Friday, June 15, 2012

4 weeks later thoughts

I didn't think it would be this difficult to write my next blog post....but I have had so many thoughts swirling around in my head and I just couldn't sort them out into a well-organized, readable, titled post. So I just didn't write at all.

My Axton turned 4 weeks old yesterday. He changes everyday. I thought it was time I throw some thoughts together.

I've been thinking a lot about motherhood and femininity, and how they seem a bit contradictory at first. Yes, of course, growing and creating and birthing and feeding a child is the ULTIMATE of womanhood because, obviously, only women can do it. And yes it's beautiful. But there are so many uglies involved in that process, too. So many things that the world wouldn't consider very feminine at all.

Pregnancy makes a woman throw up, swell up, get hairier, grow zits, have heartburn, be cranky, sweat copious amounts, and much more. And then there is the delivery - with grunting and screaming (in my case - and I know many others, so don't deny it), blood, a squishy baby, the placenta, and lots more fluids. And of course, in the weeks following delivery -- there is daily bleeding for weeks on end, the stinkiest armpits I've ever had, sticky breastmilk spewing and dripping all over the place, cheering on my son's farts and burps (though never the dog's), not enough time to shower, and bags under the eyes.

How could motherhood have so many seemingly opposing elements? Such beauty and grace on one side, and such "grossness" on the other side? I've determined that not only are women are a hell of a lot stronger than they get credit for -- and no man will ever, ever completely understand that -- but also, that all of those things must be feminine.

Because all of those things mean women are pushed to the very edge of everything they have within themselves. It means we go until we don't think we could ever go any further, and then somehow, we find this hidden reserve of strength we never knew we had, and we just push on. And I'm not just talking about labor and delivery, though that is obviously a large part of it. I'm also talking about taking care of a newborn. Somehow functioning on dinky amounts of sleep, not screaming alongside your child as he wails in your face and you don't have any clue how to help him, dealing with hormones rapidly diminishing and shifting and completely throwing off your groove.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that labor, delivery, and now parenthood, are the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Probably will ever do. And I never liked reading that on other women's blogs after they had a baby - it scared me too much and I didn't want it to be hard. I wanted it to be natural and easy --- but, aside from loving your child so much you fear your heart is going to burst --- none of it is natural or easy. At least not for me. Those three things have made me question my very being - who I am, what I am capable of, what I can actually accomplish versus what I think I can. These experiences have pushed me past all that I thought possible - and yet here I am, still going. It's a lot to take in in 4 short weeks. And it's not over yet -- It still hurts to poo, it hurts to pee, it hurts to lie on my side or stand on my feet too long, and I'm sick of wearing sticky pads that rub all funny no matter what position I am in. I'm still way too fluffy to fit into any of my clothes, my boobs and nipples have never been so exposed and at times it makes me feel like I'm not even a person anymore, and I cry when I shower, because that's the best time to do it.

It's completely incredible the things God has women go through for their children. And I know He made it this way because not only does sacrificing make us love deeper and truer, but He knows we can handle it. And I think that's the most feminine part of it all: Us women? We can do hard things.

Something else that's been on my mind is breastfeeding. I have always had a weird..."thing" about my breasts. I don't know why, probably because they are small and I'm self-conscious about that? I don't know....I just am kind of scrunchy-nosed about them (scrunch up your nose....that's how I feel about them) (Sidenote: Collette, in answer to your question about being completely exposed during delivery --- it didn't bother me so much that my hoo-ha was all up in their faces, for some reason. I guess I was just so intent on getting Axton out that modesty flew out the window. However, I was embarrassed about having my boobs exposed - go figure). And so I was worried about how I would feel about breastfeeding. In the three days following Axton's birth, I'm pretty sure I was naked about 99% of the time. There was no point in wearing a shirt I would be taking off in an hour, and no point in wearing pants when I was icing my crotch anyway. This is not very typical of me, and even my mom was pretty surprised to see so much of me (not that she cared, she just knew I'm not usually so..."Free"). Anywho.
But lately, it's gotten to the point where I feel like I am always exposed and it just makes me feel like less of a person (like I said above). Sometimes I can't always clip things back together right away and so I'm just hanging out all over the place and I feel absolutely ridiculous. And it gets so sticky and messy and tricky sometimes and it's frustrating! And sometimes I feel like I'm producing too much and sometimes too little and I just want to point to them and say in a scolding voice, "Regulate yourselves already!!!!"
And it's both sweet and terrifying that I am the only one who can feed Axton. That I am completely in charge of his most basic need for food. Sometimes I am so exhausted I just want to cut my breast off and hand it to Adam and say, "Please don't be jealous that he stops crying when I feed him. It has nothing to do with me. You give it a try and you'll see." and then I'd run away real fast and go take a nap.
But I recently discovered how much it really does mean to me to be able to do this for my son. I was talking to my mom the other day about some symptoms I have and she said I should go to the doctor. The next time I took a shower, I started crying thinking that they would have to give me medicine and I wouldn't be able to breastfeed. I was absolutely SHOCKED at the guilt that poured over me thinking that I might have to give him formula for a week or two. I was so hurt that he was going to have to turn to another source, that my body could have the potential to hurt him. I couldn't believe how attached I had gotten to breastfeeding, and how disappointed I felt in myself at the thought of not being able to do it.

