Bionic Mamas

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


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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.

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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.

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


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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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Easing Back In

Hello, internets. Miss me?The radio silence you’ve been enjoying has been made possible by:

  • a Bean who is getting smilier and more fun every day
  • a Mama who is way less depressed now that she isn’t in pain all the time*
  • more weather worth walking around in [Ha! Except then it rained all week and I still didn’t get this post done!]*only…I seem to have injured myself with only a little pumping, and the weather got chillier, and…the vasospasms are back. I have stopped pumping and they seem to be fading. I figure I’ll try pumping again when I’m healed up, but if that’s how it’s gonna be, then I guess it will be formula when there comes a time that I can’t always be nursing him. ‘Cause I ain’t going down that road again.

But I miss you, and it’s raining, and the Bean is asleep in the ergo, so I thought I’d tiptoe back by accepting these nice awards from Kaitake:


The rules:

1. Link back to the person who bestowed the awards on you (yup).


2. Tell us 7 things about yourself, for each of the awards (total 14 things):

Good heavens. Fourteen things. But I do so want to be both stylish and versatile…. I may have to draw from current events.

1. I’m from North Carolina. My accent was never terribly strong, and what I had of it was beaten out of me in college, where almost the only thing left to give someone trouble over was the region of the country she came from. I regret its loss very, very much. I get very pissed off when people say stupid things about the South, especially when it’s that smarmy aren’t-we-all-so-awesome-because-we’re-liberal-Northeasterners B.S. that some folks will try on me because I don’t have an accent and because all Southerners are bigoted and backward, right?

2. My first year out of college, I worked for City Year, part of Americorps. At our national conference that spring, I shook Bill Clinton’s hand after he gave us the most generous and moving speech; was deeply disappointed by John McCain, who phoned in his appearance in a way I found very disrespectful; and went to hear a state senator give a surprisingly good talk to in a small classroom. Although I agreed with what he had to say and thought he’d said it well, I was bothered by a lazy rhetorical flourish that relied on the expectation that rural people are backward, and, as I try to when possible, I came up to him afterwards to tell him so. We had a good talk, I thought, and he seemed to see my point. …which is why I was so disappointed when, years later, this happened. Barack, we talkedabout this!


[Whoa. It’s days later; I have no idea what bee was in my bonnet when I started that. Someone must have crossed me, and now you bear the brunt of my irritation. I won’t delete, as the tirade above certainly tells you more about me than whatever cutesy facts I’d come up with to replace it. Ahem.]

3. In case the above cast any doubt, I loved and continue to love my college. Sugar and I met there, when she was a sexy senior and I was a bright-eyed first-year with waist-length braids. (I shaved my head second semester. As you do.)

4. Lists apparently give me thinking-block. My preferred form of OCD is categorizing.

5. …which is why my “favorite” household chore is laundry. Secretly, I even love that our wee-tiny, totally not-allowed-in-our-building, hooks-to-sink/drains-to-tub washing machine is so small that I have to subdivide my normal categories into smaller loads. (Hot pinks only! Lights/cold! Blue things with buttons!)

6. I am not a good housekeeper. At all. But I am a good cook. If you were coming to dinner for the first time, I’d probably make a lamb tagine and Lebanese couscous, unless I was in the mood for chicken and biscuit. If you are a vegetarian, we’d probably have pasta alla norma. If you are a vegan, well, you probably aren’t friends with me, on the grounds of my terrible boorishness.

7. I have a degree in writing and even a little book-ella, with photographs by Sugar. (Please don’t give away our secret spidey-identities.) I found pregnancy profoundly mentally debilitating but am now starting to feel like thinking again, which might turn into writing again. Last time the ol’ noggin was functional, I was reading Illness as Metaphor and thinking about infertility in literature. I got as far as checking Hedda Gabbler out of the library and carting both around for months. Then I lost both of them. The library has now been paid and I’m ready to start again. If you think of other examples of infertility — at least strongly implied — in literature, especially canon-stuff, please tell me.

Okay, that took almost a week. On to current events.

8. Can I say again how much more fun I am having with the Bean these days? He smiles, he laughs, he shows a marked delight in Evita and Patti Lupone in general. I’m starting to figure out the napping situation, thanks to some good advice about putting him down earlier and some accidental discoveries about the wisdom of letting him fuss a little. It helps that he can see his mobiles now, so I don’t feel quite as guilty putting him down when awake.

