Saturday, August 25, 2012

Expressing Myself. And other Lactational Matters.

Warning.  This blog contains information about babies and boobies… that’s right, breast-feeding.  Breast-feeding is not for sissies.  I’m not going to get graphic or anything, but STOP READING NOW if you are prone to being grossed out or think you might never look at me the same again.

All mammals do it.

I learned a little bit about breast-feeding before Penny came into the world through our classes, my own reading, and mostly talking to quite a few other women about their breast-feeding experience.  The take-aways: 

It was hammered home to me that if you can breastfeed, you should.  It’s the best thing for your baby, it’s free, it’s always available, it helps you lose the pregnancy weight, it’s amazing for bonding, yada yada yada… (read the whole spiel at La Leche League’s website.)

I was taught the different “holds” and positions for getting your infant to “latch” using a small doll in birth class.  Classic, crossover, football hold, side-lying, etc.

I read up on how first you produce colostrum, then your milk “comes in” and then your alveoli customize how much milk to produce based on your baby’s consumption.  Smart boobs.

I also learned a little bit about complications like mastitis and thrush and when to call your doctor, etc.

I felt like I had a pretty good feel for how it would be, and there was never any question that as long as everything went as planned, our kid would drink breast milk.

What I didn’t grasp was that breast-feeding would be hard. 

Penny and I were doing pretty well, she latched right away, my milk came in like a champ.  It was a little touch and go, but we were getting it down. 

Then I got clogged milk ducts.  Very painful and alarming.  Thought I must have breast cancer or something. According to the lactation consultant I talked to, I had three good options to clear it out: many fond memories of the
goats on my grandpa's farm...
I needed to heat up my boob with a hot compress or really hot shower, and then either...
1. nurse through it (too painful!),
2. pump it out (didn’t own a pump yet), or
3. “express it by hand” (...guess I had to figure out what this meant).  

Not much later that day as I was exercising option 3, my thoughts turned to a vivid recollection of when I was 6-years-old learning how to milk a goat on my grandpa’s farm in Buckeye.  I’ll say no more about my time “Expressing Myself”, except that this was an experience that I did NOT sign up for when I opted to breast-feed my child, and it consumed me for two days.

A few others things I wasn’t mentally prepared for…

It hurts. First-time moms to be, know this: while you and your baby are still figuring it out, and at different stages throughout baby’s development, breast-feeding can be painful.  Very painful.  Like, wanna-putta-rope-in-your-mouth-so-you-don’t-bite-off-your-own-tongue painful.   It gets better after several weeks, but be prepared, and get some Lansinoh and a good hot compress (I use one like this).

It’s all the time.  New newborns do not come into the world with a feeding schedule.  Especially the teeny tiny ones like Penny.  They need to eat, like, all the time.  Breast-feeding in the beginning may make you feel like your only purpose in life is to make milk all day and all night.   Right after we brought Penny home, for the first couple weeks, we were blessed with many many visitors through our revolving door to welcome our daughter to the world.  As everyone played “pass the baby” it got to where I felt like that only time I actually held my own daughter was when I was nursing her.  “She only likes me for my milk.”  I would think.  OK that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get what I mean.

It’s not a secret.  Everyone knows that when you’re nursing, there is another human being sucking on your nipple.  You can try to be super private about it, but everyone knows, and everyone reacts differently.  The shared experience of nursing unites women all over the world, and women wanna help other women.  It took me a few days to embrace this, as nurses, in-laws, friends, seemingly everyone was up close and personal with my bare breasts.  I felt self-conscious.  Basically, your boobs become fair game; a specimen for any other woman who has ever breast-fed to examine, assess, marvel at or pity, and provide free consultation; and fodder for anyone else nearby to have this thought: “her boob is out.  I can’t see it but I know it’s out”.

It gets on stuff.  The milk drips, sprays, leaks.  Sometimes you can contain it, but sometimes you just can’t.  This to me has been much funnier than inconvenient, but I have yet to be in a social situation where it presents itself as a problem.  Hopefully I’ll have things under control by the time I go back to work!  Little known fact… breast-milk has immunologic and anti-bacterial qualities and can be used for things like eye-infections, skin rashes, chapped lips, even as a contact lens solution.  So if a little gets on you, just rub it into your skin and forget about it!