And I really hate that I am a perfectionist and that I am so hard on myself. I've read 4 parenting books in the last 4 weeks, trying to figure out the best way to take care of my baby. It's so difficult to have to decide:

Am I going to hold and cuddle and kiss my son to sleep right now? Or let him sleep next to me in bed all night long so I can hear his sweet breathing? Because I know he will only be this small for such a short time?

.....Or am I going to put him down in the bassinet while he is still awake and let him fall asleep on his own so he can develop "healthy life-long sleep habits"?

It literally tears me up inside sometimes, that seemingly simple question. And it's not just with sleep - it's almost every decision I have to make with him. Am I going to give him a pacifier, feed him an hour early, let him sleep, wake him up, how to make him stop crying?????.......and I am so dang paranoid about doing it "right" and it hurts when I don't know how to stop his tears and I wish it were easier and came more naturally or more instinctual, but it's really just a learn as you go kind of thing.

So you see, it is a complete rollercoaster, this motherhood ride. Inside and out, it is hard stuff. But, in case you couldn't tell through my writing, it's hard because I love him so much. Because I want to do it right and make him happy. And I'm going to wrap up this stream of consciousness with a lovely cliche ---

It's hard -- but oh-so worth it.

(and now I'm going to publish this without even reading over it because otherwise I might not ever share this)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Welcoming Axton: Delivery

*As I’ve been writing this, I’ve realized that most of it is not in any sort of chronological order, but rather as the memories come to me. I could start every paragraph with “At some point...” because I just don’t remember. I hope it still reads coherently and still accurately tells how our sweet Axton came into our arms for the first time.

“9 and three quarters. Let’s have a baby.” Joanne’s voice was such sweet relief. I wouldn’t be going to the hospital after all. Of course I was worried about my son, but I’m not sure I was fully understanding things. I just knew what my body was telling me and didn’t feel like I needed to worry about him, other than getting him out. I don’t know if that was a crazy, woman-in-labor thought, or just a loving Heavenly Father allowing me to concentrate on pushing rather than our baby breathing in meconium with his first breath.

Sometime before me beginning to push, Laurel, the nurse who had sat with me on the bed, had to leave. Laurel had been an older, round, motherly-type nurse, and was comforting in that way. The new nurse, Andrea, came into the room with blonde hair, a bright, happy smile, and a big cheery wave.

I was not happy about this change.

But, I would soon come to see, Andrea was exactly who I needed to get through the rest of the night. Not sweet nurse Laurel who held my hand and told me to blow it away, but stare-me-in-the-eye-and-tell-me-I-have-to-do-this Nurse Andrea. Because if labor had been long and exhausting, then pushing was going to be no different.

Things were a flurry of movement and action while Andrea and the two midwives, Susannah and Jessica, prepared the room. There were towels and a shallow, circular dish, and tubes and other instruments. Apparently Andrea had told me that I was going to drink some orange juice now, and Adam had turned to me and said, “Is that ok?” and Andrea said, “I don’t care if it’s ok. She’s going to have some orange juice.” I don’t remember this conversation, but I do remember the orange juice.

