Sunday, April 12, 2009

After Birth; Weeks One and Two of Life


“A novella recounting the birth of my daughter, and other adventures”
In a broken, abbreviated style written Thirteen days A.B. (After Birth)
(A.K.A. my faculties have yet to return completely and it’s hard to concentrate)

It begins, Sunday March 29th, 2009
It was early yet, before the world broke open and let the light back in, when the sky can seep into your eyes and give you a headache if you’re up too early. 4:20 am is too early, but there it was, 4:20 am, and my wife was awake, talking to me.

Amanda was in the doorway telling me her water broke. For a second I was angry, thinking, “why are you waking me up?” I’m not a grumpy morning type of guy, BUT there is always a seconds-long window where I seethe with hatred for other beings that make sounds from their wet mouth holes at 4:20am.

I didn’t actually say anything to my wife as she stood there, her right side lit by the light from the bathroom, I didn’t want to say anything mean, so I just got up and went to the bathroom, leaving her alone with her broken water (how does one break water anyway? Can it be repaired? Can you put a splint on water then tell it to walk it off?)

I think I was struggling to process what she had just told me. It’s not a new thing for me, this ‘women going into labor inspiring general malaise or apparent lack of interest.’ I can remember vividly my step-dad coming into my brother and I’s room to let us know that it was ‘time’ for my baby sister to be coming, time to go to the hospital. I just turned my head back to the pillow, looking for a fresh cool spot to rest my face on, smirking, “oh, what a kidder that guy is.” This was a little like that.

I came back out and the wife looked at me, a little disappointment collecting at the sides of her mouth, “It’s babytime honey!” This was our pre-determined turn of phrase designed to help keep our energy and enthusiasm up and our fear at bay. Once again, I was a little slow, “uh, yeah, ahem, what…baby, babytime! Yay!”

Once I got a hold of my senses, I was packing video camera, baby bag, over night bags, and car seat as my wife dialed our OB. Of course, he was not available, and his on-call replacement told us, in a sing-songy voice, “Okaaaay, go to the hospital.” We did.

Driving to the hospital in the dark, the streets mostly empty, quiet with baited breath for the morning to come. Our parents had been in town in the hopes that just such a thing would happen. With the baby almost a week late, they were all waiting on pins and needles, and had driven up to hang out with us, and hey, on the off-chance that the baby happened to come, they’d already be up here. The wife texted and/or called and we were off!

We had to enter thru the Emergency Entrance, but I had forgotten that so we had to go to the front to be told to go to the back (way to go new Dad).

In the emergency, there were so many people in pain, waiting for help, heads in hands, the oppressive fluorescent lights bathing them in a discomforting glow. We were let in quickly, and the Wife got her ‘baby limo’ (a wheel chair). We were shown to our own room, comfy-looking, furnished by IKEA.

There were nurses coming in and out and the Doctor was on her way. They started the Wife on a labor-inducing drug (Pitocin), something we didn’t want to do BUT since her water had broken, we were told that there was a limited window for baby in there now that she was considered a ‘dry birth;’ anymore than 18-24 hours and the little one and Mom could be in trouble. The wife was also not dilated even 1cm. The show had to get on the road. At the very least, it was comforting to know that her water broke at home, it was Baby who started this off for us, she had told us she was ready, we were gonna take the baton and run with it.

I shot footage with the camera, the Wife giving a play by play. The Wife thought music would be a good idea, to help distract her from the contractions. For a while, we were singing Beatles songs through her contractions. In-laws came to visit, sharing their love, support and enthusiasm. Fresh baby-lust in the eyes of a new grandparent can be a bit like staring into the abyss, only with more presents.

I was trying to eat where I could, as I had been instructed (snacks, bagels from the parents, water, etc.) but didn’t like eating in front of the wife (since she could only have ice chips, later dubbed “In N Out” or “steak” by a very hungry pregnant woman) and I was getting weaker and more tired every hour.

Then the real contractions began. Somewhere between 8p and midnight, they got so bad that the Wife just couldn’t take it anymore. On the monitors I could see the strong steady heartbeat of the baby, and then beneath that the frequency and duration of the Wife’s contractions. They were swelling larger and getting closer together. And they hurt. Baby was coming. It was Epidural time.

This was a real boon for the Wife (of course) and me too. Her pain subsided almost completely, and her relief was a tremendous relief for me, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. The pain that I couldn’t help her with would be abated, at least temporarily.

At 3cm, this was earlier than the Wife has wanted, but she had been a real trooper, and the Epidural meant she could sleep and rest-up for the long haul to come.

Sleeping arrangements for Dad at hospitals is like a kick in the crotch, just less comfortable. It was nice that there was a bed/chair/sleeper at all, of course, but it didn’t mean that it was comfortable. The next 12 hours were just uncomfortable, passing the time, me trying to eat (and not breathe my food-eating breath in the Wife’s face.)