Penny Jane 4 weeks old, look at those chunky cheeks!
To be clear, I love breast-feeding.

(Even when that means that I am clenching my face in agony, whispering to myself “I love breast-feeding, I love breast-feeding, I love breast-feeding…..”)

I have told my husband so many times, “I wish I could Instagram this” when Penny is nursing.  But even if it were appropriate to post close-up photos of my child and my bosom, even Instagram couldn’t capture the enchantment of breast-feeding. (follow: juliejanuary)

When Penny is nursing, she is as physically close to my heart, my breath, my warmth, as she could ever be, drawing in all her nourishment from me one sweet suckle at a time.  I love that.  She makes the cutest noises, takes the most precious breaths, gazes blissfully up at me in a way that makes me melt.  She is her most vulnerable, sweetest self when she is nursing.  And no one else gets to share that with her, just me.  It is so incredibly special.

I know some women never experience the magic of nursing a newborn.  I feel so blessed that I get to do this.  It’s so worth all the awkwardness and pain and rough-patches.

Words to Live By

At our first pediatrician appointment, I was so excited to show the doc my diligent records about how much and how often Penny had been breast-feeding.  To my dismay, our pediatrician grinned and said to me: 

This stuff is more for you than me [referring to my data]. 
Breast-feeding is working if Mom is smiling, and Baby is getting fat.”   

These words have put me at ease in times of anxiety about feeding my daughter. 

Ask For Help

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding or ever thinking about being pregnant or breastfeeding in the near or distant future… I leave you with the best piece of advice anyone ever gave me: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  

Almost every hospital will have a lactation consultant and there are 24/7 hotlines provided by the government and by organizations such as La Leche League.  Ask your mom, ask a neighbor who has kids, ask me, ask your doctor or pediatrician.  I would be a nervous wreck if I didn’t ask for help.   

This blog is dedicated to all those who have helped me and my boobs fatten up my daughter.  And to my mom for breast-feeding me 28 years ago!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Victories and Milestones

Little Victories

Since we left the hospital, our first week and a half as parents has been a series of little milestones and victories. 

1. The most emotional victory for me was being able to lay down all the way flat.  This may seem small, but this milestone in my recovery from surgery meant I was able to leave the chaise lounge in the living room and rejoin my husband in our cozy bed.   There was something about sleeping all by myself in the hospital bed and out on the couch that made me feel like a part of me was missing.  I cried (a ridiculous amount) tears of joy the night Penny and I joined Dan and the dogs in the master bedroom of our home.

2. In the first few days of her life, Penny lost a normal amount of weight and got down to 4 lbs 15 oz.  After that it was time to get serious about putting some fat on her, and time for me to “feed, feed, feed!” (to quote our pediatrician).  And feed I did, and eat she did.   Another huge victory came at our pediatrician’s office when Penny was 11 days old and she weighed in at a strong 5 lbs 8 oz… just above her birth weight.

3. Dan’s favorite little milestone was Penny Jane’s first ray of morning sunshine which she shared with him on our porch when she was 5 days old.

Honorable mentions in the milestones category: Penny’s umbilical cord fell off, she went on her first stroller ride, had her first (and second) manicure, took her first bath at home, and visited the homes of both sets of Arizona Grandparents.

The Profundity of Having a Child

Having children is something most girls dream about and practice for their whole life.  I know I did.  Playing “house” as a kid and then M.A.S.H. as a tween.  Even when my little sister was born (I was ten) I wanted to help with everything and hold her and play with her as much as possible.  

Motherhood has been calling me for as long as I can remember.  I couldn’t wait to have kids.  I even think one of my college entrance essays was about having children.  My hypothetical children had hypothetical names and faces and futures… Not in a creepy way.  It was just that the certainty that someday I would be a mom was always present in the back of my mind. 

Now I have a child… and it’s nothing that I could have ever prepared for or dreamed up in some hypothetical fantasy. 

I suppose the same goes for getting married.  When Daniel and I were newlyweds, I remember thinking how profoundly different “getting married” was than I always thought it would be.   As girls and young women, I think a lot of us spend an unfortunate amount of time preoccupied with boys / the search for a husband, like we are actually going to “find” him.  I know I myself wasted a lot of years fixated on being with “the one” (until I stopped searching, and my husband found mebut that’s another story).  

