Bionic Mamas

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


A Long Ramble, Mostly About Food

The sad fact is, I’ve been working on this post for over a week.  Just thought I’d mention that, lest you feel forgotten.

Hey there, people of the internet.  I think of you all the time.  We are all happy and well, but this whole “working with a baby” thing turns out to be — surprise — kind of hard.  Let’s not talk about just how many papers I get graded while chasing our now highly-mobile Bean from deathtrap to deathtrap in the apartment, let alone how much reading I get done for the (totally fascinating!) graduate-level class I’m assisting for in addition to my usual courses, despite having… minimal qualifications in the field.  Bad enough slogging through hundreds of pages of almost comically granular scholarship as a student; now there is the terrifying and very real possibility that I will at any moment be asked to facilitate a group discussion on some arcane point I only dimly remember.  It is really fun, I must admit, to be learning about a new topic; I wish I could talk your ears off about it, but I’m a little chicken that the graduate program in question is unusual enough that doing so could make me vulnerable to googling.  But if you notice feats of more-than-usually-spectacular nerdiness in future posts, this might be why.

The Bean is more charming every day.  No, he still doesn’t really sleep.  But he does crawl like a maniac, pull to stand at every opportunity, and perform constant experiments in balance of the kind that seem to spell E-A-R-L-Y W-A-L-K-E-R.  We are proud and terrified.  He has two teeth and known how to use ‘em.  He interacts more and more with other kids and babies, which I find unexpectedly thrilling.  He seems to like us, too; when Sugar was laid up while taking care of him, he seemed to be telling her jokes by throwing himself backwards onto the bed pillows in exaggerated gestures of lost balance and then cracking himself up, and when I was bedridden the next week (WTF?), he took three naps with me.  He loves being kissed (and zerberted), and sometimes he grabs our faces and sort of rubs his open mouth on us, which I like to think is an attempt at reciprocation, though he might just be practicing being a lamprey.  This Sunday, Sugar brought him to bed to nurse in the morning, and afterwards, he lay between us, touching us and smiling at us and generally looking so very happy to be all together.  Then he caught sight of the cat, and Sugar and I saw what JOY looks like.  Ah, well.  They’ll have to keep us around at least until he can work the can opener.


He crawls


He stands.


He makes friends.

The other thing he does is EAT.  A while back, Turia suggested a post about how we are handling food, so here is an attempt to get that done before he’s ordering his own cheeseburgers.  If he doesn’t have an awful reaction to tomorrow’s flu shot, maybe it will even get finished.

(HAHAHAHA.  I wrote that Monday night, on my train ride home from teaching.  It’s Friday now.  The shot went pretty well, actually, but see graf one.  Also, I’m not sure what he’s been doing counts as cruising, but I’m also not sure it doesn’t count as cruising….)

So. Food.

Before I ever hopped into the stirrups and started down this spermy road to parenthood (ew), I had Definite Plans about how I would handle a few things — surprisingly few things, to give myself a little credit, but the Best Way to introduce food was high on the list of things I was sure about.  (I’m pretty sure Sugar was in agreement about this, but realistically, my fervor was sufficient to overwhelm any objections she might have come up with, so she wouldn’t have stood a chance if she hadn’t agreed.  She’s known me long enough to recognize that glint in my eye, and she is wise enough to pick her battles.)  I was certain — so certain that it wouldn’t have occurred to me to describe it as a choice — that we would do Baby-Led Weaning.

At the time that I first started thinking about it, I didn’t even know BLW was a thing; I just liked the way my Danish friend was teaching her daughter to eat.  I never saw Baby X spoon-fed purees or cereals; The Dane just handed her the food she reached for and she ate it.  So easy!  Baby X sat at the table with us when we ate and chose from the same foods we were eating.  If she wanted something, she ate it, and if she didn’t, no big deal.  Later, thanks to the Fat Nutritionist (whom you should read), I learned that what The Dane was doing was just what Ellyn Satter says we should do for children: we take responsibility for what food is offered (and when and where, eventually); we let them decide whether and how much to eat.  I can’t overstate how much this philosophy appeals to me.  I’m sure that those of you who know I am an American Woman will be shocked, shocked, shocked to hear that I have not always had a worry-free relationship with food; I love that this idea of division of eating responsibilities removes some of the most negative emotional possibilities from the dinner table without seeking to reduce food — which I believe should also be a source of pleasure — to only calories.

When the Bean had his four-month doctor’s appointment, I had just gotten my period and attendant milk supply drop.  He was fussy and seemed hungry to me, I told the doctor as much, and by the way, I can’t pump without having vasospasms galore, so he’ll be getting formula when I go back to work at six months.  Well, she said, do you want to try giving him some solids?

I was shocked.  Aren’t solids a six-month thing?  My breastfeeding hang-ups are a topic for another post (hell, they could have their own blog by now), but suffice it to say that I thought six months of exclusive breastfeeding was basically required.  (I read later that there’s not actually much evidence solids need to wait more than four months; a lot of the discussions that suggest as much conflate the beginning of solids with the end of breastmilk.)  We told the doctor that we didn’t want to do cereals and purees, that we liked what the Dane had done.  (The Dane-lette is also her patient.)  Fine, she said, just let him taste what we’re eating.  No milk, no honey.  See you in two months.

(Here’s the part where I say how overwhelmingly grateful I am that the allergy theories have shifted again and we get to give the baby almost everything.)

