17 January 2015

birth story

Baby Girl, whom we've decided to call Maya, made it just in time to see the end of 2014. I'm really glad to not be pregnant anymore. And I wanted to account for her existence and the story of her birth on this here blog a bit.

I've been thinking a bit about what a big deal human life is. It's a crazy and intense and risky process to bring a person into the world, and once they're here, it's crazy how inchoate and helpless and completely dependent they are. I feel intensely the significance and potential of this little person's life, and yet it's quite a mystery to me. When I turn that lens on my own life, it doesn't seem to compare. I take my life for granted while being constantly amazed by the newborn I'm responsible for keeping alive. No one needs to care for me around the clock in order for life to be sustained. I'm just alive and sometimes it feels rather unremarkable and aimless. It's kind of a big deal that I'm here, though, still kickin' it.

I planned a home birth and felt pretty confident that it was the best place for me to birth this time, but you know, it was and still is a bit scary. In the event that something crazy does go down and needs a really sudden and drastic response beyond what can be provided with materials at home, it is risky. I think the chances of anything like that happening are pretty remote when you have a good midwife and are healthy/low-risk, but as with anything, you never know.

Now that sufficient time has passed for me to not feel like my experience was mainly just painful and surreal, I can say that I feel really lucky and grateful that this birth went the way it did. It was almost perfect in the sense that it was nearly everything I had hoped for when I thought about birthing at home. 

I went into labor the night before New Year's Eve, but I was in denial about whether I was in labor. Although the contractions felt different from the Braxton-Hicks I had been getting pretty often throughout pregnancy, and they were much more regular, I didn't really believe that my body would go into labor on its own. It was a trial of patience to still be pregnant and wait confidently on my body to do its thing. I haven't historically trusted my body to work all that well, so that was a new thing too. I suppose the denial was helpful for my patience, though. I got into bed that night with pretty painful contractions, the kind I didn't feel like I could lie down during, but as soon as Shep nursed to sleep per his usual, the contractions faded and I surprisingly fell asleep. I slept several hours and woke around the same time the insomnia had been waking me every night previous. Painful-while-lying-down contractions started back in pretty quickly, so I got up to do the dishes. I think by this time I knew I was in labor, but I thought it might be a long way out until I had a baby. 

Things progressed quickly, though. Soon, I was unable to keep doing dishes during contractions and I started doing laps around the house and coming back to the dishes in between. Tim got up to offer support and I told him we should consider calling the midwife around 6 a.m. I had no sense of how close together or long my contractions were, though, so I had Tim time a few. They seemed short to me, but they were lasting around a minute and coming every two to three minutes. When Tim called Rebecca around 6:30, she said "She sounds pretty close; I better come quickly." She got here maybe 20 or 30 minutes later as Tim was prepping the birth pool and I was kneeling over an exercise ball.

Once Rebecca was here and the birth pool was ready, I got in the water and kneeled in there without really changing my position much. The pressure was increasing a lot with my contractions and it was getting pretty tough. I sort of felt myself losing control so I tried to bring it back in and focus on my breathing. That helped a little. I remember that I started pushing and it was sort of a conscious effort, which surprised me. It also surprised me that I had moved through transition so quickly. Rebecca said my water was still intact and commented on how rare it was for a baby to be born "in the caul." I was complaining a lot, though, so she offered to break it for me to help pushing get a little easier. The baby was crowning at this point, and she barely had to do anything to burst my sac. She noted the time (8:11 a.m.), baby's head was born (I remember asking at this point, "Can you just yank the rest of her out?" The answer was no. I think the rest of the body was harder to birth than her head!), and the baby was completely born just 9 minutes later.

It was awesome. Everything went off without a hitch, basically. I tore a little and required two stitches with lidocaine. I screamed a bunch. I had some retained membranes (placenta), which made postpartum recovery the first couple of days a bit touch and go. (It kind of felt like I was in labor throughout the night on the second night, which I guess is only fair since I got to rest and sleep the night before the birth.) It wasn't perfect and it wasn't painless, but baby and I were both healthy. My midwife was amazing. I trusted her completely and I just have such affection for her and the great care she provided me and this little girl. I did not have to go to the hospital or leave the comfort of my own home. (The only disadvantage to this I could see perhaps was not having a maid service.) I did not have to deal with any drugs or side effects. Shep never had to leave. I could walk to the toilet and around the house. Now, a bit more than two weeks later, I feel pretty much back to normal. Overall, I think it was way easier and less painful than my experience in the hospital nearly three years ago. Some people have awesome experiences in the hospital, and I totally respect and appreciate that. But I thought staying home would help me to have a better experience, and I am grateful all worked out so I was able to. My body did its thing, and I had a completely normal and healthy birth. No one checked my cervix, ever, for dilation or effacement. No one told me what to do or when. We just left my body to its own devices, and it worked out. We are so grateful.