I don’t know how the transition happened, but suddenly I was pushing. My back was propped up against the headboard of the bed and my knees were up --- this was exactly what I didn’t want. I had wanted to be out of the hospital so I could birth in whatever position felt right. At one point, I had asked the midwives if I could squat or try a different position, but they told me they needed to have as quick as possible access to the baby so they could suction his lungs immediately. So. I stayed on the bed.

Jessica had her fingers on me, and would press down and say, “Push right here. Push my fingers right out of the way.” I concentrated on the pressure of her fingers and tried to do as she was saying. Susannah had stepped out of the room, and when she came back in Jessica said to her, “She really is a good pusher. Watch.” Then she said to me, “Show Susannah how good of a pusher you are, Meghan.” I don’t know if she meant that or if it was just to encourage me but I did my best to show off to Susannah.

Hypnobirthing had taught me to “breathe the baby down,” rather than doing what they called “Purple Pushing.” This meant I was supposed to just allow for the natural descent of the baby, with gentle, exhalation pushes. Adam tried to remind me of this and to breathe out when I pushed, but the ladies put a stop to that right away. “No, take a quick, deep breath in. Hold it, and push.” They would count to 10 and make me take another quick inhalation and do it again for another 10 seconds. It was just like in the movies: Deep, chin to chest, eyes squeezed shut, counting to 10 pushing. Just what I had wanted to avoid. They wanted me to do this 3 times for every contraction, but sometimes I could only make it to count 6 or 7 before just sinking into exhaustion. Or, by the third push, I’d barely be doing anything. After the contraction I would be panting and just fall back onto the bed, giving everything in each push. Andrea would say, “Slow your breathing way down, way, way down.” And she would give me a drink of water or orange juice through a straw. “Rest in between contractions.”

They soon had me holding the back of my knees to lever myself up and to bear down harder, but eventually even that was not enough. For awhile I felt I like I wasn’t getting anywhere - I couldn’t feel him moving and I was just slowly dying of complete and utter exhaustion. I have no idea how many times I said, “I’m just so tired.” or “I can’t do this.” Then Andrea would look me right in my drowsy, loopy eyes, hard, and say, “Yes, you can. You can do this.” I didn’t believe her, but I pushed like I did. At one point, after saying I couldn’t do it again, Susannah spoke up:

“You have to find your center. You have to find it in you, whatever it is. Find it.”

….I didn’t know how to find it. I had come in with so much confidence, and it had all been blown away with my exhaustion and the fact that everything had gone so differently from what I had been imagining. It wasn’t until I began to feel the burning --- which meant his head was close --- that I found more strength. I loved the pain of that burn. I dove so hard into that burning, it pushed me harder than anything else. It hurt so bad but I loved what it meant. Everyone got so excited when they began to see the head -- Adam’s excitement drove me the farthest. “I can see him!”

But again, this stage lasted quite awhile. Poor little Axton’s head remained barely poking out for a very long time. He had bruising on the back of his skull for a few days after delivery. They had me turn over onto my hands and knees to push for a little bit. The strength this took -- with Axton’s head barely crowned, nonetheless --- to turn over and hold up my own body weight with my noodle arms was completely unreal. I whined. “I don’t know how to push like this! How do I do it?” It was a different kind of pushing -- it felt like I was pushing him back into me rather than farther out. They had me curl my pelvis into a C shape, quickly zapping my hamstrings of anything left in them, too. They brought the birthing ball onto the bed and had me rest my upper body on that, so I didn’t have to hold myself up. I would sink into the ball after every push. I remember turning to Adam....I remember the absolute hopelessness I felt. My eyes pleaded with him, though I knew there was nothing he could do. Adam says it was during pushing that he first started to feel a little bit panicky about the way things were going -- he knew how tired I was.
While I was in this position, the midwives told me to reach down and feel his head. I was surprised at how squishy it felt. Adam says I gave a small “Ah” when I felt him. It was so crazy knowing that was my son’s head.

I was going a bit crazy myself by this point. I wanted to ask them, “Now that his head is out, can’t you just pull him the rest of the way?” I laugh at that thought now, but I sincerely thought they could just help me out a little bit more, but weren’t. They did mention an episiotomy at some point, and right away I just said, “Yes, ok, whatever you need to do.” I was so. so. so. desperate.