I didn’t *rationally* believe that we could get the Bean eating so much food by six months that I could avoid giving him formula when I returned to work, but I admit to some fantasies in that direction — not because I believe there is much of anything wrong with formula (because given consistent access to clean water and sufficient funds to serve it full-strength, I don’t), but I am far from immune to the praise given to mothers who breastfeed and withheld from those who don’t.  (And if I ever get this post done, I’ll sound off on that phenomenon At Length.)  Nor will I deny that avoiding formula appealed because deep in my heart of hearts, I want to do at least one thing my mother couldn’t.  She didn’t even take time off from medical school when I was born, but I was by-golly going to win when it came to Earth Mother-hood.

(Good Lord, y’all, it’s been over a week.  I’ve written myself into a corner, and I can’t find my way out.)

The Bean showed signs of enjoying the tastings — that is, he started sometimes pulling our hands back for another go — after about three weeks of on again, off again efforts on our part.  At five months, he seemed so interested in sitting at the table, that we decided to ignore the “6 months” label on his swanky high chair.  He loved being at the table and happily grabbed whatever we were eating.  If it met with his approval, he would shovel it so enthusiastically into his mouth and against his gag reflex that exuberant vomit followed, resulting in a net loss of calories.  …Win?  At about five and a half months, while we were visiting Sugar’s parents, he discovered pickles and thank god did not puke all over his grandmother, who was slightly horrified that we were giving him big pieces of food, not mush.  (I felt smugly superior.  Mush!  Ha!  Not for my discerning baby!)

As my rational brain had predicted, when I went back to work two weeks later, he was only occasionally swallowing food; he still needed just as much formula as he would have had we waited until then to offer him solids.  We had fun getting the Bean to taste things, but, well, you can’t hurry love.  But a funny thing happened in my addled brain: all those tastes of real food meant that the Bean wasn’t only eating breastmilk, and suddenly formula no longer seemed like a sad replacement for something I should have been able to provide had I been mother enough to suffer my vasospasms for my child’s sake (or, better, the sort of La Leche League poster-mater who doesn’t have breastfeeding problems because her heart is just that pure).  It just seemed like one more food the Bean sometimes eats.  No big deal.  I will confess to some disappointment that giving him formula two days a week didn’t magically improve his sleeping habits; I will confess to a little satisfaction on that count, too.  What can I say?  Addled Brain Is Addled.

At his six-month appointment, he’d dropped significantly in the weight percentiles.  His doctor wasn’t worried — said this was just the age when breast milk was no longer enough, that we were doing the right things with food and he would start eating — but then he started crawling all over the place and got slimmer and slimmer.  The weather got cool enough for long sleeves, and he could still wear onesies he wore in April.  I took him to a motion study at the university associated with Kips Bay Mega Hospital, and their (sloppily measured) weight put him in the Danger, Will Robinson area of the growth chart.

At about six and a half months, a switch threw itself in the Bean’s noggin.  Overnight, his attitude towards food went from polite curiosity to GIVE ME THE BANANA AND NO ONE GETS HURT.  Two meals — one before his first morning nap, one midday — were required to forestall wailing.  He also made it very, very clear that he wanted to eat more food than pure BLW was going to allow, and so I have reluctantly admitted that our mothers were both right about the food mill.

…You know, I think I’ve realized why this post won’t resolve, and since this is a blog and not a proper essay, I’m just going to tell you about it instead of, say, fixing it.  (GOD, it’s good to be out of grad school sometimes.)  When I started this post, I did all that set-up about my righteous belief in BLW because I thought that we’d failed at it.  A little pride-ever-goeth schtick.  But the more I think about it, the less I think we really did fail, at least when it comes to the things I most liked about BLW.

Yes, I’ve ground up more food than I had intended to, but actually, in the time it’s taken me to write this thing, the Bean has mostly stopped needing more mashing than a spoon can provide.  (Uh, I mean his food doesn’t need mashing.  To be clear, we have never attempted to mill the baby.)  Yes, I’m feeding him with a spoon, but we settled quite by accident on using ice tea spoons with very long handles (and very small bowls, hence the choice).  This allows us to hold only the very end of the handle, while the Bean grabs the handle farther down and either puts the spoon in his mouth or shoves it away; he is still in control of what goes in his mouth.  He has some finger foods: sweet potato fries, Cheerios, and as of today, goldfish crackers (only from the coop, so they’re actually shaped like rabbits and if that isn’t genetic engineering then I don’t know what is).  He drinks water or his new favorite, seltzer, from a cup.  Since I’m cheap as the dickens, we haven’t been buying pre-made food; for the most part, the Bean has been eating what we eat, which makes me glad.  I realize there is a natural narrowing of the palette in toddlerhood and that the 3-year-old Bean will probably subsist on hotdogs and cherry chapstick, but for now, he seems to love almost everything, from bananas to sardine pasta to kimchi.  We sit at the table together at meals, me eating with one hand and holding his spoon out to him with the other.  Whaddya know, a happy ending.


(Teeth.  Did I mention that?  Just the two on the bottom.)


August Is For Items

Hello, dearies.  Sorry for the radio silence.  In lieu of a real post — I had a migraine last night and now have a codeine hangover and anyway The Bean will be up from his nap soon — here are a few notes.

  • The Bean meets the ocean!  Sugar and I took the Bean to the beach.  I have just deleted a very boring paragraph about logistics, the gist of which was: it seemed like everything was likely to be a disaster, with 9 people in a two-bedroom house, no one who was willing to help me with the baby for the days Sugar couldn’t be there, and a potentially angry teenager thrown in for spice, but it was in fact completely lovely.  The Bean charmed the hell out of everybody, including the very sweet teenager, and Sugar and I got to leave him with family for our very first hour away from him.
  • Oh, look, he’s up already.  More items as the day progresses, I guess….

