Bionic Mamas

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


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Oh, FFS

I have a lot of things to tell you, internets, about our week in the north woods and the wonders of unisom for nausea and so on, but it is late and I am tired.

And spotting. I’m also spotting.

And I know, it’s pale pink and almost nothing and I scraped myself a little with the crinone applicator this morning and I maybe shouldn’t have carried a backpack while climbing that (very small) mountain yesterday and that this is exactly (to the day; I just checked) when I started a month of spotting with the Bean and all that. And I really am going to try to sleep, despite the fact that just thinking about my uterus always makes me feel like maybe it’s cramping.

But this is not what I want to be lying awake thinking about at my in-laws’ house, hundreds of miles from my bed and my cats and my doctors (who I know couldn’t do a thing even if I were there, but still).


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In Case You Were Wondering

I am depressed, resentful of the progesterone’s making me feel this way since I’m convinced I am not pregnant, the Bean refuses to nap and is about as independent as a tapeworm lately, I accidentally made the kind of lunch that was exclusively made up of foods I’m to avoid because of the whole acid reflux in my sinuses business, my acid reflux is behaving as you’d imagine, and the lunch didn’t even taste good.

I am going to drag myself and the child to the community garden now, to dump the compost and perhaps literally go eat worms.


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Not Dead, Mostly

One of the hardest things for me to learn in college, which was my first extended period away from a household headed by two doctors, was that when people say, I’d rather not talk about that at the dinner table, they may actually mean it. It took a few years (sorry, everyone), but eventually I learned, more by rote than by true understanding, that many people not raised by wolves scientists actually do feel physically bothered by descriptions of vomit, mucus, and thick, green eyeball-pus.

With that in mind, I’m at something of a loss to describe the past several weeks of life at Casa Biónica. I profoundly hope we are getting better. It remains to be seen.

By we, I mostly mean me. Sugar and the Bean are fine, following their own revolting but brief illnesses. I am on round two of antibiotics and now oral steroids for this sinus infection, which I just don’t know how to talk about without sounding like I am being over-dramatic even by my own standards. It’s just…I’ve been really, really sick, y’all. Like, sick enough that I am 95% sure my teaching evaluations will be bad this semester, because I can’t think and half the time I can breathe or consistently talk, either. Sick enough that Sugar has been sleeping with the Bean, and you know how she feels about cosleeping. Sick enough that I don’t even want to eat ice cream.

I have had a number of go-rounds with my ordinarily great internist, in which I tried to explain that things were Not Right and she worked to convince me that I was having allergies and asthma and would clear out the sinus stuff with just some steroid nasal spray and patience. I have also learned that it is possible to vomit just from nasal spray, if you are pushed hard enough. Also that sinus infections can come out of your tear ducts and give you proper conjunctivitis, and by the way, eye drops can make you puke, too.

Finally, she suggested I see an ENT, who took a horrified look (and some very unpleasant pokes) around the wreck of my head, started using words like “really dangerous” and “worried about you,” and gave me his cell phone number with repeated instructions to call him this weekend if I felt even a little worse despite prednisone and new antibiotics (augmentin…what to get for the woman who has everything, says a chemist friend). I am seeing him again on Tuesday, at which point I gather he may have some results on the cultures he skewered out of me and will adjust the meds if necessary.

Because of the prednisone, he gave me strict instructions to stop taking NSAIDs, which is bad news given the expectant-Zeus style headaches I’ve been having, and not to drink any alcohol, which has not done much for my mood. Also because of the prednisone, I am having the most horrific depression, alternating with fiery rages and the kind of anxiety that feels like your blood has been carbonated. I am tapering now and more hopeful that I will get through this without a homicide conviction, but I’d still recommend keeping your distance, especially if you are one of the people I’ve run into who seem to think all I need is to give up dairy and pour salt water up my nose. (For the record: the infection is now lodged in, among other places, my frontal sinuses, well beyond the reach of snot-potting, and plenty of bacteria are the kind of paleo enthusiasts that don’t miss milk one bit, given a nice, warm chalet snuggled up against a tender brain.)