But there’s no way to know what being in a marriage, or being pregnant, or being a mom will feel like until you’re doing it.   We romanticize marriage and parenthood throughout our younger ages, without a clue that it’ll be NOTHING like the futuristic highlight reel running through our brain… that it’ll be so much BETTER.

Speaking of Milestones

Maybe all this goes for all the big milestones in life.  We romanticize some, we dread others, but they all come.   I have been reflecting on this a lot this week as I watch my tiny baby grow and change a little bit every day, while also following Facebook posts of family of friends’ children going to their first days of kindergarten, high school, leaving for college, getting married, having babies... 

I cannot quite wrap my arms around the concept that our little monkey will some day do all of these things too.  But I can get pretty close, as my family faced another huge milestone this month (other than Penny’s birth!)

Saying 'Bye For Now' to Aunt Leslie
My baby sister left for college today. 

We said goodbye last night at my folks’ house, which also marked our first dinner outing as a little family-of-five (yep, dogs came too).  Then this morning my mom and dad drove her away from their house with a packed Ford Expedition, en route to Tucson.

Even as I type the words… my baby sister left for college today… it still doesn’t feel real.   As I said before, I was 10-years-old when Leslie was born.  I remember her first day of kindergarten, teaching her how to shave her legs, her maid of honor speech at my wedding, how excited she was when I told her I was pregnant.   And so much in between.

I am so incredibly proud of my sister, and I am so excited for my her, but I already miss her terribly and I can’t believe she doesn’t live twenty minutes away from us anymore.  It’s been a very emotional day for me.   I’ve been trying to keep it together and not steal the moment from my parents who are entitled to shed more tears than me… I will have my day to sob about MY baby going off to college in eighteen years!    

And such are the milestones of life.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Arrival of Penelope Jane

Yep.  We had a baby.  Here's our story...

Status Quo for a Third Trimester Summer Day

Thursday morning  [July 26] marked 37 weeks of my pregnancy.  I woke up feeling a little “off” with a scratchy throat and a headache.  I had been having pretty uncomfortable Braxton Hicks cramps on and off throughout the night, so was also very tired.   I decided to stay home that day.

As Dan was leaving for work, he could tell I wasn’t feeling well and even asked if I needed him to stay home with me, but I assured him that I could work from home a little as necessary and that I would be fine.  I did get some work done, but couldn’t pull off a full day at the computer, and ended up spending most of my day on the couch either on the phone, sleeping or watching archived episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix.   We bailed on our plans for that night.  I didn’t even get dressed that day.

Friday morning  [July 27] was about the same as the day before, but the Braxton Hicks (BH) were slightly more frequent and were pretty intense.  I was nauseous too.  I thought I was coming down with something.  I thought I might have a stomach bug.  But I also thought “this could just be normal, I mean I AM 37 weeks pregnant and it IS really hot outside…”

I was also very emotional.  I took a bath in the afternoon and burst into tears when I realized that my giant pregnant body could not fully submerge in our tiny (read: normal-sized) bathtub.    The water offered me no relief from my stomach cramps, which at this point in time were coming randomly probably about every 10-40 minutes.  I called Dan from the bathtub to tell him all about it but could barely get words out.  Then I spent about twenty minutes just petting our dogs, who stayed by my side all day long sensing that something was wrong.

It was a very rough day, but never once did I think that I could be in labor.

Opening Ceremonies

Dan got home from work around 4:30pm, and just having him home with me made me feel a million times better.  We had been looking forward to going to The Lang Gang’s house for ‘Pizza Friday’ and to watch the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies.  We decided that a change of scenery would be good for me and headed on over there around 5:30pm.  

I settled in to a comfortable corner of the Langs’ big red couch.  Whenever I would have a stomach cramp, I would just close my eyes and practice the mental relaxation and breathing we learned in our Bradley Method classes.  Dan sat next to me and held me and stroked my arms and employed a very quiet, discreet version of the coaching methods he learned in our Bradley classes to get me through the “cramps”. 

