Bionic Mamas

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


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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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Birth Story Part Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Birth Story, Part Four

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

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

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

A to B
A to B: My Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only now it’s rush-hour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sean.

Don’t be an asshole.”


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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.


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Tales from the Front

Hi, folks.

So much has been going on, and I haven’t managed to tell you any of it. Mea culpa. Today’s update post comes to you from the couch, where I am staring over the horizon of an empty ice cream container and into space (such as it is in an NYC apartment), worn out from a 12-hour weep-fest. (We’ll get to that, but please don’t worry — everyone is healthy if not happy.)

Here are some updates and stories for you, in this so helpful style I have shamelessly plagiarized from our* May:

Item: Christmas, New Years, and the Great Middle Western Odyssey in general went fairly well. We met the famous TA, as sweet as they say, and her happy mother. I threw caution to the wind and ate my annual bratwurst at the Christkindlmarket. We went swimming at Sugar’s mother’s health club; after looking forward for months to the experience of grace and support I keep hearing about in re: gravid paddling, my attempts to avoid further rib injury lead to a kind of aquatic lumbering down the lane with a kickboard, a foam noodle under my ribs, and a foundering midsection intermittently covered by an old exercise top with shot elastic. Sadly, the ribs got angry anyway, possibly because of the indignity of being seen with me.

Swimming, 28 weeks
All the Grace of a Foundering Tugboat

I steered clear of Sugar’s dumbest cousin on Christmas Day — though I still managed to hear her dumb husband (whose last name is a synonym for “detumesces,” which gives me great delight, even if detumesce isn’t a real word, which it probably isn’t) threaten to spank their child for…oh, I forget. Something dumb that all 10 (10!) kids in the house that day were doing, like being loud. So no stories for any of us there.

To celebrate arriving at my parents’ house, I got a rip-roaring cold. After a day of utterly failing to breathe, accidentally overdosing on my inhaler, and subsequently freaking out about killing/brain-injuring the Bean, I was saved by Sugar’s suggestion that codeine is a fine anti-tussive. My parents’ house could easily be mistaken for a well-stocked pharmacy, and codeine not only stopped the coughing but also made me stop wheezing/turning blue. Mama made Dada listen to my lungs with the chimney of an oil lamp, since he had left his stethoscope at the office. I tried to teach Mama to cut and paste, so she’ll stop sending me emails with instructions on how to google something she’s found (“put X in. now go to the 4th result. in the corner, there’s a drawing of a fish. under that, there are some words you can click on….”) and instead caused a fight over dinner. We (98% Sugar) made a play-quilt. I was given (not “gifted,” dammit) replacements for the water bottle and good gloves I’ve recently lost on my commute; I promptly lost my best wool shawl on the trip home.

Item: We returned home to a house empty of food and full of cats very pleased with the success of their efforts to drive away our vacationing guests (the Baking Dane’s in-laws) by pooping all over their and our belongings. I walk the mile to the grocery store (over mostly-cleared sidewalks), discovering on the way that all that lying around in the midwest while steadily increasing in size has left me woefully out of shape for our car-less life. When I arrive at the hippie coop, I have a stupid exchange with the pregnant idiot working the front desk (this is the kind of coop where you work a shift to secure your right to Waldorf-educated kohlrabi) over her refusal to ask those working with her to rearrange the heavy carts (used to walk home shoppers who live closer than I do) so that those of us who schlep our own organic flax milk can hang our granny carts on the appointed hooks. Another woman sweetly takes my cart from me and says she’ll fix it. While I am recovering myself (read: weeping in the corner by the signs about how evil Coca-cola is), Pregnant Idiot calls over to tell me it’s done. I say thank you and think humiliated thoughts. On the way home, I get stuck in a pile of slush in the middle of a busy street at rush hour, oncoming traffic surging at me. Good times.

