Baby and Body: Month 1 Surprises

Big picture-wise, it turns out I wasn’t terribly delusional about what having a new baby in the house would be like. By and large, it’s been how I envisioned the experience to be – for better and for worse – just fleshed out in vivid colour and detail.

But as always, it’s the little things that sneak up on you.

The bleeding. Again, with the bleeding to lead off a post. After nine months of missed periods, your body makes up for it with the heaviest, longest period of your life. Asshole. Yup, even if you delivered via c-section you will still have to shed blood, mucous and uterine lining. A delightful trifecta called lochia because everything pertaining to your body, pregnancy and childbirth has to be the grossest sounding word possible – and it lasts for 4-6 weeks. It’s actually shocking how much you bleed at first. Sort of a steady stream with the occasional gush (especially when you nurse or when you get up after sitting or lying down for a while). Oh! And clots! Mustn’t forget those. Isn’t this a pretty and poetic post?

the afterpains. Turns out, contractions don’t end just because labour is over. Your uterus still has to shrink back down to its pre-baby size and does so by continuing to contract for 10 days to two weeks. Personally, I only noticed it for the first week or so, again, particularly when I was nursing. It’s weird – and almost a little bit triggering – to feel like the nightmare most beautiful experience of your life is starting all over again.

The tranquilizer dart effect. everybody warned me (with regards to breastfeeding) about being crazy thirsty and to arm myself with a giant water bottle. This has been true, I drink an unreal amount of ice water out of a spill-proof adult-sized sippy cup now, but it’s the insta-NyQuil effect that caught me off guard. I just realized that it doesn’t really happen any more, but for the first couple of weeks I’d be nodding off like a junkie the instant the baby latched on.

the adrenaline rush. I’m here to tell you that “sleep when the baby sleeps” is the biggest crock of shit ever. It may be good advice, but it’s not realistic. Not that I wasn’t tired, I was fucking exhausted a lot of the time, but I wasn’t sleepy. I was absolutely wired. For like, a solid week, I couldn’t slow my brain or my body down. There are scab-covered meth users taking apart old VCRs who are more chilled out than I was. There was CONSTANTLY something I needed or wanted to be doing for the baby, around the house, or for myself. I had to keep consciously telling myself, “you just had surgery” and it still didn’t stop me from cleaning my house.

And the truth is, in the twenty minute intervals when you’re not looking after baby or doing chores, sometimes you just want to have a bath, text a friend or browse Instagram to feel human and connected to the outside world instead of taking a pointlessly short nap. At one point I read a list of postpartum psychosis warnings signs and “feeling no need for sleep” was on there…as you can imagine, that really helped calm me down.

the crying hour. This refers to the hour of day at which I would spontaneously (but predictably) cry – not to crying for a whole hour. Because that would be crazy, obvs. This was quick and dirty…clock strikes 9 pm, bawl for 10 minutes, done. Like actual clockwork. And it wasn’t out of sadness or even frustration (though I did that too at times) this was just a sheer overflowing of emotion that needed to be released through the old eyeball valves. I would just look at Sloane and suddenly couldn’t stand how beautiful she was. The one thought I had over and over was, “nobody deserves something so nice.” It sounds so dumb now, and certainly not very poignant, but it was all I had.

the insatiable hunger. I have never been hungrier in my life than I was in the week after having a baby. Granted, in my case I had gone through something like a 24 hour fast followed by a couple days of barely eating. And breastfeeding makes you ravenous on top of all that. The first few nights we had her at home I was up multiple times in the middle of the night shoving whatever was handy in my mouth. Entire cans of Pringles were consumed in bed. I ate things like chocolate croissants (note the plural) and hot chocolate with whipped cream for breakfast. And I didn’t feel one tiny bit bad for it either.

the other craving. The same hormone that starts your contractions and gets your milk flowing also helps you bond to your baby. That oxytocin is a multitasking motherfucker. It not only helps you feel attached to – and in love with – your baby, but it also creates intense desire for further contact…effectively causing you to become addicted to your baby. I had heard this, but of course didn’t really get it until she was born and I found that I physically craved holding her. I would also smell her – like, really smell her – taking giant whiffs of her head.