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Not the world’s greatest pictures, but I love this thing.
9. The Bean’s room is still very much a work in progress, particularly when it comes to decoration. Why, yes, the man in that print is smoking a cigarette. Positively wholesome compared to most of what’s on the walls in there. That room has been the repository for art that I like but either don’t want our guests staring at during dinner or don’t want to see when I’m trying to go to sleep. Which is to say, it’s mostly me naked and/or work that is overtly about death. Cheerful!
10. We’re having a lot more fun doing tummy time these days, thanks to the Bean’s greater head control (which he developed despite having virtually no tummy time until recently, which makes me wonder just how necessary it is, but anyway) and my giving up on forcing him to face-plant on the floor, which seemed cruel, boring, and a guarantee of a crabby baby. Now I lie most of the way down and put him on my stomach. Cute! (And I don’t have to lie on the floor, staring at the herd of dust buffalos under the furniture, which is kind of a drag — see #6.)

tummy time

The mobile Sugar made, which hangs over his bassinet, is fuzzily visible in the upper right.
11. We have rain-sound white noise on so much of the time now that I’ve started dreaming of monsoons. Think Apocalypse Now. Also, I have to pee. All the time. The continual actual rain outside is more of a problem, not least because I suspect that the Bean has inherited my (and my mother’s) air-pressure-related migraines. There have been at least two days when a blistering headache on my part has coincided with strangely pained, inconsolable wailing on his, much improved by a dose of infant Advil. Poor critter. I was so happy knowing he couldn’t have endometriosis and so naggingly worried about the likelihood of asthma, but I never thought about this one. At least he’s also got my ability to move his eyebrows individually. That’s some compensation.
12. He also has my (and my father’s) simian crease on his left hand. I get strange looks when I glow with pride over this point of resemblance, but I have always loved sharing this with my dad. It’s like we’re part of a secret club most people don’t even know exists. My father, who is a geneticist, used to show his students pictures of our hands — a good reminder that soft-markers are not diagnoses.
Left Hands
13. I keep meaning to write my birth story for y’all; I don’t know if there’s a statute of limitations on that sort of thing. Even though I basically got the story I wanted — healthy baby, vaginal birth, an epidural that was nothing but wonderful — I spent a long time feeling really messed up about parts of it. Ashamed is the closest word, I think. In a way, Dr. Russian’s later display of bitchery was a relief in that it suggested that maybe her behavior during labor wasn’t my fault, per se.
14. The one I’ve been keeping from you: I need to change the subtitle of this blog, as I’m now down to just the one vagina.

I nominate the following bloggers for these awards: You. You Over There. You There. And You, Ya Lurker.


31 Comments

Better Living Through Chemistry

(It’s taken me two days to write this, so the time references are all off. I know you don’t care, but For The Record.)

This morning, during the twenty minutes that the Bean deigned to sleep not on me (not that it isn’t adorable, but pretty soon I’m going to form adhesions to the Boppy and the couch) I wrote my GP a thank you note.

Now, I am southern and everything, but I am not that devoted to the note-writing — I’m not caught up with the baby gift thank-yous (or COUGH the wedding ones) — but sometimes it is just Called For. And now, a few glorious days into my new life as a person who doesn’t spend six or more hours a day gritting her teeth and feeling her eyes protrude from the pain of invisible vice-grips on her nipples, now is one of those times.
In short: Nifedipine is amazing stuff. My GP rules. I am ever-more angry at Dr. Russian’s nurse, the practice as a whole, and, sadly, Dr. Russian herself.
 
(Ha! I just got back from several hours outside, where I walked around pain-free in only a tanktop! I nursed outside, even, without agony! Yes, it’s beautiful and warm today, but it is usually hot as blazes in our apartment at night, thanks to a very enthusiastic heater over which we have no control, and that never stopped my nips from seizing up for hours on end.)
 
