24/7 the First 48 Hours

Well, I’m over a week into motherhood and I think it’s pretty rad so far. Sure, there’s some not-so-wonderful aspects to it (sleep deprivation, round the clock feedings, poop explosions, etc.), but when Zelda smiles or grips my finger, all those not-so-wonderful things wash away and I’m left in awe.

I’ve been wrestling with what I want to write about this round, and I finally settled on talking about my experiences with 24/7 rooming at the hospital. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it means the baby is in your postpartum recovery room with you all the time, day and night. The purpose is to promote a stronger bond between the mother and child, encourage breastfeeding, and more or less familiarize the mother with the baby’s cues. In our childbirth class, we were told that we would be doing the 24/7 rooming, and Matt and I thought it was great. I looked forward to the time we would spend getting to know Zelda right away.

Well, it was great in theory.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand how important 24/7 rooming is. I have no problem believing that it fosters stronger bonds and teaches the mother to interact with the child. However, my experience was marred by a few factors.

  1. I had absolutely no recovery time. After about an hour of recovery time in the birthing room, I was popped onto a wheelchair, baby in arms, and wheeled to the postpartum room. Once I got settled into bed, she was plopped in my arms and that was it. Matt and I were on our own. For the first day, I was unable to get out of bed. Literally. I’d suffered a first-degree tear during the birth (funny enough, getting a tear was my biggest fear and it did come to pass, but I didn’t give a damn one way or the other in the end), so my ladybits were packed with ice packs, witch hazel pads, and a hospital grade menstrual pad. All of it was wrapped up nicely in the equivalent of an adult diaper. And it HURT. The first time I had to pee, it took two nurses to walk me to the bathroom. Needless to say, every time Zelda started to cry, I was completely dependent on Matt to get up and hand her to me, change her diapers, try to swaddle her, etc.
  2. We got no sleep. I know, I know, newborns and sleep don’t belong in the same sentence unless you’re talking sleep deprivation. Maybe this rooming in was a way to prepare us for it, I don’t know. I’d been awake since 2 AM, birthed a child at 4 PM, and by 12 AM I was ready to have a breakdown. I was unable to form complete sentences. We could not sleep and hold Zelda at the same time; we had to sign a disclaimer saying we wouldn’t due to the safety hazards (which is completely understandable). When we hit 24 hours, I’m pretty sure both of us were safety hazards. We begged the nurse to take her to the nursery for an hour (since Zelda would be due for another feeding) and she told us to tough it out. We finally managed some sleep after 26 hours. As sleep deprived as we are, we have yet to go 26 hours without sleep.

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    3 AM and going strong.
  3. I resented not having options. I was eager to start breastfeeding and bonding with Zelda, and I dove into the task with enthusiasm. The enthusiasm waned as the lack of rest and pain overtook me. I was so exhausted. I appreciated the opportunity to bond, to learn to breastfeed, and to get to know my baby better. However, I started to resent the fact that I could not get a break. Again, I know. When you go home, you don’t get a break and the nurses aren’t there to help you. But if those first couple of days are so crucial, I didn’t want to spend them so sleep-deprived and resentful that I don’t know heads from tails. My baby and my relationship with the baby is important, but so is my headspace. If my head isn’t in a good place, I can’t be the best I can for Zelda.

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    A moment of respite.

Even as I type this, I feel like I’m whining. It wasn’t all bad. I got a lot of quality time with Zelda. We did establish a breastfeeding routine, got lots of skin-to-skin time, and I learned the ol’ check the diaper-offer the breast-rock-soothe-swaddle routine. I’m not saying that the 24/7 rooming in should be abolished, but I am saying that there should be options. I didn’t want to sleep all night. I just wanted to rest so I could not endanger my child.

I would have liked more options. I would have liked my health to be considered a little more. Rooming in is painted as a totally rosy experience, and in truth it was stressful. In the end, everything turned out OK and I think the rooming in was beneficial. I only say it was great in theory because my expectations of what it would be like vs the reality were so drastically different.

But touting the perk that mothers get more rest when the baby is in the room 24/7?

I don’t think so.

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All worth it, regardless.

