Week 34: April Showers

Most frequently asked questions:
Are you sick of being pregnant? (Answer: yes!)

Uncomplimentary comments people don’t think twice about voicing:
Look how funny your stomach looks! It’s like a shelf.
(From an OB nurse who should know better)

Current symptoms:
Itchy belly
General feeling of hugeness

Current number of friends who are pregnant:
3 (not including J.G., who gave birth to a baby girl last week!)

My pregnant friends are dropping like flies. Or, I should say, are popping out babies like flies … or something. Baby Oliver and Baby Lily have come into the world at last! I got to visit T. and Oliver in the hospital last weekend, where they are keeping him for a little while because he was born almost a month early. He looked so tiny in his little plastic salad bin in the NICU! He’s an adorable, non-squishy little guy with a head of blond peach fuzz.

I was shocked, though, when the nurse picked him up and his little ear was folded over and stuck flat to his head. She just said, “Oh, he was just sleeping on it. The cartilage will stiffen that right up soon,” and nonchalantly bent it back in place like a piece of Play-Doh!

You would think that being in such close proximity to a newborn would sort of drive home the message that I’m next, but oddly, it didn’t. I still can’t quite grasp that the squirmy little being inside me is going to be coming out in just a few weeks. It’s currently part of me, yet soon it will be separate from me. Mind boggling!

After the hospital, my friend L. picked up my visiting mother-in-law and me to bring us to the top-secret location of my baby shower. We pulled up to an adorable Victorian tea house I didn’t even know existed. Inside, they had set up a private room with teapots, flowers, balloons, and all things girly. It was great! Even my SIL was there, despite the fact that she had already attended the shower my college friends threw me a couple of weeks ago.

K.F. displayed her super-creative skills with the adorable shower games she devised. One was to match the guests’ baby photos to their adult photos – tougher than it sounds. Another was to identify various kinds of baby food by taste. Can you say “ewww”?! That stuff is gross, people. Fortunately, we had tea and scones and tiny little sandwiches to chase away the foul taste of the pureed spinach.

The girls went all out on the gifts – the Rolls-Royce of car seats, a stroller, a handmade baby sling, and dozens of great books. You know this kid’s got to be literate, with a writer for a mom. I feel so lucky to have such wonderful friends and family.


Week 33: Status Report

Most frequently asked questions:
When are you due? [Insert comment about how “huge” or “tiny” I am here.]
Do you know what you’re having?
Is this your first?

Uncomplimentary comments people don’t think twice about voicing:
Looks like you’re having a big baby.
I doubt you’ll make it to your due date.
Your stomach looks pointy. (From my husband.)

Current symptoms:
Itchy belly
Near-constant case of baby hiccups
Pinched nerve in my back that comes and goes

Current number of friends who are pregnant:
4 (not including T., who gave birth to a baby boy yesterday!)

My parents were visiting this past weekend, so I took the opportunity to ask them what they remember about my birth. The short answer: not much. It seems that by the time you get to the second kid, it’s old hat. Also, because my brother’s birth was so dramatic (18 hours of labor culminating in an emergency C-section), mine was sort of anticlimactic. As my father put it, “It was less traumatic the second time. It happened so fast and then there you were.”

I arrived early. My mom was scheduled for a Cesarean on a Tuesday. But when she showed up for her checkup on Friday, she was in labor. “They kept saying, ‘But you can’t be having this baby. You’re not scheduled till Tuesday,’” recalls my mom. “And there I am [huffing and puffing] saying, ‘What do you mean?!’” It soon became pretty clear that she was, in fact, having the baby.

The part of my birth story that has become part of family lore is when my dad almost got kicked out of the hospital for plugging in his Super 8 movie camera and spotlight over the hospital bed. He’s always been a big gadget guy, the first to get the very latest technology. My childhood memories are plagued with images of cameras and microphones being shoved in my face, awkward phases and non-camera-friendly gestures being forever preserved for posterity.

So, anyway, the hospital staff came in and scolded him, quite rightly concerned that his energy-sucking camera apparatus might short out the medical equipment.

As for my brother, he remembers absolutely nothing about my birth. Of course, he was only 2 ½ at the time. My parents say he did suggest once that they put me in the dryer. Apparently that seemed to him like a good way to deal with this new interloper.