I’m finally improving enough to write this, though, and I just thought I should let you know that the hysteroscopy didn’t kill me or anything. It was not great and not horrible — a bigger deal than i had imagined, but the whole alien-civilization-in-my-head business has dulled much of the memory of it. (Which would be handy if it hadn’t also wiped clean my short and long term memories, in general.) I have a follow-up with Dr. BF on Wednesday, which I hope will include being cleared for take-off for a May FET. Assuming, that is, I can rid myself of this scourge and the crippling existential angst that apparently accompanies infections for me (ah, my youthful dalliance with giardia!), waking me at five in the morning in a dead panic that I can’t possible handle being pregnant/giving birth/having another baby. Happy spring!


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Back In The Saddle

…or the stirrups, anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So. Maybe it wasn’t just me.

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

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

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

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


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Good Item, Bad Item

For reasons that will be clear by the end of this entry, my computer time is being used for much less fun things than blogging at the moment, so just a quick hello:

Good Item: the illustrious Starhillgirl visited us last week! Yes, I am bragging, because it was the GREATEST. The Bean lit up like a Seasonally-Appropriate Decorated Evergreen when he found her in our living room every morning, and I can’t blame him. The whole family was blue when she went home. Pictures to come, one of these days. Oh, look, in the meantime, I can just steal these from her other blog:

All that and she makes chiles rellenos.

The Bean dares to eat a peach.

Bad Item: on Monday I found out that, due to a very dumb snafu, I don’t have a job in the fall. I’m not going to go all Dooce on this one, much as I’m tempted, but I’ll just say that it doesn’t have anything to do with how long or well I’ve taught that course, which is rather and, if I do say so myself, quite. The situation involves an exquisitely balanced blend of things that are out of my hands and things that might have worked out had I been more proactive than I thought necessary, so that I feel both helpless and to blame.

This course is the best money I make all year, and losing it is…bad. My current mood, to borrow a little LJ speak, is: pretty fucking lousy. It’s lucky the Bean is here to keep me getting dressed, leaving the house, not drinking in the mornings.

ANYWAY! I am pulling together resumes and so forth and am very touched by the number of friends who have come through with advice and contacts. I am hopeful I will find something. The trick here is to find enough work that we can afford to live, but little enough time out of the house that we don’t end up paying (or paying much) for childcare, since that expense would eliminate the benefit of my working most jobs. Meanwhile, I am likely to be back at my usual gigs in the spring (different department), which means I can get back on the insurance that would allow us to do an FET.

(Did you see what I did there? Yeah. We are pretty definite about wanting a sibling for the Bean and about my uterus being the one again (I think). On Sunday I was feeling all warm and fuzzy and ready to Just Do This Thing soon, before I lose my nerve at the idea of having an infant in the house again, but really, that isn’t what you’d call a plan, and the spring would be plenty soon enough, assuming I can keep the aforementioned nerve that long.)

Meanwhile, if anyone happens to know someone in the NYC area in need of writing, editing, or related teaching work, resumes on request, dawg. Lots of experience with science-y writing, including intervention manuals, education pieces, and video scripts of all sorts.  Note that I am one of perhaps three people on earth who genuinely love teaching freshman comp. It’s strange to imagine not doing it.


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Home Study Eve (Blogging for LGBT Families Day 2012)

Internets, I have heard your request for Bean photos, and I am helpless to resist them. I have such a 50-megaton photo-dump post in the works, your interblag tubes will be clogged for a week. (This is why I don’t do photo-dump posts: zero self-control.) It will be up this weekend, maybe even before our home study on Saturday, because the social worker said not to clean and hell, we are certainly paying her enough to ignore a few dust-bunnies. Plus, she doesn’t get paid until the adoption goes through, which isn’t a conflict of interest At All.