 

“I am climbing a distorted mountain of agony”: Zelda’s Birth Day

Skin on skin moments after birth.
Skin on skin moments after birth.
I think the past 48 hours are among the most insane I’ve ever had. Even as the hours tick by, making the 9th of February fall further and further behind me, the more surreal and dreamlike the entire experience becomes. I still have trouble believing everything has happened, but I’m watching Zelda sleep in her bouncer nearby, clad in jammies that are way too big for her and occasionally kicking a tiny, perfect foot out. I like to think she’s dreaming.

What do babies that are only two days old dream about?

During the day of the 8th, I started getting cramps. They were irregular and mild, but they were new. Then they started to get more regular. I kept expecting my water to break; I’ll sadly admit some expectations I had were the result of popular culture. In the movies, women always have a huge moment where the water breaks and then the scene cuts to them in the hospital. Not so, this was a slow buildup, almost a cycle. I knew this was the start. After days of a sign, of uncertainty, of asking friends what to look for, I knew my body was sending me the signals I’d been waiting so desperately to receive.

I am the centre
Of a circle of pain
Exceeding its boundaries in every direction
The business of the bland sun
Has no affair with me
In my congested cosmos of agony
From which there is no escape

I was pleased the process began on its own and I didn’t need inducing; it was a big deal to have this done on my own terms. That would change later, but I’m still glad the machinery of birth was started by my own body and not the Pitocin. We got to the hospital at 5 AM and the day went by in a blur. I ate breakfast, I chatted with my parents and my in-laws, who came mid-morning, and walked laps around the nurse’s station in my stupid gown to speed up the labor. The contractions got more intense and I would have to stop everything to breathe through them, but the pain was manageable.

Around one, the doctor checked my cervix and told me the labor wasn’t progressing fast enough. I wanted to keep walking and working through the contractions, but the doctor wanted to give me a low dose of Pitocin to bump things up a little. I consented, but I wasn’t happy about it. I was perfectly content to let the labor progress naturally all day. I wanted the contractions to get more intense on their own, not at the speed of medicine. I wouldn’t be ready for the speed of medicine and I knew it. I refused to let them break my water, though. Come hell or high water, that was happening on its own.

Sure enough, after the Pitocin came the contractions got much more intense. Soon I wasn’t just breathing through the pain, I was gripping hands and writhing on the bed. I didn’t scream, but I was pretty close. I finally asked for the epidural. I think a small part of me wanted to hold out, just to see if I could do it. I knew going in I would want an epidural; it was written in my birth plan. However, I think a teeny tiny part of me wanted to try and stick it out. Nope. God bless all you natural birthers out there. You are some amazing ladies.

I am climbing a distorted mountain of agony
Incidentally with the exhaustion of control
I reach the summit
And gradually subside into anticipation of
Repose
Which never comes.
For another mountain is growing up
Which goaded by the unavoidable
I must traverse
Traversing myself

Due to some miscommunication, it took over an hour for the anathesiologist to get to my room. By then, the pain was a white-hot bolt of lightning that seared through my lower body. I didn’t scream, I didn’t call Matt any names, I didn’t go all out crazy. But I sure as hell wanted to. I’m pretty sure at some point when I was holding his hand I thought about biting through it. Funny, since one of the tweets from a friend echoed that thought:

Matt and I had seen the process of getting an epidural though birthing class. No doubt it would be unpleasant, and it was. At one point, I got nailed with a set of contractions while the needle was going in my spine. I remembered thinking if there was a hell, this was it. I’ve reached the tenth circle, and it is childbirth. Matt held my head between his hands and told me I was doing great. When the epidural finally kicked in, I didn’t regret getting it one bit. I still felt things, it just didn’t hurt as much.

At one point, I started to feel pressure towards the back of my body instead of the front. My mom and mom-in-law said that was important, as that meant Zelda was moving ever so lower. That pressure also hurt like hell. It built and built, and then out of nowhere my water broke. Holy crap, that was weird. I could almost hear the pop. It felt like a balloon attached to a faucet, just filling up more and more until it was so full it burst. And it felt like gallons. All I could think was, thank god that didn’t happen in bed or in public. Not long after I was checked again, and it was go time.

There’s something to be said for this entire process. You can’t be modest, and you can’t be shy. Everyone sees every part of your body, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So when I was on that bed with my legs in the air, Matt holding one up and the nurse holding the other, I thought again about the pregnant body as a public body. How every part of you is on display and you can’t control it. The amusing part about this experience is that, at one point, you just say fuck all.