In long: I started having vasospasms over a month ago. Or at least, that’s when I realized I was having them. It took me a little while to sort out that pain from the typical surface pains of early nursing and the pinching of Mr. Crocodile-Jaws’s lazy latching (corrected by the Hippy But Not Dippy LC), but those things don’t turn your nipples white even when you haven’t nursed in hours or leave you cussing like a sailor while clutching your chest in an attempt to warm them up through two layers of cloth nursing pads, two shirts, a thick sweater, a wool shawl, and a coat when it isn’t even properly winter any longer. Once I figured out that’s what they were, I told myself to be patient, that it was all due to an injury from a bad latch that was fixed now, that I was exaggerating. I also managed to repress that my mother has Reynaud’s and that we both have migraine, which is related.
After a week, I called my ob’s office and asked about nifedipine. The nurse called back, all patronizing and unhelpful. “Oh, we wouldn’t do that.” Why not? No reason, just vague admonitions about taking medications while breastfeeding. Use warm compresses. I am, I said, and it’s not helping. Use warm compresses. I lost it. Not pretty. Crying. Raised voice. Accusations that they didn’t care about my health — I’m going to stand by that one. The fact is that they did not care enough to, you know, do anything about the quarter or more of the day (and I mean out of 24 hours) that I was spending in pain. Only it wasn’t pain, I guess, since the nurse kept referring to it as “discomfort.” (This is the same woman who, when Sugar called in to ask if we should go to the hospital and I was having a terrible contraction in the background, told her that I “needed to calm down.” Because back labor is so much less painful if you’re quiet about it. Very helpful bitch, she is.) She called back later, probably because I was so obviously enraged, said she’d talked to the doctor (whoever was in that day), confirmed that they wouldn’t prescribe for me but here was the number of the LC around here who is also an MD…who doesn’t take insurance (reprehensible) and who charges you to read her website (seriously).
So I wrote to the HBND LC, and even though it was Friday afternoon and she takes Shabbat seriously, she wrote back immediately with a number of suggestions. I dutifully added more horse pills to the supplement brigade (calcium/magnesium and oatstraw in addition to prenatals, brewer’s yeast, folic acid, and vitamin D) and tried to soak my nipples in hot salt water (which is awkward as hell and just left me with a damp, salty baby nursing the non-soaking side while the first side went bananas the minute the air hit it anyway). I heated nursing pads in the microwave — they went from scalding to clammy in a nano-blink — and tried unsuccessfully to position a heating pad over the first boob without letting it touch the baby as he nursed side two, electric boogaloo. Eventually, I gave up everything but the supplements, dressing like a wrestler trying to sweat down a weight class, and weeping. I made extra-warm flannel nursing pads and layered them until I looked like I was stuffing my already ginormous bra. I tried not to scream at the baby for crying, although every time he did so, the let-down reflex made my nipples crush themselves. My efforts to avoid cussing while nursing met with mixed success. (Mother of the YEAR, I’m telling you.) I refused to leave the house.
At six weeks postpartum, I had my ob check-up, at which my mention of vasospasms was ignored. When, at the end of the appointment, I mentioned that I thought it would be nice if they made a postpartum phone call to check in before then, Dr. Russian treated me to a strangely vehement tongue lashing, complete with raised voice and pointed use of my first name. I was accused of wanting them to do things “no one” does, of asking them to follow up with the baby (which would have been strange, considering how many times we went to the Bean’s pediatrician for weight-checks). It was strongly implied that I had called the nurse too many times, despite the fact that every call I’d made had been for something on the hospital discharge paperwork, like a high fever, UTI symptoms, and a large and terrifyingly hamster-like clot. She kept returning to the idea that “this” was a job for family — “We’re not your family, Bionic, we’re DOCTORS” — as if I’d asked for emotional support rather than medical help. As it happens, many of my family members are doctors, and try as I may, I can’t imagine any of them behaving that way to a patient, no matter how pushy and crazy the patient was. It was horrible, not least because it forced me to admit that her similar behavior during labor wasn’t clever tough love intended to motivate me but just plain emotional instability. Farewell, Dr. Russian. I liked your shoes and your sass and your meat obsession, but if you aren’t family, I don’t have to put up with that shit.
As a confident, independent, properly-raised woman, it pains me to admit what a funk that visit left me in, but there you are. More weeping, more telling myself that this pain was something I just had to deal with, that it wouldn’t even bother a good mother. I wondered how soon I could give up breastfeeding without hating myself for doing so.
Eventually, my pissed-off, entitled side beat the weepy bit into submission. I read up on nifedipine and discovered that the bitchy nurse was full of shit — it’s perfectly safe for breastfeeding and plenty common enough that problems would have turned up by now. Even the NIH thinks so, and they don’t even think you should take aspirin because your baby might magically get Reyes Syndrome from the teensy bit that gets into your milk (not to mention that the Reyes/aspirin connection is not actually that convincing, says my father, whose field this is, after all). I trolled PubMed — and yes, I will totally be using this as an example of why my students should PAY ATTENTION on the days we spend in the library, learning database searching — and found several articles to the effect that Reynaud’s of the nipple is real, is serious, and ought to be treated, if only because it hurts like hell and will keep people from breastfeeding. (I suppose it is too much to ask that it be treated just because it makes the mothers’ fucking nipples fucking hurt, regardless of whether it might mean the babies get formula and therefore become dyslexic, asthmatic axe murders.)
I called my GP, whose receptionist told me to talk to my OB, but she agreed to see me anyway. (Meanwhile, Sugar went to see her ob/gyn, who asked after me. When Sugar mentioned the vasospasms, she said, “Why isn’t she on nifedipine?” She assured Sugar it was very safe and said I should come see their practice if the GP didn’t prescribe it. I had wanted to go to that practice in the first place, but they weren’t accepting new ob patients when I got pregnant. Now that I’m a plain old gyn patient again, though, I am so there.) At the appointment, my GP listened to my description and the logic of my self-diagnosis and asked, “is there a treatment?” I trotted out my notes; she copied down my citations and wrote me a scrip for the dose I had found in the articles.