About when Bradley Wiggins rang the bell in Olympic Stadium, I whispered to Dan “You know, my cramps are coming a lot more frequently than they were earlier today, maybe you should use that Labor App to start timing them, JUST IN CASE they are actually contractions. He reluctantly obliged.  

The "cramps" were averaging about 7 to 8 minutes apart but were not entirely regular.  In between them, I enjoyed chatting with our family and watching the Opening Ceremonies.  Little did I know my cervix was having an opening ceremony of its own (a little birth humor…)

Over the next four hours, I labored and Daniel timed my contractions on his iPhone, right there on the Langs’ couch.  I was very concerned about being inconspicuous in the presence of all my in-laws.  I didn’t want to incite any questions about my present condition, but in hindsight they could all totally tell something was going on. 

I was starting to think that maybe I was in labor, but this seemed so unlikely.  On the walk home, I decided I wanted to call our doula for a second opinion.  When I was unable to reach her, I took that as a sign that I wasn’t in labor.   Just really intense Braxton Hicks.  I had read stories about women going into “false labor” multiple times before being in real labor, so I figured this was a really intense case of false labor.  We walked home around 10pm, when my “cramps” were about 5 to 5 ½  minutes apart.   Then we went straight to bed.


I couldn’t sleep.

My mind wasn’t racing, I wasn’t excited, I was committed to getting some rest.  But my contractions were just incessantly waking me up every five minutes.  Dan tried to be a trooper and continue to time them and coach me through them, but he kept dozing off so I started timing them myself.  It was hopeless.  I couldn’t function… half exhaustion, half pain, half confusion, half frustration.   Or something like that.

We learned in our Bradley classes that if you change activities during your contractions, (i.e. going from laying down to moving around, or vice versa) the contractions will go away if they are just BH, but in real labor they will stay on pace regardless of your activity.  At midnight, I asked Daniel to get out of bed and walk around the entire house with me.  We walked in circles around the kitchen, then downstairs and all through our newly painted basement.  Luna and Apollo were so confused.

Two confused pups in the middle of the night.
It was during this time that all those Labor Rehearsals we did in class really paid off.  Daniel knew exactly how to talk me through each contraction, I knew what positions to find and how to breathe whenever one would come along, no matter where I was in the house.

Contractions didn’t go away.  Now I was more and more convinced that this was it.   I ate half a banana and a yogurt, and we went back to bed.

At 2am, Daniel suggested that I take a shower to see if it made me feel better, and to afford him a solid chunk of sleep (if I really was in labor, he was going to need some rest on the front end to be able to make it for the long haul).  The shower helped lessen the intensity of the contractions but did not reduce their frequency.  I counted 14 contractions during my 45 minute shower.  Dan got a solid hour of sleep.

I got back in bed between 3am and 4am, dozed off some, and timed some more contractions.  There was definitely a pattern and they were getting closer together --  There was no denying that fact.   BUT… for the most part, we STILL thought this was false labor because I was so early.  We weren’t ready.   We still had three weeks.  Every single person in our families had been born on-time or late.  I had no medical indication of being at risk for anything that was to come.

Fire Drill

At about 4:30am we decided that since my contractions were 3-4 minutes apart, I should probably go on in to the hospital to get checked.  We turned on the light in our room, threw random last minute things into our respective “Go” bags, filled up the dogs’ water, putzed around with some other things, and were ready to depart.  Daniel had the genius idea to quickly load and start the dishwasher right before we left, so no matter how long we were gone, we wouldn't come home to a smelly kitchen.

I will never forget saying goodbye to Luna and Apollo at 4:41am.  I caught a fleeting glimpse of the real possibility that next time we saw them, there was a teensie weensie chance we would have a baby with us, and life as they knew it would be over.   But that quickly went away as we got in the 4Runner to head to Mercy Gilbert.

Most bi-polar car ride of my life. 

ER waiting room.
The 3 contractions I had during those 9 minutes were the WORST (uncomfortable seat, bumpy turns, ughhck, awful).   But still, in between contractions, I was doing totally great… mentally sound, cracking jokes, like “dude, what if we have a baby today? Wouldn’t that be crazy?”

Daniel called my doctor and quickly filled him in on the pattern of my contractions and our arrival at the hospital, said that there was a chance we’d need him in a few hours.   Doc affirmed our decision and said he would wait to hear if I was in active labor.

