How I'm Using What I've Learned

I know I at least mentioned this before, but in speaking with family and friends this weekend I found myself more clearly stating my plans for birthing a second child.  I will absolutely do things differently next time around, and that means I will stay out of a hospital if at all possible.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against hospitals.  I worked in a hospital and absolutely loved it.  I love the people and their commitment to helping others.  I love that hospitals offer safety and a variety of medical expertise.  There is so much about Jack’s birth that I cherish.

But!  The downsides are many.  The people in the hospital don’t know their patients for the most part.  The number of staff is large, and the shifts do not cover an entire labor.  Some of those members of staff have a horrible bedside manner, and patients are stuck with what they get.  Of the four nurses who attended us during our time in the hospital, two of those four were absolutely horrible.  And unfortunately due to timing, those two horrible nurses had a much greater impact on my birth experience than the great nurses.  I do not want people I don’t know to have that much impact on what is a very personal and unique experience in my life.

Despite my birth plan, despite my doula, despite my OB’s agreement with my wishes, despite my repeated restatement of my wishes, choices were taken away from me in the hospital.  And the reason why those choices were taken away?  Simply for the nurse’s convenience, or due to someone else’s mistakes, and my OB was not there to overrule in my favor.  Being admitted to the hospital meant that others took over and had more control over what was happening than I did; in spite of all previous reassurances that my wishes would be respected.

I didn’t have a horrible birth experience.  I was able to deliver Jack vaginally, without pain medication, and I healed pretty quickly.  My son is healthy, and I am healthy.  My goals were achieved.  But I know if I had simply chosen to give birth at home or at an independent birth center, there would have been a lot less stress, a lot more support and comfort.  I thought that the birthing room looked homey and warm, but I didn’t realize that decor is only one small piece of what makes a person feel comfortable in their environment.

Let me be clear.  I am not the type of person who desires to “experience the miracle of birth” or “realize my strength as a woman” or other such romantic notions.  I am nothing if not practical.  I simply don’t want to hand over my autonomy to a large number of strangers who have done nothing to earn my trust and who have protocol in the forefront of their minds at all times.  Birth is about babies and parents and nature and all working together in a common goal.  I want to be surrounded by those who respect that with words and deeds, and I want the birth to be the priority, not something that is thought of after the institution is taken care of.  I understand why hospitals do what they do, but that doesn’t mean I have to let a hospital and its staff dictate how my child comes into the world.

Next Time Around

I often think about having a second child.  Joe and I talk about it every once in a while.  I was on the fence for a long time but I think we both agree that we will probably have another at some point.  We might try as early as mid-2009, but it will be highly dependent upon our little family dynamic at that time.  Until then, I’ll be rolling this parenting thing around in my mind, analyzing and wondering how things will go with a second child.

In the grand scheme of parenting, birth was not a huge deal for me.  Certainly not as big a deal as I thought it was while pregnant, when it was all I could think about.  Once Jack was here, my labor and his birth faded quickly with the enormity of having a real live person to take care of.  Still, labor and childbirth brought forth a new understanding of my body and my strength as a woman.  It was a big event, an experience that was unique in my life, and looking back it feels as if it was a big test that I feel proud to have passed even if I didn’t get a perfect grade.

I learned a lot in those 39.5 hours, and I have learned even more as I’ve reflected upon everything I went through to get Jack into the world.  I often wonder how things would have gone if events had occured differently.  I read several midwifery blogs and seek out stories of birth at every opportunity.  So obviously while I feel that birth was a relatively small event overall, it was still a very important event that left a lasting impression on my mind.  The events just weren’t as big as the feelings and thoughts that derived from them.

No matter how my opinions of labor and childbirth change, I will carry some satisfaction of Jack’s birth with me.  Not only did I end up with a wonderfully healthy child, but my first birth experience taught me what I will do differently next time:

  • No induction unless there are signs of ill health.  While induction was convenient in some ways, it made for a more difficult birth that was harder on my body.  By the time I was ready to push I didn’t have the energy to position myself optimally.  My tailbone is still not the same.
  • Stay out of the hospital, and birth only with assistants I know and trust.  In the hospital, I had one nurse who that messed up my IV and refused to unhook it between doses of antibiotics because she felt it was too much work to flush it, and another nurse who at one point took over care of my son.  I want to lessen the chance that other people will adversely affect our family’s experience.
  • Use water for pain relief.  The counter-pressure of the shower on my back and belly was amazing pain relief.  Unfortunately, I was not able to use this resource once I was strapped to monitoring devices.

I am really looking forward to another opportunity one day to learn even more about myself and life in general.  What about you?  Would you do anything differently next time?

Kangaroo Care and Babywearing

When I was pregnant and going through the onerous task of registering for baby gear, I asked Joe if he had any special requests.  He had no desire to be part of the gear registry for the most part but, to my astonishment, he did ask for a Baby Bjorn.  I had no idea he even knew what that was!  I added it to the registry and our good friend Sabrina ended up buying it for us.

