Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Accidental Natural Childbirth

***THIS POST IS SQUEAMISH-TYPE FRIENDLY! As my beloved JT is a squeamish-type himself, I respectfully kept this post squeam-free. Besides, I don't even want to know all the details of my recent childbirth, so I would never share them with you, Internet Friend. I do use the words "catheter" and "stitches," but see, you've already read them, so you might as well read the rest, right? Right.***

So, when you are a super pregnant lady, you become a lightning rod for birth stories. From September to December of this year, I cannot tell you how many birth stories I heard: from friends, strangers, people in parking lots, my mechanic, a guy stocking eggs at a grocery store at 6 a.m. (I wish I were kidding), church ladies, and on and on. And if they are not telling you a birth story, they are asking you questions about birth--where are you delivering? Are you getting the epidural? How does a water birth work (again...I wish I were kidding)? And if you are like me, you are completely unsure how to extract yourself from these conversations without feeling rude. Nor are you able to just put your hands up to your ears and sing "LA LA LA LA LA!" at the top of your lungs as you waddle away. This is mostly what I wanted to do.

But what I heard most commonly was, "Once the baby is here, you completely forget about the labor." "You won't remember the pain at all," they'd say. And I would smile and think, "Suuuuuuuuure. You go on believing that, friend." But I have to admit, they were right.

Now, I can see where you might think,"Oh, she's just choosing not to talk about how horrible childbirth was because she doesn't want to freak anybody out." But there are two reasons why you are wrong: 1) I am a terrible liar, and if I'm going to write about something, I'm going to write the truth...there is no point in doing otherwise. 2) My birthing experience was rather...exciting, we'll the pain management department. Let me elaborate (don't worry...I am not going to get all gross and nasty birthing story on you).

At 1am, JT and I went to the hospital. I'd been having contractions for a good 7 hours, and they were finally close enough together and strong enough that I figured we should check this thing out. I'm not ashamed to say that on the way, I used some choice words to express how I would feel if this were not the main event. To summarize, I would have been displeased. But, we got there, and the nurses assured me that yep...this was it. By 3:30am, I was hooked up to monitors, and hanging out in the birthing room. At which point, I thought it would be a good idea to let my professors know that I would not be turning in my final coursework on time, to e-mail some friends, etc. I was managing the contractions just fine, in other words.

By about 7 a.m., the doctor suggested we move things along. This was the cue I was looking for to get the epidural. So, the wonderful anesthesiology team ( were 3 people) came in, gave me the epidural, cracked some jokes, made my squeamish-type husband feel comfortable, ensured my legs were numbed by the initial dose of medication, and left. For about an hour or so, I felt fantastic. So fantastic that I was able to take about a 30 minute nap. During labor. This is why the epidural was an incredible idea. Nap. During. Labor. (PS If you are thinking about leaving a comment or a message with your anti-epidural opinion, please know that I respect your thoughts, but am not interested in after-the-fact judgement about my epidural decision. Thankyou.)

So, epidural = good, right? Which is why I was so disappointed when, by 9 a.m., I'm starting to feel not as great. My discomfort was increasing as the contractions strengthened. I chalked this up to being just how labor goes, pushed the button to get an extra little does of the epidural drip, and took some deep breaths. However, by 10 a.m., I'm not feeling that lovely numbling in my legs anymore, and my catheter is starting to feel like a lead pipe. My nurse came in to check on me at 10:30 a.m., and I finally mentioned my discomfort. We talked through a couple of possibilities, and then she walked over to my epidural drip, widened her eyes, and said the words I will never forget: "They forgot to turn the drip on." That's right. They forgot to turn the drip on.

By this point, the contractions are strong enough that I am clinging to the side of my bed through each one. I'm not in agony, but I'm definitely not in a real position to be a super-pleasant conversationalist. Which is when the poor anesthesiology resident comes in, wide-eyed and half-sick. "So, the nurse tells me the drip isn't on?" he asks, terrified. "Ughhhh. No, I don't think UGH so," I respond, trying to be as polite as possible in between grunts. After all, he is the keeper of the drugs. "Um. So, your contractions are pretty strong, then?" I am white-knuckling the railing and breathing while trying to maintain focus on him. "Yep," I manage to spit out. "Are you having one now?" At this point, I allow myself a pause before I answer so as not to yell. "Yep." From there, he proceeds to turn the drip on, but also informs me that I will not be able to get a full dose, as the drip is on a timer. I'll need to wait another 10 minutes to push the button for another boost, and another 10 minutes for another, and another 10 minutes for another. When he leaves, I say to JT, "I hope he didn't think I was being mean, but this is intense."

By the time he left, it was 10:45 a.m. This gave me enough time to push the button once before I got swept away in the contractions and gave birth to Jo at 11:20 a.m. I didn't think at all about the medication during the final stage of labor, but when I noticed I was wincing and jumping as I got a few stitches, I also realized that what I had just done was largely medication-free. Not by choice, but hey, that's how it goes.

I guess I could have been mad. The same resident came in to check up on me the following day in recovery, and I think he thought he'd be getting an earful from me about the mix-up. Instead, I told him thanks for turning the drip on and left it at that.