Item: We begin birth classes with the lesbian CNM and her somewhat dippy co-teacher, who keeps saying “dilatition.” We are pleased at the first meeting to see that we know one of the 7 couples there: an extremely chipper lesbian and her partner, who has a very charming lack of filter between her brain and her facial expressions. I enjoy watching my own horror reflected on her gaping face all evening.

The class begins with introductions. We are all (partners/husbands/friends, too) to say our names, when the baby is due, etc., and tell a story about our birth knowledge/experience — a birth we’ve been to, the story of our own, what have you. When the talking beanbag (not kidding) comes to us, Sugar goes first.

SUGAR: “Hi, I’m Sugar and this is my wife, Bionic. Our baby is due in March and we’re delivering at Kips Bay Mega-Hospital. The story of my birth is that my mother gave birth in 45 minutes and is still mad that all she got for dinner was a ham sandwich.”

DIPPY: “Wow! That’s amazing! How lucky!”

SUGAR: “Yeah. Too bad I’m not related genetically to our child.”

DIPPY: “But you’re related to your mother!”

BIONIC: Yes, but not to our baby.

DIPPY: “But your hips! You’ll have her genes! This is great!”

BIONIC: “BUT SHE’S NOT PREGNANT.”

[Awkward pause, in which DIPPY flusters about how she couldn’t really see us where we were sitting. Lesbian Teacher looks long-suffering.]

BIONIC: “Hi, I’m Bionic. My mother did not give birth in 45 minutes.”

I then proceed to talk about my (not un-traumatic) birth, touching briefly on a few major anxieties. I do not cry, but I don’t look calm either. Before I have collected myself, The door opens and the late couple walks in. If you’ve already guessed that the late couple was Pregnant Idiot and her identical twit of a husband, full marks.

Watch this space for further reports on the Happy Couple, who remind one nauseatingly of high school. Highlight of the first night came during one of the activity portions, when we were all draped on one another practicing slow-dancing to loosen back, etc. Sugar is admirably taller than I am, so my face was nicely snuggled against her chest, my eyes closed. I hear a *SMACK* on the Happy ass next to me, followed by “THAT’S a BOOTY!” Gorge rises.

Item: I begin to worry more seriously about this whole birth thing. I spend much of birth class freaking out (internally — at least I think I didn’t look as horrified as the Other Pregnant Lesbian, since the Lesbian Teacher never stopped what she was saying to ask me, “Do you have a question? Or is that just the face?”). It’s all very well learning about what the cervix does, what the birth canal will do, and so on, but while I don’t really wish to share the idiosyncrasies of my lady bits with the class as a whole — Lesbian Teacher knows already — it’s frustrating that no one has a clue what my body might or might not decide to do when the moment arrives. I have found 3 anecdotal reports of cervices like mine: one reassuring, one cautionary, one horrifying. (There’s much more out there on UD, but officially, single utes with double-doors do not exist, as we contravene the prevailing theories of fetal genital development.) I’m increasingly despairing that a vaginal birth will even be possible, which makes this all seem like something for other people. I know there are good reasons for us to take the class anyway, but it’s still a bit hard to sit there and look like I believe this stuff will apply to me.

Item: Dr. Robot has quit the practice and returned to Canada, according to Dr. Sympathetic Noises (But No Answers To Your Questions), whom I saw last week. I was quite nauseated and asked Dr. Noises whether it could have to do with the Zantac I’ve been taking for reflux, given that it seemed to have coincided. No, she said sympathetically. Later, I asked Dr. Google, who reported nausea as the most common side effect. Back to pepcid, and it’s a more acidic but less queasy life for me. Nice work, Dr. Noises. Thanks also for refusing to answer my questions about your practice’s labor policies until week 36.

Item: We finally have our belated hospital tour, led by a horrible, scolding bitch. We chose this hospital largely because of how uncommonly NICE every staff member we’ve encountered, orderlies on up, have been over the course of several radiology jaunts, Sugar’s surgery, and my BFF’s terrifying 27-week bleeding incident while visiting us a few years ago. So we weren’t expecting one of those bitter, angry people who loudly pretends to be cheerful while referring to all non-pregnant parties as “Dad,” kvetching endlessly about why her department deserves more space than another, and generally yelling at anyone who asked a question. I also liked the part where — apropos of nothing except a quiet moan from one of the rooms — she snapped at us, “labor is PAINFUL!” Part of my reason for going on the tour at all was to see the space at a time when I wasn’t feeling actively upset. FAIL. I was calmer when in the company of my bleeding friend.