We also received a Snugli as an off-the-registry gift from a family friend.  We decided that the BB would be Joe’s and the Snugli would be mine; that way, we wouldn’t have to worry about readjusting the straps all the time (as Joe is 8″ taller than me and weighs twice what I do).  This turned out to be a very good decision, as adjusting the Snugli was a major pain in the ass.  There are a million straps, it seems.

Parents of premature or children with low birth weight are often advised to practice kangaroo care (or skin-to-skin contact) as it has been shown to help regulate heart rate, temperature, and breathing.  Kangaroo care has also been known to improve the breastfeeding relationship, infant sleep, weight gain, and overall mood.  Having read about the benefits of kangaroo care prior to giving birth, I made sure to mention it in my birth plan wishes.  When Jack was born blue, with his umbilical cord wrapped around him three times, he was placed naked against my chest while receiving oxygen and quickly regained his color and his breathing recovered.  Joe also practiced skin-to-skin in the hospital when Jack’s body temperature tanked after a bath, and we have used the method at home many times.  Kangaroo care is not just for preemies!

After seeing first hand how kangaroo care can help in caring for newborns, we were even more excited about babywearing.  Since Jack was so big (8 lbs 10 oz) when he was born and had such great head control, he was able to go into the carriers within a week (at which point he weighed 9.5 lbs).  As most people with newborns know, babies like to be held a lot.  I’m sure most parents have numerous photos of their newborns sleeping on their chests.  In Jack’s case, he simply would not stand for sleeping more than 5 minutes anywhere but in our arms.  We tried the swing, the Pack N Play basinette, the bouncer and he would have none of it.  This is one of the reasons we started co-sleeping at night.  During the day, we made good use of the baby carrier.

Joe is a hiker, so in his pre-baby daydreams, he saw himself exploring nature with Jack.  This has worked really well because when everything else fails to soothe Jack to sleep, a nice long walk works almost every single time.

I did a lot of babywearing, as well.  The carriers have enabled me to get out of the house while preventing Jack from having a meltdown.  Additionally, I really enjoy having my boy zonked out while snuggling up to my chest.  Since Jack gained weight so rapidly, though, the Snugli didn’t work well for us – it soon became a huge burden on my shoulders and back (a common complaint with both the Snugli and the Baby Bjorn).  I had heard good things about the Ergo, as it had been touted as being more comfortable and healthier for the developing child’s hips and spine, and I got the chance to try one when I visited Jen in Oregon.  Soon after that trip, my sister asked if there was anything we needed and graciously bought us the Ergo as a gift.  It was an immediately improvement over the Snugli for me, as Jack’s weight was distributed more evenly with the pull being more on the hips, and the stress was removed from my back.  My center of gravity was corrected!  Also, the Ergo has less buckles than the Snugli and there was nothing sitting between Jack and my chest, which meant I could nurse with it on.  Yay!

Joe stuck with the Baby Bjorn until Jack reached 22 lbs. and outgrew it.  Bonus of the Ergo: it lasts until 40 lbs!

Jack’s daycare provider in Humboldt used the Ergo, as well.  Jack has been pretty good at daycare but she said she noticed a huge improvement in fussiness when she started wearing him.  Not only that, but he was always extremely happy to go to daycare and I believe this is because he was getting the closeness that he desired even when the daycare provider had to focus on the other children in her care.

Needless to say, I’m a huge proponent of kangaroo care and babywearing.  I especially love it as a great way for the baby to bond with the non-breastfeeding parent.  I know there are many times when Joe has felt frustration at not being able to calm Jack with breastfeeding as I do, and the baby carrier is a nice substitute.  Plus, when my magical breasts do not do the trick, Joe can strap Jack into the Ergo and take a walk, giving me a little space!

I highly recommend that every parent utilize the benefits of kangaroo care and baby wearning and get a baby carrier.  You may have to try a few different types to see what works for you and your baby.  Some parents prefer slings over a backpack-type carrier, for instance, and there are certainly benefits to having a variety of carriers to choose from in any situation.

My Postpartum Experience

I was writing to my sister-in-law to describe my postpartum experience. I found it difficult to remember, and even harder to describe. I did manage to pull a few tidbits from the murky recesses of my brain, and figured I’d go ahead and share them with the world. Why not? If you feel comfortable doing the same, please comment and add your experiences. I’m sure the information would be helpful to anyone who is preparing for a birth. Of course there are books and websites that will hint at these things but it always seems that books fall short in their descriptions. (Keep in mind – this is not meant to scare, but to give an idea to expectant moms out there so they can plan and prepare for postpartum.)

After labor:

I took a nap almost immediately after Jack was born. When I finally took a shower, I wasn’t able to get in by myself. I needed Joe there to help, and to lean on because I was so exhausted and weak. My stomach hadn’t deflated all the way yet, and I couldn’t see below it but I could feel the incredible swelling (in fact, I could not close my legs because of it). He helped get me cleaned up.

