) told me to just look at their faces and just focus on their eyes. I was somewhat aware that my legs were kicking at the doctor, trying to push him away (and that I probably shouldn't be doing that), but my reaction to the pain and trauma was swift and involuntary. The details of all this have already become fuzzy, but it seemed like there were people everywhere at once---a nurse sticking a shot in my side, my antibiotic needle being swapped out for a narcotic, my birthing companions trying to keep me calm.
As the drugs took effect and I started to feel a dizzy sense of relief and simultaneous bewilderment, I could hear Jill and Matt pressing the doctor for more details. I didn't register any of it at the time, but the situation has all been explained to me since---apparently, while I was pushing out the placenta, the doctor tugged at the same time, and what happened is a rare condition called a uterine inversion that only happens about once in every 3,000 births. Basically, my uterus came out of my body with the placenta, and flipped completely inside out. If not treated immediately, it can lead to an emergency hysterectomy or death, and the only way to avoid both is to take the uterus and press it back into the body, applying a constant force (with the doctor's entire fist inside, holding it in), until the uterus contracts again into place.
While I felt angry and frustrated with the doctor at the time, I now feel an intense gratitude that I had the doctor I did. The funny thing is, my doctor wasn't on call that night, so when I first heard that I'd be getting someone else, I was so disappointed. But, after talking to my own doctor the day after the fact, it seems like I got the best doctor to handle that kind of situation---from the sounds of it, had I had a different doctor, my story could have had a very different outcome.
Even though my natural birth did not culminate in the rush of endorphins and the complete high that everyone else talked about (and that I at first felt robbed and cheated out of the "natural birth high" I'd been promised), I can only look back now with intense gratitude that the outcome was what it was. When I found out how close I'd come to this being perhaps my only child or, in the worst case, the last few minutes of my life, how can I feel anything but grateful for the mercy I was extended?
Of course, I'd be lying if I said that this ending didn't give me some pretty intense fear about future labor experiences (especially since my chances of it happening again are much higher than the average woman's), but as I hold my perfect baby girl today and know that my body is now stable and recovering quickly, my heart pours out in thanks to a Father in Heaven who was with me and made sure I had the exact help I needed during this experience---I never could have gone through with any of it without my husband and my sister by my side, and I am so thankful for the doctor's ability to handle what my own doctor called the 'worst-case scenario" in dealing with an inverted uterus.
And now, I have this beautiful human being who has filled me with this perfect love that everyone else always talked about but which I wondered would exist in all its fullness for me. I have a closeness with my sister that couldn't have been achieved in any other way. And it seems like my marriage--which has always been fulfilling and strengthening and the greatest blessing in my life--has been raised to a new plane of love and devotion and intimacy I could never have dreamed of before.
So maybe I didn't get the perfect first-time labor I was hoping for--
But I sure got everything else, and in much greater quantities than I'd ever dreamed.
Life is beautiful.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Our daughter, Raven Jade, joined us at sunrise on Sunday April 12th weighing 7 lbs., 6 ounces, and being 19 inches long. She came after 12 hours of labor, and I finally understand why people say they are "so in love" after being blessed with a newborn.
(I mean, you know it's true love when even her cries at 2 a.m. are basically the cutest thing you've ever heard.)
Welcome to our world, baby.
We're so happy you're here with us.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Same skirt, 7 months later. (First picture taken at almost 2 months pregnant, second picture taken at more than 8.5 months pregnant (aka, now)).
It is disturbing to me now that I originally thought that I looked a little bloated and full in the face in that first picture when I posted it back in August.
Oh, the naivete.
Little did I know how much water my body would be retaining in just a few months time..
But late pregnancy hugeness aside, here's some news:
As of today's doctor appointment, I'm officially dilated to a 3 and 95% effaced.
In other words, while I've been frantically trying to finish all my grading and get everything set up for this tiny human, my body has been plugging right along doing what it was meant to do all along.
And just think--as my sister put it, my labor process is almost a third of the way over. Weird to think about, eh? And I've hardly had to do anything about it except eat a lot of chocolate (because my sweet students keep bringing it in for me) and try to consciously avoid doing the full-term waddle as I make my way through the halls at the school.
My mom's hoping for an Easter baby, but I'm fine with whenever Baby Girl decides to make her debut. My spring break starts next week (so it would be a little convenient if she came about a week before her due date), but I'm cool with her coming late, too---it will give me more time to work for pay instead of tacking more unpaid days onto my maternity leave.
So whatever you decide, baby.
I'm pretty much used to feeling like an encased sausage, anyway.