Saturday, November 25, 2006

Baby-Tested, Mother-Approved

Diapers in the breeze

It is that season of life for us where many of our friends are having babies. It is amazing to see all these new individuals coming into the world, and to see our friends growing into new roles as parents. Having a baby does come with an overwhelming number of decisions, though, many of which involve baby gear. I’ve been asked a couple of times about what we registered for, what we actually used, what we liked, etc. so I thought I would collect all that info here. These are just our experiences, and although I certainly hope they would work as well for others as they did for us, your mileage may vary. I am not affiliated with any of the following companies or products, but I wouldn’t mind becoming a spokesmama for some of them. Maybe there is a lucrative endorsement deal in this somewhere for me!

Pregnancy Piercings- I am part of the huge percentage of women my age with a navel ring, and it started to get uncomfortable at about the 25-week mark. I replaced my normal surgical steel ring with this flexible barbell about then and kept it in until I was about 4 weeks postpartum. It didn’t bother my skin (which is pretty finicky) and I am sure my piercing would have closed up if I had left it empty.

Belli Elasticity Belly Oil- Yes, I know this is kind of expensive, but I really do think it works. I used it on my belly and I have zero stretch marks there, even though I got huge. I did get some on (ahem) other areas that I did not anoint with this precious stuff. Not scientific proof, perhaps, but convincing to me!

Arms Reach Mini Co-Sleeper- The AAP recommends that your baby sleep in your room with you to reduce the risk of SIDS, as do parents who like to get more sleep. No, seriously, having Grace in our room for the first months of her life drastically increased the amount of sleep we all got and this little bedside bassinet helped. I could nurse her in the middle of the night without actually getting out of bed, then pop her back into the bassinet. You can’t get much better than that! Also, the “Mini” version of this thing fits in our small, 1920’s-era bedroom and can use king-size pillowcases as the sheets. (The official sheets kind of suck, FYI.)

Bundle Me- This is like a tiny sleeping bag that you put in the car seat or stroller to keep your baby warm. I’d never seen one in Texas but lots of babies have them here, and they are genius for cold weather babies, especially newborns. You use it instead of outerwear, perhaps with just a hat. I remember trying to wrangle floppy, no-head-control Grace into a bunting and then into the carseat-- sheesh... This is a much better idea, and taking Grace out into the world got much easier after I acquired one.

Boppy- Yes, it has a silly name. This pillow is a great idea, though, and it does make nursing so much more comfortable and convenient. With Grace at 10 months old, I still use ours multiple times a day.

Fuzzi Bunz- I didn’t really consider cloth diapering as a possibility until during my pregnancy Rob made some comments about the environmental issues surrounding diapers. I had the image in my head of complicated folding and pins and those yucky plastic pants. When I looked into the current status of the cloth diapering world, though, I was pleasantly surprised to see there are a ton of options out there, some of which seemed quite doable to me. We chose to try out Fuzzi Bunz, and we really like them. We started using them when Grace was about 4 weeks old (we waited that long just because having a newborn was overwhelming and we didn’t feel ready to add another new thing into the mix until then) and at 10 months Grace is currently in the medium size. Our initial motivation was the environmental impact, but it turns out to save quite a chunk of change to cloth diaper as well. Also, I really can tell a difference in the state of Grace’s skin. And being perfectly frank, it does not add that much work to our everyday lives-- just one load of laundry every other day. It is awfully nice to have Grace’s behind soft and fabric-y instead of crunchy and plastic-y.

Baby slings- These are my number-one, can’t-live-without baby item. I don’t think any other physical item has made my life as a new mama easier than the baby slings I have. When Grace was tiny, there were days when she wanted to be held ALL FRACKING DAY, and one of these allowed me to do this and still be active, do stuff around the house, go for walks, etc. I use them to go grocery shopping, to walk the dog, to vacuum, to walk Grace to sleep for a nap, etc. You can’t use them to cook because things like stoves and knives are not safe for babies, but other than that, there is not much you can’t do. I think most babies like being in the slings because they are close to mom or dad, just part of your everyday life, able to see what is going on, and sort of swaddled. There was a learning curve in using one, but after about the first 10 times I put her in it, I felt comfortable with it. It only got easier when she gained head control. I wouldn’t recommend the brands that they carry in the baby stores because they all have weird padding and straps and things. A simple unpadded ring sling is probably the best kind to start out with. I made mine using these directions, but if you don’t sew there are a ton of places to buy them online, including the best-known and reasonably priced Maya Wrap. I also really like pouch slings and have a Hotslings one that is ubercute. Hooray for babywearing!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Take this job and...