But today is, besides the Bean’s fifteen-month birthday, Mombian’s Blogging for LGBT Families Day. It’s a bit of a fluke that I remembered in time, but I did, so I thought I should scribble something out.

…okay, it’s been all day.  I meant to write about North Carolina — my home state and the most recent to pass an anti-marriage equality amendment to its constitution — but that hasn’t happened.  So…have this.  (Hope you like parenthetical comments.)

Tomorrow is our second-parent adoption home study, wherein a social worker to whom we will pay an enormous amount of money will come to our house and decide if we are fit to parent the child we have been parenting for the past 15 months.

On the bright side, she seems nice, but really.  What is the point of all this?  If the state decides Sugar is not fit to adopt, the Bean will still be my child and will continue to live with us.  That’s extremely unlikely to happen: not only is Sugar pretty obviously the superior parent in the relationship, but second-parent adoptions are all-but automatic in our area, the all-but referring to the huge chunk of change we will probably-but-no-promises get back from the IRS as an adoption tax credit.  (Nice of you fellow tax payers to kick in for these costs, but really, I think the lawyers will find a way to scrape by without the subsidy.  I tend to think the adoption agencies would, too, but that’s a soapbox for a different day.)   Since we all know this is essentially pro forma, it pretty much amounts to a tax on being gay.  Kind of like that $450 we had to pay to be offended by the psychologist at the Baby Factory, back in the day.

It’s important, I think, to note that this is not about genetics: if I had conceived using anonymous donor sperm but were married to a man, his legal parentage would be automatic in every state.  Husbands are presumed to be the fathers of their offspring, even if said offspring have the postman’s ears, because these laws are at their core about the inheritance of one trait only: property.

I know what I’m supposed to say right now is how grateful I am that we live in a state that not only allows second parent adoption by same-sex partners but one where they routinely go through without comment.  (Unlike in NC, where once again, some crazy divorcing lesbian ruined it for everyone.  People, can we all agree that once someone does something like this to our community, that person — even if hot — gets no sex again ever?  Call it Operation Lysistrata.)  In a limited way, I am grateful, or at least I am aware of how much worse things could be. I don’t mean to sound to those living in states with awful laws like a spoiled brat, but neither do I feel inclined to do a lot of sucking up to the powers that be just for being allowed the basic piece of human dignity that is having my child’s relationship with his parents recognized by the law.

Before I got involved in this TTC and parenting lark, I had some sympathy for the “people should be screened to be parents” kind of argument that springs up in conversation, usually about some abysmal behavior on the subway or, less forgiveably, in the context of parents in poverty.  I didn’t exactly agree, you understand, but there was something appealing about the idea of a test, because, I realize now, I was so blindly comfortable in my race and class privilege that I never dreamed such a test would be given to me.  Even if it were, it was obvious I would pass (see: race, class, education), and tests you know you’ll pass are kind of fun, amirite?

No, as it turns out, they aren’t fun.  They are enraging.  Moreover, sometimes the standards get changed even after you took the test (see: NC second-parent adoptions revoked in wake of nasty case mentioned above).  Being informed or reminded that an external authority has control of — or even and opinion about — your right to reproduce and/or parent is galling and frightening and in no way conducive to good parenting.  Even knowing that no one is the least bit interested in taking our child away from us, I feel under surveillance, nervous of any perceived misstep.

We in the privileged quarters tend to talk more freedom from reproduction, via birth control, abortion, etc., than freedom to reproduce.  Yet, as a wise friend of mine once remarked to me, the eugenic impulse is strong in American thought; tiptoe out of the world of the white, the middle-class and above, the able-bodied, the straight, the sane, and it’s right there, not just disapproval, but policy, ranging from the kind of nuisance barriers I’m complaining about here to real bodily control, sterilization, confiscation of children, and so on.  (Do you think, as I did, that forced sterilizations of, for instance, welfare mothers was a thing of the past?  Read this.)