The actual L&D facilities are nice, though it’s a bit annoying that the much-vaunted TV/DVD/CD players are only allowed to be used with headphones — bit of a reach from the bed. Post-partum, like everywhere in the city, is another matter. The rooms are clean and tiny. There are four, un-reservable private rooms that cost a fortune; the semi-private rooms are exactly big enough for bed-chair-crib, bed-chair-crib. There’s no nursery anymore — theoretically great; actually somewhat terrifying — so they allow partners to sleep over…in the hard chairs, which do not recline. It’s not at all clear to me how I’ll get through this (especially with no nursery to give me a break) if I send Sugar home to sleep, but it’s plenty obvious that she won’t get any sleep in that wretched chair. Mostly, that horrid woman made me afraid the PP nurses will be like her. As far as I can tell, she’s a lactation consultant. So help me, if she comes near my nipples, I will not be responsible for my actions. And I do think it would be nice to wait until we’re home before beginning the Bean’s profanity lessons.

It all seems so trivial when I write it, but the aftermath of the tour has had me up weeping since 4:30 this morning. Okay, it’s possible hormones are playing a role here. The basic issues, as I see them: terrible fear of being left alone; much greater comfort taking care of people than being taken care of (read: vulnerable); fear that I won’t be able to take care of the Bean and Sugar and that no one will be taking care of me in that strange place.

Item: Sugar had to talk to the Stupid Cow at HR today, who deliberately refuses to understand that our relationship (our legally recognized, accorded benefits by the employer relationship) exists and tells Sugar she’s single all the time. But that is Sugar’s story to tell.

Item: I wish there were some useful guidelines on alcohol and pregnancy, short of ZOMG POISON. I know plenty of people drink in the third trimester; so far I haven’t, beyond pilfered sips of Sugar’s wine now and then. But boy, I could use a drink tonight.

*Brits: I have no idea if the “our ____” usage has some meaning that’s inappropriate to this situation; I just love how it sounds. I am a dumb ‘merican. Feel free to attempt to (gently) correct my heathen ways.


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what the hell is going on in there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now with working link to the funny! — Ed.


13 Comments

Heavy Lifting

Hey there, internets. How are you?