So any of you who have been in much contact with me know that this autumn saw another big transition in my life. I just thought there haven’t been enough significant changes in my life lately, you know, so I needed to spice things up a little. Anyway, as summer ended and autumn began, I left my research job at Yale and started adjunct teaching gigs at two non-Ivy-League universities in town.

It has been a really positive change for me. I spent just over a year as a postdoc in the physics department at Yale, and I found that the somewhat narrow life of pure research just wasn’t a good match for me. It came as a bit of a surprise to me that this job wasn’t all I had hoped and dreamed. I loved grad school so much and according to the groupthink of academia, becoming a postdoc was the expected next step in my path to fame and fortune as an astrophysicist. I missed aspects of my life in grad school, though; I missed being involved in teaching, I missed interacting with human beings regularly, and I missed having more variety in my everyday professional life. Moving on to teaching has provided all that for me. It is so fun to be in the classroom again after a year away, and I like the variety of going to two different campuses each week. I’m about halfway into this first semester of my new routine (sorry, Internet, for the tardy update...) and most days I find myself feeling enthusiastic and energized about my professional life, a welcome change from those feelings of floundering and purposelessness.

Despite the vast improvement in my attitude and general happiness level, I do feel conflicted about my flight from the research world. I am still working to shed a modicum of guilt. Am I letting people (at Yale, back at the University of Texas) down? Am I taking the easy way out? Am I contributing to the pitiful representation of women in science by opting out of that path? Am I somehow betraying my boss at Yale, my wonderful PhD advisor, or the field of astrophysics as a whole by leaving the big-time research world for an education-oriented career? This may sound insane to people outside academia; the system really does produce people (like me!) with an intense sense of career identity and what the perfect career arc should look like.

I know that measuring my life by a standard of success manufactured by cloistered, practically monastic professors is a bankrupt exercise. And I’ve known all along that I wasn’t totally committed to wrangling a place for myself in the Ivory Tower. However, actually acting on those thoughts and beliefs does make me wistful for the might-have-been.

Not that I wouldn’t kick and scream if you tried to drag me back to the reality of life as a postdoc.

Monday, July 17, 2006

You said it, Jane Austen

What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.

-Jane Austen, in a letter from 1796

Boy, that Jane Austen knew what she was talking about. I’m not sure how the July weather in Connecticut compares to the English summers she experienced, but we certainly share this sentiment. It is pretty hot here these days. The heat doesn’t compare in objective terms to the Texas summers I’ve lived with up until last year, but it seems to affect life more because so few places have air conditioning. Both our house and my office have less-than-ideal cooling systems. The physics building on the Yale campus has some old-timey pumped air system that does take the edge off but does not give the Arctic blast that central AC can muster. Our house has nothing but the two window units that we have acquired-- one in our bedroom, one in our little study. I will admit to having dawdled recently running errands at the grocery store or Target in their blissful icy air.

Like Jane Austen, I find all this heat to have a negative effect on my appearance. My hair is a bit challenging these days since I absolutely cannot bear to turn on the hair dryer. The challenge is increased since I swear 25% of my hair has fallen out since the last time I blogged. Postpartum hair loss, anyone? I have an appointment for a haircut next week that should improve the situation. And don’t get me started on my skin... Inelegance would be putting it kindly.

We’ve gotten creative with cooking in the hot weather since the usual cooking appliances (stove, oven) exacerbate the problem. A lot of grilling has taken place; Robert is becoming quite skillful at the manly art of grilling meat. The other cooking appliances I am currently employing are the slow cooker, the microwave, the rice cooker, and the bread machine. They don’t put out nearly as much heat as the stove or oven. I think Rob is getting tired of the limited cooking mechanisms, but I find myself not caring too much. Me, who normally loves to plan meals and cook and eat. It’s too hot to really eat much. I think this is contributing to an acceleration in my pregnancy weight loss (which is going well, thank you) but is probably tempered by the fact that a large component of my diet right now would fall under the heading of “Frozen Desserts”. Ice cream, popsicles, sorbet, etc. So much colder and more refreshing than actual food, don’t you think? Maybe we should get an ice cream maker to add to our funny collection of countertop appliances.