Hi, again.  Phew.  This napping after being up for 90 minutes to 2 hours business remains pretty successful.  I’ve been noticing that the awake windows need to be shorter in the mornings.  No idea if he’ll ever go to a schedule of fewer, longer naps, but at least he’s doing something.  A thousand blessings again to Jennifer at Autism Normal for suggesting it.  More items:

  • Night sleep is still just okay.  He sleeps pretty well, but still wakes up to eat several times a night.  This means I haven’t slept for more than 3 hours in a row (and rarely more than 2.5) since February.  This is not doing wonders for my mood.  Supposedly he’s big enough not to need to eat that often anymore, so we may try to deal with this in some way, but while I’m a heartless monster about crying to sleep during the day (which happens at nearly every nap), I have very low tolerance for being screamed at during the night.  We tried not nursing him back to sleep at one wake up on Saturday night (albeit not in a very well-thought-out manner), and boy did that suck worse than nursing.  The status quo suddenly didn’t look so terrible.
  • If he’d just stop believing the day begins at 5, I’d be happier.
  • But I have to admit it was pretty cute this morning when Sugar and I were trying to pretend he wasn’t awake and he was lying between us, singing.
  • Singing!  This kid kills me.
  • In exciting/terrifying news, we are seeing the beginnings of locomotion around here.  Right now we’re in the “I want that toy that’s in front of me OH NO WHY AM I GOING BACKWARDS???!???!!” stage, which would be funny if I were the kind of terrible mother who would laugh at her child’s agony.
  • I have also seen, several times in the past couple of days, full rising onto hands and knees.  The laughing shoe will be on the other agonized foot shortly, it would seem, as our apartment is about as baby-proofed as a china shop in a coal mine.
  • In the interests of finding novel methods of containment, we’ve set up the (inevitable) Stokke chair, and the Bean LOVES it.  I was going to put in a rant about how the stupid baby seat isn’t going together properly (so that he fits now but won’t for long) and customer service was being enraging, but it turns out I was in touch with global customer service by mistake.  While I was seething, a nice lady from American customer service called and is sending out a new version of the relevant bits.  Does this mean Americans expect more coddling than other people and are spoiled?  Maybe.
  • At his four-month appointment, the Bean’s doctor (who is wonderful and needs a good blog name but meanwhile please ask me if you’re looking for a pediatrician in Brooklyn) said we could start giving him food if we wanted.  We’re interested in baby-led weaning, but open to a little coercion, in the interests of more food and less formula when I go back to work.  (Pipe dream!  But never mind!)  We’ve been letting him taste things, which is pretty cute.  I don’t think he’s swallowed anything yet, but strawberries, cheese and crackers, mango lassis, and oatmeal cookies have all been aggressively grabbed for and shoved into mouth.
  • Yes, I am ruining the child forever by letting him taste things with sugar.  More on this another time, but the quickly: have you tasted breastmilk?  Mine, at any rate, is basically creme brulee.

Dalai Lama Goes To The PediatricianThe Bean at his four-month appointment, doing his best lama impersonation.

Breastmilk brings us nicely back to the proper subject of this blog, ME.  Sheesh, Bean, get your own blog.

  • My supply has not come all the way back, post-stupidfuckingbackalready period.  Whee.
  • Eating oatmeal helps a great deal, as long as I eat a whole lot of it.  I am getting royally sick of oatmeal.
  • I’m feeling somewhat embittered about this whole breastfeeding business, and right now, oatmeal is what I’m willing to do in terms taking things to increase supply.  I know there are teas and supplements and domiperidone in the world; I know.  Maybe  seems terribly ungrateful to those with bigger supply worries, but I’m just feeling burnt out on pills and such right now.  I hate herbal tea, and the hippy-but-not-dippy LC has warned me off fenugreek because of my problems with hypoglycemia.
  • Oatmeal experiments are constantly underway chez Bionique.  Oatmeal with a hard boiled egg and soy sauce smells like boiled ass but tastes pretty good (especially with a little butter); sriracha is okay once in a while.  Salsa verde is less successful.  Today I went with my mother’s (and great, great-grandfather’s) method of uncooked oats with cold milk.  Not bad.
  • Cookies come in handy, too.
  • ..which may explain why I’ve gained three pounds.  Though I think the carb-heavy breakfast and, more to the point, eating something because it is what I’m supposed to eat rather than what my body wants that day is as much if not more to blame.  Sigh.  I hope I get back to pre-pregnancy weight some day, as I miss my clothes very much.  I am beginning to doubt this will ever happen; I’ve been in the range of halfway there for a long time.  I am trying (with mixed success) to tell myself that feeding my child is more important than how I look.

Okay, I realize this post is not my greatest work, but I can feel the headache creeping back in steel-toed boots, so in the interest of ever getting anything up, I’m posting it now.  Next project will be getting the beach pictures on to flickr so I can show you how utterly the Bean rocked his sunglasses.


Birth Story Part Five

Back to our story, already in progress. (See parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.)

As you’ve probably gathered, Dr. Jerkwad did not paralyze me. Thank you, Hippocratic oath. Or self-interest — my mother pointed out later that any misstep after I’d called him an asshole would have looked very bad in court. Also: I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to have the patient sign the consent before the procedure, not after.

For anyone reading this while considering options for her own delivery: getting the epidural was not a big deal. It did not hurt or even feel especially strange, and while the thought of a needle in the spine is a bit creepy, at that moment, the finer distinctions of human experience were not exactly at the forefront of my mind. There was no “creepy,” only “good” (a highly theoretical construct, belonging to the world that existed before the cab ride) and “bad” (everything I am feeling right now and for as long as I can remember). I, who am nervous about practically everything, felt no anxiety, only impatience. In terms of physical sensation, it was as I was told it would be: cold skin from the alcohol, very slight stinging from the local anesthetic, then a spreading coolness in my back. It hurt less than the IV. If you don’t want one, don’t get one, but if you think you might, don’t let fear of the procedure itself scare you off.