Things are basically fine around here. We’ve gotten several chances lately to spy on the bean, who seems to have arms and legs and a steady heartbeat. It even *moved* while we were watching last Monday — a kind of quick sit-up, prompting my mother to observe that it obviously has genes not from our family.
The reason we’ve been getting so much screen time is more nerve-wracking. I keep bleeding. First was the two weeks of brown spotting leading up to the wedding. Once I’d gotten used to that, it turned pink, starting just before the sit-up look-see. A few days of pink, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for learning not to panic at every trip to the bathroom, so my body upped the ante: bright red blood, and plenty of it, in the middle of the night.
PANIC.
After the long wait until the OB office opened the next morning — I didn’t see much point in waking up whoever was on call, since there isn’t much they could do about it if I was miscarrying and at least one of us ought to get some sleep — another scan. Less cute time looking at the bean, more v.e.r.y. slow examination of the ute, after which Sweet Sonographer said she didn’t think there was any blood flow from in there, so it is probably my sensitive-soul cervices. (Why no one has cranked open a speculum or two and taken a look, I don’t know.)
More brown spotting, plus a new, sandpapered sensation in my upper hoo-ha regions; a period of self-imposed, er, pelvic rest. Things seemed to be settling down. And then I cut the cheese.
Sugar and I belong to a hippie food coop (*the* hippie food coop, really) of the sort where all members work. (Well, almost all members — as the underemployed member of the household, I do both of our shifts.) When we toured the place and entered the food prep area, our guide said, “this is where we cut the cheese. If you join the coop your job might be cutting the cheese.” Naturally, I signed up at once.
It’s not all fun and games. Besides cutting the cheese, I wrap it, weigh and label it, and carry it upstairs in grocery baskets. Because of summer school and the wedding, I am behind several shifts, which jeopardizes our access to Waldorf-educated kohlrabi, so I made one up yesterday. I was careful not to fill the baskets the way I normally would, but instead to go up when I had ten pounds or so ready. I had them ready at waist-height, and carried them held against my body, for minimal strain, as my back has been unreasonably testy these past few weeks.
After my 3-hour shift, I found a huge streak of red in my underpants. Slightly more controlled panic. Hovered in the public but uncrowded hallway, left a message with the nurse, did some speedy, highly disorganized shopping (extra shallots? Yes. Trash bags? No.), took a cab home. Nice Nurse called back and said that since the bleeding stopped quickly, I should just rest and stop lifting “heavy” things.
Relief, of course. Followed by a nap. Followed by some feelings of pathetic worthlessness.
I like being pregnant. I like how it feels, for the most part. But while I am hardly a tower of physical might, I am used to thinking of myself as strong enough to manage things. I don’t like not carrying things, not being able to open the stubborn window. For that matter, I don’t like being so easily exhausted that I had to stop gardening after an hour the other day, when I had planned at least two.
I can live with being lazy, but I hate being weak.
Bah.


15 Comments

Egg Retrieval Story

Hey there, folks. How are you? I’m much better than I was, happy to say. I have been all blown up like a water balloon from a touch of OHSS, which wasn’t particularly painful but was kind of tiring, but on Sunday night I peed like I have never peed before — I think someone told my kidneys there was a talent scout in the house — and suddenly I can wear pants again. If I do end up pregnant, I know this will be only the eye of the storm, but I am enjoying it nonetheless.

As far as other ailments, I know Sugar told you I‘ve been rather sick, but I want to make clear that pain and vomiting did at least happen on different days. The pain was very bad the day after retrieval — probably because of all the endometriosis — and then not. The nausea was bad around transfer (5 days post-ER), and I am convinced was a side effect of the progesterone. Now that my body’s used to it, I’m fine. (The doctor tried to sell me on nausea as being because of the bloating, but I haven’t felt sick when at my most bloated; when I felt nauseated was between the post-ER bloat and the real OHSS ballooning.)

I said before that your ER stories were all of so much help to me at my own retrieval, so I figured I’d better tell mine before it fades in the haze of the percocet-filled days that followed it. It’s looooonnnggggg. I hope it will help someone later.

On the morning of retrieval, I was hungry and scared. My clinic says no food or drink at all after midnight the night before, and my procedure wasn’t until midmorning. I have a touch of hypoglycemia, and that long without food leaves me a hot mess: shaky, frightened, easily confused, possessing the emotional self-control of a nap-less toddler. On the other hand, my ovaries felt so big and my back was so sore that if someone had handed me a grapefruit spoon, I might well have dug the eggs out myself. I was, shall we say, ready as I’d ever be.

We took a cab to the clinic, which was very empty because it was Saturday. After filling out payment contact forms for the anesthesiology department, we went up the the second floor of the clinic, where they have operating rooms. I really liked that I didn’t have to go to a separate hospital. Not only was it less nerve-wracking to be in a familiar place — a VERY familiar place, given how much monitoring I’d been having — but it was also calm and uncrowded. Most of the nurses I saw that day I had met in the blood draw room at one point or other, which was comforting.

When we got to the second waiting room, there was one man by himself and one male/female couple. After a few minutes, the woman was called back. About ten minutes later, the nurse called her (presumed) husband back through a different door.

Wow, I thought, if he’s already going to meet her in recovery, this really IS a quick procedure.