Grace doesn’t seem too affected by the heat, which is good. She does get cranky if she gets too hot. She then wants to be held, which makes her hotter, which increases the cranky factor. A tactical retreat to the air conditioned bedroom is then called for. Nursing in the side-lying position under the blast of the AC unit is not a bad way to beat the heat. I recently packed up some of her tiny newborn clothes and it was weird to realize how cold it was back in February. We would dress her in a onesie and a warm zippered sleeper outfit and socks. So many layers! It is fun to have more of her delightful baby self out for us to enjoy now. Her toes are much easier to nibble now that it is summer and she is largely sockless. Delicious baby toes!

I try to regularly remind myself that I don’t have to live through too much summer, unpleasant though it be. We really had quite a mild beginning to summer and it has been out-and-out hot for just a number of weeks. And most likely there are only about 6 more weeks until it turns comfortable again for our air-conditioning-free life. That’s not so bad, right? Six weeks is nothing, right? I won’t melt away into a pool of sweaty organic matter before then, right?


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Leaving on a Jet Plane

...and boy, are my arms tired!

A lot of memorable events have transpired in the two months since I have last blogged. One of the biggest was Grace’s first plane ride. She and I took a little mother-daughter trip back to Texas to visit my family, and I am proud to say that she was not one of those screaming babies you dread to encounter on an airplane. (Of course, being proud is wildly inappropriate since I’m pretty sure her good behavior was unrelated to anything in particular that I did.) We had a nonstop flight on the way back home, which was easy peasy lemon squeezy. We did have a stop in Chicago on the way to Texas, which was a trifle more challenging. By the end of the second flight, Grace started to get a little unsettled and antsy. It was far from dreadful, though; I declare our first air travel a success.

We had a lovely time in Texas. We stayed with my parents, who are still head-over-heels for Grace. Shocking, no? She is in a lovely stage of development right now, full of personality and smiles and sociability-- a good stage for cementing grandparents’ devotion. I also got to hang out with a number of friends of ours who are still back in Dallas. Tina came over to my parents’ house to chat for a while, and I hung out with friends from our old small group and their babies. I got to see one set of my grandparents as well, as they were visiting Texas from St. Louis. It was delightful to introduce Grace to them, as she continues her unstoppable conquest of all our family. Throw in a sister and an aunt, and you’ve got yourself a visit full of fun people!

The motivation for this visit back to my old stomping grounds was my 10-year high school reunion. I have been out of high school for an entire decade; isn’t that madness? I graduated from a teeny tiny high school that doesn’t organize official reunions so this was a very casually organized event. I was pleased to see that we found contact info for almost everyone, and about half of our 30-odd classmates were there. It was really fun but kind of surreal to see all these people again. Not so much for the handful of girls that I keep in contact with, but for those who I hadn’t seen since graduation, a definite sense of alternative universe prevailed. You spend every day with these people, then don’t see them for years, and then POW! There they are again, somehow both different and the same as they were back then at once.

When it came time to head back to Texas, I made a rookie mistake trying to catch our flight back to Connecticut. I was running late and ended up missing the cut-off for checking bags (and thus getting on the flight) by one minute. Grrrrr... Traveling with Grace was not horrifying, but everything I tried to do took longer. I was just plain running late, and the particular airline person I was talking to was not in the mood for flexibility or grace. These travelers have to be taught a lesson! she thought. The consequences were not too dreadful; I ended up back home a number of hours later than originally planned. However, the whole rest of that day, I kept thinking, “If only I had eaten breakfast one minute faster... If only I hadn’t hit snooze that one time... If only...”