As we got closer and closer to the 24 hr mark (where the baby’s been in there ‘dry’ for too long) we prepped for the real party to begin. This was when my strength really started to give out. Eating and maintaining my energy had been so hard, while the Wife had been able to really sleep and rest. She’d need it for what was coming.

Around this time, we passed the need for a Cesarean and progressed into the safe natural birth zone; Doctor and nurse gave the Wife the go ahead to proceed into the journey of natural childbirth, baby was doing fine and Mom was dilating well enough.

The nurse was coming in every hour on the hour and had called the doctor and the Wife’s epidural was running out. At 8am, I could see a bit of my child’s scalp, and it was time to push. And push she did, for the next THREE HOURS.

(What I didn’t know was that when I had told my in-laws “I saw the head,” they heard “crowning” and when I disappeared for the next three hours, they had feared the worst, and proceeded to pace the halls, with no information, nurses denying them updates. It was a nightmare for them. Next time, I’ll be choosing my words more carefully)

When someone says, “you’re a pussy,” they’re implying weakness or cowardice. I’ve since come to believe that to be a real misnomer. Apparently, there’s nothing stronger.

I’m just going to come out and say it; all men are just little boys compared to the feat of strength I was witness to. I was there, at her side, one hand on the back of her head, helping push her chin to her chest, the other hand on her foot or her thigh, pulling back and wide. She would push three times in a row, the nurse counting to ten through each, riding the pain of the contraction; they were fast and furious at times. I’d get her ice and/or water in between each. The stronger the contractions got, the more the wife could feel them as the epidural ran out completely.

Time moved quickly for us in the delivery room. Outside though, our poor parents were a mess. With no updates from us (we were busy) they feared the worst. It was hard on them, worrying through the full three hours.

The problem was the baby’s head; it was on the larger side (like her father’s had been when he was born), the same circumference as her chest actually. When the time came, the wife needed an episiotomy to allow the baby’s head through, then, all of a sudden…

After nine months, one week and over thirty hours of labor, my daughter was suddenly here. At 11:11am Monday March 30th, 2009, the doctor laid our baby girl on her mother’s chest and there she was. We were living that perfect moment.

The baby was so warm and cleaner than I thought she would be. Raisin-y but not too pissed off; she wasn’t even crying. She was so big, and slightly gray. So much bigger than I thought she’d be. Certainly bigger than the wife thought she’d be. She was 8lbs 5 oz., 21 inches long; a really good-sized sized baby. Big.

Suddenly, the baby was being cleaned, her pipes cleared of fluid in the incubator on my right, with my wife on my left having things pulled out of her and being stitched up. There was blood.

I was standing between my two girls, my world, looking back and forth between them, cooing at my baby, apologizing for my b.o., and squeezing my wife’s hand, encouraging both of them, so proud of both of them. Relieved. Joyous. Excited.

Parents and in-laws caught their first sight of her in the nursery an hour or so later, weeping through the glass at their little granddaughter/niece. It was magical, and hilarious. We just stared and stared, watching “Baby TV” as my cousin had put it.

The next few hours/days were full of tests, baby’s first bathy (not her fave), first diapers, more tests and very little sleeping (but both Mom and Dad got real food and that was plenty). We tired breast feeding with little to some luck, got some help, but then had to switch to formula to prevent dehydration.

There was some concern with jaundice and her inability to maintain her core temperature. There are no harder blows to a new parent’s confidence than your child being taken away because you can’t keep her warm enough.

With some family nearby, the Wife let me go home and shower, then I rushed back and she had hers. It was invigorating. Water is good.

On top of the jaundice and core temp. issues, apparently she hadn’t peed yet. By Tuesday night, we were praying for pee. Hearing that our infant might need to have a catheter put in on the night before we’re supposed to take her home hit us hard. Hardest yet.

She cried. I cried; it was hard to take care of my girls in the hospital, hard in that place to be comfortable. I wanted to take my girls home, and now there was the chance that I wouldn’t be able to, or worse, that there’s something really wrong with our little one. By the time the WONDERFUL nurse came in to wheel our baby away for her catheter, we had decided that maybe all she needed was a little prompting and she would be fine. Surprise, surprise, my baby rules! She pees using the catheter and OVER the catheter. Good job baby.

Suddenly, it’s a windfall. Her core temperature is up, and the threat of jaundice has evaporated. I’m taking my girls home.

A quick word about nurses before moving on:

In our few days in the hospital, we found that your nurse is either GREAT or SUCKS. There is no in between. It was always a bit of a crapshoot to see what flavor we were gonna get from one 12 hour shift to the next. We had some great ones, and we had some sucks.


Thanks to Best Mother-in-Law Ever, new linens were already on the bed when we got home and fridge was already stocked with food from her and my Mom as well.