Very soon, a brusque nurse I hadn’t met before called me back. “Okay, she’ll come find you after she’s done,” she said to Sugar, prompting a freakout from me. The materials we’d been given all said that “depending on time and patient flow,” she could meet me in recovery. Not anymore, the nurse said, new policy. I felt angry and even more scared. I would have been okay if I’d been expecting it, but I was in no state for surprises. I began to suspect that the nurse thought Sugar and I were just friends, that we weren’t being treated like the het couple that had gone before us.

“What about that guy? How come he got to go, then?” I demanded. The nurse claimed no knowledge. I was rattled and pissed.

After that, I went to the locker room, where I exchanged my clothes for two nice, cloth gowns (one tied in back, one in front), little socks with rubber treads, and a shower cap that was extremely awkward for my long, heavy braid. The key was on a springy loop that I put on my left wrist. I then met the nurse in a tiny room with a table, where she took my pulse and BP (high for me — “maybe you’re a little nervous?” she said, rather kindly) and had me fill out more consent forms and so on. When we were done and the OR still wasn’t ready, she totally redeemed herself in my eyes by fetching Sugar and letting us sit there together until it was time for me to go.

When they were ready, I walked with the nurse to the OR. The way there was through recovery, and I suddenly understood why Sugar couldn’t meet me there — there were just too many patients. The recovery area at the clinic is a series of curtained nooks (like you see in ERs sometimes) arranged around a nurses’ station. Because some of the patients weren’t conscious yet, all of the curtains were open. No partners were there, and I did understand that the nurse was right when she said that having partners come in had been a problem, since everyone was talking and people who were just coming to got confused. The atmosphere was very quiet and calm, even if it was still pretty weird to walk by the woman from the waiting room, out cold with her mouth wide open. She looked like a child or a rag doll.

The OR itself looked, well, like an OR. There was a table with white sheets and “stirrups” that were really just long things to put your calves in. I was standing in the big, open part of the room on the right hand side of the bed. To the left was lots of equipment. There were what seemed like a ton of people but was probably only 4 or so doctors and nurses bustling around. Everything was moving really fast. I got scared again.

“Hop up,” they said, after having me take off one gown and “loosen” the other. (It turned out that by “loosen” they meant “completely untie.” It would have saved some time and frustration on my part if they’d just said that. I felt like I was already supposed to know all this stuff, like in a weird dream.)

Hop up HOW? I thought. The bed was too high for me to get onto easily. They pressed something and it lowered down, I got on it, and everything started happening really fast. A man in green scrubs grabbed my left hand and pulled it out to the side, where there was a little table at a right angle to the bed. He started telling me to make a fist and so on, so he could start the IV. At the same time, a nurse I knew from the blood draw room was telling me to scoot down the table farther, so that my butt was at the edge of a hole in the bed that I could see because it was covered with a pad. Then she told me to put my legs up, then scoot more. Also at the same time, the anesthesiologist was asking me lots of questions about my history with IV anesthesia, my drug allergies, and so on. Only the anesthesiologist, on whom I have developed a bit of a crush, introduced himself.

At this point, I came a bit untethered. The man in scrubs — who I recognized at some point as the surgeon, Dr. Saturday (and wouldn’t it have been nice if he’d introduced himself?) — put the IV in. It hurt like hell. In fact, it never stopped hurting for the rest of the day and I still have something of a bruise there, because it wasn’t in right. I wish I had known that it wasn’t supposed to be like that and that I should have asked him to do it again. (On the bright side, many people reported that the first stuff in the IV stings, and I barely felt that….) Everyone kept telling me to do things all at once. Someone put a BP cuff on my right arm, which inflated itself every minute or two. I started to cry, just a little.

“Oh, no! Don’t cry!” said the sweet anesthesiologist, an Italian man of roughly my father’s age. “Whenever I see a pretty lady cry, I start to cry too.” I pulled myself together and explained that I was worried about the IV sedation, because when I had that for my wisdom teeth, I woke up in the middle and threw up for several days afterwards. He listened to that and to my saying I was going to need real pain medicine after, because tylenol doesn’t do jack for me, and assured me that he would make sure everything was ok.