Four pushes. That was all it took. It didn’t hurt, but I felt it happen. Matt, holding one of my legs up, had a front row seat for the festivities, which he may or may not write about later. But when the doctor pulled Zelda out and placed her on my stomach, my heart rose up in my mouth, tears spilled down my cheeks, and I let out a quavering “Oh, shit.” Funny those were the words, especially since about nine months ago, on the day I found out I was pregnant and showed my dad the positive test via FaceTime, his exact words were “Oh, shit.” We’ve come round full circle, folks.

via GIPHY

The only thing I do regret about the experience is not asking to see the placenta. Bear with me, here. It’s pretty cool to create and grow a child. However, to have your body create and grow an organ is pretty damn amazing as well. It might sound silly, but I kind of wanted to say goodbye to the piece of me that helped Zelda get here safely. Matt saw it, said it was gross and looked like a Portuguese man o war. I might have thought the same, but that small and curious part of me wanted to see. Oh well. If there’s a next time, maybe then.

Relaxation
Negation of myself as a unit
Vacuum interlude
I should have been emptied of life
Giving life

So now I’m navigating the waters of motherhood. I’m already making mistakes, learning, and celebrating small triumphs. After such an emotionally difficult pregnancy, I’m finding that this part, the start of our life with her, is unbearably sweet. Even through the sleep deprivation and the crying and the poop explosions, I am more than happy. This adventure truly is grand.

Stir of incipient life
Precipitating into me
The contents of the universe
Mother I am
Identical
With infinite Maternity
Indivisible
Acutely
I am absorbed
Into
The was-is-ever-shall-be
Of cosmic reproductivity

Childbirth Class Part II: If I Fits, I Sitz (Bath)

Angela

Read Part I.

Today was a little different. The first class was a bit draining. We ended up getting home class to 10pm. Between getting up the next morning, driving Angela to work, and sitting in an hour of traffic on the SE Expressway, I felt like warm spit by the middle of the afternoon the following day.

Angela had a number of meetings and got on the metro a bit late. I picked her up from Huntington station and ate an extremely quick dinner before heading to Alexandria Innova.

6:00pm
We got here just in time. Only one other couple is here. I wonder if some of the couples dropped out after the first night. Is there an add/drop deadline for child birthing classes as well?

6:05pm
Other people start to show up. Doesn’t seem like anybody “dropped” the class. As the couples start walking in, I begin to notice things about our classmates. For one, most of the other people in the room smell great. I am pretty sure that we smell like the shit stench from the Anacostia or the eau de gorilla breath, courtesy of the Washington Metro Transit Authority. Everyone is also very well dressed. Although I contemplated wearing sweatpants to the class, I opted for my usual corduroy pant and sweater combo. Angela got me a new sweater for Christmas and it feels amazing. It was much appreciated on this day because it felt like Frosty’s testicles out there.

6:10pm
The instructor indicates that she wants to start class. As she stands up to open the class, she greets a couple walking in with a “hello.” Angela is the only person in the class to say “hello” back, thinking it was directed at those already seating. Classic.

6:15pm
Internal monitoring looks terrifying. The nurse/teacher is talking about algorithms and numbers to various powers and certain divisions. How the hell did childbirth happen one hundred years ago? A lot of the instruction that she has given so far has been repetitive, but I nonetheless respect what she does, both as a nurse and as an individual. Of course, I already did because my mother and mother-in-law were both nurses (both worked labor and delivery). I went my whole life knowing that my mother helped deliver babies. That was about it. Listening to this woman over the course of the birthing class, I am amazed to learn just how important nurses are in this process. Say what you want about doctors, but nurses are the damn salt of the earth.

ahhhhh

6:20pm
We begin to learn about the “ripe cervix.” Forget what I said about the salt of the earth. She can’t stop saying “ripe cervix,” so I therefore take it all back. It’s like somebody saying “moist” over and over again, but…you know…ripe cervix. I have seen enough animations to know what it looks like. Ugh.

Ripe cervix.

7:03pm
We begin to learn about episiotomies. I am not going to explain what an episiotomy is. If you don’t know, I leave you to your perverted curiosity and Google. According to the teacher, most hospitals are trying NOT to do the procedure anymore. That’s great. It means we have a fighting chance for Angela to be a “cut above the rest.” Get it? Either way, the whole thing looks like a horror movie.

