Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son


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Post-Ovulatory Items

Sshhh, internets, the Bean is sleeping. Finally. I should be in the other room, using this time to finish my semester grading, but the Bean is also sick, and if I move, nap over. So how’s about some items, since I’m here for the foreseeable?

Item: for those following along at home, I was finally deemed worthy of triggering on Saturday. Transfer day is Friday. Cross your fingers, if you don’t mind, for an easy transfer and a conclusive beta to follow. Of course, I’d prefer a conclusively high beta, but what I’m most focused on at the moment is numbers that mean I get to go on our planned summer trip of friends and family and beautiful, quiet places in the north woods of Michigan. When I ran this idea past Dr. BF, he said it was all fine as long as they were satisfied nothing ectopic was happening. No one wants to risk a rupture that far from a hospital, not even me.

Item: There will be Valium at the transfer, and don’t think I haven’t made mention of that to every warm body I can find at the Baby Factory. (I know some clinics always use Valium — and I find their logic of reducing uterine contractions convincing — but mine doesn’t.) Look, I know things have changed in the down-there department, post-Bean, and it’s wholly reasonable to suspect at least one of those pesky cervices is a little easier to navigate now that six pounds of baby has gone through it, but I don’t care to test that theory for no good reason. A tiny part of me is holding out hope that Valium plus baby plus lack of septum (and therefore more space for the hand that rocks the speculum) might mean no tenaculum, even. A girl can dream.

Item: I mentioned this to the nurse who took my blood on Tuesday (progesterone check), and she asked if my inseminations had always been difficult. They were, I said, but less bad with the Valium. I think the first one, with no Valium, was traumatic for everyone, not just me, and for me it was downright ghastly. (To say nothing of the pressure I felt to think warm, welcoming thoughts for a baby, while I was getting stabbed and prodded to the point of tears.) Yes, she said, I think I was there.

And you know what, I feel downright comforted to know that she remembers. The Baby Factory is a big place, with a lot of patients, and this was some time ago. I just looked back at the post I wrote at the time, which in no way captures the horror — no doubt I was imagining some future baby reading about his beginnings and didn’t want to scare the mite (guess who hasn’t filled in the birth story page of her son’s baby book?). We don’t need to go back over such old wounds as that, but suffice it to say that directed coughing in no way distracts from the pain of having yet another cervix stabbed with pointed tongs yet another time, and that seeing the doctor break a sweat isn’t very calming. No one said anything much about it at the time — and what could they have said that would have done anything but worry me? — but I am relieved to know that my impression of the day wasn’t crazy.

Item: That the transfer is on Friday means a doctor I haven’t met before (I think. Unless she was at the aforementioned IUI of nightmares.) will be on duty. And thank heavens for that. Had it been Thursday, we could have had the same guy who did the Bean’s ET, which has a cute aspect to it and all, but also has the less winning quality of requiring me to spend more time pants-less with a paternalistic asshole.

Seriously, I don’t know what this guy’s deal is, but it certainly could use a slightly more robust idea of his patients’ bodily autonomy. I found myself in stirrups with him again last week. He looked at my chart and said, in a disbelieving tone, “natural FET cycle? Why would you do that?”

You know that thing when some guy asks you some supposedly neutral question, like what your name is or why you look a certain way (usually: not thrilled just to be near him), and you just know that no matter what you say, you’re about to get hit on/told you are misbehaving/both? (And okay, I’m sure there are instances of women doing this, but stick with me here.) And you seem, in that moment, to have a choice about how to respond — to take the question at face value or to address its obvious subtext by ignoring him/ rolling your eyes/ telling him off — but really, there is no choice, because either you are going to walk right into the condescension (by being nice), in which case you aren’t allowed to complain about it, or you are going to socially overreact, which means you get called a bitch? Anyway, Dr. Paternalistic (who shares a name with a city in California, if you are local and curious) is like that. There’s no right answer. Except instead of his being a stranger on the street, he is the only one in the room wearing pants, and he’s holding an ultrasonic baton.

Gamely, I said, “why not?” And really, why not? My actual doctor thinks my odds of success are the same this way as in a more medicated cycle. But he didn’t like that answer, because this kind of cycle means I have to come into the office a lot, which, by the way, I haven’t indicated any impatience with, because I don’t actually mind. So I said that I liked that this cycle meant I could avoid the progesterone shots (since my body will make its own, meaning the suppositories are sufficient insurance). This isn’t an insignificant reason, to my mind — a few extra office visits versus stabbing myself in the increasingly lumpy ass for three months? No contest — but he looked unconvinced. “Also,” I said, bracing myself, “I liked the idea of letting my body do its own thing, since there’s no indication of any problem with my hormones.”

“I GUESS,” he replied, with all the self-effacing deference I’d expect from a fourteen year old. And then he stuck a dildocam in my vagina. Because that’s how this game goes. At least there’s no septum for him to make me feel bad about anymore.

Item: I cried on the bus ride to school after that. I’m sure it’s frustrating, as a doctor, when patients don’t make the same decisions you would — hell, I’m frustrated by other people’s decisions all the time — but maybe make a distinction between decisions that actually have anything to do with health outcomes and those that don’t. And then maybe try not to be a jackass, also.

Item: On the other hand, the nurse who gave me my trigger shots (two, because they are subcutaneous now and therefore weaker) on Saturday is in my good books. She, too, noticed and commented on the NATURAL scrawled on my chart. They don’t do many cycles this way, and that note has a lot of highlighter on it. “Good for you! Making your own follicle!” And then she stabbed me in the stomach (because that’s how this game works) and we talked about people eating their placentas. Not our thing, we agreed, but no reason others can’t do it. Imagine that.