I recently read Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” and there’s a part where she says of her two boys, “I swear, if I could eat my children, I would. I’d consume them like some beast in a Hieronymus Bosch painting, but in a friendlier, more momlike way. Their little bodies make me salivate. It takes everything I have not to swallow them whole.”

That about sums it up.

Even when I was near my baby constantly, if she was in her stroller or car seat, after a while I would need to touch and cuddle her body-to-body to satisfy the urge. Doing so felt strikingly similar to the sensation of something like lighting up a cigarette after a long plane ride. One night, when I had gone for an actual nap and left Sloane and Andrew downstairs, I woke up and called down the stairs that I was awake and ready for him to bring her up to me. I went back to the bed, and in the (maybe) 5 whole minutes it took them to come upstairs I lost my mind. What was taking them so long?! I need my baby…Right. Now. By the time they got to me I had tears streaming down my face and could barely choke out, “I just missed you guys so much”. It’s crazy town. Of course, it was also around 9pm ish…

 

Northern route vs. southern route

Given the choice of delivery method, I’d go with the stork every time. But limited to the more barbaric options of squeeze vs. scalpel, the lesser evil is less obvious. I didn’t have a choice, exactly, since my c-section was unplanned – nor do I have a basis for comparison since it was my first rodeo (although it more closely resembled a circus). I’ll do my best anyways to attempt to sort out the pros and cons of a c-section delivery and postpartum recovery.

Risks

Although C-sections are generally considered safe, they do carry additional risks compared with a vaginal birth. It is considered major surgery and requires an incision through the abdomen and uterus to deliver a baby when vaginal birth is considered too dangerous or difficult. The necessity in my case was documented as “failure to progress” because my jerkface cervix didn’t dilate past 7 cm and the baby was engaged in the pelvis (resulting in a disturbing cone-head) but essentially stuck there. Basically, a c-section carries the same risks of any surgery including severe bleeding, scarring, infections, reactions to anesthesia and longer-lasting pain, plus it can increase your chances of requiring a c-section for subsequent deliveries – should you be that kind of a masochist.

Recovery

C-section recovery is said to be longer and more difficult. I don’t know about the “more” part since I’ve never experienced a vaginal delivery, but I can firmly say that I wouldn’t describe my recovery as long or difficult. In fact, I keep saying that I feel like I got off easy. Within a couple hours of delivery I was back in my room and moving slowly but feeling pretty good. I had an extra night’s stay in the hospital along with a few added annoyances (a urinary catheter, continued IV fluids, compression cuffs on my legs, bi-hourly vitals checks).

Pain-wise, I’ve experienced worse. I’d say re-setting a broken bone trumps a c-section and both procedures come with a parting gift of far better narcotics (hello, Oxycodone) than you’d get with a vaginal delivery. That said, I never found I needed to take them every 4 hours as prescribed and after a few days I stopped taking them altogether and started hoarding the last 6 pills for a rainy day (jokes…sorta).

You can’t exercise for a full 6 weeks (not that you’d want to) but I’ve been quite active around the house and started going out for walks right away. Thanks to my trusty Fitbit, I know that since April 28 (3 days after delivery) I have walked no less than 5000 steps per day and have usually been clocking more like 7000-9000. I think that says something for how good I’ve felt. Right from the get-go my vitals have all been great and my incision has been healing perfectly – I barely even notice it’s there. Getting the staples out on day 4 was a cinch and the rest of the sutures will dissolve in 6 weeks.

Lastly, but certainly not leastly – I’d be remiss not to mention my unscathed nether regions. As my mom kept saying, “at least you can sit down!!” or, to put a finer point on it as my friend Bryan did, “hey, at least you didn’t blow out your vagina!!” There is definitely something to be said for this. Every day without tearing or stitches in your crotch is a good day in my books. And I haven’t had to deal with fear of that first post-baby poop or pain/stinging when peeing or bathing. With that, I can only assume it will also be easier to resume, shall we say, recreational activities, when I’m cleared for that.

Hassle 

For me, this would be the area where c-section loses some major points. For starters, you can’t drive for 6 weeks (!), nor can you lift anything heavier than your baby and you’re supposed to limit stair-climbing as much as possible. In other words, this would be a good time to have a chauffeur, maid and bungalow. Thanks to my parents living a block away from me, I have the first two pretty much covered since my mom walks over and drives me around for errands and appointments and has been picking up and dropping off my laundry (2 flights of stairs and a laundry basket would not be do-able for me).