Monday, April 24, 2006

Signs of Spring

Spring comes to New England much later than my Texas-bred self is accustomed to. We had our first unequivocally warm days this past week; this seems impossibly late when my entire life has been spent somewhere where shorts and tank tops could be first donned sometime in March. The warm days were thoroughly enjoyable, but I find that I did not mind the long end to winter. I’ve never been much of a fan of hot weather so delaying the onset of the warmth makes me hopeful that there won’t be too much real summer for me to handle in our house with its definite lack of air conditioning.

The balmy days were lovely, however. They finally motivated me to do something in the gardening department. We did absolutely nothing last year. We moved into our house at the beginning of June and were kept pretty busy with the interior renovations throughout the summer. Everything outdoors was neglected, so much so that we cultivated a few giant weeds in our flower beds. Then autumn came, and we even failed to rake our leaves. Winter brought a bit of relief from the guilt of a disheveled lawn (anyone’s lawn looks nice blanketed with snow), but the warm weather brought back the guilt with renewed force. Fortunately, it also brought some motivation to address the problem. One day last week, I transformed the front flower beds. I put Grace on a towel next to me shaded under an umbrella and proceeded to weed, remove leaves, and then plant some new things. The last was definitely the most fun part. Just being outside in the warm spring air with a little cooing baby next to me was pretty wonderful, though.

The signs of spring back in Texas are a little further along, of course. The area where I grew up (and where my parents still reside) is home to the breed of tiny, lime green lizards pictured above. When Rob and I lived in Texas, we would see them sunning themselves in the front courtyard of our condo. My dad recently spotted the first lizard of the season at their house, snapped a picture, and sent it to me. I am thoroughly enjoying living in New England, experiencing a new part of the country with all its differences (cultural, climate, geographic, and otherwise). Seeing my dad’s tiny lizard reminds me of the familiar delights of a place that is still, in some ways, home. Stay warm, little lizard; it’s rainy, gray, and chilly here where I am today.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Grace had her 2 month birthday yesterday; it is amazing to realize that she has been part of our lives for a whole 8 weeks, an entire 1/6 of a year. We are enjoying her tremendously and much of life with her is starting to seem easier. Hitting the 6 week point really made a difference. I started to do things like go to Target or the grocery store without it feeling like a monumentous undertaking. Don't get me wrong; leaving the house is still quite a challenge, but now it feels less like a Herculean feat. Our current challenge is my gradual return to work; we’ll see how that turns out...

One prerequisite for me leaving Grace is her ability to take a bottle, and she has been most cooperative in this endeavor. She doesn’t put up any fuss at all (using the first kind of bottles we tried) and it doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted her breastfeeding habits so far. This comes as a bit of a surprise because she is not interested in pacifiers at all. We did not introduce a pacifier until she was about 3 or 4 weeks old, as advised by all the breastfeeding people. At first, she would suck on the thing for a while, with some convincing from us. With every passing week, however, she grows more determined in her refusal of the pacifier and more able to emphatically spit it out, as she gains head and neck control. We would not have minded her taking to a pacifier as a tool to help her soothe herself, so one of those trips to Target involved buying one of practically every style of pacifier available to the baby consumer. Grace was not to be convinced with variety, though, and apparently there will be no pacification for us. She concurrently enjoys and is frustrated by sucking on her fists; perhaps soon she will manage to separate a thumb or finger and suck away on that. Possibly a harder habit to break, but an easier comfort object to find in the middle of the night.

Grace’s 2-month birthday also brought her first experience with immunizations, and thus some serious need for pacification. It actually didn’t seem too awful to me; Grace has screamed with equal vehemence during particularly unwelcome diaper changes or baths. I was expecting her response to be worse, somehow, and to feel tremendously awful myself about the whole thing, as many others do. Oh no-- I shall compare myself to other mothers and find myself lacking in sensitivity! Anyway, in the immediate term, she calmed down when I nursed her for a bit after the mean doctor finished with the painful poking. She was fussy for the rest of the day and well into the night; it was obvious that she didn’t feel well or like her normal baby self. The next day found her back to her charming and demanding self, at least until the next round of immunizations at 4 months. She gets immunizations at every doctor visit until she is 18 months; can you believe that? It’s like the doctors don’t want babies to like them or something; thankfully she is still pretty fond of this pediatrician.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Genes and Jeans