Sugar and I go to the same GP, and at times we have wondered whether her willingness to put us on or take us off of drugs we ask about means that we like her for the wrong reasons, because she does what we want rather than saying no. But really, why shouldn’t she? We don’t come to her with frivolous or dangerous requests, for one thing, but also, shouldn’t we have some say in our own healthcare? If I want to try a drug that won’t hurt and has a good chance of helping, maybe my desire (and pain) should be important enough that my doctor is willing to learn something new. My GP didn’t do anything Dr. Russian couldn’t have done. Even if Dr. Russian and her practice do not generally treat vasospasms (which, PS, they should — 20% of women in childbearing years have some version of them), she could have listened to me, read the journal articles and/or consulted with colleagues, and done something to help, instead of turfing me to another doctor (on my own dime, too), and blaming me for needing help. As a child of doctors, I’ve spent a lot of my life arguing with people who claim that all doctors are arrogant. Besides my own family members, I grew up surrounded by doctors, and most of them were more like my GP than not. Most of them were like my father, who works insane hours seeing patients with tricky diseases, dictates notes late into the night, goes into the hospital every weekend (which requires sacrifices from families, too — no camping trips or even full Christmas Days together), and still finds time to listen to his patients and their parents and think more about their needs than his ego. It pisses me off to no end (though I will end this post someday, promise) when a doctor acts like such a stereotype.

Enough ranting for the moment. The nifedipine is wonderful. The Bean is wonderful, too. He’s smiling more and spending a higher proportion of his waking hours not screaming. We take baths together every night, which I love — I haven’t had a good bath buddy in 25 years. This morning, I think he really saw one of our cats for the first time. I’m so happy to be out of pain and able to focus on having a good time with him and bombarding my friends and family with pictures of his every move. Since you’ve been so good as to suffer through this interminable post, allow me to bombard you:

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A Boy and His (Very Patient) Cat


22 Comments

Notes from Week 36

Item: Thank you for the nice comments on Sugar’s painting. The likeness is a tad off, but the boobs are exactly accurate. Um, Sugar? My face is up here.

Item: We had our last growth scan on Monday, and all is well. As Sweet Sonographer covered my midriff (sounds too cute…mid-raft?) with icy glop, I said lightly that she ought to make them buy her a fancy glop-warmer, like they have over at the high-risk place down the block. “Oh, I do have one. It’s over on the counter.”

I still love Sweet Sonographer, and it was cute that she tried so hard to find something adorable for us to see at this scan (we settled for hiccups, since the Bean’s face/dragon snout was obscured by its low position in my pelvis), but I must admit that her halo is a bit tarnished by this revelation.

Item: According to the u/s, which I understand has a remarkably enormous margin of error, the Bean weighs in at a respectable 5lbs. 7oz. at 36 weeks, which means it’s been listening to my chanting “over 6, under 9” at it. Good Bean.