Andrew helped me out by relocating all our shit to the main floor in the morning (bassinet, pump, pillows, diaper bag and a bag of personal stuff for me like my makeup, etc.) so that I can have everything on hand on one level of the house – and then trucking it all back upstairs for the night. Sure, it’s a bit of a fuck-around, but actually quite manageable once we got into the rhythm of it. Since we live close to where he works downtown he was also able to pop in at lunch sometimes to see if there was anything we needed. In this respect, I’m very lucky to have the support and resources that I do and I imagine most people would struggle more with the logistics of these post-operative recovery restrictions than I have.

The head games

I spent a while second-guessing the series of decisions that resulted in the c-section in the first place. Did I need to induce when I did? Did I need the epidural so early and did that stall my labour? Could I have tried harder? The size of the baby, the fact that she was cone-headed from trying so hard to get into the birth canal for so long and the impression my operating OB-GYN gave me afterwards all pointed to the fact that this particular baby was not keen on exiting through the gift shop, and the outcome probably would have been the same no matter what I did or didn’t do. But you wonder. It was a bummer that I was in such a daze immediately after she was born, but it is what it is. I did feel a little bit like I missed out on a part of the whole birthing experience (pushing is sort of key in the whole deal) but really it’s more that I traded one experience for another. Ultimately, there is no easy way to bring a baby into the world and we are very lucky that both she and I have had no complications or issues since leaving the operating room.

She’s perfect. And I’m getting there 😉

 

 

And then came baby

As a big believer in Murphy’s Law, I knew all along that I shouldn’t have bothered writing a birth plan. But it’s what you’re supposed to do, according to the prenatal classes…and with Andrew egging me on too, I finally caved and banged out a simple bullet list. But I put “plan” in quotation marks to make sure the powers that be (both physical and metaphysical) would know that I know how very little control I have over such divine acts of modern medicine and nature.

Nonetheless, by the time we had our baby girl in our arms, the “plan” had become a running joke around the L & D wards of not one, but two hospitals. It all started on a Saturday in a hospital not too far away…

Saturday, April 23

Since I was overdue with no signs of imminent labour, and a cervical sweep hadn’t moved any mountains (or babies) I was scheduled to start induction on this date. This was my choice – as my other option was to schedule an ultrasound to check if baby was thriving (or not) and wait for labour to start spontaneously, provided all was well on the ultrasound. My maternity clinic had no preference on which choice to make, and since they only let you go 10 days over anyways, I thought I may as well schedule induction and hope for labour to kick in naturally before then. I thought that, like her mom, baby might rise to meet a hard deadline.

She didn’t.

So I was 40 weeks and 6 days when I went to the hospital I was assigned to deliver at (FMC) to get a cervical ripening balloon (CRB) inserted around 4 pm. It actually involves the insertion of two saline-filled balloons into your cervix to start the dilation (widening) and effacement (thinning) process required to achieve the 10 cm necessary for vaginal delivery. The CRB insertion sounds kind of awful, but is actually no big deal. No pain; just weird to go home for the evening with two tubes hanging out of your body, taped to your inner thigh. Ideally, you will start having contractions and/or your water will break and/or the balloon will fall out (because the cervix dilates larger than the saline balloons and releases it). Failing all of the above, you phone in at 8 am the next morning to schedule a time to have the CRB removed and begin chemical induction (synthetic oxytocin).

That evening, we ate pizza and cupcakes and watched Netflix. I had some mild, period-type cramps and lower backache–but no real action.

Sunday, April 24

At 8 am we called FMC to report, well, nothing – and they told us to eat breakfast and come on in. By the time we got there, FMC had turned into a zoo of women in active labour. So, after a couple hours of uneventful fetal monitoring, they sent me home and said they expected to have room to accommodate me around 3pm and would call me then – if they didn’t, I was to call them.

At 4 pm they still hadn’t called, so I called them and was asked to come in at 5pm. When I got there they had suddenly gotten crazy busy again and once again couldn’t handle me. Their best suggestion was to call around and try to get me into another hospital (I asked if just getting the CRB out and going home was an option and they said no – it had to come out after 24 hours max and besides, they preferred to keep going with induction once they had started). Two other hospitals had no room for me either. Finally, SHC – a hospital clear across town – called and accepted me.