07 January 2015

another post about breastfeeding

I have similar feelings about formula as I do about medical interventions in pregnancy, labor, and birth. Succinctly put, it is amazing that we have the technology we do in order to deal with problems and complications when they arise, but it seems that the availability of that technology has made those choices the norm rather than interventions reserved for exceptional, necessary circumstances. I wish breastfeeding were more of a norm because I think it would make it easier for women to choose to breastfeed initially and to sustain it successfully. It doesn't help anyone to just say "breast is best." That only makes moms who try breastfeeding but experience obstacles and then give it up feel guilty and inadequate.

It's tricky determining the necessity of circumstances that require formula, just like it is tricky deciding when it is necessary to induce labor artificially, say. I read an article today called "Why I Chose to Bottle Feed" that I saw on Facebook. I had mixed feelings about the accounts I read. It made me feel a little sad. Not because these moms are giving their babies formula and I think they'll be scarred for life (they obviously won't), but because moms who want to breastfeed do not have the support they need in order to be successful. It is not just about the individual mom and baby--it's the whole system creating these structures that affect the individual. The system makes it way harder than it needs to be, so when women have problems, it makes total sense. They blame themselves, but really society has failed them. I have read or heard many, many accounts of breastfeeding being no longer viable for so many women who try, and I feel for them. I'm probably annoying to talk to about it though, because I feel like it is OK to bash our breastfeeding culture in response and also actively counter it in my behavior. Which is weird because I don't think of myself as an iconoclast. Becoming a mom does odd things to you. I've become one of those obnoxious women who see no reason to leave the room or hide my nipple when it is time to nurse, but it is totally obnoxious because that is socially unacceptable. I wish it weren't. My goal is not to make others uncomfortable. I just think, instead of adding more public-use rooms for mothers to go hide and feed their little ones, why can't we all just relax and respond the same way when a mom sticks a nipple in baby's mouth, whether it is attached to a breast or to a bottle, wherever and whenever?

I can also see that there are real advantages to bottle feeding. It really means that other people can feed and comfort your kid! It means you can feed an adopted child! (Though did you know you can nurse a child that is not biologically yours even when you don't start off lactating? And that it's possible to breastfeed after a mastectomy? The body is cool.) Formula is both liberating and, yes, even necessary at times. For example, I totally do not think I would breastfeed if I worked outside the home. Becoming a mom is the direct reason I don't work outside the home, in fact. It is hard enough to maintain your supply when you have a real baby on your breast, but an electric pump? Yeah, right. Plus, pumping sucks. Kudos to people who are committed to it.

But breastfeeding should be the easier option, I think, and maybe the expectation, but sadly, it just isn't unless X, Y, and Z. It is not a method of feeding your baby that is free of complication. After nearly three years of continuous nursing, I thought I would be pretty old hat with nursing the new baby. We are only a week in, but it has been surprising to me how different and not easy it is this time around. This newborn Maya is not newborn Shepherd, who latched onto my breast within moments of being born and seemingly never stopped sucking from there on out (which presented its own set of problems). This girl struggled to latch on and struggled to be satisfied with what she was getting out of my nipple for a few days. Now that my milk has come in, things are improving, but it's still a struggle. I can nurse lying down, but she can't latch on when I'm lying down, so we have to start every nursing session with me sitting up. (Sorry, perineum.) She is so sleepy and often is hard to wake for feeds, and is too sleepy to latch on without being fully awake. She has a hard time latching when I'm engorged. She just has a hard time latching, period. We took her to the doctor yesterday and she had lost even more of her birth weight than when she was last weighed on day three. Also she hasn't pooped since she passed through the meconium on day two. She's lost more than ten percent of her birth weight at this point, and I guess that's when most doctors sounding the alarm. "Give your baby formula or they will die!" (Maybe experts should say more often, "Keep trying and try not to stress. It will work out.") Luckily we saw a doctor who was not alarmist in nature, but that knowledge had me worried anyway. Is my baby not thriving? Is it possible I can't breastfeed her successfully?

Anyway, we're working on it. Sometimes it takes some troubleshooting and time. Sometimes it's harder than others. But it shouldn't be so hard that we're stressed out of our minds and traumatized by trying and overcoming the complications we face. Sometimes it doesn't seem to go the way that it "should," but that doesn't mean it is a failed enterprise. Wouldn't it be cool if we as mothers had this community of breastfeeding support in which people can openly share their different experiences, and where we have expertise readily accessible and available to help us work it out instead of telling us we're doing it wrong? That would be cool.

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