Bionic Mamas

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


15 Comments

Post-Ovulatory Items

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


8 Comments

CD 2…Or IS It?

Or: The Plot Thickens and The Lining Does Not Thin

What’s going on with my uterus? Who even knows anymore?

After a crabby day of light, intermittent flow on Saturday and a night of worsening cramps, I decided enough was enough and headed into the Baby Factory just barely in time for morning monitoring hours today. Dutifully rolled up my sleeves and pulled down my trousers, only to be told by this week’s Dr. Sunday (whom long-time readers may remember as Dr. “Why Hasn’t Someone Removed Your Septum” — wish granted, buddy; you may thank my son) that my ovaries are nicely quiet but my lining is still so intact that he’s not convinced this really counts as my period yet. It wouldn’t count for a lupron cycle, for instance. For the purposes of a “natural” FET (pause to snort again at the use of the word natural to describe reproduction in any context involving so many machines and embryologists), it may do; we’ll see what the estrogen numbers are. Could things be topsy-turvy from all these sinus drugs, I asked. Could be indeed.

So. Either back next week or presumably sooner, I guess. [ETA: Estrogen is wicked high, so back Tuesday to see if my for real period is rolling by then. Bodies! Whatcha gonna do?]

Meanwhile, is this the worst possible magazine pairing for a fertility clinic waiting room? Nice to see the virgin/whore dichotomy is keeping on keeping on.

20130505-133456.jpg

I spotted the “whore” one and commented on it to the woman in the next chair, who pointed out that The Fecund Princess had been next to it before she picked that one up herself.

Seeing as how the ice was broken and I seem to be experiencing the manic side of prednisone this morning, I said that in case she had not been pregnant before, just for the record, my son had not ruined my life. I also mentioned that he had come from this factory, and she smiled, evidently cheered. She does not have children yet, she said. I know people have different feelings about the appropriateness of bringing children to even the waiting room of REs’ offices, I said, but I remember a woman who had her toddler with her during the IVF cycle that got me pregnant. She made sure to tell us all he had come from that clinic, which I found encouraging.

There’s a baby here today, she said, and at first I felt sad about that, but then I thought, Wait a minute. They’re from here.

(Sidebar: it was a really cute baby, a 24-pound 9-month old named Lucas who doesn’t sleep well. Like I said: I am CHATTY today.)

And that, with a side of soapbox ranting about reproductive freedoms belonging to everyone, not just those who can prove they “deserve” to have children by virtue of their ability to afford babysitting all the time, is why I am pro-baby in the waiting room. In a world that so often seems determined to tell us our children or putative children will somehow be inferior to those “natural” ones made in nicely middle-class bedrooms by rank amateurs, it’s nice to be reminded what hogwash that is. Or so say I, conceived, I have been told far too many times, in a campground near Yorktown, Virginia, with the help of quite a bit of Clomid.


14 Comments

CD 1 Eve

Hi, internets. You awake? I am, and I’m blaming my new, thrilling PMS symptom of intractable insomnia on the day prior to my period’s arrival. I could be wrong: I’ve been thinking my period imminent for several days, what with cramping and spotting and weeping on the floor at the end of our final (I promise, Starrhillgirl) attempt at toddler yoga, about which more another time. (WTF, spotting? Granted, the volume in question is probably <1% of the pre-hysteroscopy volume, but I thought I was supposed to be done with this, Oh, uterus, you old tease.) This could be just the prednisone, I suppose.

Yes, prednisone again. I returned to the ENT this Thursday, having finished a fourteen-day course of augmentin (which began with six days of prednisone), feeling very, very much improved, expecting to be declared well and sent on my way. 'twas not to be, alas. One aerosolized cocktail of novocaine and decongestant and a scope up the nose later, the doctor declared himself pleased but not pleased enough. So. Ten more days of augmentin, four more of prednisone, come back in a week. I'm beginning to feel I'm getting to know that office too well, rather as one does with the baby factory. And I definitely prefer a dildocam to a nostrilscope.

Still, I am much, much better — practically human now! Thank you for your sympathy on my last post.

The prednisone means no drinking or NSAIDs, still. Clean living! You can imagine, I'm sure, how pleased I was to hear that, given the cyclical date and all. Part of why I am hoping tomorrow is indeed CD 1 is that it's the weekend, which means Sugar can watch the Bean if I need to take Percocet in the daytime as well as at night.