So this week I took advice from rookiemoms and went to go buy myself a pair of normal jeans. It does feel really nice to wear a pair of pants that is neither stretchy yoga pants nor maternity wear. Wearing them makes me feel more like I’ve begun to re-enter “normal”, non-pregnant life again. On the other hand, they were a somewhat horrifyingly large size. I’ve decided not to stress about it now at the one-month-mark but I really hope that breastfeeding and daily walks will help me not to still be wearing these jeans six months from now. I think I actually went a little too big, as they are jeans with a bit of stretch to them and after a few hours of wear, they start to fall down. I vaguely remember this being the norm for this type of jean from way back in my pre-pregnancy past. Just imagine; it’s been so long since I’ve worn regular jeans that I can’t remember how to go about it!

Another significant, more serious happening this week was a call we got from Grace’s pediatrician. They did the state-mandated tests and screenings in the hospital after she was born, and it turns out that Grace is a carrier for cystic fibrosis. This was quite a surprise to Rob and me because there is no history of CF in either of our families. (For anybody who is a little rusty on your Mendelian genetics, Grace will never get the disease but if she has a child with another carrier, their child could have CF.) My first response was really overwhelming thankfulness that Grace is OK. Rob and I turned down pretty much all the prenatal testing offered to us and talked then in an abstract way about the possibility of having a child with a serious disease or birth defect. This revelation now felt so much more real and immediate, though, and really brought me up short with the realization that Grace’s health is such a blessing.

So Grace’s status as a carrier means that either one or both of Robert and I are carriers. The vastly more likely case is that one of us is a carrier and thus statistically half of our children will be carriers. However, it is a slight possibility that we’re both carriers, which would mean that a child of ours would have a 50% chance of being a carrier, a 25% chance of being “normal”, and a 25% chance of having CF. A rather important item has just been added to both of our to-do lists; I think I’ll be able to be tested at my 6-week post-partum checkup. It feels sort of surreal to be thinking about all these genetic possibilities, especially as it could affect Grace’s future. Unlike whichever (or both) of us is a carrier, Grace will have this bit of information when she gets to her childbearing years. It’s crazy to think about how that could affect her decisions decades from now about children and relationships. It reminds me of quantum mechanics and Schroedinger’s cat and all that about how having information changes reality. Rob and I have started joking that we are going to subtly encourage her to date only non-white boys. We would love to extend the cultural depth of our family regardless, but CF is most common in the Caucasian gene pool and much more rare in other ethnic groups. Maybe we can have a nice Asian or black son-in-law? Shall we arrange the marriage now? Any takers?

Thursday, March 9, 2006


Hmmm, this entry might need some kind of disclaimer as well. Don’t read further if you are not comfortable with discussions of breastfeeding.

We are exclusively breastfeeding Grace. I think we kind of had to, or else Rob would lose his pediatrician street cred. And even if we weren’t the kind of people who try to do what the AAP tells us to, there sure is an overwhelming amount of evidence that it is good for babies. One does tend to hear the mantra “breast is best” in general life, but it is pretty amazing when you look a little deeper into it that this choice can reduce the risk for everything from SIDS to diabetes to allergies to ear infections. Being able to have something as necessary as feeding also become an opportunity for such intense bonding and comfort and all is also a lovely idea. Both my sister and I were exclusively breastfed (in fact, my hard-core mother didn’t ever give us a bottle, EVER) so I was comfortable with the idea and don’t view it as weird or abnormal. Robert and I were very committed to breastfeeding before Grace arrived. In our childbirth class, the instructor asked who was planning on giving breastfeeding a try and pretty much everyone raised their hands. She then asked who was going to breastfeed come hell or high water, and although the number of raised hands greatly diminished, Rob’s and mine were still there.

Our experience with breastfeeding has made me so glad that we took classes, read books, and decided we were committed to this ahead of time because it turns out that it is hard! These first weeks have been pretty challenging in the breastfeeding department. As we approach the one-month mark of Grace’s life, I am finally starting to feel like we know what we’re doing and it isn’t so difficult.