So I ended up at SHC around 7 pm (tranquil, sparkly new, freaking amazing facilities, a room service menu, 24 hour unlimited friends & family visitation). When they checked me there I was 4 cm and still unaware I was having contractions. Naturally, I assumed things were going to keeping going along swimmingly (ahahahahaha. No.)

When they broke my water there was meconium (baby’s first poop) in it, so they didn’t give me very long to labour on my own (maybe 2 hours? I dunno. Time ceased to exist) before starting the oxytocin drip which – I won’t lie – fucking sucked. My contractions, which noticeably kicked in when my water broke, went from manageable to out of control with barely any breaks, very quickly. I hadn’t wanted an epidural…and I tried the laughing gas…but shortly after midnight I got an epidural (courtesy of one Dr. Cheeseman – I can’t make this shit up) which favored my left side, resulting in a totally dead left leg (dead as in, it fell off the bed and somebody literally had to pick it up for me) and still some pain (like maybe 30%) on my right side. Go figure. Whatever – it was 100% heaven compared to no epidural.

Note: the physician group that works out of SHC always insists on an ultrasound before CRB and/or induction (as opposed to the physician group from my clinic who gave me the option of either booking induction or having the ultrasound and waiting out spontaneous labour,not doing both). So when I was transferred to SHC with no recent ultrasound, they were not happy about that and insisted on continuous fetal monitoring and starting an IV on me. Being all hooked up like that seriously hindered my mobility and ability to cope with the labour – I’ll stop short of saying that I know I could have done it au naturel without the oxytocin…but it certainly felt at the time like that was what broke me. And fast. Well…if 24 hours is fast.

They kept cranking up the oxytocin at what felt to me like insanely frequent intervals and I slooooowly got to 7 cm and that’s where I stalled.

Monday, April 25

At 9 am Monday morning I was at 7 cm and at 3 pm when I was still stuck there we were given the choice to max out the oxytocin drip and give it another 2 to 3 hours before going to a C-section. Or go for the c-section then and there. The OB GYN was comfortable with either course of action, although we both got the impression that she was leaning towards “let’s get this over with”. Se decided to go for it. I didn’t feel like another hour or two would help and I was exhausted. I felt like I’d been in labour for days…and I kind of had.

I wasn’t overly worried about the procedure, although the only thing I remember thinking over and over was “I just want her to be okay”. Luckily, the surgeon distracted me by asking if I had any musical requests and I asked for classic rock, as you do when you’re on fentanyl.

Sloane was born very quickly at 6:05 pm, weighing 8 lbs 2 oz and 19.5 inches. It’s all a blur and all I remember are various unidentifiable people saying that she was a girl after all (we knew this, but I was actually doubting it going into the OR), that she was peeing on me (ha!), and that she had hair. After that, I was so out of it (shaking, puking, super stoned from the fentanyl and epidural top-up) that Andrew had to do the skin to skin contact (literally took off his shirt) and she was given a bottle. But about an hour or two later we were back in our room (suite really, these hospital rooms are all private, huge, big bathroom with a shower and a little curtained off bedroom area for your partner to sleep in and you do labour, delivery and postpartum in the same room…it was so awesome, I keep accidentally calling it our “hotel room”…and everything was fine. Plus I had a fine selection of birth photos courtesy of a nurse who took my phone and documented it from the other side of the curtain.

Literally every single thing I had on my very simple birth plan did not happen the way I wanted it to. I didn’t want continuous fetal monitoring, I wanted to do early labour at home and remain mobile throughout my labour at the hospital, I wanted to be allowed to drink water and clear fluids, I didn’t want an epidural, I wanted to do skin-to-skin and breastfeed right away, I didn’t want to be induced with oxytocin and on and on…I still go back and forth between being fine with this and being unhappy/emotional about some of it. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had opted first for the ultrasound and gone from there so that even if everything else went exactly the same way it did, I would have at least had more information about Sloane’s status in utero and more options (like avoiding the continuous monitoring) at SHC.

Hindsight, right?

But at the end of the day, everything they say is true. Once the baby is there nothing else matters. Except maybe catheters…and IVs that fall out…and 7000 blood pressure checks…

And for the curious, this is the song that was playing when Sloane was born. She coulda done worse.