It was then that I really appreciated tbean’s story, which scared the hell out of me when I first read it, such that I required much buoying from friends who’d done IVF themselves. As upset as I was at the time, my experience wasn’t anything truly traumatic, but it helped during the worst part to remember what tbean had said about how this is surgery, no matter how much they act like it’s just a “procedure.” I looked up at the ceiling and told myself that everything that was happening was normal and how it was supposed to go, that these people were doing their jobs and that my job was to look at the ceiling, try not to think about how much my hand hurt, and trust that Dr. Italian would take care of me. The nurse tucked a white blanket around me so that my right hand was against my chest (nice touch), and the next thing I knew, I was in recovery.

My bed was facing the window, so I could see the green vacant lot next door and the bridge beyond. It was a sunny day, the view was pretty. I don’t remember feeling anything but awake — no groggy period or confusion. I knew where I was, why, and everything else. A nurse noticed I was awake and came over to check on me. She took care of me for the whole recovery period and was great in every way. She asked if I was in pain, and except for the &^$%ing IV, I mostly wasn’t.

After a few minutes, I started to be. My belly was sore in the gas/endometriosis kind of way it had been that morning, my back was a little bit achey, as it had been for a week or more. My vaginal pain was very slight and never got bad, ever. Less pain than I have after a pap smear. I told the nurse and she said she would have the anesthesiologist see me as soon as he was out of the OR. That took 10-15 minutes, by which point my belly had started to be more of a problem.

Dr. Italian came out and gave the nurse something to put in my IV, and I started to feel better right away. He later gave her a syringe of the same something to give as an IM injection, which would last for the ride home.

I was my typically chatty self under the influence of drugs. I asked Dr. Italian to repeat his name a few more times. I ended up remembering it almost right. I told him, somewhat in awe, “I didn’t wake up!”

“That’s my job,” he said.

The nurse brought me some apple juice and graham crackers, which were awesome. At some point, the nurse asked if anyone had told me how many eggs they got. She brought me a paper and pointed at the number 32. My eyes bugged out of my head.

I reminded her that I really needed a scrip for something that wasn’t tylenol, and she had the fellow write for what turned out to be very necessary percocet. “Tylenol doesn’t do anything,” I said, “I might as well take water; it tastes better.”

“That’s my kind of lady!” said Dr. Italian, passing by.

A while later, she said it was time for me to try going to the bathroom, and helped me very slowly get up, carried my IV bag to the hook in the bathroom, and left me sitting there, with firm instructions not to try to stand if I felt weird.

So I sat there.
For a long time.
Nothing.

I had had two bags of IV fluid by that point, but nothing was happening. The nurse called to me that I should come out if it wasn’t working. I was desperate not to stay longer than I had to, so I asked for an extra minute, turned on the sink, tried every mental trick I know, and peeds maybe 3 drops. When I wiped, I was shocked by how bloody the toilet paper was.

The nurse declared that even three drops counted, and I graduated to a recliner with the leg cushion out. Eventually I was allowed to sit up normally. Dr. Italian dropped by again and said “Good work, young lady,” which I loved. (Seeing a theme? Why can’t this man just be constantly passing through my life, praising me?) A while after that, she detached my IV from the cord (leaving it in my hand), and sent me to go put my real clothes back on. (I stopped to get a dreaded hospital pad from the bathroom, as I’d cleverly left the one I brought from home with Sugar.) Once in the locker room, I realized my fatal error: my key was attached to the wrist of my IV hand, which still hurt like hell. I had to gingerly stretch it over everything, which sucked. Nicole: put the dang thing on your right hand.

I returned to the chair, carrying my bra, because hell, no, it was not going back on. The nurse took out my IV, gave me my scrip, and sent me home with Sugar. As we left the 6th floor, I explained to Sugar my understanding why she couldn’t be in recovery, but said I was still confused about where that first husband had gone.

