Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Right now I'm sitting in a cafe while someone else plays with Henry, feeds him, and puts him down for a nap, but he occupies my thoughts almost as much as if he were here, banging on the table and pointing emphatically to my food with his signature, all-purpose "ba!" (give me that now, look at that, open this door, there's a ball/box/dog/cat, etc.). Is he having trouble falling asleep for his morning nap right now? Did I forget to tell Susan something? Is he fussy? Does Susan cuddle him? I forgot to tell her about chase and hiding, and how that is one of the main contexts for physical affection these days. Did he drink very much of the bottle? Is he hungry? Does Susan know what to do right now? Does he miss nursing?
I can see that being off duty is going to take some practice.
While I work on that, I'll pick up a hat (two hats?) I tucked away almost two years ago: writer and editor. I have only eight hours each week to devote to freelance work, so I'm going to have to spend my time carefully. Only projects that enhance my portfolio--no fluffy stuff. Tell your friends: Amy Millward, freelance writer and editor, is open for non-fluffy business!
I know many parents trust their three-month-olds with a full-time nanny; I'm leaving my one-year-old for two half days a week. Not exactly the same thing. So I feel a little silly admitting it, but this is hard. I feel an intense pull to be around him, to care for him, to know how he is feeling at all times. It's almost physically painful to leave the house without him.
But that's actually one reason I'm doing this. Now that I'm a parent, I understand why people get obsessed with their kids. It's a consuming role. I think everyone who is their child's primary caregiver risks letting other facets of themselves not just fall to the wayside, but actually curl up and die. I guess we tend to define ourselves by what we spend the majority of our time doing. I eat, sleep, and breathe Henry, and I believe that what I'm doing is challenging and important work. This is the most satisfying job I've ever had. But already I'm having a hard time seeing myself as anything other than a mother, and that's sad, because I am many things.
So. For a few hours every week, I will hang with the laptop-in-a-cafe crowd, maybe eat a lemon curd doughnut (don't judge), and hunt down some work that doesn't involve diapers. Or maybe it does, if you want me to write copy about diapers. I'm open. Let's do this thing!
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Part 1, for anyone bored enough to go back and read it again. :)
I was floored and confused that things were already so intense. My first contraction happened at about 9:30am—it was now barely lunch time and it was already taking all my concentration and effort to get successfully through each contraction (success, in my book, was maintaining enough control to do the low moaning and not get high-pitched and freak out). Also, all of a sudden there was barely any time between them. I knew first-timers tend to have long labors, and I thought, how will I ever survive days of this kind of intensity? What if this isn't even active labor yet, and it turns out that I am just a big, fat wimp after all? Logically, I was having a hard time believing that what I was feeling wasn't active labor, but all my fears—of weakness and inadequacy and my body not working properly—surfaced, and I doubted myself a lot. I knew that if we called the midwife she’d listen to my sounds during a contraction and gauge where I was in the process, and I really wanted to know.
So right before Becky showed up, we called the midwife (well, Chris did). He gave her a brief update and then handed the phone to me. I started trying to explain what the contractions were like but immediately sensed one coming on and stopped talking so I could do my thing. She listened to me, and when it was over she said with some surprise in her voice, “Oh, Amy—you're in labor!”
Those words made everything brighter. It's kind of funny how those sensations seemed almost unbearable when I thought they were pre-labor, but totally doable once I knew it was active labor. From that point on, the sequence of events is blurry for me. Lis arrived soon after our phone call, and Becky arrived just before Lis. I remember Lis feeding me blueberries one at a time. Those blueberries were like sweet nectar from the gods. I remember Becky and Lis continually offering me sips of water and coconut water, and even though sometimes I didn’t want it, I drank it. I’m actually surprised at how compliant I was throughout labor—I thought I would have been more ornery and, well, bitchy. (It’s possible Chris and Becky could speak more accurately to the bitch factor, but nobody’s asking them.) I remember Chris behind me, always behind me, letting me lean so hard on him, grip his arms, push into him.