The process to check in at the ER was painless and quick and before I knew it, I was in a wheelchair being pushed by a nurse to the third floor for OB triage.  Dan walked next to us carrying two big duffle bags and a diaper bag.  Super Husband. 

This was all just a fire drill to us.  We knew we were doing the right thing going by-the-books and coming in to the hospital, but we were thinking they would check me, send me home and we’d have a baby in three weeks.   So of course, we didn't call anyone.

Dose of Reality.

The exam that revealed that I was 4 centimeters dilated and 80% effaced was the most physically painful moment of my pregnancy and labor.   Being "checked" was worse than any contraction I had.   

But a real scare came after that when they put the fetal heart rate monitor on my belly.  Baby’s heart rate was great… until I had a contraction and it plummeted to 60 bpm (which means not enough oxygen to the brain).  The nurse, alarmed, told me I needed to roll onto my other side, maybe there was something going on with the umbilical cord, regardless, baby “wasn’t happy” in that position. 

Next contraction… same thing.   Dan and I didn’t immediately appreciate the severity of the low heart rate, so when the nurse told me I needed an IV with fluids and to be hooked up to oxygen, we were like, nahhhhh if hydration is the issue, I’ll just drink a bunch of water thank you very much.   The next thing I remember was the nurse telling me that my doctor was on his way in and that they were going to go ahead and admit me to the hospital.  I told Daniel, “I guess we are going to have a baby today.

I guess so!

All My Nightmares at Once.

I don’t remember many of the details of the next twenty minutes of my labor, but I do know that my doctor arrived at the hospital in what seemed like 2 minutes.  I was so relieved to see him and not some on-call doctor who I didn’t know.  MY doctor who knows me and Dan and our birth plan and our wishes for a natural experience, a friendly face who I trusted with mine and my baby’s life. 

Contractions were stronger.  Beeping noises.  Oxygen mask on my face.  Stuff wrapped around my belly.  Another vaginal exam.  Yep, just four centimeters.  Contraction.  Four hustling nurses.  Uber tight blood pressure cuff.   Dan holding my hand.  I was in a scene in an Aronofsky film.  Contraction. Bright lights.  They were waiting to see if baby’s heart rate was getting any better, but with every contraction, it plunged into a range that no one in the room was comfortable with.  Contraction.  Reassuring smiling faces masking concern and information they didn’t want to burden me with yet.  Contraction.  Blood pressure cuff.  Contraction. Dan stroking my head. Contraction.

Then it came down to this.  “Julie, I need to do an emergency C section.  Baby needs to come out now.”

Supplemental Birth Plan (the one in the sealed envelope)

Had we not taken the classes we took, learned the things we learned, and already had so much dialogue with my doctor as we developed our birth plan, I might have questioned him or even protested when he said a C Section was necessary.   My whole pregnancy we were planning for an intervention-free birth… but we also were prepared for anything else that might come our way.  This was in the latter category.  If our baby was under this much distress when I was having contractions at only 4 centimeters, there was a huge likelihood she wouldn’t make it through the rest of labor, let alone a vaginal delivery.

“…Baby needs to come out now” was followed by words words words I can’t remember.  Between tears and contractions I just told doc “I trust you” and asked him to pray over me. 

Before my husband and I had to separate for a little while, I told him to call my mom and his sister and tell them to come, and to call Justin to ask him to commence the dog sitting activities.   No one even knew I was in labor.

Before I knew it, not even an hour from when we had arrived at the hospital, I was on my way to the operating room.

This Can’t Be Real Life

That surgery was the worst experience of my life.  Yes, you can feel it.  Words cannot describe the physical discomfort of being awake while your organs are being jostled around by people in a big hurry to cut out a small watermelon, all while fearing that your baby has brain damage… or worse.  

I had to go deeper into a place of mental toughness and trusting God than I ever thought possible.  I will spare you all the play-by-play, but I will say that I feel like I had to employ the same level of mental relaxation and pain management tools during my C section as I would have if I had gone through Transition and Phase 2 of a natural birth.   It was awful.
Baby Girl born 6:31am

I remember hearing her cry.   That was at 6:31am.