Item: For the medical record, the progesterone is different this time. Last time, it was little waxy bullets from a compounding pharmacy, but this time I was given a choice between Crinone twice a day or prometrium thrice. My decisions was entirely based on math: 2<3. So far, the crinone is fine, except for making me crampy and leaving an absolutely revolting substance behind for removal during shower-time spelunking. Still, I will take gross over painful any day of the week.

Item: For the further medical record, following an awful morning of intense nausea, I decided to be pushy and ask if I really needed the doxycycline I'm on, given that I've had no invasive egg retrieval this time, no one thought I needed prophylactic antibiotics for an IUI (which is not essentially different from an embryo transfer), and my stomach is still all ducks and drakes from this sinus adventure. Message relayed via nurse is that I can indeed stop it, and I think I shall. I shall carry on with the methylprednisolone (how much extra do you think my insurance paid for the pre-metabolized version of a cheap, old drug?), as I can see the medical point of that one.

Message goes on to say that I must also stop taking Prilosec and Pepcid post-transfer, which is less good news. (Sinus doctor wants me to stay on both for another month while things heal; they a not presently back to normal.). I remember from last go-round that Dr. BF didn't even want me taking lysine for cold sores while under his wing, so this is hardly surprising. Lysine is an amino acid, for crying out loud; it's in FOOD. Similarly, I was directed to take both Pepcid and Prilosec while pregnant with the Bean, though admittedly later in the process. I guess every drug is suspect except the fertility drugs, which we all know wouldn't hurt a fly. I am at heart a Good Girl, though, so I will try for a bit and cry to my new OB if things get hairy.

Item: I can't believe the Bean is still asleep, but I woke him up prematurely yesterday (following his passing out on the floor in the late afternoon, following heroic meltdown, following utter refusal to nap earlier) and he still didn't go to sleep in a timely manner last night.

Item: Acid reflux and moral purity be damned, Sugar and I are going out for what I hope is a last-gasp cocktail tonight. Which means the Bean will have a babysitter, and sleep, well, that's her problem.


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Uterine News And Weird Reports

You might be a trifle done in, if your foremost thought at the prospect of upcoming surgery is relief at the idea of spending a few hours knocked out.

Returned to the Baby Factory this last week, for another look at my storied uterus. During the last dildo-camming, all appeared normal, but the spotting I’ve been having for up to a week before my period for the past several months made Dr. Baby Factory suspect a polyp, one he might not have been able to see at that point in my cycle, when my lining is pretty plush. Sure enough, at the low-nap of CD 8, there it was, big as life and smack in the middle of everything. Even I could have diagnosed something from that ultrasound, though I might have gone with “spontaneous mini-kidney.”

It’s not huge, as these things go, 7 by 8 millimeters or so. Dr. BF says lots of people get pregnant with polyps. But lots of people have miscarriages with polyps, too, and after watching a youtube video of one getting excised, I think understand why: the sucker didn’t bleed. If there’s one thing I know for sure about uterine tissue, it’s that it ought to be robustly vasculated, embryos not being entirely unlike vampires in their basic desires.

So. Out it comes, via hysteroscopy. That’s hyster- for “uterus” and -scopy for “you’d rather not be awake for this.” Dr. BF only operates on Thursdays, my busiest teaching day this semester. Luckily, he is willing to do this surgery any time I’m not bleeding (some people only do them early in the cycle), which means I ought to just squeak in during spring break, a few days before I expect my period. That gives the ol’ ute April to recover herself for a May FET cycle. Here’s hoping.

If you’ve read, um, anything I’ve ever written here, you know what comes next is the part about how freaked out and anxious I am about all this. And believe me, I’d be telling you aaaalllll about it, except that, well, I’m not. Isn’t that weird? I don’t know who I am anymore, either.

Partly, this is because it will be Dr. BF wielding the scalpel cervix telescope/floodlight/scissors thing. I’ve been peeved at him once or twice (twice) during our time together, but he’s never given me the slightest reason not to trust him. Granted, I am not deaf to flattery, and he did call my ovaries beautiful and remark that he loves my (medically rarer-than-rare) uterus. But it’s more that the initial impression I got when first reading his blog (what? You don’t choose your doctors via blog? Wish Dr. Russian had had one), that here was someone with a careful mind who also really cared about his patients, seems to have been accurate. I was a little surprised, during our Triumphal Return appointment, that he didn’t ask much after the Bean. It occurred to me later, however, that there is something really refreshing about talking to someone who seems mostly interested in me, not just the fruit of my wacky womb.

My mother has a story along these lines, which I’m going to put in here because it is funny and my paragraphing is all to hell anyway. Ahem. Mama went to medical school with a woman who had an identical twin living in the same area. Her twin gave birth, attended by a doctor the med students knew. When she saw him next, the med student thanked him for delivering the baby. He looked blank. Incredulous, she asked, “don’t you ever look at their faces?”

I trust Dr. BF because of the post that led me to him, in which he discussed common mistakes in diagnosing mullerian anomalies, because knowing how to do something wrong is an important part of truly understanding how to do it right. I trust him because I know he cares about his patients, not just because he has been considerate of our feelings (mostly — still holding a grudge over that psych consult), but because his blog was the first (only) place I’ve heard a doctor express disdain for the term “chemical” pregnancy, on the grounds that it diminishes the experience of loss. (That I read this right after Dr. “I’m sure you don’t have a septum even though I’ve never examined you” seemed cozily baffled by my observation that “incompetent cervix” is an obnoxious term makes the memory stand out.) And I trust him because I watched his video of a hysteroscopic resection of a uterine septum, which I heartily recommend if that kind of thing doesn’t squick you out.