It was uncharacteristically warm that day, and we had some windows open—specifically, the ones that opened into a small courtyard that we shared with about 12 other tenants in our building. Eventually, a woman in a nearby apartment had had enough. “Close the window—we don’t want to hear that!” she yelled. Lis, our sweet, soft-spoken midwife, called out softly as she closed the nearest window, “She’s in labor!” and giggled a bit. I laughed too, and had a few thoughts but no time to speak: 1) Lady, I WISH I were having sex right now, 2) Doesn’t it seem peculiar at all to you that someone would be having orgasms every few minutes for the past two hours? and 3) We have to move immediately after the birth because there’s no way I can look any of these people in the eye again.
I labored in many different positions, all at Lis’ suggestion. I sat backward on the toilet and leaned back a bit (on Chris, of course), with my feet braced against the wall behind the toilet. That was more challenging than standing up, and I started chanting during contractions, “I can do it. I can do it.” This chant filled my mind so that there wasn’t room for negative thoughts, helping me stay calm and relaxed.
Next I tried kneeling in front of an armchair and leaning on the seat of the chair. That was the only position that gets a big, fat fail from Amy. All kinds of fun stuff was leaking out of me at this point, so they put a chux pad below me and my knees kept sliding on it. Also, strangely, I was still wearing socks even though my underwear had long since disappeared, so my feet couldn’t grip the floor like I needed them to. Because of all the sliding, I was having to tense up my thigh muscles to hold myself in place, and I was very upset about that. I knew I needed to be relaxed and loose; that was my primary goal throughout labor. After I complained about it between a few contractions, we moved to the bed.
I wanted Lis to check me to see how dilated I was, and when she was done she said something like, “Okay good, you’re doing great.” The fact that she didn’t give me a number discouraged me a little at the time; I assumed it meant I wasn’t very far along. After the birth she explained that I was at about five centimeters when she checked me, which was great, but she didn’t want me to get hung up on a number. I appreciate her wisdom, since I think five centimeters would have disappointed me. Also, believing that I still had a ways to go actually strengthened my resolve to continue to give every contraction my all.
After Lis checked me, I labored on the bed, on my side with my knees drawn up. Chris knelt by the bed so that his face was near mine, and I held onto his hands. If I didn’t have his hands, I completely freaked out. Since she didn’t know how long my labor would be, Lis wisely wanted me to conserve my energy. She encouraged me to relax my whole body, including my face and hands, and I tapped into all my relaxation and visualization practices to do it. It was so hard. She also encouraged me to lower the decibel level of my vocalizations and to try not to chant. I knew vocalizing was really working for me so I didn’t stop completely, but I did my absolute best to be quieter. I hope the neighbors appreciated the brief respite before the pushing began.
While on the bed, I felt my whole body bear down during a contraction. I told Lis I was pushing a little bit. She gave me some pointers on pushing effectively, and I’m sure they helped, but what I remember most is that my body was leading and I was following. After a bit, a pattern emerged: For a few contractions, my body would bear down very forcefully, and I accompanied it with all the strength I could muster, and then there would be one milder contraction. I learned to bear down only as forcefully as my body led me to; otherwise I felt I was wasting energy. It seemed like when my body and I worked in conjunction, the push was exponentially more effective.
I wasn’t really a fan of lying on the bed, so Lis suggested using the birth stool she had brought, but as soon as I sat on it I knew it wasn’t right for me. They moved it out of the way and I got into a deep squat there on the floor next to our bed. Wow—once I was in that squat the bearing down was WAY more powerful. Squatting opened up my pelvis and gave gravity a chance to help out. The contractions were now more difficult to endure, but I also felt that they were more effective, so I was glad.
It’s weird—I know the contractions were very painful and that during each one the pain and pressure seemed like the full amount I could possibly endure, but it’s hard to remember what the pain actually felt like. What I do remember is that the contractions were like a huge wave barreling through me, and I knew my part was to give in to the pressure by relaxing my pelvic floor and squatting deeply, and to bear down with everything in me. At this point, my sounds were guttural and very loud, and I saw my mouth as a little pressure valve that, when opened, made the pressure of the pushing bearable. Every so often Lis would encourage me to put more energy toward pushing and less toward vocalizing, and I would try, but my God. The force never felt like more than I could endure, but it came right up to the line every time.