What can I say about epidurals that hasn’t already been said in a thousand love songs? Whoever invented those things should get the Nobel Prize for Medicine and no, I am not joking. I said some time ago that post-delivery, my anger at people (like that patronizing dick, Dr. Sears) who would try to scare women out of having epidurals had hardened to a murderous rage, and I meant it. (And again, this is not at all to say that those of you who didn’t or don’t want them shouldn’t have the choice, even if you do make me feel like a bit of a wimp.) I’ve had occasion recently to reflect on the unusual level of privilege I enjoy when it comes to medicine. Not only do I have access to good health care (insurance, good local doctors, all that), but I have a unusually (another rant for another day) good science education for someone who didn’t get a science degree, access to library databases and knowledge of how to use them, and an appropriately massive sense of entitlement regarding my medical care. So while I may have my own psychological demons about wanting/needing pain relief, at least I am more able than average to sort through the immense amount of crap out there about the supposed medical reasons to avoid epidurals. It pisses me off to no end that a whole parade of well-meaning nitwits and genuine jackasses would lie to women with fewer resources rather than risk letting women decide for themselves what ideologies to sign up with and what medicine to accept.

Back in the prenatal day, when I was confessing my epidural neuroses, wise Sara said:

The thing that nobody tells you about giving birth with an epidural (or, in my case, being denied an epidural, so giving birth without one after begging for one), is that in addition to dulling the pain, the epidural also totally erases any weird psychological hangups that one might have about epidurals. They actually rock, as it turns out. It’s just a well-kept secret.

And she’s right. I have a lot of strange feelings about how birth went, but not about the epidural. It just rocked, full stop.

Epidurals work very, very fast, but it does take a few contractions. The first contraction after it went in is as painful as the ones before, but somewhat more emotionally difficult for me, since I had been looking forward to being saved, and now I am not saved after all. I feel a sickening fear that it won’t work, but then it starts to. The next two contractions are maybe 85% of what I’ve been feeling, and after that they become manageable. I can sit up and turn around on the bed; I can listen to the nurses again. Kips Bay Mega Hospital uses low-dose, patient-controlled epidurals, which is part of why I wanted to come here: light epidurals compare favorably to traditional ones in studies of practically everything you can think of. Someone shows me the button I can use to boost the dose if I need to. The world begins to reassemble itself.

Despite my stabbing at the button, the low-dose epi is ultimately not enough, so after 45 minutes, a different anesthesiologist — who manages not to be an asshole, imagine that — comes in and gives me a bigger dose. After that, I can still feel the contractions, but they aren’t so bad. (I am glad I got to try the low-dose, though, and I think more hospitals should have that option.)

Unfortunately, what can’t feel my contractions is the contraction monitor. It picks up maybe one in three or four. The nurse keeps moving the sensor around, asking me to tell her when they come, and feeling all over my belly with her hands, but she can’t find them, either. At this point, I don’t think much of that. Who cares? I am having contractions — I can feel them — and it doesn’t seem surprising in the least that some contraption doesn’t register them. Contraptions! Of course they are prone to failure! Yes, I am the girl who thought for nearly 20 years that tampons didn’t work for me because they just don’t work all that well.

What does need to be registering those contractions is at least one — ideally only one — cervix. (So far, there is no hint of my didelphic nature causing a problem: everyone who sticks a hand in my business agrees with Dr. Skinny that one has obviously taken over.) In the “natural” childbirth literature, there is a lot about how labor pain is not something women have justifiably dreaded for all of recorded history but is actually fantastic because unlike kinds of pain men experience every other kind of pain, labor pain is “productive.” Allow me to add that to the list of things Dr. Sears can shove up his urethra. Frankly, so what? Passing a kidney stone is a thing that happens, too; does that make that pain “productive”and therefore worth having?

However, when the resident comes in and asks to do a cervix check, I am a little excited. If I was four centimeters five hours ago and spent most of those hours having strong, frequent contractions, surely things must be getting close. And my water broke, too. Maybe I really was in transition in the cab. Maybe the resident will look shocked and say, “No wonder you felt bad! It’s almost time!”

Instead, she feels around for a minute and says, “Great, you’re at four centimeters.”

WHAT? All that for NOTHING? Are you kidding me? I am ready to hit the ceiling. She looks like she knows she’s said the wrong thing. “Um, maybe four and a half?”

Oh, and my water hasn’t broken after all, so, um, sorry I peed in your car, cabbie.

While all this is going on, Sugar goes back downstairs to reclaim our luggage, which the man at the information desk let her leave there when it became obvious that she couldn’t carry it and push my wheelchair at the same time, formally checks me in, and gets a health care proxy. At some point, she calls the doulas — we have two, since neither is a full-time doula. It turns out the one we liked can’t come tonight, but the other one shows up a little while later and sits with me while Sugar gets dinner somewhere I don’t have to watch her eat and brings me back some cranberry juice. My main concern with this doula has been that I will find her happy but frantic energy upsetting in labor, but I manage to find the spine to tell her that I don’t want to talk, and to her credit, she listens.

This part, from when Sugar gets back in the room until it’s time to push, I look back on fondly, all thanks to the epidural. Sugar dozes on the fold-out chair/bed in the corner, the doula reads, and I just rest. I am freezing cold, but the nurse brings piles of warmed blankets and bundles me up. The lights are turned down low, and the fetal heart monitor fills the room with the Bean’s steady, reassuring heartbeat. I love the thought that we spent those last hours together that way, he listening to my heartbeat all around him while I heard his all around me. I feel safe and calm.