I don’t mean to draw false equivalencies.  However bad my attitude about tomorrow’s hoop-jumping, I am not so self-involved as all that.  Being gay in this time and place has its inconveniences, but being white and educated and middle-class sure does help out.  (So does not looking different — when my white, middle-class, educated aunt and uncle brought their baby daughter to the ER, was it the cut she’d gotten on the shower door track that triggered the suspicions of abuse and the subsequent nightmare of temporary custody loss, or might it be possible that their Muslim dress had something to do with at least the severity of and contempt behind the official reaction?)  But it is true that having our right to parent scrutinized has made me think differently about the right to reproduce, which is about as basic a biological drive as you can name, and how — and for whom — that right is limited.  (Overpopulation exists, but our system isn’t China’s, seeking to control absolute numbers.  We are quite proud of that, of not telling rich, white, healthy people how many children to have.)  I expected to learn things from motherhood, but I didn’t expect this would be one of the lessons.


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Harder But Not Worse

Written Sunday night, February 5th.  I’ll be posting this later, when it is very clear that Sugar can’t have gotten the stomach bug in question, because if she finds out that we did, she will fret and fret and fret.  She’s been en route to South Africa for days now, been stuck in snowy Amsterdam overnight without a coat (or her luggage), had her direct Amsterdam-Capetown flight replaced with a whole series of shorter flights and long layovers.  Fear of vomiting is the last thing she needs to add to her worries.

Today was a hard day.

Sugar is on her way to Africa.  She’s been gone since Friday and won’t be back until next Sunday.  The Dane, whose company I had hoped might distract me from loneliness and from feeling overwhelmed caring for the Bean alone, unexpectedly had her second baby on Friday, via a c-section at 36 weeks, after her water broke that morning.  (The new baby, a pink boy slightly bigger than the Bean and much smaller than his older sister was, is doing well and will come home with her on Monday.  We can’t wait to meet the Little Bear.)

I spent Saturday gathering baby things for the Dane, climbing the step ladder and using a long cardboard tube to prod the heavy boxes stacked near the ceiling so that they would fall down to me.  Managing the closet is Sugar’s job, as she is considerably taller than I am, but the baby is here now and needs clothes.  I bought a small ham and extra ingredients for spaghetti sauce on Friday when I heard the baby was coming, but decided I could wait until Sunday or Monday to cook for them.  I arranged to visit her in the hospital today, and tucked a box of cookies into the bag of going home outfits, just in case I forgot to bring them.

The Bean was cheerful enough, even following a diaper explosion unlike any I’d seen from him in months.  Shoulder blades, is all I’ll say.  After he went to bed, I talked too long on the phone with my parents, made freezer food for dinner, and watched Downton Abbey, pleased to have made it through the day without Sugar, to have one day less alone.  It hadn’t been easy to take care of the Bean and get other work done, but I’d managed and found myself less lonely than when Sugar went away before he was born.  Taking care of him has made this trip harder for me, but less grim.

A little later than I should have, I brushed my teeth, fed the cats, and padded into the Bean’s room to pat him one last time.  In the dark, I could see his starry back rise and fall.  I also saw a dark spot, the size of a quarter, on the sheet near him.  I had a sudden fear that it was blood.  I knew it wasn’t, but I turned on the light to check.

It wasn’t blood.  It was vomit.  Raspberry vomit, and that tiny bit was the least of it; it was everywhere and plentiful, pink and red and smelling of peanut butter, his current favorite after frozen berries.  From the look of things, he must have thrown up and crawled away from it again and again, covering the whole bed.  It was revolting and then some, but there was nothing for it but to hook up the washing machine, begin ferrying bedclothes to the bathroom, and wake him up to clean and re-pajama him.  It was past one before I went to bed again, and we only slept a combined 90 minutes or so thereafter, the Bean wakeful and miserable and hot with a fever that would not yield to Advil and Tylenol.