I admit that I am pretty sad that this means no travel during break. I had visions of a jaunt up to friends in Boston or down to Starr Hill, but Sugar can’t travel the first weekend, and even though I know recovery from this sort of thing is supposed to be no big deal, the thought of counting on feeling up to schlepping somewhere the following day with a toddler in tow makes me queasy. It’s just, I’m lonely. I hadn’t counted on how isolating this “having a toddler means someone is always sick” business would be, and lately, someone is always sick. (And holy smokes, this latest one is a doozy. It’s taken a week to write this, and it hasn’t been a fun week.) I miss seeing friends, you know, in the ol’ Real World. Guess I should have thought of that before I went and got myself knocked up. Meanwhile, I don’t know what I’d do without y’all, I really don’t.

Speaking of, did you know you’d almost gotten me to not care about the specter of those PIO shots? Only almost, but almost is a big deal in this context. You are a pretty amazing bunch. Drinks, all around.

Which brings me to the appointment’s good news. I admit it, after the PIO surprise, I played the field, support-wise. I will always love y’all best, you know that. But I also asked about it on a forum, and one of the women there asked why I wasn’t doing a “natural”* FET. Was there any reason to believe my previous difficulties were related to my hormone levels?

*someday you will get my rant on how much I hate that word. It’s long.

Well, now that you mention it, no, there isn’t. We’ll never know for sure, but I favor Dr. BF’s hunch that I wasn’t getting pregnant via IUI because of structural issues: the endometriomas were preventing eggs from leaving my ovaries, various adhesions were keeping the Fallopian tubes from picking them up, scarring in the tubes was generally fouling things up, or some combination. Given how very many eggs I made on a moderate FSH dose (32), how much those eggs seemed to like the sperm in question (24 fertilized), and how happily the resulting embryos grew (12 frozen, one currently staring in adoration at the engines of Sodor), these explanations seem quite plausible.

Indeed, I had always imagined we would do an unmedicated FET, but when that’s not what Dr. BF described at our recent consult, I just assumed there was some reason. Insert the usual business of not wanting to look foolish by asking. Yes, it’s a great defense mechanism, why?

Emboldened by my forum friend, this time I did ask Dr. BF what he thought…and it turns out he thinks it’s fine! He might still want me to do some progesterone supplementation, but the good old coochie bullets are fine for that. I asked him about odds, expecting they would be lower than in a medicated cycle, but he said that assuming they don’t miss my ovulation (which would mean game over that cycle — this is why they don’t do many cycles this way), he thinks the odds are about the same.

I feel great about this idea, and not only because it limits the ass-stabbery to one trigger shot. I feel excited at the idea of giving my body a chance to just do its thing — at least, as much as such a thing is possible after embryologists have entered the picture. It makes me a bit warm and fuzzy, it turns out, to imagine trusting my body.

I know. I don’t know who I am anymore, either.


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Back In The Saddle

…or the stirrups, anyway.

No, no, not in the TTC sort of way, not yet anyway. I won’t spring that on you without some high-octane angst first, promise.

But I did go to the OB/Gyn, for the first time since my postpartum appointment, which some of you may recall ended with me wandering the avenues of Midtown, weeping so hard people were forced to break the NYC taboo on talking to crying people and the one on stopping strangers in the street. (In case you’re wondering, it does take some doing, especially in the blocks around Grand Central.) I was, erm, a little nervous. Related: what is it about filling out those medical history forms that makes me afraid I’ve forgotten my own name, let alone whether I have kidney disease?

You will not be surprised to hear that I did not return to Dr. Russian, as punching her in the face would open me up to more court and jail time than fits my schedule. I stacked the deck a bit by going to Sugar’s doctor, whom I have met before. (In fact, I tried to go to her practice when I got knocked up, but they weren’t taking new OB patients.) Nevertheless, I was feeling pretty shaky as I sat there on the table waiting, gripping my notebook of questions. I fetched my journal out of my purse, for the sense of enhanced safety only another book can provide.

And…she was wonderful. She listened to my slightly quavery explanation of why I was switching practices and said it all sounded pretty traumatic. She said that lots of women push for four hours with a first baby and that it doesn’t mean they aren’t trying, and that they give nifedipine if they even suspect Reynaud’s in the nipples of a breastfeeding mother, because Reynaud’s is so awful and nifedipine is so safe. (See here and here for contrast.)

I haven’t written about this, but one part of labor that I have felt increasingly upset about in recent months is the part where I was bleeding heavily for days at home and Dr. Skinny said it was nothing and then was such a bitch about my calling back when it hadn’t stopped, twelve hours or more after my first call. I’ve talked to many, many women since then about their experiences of labor, and I have yet to hear anything that reassures me it was normal. I suppose it’s possible that it really was just a particularly determined (and large — this was a lot of blood) broken vessel in my cervix, but it’s also possible it was a placental abruption, and there is no way Dr. Skinny could have known it wasn’t via phone. I didn’t think it seemed normal at the time, and I shouldn’t have let her intimidate me out of that. Things turned out okay for me and the Bean, of course, but it’s not a comfortable feeling, thinking that I could have let my baby die — oh, and potentially died myself — because I was too chicken to argue with a doctor. I told the new doctor that, and she looked very serious. That does not sound normal, she said, and no one at this practice would have let you stay at home if you called bleeding that much. That will not happen to you here.

Ultimately, she said that while she couldn’t ethically say things about Dr. Russian to a patient, she was — I think the word was “horrified” — by what I had told her. Then she said so again.

So. Maybe it wasn’t just me.

If this doctor has a fault I am aware of, it is that I find her a little happy to cut, as surgeons tend to be. On the other hand, as much as I don’t want to have surgery for the endometriosis I’ve thus far fail to cure with denial or pregnancy, I’m not sure she’s wrong that I should have it. Things are getting worse, and most months I now spend three out of ever four or five weeks in some amount of pain. In particular, pain in the week before my period is getting out of hand, such that I’ve been dipping into my hoarded Percocet stash to sleep. Nothing else does a thing. The question in my mind is whether surgery is worth the pain of recovery, given that it doesn’t always help with endo. Somehow I didn’t get that question in, but I am being sent back to Dr. Demure, the man who did a transvaginal ultrasound without so much as seeing my legs, to see how my garden of ovarian cysts grows. Well, I imagine, from the way my back feels half the month. I’m also to see a rehab specialist about the way my hip joints fall to pieces and leave me so weak once a month, though she seems unconvinced that isn’t somehow also endo.

