Things I still think about, six months later

I wrote this over a year ago, when my babies were only a few months old. I never published it at the time partly because I wasn’t sure how it would be received–I never read  about these kinds of opinions and experiences. And partly because after I wrote this, I realized that I felt a lot better. Getting it all out on virtual paper proved to be truly cathartic, and a year later, yes, I’m still annoyed, but nowhere near as upset and emotional. I decided to publish it now in order to get it out there for anyone else who might be able to relate. I have edited a few details and fleshed out the links at the end, but kept it mostly how I wrote it. Sorry that it’s a little disjointed.

If you talk about or read about birth, chances are you’ll hear about a woman who is devastated about her birth plan going awry and having to endure interventions that she didn’t want. That the birth went completely opposite of how she wanted a beautiful, natural experience. You might also hear about someone who was ‘forced’ or coerced into using formula, or who wasn’t encouraged or supported in breastfeeding.

I had the opposite experience.

I’m still irritated, angry, sad, about breastfeeding. It wasn’t my attempt, it wasn’t something I wanted to happen. For two solid days someone was poking and prodding at me, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t know why it was happening.

I think during the intake questions before the c-section, the nurse asked if I wanted to breastfeed. I think I said, sure, I’ll probably try it. I guess I thought they were asking just for informational purposes or something? But that was it. Nobody laid out what would happen or what that would actually, logistically mean for me and these two new babies.  Nobody asked me anything about it after the babies were actually born. Certainly nobody told me that whatever I had said would result in such a frenzy of unwanted activity.

It literally only occurred to me like 5 months post-partum that I could have said STOP. I had just had two people cut out of my abdomen, and my system was full of various drugs. I felt completely helpless and I was completely out of it, physically and emotionally.  Half the time I wasn’t sure if I was awake or asleep. I had no idea what was happening but this stupid breastfeeding thing CLEARLY wasn’t going to work with no milk. Duh. What the ever-loving fuck did they think was going to happen?!

It never even occurred to me to say no, any more than it would have occurred to me to start tap dancing on the ceiling. I was in the hospital and nurses were taking care of me. They knew what was going on. I didn’t know what I was doing; I had never done any of this before!

I think back to that recovery room. My first minutes with these brand new babies, but I didn’t get to enjoy them–I mostly remember that dumb frazzled nurse trying unsuccessfully to latch two 36-week-old babies to my very dry boobs. Seriously, what did she think would happen? Even I knew it wouldn’t work! Why couldn’t they have just left me alone? Why couldn’t they have ASKED me what I wanted to do? If someone had asked me if I wanted to breastfeed–as in, right then, not as in a hypothetical, sure I’ll try it–I would have said no.

She (and the other nurse she brought in because she couldn’t handle two babies) must have eventually backed off or given up. I so wish that I had a better memory and know why and how. Did I tell them to give it a rest? (No. I so wish I had.) Did they just get tired of trying to force something that wasn’t going to work? What made them finally go away?

It makes me kind of mad, and kind of sad. It’s such a frustrating thing to remember and I really wish I could go back in time and slap that nurse’s hands away from me.

But again, it literally didn’t seem like it was my decision. It’s like my body wasn’t mine.

And I feel like I’m the only one who feels this way about breastfeeding.

The hospital was a great hospital, and I loved the rest of the nurses during my stay there. I felt cared for and cared about. This hospital–and many hospitals–boasts of being ‘baby-friendly.’ The more I learn about what that actually means, I’ve come to think of it as ‘mama unfriendly.’ There’s no nursery to give you a break. One nurse sort of broke a rule and took the babies for two hours one night. And those two hours of blessed silence made a huge difference for us. If we had had that first night to sleep and rest and, I don’t know, start to RECOVER FROM THE MAJOR SURGERY I’d just had, I would have felt so much better and more with-it. I understand that rooming in with your baby gives time to bond and a better chance at breastfeeding. But why didn’t we have an option? A choice? Why weren’t my boobs allowed to be in peace? Why on earth are the baby and the boobs more important than the mama who owns the boobs and who just birthed that baby?

I think that’s a key factor–all these well-meaning lactivist folks are thinking about the baby. I guarantee you that the baby has no idea what’s going on. The mama is the one you need to worry about. There need to be guidelines, sure. But why can’t there be very clear questions, options, or statements given before and after the birth happens?

They need to re-name “baby-friendly” to “breastfeeding friendly” because, really, that’s all they’re trying to do.  Apparently that’s all that matters–not what mamas may actually want or need. All the things they do are done solely to encourage breastfeeding. (That’s not hyperbole, either–go look at the policies.) If the goal were to encourage bonding, they would give mothers the OPTION to get some goddamned rest. Our hospital apparently no longer had a regular baby nursery, so we were forced to be woken up every ten minutes by our two newborns. I can tell you that both my husband and I would have been exponentially more sane had we had at least one night of good, solid sleep in the hospital. And I promise, our bonding with our new babies would not have suffered one bit. It might have even been better, if we hadn’t been so desperately exhausted.