The first day or two, it was difficult to go to the bathroom. Aside from the swelling, my muscles were all overworked and there was a generalized feeling of pain and numbness. I couldn’t isolate the muscles I needed. Luckily the hospital provided me with a water bottle and the spray of cold water triggered my body to do what it needed to do, but it took a good 15-20 minutes that first time. It got easier each time.

During labor I walked a lot, wrapping my arms around Joe’s neck to sway and use him as support during contractions. Afterward, my arms hurt and my muscles felt overextended. I had trouble lifting them, and I couldn’t feed myself. I had to have Joe or the nurses bring Jack to me in the bed, and I didn’t change diapers for days because I simply couldn’t lift my arms high enough.

My chest hurt. I told my midwife that I couldn’t breathe but she didn’t hear anything wrong with my lungs. I figured out later that I could actually breathe really well without the baby pushing on my organs, but my lungs were sore from all of the breathing and moaning I had done during labor. I was unused to working my body that hard, so I didn’t recognize the pain.

After leaving the hospital:

When I got home, Jack was attached to me constantly. All of the breastfeeding manuals told me that a typical feeding lasts 30-45 minutes but Jack nursed for hours straight and didn’t want to be put down. I would have handled it better if I knew it was normal. He would only sleep while being held, and later in the swing. If I had someone to show me how to use a sling, I would have done that (I am still not coordinated with a sling).

The hormonal roller coaster was insane! I had never been bothered by crying before, but I was shocked at the power my son’s cry had over me. His cry made me want to cry, or crawl under the bed to hide. My husband tried to make a joke to lighten the mood when I shared my insecurities about my new role as a mother and I started sobbing, to his surprise. While I was crying, I was fully aware that there was that old part of me that wasn’t bothered at all by what he said – it was the hormonal part that took over and made me cry against my will! It’s pretty comical when I think about it.

I didn’t cook or make myself food at all. My lovely mother-in-law did all of that, plus the laundry and dishes. I sat in my rocking chair with Jack while MIL or Joe brought me drinks and food. I was thirsty constantly, so I had an insulated mug of ice water at all times.

I attended a breastfeeding support group when Jack was a week old. I should have done it sooner, probably before Jack was born…but it helped immensely and definitely contributed to my breastfeeding success. I surely would have quit otherwise because I didn’t know it would get better. (The breastfeeding issues I had will be saved for another post.)

There is nothing like labor and birth to make a person feel dependent.  I was shocked that I, the most independent person I know, had to rely on others to do the simplest tasks for me.  It was strange and unsettling, but I had a new life totally dependent upon me, as well, so I didn’t focus on it too much.

Anyone want to add to this?

Jackie Boy

Finally starting to get moments where I feel like a normal person, so I thought I’d do a little updating.

Birth: Went in Tuesday at 5:30 to receive cervidil. It was an unpleasant night because I had to be hooked up to a million things. I got a whopping 3 hours of sleep, and had to get a second dose of the cervidil in the morning. It took me roughly 30 hours to dilate to 4cm and the baby was extremely active through my contractions, so it made them feel even worse. Jack was still not sure about this birth thing, and he kept launching himself into my ribs, too. Sheesh. Anyway, after that initial 30 hours, and since I was going on only 3 hours of sleep, there were fears I would wear myself out too much to push when the time came. I gave in and got pitocin at around midnight Wednesday. The pit starting working almost immediately and by about 8:30am, I was dilated to 9cm. Getting there was rough, especially because I couldn’t walk far or get in the shower to cope with the pain since they had to continually monitor me and the baby to avoid hyperstimulation. It was definitely the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced and at each stage, I thought that I couldn’t possibly deal with anything more painful. I made it through, though, without meds! Joe was absolutely AMAZING as my labor coach. It was great to have my MIL and doula there as well, but Joe was my rock and I could not have gotten through the whole thing without him. Anyway, they broke my water when I reached 9cm and soon after, I got the urge to push. It took about 40 minutes, but the baby finally made his entrance into the world at 9:38am. His cord was wrapped around him about three times and he was a bit blue, but that was quickly worked out while I was patched up from a small tear. I nursed Jack for the first time and then, finally, slept!

Recovery from birth is harder than I could have imagined. I couldn’t sit up until Friday afternoon and only with a lot of pillows underneath me. I am still having issues, but I am healing. Nursing has been rough and has made me detest breastfeeding. Jack has many episodes of inconsolable crying these days, mostly at night. I am hoping these will get worked out very soon but in the mean time, Joe and I are tearing our hair out.

Anyway, I’ve gotta run and see if I can put an end to another crying episode. Thanks everyone for the well wishes! I will get more pictures up soon, when I am not trying to get a nap or a shower in (still haven’t managed the shower since coming home from the hospital).