If I am going to try to get pregnant again in the spring or summer, I’m not keen to have surgery first. I’m hard-pressed to come up with a rational excuse for that — besides that I have no idea what I would do with the Bean for two weeks if my recovery were anything like Sugar’s — but she said it did not sound crazy. Should have asked her why not. In the meantime, I have a legitimate prescription for Percocet now, though she said several times that we couldn’t just carry on like this until menopause. Other than pain medication and surgery that might not help, there is no treatment. Birth control pills help some people, but are a bad idea for people like me, who get migraine with aura and don’t like the idea of having a stroke.

The pelvic exam itself was not much fun, though I think she was as gentle as possible while hunting around for cervix number two. Righty seems to have done the job at delivery, for those who were wondering. The worst part, though, was the groping around for uterus and ovaries and such like. I was doubled-over after and am still in a fair bit of pain, though some sangria left over from our party on Sunday did take the edge off last night. She may have a point about this situation not being tenable.

So! On balance, a win yesterday, I think. Let us hope for another one tomorrow, when I have a job interview at a college in Staten Island. I am hoping that my scanty publication record’s including a book about a forgotten corner of our most ignored borough will give me an edge.


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Birth Story, Part Four

Oh my, oh my! Looks like those other two babies either have beaten me (I’m guessing, here) or are poised to do so! Squeeee!

Where were we? Ah, yes. Monday afternoon. We were on the subway. Of course. Where the hell else would we be, with me 4 cm dilated, completely effaced, having been contracting regularly for twelve hours or so? Surely not NEAR THE DAMN DOCTOR’S OFFICE WE HAD JUST LEFT, WHICH IS FOUR DAMN BLOCKS FROM THE MOTHERFUCKING HOSPITAL.

A to B
A to B: A Rational Person’s Route

A to B
A to B: My Route

It’s possible I’m not entirely over how incredibly boneheaded that decision was. All I can say is that denial is a powerful thing. (For more on how I got into this mess, see parts 1, 2, and 3.)

To make sure you understand how stupid this was, please note that not only is it 45 minutes to an hour to get home from the doctor (actually a bit faster than driving, which was part of the attraction), but also: we don’t live on that train line. Or the train line we transfer to next. So that’s three trains home, and one of the transfers is up stairs. But I wanted to be at home. I didn’t feel good. I didn’t want to eat any of the food I could think of getting in Midtown, and I certainly didn’t want to walk around there in the cold drizzle. And cabs are expensive and nerve-wracking, and the subway is familiar and cheap. So off we went.

The story would be more exciting if my water had broken on the train, it’s true, but if that had happened even I might have had the sense to get off and hop a cab back uptown. In fact, the ride was okay. I had a few contractions; they didn’t really pick up until we were under the East River, leading me to believe that the Bean just wanted to be born in Brooklyn. And a little while later, I thought he might get his wish.

My sense of time gets pretty shaky from here on out. I think we must get home around 3:30. I am ravenous. I’d tried to eat the bland food they tell you to have in labor in the morning, but my bowl of grits was left to congeal. (Grits are my go-to bland comfort food, which I mentioned in our birthclass brainstorm only to have the teacher say that although oatmeal was a good labor food, grits might be okay in very early labor. Yankees! ) Bland food made me feel gross in the first trimester, and it seems gross now. So I eat the spicy beef leftovers. And they are awesome. And I am glad I was so shameless about asking for them.

Then everything starts to happen at once. Nature, as they say, calls. Insistently and for quite a while. I discover just how very, very, very much I hate having contractions on the toilet. I know some of you were into laboring there or in that position, and I am here to say that you are out of your tiny minds. Once my body has, erm, cleared the decks, the contractions go wild. Sixty to 90 seconds long, every three to four minutes. Instead of counting and groaning, I am counting and yelling and clawing the bed. I bend over the couch, I slow-dance with Sugar; nothing helps. At one point, I accidentally bite Sugar’s leg (which doesn’t help that much either).

Even before the tooth marks can fade, Sugar calls the OB office to say we’d like to go to the hospital. (For me, not her leg. I didn’t even break the skin, okay?) While she’s talking to that dumb bitch of a nurse you remember from the Vasospasm Chronicles, I have a contraction. And Nurse Helpful says, “You have to get her to calm down.” Because you know, being quiet while in bone-crunching pain is really, really important. There goes my Good Girl Gold Star for Laboring Like A Lady, I guess. (Sugar, who is wise beyond comprehension, doesn’t tell me about that comment until much, much later. I PROBABLY wouldn’t have insisted we stop by the office on the way to the hospital and throttle her anyway.) However, the nurse agrees that if I want an epidural, we should head in. So we call a car again.

Only now it’s rush-hour.

While we’re waiting for the elevator, I feel a little excited. Mostly afraid I’ll have another contraction and fall down in the hall, but a little excited. I am in labor! This is happening! Who’d have thought it would happen today? (You know, besides anyone who’d thought rationally about the events of the previous 36 hours.) By the time we get to the stoop, I am back to petrified. I get walloped with more contractions; when the car arrives, Sugar has to run tell it to wait until I can walk again. I curse my decision to deliver at Kips Bay Mega Hospital rather than one in Brooklyn. Sure, I had my reasons, but LICH is so close.

In birth class, there was a lot of talk about how giving birth in real life isn’t at all like giving birth in the movies. In some respects I guess that’s true: my water didn’t burst out all over the stage while I gave a speech for my entire company and Dr. Baby Factory didn’t just happen to poke his head into the room during the pushing so that I could grab him by the neck and scream, YOU DID THIS TO ME!!!! But this part of the story, from when Sugar trundled me into the cab until the epidural was in? This part was exactly like the movies.