Grace nursed just minutes after being born; it was amazing to see her quiet and alert and ready to start her life like that. After that initial feeding, however, we got off to a bit of a slow start. Grace was very sleepy in the hospital and did not really get the hang of breastfeeding in our couple of days there. She dropped from 7 lbs even at birth to 6 lbs 9 oz when we left two days later, which is a little bit high for the post-birth weight loss. By the time we got home, I was feeling slightly panicky and desperate for her to start eating. She did, of course, as my milk increased in volume and changed to transitional milk and she started to be more awake. Those were such a challenging couple of days, though, as she learned how to latch on and actually eat. She would get so frustrated by her intense desire to gain sustenance from a certain part of my anatomy usually modestly ensconced in clothing, and her inability to gain said sustenance. There was much screaming and angry-baby face and whatnot. It really felt pretty awful at the time; emotionally, it felt like Grace was profoundly hungry and I did not have what she needed, that I could not meet her needs. And what arrived in the mail that day? A “welcome kit” or some such thing from Enfamil or Similac or whoever filled with samples and pictures of fat smiling babies. Evil, evil formula companies...

Those first days home from the hospital did pass, though, and Grace and I learned a lot of what we needed. However, I had gotten into the habit of tolerating uncomfortable latches when I was in the stage of being desperate for her to have any success at all, and I started to have a lot of pain around Day 4 or 5. I tried to correct the latch myself and spent a lot of time perusing the books I have and the materials from our class, but it didn’t seem to be getting better. On Day 7, I was in tears in the shower from the pain; afterwards, I marched in to where Rob was holding Grace and said that I needed help. A few days later we found ourselves at the office of the local lactation consultant. Ironically, I was actually starting to feel better by the time we saw the lactation consultant (the therapeutic power of making an appointment with a healthcare provider) but the appointment was still so helpful. I highly recommend getting help if you are having trouble with breastfeeding; having someone help me in person was so much better than trying to do it on my own with books.

My little bit of breastfeeding drama does make me realize that I am a 21st-century, upper-middle-class crybaby. I mean, human babies have been fed this way for millennia without a shelf full of books or people with IBCLC after their names. I am so glad that we have worked through our issues, though. This week I am practically pain-free, as my latch issues have been dealt with and I’ve had time to heal. I had one of my first beautiful breastfeeding moments last week. On the first day of March, we had a significant snowfall and I sat nursing this quiet, happy, stunningly beautiful baby (who amazingly enough is mine), watching big fluffy flakes fall outside our windows. I felt so calm and happy and so profoundly grateful to be one-half of such a unique and amazing relationship. Hooray for boobs!

Thursday, March 2, 2006

An Ode to Robert


This week has marked the end of Rob’s two-week paternity leave and his return to doctoring. It’s been quite an adjustment to move from the two of us caring for Grace to all Julia, all the time during his working hours. Grace is still a very new baby and wants to be held all the time; I am very accepting of this and want to meet her needs for physical closeness and show her that she can trust us and be secure. However, it does present a challenge when it is time for me to, you know, take a shower or eat some lunch. She has cried more this week, as her retinue has decreased in size by half. The week has felt somewhat draining but has gone well, and Grace is slowly gaining the security and confidence to sleep for little stretches with a little more distance between her and us.

The week has made me realize anew how glad I am that Rob is my partner in this crazy endeavor called parenthood. He was really available and proactive during his weeks at home, even taking care of things he wouldn’t normally care about, like making sure the house is neat and the dishes done and all that. I guess he realizes that things like that could knock out my equilibrium being that I’m already stretched thin. Rob’s been really great this week as well. A few evenings, I was feeling quite fragile by the time he got home after a day spent meeting Grace’s intense, immediate needs and not doing a good job meeting my own less-immediate needs (food, sleep, etc). He made me dinner and told me I was doing a good job being a mother and packed me off to bed; what a huge relief to have someone do that for me...

I think the moments that make me the most glad that I’m doing this parenthood thing with Rob are seeing him with Grace, though. I am still pretty overwhelmed by my own love for Grace and how I feel connected to her down in the very core of who I am. In some ways, it is even cooler still to see Rob love her and think she’s amazing and want to be with her. The mysterious tangle of relationships that is “family” looks pretty beautiful to me right now, and I am so happy that it’s Rob here with me.