CD 1, those of you following along at home may remember, also means Return to Dildocam Island, aka Baby Factory: The Musical: The Sequel. About this I feel…strangely cold-blooded. Every new stage of TTC the first time around, from deciding to begin, to making appointments with new doctors, even upping the treatment ante, felt exciting (among other things). Just starting the process, let alone having the actual baby, felt like the realization of close to a lifetime's worth of dreaming about having a baby, dreaming that, what with the endometriosis and the relative poverty and the lesbianism, often felt very unlikely to come true. Trying again just doesn't feel like that.

For one thing, those lifelong dreams always included at least one child, but the number was sometimes only one. I spent an enormous amount of time imagining what it would feel like to hold a child of mine on my chest (and feeling the terrible lightness of that child's absence), but I don't have a similarly visceral sense of what holding two children of mine might feel like.

More to the point, I think, is the fact that I am straight-up terrified of going through infancy again. I am just so very much better at this toddler gig, and I don't think it's only a case of being a more experienced mother now, in which case the second iteration of the larval need-bag stage could be reasonably expected to go better than the last. I think it's more to do with coping very poorly with serious sleep deprivation, not being particularly well-treated by breastfeeding hormones (Do I have a mild case of Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex? Maybe.), and, well, being the kind of person who would even think of calling a gurgling bundle of sour-milk-scented joy a larva.

You, of course, know the other thing I’m afraid of: birth, and that whole nightmare roller coaster again. See: everything tagged Dr. Russian. It is entirely possible that much of my feeling distant about the whole TTC business is just protecting myself from thinking seriously about the prospect of facing all that beyond the safe confines of this space. That I started weeping while looking at positive reviews from women who had delivered with my new doctor suggests there could be something to that notion. Throw in a soupçon’s fear of TTC not working, and you have a fine recipe for an aloof Bionic.

It isn’t, I am almost certain, that I don’t want to have another child. I keep asking myself if that’s it, of course, because we are still at a stage where backing out is possible. But no, it’s not that. I do want a sibling for the Bean — and another one of these critters for my own, selfish reasons. I wish I could capture in writing the wry smile the Bean had tonight when Sugar asked if he’d like a fish stick and, champion re-director that he is, he laced his fingers together, leaned across the table like a talkshow host, and said, “ooooor, maybe chocolate?” And did I tell you about the “turtle” he “drew” this week? What’s the turtle’s name, I asked. The Bean uses a kind of movie-Italian speech pattern sometimes now. “It’s-a called Penis,” he said, “It’s a big one.” I think Penis is a weird name for a turtle (maybe it was a skinny baby?), but the point is, this is a pretty great gig.

Last time around, every move we made to get to the Bean was driven by passion, and it’s just different this time. It’s less like I need to have a baby NOW, and more like, I know what I’d like our lives to look like in several years, and this is the time it makes sense to start building that future. I gather more rational people have experiences like this a lot, you know, and plan their lives in an orderly fashion and so on. But it’s a disorienting sensation for an impulsive creature like me. So. Off I go to the clinic, faking it ’til I make it.


14 Comments

News From the Front

The bottom of the front, specifically. The front bottom, if you will.

The appointment went well. Dr. Baby Factory did not, after all, yell at me, you will be relieved to hear, though as always, he had that sad look that Sugar reminds me is mostly just how his eyebrows are shaped. His hair’s gotten a bit shaggy, as if the four years since we’ve met (is that all?) have taken him from being the 11-year-old star of the piano recital (as I always thought of him after seeing the picture in his office of him sitting ramrod straight up on one of the Today Show’s couches) to a 15-year-old with a garage band and a penchant for eschaton.

Dr. BF is who first suggested I go to Dr. Russian’s practice for OB, although in fairness he specifically recommended Dr. Robot, who left the practice in my first trimester.  Nevertheless, I decided I would tell him to rethink recommending them, if not for Dr. Russian’s appalling manner (which I know you all believe me about, but which could sound like the whining of a delicate flower) then for the way Dr. Skinny, the head of the practice, dismissed out of hand my was-that-an-abruption bleeding in the days before labor.  It is with deep pleasure that I report to you that he already has a call into Dr. Skinny, because he keeps having her patients come to him, get pregnant, and then refuse to return to her practice.  (Smart women!) So I guess it’s not just me.

While we’re on the subject of Dr. BF, can I just say what an absolute artist that man is at a pelvic exam? Seriously, he is the only person ever whose haven’t hurt; even his double pap smears don’t hurt. (Yes, I am a special snowflake and regularly cry over medical messing about in my lady business(es).  My cervices are on the inside for a reason.) I have to say that here because, 1) it is worthy of praise, and 2) there is no non-creepy way to express this sentiment in the moment.