Believe it or not, there was sleeping to be had, by all three of us. Best Mother-in-Law Ever would take care of the house so I could support the wife; she did laundry, I changed diapers.

Holding the baby and changing her came faster and more naturally than I ever imagined it might. Before I had time to think about it, I was already doing it, and getting more and more efficient all the time. And I didn’t mind changing her. In fact, here’s a little Daddy Diaper Care secret; volunteering for diaper doodie duty means quality time with Baby. We get to talk, hang out, give kisses, play with fingers and toes, work out the legs and I rescue her from her discomfort, all in one felled swoop. My Dad calls me the “Toxic Avenger.” Cool.

That Friday was her first Doctor’s appt. He held her up by her arms and said, “how old do you think you are?” Apparently, she’s crazy strong, already lifting her head and trying to hold her own bottle.

Because of the shenanigans in the hospital, they needed to take some blood. The Nurse had to arm wrestle baby (trying to get her to put her arm down) in order to get to the vein. Super tuff baby, shaky daddy; and by that I mean, baby squealed once, barely, as they drew her blood. Meanwhile, Dad’s gonna pass out, death grip on Wife’s hand.

Afterward, Dad was still feeling shaken. Baby is stronger than Daddy. Good job kid.

First night alone is great. We were finished with it before we knew it was happening.

First weekend is full of family; Aunts, Great Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, Bubbie and Big Pa. It's perfect.

WEEK TWO OF LIFE: Night(s) of the Mammpire!

Monday with the lactation consultant. Success with the nipple shield, the baby is ON IT! Doc is helpful, but also one part Home Shopping Network pitch woman with breast feeding accoutrement, all helpful, actually, just can’t shake this feeling that I’m being duped. But only a little. Info she gives is all good, positive, and encouraging to my wife and the hard thing she’s trying to do. We’re already off formula. Awesome.

Tues. back to doctors for 2nd appt. She’s back up to her birth weight, 8.5, which means, (halleluiah) we can let her sleep thru the night as long as she’s inclined to (she’s been gaining an ounce per day). She’s also able to be comforted after/during feedings, which means she’s NOT colicky. Doc is so pleased with her progress that we don’t have another appt. till the 4th week. YAY baby girl. Good job.

Wed. back to lactation consultant, more info, more sales job. She wants us to have baby weighed at pediatricians on Sat (only way to really be sure that baby is eating enough; needs to be 1 oz. per day, shooting for 8.8oz.) Not sure if we’re gonna do the next appt? Had a rough morning, was giving the wife the silent treatment, just not happy, hard to find my happy, tired, didn’t want to say something unkind so I just kept quiet, but that was almost just as bad. Mom broke down a bit, just a bit, and we talked, reconnected, shared. I apologized, and things got better fast.

Oh no, baby’s first diaper rash accompanied by foaming poo. No one warned me about that one.

Saturday morning, back to Doc’s to check weight and talk about rash and poo. Weight is at 8lbs 8 oz. SUCCESSS! Mom is giving baby everything she needs, and Doc is pleased. Advice for rash is running her bottom under the faucet. She doesn’t seem to mind.

My parents and sister come back into town. So good to see them, and spend time. And honestly, I couldn’t stay away from that little face too long either. They bring food, presents and their presence. We’re grateful for all of it.

Visiting with friends from Middle School who made the two-hour plus drive from San Diego county. A real validation for them to see her and our place and our lives. Makes it more real. Actualizes, contextualizes this wild, surreal adventure.

Am I being anal about the hand sanitizing before touching baby, or just cautious?

My wife’s life has three components now. Feeding, pumping and sleeping. Living between feedings, my wife, one part heifer, one part leper, stuck in the bedroom, with either a baby on her breast or a plastic pump, sucking her dry. Then, two hours later, doing it all over again.
My Baby is a “Mammpire;” a mammary gland vampire, preying on my Wife for sustenance all hours of the night (and day). But it’s OK, cuz she’s so cute.

Baby forcing me to live in the now; something the wife has been trying to get me to do for over a decade, the baby has done in a matter of days; I can only think in terms of the next feeding, the dishes, the laundry that needs to be done NOW, all now and next, not later.

Baby is awesome. Now she sleeps up to five hours at a time. Awesome.

Late night diaper change, Mom sleeping, close to 2am, baby farts so loud it scares me, startles me so bad I literally jump. Should be more cautious when close to loaded weapon.

Over the course of the last two days, her right eye has been under siege by wave after wave of eye gunk. Looks like she has an infection. Maybe I wasn’t being so anal about the hand sanitizer after all.

Today is baby’s 1st Easter. Happy Jesus Resurrection Chocolate Bunny Mysterious Colored Egg Day Baby.

And now, Daddy has to take a nap, and do laundry, and dishes, and eat.