Item: It has recently come to my attention that “0-3 month” size clothes (of which we have a respectable number) are not the same as “newborn” size clothes (of which we have none). What the hell is 0 months if not newborn? Do we need newborn clothes? How in the hell is a person supposed to figure these things out, anyway? And what hope have I of managing the actual work of raising not killing a baby if my limited brain power is being wasted on stupid clothing sizes?

Item: Thanks to Schroedinger, there are at least some diapers in the house. Lord knows if they’re the right size, but diapers I know where to buy.

Item: Group B Strep test was also Monday. The GBS test involves a vaginal and anal “swab,” which caused me much worry on Sunday, as Sugar had celebrated Valentine’s Day early by giving me the GI bug she’d had on Saturday. (Sub-Item 1: despite what you may have assumed, bouts of diarrhea are emphatically not improved by having someone kick at your intestines throughout. Sub-Item 2: Nor by things-we-are-not-calling-hemorrhoids.) I needn’t have worried. I scarcely noticed the butt part, so distracting was the vaginal aspect. “Swab” might be better described as “vigorous scrubbing with what appears to be an old mascara brush.” “Just wait until the cervix checks,” said Dr. Russian, with an evil grin.

Item: Dr. Russian loves shoes. On Monday, she was wearing black patent leather platform stilettos with wide ankle straps. They did complement the mood, I must say.

Item: I will not be in pretty shoes any time soon, as it’s all I can do to waddle around in clogs. Speak to me not of stairs, either. I am even taking what elevators (not enough!) exist in subway stations, despite the aromas inherent in that process. Today, an old lady cut me in line for one, forcing me to wait for the next round. It was a blatant cut, too, no simple misunderstanding. Those hooligans think they can do whatever they please, all tricked out and speedy with their canes.


26 Comments

A Confession, A Rant, and The Rest

I keep thinking that if I wait, all these things in my head will coalesce into a real post, but it isn’t happening. So here comes a big mess. If you’d prefer not to see a bunch of mental clutter, here is an alternate post for you:

What should we be registering for that we’ve forgotten? Discuss.

Still here?

Okay then.

First, the confession part. It concerns birth stories. Yours and yours and yours and probably yours, too. Your amazing, beautiful, dramatic, powerful birth stories that you put so much care into and that I never comment on, even though I read them again and again and again. Even though I can see page after page of comments making it perfectly clear that all I have to do is say, “Amazing! Beautiful! Congratulations! Thank you!” and my work will be done, I don’t write a thing and (if you think about it at all) you must assume I don’t read them, since half the time I’m writing a novel in your comment box. I hope that doesn’t hurt your feelings.

The truth is that I don’t comment because your stories scare the ever-loving crap out of me. Half the time I have to have a little meltdown after reading them. The other half the time, I have the meltdown while reading them, to save time. I know enough to know that I shouldn’t say *that* in your comment box — I am hopelessly self-centered, but I am aware, in a conceptual way, of manners — and for some reason I can’t bring myself to say anything else.

So now you know. I read your story — and yours and yours and yours — probably more than once. And I was glad it was there to read, because I am an emotional over-packer, and I know that stories help me. So please accept my inadequate thanks for writing yours.

Two, the rant part.

Dr. Sears, please go fuck yourself sideways on something pointy.

Ahem.

Maybe I should start by talking about Wednesday’s birth class instead. This week was “Interventions and Things that Can Go Wrong,” and I have never been happier that we picked this class over the others we were considering. Although most of the class (at least the ones that talk about it) seem to be planning for unmedicated births — at least half of them in the local birth center rather than a hospital — and although the previous three classes have been all about non-medical ways to deal with contractions and so forth, both teachers were calm and even-handed when talking about monitors and epidurals and all that. One even went so far as to suggest that even though lots of people love The Business of Being Born, that possibly it had gone a tad far in its excoriation of pitocin. [Holy Moly — I just went to youtube and watched that part, since I’ve never seen the movie. Heart now racing. Talk about your scare tactics! What the hell is up with that cartoon?] Our favorite teacher talked about a patient of hers who had apologized to her when requesting an epidural and told us in no uncertain terms that she did not disapprove of that decision. The only editorializing — and it was announced as such — was a plea to please not ask for an induction for a frivolous reason, which seems pretty sound.

