Feb 27, 2017

What It's Like - Breast Feeding

I want to have things to talk about that are not baby-related, but I'll be honest: it's a bit of a challenge to think of other things when I'm all sleep deprived and I have this little being who takes up so much of my time.  Not to mention the fact that I have literally done nothing else besides take care of him, run some errands, and visit the dog park a couple times.  (Edit: and client projects - I've done like 5 mini projects, so... kudos to me?)

We did visit some friends the other night and I realized at one point that the most entertaining things we had to say were all poop stories.  Oh well.  I'm sure we'll find ourselves again at some point when the newness wears off.

For now, however, I thought I'd share some of the things that I was super curious about when I was still in the family planning stage.  I don't feel the need to defend any of my choices here and I haven't even really felt judged necessarily.  I think the majority of the pressure I've felt to do things "right" or a certain way have come from myself.  And maybe that's because very few of my friends have made the motherhood transition thus far, or because I don't participate in any mom communities online or in person, or because I just have good friends, but I'm thankful for that.

That being said, breast feeding is WEIRD.  And hard.  And prior to Orion's birth I had no clue.  Silly me, I thought it was a natural process and we'd have a quick chat with the hospital's lactation consultant and be good to go!

So here's some things I didn't expect.

1. Neither of Us Knew How to Do It

Babies are not born knowing how to breast feed.  When you're doing your initial skin-to-skin contact, if they seem hungry you have to kind of poke their little mouth with your nipple and hope they latch on.  Even then, he was clumsy, I was clumsy and it certainly didn't feel natural (or magical).

2. Nipple Damage

I thought they'd get a little sore and roughed up for a couple days and just heal, but apparently A) You can legit damage your nipples pretty well and B) You don't have to suffer!  On the first note, yes I did have blisters and scabs and you can imagine it didn't feel too good having those things get mauled every couple of hours.  On the second point, if you have problems with this, get help!!!  It doesn't just go away on it's own.  I went to a breast feeding support group and they showed me how to latch Orion on properly and that greatly minimized the pain and let my nipples heal.

3. Magic? What Magic?

Obviously this is different person to person, but for the most part, breast feeding hasn't been a magical bonding opportunity for me and my son.  At its best, I've laughed at his silly, sleepy face, or enjoyed cuddling him when he falls asleep while eating (which he does constantly).  At its worst, it's been painful, upsetting, stressful, and I've definitely sobbed through a couple feedings, especially before we talked to a consultant and learned that he wasn't getting enough to eat.

4. Experts Aren't Always Right

I was reassured by several people that you "can't run out of milk."  Your body will always make more!  It's great how that works out.  Except it didn't.  I'd be feeding Orion for 2+ hours at a go, he'd be fussing and falling asleep, but waking up the moment I set him down wanting to eat again, and we were exhausted and had no idea what to do or if this was normal.  FINALLY I had a lactation consultant come out to the house and she watched the whole 2 hour process, weighed him before, during, and after, and concluded that he wasn't getting enough to eat.  A mere 2 hours after telling me that I can't run out milk, she admitted that maybe I did have a problem with my "letdown" and yes, we should probably supplement while we worked on that.  (And to verify, our pediatrician said the same thing after noting that it was taking Orion too long to get back up to birth weight.)

5. Formula Has Benefits, Too

So the best thing about that consultation was not that it magically solved all our feeding problems, but that it made me feel better about supplementing.  The moment I learned that my child was not getting proper nutrition, I stopped giving a damn how I felt about being able to provide food for him.  That didn't matter.  And in the weeks since, I've learned interesting little tidbits like the fact that it's recommended to give Vitamin D and Iron supplements to babies who are solely breast fed because they don't get those from mom.

6. My Own Emotions

This was probably the biggest surprise.  I didn't expect to be emotionally attached to the idea of breast feeding.  Prior to having a child, I didn't care.  I knew I'd give it a try, because I wanted to do the "healthier" thing for him if it was possible, but I really didn't think I'd put much emotional attachment on this action beyond that.  SO WRONG.  I cried so many times when we'd give up after 2 hours of feeding or when I'd skip a feeding in order to get 3 consecutive hours of sleep and let Ryan bottle feed him because "I gave up on him" or I wasn't being a good mother or some other bullshit.  And here's the thing.  No one had to say anything to make me feel that way.  I did that entirely to myself.  So, like I said in #4, getting more information was really the best thing we did because I realized the best thing for my child was to get those supplements.  And after that I stopped giving a crap about all the "shoulds" and "coulds" and other bullshit and started focusing on what worked for us.