They had me turn back over onto my back after awhile. They asked me how long it had been since I’d gone to the bathroom, and I said it had been a long time - the last time I had tried I couldn’t go. I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t know how to use those muscles the right way anymore. They thought that maybe my bladder being full was slowing things down. So, they used a catheter to drain me. Unpleasant, I know, but I do think it helped. They were all very impressed with the amount of fluid in me, and all I could think was, “Adam did a good job of making sure I stayed hydrated.”

Now I knew I really had to step things up a notch. He had to come out of me. I was going to meet my son - it was up to me how soon. Instead of grabbing onto the back of my knees, I began to reach all the way down to my feet, and pull them as far back as I could - almost up by my shoulders. Adam helped lift my back, to move my body into the push so I was completely curled into every push as much as physically possible. I heard the midwives murmur something about “That’s it, the feet. That’s working for her.” I held my feet for every push from then on out. The burning began to increase, and as it did, so did everyone’s excitement. I can’t even describe the relief and drive it gave me to know there was progress. Adam said he could see more of the head, and I was so happy to know I had finally gotten past that point I had been stuck at for so long.

It was as if my body knew Axton’s head was coming before I felt the pain of it, because a true and incredible scream literally bellowed out of me before I knew what was happening. I didn’t think about it and I wouldn’t have known I even did it if I hadn’t heard it. I was startled at myself and almost embarrassed but was too thrilled to know his head was out. The midwives were talking amongst themselves about which way to turn him/ his shoulders. Adam told me later he couldn’t believe how much they were pulling on his head to get him out and to get him to turn his shoulders. I don’t know how many more contractions or pushes it took, but when Axton’s shoulders did come out, so did another unbelievable and involuntary scream - that’s how I knew he was out. Not by anything else but my own scream.

At 8:53pm, after the two most intense hours of my life, he was out.

I did it.

I didn’t care about anything else that came next -- I knew I was far from being “done” --- but after that, I could handle anything.

I would have broken blood vessels in both my eyes for the next two weeks (my left eye is still not completely healed), and swollen, purple bruises all over my face and down my neck. For the first week following delivery I would be unrecognizable as Meghan. Even Adam says I didn’t look like myself.

I remember looking down at my stomach right after he came out and wanting to laugh at how weird it looked. A wrinkled, deflated balloon.

They couldn’t put him on my stomach right away, because they had to suction him out and make sure he hadn’t breathed in any meconium. They told us later that he had lost a tremendous amount of meconium (this meant he didn’t have another bowel movement for the first 3 days and that we never had to deal with the sticky, tar-ry poo in a diaper). The midwives did a good job of cleaning out his mouth and ensuring he was healthy. I couldn’t see him very well down by my feet, so Adam helped lift me up, but still I couldn’t see much more than the tops of his hands and feet in the air. Plus, I was so tired that I had to keep one eye closed the whole time.

“We did it. That’s our baby.”

The midwives commented on how beautiful he was and I swelled with pride. My boy. He was beautiful. They placed him on my belly and I just put my hands on him and looked at him.

I thought seeing my son for the first time would be a sort of recognition, a sense that maybe we had met before and that “Ah yes, I do remember you now that I see you” kind of feeling. It wasn’t like that at all -- and still hasn’t been. That first day and every day since then it’s been, “I never could have imagined that this what you would look like, and that this is what it would feel like to be your mommy.”

After allowing the umbilical cord to cease pulsing, they handed the scissors to Daddy. I watched as he cut the one thing keeping my son and I one complete unit - it was tougher than I was imagining, but he did it in one chop.

I brought Axton to my chest then and we held each other as a family for the first time. It was so incredibly special. 

I knew I still had to birth my placenta, but I wasn’t feeling anymore contractions. Nurse Andrea told me I needed to stimulate my nipples in hopes of bringing on more contractions. She even got friendly with me and did it herself when it wasn’t working for me. A half hour passed --- the placenta should have been out by now. I could tell they were starting to get worried. They told me to try to go to the bathroom, but again, I couldn’t tell what I was doing and nothing came out. So once again they drained me. They also gave me a shot of pitocin (Now? Now they give me pitocin? After I had went all day without it? Sigh....). I think almost an hour and a half went by before my placenta finally detached and came out. There was lots of uncomfortable massaging of my belly, but like I said, I knew I could do anything after getting Axton out.