Because what they said was absolutely true: I completely forget about any discomfort, any pain, any worry or anxiety that was lingering once I was handed my daughter. The doctor could have been breaking my toes one by one, and I wouldn't have cared one bit. She was here. My accidental natural childbirth baby.

THE LESSON: Make sure they turn on the drip.
BACKUP LESSON: Things will be OK no matter what.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My First Born

As you may or may not know, I gave birth to my first child about two weeks ago--a little girl named Jo. And she is precious and perfect and I love everything about her. But this post is not about her. Don't worry. I've got plenty of material already, and I'll get some stories up here soon. But for now, I wanted to talk about my first "daughter" guessed it: my dog Gert.

In 2006, I had landed my first job (with a salary!) out of college, and I thought, "It's time for me to take the next step into adulthood. I will get a dog." Here is a little glimpse into the weird workings of my mind, though: in preparation to get a dog, I didn't research breeds or bone up (heh) on house training  I didn't research rescues or trainers. Instead, I made a spreadsheet. I made a spreadsheet to estimate the cost of having a dog to see if I would actually be able to pay for its food, vet bills, potential boarding costs, etc. A spreadsheet. You can see my nurturing instinct kicking in already. Anyway, I looked for dogs for a month or two, visiting a few at the vet school, a couple of rescues, none of which were a good fit for me. And then, I heard that my aunt had bred a litter of Bichon Frises and that there was one female puppy. When I called, my aunt was so enthusiastic about me taking her that JT and I drove down the next weekend to pick her up. She was my 23rd birthday present to myself.
Gert on the night I brought her home.
She looks like a baby seal.

I named her Gert because my aunt and I called each other Gert, and the name wound up being a perfect fit. She was six weeks old when I brought her home, and she was cute! and snuggly! and cute! SO CUTE!

And then.

I'm not saying Gert was a bad puppy. But Gert was a stubborn puppy and was only six weeks old. You can only do so much in the realm of crate-training at six weeks old. So, suddenly, I had a little poo and pee machine running around my apartment, chewing on everything, keeping me up at night. I bought a puppy book and pored over it, trying to implement everything as best I could. Only none of it seemed to be working. She pooped, she peed, she didn't go to sleep at the right time, she cried all night, she wouldn't eat when I put out food for her, she destroyed everything. And what did I do? I cried. I cried every. single. day. for the first month that I had her. My poor mother fielded  weepy phone calls from me, lamenting my whole life and my whole decision to get a dog. When she would try to console me, I would just wail, "But the book says!" Eventually, and sagely, she told me to throw out the book.

Gert with her valedictorian prize.
And a horrible haircut.
At twelve weeks old, Gert and I enrolled in a training class. The first night, I stayed after with the trainer to talk over some points and involuntarily began to well up. Here I was, sitting on the rubber floor in a converted garage, trying to bribe the cutest puppy in the world with treats and failing miserably. Clearly, the world was going to end. The trainer was so sweet, and gave me some tips to work on at home through the next week. And if there's anything I'm excellent at, you guys, it is homework. And by the end of the 8-week training session, Gert could complete the training exercises faster than any of the other dogs, winning a prize at the end of the class. You have no idea what a proud moment that was for me.

But, not to make things too easy, Gert began to display some warning signs of food allergies. I would come home over lunch hour to walk her and find her bloody from scratching herself. She would develop hives around her eyes and mouth, and I would have to shove liquid Benadryl down her throat. It was frustrating, heart-breaking, and completely exhausting for me. And, of course, within a month, we had her on a food that didn't make her want to die.

When Gert turned a year old, I cannot tell you the sense of pride I had in the fact that I had succeeded in keeping her alive. It sounds silly, I know, but that year was full of all the worry, fear, and love that comes along with caring for another living being. For the first time, I knew I was solely in charge of this little creature, and I wanted to do everything in my power to make her life a good one. And in the process, she became my best friend.

I know it sounds dramatic, but after that first year, I have often told people that because of Gert, I knew I could be a mother someday. In case you weren't aware, I have a bit of a perfectionist streak. What Gert did was to teach me that there is no perfection when you are caring for another creature. There is just getting it done with as much love, patience, and care as you can muster. And what I learned with Gert is that I can muster a lot more of these things than I thought I was capable of.

In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I tried to spend lots of snuggle time with Gert, knowing that my snuggles would mostly be for my new daughter for a while. And I just kept thinking about how glad I am that my daughter will grow up with a friend like Gert. Already, Gert won't leave her alone: she has to follow me into every room I go with Jo. She stands guard while Jo is being fed, laying at my feet until she's done. She immediately looks for Jo first thing in the morning. Jo is Gert's favorite thing.

Gert is not a perfect dog. She still likes to chew shoes, and she barks more than she should. But I'm so grateful that she is my dog. Without her in my life, I honestly think I would be a different person. Without her in my life, I wouldn't have known how to just roll with the insane combination of love and worry that comes with being a parent. And without her in my life, she wouldn't be a part of Jo's life. And that adventure is something I wouldn't trade for the world.

...and now I'd better go give Gert a treat.