7:08pm
The teaching is now explaining different massage methods for your pregnant wife (we get to try them later). She uses a metaphor for massaging your pregnant partner to a Paula Deen recipe. Gross. I really hope mayonnaise and butter are not involved in childbirth, although after seeing everything there is about episiotomies, I won’t put it past anyone.

7:10pm
Oh my god. OH MY GOD. Caesarian birth. Holy shit. I can’t believe I put my mother through that. She laughs about it now, but at the time I know I caused her a lot of misery. And I certainly don’t blame her. My sister in law went through it as well. Many women go through it. Hardcore, man. The mere though of having my guts on a side table makes me vurp a little in my mouth. We had to watch a video detailing how it was done, both in animated and real-life form.

This is truly my only true reaction to the videos:

Super_crotch_kick

Over and over and over and over and over. I deserve it.

7:20pm
There isn’t as much to write for this entry because much of the subject matter (such as severe fetal distress) is no laughing matter. I won’t make light of it in any sort of fashion. I wouldn’t wish losing any of it on my worst enemy. Frightening doesn’t begin to describe it.

I have to remind myself that this is all educational and not a three-hour blog of fear-mongering scare tactics. The only people reacting poorly to the information are the men. The pregnant women (Angela included) all seem to be handling this all with grace and civility. I would be scraping the wallpaper off the walls at this point. After every video I watch, I am beginning to realize just how complicated and dangerous it can be. On the flip side, there are a lot of insurances given to women today thanks to modern medicine. It’s not at all like you see on the movies.

ate-future-joke-rhino-hole

8:00pm
She is now talking about nursing. Nobody bats an eye when she refers to the breasts as the “lunch table.” Babies are born and immediately placed on the body of the mother (what they call kangaroo mother care). After that, it’s only a matter of time before they go looking for lunch. Me too, Zelda. Me too.

8:04pm
It’s show and tell time! I was wondering when she was going to get through all the crap on the table in the front of the room.

The first thing she explains is a sitz bath. If you don’t know what it is, it’s kind of like a spa for your b-hole and/or genitals. It’s not quite a bidet and not exactly a hot water bowl for your toilet. Here is a quick illustration.

Butt Sauna (via TaiwanStanch)
Butt Sauna (via TaiwanStanch)

She keeps saying that we will want to buy one for use (one or two weeks after the birth). The more she explains it, the more I like it. Sauna for your butt? What more do you want in life?

Other things we will potentially need post birth:

  • Thick pads (She showed us one and they are comically large
  • Set of witch hazel pads (which I always call Sister Hazel, obviously)
  • Lots and lots of patience

8:12pm
We delve deeper into what goes on after the baby is born. She makes a point to mention mom’s groups. They all sound great, but not realistic at the moment. This is a bit of a bummer, as there is only one mom’s group held once a month (on a Saturday). The other classes are held four times a week during the day. I guess they don’t cater to that, which is even more of a worry because a. we still do not know our daycare situation and b. don’t know how long it’s going to be before we find one without a War and Peace-sized waiting list attached to it.

8:15pm – 9:00pm
We close out the night with more breathing exercises and massage positions. We went over the same Prodigy breathing methods at first, and then moved on to different ways husbands and partners can massage out the pain of labor and delivery. The tennis ball/crew sock combo really seemed to work, although it looks kind of like a sex toy. We also got to try an exercise ball, which seemed very helpful and far less sexual.

The last half an hour was spent on the floor, which I found as an odd choice. It was cold and hard. The yoga mat, which was at thick as a maxi pad, offered little support for me or (especially) Angela. We proceeded to simulate pushing for contractions. It was thrilling being in that position. We are staring down the barrel of Zelda coming out, and it all made it seem so real, even if the floor felt like the slab they make ice cream on at Cold Stone. It was the perfect way to end the class – with a nod to the future.

All in all, I would say the class was beneficial. I don’t know how prepared it will make me for the birth, to be honest. I don’t think I’ll ever be prepared for it. No class is going to do that. But I have the tools and technical know-how to get through it. I also know that I am a bastard for doing this to my wife. Kicks to the crotch are warmly welcomed.

In the meantime:

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