So here’s to you, Rob; thanks for being who you are. Let’s see how your first night of call goes next week...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Grace's Birth Story

Disclaimer: The following contains references to medical procedures, bodily fluids, and general ickiness which may not be appropriate for those squeamish about such things.

Several people have told me that I should be sure to write out the story of Grace’s birth now while the memories are fresh in my mind, so here I go. Hopefully it won’t give our family and friends the heebie jeebies or anything...

Grace was due on February 7 and on February 11, things finally got going. My waters broke about 6am Saturday morning. My OB practice gives you 24 hours after your membranes rupture to go into labor on your own (waiting longer than that increases risks for infections and complications and things), so we went up to the hospital that afternoon just to get checked and to confirm that the amniotic membranes were ruptured. Rob and I spent the day around the house, and although the intermittent contractions I’d been having for weeks did intensify over the course of the day, they were way too far apart to be called labor.

Sunday morning found us at the hospital bright and early, ready to start our induction. They hooked me up to the external fetal heart monitor and contraction monitor (the kind they strap around your belly), along with the IV for the fluids and pitocin. We started out with a teeny tiny dose of pitocin and over the course of the day, slowly increased it. The contractions gradually became more intense; by early afternoon, I was having to really concentrate on coping with the pain of each contraction. The contractions didn’t seem to go through the phases of labor we learned about in our childbirth classes, no doubt because it wasn’t my own body guiding the labor. I haven’t experienced any other labor (obviously) but I would certainly not contradict the people who say that pitocin makes labor more intense and difficult.

By early evening, I wasn’t coping well with the pain and decided to ask for pain relief. They checked the progress of my cervix’s dilation, and I was at 4cm. (They hadn’t checked earlier because of the increased risk of infection from the ruptured membranes.) Since I was that far along, we decided to go with an epidural. Having the epidural placed was a weird experience but I was sure it was the right decision for me in that situation. And talk about a difference! I really am amazed at modern medicine. Once the epidural was in full effect, I could feel each contraction but I perceived them as pressure, not pain. I could still feel and move my legs and abdomen and did not feel at all numb. Unfortunately, I was no longer allowed to get up out of bed because my legs would be too weak. I had found things like the birthing ball and changing positions really helpful earlier in labor, but exchanging those coping mechanisms for the epidural was definitely worth it in this case.

A few hours later, we started to run into some trouble. Grace had been tolerating labor well through the day, but about 12 hours into it, the heart monitor showed that she was not responding well to each contraction. They eventually turned the pitocin totally off to give her time to recover and placed a different, more accurate kind of heart monitor on her (the kind that goes up through the birth canal and attaches to her scalp). With the pitocin off, Grace did much better but unfortunately my contractions became really weak and infrequent. They turned the pitocin back on at the teeny tiny low level where we started the morning, and my next contraction was this really intense long one that caused Grace’s heart rate to plummet. No good, no good at all.

At this stage, it looked we were headed for a C-section-- troubled baby on pitocin, no contractions off pitocin. They checked me again and I was only at 5cm, so there was still a lot of labor to go. Rob and I asked if we could take an hour to see if labor might pick up on its own before we headed into a C-section; the doctor said he didn’t feel comfortable with that much time but would wait 30 minutes. I signed the consent form for the surgery and Rob got his funny OR jumpsuit and we adjusted to the idea of a surgical birth; we were feeling disappointed about it but felt convinced that it was the right decision. In the meantime, the OR got backed up (divine intervention!) and it turned out that we waited about an hour anyway. In this hour, my contractions started up at a respectable rate of every three minutes and Grace looked like she was doing great on the monitors. Rob was watching the monitors saying, “OK, this kid is just messing with our minds now.” The doctor came back in to check me one more time before going into surgery. He found that I’d progressed 1.5cm and since the monitors looked so good, the C-section was put on hold. Hooray!

In another hour I was fully dilated and Grace continued to do well. My epidural had started to wear off, which is what they intend so that you can feel to push effectively, so I was experiencing pain again but not nearly as badly as on the pitocin pre-epidural. We pushed for 2 hours; it was really hard work and hurt but in a different way than the contractions. It was exhausting, actually, and near the end I was really starting to run out of energy to push effectively. We ran into another little hurdle as I struggled to finish pushing, and the OB suggested an episiotomy. I said I would try a few more pushes on my own but when those didn’t work, I happily acquiesced to a medium episiotomy. Grace came out quickly after that, and was born at 2:24am on Monday, February 13.