I’ve read quite a few stories that include praise for being at home or at a birth center; let me throw in some praise for being at the hospital. Because of my father’s devotion to his job, I spent quite a lot of night time at the hospital as a child, waiting for him to visit just one more set of patients on the way home from a piano concert; perhaps my experience is unrepeatably idiosyncratic. I remember the quiet of the wards at night as my father walked from room to room, silently watching his patients, stepping into the hall to ask a resident for details. Of course I like the epidural and feel reassured by the knowledge that there are pediatricians and a NICU right here if the Bean needs them, but I also like feeling that my room is a quiet part of an active hive. By now it is dark out, and my window is filled with a grid of windows from the wing of the hospital across the courtyard, some lit, some dark, some in between. I think I might have felt alone and isolated at home; here I feel watched but not bothered. Like I am in the right place, safe.

At some point, Dr. Russian turns up, seeming cheerful. She checks my cervix now and again, and there’s another thing to love about the epidural: now I am dilating smoothly and rapidly. I can’t remember exactly when I heard each number, but I remember thinking at one point it was two centimeters per hour. The Bean’s head is dropping nicely, too. Everything is fine, except that I am supposedly not contracting enough. At eight centimeters, Dr. Russian wants to break my water to speed things up, which I don’t mind and don’t even really feel. It certainly doesn’t hurt.

Contrary to what you may have read about epidurals, mine in no way leaves me paralyzed or numb-feeling. I can and do move my legs, and when the nurse starts talking about catheters, it’s not because she won’t let me try walking to the bathroom. However, even though she says my bladder is very full, I do not feel any urge to pee, so after a few minutes of focusing on finding that sensation, I agree that the catheter is a good idea. I had really wanted to avoid that, but it isn’t a big deal. Getting cleaned for it hurts in a “clitoral exfoliation” kind of way, but the catheter itself doesn’t. She takes it out as soon as it’s done its job.

The only negative side-effect I have from the epidural is that my belly itches. A lot. And all that moving around the monitor in search of my contractions isn’t helping. Of all the things we threw in the hospital bag, the only one I really want is the washcloth we’ve forgotten. Sugar gets paper towels wet to distract me with cold. It only sort of works, but boy howdy, I will take itching like this any day of the week over the pain I was having.

The nurse who is mostly taking care of me is sweet and young. She thinks the baby will be a girl because it is being so good; Dr. Russian says that surely means boy. The nurse asks about names. We had wanted to give the baby a name from each family, and while the girl names were easy to choose (we have 3 names we like, in four possible combinations), finding a male name from Sugar’s family has not been not easy. There are plenty of men on her dad’s side, but not many names at all. My pick is Sugar’s father’s middle name, which lots of the men have, but she is having none of it.

No one ever says I’m completely dilated, but I gather that I must be at about 10 o’clock, when Dr. Russian tells me I have an hour to develop an urge to push before she wants to turn off the epidural. How about down rather than off, I ask, terrified. She agrees and leaves me with the nurse again.

So for an hour, I try to push. The nurse tries to find my contractions; Sugar and the doula try to help me. I can feel the muscles just fine. I know what to do and I feel a slightly constipated feeling, but never anything more. I roll over a few times, which I don’t like and doesn’t help. The nurse coaches me through pushing anyway, but the resident says I’m not doing it right. I convince the nurse to let me breathe out as through a straw while pushing, because holding my breath makes me feel terrible. I do three 10-count pushes per contraction.

After 45 minutes, Dr. Russian returns, and I agree that it’s time to turn down the epidural. I’m not too worried, since I figure the pain will just return to where it was before the extra dose. And they say epidurals do slow down pushing, so maybe this won’t even last long. Maybe I’ll have a February baby, just like BFF predicted back in October! The anesthesiologist (another one) comes in and lowers the dose; Dr. Russian says, “Don’t you DARE touch that button,” and leaves again.

And here, Gentle Internets, is where the horror movie starts. I can’t tell this part of the story neatly, because I wasn’t in my right mind for it. I often wish I didn’t remember it at all.

Without the epidural, the pain rapidly goes past what I can stand. Now my bones are being broken again, but only after being set on fire. There’s still nothing in my belly at all, just back and hips and especially my thighs. God, my thighs. I feel sick now just thinking about it. Between contractions, I can hear that I’m making those terrible dry sobbing sounds again. At some point, Dr. Russian speaks with scorn about my crying, but I’m not crying in any normal sense. My face is dry. This noise is coming from some dying animal part of me, utterly beyond my control.

I’m on my back still — I know, I KNOW; I “should” be in some other position. I didn’t even want to tell you all this now, because I am afraid someone will come tearing in to lecture me on Best Practices for Back Labor and tell me it’s all my fault. But I can’t stand the thought of any other position. I know I’ll fall apart if anyone tries to move me, and I mean fall apart physically.

At each contraction, Sugar and the doula hold my legs up while I push. At various points, I try holding the bar or my own legs; eventually I settle on holding a sheet-rope tied to the bar. I push for a count of ten, three times per contraction, while someone — usually the resident, sometimes Dr. Russian — tells me I’m not doing it right. I am doing exactly what they describe. A few times, I am told that I have finally done the right thing, that I should keep doing that. I am always doing exactly the same thing, every time. The scolding and praise come at arbitrary intervals, heavy with emotional freight. It’s very like a nightmare.

Dr. Russian is horrified that the nurse has let me hiss breath out during pushing, so it’s back to holding my breath. Which is stupid, by the way. And, as far as I can remember, not supported in the literature. Up until this point in our relationship, Dr. Russian has been so medically rational that I blithely ignored the advice to talk to my OB about her views on coached pushing, a grave mistake.