Cab driver, I wish I knew your name, because you deserve a medal for patience, fortitude, and grace under fire. You could give a seminar in how to treat a laboring woman, and several of the medical professionals we dealt with ought to be required to attend. You did your job without comment and you did it well. I cannot have been your favorite fare that day, but I trust you at least got a good story out of the deal.

What he didn’t get was much peace and quiet. For the whole ride in — at rush hour, remember — I am doing my level best to cope like they said at birth class. So Sugar and I are counting out my contractions, in eights, the whole way in. And I by God keep up the counting, even though my yelling progresses rapidly to screaming.

About five blocks into the trip, I begin to wonder if I could be in transition. I can’t make any other sense of what was happening. My autonomic nervous system has gone completely haywire; I am roasting to death and convulsed with chills. The contractions get longer and longer and closer and closer together; at times there are no breaks at all. The advantage to counting through contractions is that it gives me a sense of when one might end (at about 14-2-3-4-5-6-7-8); the disadvantage is how terrifying it is to be still counting in the twenties and thirties. (Sugar says she remembers being in the forties at one point, which I have blessedly forgotten.) I am out of my mind with pain. At one point, between contractions, somewhere still deep in Brooklyn, I look up at the brick tower alongside us and it occurs to me that there will be a time in my life when I no longer feel like this. The idea is so strange that it transfixes me for a moment, until I feel a gush and yell out that my water is breaking.

(What an unwelcome thing that must be to hear as a cab driver. Luckily, we have a towel.)

At around this time, I start to feel a strong urge to push. Oh, God, the baby is going to be born in this cab and I’m never going to get my epidural. I stick a hand in my pants, but I don’t feel a head, so I try not to push. Or at least not hard.

At some point, it occurs to me that this back labor thing really is happening. To me. I’ve long ago stopped feeling anything in my belly, nor do I feel anything there for the rest of the labor. What I feel in the car is that someone has decided to replace the bones in my back and my thighs with iron rods. The rods are set on the ends of my bones, and at each contraction, they are slammed into the bones over and over like jam-hammers, reducing me into rubble. Absolutely nothing about this feels “natural” or “productive” or any of those other reassuring things. At one point, alongside the ruined houses of Admiral’s Row, I wonder if I will die.

I know I am given to hyperbole in my writing, but in life, believe it or not, I don’t go in for hysterics. (My preference to be left alone and not bother anyone when I’m sick or in pain is what leads me to do dumb things like this.) Part of why it’s taken me so very long to write this story is that I spent a terrifically long time crippled by shame over how I behaved at the points of labor when the pain was at its worst. I didn’t hurt anyone or endanger the baby or say anything rude (that I regret), it’s just that I didn’t expect to be so out of control. After everything was over, I felt so embarrassed about it (no thanks to some of what was said at the hospital), and I felt that I hadn’t lived up to the example of your stories, that I hadn’t been strong or powerful or amazing but rather weak and overwhelmed and whiny and over-dramatic. When they said in birth class that being in labor meant letting go of your “social self” I thought that meant I would shut down the way I do during the GI/endo bouts, that I would not want to talk or be talked to and that I would do some moaning. I didn’t expect to be screaming — scream-counting, but still — or making these terrible dry-sobbing noises.

But there I am, making them. When I am able to think, I am beset by a series of fears:

  • What if the baby is born in this car?
  • Or, oh, God, what if the baby isn’t born in this car and I just have to keep doing this?
  • What if I get to the hospital and the baby isn’t born yet but they say it’s too late for an epidural (never mind that the “it’s never too early or too late” policy was part of the appeal of Kips Bay) and they make me just keep going even though I’ve made it in?
  • Oh, God. They’re going to make me be on an IV for an hour, like the books say, and I’ll have to be in the hospital knowing they could give me an epidural but that they won’t.
  • Oh, God! Before they’ll even do that, I’ll have to go to triage. Triage! I cannot handle triage! They’ll make me move from room to room and I will die. Or kill someone.

I interrupt my anxiety spiral to notice that we are SO not on the way to the hospital. Car service drivers tend to have their own opinions about how best to get to the bridges and it doesn’t do to tell them their business, but it has been forever and we are still in fucking Brooklyn. Traffic is heavy, and we really do hit every light. I am bent over sideways in the backseat, looking up at the world as I did on long car trips as a child stretched out across the backseat. At some point, I lift my head up and see that we are at the Navy Yards. Does this guy think we’re going to Queens? What if he’s taking us to the wrong hospital? WHY ARE WE STILL IN BROOKLYN?????

So calmly, so beautifully calmly, he answers, because it is rush hour and I am avoiding the traffic jam downtown approaching the bridge. Cab driver, I mentally send you flowers every time I think of your gentle tone and your impressive withholding of epithets at that moment. God bless you. Later, when I screamed at you that you were driving past the hospital, it was kind of you only to say that the hospital I was seeing was Bellevue and withhold any suggestion that perhaps I belonged there.

I had a few moments of clarity before arriving at the hospital. I remember thinking that because each of our cabs had chosen different bridges, we would be able to tell the baby about going over both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridge while he was coming. That seemed really cool for some reason. Later, as we crawled up First Avenue (thank you, cabbie, for not taking the FDR), there was this strange break from everything and it seemed perfectly normal to remark to Sugar on the unexpected presence of a European restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. ( “Look, they sell Swedish food.” ) Sugar reports finding that a bit surreal.