So, the various bottom lines:

  • I will be making a lot more “bottom” jokes around here in the coming months.  Enjoy.
  • My CD 2 numbers are, I think without digging for my old notebook of data, the best they have ever been.  (FSH 5.6, E2 a shockingly low-for-me 39.)
  • My famous endometriomas (aka, “chocolate cycts,” if you are into ruining your ability to enjoy chocolate forever, which I am not) have apparently disappeared (?) (!).  Is this even possible?  I have noticed less back pain in the past few months, but I certainly felt plenty in cycles since being pregnant.  I am befuddled.  I’ll work on being glad, but right now I’m too confused.  At any rate, the dildo-camming didn’t give me the usual sensation that a smoldering rat is trying to scramble out of my lower back, which was a nice change.
  • We have lots of embryos, and Dr. BF seems optimistic about our chances, or as optimistic as his eyebrows will allow.

Scheduling is a bit of a annoyance, more so than I had anticipated.  I have the good insurance for six months, March-August.  I naively assumed this meant time for several cycles, but I had forgotten that the Baby Factory closes for IVF and like matters three months of the year, and two of those months are April and August.  When the scheduler explained that an April cycle, which was what I had begun to imagine, wasn’t going to happen, I felt bathed in adrenaline.  March?  March?!?  That’s so soon! But waiting doesn’t make a lot of sense, under the circumstances, so March it is.  Then I drank the warm apple juice she’d brought when I got woozy missing the half-gallon of blood they’d siphoned off for still more tests.  When a few molecules of sugar reached my brain, I remembered that I can’t do March, because Dr. BF wants me to come back early next cycle to see if a polyp is what’s making me spot so much before my period or if it’s just my good buddy endometriosis.

So May it is.  I am not entirely sorry to wait, though I had gotten myself slightly excited about Just Doing It.  I am worried that between the possible polyp and the closures, my six months of insurance just became three (and that’s assuming there’s no polyp or that it can come out quick-like in April).  However, billing had a surprise for us: the less-good insurance (under whose begrudging, code-careful auspices we had this consult) actually covers quite a bit more than we had thought.  Doing a cycle with them would still be more expensive than with the good insurance, but it sounds at the moment like it wouldn’t be impossible, especially if we planned ahead and got the drugs while I’m still on the good plan.

May gives me time for a few more visits to the favorite cocktail bar I am just now falling back in love with.  It also gives me some time to get worked up about various parts of this whole gig I wasn’t expecting.

For instance: more shots.  When I was first contemplating IVF, I decided I could deal with the little needles for stims but not the big ones for progesterone-in-oil, and Dr. BF agreed that I could use coochie bullets — excuse me, vaginal suppositories; excuse me, non-American readers, pessaries — instead.  They were messy and sort of annoying, but I was never sorry to be missing the intra-muscular missile to the butt I’d read about on other blogs, still less the bruises and lumps and lingering scar tissue.  But I guess now I get to learn for myself what all the fuss is about, because Dr. BF says (and, I regret to say, that the study I found on the topic agrees) that the delivery method really does make a difference in FET cycles.  Dr. BF says that during my IVF cycle, I was making some progesterone on my own, but that during a medicated FET, I won’t, which means that small differences in efficacy can mean big differences in results.

So one thing I guess I could use about now is some PIO pep-talking, should you have any on hand.  I’m not upset by needles per se, but I am no great fan of personal pain, especially deliberately inflicted, in my own home, every day for three months.  Call me crazy.  However, I also realize that a miscarriage I would always fear I could have prevented is worse.  Great choices, these are.

Okay, I know there are worse choices, I KNOW.  I know that, as subfertile lesbians go, I am sitting very pretty, what with the good clinic and the good insurance and the bewildering array of embryos.  It’s just…I had forgotten what this part, when fear and uncertainty loom so very large, feels like.  Frankly, I thought I got to skip it this time.

Mel asked the other day, after my first return to the Baby Factory for CD 2 blood work, whether I found that some of being back was much easier and some was ten times harder.  Yes.  That is exactly how I found it.  At first, I was giddy, almost, being back in such a powerful place without the dread and exhaustion I remember from the last time around.  This is a cinch, I thought, walking right up to the check-in computer to type my name.  The first time I came in, I stood awkwardly in front of the receptionist’s desk for some time before a woman in a pompadour, whom I did not yet know was nosy as the day is long and none too quick on the uptake, informed me in one of those New York lady klaxon voices that still startle me that I was doing everything wrong, as though it weren’t understandable that a person might imagine their office worked like every other office on Earth.  This time, the receptionists were new and muscle memory guided my hands through the menus as surely as if they were ticket machines at Grand Central.  Bam! I thought, jabbing the CD2 bloodwork button, my doctor’s name, my insurance carrier.  I got this.  I even made a self-deprecating joke about sperm to the guy ahead of me in line.  (Sorry, sir.  I should probably not be allowed in public alone, at least not while giddy.)