And now it is too late. For two hours, this goes on. I try to push, despite the fact that I am now in so much pain that some primitive part of my brain simply won’t let my legs spread enough, won’t let my back muscles let go at all. My body is trying to save itself, and I can’t override it. I can’t open more, I can’t relax, I can’t push harder; wanting to doesn’t enter into it, and neither does any conscious idea of fear. I am trying my best with every part of myself still under the control of my brain, but it’s not enough.

Complicating matters, no one can find my contractions on the monitor or by feeling my belly, so they often don’t believe I’m having contractions, just that I’m carrying on, I guess. I have to tell them when one is starting or stopping, which pleases no one. I have since learned (thanks, HFF) that this happens to bionic folks like us reasonably often; I didn’t make the connection until recently, but I was told early on that no matter the normal size and shape of my uterus, there would likely be differences in the muscle tissue at a microscopic level, which is why they wouldn’t have attempted an external version in case of breech presentation. I can only assume that no one at the hospital ever put those ideas together at all.

And then there was Dr. Russian. It’s Dr. Russian who has kept me from writing this down for all these months. It was two months before I could begin to be honest with myself that she was not, in fact, consciously using “tough love” in a misguided attempt to motivate me but is, in fact, the kind of smart, funny, emotionally unstable maniac that I Always Fucking Fall For. (That I have managed to marry someone smart, funny, and also compassionate and gentle is a miracle of the first order.) Four months out, I can confidently say that her behavior was assholic and frankly cruel, but it’s taken some time to get here.

Dr. Russian, as far as I can remember, spends the remainder of labor yelling at me for pushing wrong, for making noise, for holding my face wrong, for not wanting to push the baby out, for not trying.

That last one, that’s the one I can’t shut out, then or now. It cuts to the bone of my childhood insecurities. Recently, a friend whose pregnancy overlapped mine asked why I had liked being pregnant. From her perspective, pregnancy had been a somewhat uncomfortable, often inconvenient means to an end, not something she enjoyed for its own sake. But I did love it, and talking to her made me realize that a big part of why is that for the first time, after a lifetime of being told I was failing at gym and the like because I wasn’t trying (not, say, because I had untreated asthma), I felt physically competent at something important. I was doing it right, and until the last day, no one said otherwise.

Over the course of two hours, everyone in the room realizes that however typically helpful it is to turn down the epidural at this stage, in my case it is a rank disaster. When Dr. Russian leaves the room, the nurse starts asking if maybe, really I do want to push that button. I refuse. Things are bad enough; I am terrified of what Dr. Russian will say if I do that.

Dr. Russian comes and goes. At some point she threatens me with a c-section if I don’t start trying, which, despite the high rate of sections at this hospital, is curiously the only thing she says that doesn’t frighten me. I know I’ve dilated smoothly, I know The Bean is very far down, I know my water hasn’t been broken for long. The Bean’s heartbeat is steady and strong, no distress there. For the first time since I googled “double vagina,” I know I’m not having a c-section. I am sure of that, and the threat doesn’t touch me.

Eventually, the mood in the room changes enough that I can say, yes, I give up, I need the epidural back. Sugar tells me later that the resident and a collection of nurses bundled Dr. Russian off to the hallway to convince her it was not working. The anesthesiologist who had turned it down comes and turns it back up, without comment. I rest a little while. It starts to work, and while I’m never out of pain again, I stop sobbing.

Dr. Russian spends the rest of labor sulking. At some point, when I say how much better I think things are going with the epidural back on, she rolls her eyes at the ceiling.

Pushing continues. I’m exhausted and shaking all over. In between contractions, when my legs are released to the bed, I have to tell myself, out loud, over and over, that the bed will hold me up. Again and again, I’m told I’m not pushing hard enough or long enough or right. They say I’m not having enough contractions. I am. I’m tempted to lie sometimes, to not mention one is starting, just so I can get a break, but I don’t. They give me pitocin — or maybe that was before the epidural was turned down; I can’t remember now because I didn’t care at the time.

At some point, Dr. Russian asks whether the heart rate on the monitor is mine or the baby’s. “The baby’s, I think,” says the resident.

“No. About this I am very particular. Find out for sure.” I am grateful for Dr. Russian in that moment, glad she is watching out for The Bean.

There is a small flurry of activity as the resident and nurse try to figure out what to do, how to move the monitor, how to be sure, but then Nurse Ringer, an older Latina says calmly, “Why not take mom’s pulse and see if it matches?” They do and it doesn’t. Thanks, Nurse Ringer, for saving me from internal monitoring with the power of logic.

The Bean’s heart keeps steady on, steady on through all of this. At one point, I hear Dr. Russian remark to a nurse that he has an “enviable trace.” I glow with pride and silently thank the Bean for being so strong, for causing no worry.

Eventually, it is Nurse RInger who saves the contraction-monitoring day, too, as she finds a magic spot, very low on my belly, where she can feel them. Everyone is gathered around the bed at this point. The doula reminds me at every contraction to keep my face relaxed and my chin down; I am grateful that she can say that gently, since it saves me from being yelled at by Dr. Russian. They keep saying I’m pushing wrong. Someone gets a mirror, tells me I can see the head, but I never do, just my swollen lady bits and blood. (They had tried to clean the blood away before bringing the mirror, for fear of upsetting me, but I’m not bothered.) I carry on. Nurse Ringer is yelling that she wants to meet this baby; she reminds me of the baby-crazy secretary at Sugar’s office, and I don’t mind her yelling.