Here are two semi-relevant articles that really spoke to me:

America’s Post-Partum Practices

We were in the hospital for four nights, and I would have happily stayed a lot longer (well, if they would have stopped waking me up every two hours, that is). It was a relief and a blessing to have knowledgeable people coming in to help and advise us all day long. To not feel alone.

“The problem is that no one recognizes the new mother as a recuperating person, and she does not see herself as one.” I actually did–but didn’t always have the luxury of acting like it, with two babies to care for.

“Perhaps if we started talking about the time and energy it actually takes to recuperate from childbirth, women wouldn’t feel the need to return as quickly as possible to “normal.””

And a Jezebel piece about that same article: Stop Acting like Bouncing Back from Labor is Even Possible

THIS: “What’s really cool is that, on top of all this you’re-on-your-own-sucker bullshit, the conversations a new mom will likely encounter are along the lines of: “Do you love it?! Is it everything you dreamed?!””

I have no doubt that many women have a blissful, zen-like post-partum experience. I was not one of them.

Advertisements

Holy Shitballs, We Have Babies: The birth day

On Tuesday, November 20, we went in for the weekly non-stress test and doctor appointment. I was 36 weeks pregnant. The previous Friday/Saturday, I had developed what I was pretty sure was PUPPS, and it had spread and worsened rapidly. The monitoring went well, but my blood pressure was still elevated. And when the doctor saw the rash and how bad it was, she was like, “Ohhh.” She said that she had scheduled the c-section for Friday so we could wait til after Thanksgiving, but now she didn’t want to wait that long. She went away for a few minutes and came back: “Okay, tomorrow at noon.”

Andy and I looked at each other wide-eyed. Holy shit. Go time.

She went over the risks and consent form with us, and then we left, reeling from the knowledge that the babies would be out in less than 24 hours.

We went out to dinner, to a popular pizza place on Hawthorne, as our ‘last night out’ as just us. We came home and did some last minute arranging and setting up of baby things, now that we were on such a tight deadline. I had been working on a blanket for them, and I’d wanted to do more on it, but I wanted to have it done when they arrived. So I spent some time weaving in a bunch of ends, while watching tv.

I continued to be somewhat in panicked denial about babies arriving so soon already. We called our families and told them the news. They were all very surprised, obviously.

In the morning, I finished getting my things together, and we left for the hospital. I took one last photo of my belly and of the two of us as just us.

We drove to the hospital. Andy dropped me off at the front door so he could go park the car. I (very slowly) walked the longest hallway of all time to the bank of elevators and went to the second floor.

IMG_6989(at the far end looking back. seriously it probably took me three minutes to walk this.)

Andy caught up to me on Floor 2 and we were greeted with another long hallway to the entrance to L&D. Turned the corner and saw yet another hallway! A nurse saw us and steered us to our room close by.

In the room they hooked me up to an IV and some monitors. We hung out for awhile and they got me all ready and soon enough it was time to go. I opted for a wheelchair to the OR, then they loaded me onto the table. Getting the shot before the spinal hurt like a bitch! I was draped and prepped. A few minutes went by and my doctor and everyone else assembled, and they got started. Andy was seated at my left shoulder.

The front drape was up high, so neither of us could see anything. They didn’t narrate the procedure, but I did hear the doctor ask several times, with maybe a measured, tiny note of uh-oh, for a clamp. Apparently a placenta came out first, instead of one of the babies, and a lot of blood with it. (This could have been really dangerous had we been attempting a vaginal birth.) I felt a lot of tugging and rustling around my insides. I don’t  think–or at least I don’t remember if–they announced when each baby was out. They were a mere minute apart. I think I heard some crying, and Andy says they both cried when they came out. I looked in their direction and said, “It’s a baby!” He took a picture or two, and then one of the nurses took the camera and snapped a bunch of photos. Someone handed Baby B to Andy, and he showed him to me. I couldn’t believe it. That they were real and that they were really here.

DSC_7583-109

DSC_7585-110

Baby A was still on the warming table being watched, because he wasn’t breathing exactly right. Both of their Apgars were great though–B was 9,9 and A was 8,9.

DSC_7576-106

DSC_7590-111

When A was a little more ready, Andy and B went over to see him. The drape was in the way of my view, so I couldn’t see anything. When he was gone, I let the tears come.