As I waited for my name to be called, a strange nausea crept over me.  I hadn’t, I realized, been comparing my present-day self with the me who had first come to the Baby Factory at all; I’d been comparing myself to my memory of that person, a memory colored by knowing that my first visit was only the beginning, that there were miles to go, disappointments and fears and more than a few crying jags.  In fact, that very first me, the one the receptionist startled, was a lot like this me: happy, excited, hopeful.  I had mainly wanted to go to an RE because of my mysterious lady-part arrangement and because my insurance covered it and the Gyn I’d gone to was a dick, so why not?  I imagined we’d leave with a plan, buy some sperm for home use, and have a baby in less than a year. Although our story ended happily, that original me sure had another think coming.

The PIO surprise was like a bucket of cold water to the face in part because I thought this time was going to be so easy.  Aren’t FETs supposed to be so simple compared to a fresh cycle?  I suppose it is simpler, in that I don’t have to come to the office much and won’t get OHSS this time, but I had forgotten that simpler isn’t the same as easy.  I know what to expect from an IVF cycle, but an FET is nevertheless new to me, bringing with it all the anxiety that attends medical novelty.  That I know how to get to the clinic and where to buy a coke after they exsanguinate me for science does not mean I know anything about what’s going to happen, and worse, it doesn’t mean I have any control over the results. I know I’m a lucky subfertile lesbian, but dammit, why can’t I just be a fertile one?  I thought skipping the rounds of IUI this time would make me feel fertile, but that fantasy is crumbling now that I remember that this “fertility” still involves doctors and needles and tenacula and fear.  I never really believed this when we were trying to conceive the first time, but it turns out this secondary infertility jazz is, to paraphrase Smarshy’s memorable image, just a different bag of ass.


16 Comments

Back In The Saddle

…or the stirrups, anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So. Maybe it wasn’t just me.

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

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

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

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


27 Comments

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.

P1000968

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.

P1000974

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


19 Comments

Something Lousy, Something Sweet

Hello, darlings. Part Five is coming along. This week, I hope.

I am thinking of you, all the same. In the interests of keeping you from thinking your RSS feeds have just up and died, here are two quick things for you:

1. Turns out that “exclusive breast-feeding keeps your period away” stuff is just one more thing on the list of things that aren’t really true, at least not for me. Four months, almost to the day: that’s what I got for sticking with it through the early crap and the later horrors. And lochia for six of those weeks, if we’re counting. (Yes, of course there are other benefits to breastfeeding, but frankly, that one was high on the list for me.) Sigh. It’s light, but I seem to have new ways to have cramps. Neat.

1a. This explains the lying-on-the-floor-weeping-about-being-fat that dominated last week.

1b. This also explains The Bean’s adding feedings for the last week. At this point, it seems like I scarcely have any milk at all. He nurses all the time, but doesn’t get anything after the first couple of minutes. Weeping ensues, and he’s not too happy, either. Add “unhappy baby + hormonal disaster mother” to “human female pelvis vs. human newborn skull circumference” in your dossier of anti-Intelligent Design arguments.

2. Happy talk! A friend pointed me in the direction of the consummately cute butches + babies. You should check it out and submit your pictures. I sent in this one of the 6-day-old Bean with BFF’s partner. It’s already hard to believe how little he was.

null


13 Comments

Birth Story, Part Four

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

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

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

A to B
A to B: My Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only now it’s rush-hour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sean.

Don’t be an asshole.”


12 Comments

Lucky Me

This was going to be a nice, neurotic little post about how I’m freaking out about the idea of having an actual baby in the house, how I still can’t wrap my head around the idea, all that sort of thing. With some weepery about newly-discovered stretch marks thrown in, for spice.

But I just got off the phone with the Department of Civil Service — I have been working for the state — who told me that, contrary to what I’d been told by my own HR department, my insurance was canceled at the beginning of February. Not March. Close observers will note that it is FUCKING LATE FEBRUARY ALREADY. WAS ANYONE PLANNING ON TELLING ME THIS INFORMATION AT ANY POINT?