And here is what happens, after four hours of pushing three times per contraction, exactly the same way every time: I have another contraction, just like the others. I push twice, and am told I’m not doing it right. I push one more time — exactly the same way I’ve done it before, except maybe for two seconds longer — and out comes the Bean, all at once. Dr. Russian is across the room. The resident catches him, and “catch” is no metaphor here: he was flying.

* * *

And everything is happening at once again, only now it’s in a good way. Someone says he’s a boy. Someone puts him on my chest. The placenta comes out, and he’s passed back down so Sugar can cut the cord. Someone asks if we have a name. We have a first name…. Everyone else has to wear gloves to touch him, but we don’t, because we belong to each other.  We talk gently to him and are awed.

His initial Apgar is 9, with a point off for not crying much. (A very polite way to lose a point, in my opinion.) After a few minutes, Nurse Ringer takes him to the bassinet and warming station in the corner to suction him and clean him up a bit. Sugar goes with him, and I’m so glad she can. Holding him was one kind of amazing, but watching her with him is another kind altogether. I hope she’ll tell you about it herself.


Meanwhile, I am getting stitched up. Dr. Russian is giddy now, and she and the resident are working together, stitching and pulling and filling me up with gauze and pulling it back out again. I ask to see the placenta, and the resident shows me, after asking if I want to go skin to skin with it.  It’s smaller than I had expected.  They can’t get the bleeding to stop. The epidural is turned up higher and they’re using lidocaine, but it hurts. This indicates to me that I had plenty of sensation in my vagina all along and that the woman who told me tearing wouldn’t really hurt in the moment was right, because I certainly didn’t notice it happening. Mr. Hyde Dr. Russian had said when the epidural was tuned back up that it wouldn’t stop me feeling pain as he came through my vagina and that I had to not “freak out,” but really, it was nothing compared to everything else.

The Bean was born at 3:06 am, after four and a half hours of pushing. I hear Dr. Russian declare to the resident that it was really only two hours, since I apparently wasn’t trying the rest of the time. She has very sharp things in my crotch.  I don’t kick her.

Meanwhile, Sugar is still with the Bean. Suddenly she looks up at me, teary-eyed, and cries out, “I want to give him my dad’s middle name!”  I agree, and he has a name.

Eventually, the stitching and gauze-stuffing stops, my legs are released to the bed, and Sugar brings The Bean back to nurse. And he does, or at least makes a good effort. The doula swoops in to give me confusing advice, but mostly we just lie there together.


(What ever did happen to my vagina, anyway? Stay tuned for the Recovery Epilogue.)



Greetings from the snowy midwest, where we are visiting Sugar’s family. The snow is not too deep and very pretty, but I am nonetheless grateful that my mother’s giant grey marshmallow of a down coat still closes around me. It’s touch-and-go after a meal, I tell you what. Luckily, we’ll be out of the cold weather and down to my parents soon, so it only has to hold on for a few more days. Related gripe: why doesn’t anyone make a maternity coat that is actually warm?

Perhaps because pregnant women are supposed to be warm all the time, but let me tell you, this one ain’t. Obviously everything is going as it should in terms of the important aspects of gestation, but I do find it funny how many of the “typical” symptoms have not visited me. I am cold all the time. My skin has never been drier — shea butter on the face every morning or the skin just peels away. And that business about your hair not falling out and then all coming loose after birth? I have very thick hair to begin with, but if it finds a way to fall out more than it is already, I will certainly be bald by the time The Bean sees me. (And yes, I will trade all that happily for the mildness of my morning sickness.)

I will also take it in happy trade for the nurse’s call yesterday saying my glucose test results were normal, which saves me a fight with the doctors, since I had made my mind up firmly to refuse the three-hour test. It was just over 24 hours before I was recovered from the one-hour, by the way, with an additional 24 to get rid of the migraine it brought on. And meanwhile, I’ve been poking around the journal literature and have become increasingly convinced that nearly all of the GD paranoia is based on g-d horse shit. I won’t bore you to death, but just for starters: in a study of outcomes for gestational diabetes patients and babies, wouldn’t you suppose it a good idea to exclude women who had poorly-controlled diabetes BEFORE pregnancy? Of course not: that would exclude almost all of the scary outcomes, and then how will you get published?

Sugar is champing at the bit to do laundry, so I’d better get out of these very soft but somewhat whiffy pajamas. (Yes, Melody, they are pajamas. Garnet Hill German cotton flannel. Get yourself some; I promise you will not be sorry. This is my fifth set.) I will leave you with a picture of my rapidly expanding mid-section, circa 28 weeks, and a promise that I will be back to report on anything exciting that happens on Christmas day at Sugar’s paternal grandmother’s house, where we’re not at all sure anyone has been told about the pregnancy. Last time I was there, one of Sugar’s cousins refused to do anything but gape at me while I was talking to her (about such controversial topics as “your daughter is very cute”). This should be even more fun without alcohol.


P.S. Yes, I’m beyond pissed about the legal goings on of my home state. Guess it’s off the list of “states I will allow us to live in prior to being absolutely certain we’re done having/adopting children.” Nice feeling to have about a place my family has lived for 250 years.


A Wish For Today

I’d like to find the fellow who invented the glucose tolerance screening procedure.

And then I would like to puke on him. And kick him for a bit.

Related: Should I really still feel like donkey shit, ten and a half hours after the test? Does this mean that my body is not, in fact, any good at processing glucose, that I will fail the test and be told to do the three-hour one? Because…no. Have no risk factors and no family history of diabetes. Am getting lots of scans of The Bean* anyway, because of the PAPP-A thing, so there will be plenty of chances to keep an eye on its growth and well-being.