So... yep.  That's the sum of my newfound knowledge of breast feeding.  If you've got baby plans for your future, hopefully some of this is interesting or informative and if you've already had children, I'm sure you can empathize.  It's been quite the adventure!

Side note, for those interested: Orion is over birth weight now and gaining steadily.  I'll probably continue to do combination BF and supplement, because it's convenient on the occasion that I want to go out or have Ryan feed him so I can sleep AND because I doubt my milk supply is going to improve without pumping after/in between every feeding and frankly, who's got time for that???

Have you breast fed and what was your experience like?  If you haven't, is it something you could imagine yourself doing?

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Feb 4, 2017

So We Made a Baby - Gory Birth Details

We like birth stories, right?

I'll get right to it.  I complained pretty openly about the induction, so that part won't come as a surprise to anyone, but just in case you're curious and have no idea what's involved, I'll provide all the gory details!  (TMI warning, right here, right now.)

So, my last doctor's appointment was right after hitting 39 weeks.  As predicted, they wanted to do an induction even though my blood pressure numbers had gone down somewhat and I still didn't have preeclampsia.  After accepting it and being able to schedule a day, rather than being rushed off immediately to be induced, I was feeling much calmer about it and spent the day of the induction doing laundry and tidying the house.

Ryan and I even made a point to get my "final meal" (which happened to be cheesesteaks, which I had been craving and were delicious) and sit around for a little bit before driving in at 9pm.  They had told us to expect to be in the hospital overnight with the "foley bulb" while my cervix was dilated to 3cm before they'd start pitocin at 4-6am in the morning.  So we planned to have him go home, catch some sleep and then my mom and Ryan would be in in the morning when the action started.

Pah!  Silly us.  You can't plan labor things.

I was dilated a bit more than I had been (2cm vs 1cm) so Ryan decided to spend the night just in case things progressed more rapidly than expected.  And they did!

The foley bulb (which is like a balloon that they insert past your cervix and puts pressure on it to force it to open) came out after only 1-1.5 hours (details are already getting fuzzy) and they decided to start pitocin immediately!

Oh, but I'm forgetting the exciting part.  When they put the foley bulb in, it broke my water.  So we assumed the little balloon thing had popped because liquid started dribbling out.  But it didn't stop and it was absolutely ridiculous because it was rushing out through the tubes they'd inserted and absolutely soaking the bed and making a huge mess.

We had no idea what to do, so Ryan alternately tried to get a nurse back in the room and position a bedpan under me to minimize the mess, while I laughed hysterically because it felt like the 7 seas were pouring out of my body.  Every time we thought it had stopped, I'd move or laugh and it would start up again.

At this point, I started to dread the whole procedure because I thought I was going to be soaking wet for 12-24 hours.  But eventually it did stop and they dried me up (mostly) and got me some disposable hospital underwear to contain the mess.

So then - the pitocin (the drug that starts contractions), which is the part of the induction I was dreading because it meant I'd be attached to an IV the whole time.  In addition to that, I had a baby heart monitor, so getting off the bed and going to the bathroom was an ordeal, since we had to unplug things, and keep cords straight, and drag the IV pole over to the bathroom.  But it was worth it, I thought, to maintain some freedom of movement.

Contractions took a while to start up, so Ryan napped while I tried to relax (napping was obviously not happening) and after 3 or 4 hours got to the point where I had to breathe through them and I couldn't focus on anything anymore.  Ryan held my hand and tried to get me to try out stuff with the birthing ball or moving around, but eventually I just wanted to curl up in a ball and I could tell I was breathing too fast because I was getting light-headed.  We called in the cavalry (my mom) but when they told me I was only 4cm dilated, I cracked and asked for the drugs.

I think I spend maybe 15 minutes feeling guilty and the next several hours being absolutely relieved that I didn't have to do it anymore.  I even napped!

Note on the epidural: it doesn't feel great going in, but it's way better than contractions!  They started me lying on my left side and then tried to get me to shift periodically, whether to spread the drug evenly or just keep things moving for labor, I'm not 100% sure.  But I could definitely tell that whichever side was down would receive more of it, because that area would become more numb and I refused to lie flat, because I could feel it in my face and that freaked me out.  So for the most part my lower half was numb and my upper half was normal (which was good, because arms are important when your legs aren't working).