Suddenly, the diaper explosion made sense: on Thursday, we visited with a baby friend of ours and her nanny.  Afterwards, I found out that the baby and her mothers had had the stomach flu, though she seemed fine when I saw her.  I’d hired the nanny to watch the Bean while I teach this week, and in order help him trust her, I encouraged him to eat from her hand.  I have replayed that moment in my head a hundred times since, only with Future Me running in slow motion towards them, shouting, “Nnnnnnnooooooooooooooooooo!”  The nanny got sick on Friday.

Today has been hard.  The Bean is better but not well, there was an even more catastrophic diaper incident, and I have been wondering all day when I will get sick, as I almost inevitably will.  If I didn’t catch it from the nanny, I will have gotten it from the Bean, who cannot be dissuaded from shoving his hands into my mouth while nursing.  Certainly there was no visiting the Dane and Little Bear, who need this illness less than I do, nor cooking for them.  My to do list rapidly shrank to, “Do Laundry; Survive.”

Some time ago, the inimitable May wrote a post about those self-important idiots who tell you all the time how hard your life will be with a baby, how you have no idea.  Such proud admonitions are annoying under the best of circumstances, but to those of us who lack babies while desperately wanting them, they are like stone bruises on a heel, so predictable and yet so surprisingly painful with every footfall.  May, who is somehow always right, remarked that indeed various things about life with a baby might be, on a strictly practical level, harder than without one, but they wouldn’t be worse.  I can’t find the post in question, but I doubt I will ever forget that bit of wisdom.

I have chanted “harder but not worse” in my head and out loud hundreds of times in the past eleven months.  Many things about life with a baby are in fact very hard, and it’s easy for me to get lost in that.  It’s easy for me to misplace how miserable it was when I was afraid I would never have the chance to find out how hard it can be.  I assure you, in case you ever doubt it, that the frustrations of a hard day with the Bean here is to that misery as a rain shower is to the oceans.

It’s late again, later than I should be up.  I am well behind on sleep, I have a hard week ahead, and frankly, my stomach feels more than a little dodgy.  But I have spent this weekend feeling more deeply than ever the truth of what May wrote, and I wanted to get this down now, while things are still hard, so that you know that I mean what I say.  Many things are harder, but nothing is worse.


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What Was That All About?

Hey, y’all.  Thank you again and a hundred more times for your comment on my sad post the other day.  One of my blog goals is to start replying to more comments [sidebar: I’ve finally learned that if I reply using WP’s email system, I can also cc the email you used when you left the comment, which means you might actually see my reply, assuming you left a working email]; I’m not sure I’ll manage replies to these ones, only because I feel them very deeply and am having trouble finding words, even after looking under the couch cushions.  But truly, deeply, thank you all.

I’ve been doing some thinking about what made me fall apart so very much just then.  Certainly, the things I mentioned in the post itself — sick, sad Bean; lack of sun and exercise; insomnia (WTF?); cetera — are part of the answer, but a few other things have come to mind, to whit:

  • That pesky anniversary thing.  Several of you have mentioned bad stuff coming up around a year after birth.  For that matter, many of you (too many) have talked about renewed sadness and upset around the anniversaries of losses.  How that part of my mind knows what time of year it is, I don’t know, but I think maybe this is part of what’s going on.  Here’s hoping the outburst at 11 months is somehow protective and that the Bean’s birthday will be only joy.
  • PMS — Okay, I did mention this one, but it makes the list anyway because I’m curious to know whether any of you who have had babies think your PMS has changed.  I think mine has, and I’m hoping it’s partly because of the nursing-related hormone roller coaster and will therefore GTFH eventually.  I’ve always…felt intensely about PMS.  Feeling fat and moaning about same was, given the uncertainties of my cycle, pretty much how I knew it was time to buy pads; some light crying on the last day inevitable; weeping not wholly out of the question.  But it did not used to ravage me so thoroughly.  Crying, yes; sobbing, not so much until now.  (And just in time to try not to scare another creature with unpredictable behavior!)  These days…damn.  Anyone else?
  • Another thing that’s new is the kind and character of my period pain.  It’s been creeping back.  Every month I nurse a little less and I bleed a lot more and things hurt.  I didn’t expect being pregnant to cure my endometriosis any more than it cured my mother’s or than adulthood cured the asthma of anyone in my family, but I can’t help having hoped a little.  At least so far there have been no visitations of the dreaded GI/endo horrors which I positively cannot take care of a child during.  (I remember thinking on the infamous cab ride to the hospital that, while what was happening was very painful, I had been in worse pain many times and survived.  It’s like that.)  I’m not surprised that the pain is coming back, but what I am surprised about is how it has changed.  I’ve always been in pretty bad shape from the sternum down during my period, with belly, hips, back, and legs all hurting in one way or another, but the hip pain in particular has shifted from being something that I mostly noticed when trying to sleep on my side to being constant, beginning even before my period.  It also feels different, like someone is standing behind me, digging curled fingers around the front of my hip bones and then pulling out and back.  My hips and legs also get strangely tired and loose-feeling walking long distances during my period, the way they did at the end of pregnancy and especially after birth. It and the back pain are all-too reminiscent of giving birth, which I think makes me a little panicky and upset even before it’s strong enough that I’m thinking about it consciously.  I’m curious to know whether any of you who’ve given birth and/or been pregnant have noticed anything similar.  (I’m trying not to exclude anyone who’d like to answer but also trying not to be all trigger-y; please forgive inability to find a better way to ask.)  And, you know, whether it ever went away.  Also, pain med suggestions happily accepted.  I was so happy, post the cervix-puncturing HSG, that my pain had gone down so much that I could use Advil instead of Aleve, as Advil takes a week to really tear up my stomach while Aleve only needs two days, but this month I found myself taking half a percocet one night, and taking the other half an hour later.

The other, happier realization I’ve had about all this mess is that it is not strictly true that, as I had been thinking, I’m stuck on this.  It seems that way, but I think what’s really going on is that I’m slow, not stuck.  I wish I were done turning this over in my head, that I had successfully turned the whole story into an empowering narrative of personal triumph and joy and unicorn poop

[pause for unicorn poop cookies.  These Exist.]

…but the fact that I haven’t been able to do that yet, it has finally occurred to me, doesn’t mean I’ve been doing nothing.

It took me six weeks to even begin to accept that I was upset at all; that’s what the hysterical crying that began after Dr. Russian told me off in my post partum visit and continued for another day and a half was all about.  (And that there was some Crying, let me tell you.  People in midtown Manhattan do not stop crying people walking down the street to tell them it will be okay; it is just not done.  But they did me. And then this weird subway con-artist regular manhandled my baby on the 42nd Street shuttle.  Great day.)  Until then, I was fumbling around, wondering why I felt ashamed of myself, assuming who suggested that I had Encountered Assholes was just misunderstanding the situation.  I think that’s called denial.

Since then, I’ve gone through some valleys of despair, it’s true, but I’m starting to look around and think that maybe it’s not all the same valley.  They tend to look the same — being so shadowy and all — but maybe I’m not going in circles but just on a very long walk, one that ends somewhere with unicorn poop cookies.

(Okay, probably not.  But the disco dust part of those cookies isn’t really for eating, and I’d be much happier with a nice red wine and chocolate.)


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Just In Case

Just in case you were afraid this was becoming one of those smug blogs where we only write about how awesome our lives are, I thought I should tell you that, after two days of solid Freak Out on my part about whether my milk was suddenly running dry, I’ve realized that the latest nighttime hell is most likely the infamous 8-month sleep regression.

Silly me; I thought maybe we would somehow get to skip that, SINCE THE BEAN HAS NEVER FUCKING SLEPT the way I keep hearing about other babies doing.

Special thanks to the folks across the street, who are paving the g-d parking lot during his “oh fuck, I forgot to sleep last night” nap, meaning I am stuck awake with eyes that feel like gravel.

Kisses,
Bionic

P.S. Why do I read the comments on Ask Moxie? They only ever make me weep with hopelessness and bitter envy.


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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.)