When he crowned, Lis asked me to try not to push during the next contraction and to try to pant instead. I did as she asked, and I was surprised that I was able to do it. I remember feeling pretty proud of myself for having that kind of control. I think she asked me to do that for a few contractions, and then I felt his head leave my body. It seemed like my whole body was relieved, and I had no contraction immediately afterward.
Now that his head was out, Lis wanted me to push his body out ASAP. These things need to happen one right after the other. But there was no contraction, so I did nothing. I had only ever pushed when my body was already bearing down, so pushing outside of a contraction did not compute. I remember looking at her, wanting to obey but not understanding physically how to do that. Unfortunately, at the same time she was also telling me to put some distance between my butt and the floor to make room for his body. This also did not compute—the deep squat was the perfect birthing position for me, so why would I move? Also, logistically I couldn’t figure out how to raise my butt while remaining open to let his body through. I tried, but my pelvic floor tightened, and I knew that wasn’t good. Time was ticking, and Lis got very stern. I could tell it was important, but I didn’t know how to manufacture a push, and I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the squat. Since I wasn’t acting fast enough, Lis started telling Chris to lift me a bit. Finally, with Chris holding me up by my armpits, I pushed with all my might, no contraction—and his body shot out, slippery and heavy, just like I knew it would from the two births I had witnessed.
Lis laid him on the floor at my feet. He was purple and red, and he wasn’t breathing. I think she told us to talk to him. She used a little air pumping thing, but that didn’t work, so she covered his mouth and nose with her mouth and blew, and that did the trick. Finally, he cried. He was out, and he was alive and I was alive: mission accomplished.
I’m working on part three—the awful tear, the scary breathing, the two trips to the hospital, the breastfeeding blunders—but that’s the hardest stuff to write about. We are all fine now, but there is still so much from that time that’s painful to remember. Things I’m angry about, things I regret. That’s how I know I need to write it down, and little by little I’m chipping away at the whole mess.
On July 4, 2011, Henry's due date, Becky and I watched the fireworks from amid a crowd of happy, singing, slightly drunk people at Alamo Square Park. We wrapped ourselves in blankets to block the chilly wind and ate pound cake with berries and homemade whipped cream in the dark. Becky let me talk through my disappointment that Chris wasn't there with us, and I was able to put into words my hopes for this special July 4th. I wasn't expecting Henry to be born that day, but I had definitely envisioned doing fun holiday-ish things with Chris and Becky, and making some special memories with Chris—our last holiday as a family of two. I imagined the events of that day becoming a sweet story I told Henry over and over again when he got old enough to want to hear it.
But Chris hadn't slept well the night before and was really tired (and, he will admit, a bit grumpy), and the place I wanted to get burgers from was closed, and we never made it to the park for a picnic lunch, and Chris opted to stay home and sleep instead of watching the fireworks that night. I was emotional and disappointed, and I had been snippy and frustrated with Chris. I played the whole “I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in eight months so suck it up” card, and I felt superior and right but still sad.
I find myself thinking about that day often. My life with Chris has plenty of disappointing days with snide remarks and short tempers and not enough communication—and it’s still a wonderful, amazing life. This is just life. We have “perfect” times, and we have disappointing times, and it’s all life, and I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for the memory of that Fourth of July, when Henry was inside me, and we knew his name but were keeping it a secret, and I watched fireworks in San Francisco in a park near our house, and I talked with my sister Becky as we shivered under our blankets. I’m thankful that I don’t even need to remember whether Chris and I made up that night or the next day—I just know it happened, because we always make up.
Talking it through with Becky that night was therapeutic. I realized I did have a story to tell Henry—just not the one I thought I’d have. This one would be less like an award-winning children’s book and more like the kind of story your parents tell you while you’re crying because things didn’t go your way.
I’ll save the picture-perfect tales for the books Henry and I will check out from the library someday. The stories I tell him myself will be about real people and the sad, funny, beautiful, awful things that happen in this world, because those are the only stories I know.