I am hopeful it will get resolved quickly and only require me to resubmit all my bills for this month or that, worst case, it will become clear in time for me to retroactively join Sugar’s insurance, which was the plan for March (but costs more than mine — let’s not even get into the extra month of imputed income taxes, fuck you, DOMA — and so would be nice to avoid as long as possible). Of course, that isn’t even remotely the worst case.

Also, I am not going to insert the boilerplate here about how grateful I am that I can get on Sugar’s insurance, because dammit, we’re married, and having that relationship recognized in basic ways shouldn’t be something we have to say “thank you” for every time.

Ahem.

Now do you want to hear about my stretch marks? Sure ya do.

They’re on the part of my belly below my navel, which I can’t even see in our one full-length mirror (which I rarely look in, as it isn’t in our bedroom) without the extra effort of hauling my belly up to look. Consequently, I didn’t see them until today and was blissfully ignorant of any marks other than the almost-cute dots over by my hips. Apparently, they’ve been there for several weeks. I am not best-pleased, although I know that’s irrational. Partly, I don’t like how they look (vertical, purple, angry); partly, it’s unnerving to find out that I don’t even know what’s happening to the front of the outside of my own body.

(You’d think I’d be used to the idea that I don’t know what’s going on with my body by now, wouldn’t you? What with the endometriosis and the cyst-riddled ovaries and the surprise cervix? I guess I don’t learn.)

You might also think — or hope, at any rate — that I could be classy enough not to complain about stretch marks, sore hips, and exhaustion, given my great luck in being pregnant at all. Even if whatever the Bean is doing to my cervices does make me wonder at times whether we’re having a unicorn, whining about it isn’t seemly. I realize that.

As long as we’re on unseemly topics, might as well go for broke:

I haven’t been very interested in narrative in the past few months. I haven’t wanted to watch movies and, very odd, I have scarcely been reading. (And I am always, always, always reading.) I couldn’t figure out why until the other day, curled up on the couch with Sugar, watching something perfectly innocuous. Without realizing it, I had slipped into that state where you are so immersed in the story that you forget you exist outside of it. I love that feeling. More than anything else, that’s what I read for. It is so freeing to forget myself for a while.

And then the Bean started kicking. And I jolted back to myself, immediately into a state of anxiety. It was like that moment when you wake up…and then remember you have an exam or a funeral to go to, that you got bad news yesterday, that the world has weights for your shoulders. Every time this happens, it takes a few minutes to calm myself back down, to remember to not be scared about the approaching unknown — or at least try not to be scared. The truth is, I am pretty scared. About labor, yes; but even more about what comes next.

I am terrified at the idea of this baby actually being here. What was I thinking? What if it’s all a terrible mistake, this parenthood thing? A bit late for cold feet on the subject, I know. And of course it is only part of my brain that’s terrified — much of it is excited and (guardedly) happy — but boy is the scared part loud all of a sudden. Despite the very deliberate nature of all this, despite having pictures of the Bean as a blastocyst, for heaven’s sake, I often feel like I’m having one of those dreams where you are suddenly in labor, never having known you were pregnant, and you’re trying to figure out how this happened.

The IF-style kicker to all that, of course, is how damn guilty I feel for ever having thoughts like that, for ever allowing something other than pure gratitude into my heart. The sucker punch is knowing how deliberate all this was. We conscious conceivers — lesbians, IFers, that sort — talk a lot about how whatever situation has made us unable to have children easily has the silver lining of making us sure we want them, careful in our decisions, grateful in our parenting. To some extent, that’s true, I think. But right now I am a little envious of those people who are surprised by pregnancy, who get to react it and know they are doing the best they can, rather than always knowing the decision was intentional and perhaps sometimes fearing that their choice was not the right one.

But, right or wrong, what is there to do but go forward in faith that it will all work out?

With that in mind, we have ordered a mattress for the crib. The stroller (so expensive and trendy that we won’t discuss it, but I love it and am telling myself that it’s a lot cheaper than the car we don’t have) came in the mail today. Last night, we went to meet the Bean’s probable pediatrician, whom we liked a lot. She recently parted ways with her practice partner and opened a new office next door, I assumed over something mundane like money disagreements. But from the way she talked last night about the search for new partners, for “more intellectual doctors…who like to discuss medicine,” I wonder if there isn’t a more interesting story behind the split. As you might imagine, I prefer intellectual doctors myself, and I’m happy to have found her.

I almost wish, seeing how small her hands are, that she were my doctor. Tomorrow brings my first cervix check, which I hear is a barrel of laughs. To answer the question on everyone’s mind: yes, just as with pap smears, I get two. Lucky, lucky me.


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.