After all that fun stuff, we had another scary (for me, probably not for the nurses) bit where baby's heartbeat dropped, so they backed off on the pitocin.  This meant contractions slowed waaaay down, and I started to be afraid we'd need a c-section.  But eventually baby recovered, we re-started pitocin, and then waited for them to pick back up.

It was progressing at the expected pace (nurses said to expect 1cm per hour and that we had maybe 5 or 6 more hours to go) and then the nurse had me put a "peanut ball" (like a yoga ball, but peanut shaped) between my legs to try to help get things going.  Pretty shortly after that, I started to feel the contractions again.  This was impressive, as my left leg was almost completely dead (the rest of my lower half I still had control over, just no sensation, but my left leg would not move on its own).

We told the nurse and she asked if I wanted more of the drug.  I was leaning towards yes (because 5 more hours?  That's too many hours of hurting), but she checked my cervix first and then said, "Oh!  Baby's ready!"

We startled to full alertness, not expecting this so suddenly or soon, woke Ryan up and then waited for the nurses to decide if we should start pushing without the doctor.  The doctor eventually showed up (probably 5 minutes later but it felt like forever), got me positioned correctly (one person holds each leg up in the air), and told me how to push, and then we started!

Note: epidural - you can push and, in my case, I could still feel it.  It was just much, much milder than it might have been had I actually succeeded in going natural.  Pushing - you're not supposed to use your legs, which is hard because you instinctively want to use your strongest muscles.

So I pulled back on my legs, tried really hard to relax them at the same time as straining with those other muscles that I don't have a good name for.  They told us we were doing a great job and to expect maybe an hour to an hour and a half of pushing.

We got him out in 30 minutes!

More TMI here, but I think it really helped when I figured out which muscles to use.  Because at first it really does feel like pooping (full disclosure, I pooped a bit.  I was so exhausted I didn't even care), but then I started trying to use the kegel muscles and that's when everyone started getting excited and saying, "We can see his head!"  "Keep going!"

It still felt like an eternity, but there was something exciting about the end.  Ryan and my mom were counting along with the nurses (they want you to take a big breath, hold it and push for 10 seconds, and then take another breath and start over until the contraction ends) and it was kind of like that feeling of finishing a race.  A race you haven't trained properly for and are wheezing and staggering and not sure if you're going to make it but you see the finish line.

The last couple pushes burned (yup, tearing - it happens), and then I felt the weirdest squiggly sensation as that round, hard shape I'd been trying to push out turned into a bunch of waving limbs and cords and squishy stuff.  I told Ryan it was like birthing spaghetti.

I looked down and saw the squally, cone-headed, purple little alien baby we'd been working so hard to get out and felt all kinds of weird emotions.  "That's him!"  "Thank god that's over."  "He looks like an alien!"

Ryan says he got choked up and perhaps I did, too.  My brain wasn't the clearest at the point.  They wiped the baby off and plopped him on my chest and we stared in awe at this little thing we had made.

After that there was some stitching, lots of baby weighing (8lb 6oz), measuring (22in), cord cutting (which Ryan did and was gross), and crying.  I can't even imagine how confusing it must to be to be a newborn and be feeling so many physical sensations all at the same time.

The hospital stay kind of sucked, because while we learned a ton from the people there and it was good time to adjust to things like, "How do I hold this tiny, little fragile thing???" it also meant getting woken up at least every 1-2 hours, if not by the baby, then by the nurses doing stuff.  We got no sleep until we got home.

Now we're a week in and we're starting to get more comfortable with handling the baby and figuring out what he needs when he cries (Ryan is a master of soothing - I cheat and just give him a breast) and how to minimize nipple pain (3 days of scabs and blisters - it was bad).

He's awesome, and perfect, and beautiful and even when I'm crying late at night because I'm exhausted and he's fussing, I'm still totally in love with this little being.  Ryan is also awesome, and I'm incredibly grateful to have chosen a partner who wants to be involved and take on a fair share of caring for an infant.

Here's a snapshot of the first week.

Heart = melting.

I have a couple of other things I want to talk about, namely all the shyeet that's going on with our wise and beloved dictator, and the struggle between wanting to curl up with my baby and ignore the world vs still wanting to do my part for the resistance!  Also work.  I did a very teeny, miniscule amount and it feels good, but the idea of going back to my previous workload feels so overwhelming.  I was unprepared for how long it takes to breastfeed.

But that will have to wait for another day.  In the meantime, keep at it friends!  I'm so proud of so many of you for staying active and vocal and taking part in the Women's Movement, and various protests.  Make history.

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