I had a fever by the end of labor which could indicate an infection so Grace had to be checked out immediately after birth by the pediatricians (and I had to have a bunch of IV antibiotics). She looked great (which you can see for yourself in the video) and they brought her back to me as I was being stitched up and put back together. Rob bringing her over to me and holding her for the first time was, as cliched as it may be, a fundamentally life-altering and wonderful moment.

Things that surprised me about labor
  • Ahead of time, Rob and I did not have a specific agenda for labor but thought that we wanted to minimize interventions, stay at home for a long time during early labor, maybe avoid pain medications, etc. This is definitely not what happened, so that was a surprise.
  • I am surprised by how little this fact bothered me at the time, or bothers me now. The fact that we have our daughter safe and sound really is what matters, just like they tell you.
  • I am surprised how great an epidural is.
  • I am surprised how little the annoying requirements of getting an epidural (catheter, only ice chips, no getting out of bed) bothered me.
  • I am surprised I ended up with an episiotomy. I was all for just letting nature take its course and tearing a bit if necessary. I just didn’t have the energy at that point, so another preconceived notion out the window!
  • I was really surprised by a couple of the effects of our long pushing stage; my face was super puffy for a couple of days and I strained an eye muscle so badly that I couldn’t focus my eyes for about a day.

To sum up this very long account, I’ll just say that the rest of our hospital stay was smooth and uneventful. Both Grace and I did splendidly and the three of us are glad that the experience of labor had such a wonderful outcome and that we are enjoying being a family now.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Awake Grace

A honeymoon is that first bit of time in a new marriage when the new couple adjusts to life together. Rob and I are about a week into our babymoon now; everything is so new and different and changed forever. This time is so unique in its place in the course of our lives. Most of it is spent wrapped up in the details of taking care of a new baby. Grace needs to eat again! Time for a new, non-poop-covered outfit! Going to the bathroom or eating lunch now involves logistical decisions! However, I continue to have moments when the fog of details lift and I am overwhelmed with the realization of how utterly wonderful this all this. No exaggerating-- I cannot believe how happy I am and how much this tiny individual makes us stop in our tracks with joy.

One thing that has amazed me is how tiny Grace is. She isn’t actually that small for a newborn; she weighed 7 pounds at birth and probably is on her way to gaining back her birth weight by now. Part of the reason for my surprise is that we were actually expecting a bigger baby. Grace came into the world about a week past her due date, and several of the OBs kept estimating her size at over 8 pounds. (What does that tell you about how much weight I gained? I’m sure there will be more on that in some future entry...) More than her actual physical weight, though, I think it has surprised me how tiny that 7 pounds feels. The metaphorical heft of her entry into our lives seems so huge that her tiny physical self seems impossible.

Her clothing situation only exacerbates my perceptions, I think. This has come as a shock to me, but her clothes are all huge on her! Even the newborn size clothes! Every item of clothing she has must have its sleeves rolled back if there is any hope of finding her tiny hands. The bodies are so big that she pulls her little arms inside her clothing, leaving us with an apparently armless baby. Our first experience with this came the first time we dressed her in her own clothes in preparation for our trip home from the hospital. Grace’s outerwear is a lovely fleece hooded bunting, and I am now pretty darn confident there is no danger of her outgrowing it before spring has unequivocally sprung. When we put it on her in the hospital, her entire body fit into the torso section, leaving the bunting arms and legs pretty much empty. I find this whole thing puzzling because the newborn size is supposedly the appropriate one for her current weight. Perhaps this is her introduction to the mysterious world of women’s sizing where the numbers don’t really mean anything?

I know this will be a fleeting time and soon she will be growing gangbusters. I’ll have that experience common to motherkind of picking up an outgrown article of clothing and being struck by the lightning fast changes in who my daughter is and who she is growing to be. For now, I’ll keep dressing her in these giant onesies and kissing the soft warm curve of her skull as it is today, right here in the now during our babymoon.