Another thing I had imagined was at least kind of being able to walk when we arrives at the hospital. Instead, I only have eyes for the lone wheelchair mercifully abandoned by the entrance and scream until the driver backs up, switches lanes, and brings me to it. Sugar runs around trying to figure out how to push me and deal with the luggage. Some presumed neurologist (bow-tie) leans over and asks if my “erm, companion” has gotten help. This all seems to take forever, but then Sugar is back, rushing me to the elevator. Which is absolutely packed, naturally, so I try to scream quietly while the neurologist and others chat about their weekends.

Our arrival in L&D is also cinematic: I am sprawled across the careering wheelchair, wailing. I hope I wasn’t screaming “give me my damn epidural,” but the possibility exists. However, one fear is instantly assuaged: turns out that if you arrive at Kips Bay L&D having clearly lost your tiny mind, you do not have to go to triage.

In the room, off go my rather soggy corduroys and everything else. As the nurse starts my IV, I whine at her, “Am I going to have to wait a really long time for my epidural?” She says no. “Are you lying to me??”

I am sure she is lying to me. Hell, I would lie to me. But she isn’t. The anesthesiologist comes in right away. He is a short man with comically tall hair and a horrible, sing-song, chipper-camp-counselor voice. He introduces himself and commences cheerfully upbraiding me for yelling.

I know how this works. I know that I will need to sit up, bend over, hold still. I am trying to move between contractions, only there isn’t any “between” anymore, so it’s hard. And his stupid monologue about how I need to stop carrying on is not helping.

This is when Sugar and I learn something about what is and isn’t part of that social self that disappeared on the ride in. Apparently preferring silence while in pain, which I would have bet was pretty deeply part of me, is surface stuff. But the Teacher Voice is primal.

So here I am, screaming, moaning, trying to turn to sit, wishing there weren’t so many people touching me and talking all at once. And then Dr. Jerkwad comes out with his most enraging and unhelpful line thus far, a merrily hostile, “You’ve got to get some self-discipline.”

And, reports Sugar, I go suddenly silent, to everyone’s surprise. And out it comes, low and loud and firm and clear, the Teacher Voice. And it says, heedless of the fact that this is maybe not the brightest remark to make to someone poised to put a needle in my spine,

“Sean.

Don’t be an asshole.”


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Birth Story, Part Three

Well, it’s happened. One of those overdue babies has gone and gotten herself born! Congratulations, Ms. Debbie G! And your lovely wusband, too! Biggest congratulations of all to that lucky, lucky baby girl, who is going to grow up in a super-awesome family.

In other news, while I was spacing out again, another due date I told myself I’d beat has gone and passed. I’d better get on this, eh?

(Parts 1 and 2, in case you’re just joining us.)

Sunday night: Home from dinner, cranky and crampy. Am starting to wonder just how normal it can be to still be bleeding so very, very much. And why hasn’t there been any mucous? All the books and websites say that bloody show is maybe “tinged” with blood. I start googling pictures and find nothing that looks like what I’m seeing. I figure better to call the doctor at 9:30 than wait until the middle of the night and wake her up. So I do.

The answering service takes my message and, as always, says to call back if I haven’t heard anything within 15 minutes. I wait 45, then try again. A while later, Dr. Skinny calls, sounding pissed. Which is weird, because hello, it’s not late by OB time, and anyway, I’m bleeding here. She couldn’t call sooner because she was delivering a baby (which I should have known via the Pregnant Lady Alert Network, I guess) and says she doesn’t understand why I’m calling. Um, because I’ve been bleeding like a stuck pig for nigh on 13 hours? (And must have been for quite a while before getting out of bed in the morning, to judge by the enormous clots. Which she had said weren’t big, but you know what? They were.) And all this “is it heavier than a period” business is confusing since A) I haven’t had a period in a while, actually; B) Heavier at any given moment? Or greater volume of blood overall? Because: no and yes; C) this blood is nothing like period blood; and D) WTF does that have to do with the price of milk? I’m not so much supposed to be having a period, right? And where’s that mucous I ordered?

For the record, I am not hysterical (bad pun; enjoy!) on the phone. [That came later, with the vasospasms. Apparently nipple pain trumps fear of bleeding to death.] I am calm and polite, express my hope that the birth went well, all that. Southern as all get.

Eventually, Dr. Skinny says — as if I should have known this — that I will be like this until I give birth. Pro tip: mentioning that in the morning would have saved you this phone call, Dr. Skinny. Also, how about you take a look some time at pregnancy books your patients are likely to have. You might be surprised how little information is in there. But they all say in no uncertain terms that heavy bleeding means time to pick up the phone.

She agrees with me that waiting until my next appointment on Thursday is not a good idea and says I should call in the morning for an appointment.

At nearly 38 weeks’ wide, I am a difficult party to share a bed with, so after a little while tossing and turning, Sugar goes to sleep on the chaise in the other room. I have no choice but to sleep with myself, which isn’t going well. I drift off but wake up every half an hour or so in bad pain. Still only in my back and legs. I start to wonder at all the advice I’ve heard about trying to sleep through early labor. How the hell do people do that? I try more alcohol, which just makes me feel gross.

Monday: By 4 a.m., even pretending to sleep is ridiculous. The contractions are coming about every ten minutes and lasting a minute or more each time. The pain is worst in my back but now seems to wrap around to my belly some of the time before shooting down my legs, right on the bone. I still don’t think it’s likely that I’ll be in real labor any time soon, but just in case, I decide not to wake up Sugar; I’ll want her rested for labor more than I need her help now. I spend some time in the tub until that starts to make things worse. I try to read a book. I bend over the couch, like they said in birth class. That is the only thing that feels even a little better, but I’m too tired to keep it up. Mostly, I lie on my side in bed and squeeze the cat, who is an absolute prince about the whole thing. I do some groaning and a whole lot of counting.