I think it was five or ten minutes before I saw Baby A. They put both of them at my shoulders and covered us with a heated blanket. Baby A looked me directly in the eyes. Again, I was in complete disbelief.

DSC_7610-116

The doctors stitched me up. Parts of it felt like someone was roughly rummaging through my insides like a junk drawer. Very strange.

Soon enough we were all done and were wheeled back to the L&D room for two hours. The babies were placed on me and a baby nurse immediately started buzzing around me, (wo)manhandling me, my boobs, and the babies, trying to get them to latch. It wasn’t working and she was clearly frazzled. She actually called in a second nurse because she couldn’t handle twins. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there, itching all over my face. [Apparently that’s a normal reaction to some of the surgery stuff, which made me unhappy to hear, since I’d been scratching up a storm for days already. Thankfully the face itching didn’t last too long. (Unlike the PUPPS, which continued for days.)] This part really annoyed me. I wanted to be left alone and I didn’t want to be prodded at.

IMG_6993-117

A bit later they took the babies off of me and they hung out on a warming table in the room. The baby nurses stayed in the room, along with another nurse. For a few minutes everyone stepped out and we were able to chat about names and confirm which baby would have which name. But it was almost two hours until we were actually left alone for good.

IMG_7001-120

After it had been the set amount of time, they wheeled me to the maternity ward room. I don’t remember how Andy or the babies got there, but finally we were alone. Just the four of us, a new family.

DSC_7619-122

I kept saying to myself that day, “Holy shitballs, we have babies.” I could not get the idea to sound real and attached to us. (Heck, it’s been four weeks and I still can’t!) I thought the babies were really cute though, and right away I loved holding them. We had worried that our babies wouldn’t be cute but we might not know, being biased, and that no one would be honest with us about their cuteness or lack thereof. But when we finally saw them, we were pretty well convinced of their objective cuteness, and we got confirmation from lots of the nurses too. 🙂 And you know, if for some reason they’re not objectively cute after all, who cares, I think they are. 🙂

I think I was pretty out of it for the rest of the evening; I dropped in and out of sleep. Andy emailed family with the news and the names. Later we made some phone calls, and I probably sounded drunk with fatigue and painkillers.

The nurses had me attempt to get out of bed that evening. They were super impressed because not only did I get up, but I was able to stand up straight. It actually wasn’t that painful. Later though, the pain started. Lying still wasn’t a problem, but getting in and out of bed was really difficult and painful.

They took my blood the morning after delivery, and my platelets were at 70,000. The low end of normal is 140,000. No wonder I was so out of it! (My platelets had been around 100,000 for the last few weeks, which was another thing the doctor was watching and one of the contributing factors to the early delivery.)

PUPPS is one of those pregnancy afflictions where the only cure is to have the baby. However, because my body is just so awesome like that, my case actually kept spreading and getting worse for a few days after the babies came out. Everyone who came in said mine was the worst they’d ever seen and they clucked over my poor itchy self. At one point my doctor went to find out if there was such a thing as an on-call dermatologist. (There isn’t.) She prescribed steroids early in my stay and then had to double the dosage!

For the next couple days, I was in and out of sleep and stupor. Half the time I felt like I was awake and asleep at the same time. I literally couldn’t tell. It was pretty disturbing and no one could really tell me why, other than pain drugs and sleep deprivation. I would get exhausted and barely be able to keep my eyes open when people were talking to me.

Andy did a lot of the work, since I was either asleep, out of it, or couldn’t get out of bed. He was a rock star and wasn’t getting much rest. I sent him home on Friday afternoon so he could take a nap in our silent house. (My mom had arrived at the hospital to keep me company, so I wasn’t alone.)

As I probably said elsewhere, the nurses were amazing. Several of them did feedings with/for us overnight, which helped us feel a little less overwhelmed and tired. Some of them spent an hour or more with us in our room during the day. They were so helpful and kind.

We were in the hospital for four nights, which is one more than standard for a c-section. I was really glad to get the extra day, because I so did not feel ready to go home after only three. Partly because I was so tired and in pain, but also partly because I was still having trouble accepting the fact that we now were parents and had two babies. Unreal.  I also felt like we needed a lot more information, which never really came. (Someone really needs to write a baby instruction manual!)

Finally it was time to go. I took my third shower of my stay and put on actual clothes as we tidied up all of our stuff. (I had brought a suitcase and used just about none of the stuff in it.) It was important to me to get a photo of all of us before we left–not just a going home photo, but the first photo of our newly expanded family.

DSC_7684-65-1

I don’t have any wise or thoughtful words about the birth experience. It was an extremely surreal yet emotional day–I still can’t quite grasp that it happened, as weird as that sounds. It’s kind of miraculous when babies arrive, isn’t it?