Dammit, I was perfectly healthy** this morning, and then I went to the doctor and they made me sick as hell.

My apologies to any who are hurt by today’s “pregnancy sucks” tone. Pregnancy — at least this one — does not suck. I am happy to be pregnant and enjoying it very much, I assure you. I do not enjoy being made to feel nauseated, faint, weak, disoriented, achy, and generally awful***, but pregnancy didn’t do those things to me (at least not all at once).

*Including today! Everything fine! Pictures when one of us is well enough to scan them. Sugar remembers all kinds of cute things that are a bit of a blur to me, so maybe we should make her post about it, eh?

**If you don’t count the heartburn and the rib thing, but let’s not.

***And POSSIBLY a TINY bit emotionally overwrought.


Items From Our Catalogue

Item: This post is coming to you from my dismal office, as I wait an hour for the next bus to ferry me to the train station, the first step of my 2+ hour commute. It will be even longer tonight, because I missed the early bus. I had (somewhat irresponsibly) let class out early so I could catch it, and then I spaced out and missed it anyway. Is this “pregnancy brain” (gag) or ordinary incompetence?

I have become too lazy/dull/generally pathetic to participate in my own meme. Will this be in the DSM-5?

Item: You should check out (and submit to, in all senses of the word) starhillgirl’s very fun new tumblr blog, Lunch. Make your lunch famous on the internet! I’m going to pull a fast one and call my Thanksgiving Sandwich entry my Come And Eat post for this time.

I made half as much sweet potato pudding this year, since Sugar had requested a savory sweet potato dish. I should have made more pudding — it was gone in a day, and I only got one sandwich out of it. The savory option is currently dying a quiet death in the back of the fridge.

Item: All that frantic eating seems to have led to another growth spurt. Internets, I am certifiably enormous. I am back to running into things every five minutes. I am in denial about the fact that turning sidewise to slip by objects or people has become comic in the extreme. (Imagine it — I, not un-wide, approach a narrow passage. I pause, turn 90 degrees, thus rendering myself twice as wide, and proceed to shove my way through.) I would say picture to follow, but I think we can all agree that said picture is more likely to actually happen if I don’t make any promises.

Item: While spending a very nice weekend with friends outside of Boston — and the fact that I can call the weekend very nice, despite how much of it was spent dealing with a teething toddler, a sudden lack of heat and hot water, and an obstreperous landlord ought to give you some idea how wonderful these friends are — I discovered that I could cleverly heft my (considerable) self out of their comfortable but very low armchair by pushing down on its arms and hovering my butt in the air such that my legs swung perfectly underneath me. I was very proud of being strong (and short) enough to manage the feat and performed it more than necessary.

Pride ever goeth before costcochondritis, as it turns out.

This is plenty bad, but how much worse it would be without Dr. Russian, who was on call last night when I left a tearful message with the answering service, after a day of increasing agony. “Take the percocet!” quoth she. Good doctor, that.


what the hell is going on in there?

Up until about three weeks ago, I thought of myself as a basically healthy person. I felt lucky for being so healthy, and thought often about how unfair it was for Baby to have to deal with chronic asthma, migraines, and the frequent pain of severe endometriosis.

Then I had an ultrasound, the intent of which was to see if I still had a small polyp in my uterus, that turned up the fact that I had an 8 centimeter endometrioma on one ovary and a 4 centimeter one on the other (!). Faced with how huge 8 centimeters sounds and with the prospect of a more invasive surgery if I waited too long to have them out, I went in for a lap on Tuesday.

When the surgeon looked inside, she discovered some unexpected things. First, both my ovaries are sitting underneath my uterus. Second, the left ovary had become so enlarged that it was as big as the uterus. Third, there are adhesions from endometriosis everywhere in there. And finally, one of my tubes is blocked.

Wow. Ok. I don’t feel good about this at all.

First, somehow I feel like I should have known there was something wrong in there. Maybe I could have done something earlier, if I hadn’t been in denial, except I wasn’t really in denial, since nothing really hurt. But still, how could I not know?

And proceeding from this somewhat irrational reaction, I feel like I’ve been running my life wrong. Or something. Should I have been more invested in being the one to get pregnant? Baby really wanted to be pregnant, and I didn’t really feel strongly that I did want to, so it seemed totally right to have her go first, (or just to be the one to do it, if we only have one). But now it’s looking like I won’t have an easy time if I do want to get pregnant. Plus I’m older that Baby. But I was just going right along assuming I could get pregnant if someone put some sperm up there, like an idiot, so I had all the time in the world (or at least 6 or 7 years).

Not helping is the fact that my really nice and cheerful surgeon keeps asking me about when I want to get pregnant. I know she is happy she was able to preserve both of my ovaries and concerned that my sudden endometriosis seems severe, but, hello, we are expecting a baby in March. I’m not going to try to get pregnant right now, because that would be a nutty thing to do. I was lying in bed, addled from pain medicine, the day after the surgery, when my surgeon called to check on me. After ascertaining that I was recovering normally, she launched into a discussion of how I would probably have to do IVF. Ack! At least wait until I’m off the meds!

Baby has been a great a help through all this. The poor thing is exhausted from being pregnant and has also been doing everything for me for the past three days as I lie here and moan about how percocet gives me a raging headache and the urge to weep. I will be happy to be on my feet again, which right now feels like it won’t be until the distant future, but will really probably be something like three more days. I’ve been a bit surprised at how this recovery is sucking, but I’m not sure why I didn’t put together the fact that getting abdominal surgery = getting stabbed in the stomach. As Nick Swardson says – “no thank you to getting stabbed. I don’t want any part of that process”

Now with working link to the funny! — Ed.