Next up: Stitches. I had a first degree tear. They told me then that Axton had never decided which way his shoulders wanted to turn, that he had come out with his shoulders square on. “Superman” style, they called it. Birthing a 9 ½ pound baby superman style? Yeah, a girl’s gonna tear a little. They told Adam to take his shirt off and have skin-to-skin contact with him while they stitched me up. They numbed me and told me that if I ever felt pain to tell them. At one point I did feel pain and told them so, but she said she was almost done anyway so I just grinned and bore it. Susannah prided herself in her excellent stitching jobs, saying she always wanted things to look just as they did before coming in. So she showed off her work to the other two and all three of them Oohed and Aahed at my vagina. It was great.

Finally we were given some peace and quiet to just enjoy our baby to ourselves. We dozed on and off for about an hour. By this point it was about 2:30 in the morning, May 18th. Andrea came in to check on us and we told her we were ready to go home now. So she went over a bunch of papers (caring for a newborn, caring for myself, birth certificate, social security, etc), and then we got up and started to dress Axton. We put him in the same shirt Adam went home from the hospital in 26 years earlier. He looked so handsome and I was so clueless I didn’t notice anything unusual, but suddenly Andrea said she wanted to check his blood sugars one more time. When she saw that they were low, she told us that he was having difficulty breathing and was jittery. So she wheeled out an oxygen tank and told us to hold the tube in front of his mouth, cupping our hands around it. She remained calm, and I tried to, too, but the words “Please don’t take my sunshine away....” sang in my mind.

Then, and 4 hours later as I hobbled into the pediatrician’s office, Axton’s little chest was working in overdrive, and he didn’t know how to breathe through his nose very well. He struggled with breastfeeding the entire day, and I was only able to feed him 3 times. He didn’t know how to breathe in through the nose, suck with the mouth, and swallow in the throat. When his pediatrician saw how hard he was working to breathe - and how fast - she sent us to the Emergency Room. My first day with my baby. My first day of recovery. I can’t begin to describe the sick, sick feeling I had in my stomach.

However, when we arrived at the ER, Axton’s breathing had already returned to normal. They kept us there for two hours, just to monitor him, and when everything appeared fine, they sent us home. That night my mom took Axton for awhile so I could sleep. When I woke up, she told me he had had another episode of hard breathing, but that he was doing much better now. If it happened again, we would go back to the hospital - but thankfully we never had to. 

I’ve been asked by several people if I will birth at a birthing center again, and I honestly don’t know the answer to that yet. The only reason I would want to be at a hospital would be for my baby’s sake, not mine. In fact, I feel I’d be sacrificing my personal desires for the safety of my baby to birth at a hospital. But after a few scares with Axton, knowing those things would have been monitored and taken care of in a hospital, I’m more inclined to want to be there. However, I would want to look for a more “liberal” hospital that still allowed me to eat as I pleased, not be hooked up to IV’s, and have a hot tub (if such a place exists!). I’ve also been asked if I will go natural again, and I would like to say yes to this, though it would be harder not to get an epidural if I was at the hospital where they were readily accessible. I am so grateful the birth center didn’t have anything like that so I didn’t even have the option of asking for it.

My friend asked me a few short hours after delivery how it went.

“Unbelievably brutal.” was my answer.

Hours after that, I had dropped the “unbelievably” - it was now just “brutal.”
Now? My answer would be closer to “It was hard, but I did it.”

And I don’t think this shift is just a matter of me “forgetting,” like it’s often described as. It’s also the fact that the more I fall in love with Axton - and each day my love grows exponentially - the more “worth it” labor becomes, and the more beautiful his birth story is to me. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was disappointed in the way things went, and I found myself jealous of others’ “quick” labors and 15 minutes of pushing (Still, 15 minutes? Seriously? Blows. My. Mind. I can barely believe that’s possible!) But now, what I went through to get Axton here - the very much imperfect way things fell - seems like a big, fat, trophy to me. Something I’m not only proud of, but that makes me appreciate Axton’s presence even more. I went through a lot, but look what it brought me! The greatest reward I could ever, ever imagine.