The pain is worse in the morning. Sugar gets up and complains about how lousy she feels, that she didn’t sleep well. I proceed to have a contraction, and she doesn’t complain anymore. Heh. We do some counting and breathing and all that jazz. The contractions hurt more, and I’m glad she’s there to help me through them. Counter-pressure on my back helps some; the birth ball seems like the worst idea ever. I get an OB appointment for 1:15 that afternoon. We decide to pack a hospital bag, just in case, even though I don’t have half of the things I meant to get. Between contractions, we write — and I mean “write, on yellow lined paper;” remember that the printer has croaked — a very minimal birth plan. (“Epidural, yes. You get to come to the OR for a section. You wanna cut the cord? Put something in there about circumcision.”) At some point I write to the doulas.

Things go on in this vein until it is time to leave for the doctor. We really do take a cab this time. As is the way of these things, my contractions, which have been steady on all this time, all but stop on the drive in. I think I had three in the hour it took to get there. We feel a little foolish dragging our luggage into the waiting room, I tell you.

I pee in a cup (like you do) and some blood drips in; I’m still bleeding, though less than on Sunday. The nurse seems a bit horrified, all the same. I ask Dr. Russian whether she thinks they’ll manage to find protein in that sample. She laughs [See! This is why I liked her!], hooks me up to contraction and fetal heart rate monitors, and leaves for twenty minutes.

While she’s gone, I have only one contraction, but Lordy, it hurts. I’m sure people in the hall can hear me, as my counting is getting a little…emphatic. It’s over by the time Dr. Russian returns, though. She declares the Bean’s heart rate perfect and says there’s no evidence of a contraction on the tape. I about hit the ceiling. I had a contraction, dammit. I believe you, she says, it just didn’t show up here. As long as you’re here, let’s check your cervix.

This time, I do start to crabwalk off the back of the exam table. There has got to be a less painful way to do that. Dr. Russian is visibly shocked as she reports that I am 4 cm dilated and completely effaced.

What do you want to do, she asks.

What? Aren’t you supposed to tell me?

Well, she says, you can go to the hospital if you want, but you aren’t contracting, so they’re going to give you pitocin. I know you want to avoid that, so why don’t you go have lunch, walk around, and I’ll probably hear from you tonight.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that Dr. Russian is on call. I don’t like the other OBs at all. [And even after everything that came later, I’m still glad it was her. I didn’t rate my chances of a vaginal birth with Dr. Skinny too highly, and Dr. Sympathetic Noises said when I first met her that I’d likely need a c-section. Only Dr. Russian ever seemed to think things might work on their own.]

For some reason, I interpret Dr. Russian’s words, which now seem to pretty obviously suggest that she thinks I am in labor, as, “Go home. Maybe you’ll have the baby later this week. Like Thursday, say.”

So here it is, the hands-down dumbest thing I did in the whole pregnancy. The one thing I can definitively look back on about labor and say, I sure as hell won’t do THAT again.

We go home.

On the subway.


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Birth Story, Part Two

(For backstory, disclaimers, and jokes about the Crimean War, see Part One.)

In a comment on the last post, Bunny asked whether my granny cart broke because of the hundred-ish pounds of groceries I had piled in it in my attempt to keep the cats from eating us alive. The answer is no. A superficial analysis would suggest that it broke because I was lazy the last time I fixed it (the linchpins on the axle are just wire, crappy wire at that, so the wheels fly off from time to time when the wire wears through) and didn’t neaten up the ends of the new wire, which then got bent out of shape when the cart was repeatedly folded and unfolded over the course of a month or so and, thus weakened, sheared off at a bad moment.. (And by “new wire” I mean cheap key ring, which I am telling you because I still think my discovery that those were the right gauge of wire was brilliant, not least because it means I can keep a “repair kit” of several of them jingling from the cart at all times.) But that’s not the real reason it broke, any more than the washer broke because its belt stretched out. (And while we’re on the subject of my enormous pride over trivial mechanical competence, yes, I was pretty damn pleased with myself when I thought of that and therefore saved us hauling the sucker to a handyman, thank you very. Sure, Sugar actually fixed it, but I did the intellectual heavy-lifting, okay?)

No, the washer and the granny cart and also our printer and Sugar’s Wacom tablet and a half dozen other household mainstays broke that week because of a little-known fuse built into all mechanical and electric items, known as the Critical Detector. The Critical Detector, says my father, who imbued me with most of my obviously enormous understanding of the gadget world [No, I still can’t get the damn blog to import to WordPress; why do you ask?], is that widget that, sensitive to the relative importance of a given device at a particular moment, chooses the optimal moment for said device to fail. It is the Critical Detector that causes catastrophic copier failure ten minutes before the FedEx deadline of a grant you’ve spent a year writing, that makes your car die on the way to your sister’s graduation, that killed the digital camera the day of our courthouse wedding. Naturally, with my due date approaching, every CD in the house was on alert. We’re lucky the place didn’t explode.

Back to our story, already in progress:

Saturday: You know those dreamy, drapey pregnancy photo shoots that people do? The ones that are sort of romantic and beautiful and sort of too reminiscent of douche ads? I have mixed feelings about them — who’s ever going to want to look at them anyway? And isn’t it all a bit self-indulgent? But what if I regret being too cool for them later, when it’s my stomach flesh that’s drapey and white and I realize that I Will Never Be Beautiful Again??? Better safe than sorry. Also, I always wanted to be pregnant in the summer so that I could go to the beach and for once in my life know for certain that no one was allowed to even think boo about what my stomach looks like in a two-piece, but here it is cold weather and yes, I was pregnant at the beach last year but only enough to look chunky except for the time I didn’t know I was pregnant yet but I looked 5 months gone because of the OHSS, and so maybe we should just cover the bedroom in white cloth and get out the camera and give it a shot? Or is that cheesy and hypocritical?

Oddly, Sugar prefers draping the bedroom in white and spending a few hours with her camera to listening to me deliberate. Can’t imagine why.

While she digs the wedding tablecloths out of the depths of the “nursery” closet, my body does what our bodies do when we prepare to drape them in white cotton: start bleeding from the hooha.