When we were shopping around for birth classes, I wrote to various teachers and explained that, due to the double-cervix situation, I am at a higher-than-average risk of needing a c-section, and that it was important to me not to set myself up to think of a vaginal birth as successful and a c-section as a failure. One of the major reasons we chose this class is because I felt good about the teacher’s response, and last night bore that out. The whole course has been about letting your body do its thing, asking doctors and midwives for all the options, etc. Our classmates are not the elective c-section type — if they were, they wouldn’t be in this particular class. But who can predict what will happen in labor? I loved that the screen of notes on c-sections began with “C-Section: An amazing, life-saving procedure” (or words to that effect).

None of that stopped me from weeping through the discussion of how emergency c-sections worked, of course. Possibly I have a little hangover from all the furious speed of egg retrieval day. We learned that, in the event of an emergency, the surgical team would work efficiently and fast, “just like NASCAR.” I can only hope the OR isn’t covered in logos for Laughing Clown Malt Liquor.

The whole evening, I was impressed with how calm and open the teachers were, talking about things that probably weren’t on their ideal birth list when they decided to become midwives. I’m sure they knew that the Other Pregnant Lesbian and I have been comparing notes on epidural policies at the hospital we’re both going to, because I have a nasty habit of being that person still shouting as the room goes quiet after break, but neither had anything especially bad to say about epidurals during that section of the class. They passed around an epidural catheter so we could see how slender it is and explained how to keep changing positions even with one in. It’s almost as if they meant it when their response to my email said their goal was,

“to offer childbirth education that focuses on making your birth experience a satisfying and joyful entrance into parenthood, no matter what twists and turns and challenges you face, no matter what your personal desires and goals.”

Go figure.

And then there’s Dr. Sears.

An old friend sent us a box of baby-related hand-me-downs recently, including the Sears’ Pregnancy and Birth books. I tend to agree with Dr. Sears on about 80-90% of things, and find the other 10-20% hopelessly nutso, but I decided to take a look. In a bookshop, early in the pregnancy, I’d been very impressed with how calmly and thoroughly he dealt with first trimester bleeding — most books just say “well, it might not be a miscarriage, but PROBABLY IT IS” which is silly considering how common it is — and rather turned off by his section on weight gain, which took the usual tack of assuming you are just itching for an excuse to become morbidly obese and added the nicely tuned guilt trip of “plus you are making your baby fat, you lazy cow.” But free is free, so what the heck. I turned to the birth stories section.

The stories themselves are what they are. Only one of them makes me actively gaggy. It is an induction story, and the second paragraph begins, “Dad likes having a baby this way.” (I’m all for having both partners involved and everything, but I’ve already told Sugar that any statements like that of the father Dr. Sears praises for saying “we had a vaginal exam” are…unwelcome. Unless she’s up for hopping in the stirrups alongside me for moral support.) Okay, I also want to do a consciousness-raising session with the author of “I Witnessed Myself Become A Woman — VBAC Water Birth,” but whatever.

Dr. Sears is a proponent of “natural” childbirth, by which he means no drugs. (I hate that term, personally — it’s a bit of an emotionally loaded dichotomy for my taste — but whatever.) I’m a proponent of letting women decide for themselves what they do and don’t want to be part of their birth. This is where we diverge. I expected that, but I didn’t expect quite the level of paternalistic bullshit found in the commentary on the birth story of the Woman Who Dared Ask For An Epidural.

“A Medically Managed Birth” is about a woman whose doctor tells her to go the hospital when her water breaks. Ten hours later, she gets some pitocin. Some time after that, things get intense and painful, and she starts to feel hopeless. She can’t concentrate on the baby, only the next contraction. She requests and gets an epidural, feels confident again, promptly dilates to 10, pushes the baby out — able to concentrate on it again, rather than pain — and feels happy about it.

How dare she! Incredulous, Dr. Sears, et al., “interviewed her about whether or not this style of birth [“American”] left her “less fulfilled” as a woman.” Rude much? She says no, on the contrary, she feels great about it. “

There was no doubt in her mind that she gave birth, and the fact that she didn’t experience the intense sensation of a drug-free birth did not lessen her fulfillment.”