Week 32: Too Much Info

Maybe we should have adopted. It’s got to be less overwhelming than sitting through seven hours of “childbirth preparation” at the hospital last Sunday. From breathing techniques to labor terminology to medical interventions, the sheer magnitude of information left C. and me reeling by the end of the day. Thank goodness for the multiple snack and bathroom breaks. There’s just so much to KNOW about having a baby!

Some of it I wish I didn’t know. Like I really didn’t need to visualize the 10 cm my cervix will dilate in order to give birth. But a helpful plastic model was passed around for all to see. And I could have done without the full-color cloth model of the placenta that the instructor demonstrated delivering. (It looked like a jellyfish, if you want the truth.) And the model of the uterus? That resembled a misshapen, striped knit sock. Not sure how anatomically correct that one was.

But it was the videos on epidurals and C-sections that scared me. I thought an epidural was a one-time deal, like an injection of Novocain at the dentist. Except the (very large) needle is inserted into your SPINE and they LEAVE IT THERE. That’s right, they attach a tube so they can adjust the level of medication throughout labor. THROUGH YOUR SPINE.

Then there’s Pitocin, a synthetic form of the so-called “cuddle chemical” oxytocin, which your body is supposed to produce naturally during labor to help facilitate contractions. Sounds innocuous enough. Except there’s nothing cuddly about the super-strong, extra-intense contractions that Pitocin brings on. Plus, it can actually prolong labor. Who knew?

I’m guessing not everyone, based on the discussion at my baby shower last weekend. Besides me, there were two other pregnant women there. They casually chatted about the pain-numbing drugs they were planning to have administered the moment they set foot in the hospital. Was I really considering a natural birth?! they asked, stunned. I hemmed and hawed.

Never having done this before, I hate to go into the delivery room with strict rules about what I definitely will and definitely won’t do. It’s not a moral or religious issue. If you want drugs, by all means bring on the drugs. I just like the idea of the kinder, gentler, more natural birth they talked about in my HypnoBirthing class. “Your body knows what to do,” was the constant refrain. I sure hope so, because thanks to the packets of handouts, stacks of books, and reams of notes I’ve accumulated, my mind has pretty much shut down at this point.

Weird Symptom of the Week: Braxton Hicks or “practice” contractions. These are sporadic uterine contractions that increase towards the end of pregnancy. They’re reportedly painless, but feeling your abdomen tighten up till it’s rock-hard isn’t the most comfortable sensation.


Week 31: How Do You Doula?

A lot happened this week: I finally finished my baby quilt (It came out great!), we had our last HypnoBirthing class, and I met with a doula. “Doula” is one of those words I had never heard before I got pregnant – like “vernix,” which I recently learned is what the cheesy white stuff coating the baby’s skin after birth is called. Anyway, a doula is basically a birth coach.

“But isn’t that what my husband’s for?” you may be asking. Silly girl. Has your husband ever given birth before? Then how can you expect him to have any better sense of how it works than you do? Mine can’t even make it past the first chapter of the birth books.

Besides knowing what they’re doing – ideally by both attending births and having given birth themselves – doulas are also there to support you emotionally and physically. They will fetch you ice chips and rub your back. When I ask my husband for a backrub, he half-heartedly attempts a “massage” that mimics someone scratching a dog’s ears. It’s over in minutes and he usually keeps one hand on the remote control. Hardly a pleasurable experience.

My doula, Margo, looks about my age and has three kids. She has a pleasant, laid-back demeanor. When we met, she casually and discreetly nursed her 1-year-old while we talked. With her first baby, Margo told me she showed up for her doctor’s appointment a week before her due date and was told to proceed immediately to labor and delivery as she was already 8 cm dilated! (For those who don’t know, like me a week ago, the baby comes out at 10 cm, about the circumference of a CD. Try not to be alarmed.)

These stories are meant to be comforting in a “don’t worry, everyone’s birth is different” kind of way, but I find them maddening. In the movies, it works like this: a woman’s water breaks, she starts moaning and clutching her stomach, she’s rushed to the hospital, and she has the baby. In real life, apparently, you could be walking around for days, weeks even, with intermittent contractions – or none at all, like Margo! You could be in labor for days or hours. Your water could break on its own or the doctor may have to break it for you. There are way too many variables, people!! This is not reassuring to the first-time mother.

I guess the point of a doula is to help you handle the uncertainty and perhaps provide an educated opinion as to whether or not you are in fact in labor before you go waking your OB/GYN at 3 a.m. Though clearly Margo wasn’t exactly on top of things when she was giving birth herself for the first time. Hopefully she at least gives a decent back rub.

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