It’s not a lot of blood, but it is blood, so I call in. Dr. Skinny is on call assures me that an abruption would hurt, that this is probably just the Return of The Irritable Cervices. She asks if I’m having contractions, and though I am plenty achey, I say no, because I’m not having any rhythmic belly business, and I’d know if I were having contractions, right?

The bleeding stops after a couple of hours, and the photo shoot goes on. I figure the light is too good to put it off and anyway, this way we’ll have time to reshoot if it doesn’t go well.

37 weeks 5 days

[Sugar only ever got around to fixing up one of those pictures, and it is sad but true that no one really cares how pregnant you looked once the baby is out. Someday, when I get WordPress working, I will get her to spruce up some of the others for a password-protected post and I will g-d FORCE you all to look at them and say something nice. Because in fact, I am not 100% overjoyed with the current state of the ol’ bod, and while I’ll probably one day go back to aggressively wearing a two-piece bathing suit despite never having had a “bikini body,” it ain’t going to be this summer.]

We go to a friends’ house for dinner, and realizing that I’ve invited guests for brunch and accepted another dinner invitation for Sunday, I make some joke to Sugar about how typical it would be for me to use all my nesting energy on socializing, leaving the house a disaster when the baby comes. Ha.

Sunday: God, I felt good Sunday morning. I slept pretty well — I understand that may happen again in 18 or 20 years — and even in a bit. Then my BFF calls and Sugar brings me the phone in bed and I lie there and talk to her while Sugar runs around making quiche and getting the house ready for our brunch guests. BFF talks to me about her labor; the only thing I remember is how much she hated laboring on the ball, but the conversation leaves me feeling relaxed about the prospect of labor, since after all, I have a few weeks before anything is going to happen. [You may find all this foreshadowing heavy-handed, but the idea that I had another 3 weeks really was in my mind constantly.] Eventually, Sugar says it’s time to get going if I want to be wearing clothes when our guests arrive in 20 minutes — and that seems like a nice idea, since I’ve only met one of them and her only once — so I get off the phone and head towards the bathroom, thinking things feel a little mucous-ier even than usual in the pants department.

But I am wrong about that: there’s no mucous at all.

Just lots and lots and lots of blood.

I stay put on the toilet while I call the doctor again. Sugar ruins the pie crust, which I have never, ever seen her do. Dr. Skinny calls back and says again that I don’t have an abruption, that of course I’m worried by blood but it is really okay. Am I having any contractions?

Funny thing about that, I say. Last night in bed I was thinking about it, and the only thing that comes and goes in a wave-like pattern is my backache. Is that a contraction?

Turns out it is. Dr. Skinny suggests that rocking on my hands and knees and doing some walking might ward off back labor, but I’m not all that worried because that’s not going to happen to me.

We debate canceling brunch, but the thing about city life is that no one has cars. They’ll be on the subway already, and even if we can reach them (possible, since most of the line they’re on is above ground), turning around will be a giant pain. Plus, we don’t really know them and it’s rude to uninvite people. Exsanguination before awkwardness!

I clean myself up, Sugar makes a new crust, and we all have a nice time at brunch. In fact, those guests are the perfect ones to have, since not only are they charming but one of them had a severe postpartum hemorrhage and is hence able to assure me that bleeding too much in an obstetric context is not something I’m likely to be in doubt about: I will know for sure that something is not right. I spend a while gawping at their baby, who is objectively fantastic but at that moment seems huge and terrifying and given to unfathomable moods and sudden noises.

After brunch, Sugar and I go for a walk in the Botanic Garden. We both remark on how much farther I’m able to walk than last time we went, not up to my normal standard, certainly, but over a mile. In fact, I’d been very sad after our last trip, because I’d imagined spending early labor walking here, but it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to manage it. Wouldn’t it be funny if this were the famous burst of energy that precedes labor? It’s not, of course. This would be a ridiculous way to use that. Just let me sit here for a minute until my back stops hurting again.

By dinner time, it is hard to ignore that I’m having some contractions, maybe two or three an hour. Obviously these are Toni Braxtons because I’m not having this baby for weeks yet. We take a car to our dinner friends’ anyway, though. Wait, I just remembered that we actually took the subway and then walked! Hilarious! I thought we had taken a car because only an insane person would have been too cheap to do so. Ahem. It occurs to us that even though these friends are usually good for some very nice wine, there might not be any because the wife and I are both pregnant. We promise each other that if GOD FORBID that happens, we will BY GOD get some wine on the way home. And yes, we are feeling strongly enough to use that many GODs.

Decency prevails! There is wine! I have two honkin’ glasses of it and remark that while I find the idea one of the women in birth class had of waiting until the night she went into labor to have a glass of wine (to slow the contractions) very sweet, I need a drink, dammit. The Oscars are on. We eat some very spicy beef that seems like the best thing in the whole word; I all but demand to be sent home with leftovers. The contractions — which still just feel like wretched back pain — keep coming. I can talk through them, but I’d rather not. Still bleeding like crazy. We really do take a cab home.


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Resolve

Update: 1-minute contractions every 10 minutes from 4am on. They start in my back, then come around to belly and shoot down legs. Maybe a bit more frequent now.

Talked to Dr. Skinny late last night, because I didn’t understand that this blood business was just going to go on and on (intermittently). Frankly, she was kind of a bitch about it. Poop on her. (Actually, if she ends up at the delivery, perhaps the opportunity to do just that will be the silver lining….)

So, FYI, since all the books and stuff just talk about “blood-tinged mucous”: apparently if your bloody show looks like a heavy period and the doctor says that’s okay, you should not expect it to stop.

I don’t know if this is early labor or pre-labor or what, but I do know that whatever it is, it is not shaking my resolve vis-a-vis that epidural. Just for the record.