Mother gives birth to healthy baby, isn’t hung up about it; everybody wins, right? Wrong. Dr. Sears goes on to remind us that she didn’t have the chance to have natural, gradual contractions — okay, fair enough. Everyone says pitocin sucks like that. It’s the closing that pisses me off:

“We wonder whether her Lamaze instructor mentioned the importance of taking the contractions one at a time […] thinking of the baby, not the next contraction.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the instructor did mention that, since the mother mentions the loss of her ability to do that after…chronology is a little unclear, but at least 12 hours, probably quite a bit longer. Maybe, just maybe, she was trying to do that and it was too damn hard. So she should have what, tried harder? What is the big fucking problem with an adult making a decision to use a very safe drug to lessen pain? Labor pain may be “pain with a purpose” or whatever, but so is the pain of passing a kidney stone, and no one talks about how virtuous people enjoy that.

I in no way mean to denigrate women who choose to give birth without painkillers. I really, really don’t. But I think that the important thing is that the laboring woman — not some moralizing jackass judging her story later — makes that decision. There’s so much B.S. out there about epidurals — most of which was either never true or hasn’t been true in 25 years — that the last thing I consider acceptable is telling a woman with no negative feelings about how her birth went down that she should feel bad.

You are all such clever people that you no doubt figured out 20,000 words ago what this post is really about: my fear that you’ll think less of me if/when I get an epidural. Even that “if” was a pretty big lie — birth is unpredictable, but the epi is in the plan, for sure. I’ve done my research, and I feel good about it from a scientific perspective: one reason I’m happy we’re going to Kips Bay Mega Hospital is that their epi policies are excellent. (OB anesthesiologist on 24/7. Standard use is light-dose, patient-controlled, which all the studies agree is the way to go in terms of pain relief and side effects if you have the staff. The intent at least is to keep the dose light enough that patients can go to the bathroom themselves. No “window” — you can have one whenever you want and the OB thinks is okay; Dr. Russian says I can have one now as far as she’s concerned.) If the cervices don’t behave and I need a c-section, I’d just as soon already have the epi in, and if not, I’d rather not be feeling every bit of my septum breaking, which it may well. Even without those special circumstances, useful as they are for shutting down any “your birth will be fine because mine was” stuff, I think I’d be leaning this way. I’ve experienced plenty of severe pain in my life, what with the migraines and the endo/GI situation, and I haven’t noticed anyone giving me a medal for the times I’ve done so without painkillers. Other people have had worse pain than I have and make other decisions; that’s okay. I’m okay with being a wimp on this one…

…as long as y’all will still be friends with me.


7 Comments

Still More Of Me To Love

Greetings from your favorite dugong! Not only is my physique tending towards the marine mammal look (though I look considerably less svelte than a real dugong, I’m afraid), but my attempts to forestall rib pain by keeping my arms close to my chest may soon result in their becoming flippers.

Still feeling like I’m being stabbed and rather peeved at Dr. Russian for not really listening to me about it. She says it’s a bruise (though how I am supposed to have hit the bottom of my ribs with anything, given the significant convexities surrounding that area, I’ve no idea) and to go easy on the meds. I say it’s a torn muscle or pissed off cartilage and it hurts like heck. Since the treatment is the same for both theories — wait, wish, and pray it gets better before the Bean can kick that high up — I suppose it doesn’t matter. I mostly have stayed off the percocet, but some nights (like last night, for instance), that’s just not possible.

Ah, well. Dr. Russian is, after all, Russian. Disregard for non-lethal injury is as inevitable a part of her character as the praise she heaped upon me for eating meat. I will gladly accept her boredom with my ribs, given that she is similarly unbothered by my having already gained as much weight as the practice “wants” me to put on over the course of the entire pregnancy.

I’d be lying if I said the weight gain didn’t bother me at all, but I’m doing my best not to worry about it. I don’t think there’s much I can do about it — I’m hungry most of the time, and we eat pretty reasonable kinds of food. I guess I’m just one of those women who gains a lot in pregnancy. My weight has mostly been stable in adulthood, so I hope that losing it won’t be too terrible.

At any rate, one member of the household seems pretty happy with the situation. (He’s usually more of a boob-man, but those are getting pretty sizeable, too — and don’t think he doesn’t cop a feel.)

More of Me To Love

More of Me To Love

Now that’s my kind of Perfect Moment Monday.