“Dude. He went to give a sperm sample.”

Oh. That’s probably why the nurse didn’t explain, huh? I hope the other waiting husband at least thought my outrage was funny.

We took a cab home, I retired to bed with my percocet, and everything was basically fine. I ate and drank normally. I peed. At some point, I stopped bleeding. The pain got bad the following day, probably as a combination of some OHSS and a lot of endo, but I don’t think that’s typical. In short (TOO LATE!), I was scared but nothing terrible happened. If I have to do this again, I don’t think I’ll be that upset.


22 Comments

It’s time

I’ve been in stirrups so many times in the past week that I’ve started wearing skirts to the clinic, just to save the trouble of taking my pants on and off. I take my shoes off anyway, because not doing so seems somehow inappropriate, even though there’s no real need.

I went into the Baby Factory for blood work and ultrasound this morning, as I have for the past seven consecutive days. First stop: blood draw room. There are lots of nurses, most wonderful, and I hadn’t had this one before. She said something sympathetic about how much time I’ve been spending there — both arms are pretty bruised at this point — and I said I didn’t mind, that I appreciated being watched so closely, that it helps me worry less. And anyway, I like having more data.
Oh, she asked, do you work in medicine?
This question comes up a lot. I don’t work in medicine, but I was raised by two doctors in an area where hospitals and labs are major employers. Medicine is my mother tongue.
So I told her no, that my parents were doctors, though. And then she said what easily fifty percent of people do after that revelation:
“Aren’t they disappointed that you’re not a doctor?”
Now I ask you, what kind of small talk is that? To tell you the truth, I’m not entirely convinced they’re not disappointed, though they never say so. Heck, sometimes I’m disappointed in myself for not being a doctor — I’m pretty sure I’d be good at it — and I never wanted to be one. But is this really a conversation I need to have with a stranger first thing in the morning? Public Service Announcement: If you find yourself about to ask someone who is not a very close friend whether her parents are disappointed in her, JUST DON’T.
Onward to ultrasound.
At the Baby Factory, all IVF patients on a given day are seen by the same doctor, no matter who your regular doctor is. Each day of the week has a doctor assigned to it; Dr. Baby Factory, for instance, is Dr. Monday. Ultrasounds are done by one of a trio of lovely fellows — all women, just to complicate the nomenclature — or by the doc of the day. Today I met Dr. Thursday, a jovial, paternalistic jackass.
First of all, I appreciate it when folks introduce themselves before sticking anything up my privates. Call it a quirk of my Southern upbringing. Second, when I tell you, since I’m not counting on your having read the details of my chart, that I have a vaginal septum and that you should aim to the right with that dildocam, the preferred response is, “thank you for telling me.” Not:
“Why didn’t somebody take that out?”
Luckily, my pre-cycle anxiety dreams had prepared me for this moment (only with more knives), so instead of blubbering I managed,
“Because it belongs to me.”
The examine continued in that vein. Dr. Thursday is the only one of the docs I’ve seen who didn’t adjust the u/s screen so I could see it, and I bet he wouldn’t have told me the follicle measurements I’d asked for if he hadn’t had to call them out to the resident in the corner. He ended the session with a pat on my knee and a “Good job” that made me feel like livestock.
So now I know why they want you barefoot in the stirrups: a kick to the face is bound to hurt less that way.
ONWARD.
I am triggering tonight. Ten minutes to midnight, which my sweet, strictly diurnal Sugar is bound to hate. I’m nervous as heck about the shot and mostly about the retrieval and continue to appreciate your reassurances and general support.
Biggest follicle is about 19.5 mm. Dr. Thursday said about 10 on each side. So now I’m nervous about OHSS, too. E2 is 3364. Talked to Dr. Baby Factory, and he sounds a little nervous, too, but not nervous enough to have me trigger with Lupron. So I guess we just hope for the best and stock up on gatorade.
Retrieval is Saturday.
Which means a 5-day transfer would fall on…Dr. Thursday’s shift. Awesome Sauce.