I remember being able to discern from the chatter in the room that she was turning pink quickly, and feeling relieved.  I think they brought her around the curtain and showed her to me before going to clean her up but I was so out of it that I don’t really remember what she looked like.  I know Daniel was right there by my face holding my hand telling me how great I was doing.  At one point I guess I told him to stop talking and those in the room thought it was funny, but I don’t recall saying that.  I wasn’t sure if she was a girl, I feel like I kept desperately asking “Is it a girl? Is it a girl?” repeatedly but no one answered me.  Daniel insists that he kept answering me “Yes, it’s a girl!” but I must not have heard him. 
Daddy, Baby and Visitors

Our little girl scored a 9 on her first Apgar and weighed in at a tiny 5 pounds 7 ounces.   Not quite early enough to be considered a “preemie” but certainly small enough and fragile enough.  I had to stay on the operating table for what felt like an eternity to be closed up, but Daniel was able to go with her to bathe and wave at Grammie and Gramps and Nana and Auntie Christina from the other side of the wall. 

Road to Recovery

In the post-op room, I had a very nice nurse who talked me through my disorientation and calmed the frenzy in my heart as she tended to my medical needs.  Coming off the epidural, my toes were starting to wake up but I still couldn’t feel anything above my knees.  I couldn’t wait to hold my little miracle.  I still wasn’t sure I had confirmation if it was a boy or a girl, despite being told multiple times that she was indeed a girl (which we have known since March of this year, I was just THAT disoriented).  I wanted to see her.

A few minutes later, my husband was able to bring my tiny daughter to me and we had our first moments as a family.  Our naked daughter lay on my bare chest and started to nurse.  Above my waning anesthesia, physical discomfort and the shock of it all… in this moment all I felt was love.  

Everything was going to be ok.

And it has been.

Over the next four days, by the grace of God and with the help of an amazing nursing staff, I began to recover from surgery and Penny Jane proved to be one resilient little kid. 

We had a quick run-in with Penny’s blood sugar (for those of you familiar with these sorts of things, it was fluctuating between 23 and 40 initially) but she normalized to healthy glucose levels after 24 hours.   The remainder of our hospital stay was more about me healing, our baby is tiny but healthy as could be.

We were discharged on Tuesday to be reunited with our home and our dogs and start our life as a new little family.

Going home on Tuesday afternoon, July 31st.

Soaking it All In

At least once a day for the last five days, Dan and I look at each other and marvel at the fact that our baby is here.  

My due date was smack dab in the middle of August, so NEVER did we think she would be born in any other month besides August.  We even purchased an August Birth Stone piece of jewelry back in May.

Given our size and family history, NEVER did we think she would be any smaller than 8 pounds.  In our house, with all the things we received as gifts or bought ourselves, we did not have a single article of clothing or diaper small enough to fit her.  We were preparing for a 10-pound baby.  I had felt like I was pregnant with a 10-pound baby…

NEVER did we think when we left for the hospital that morning that our daughter would be out of my womb within an hour and a half.  Never did I think I wouldn’t give birth to her in a natural way.   Never did Dan think he would have to change all the poopy diapers for the first three days because his wife would be recovering from major abdominal surgery.

…NEVER could we have imagined how precious and perfect she would be and how much we could love her.

I guess this little exercise of not being in control was a good kick-start to parenting.  You can prepare but not always predict.  We have no regrets about any decision that we made at any point throughout my pregnancy.

Penelope Jane Griffin
Born July 28, 2012
5 lbs 7 oz
18 inches long
We will never know why I went into labor so early, why she wanted out so soon.  We also will never know exactly what was causing her heart rate to drop to such a low rate when my uterus was contracting, although the speculation is that perhaps there was a kink in the umbilical cord or a problem with nutrients coming through the placenta (which would have been an ongoing issue in my pregnancy, causing her to be SO small, even for 37 weeks).  We will never know what would have happened if we hadn’t gone to the hospital when we did, or if we had gone to the hospital sooner. 

We will just never know.

So we just don’t think about it.

We think about our beautiful baby girl and how delighted we are to have her here. We think about how thankful we are for our health, our families and supportive friends, and skilled medical professionals.  We think about all the fun milestones we have to look forward to. 

More to come from Mommy Griffin.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...