Saturday, June 23, 2012

Celebratory Wine

To celebrate the birth of my son, I recently opened a bottle of wine I'd laid away a dozen years ago, a rare 1999 Bordeaux blend out of Willamette Valley Vineyards called The Griffin. I paid $75 for the bottle in 2000, and if I recall correctly, it was the first year that WVV made a Bordeaux-style blend -- 1999 was the first year the winemaker thought they had the perfect fruit for the attempt.

The wine itself was worth the 12-year wait. It poured from the bottle a deep blood red color -- a color you'd expect from a wine made with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot grapes. The nose was complex, as was the taste. I'm not the type of person who intentionally singles out different scents or flavors from wines -- my feeling is that when you are preoccupied analyzing a wine (or a book, or painting, or anything similarly complex) you lessen the experience of the whole. In this case, the whole was a luscious, smooth red wine with very little astringency -- most of the tannin was aged out of it.

We drank it when we got home from a Moroccan restaurant. The wine was a good finish after a sweet meal (lamb with honey and almonds). The baby fared pretty well through all the music and belly-dancing, and was completely limp when we got home. I limited myself to one glass, to minimize the mount of alcohol that passed through to my breastmilk. It is interesting to note that even though he's no longer in utero, what I do with/to my body is still dictated by his needs -- and will be for another year or two.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

TMI: Lady-parts postpartum discussion

While I am excited to have my body back, there are some things I wish I'd understood about what would happen to my body during the postpartum period, so I'm documenting it and passing it along to other first-time mothers. Just a warning, the ick-factor of the subject matter may make some people uncomfortable.

First, the bleeding/discharge, also known as lochia. A friend recommended I stock up on sanitary pads a couple of months ago, and the hospital gave me a package of maternity pads, but I didn't really understand what I was in for. It's been two weeks and I'm still bleeding, though it is lessening. It's like menstrual flow at first, and then it changes (as mentioned in the wiki article I've linked to). There is also the smell, which is a lot like the typical coppery menstrual smell, along with a fresh-meat/meat counter scent that is probably related to healing up from the level 2 perineal tear. I recommend buying heavy-duty pads and just preparing yourself to spend a few weeks feeling less-than-pretty while dealing with your messy Aunt Flow.

Second, anemia. Most women experience anemia in the Third Trimester, I learned. I'd never been anemic before, and even with extra iron in my prenatal vitamin, my iron, etc tested low. I ended up taking ferrous fumarate supplements my last couple of months of pregnancy, because the last thing I wanted was to go into childbirth anemic. With all the bleeding that has been going on, and all the energy that is required to take care of a newborn, I strongly recommend taking extra iron in the Third Trimester and continuing it for a while afterwards.

Third, constipation. In the last weeks of pregnancy I didn't eat much, so I didn't have much in the way of bowel movements, but given that I was taking iron supplements, which are known to be constipating, I made sure to eat a couple of dried figs for fiber every day. Also, I learned the hard way that some of the pain medications used during childbirth can cause constipation/hard stools, and when you're sore and healing from an episiotomy or a tear, (or a C-section for that matter) the last thing you want to do is bear down, so do yourself a favor and have stool softeners waiting for you when you get home from the hospital.You'll be taking them for a couple of weeks, at least, until you're healed up "down there."

Fourth, inflammation and pain. Sitting was very uncomfortable for several days. I can't take NSAIDs, but I wish I could, because the inflammation of the vaginal and rectal areas are aggravated by the pressure/pain from sitting, including using the toilet. In my case, I have access to a Japanese bidet (a Toto Washlet) or I would have used a sitz bath. Soaking helps with the discomfort as well as keeping clean. I use baby wipes instead of toilet tissue right now, as it reduces the abrasion of tender tissues. In the medical profession pain is considered the fifth vital sign. It is important to keep pain levels down when you're healing because otherwise your body diverts resources toward the stress response (fight or flight, production of adrenaline, cortisol, etc). Add pain on top of dealing with a fussy newborn and a sleep deficit, and you're likely to be irritable toward everyone around you. So make sure you've got adequate pain relief when you leave the hospital.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Life with baby, week two.

So far Daddy M and I are adapting fairly easily to the changes that Little Man is bringing to our lives.  It's good that his father has several weeks of paternity leave because it gives them time to bond. I love settling Little Man on his father's bare chest and watching him relax into his father's warmth, arms limp and hanging down along Daddy's ribs. They nap well together, now that M is learning how to relax with the baby on his chest. He's been great about stepping in to help with baby-related stuff when I find myself trying to juggle too many things at once.

Being a mother is a comfortable role for me. I wear it well. It's definitely not a role I ever intended to take on, but it suits me all the same. My life has changed significantly, but not beyond recognition. I value tranquility and contemplation, and while there is certainly less of both in my life these days, nursing Little Man does create opportunities for meditative moments. These little time-outs are restorative. They also enhance the bonding process and force me to slow down. There is very little going on in my world that can't wait until a baby finishes nursing, I've discovered.

We are blessed with an easy baby. Little Man rarely cries or fusses, and in the past two weeks I've learned to read him well enough to know when he's gassy and needs burping, when he needs a diaper change, when he's hungry, and when he wants snuggling. He's got a great smile that he shares liberally with us, and each day he's more alert for longer stretches of time. I carry or wear him around the house and outside when I'm puttering in the garden. He's such a quiet little guy that we've taken him to a few restaurants and even to a movie without incident. Our proximity to downtown means we can walk to dinner or the movies pushing him along in the pram, and when he's older the nearby city parks are going to be very easy to visit.

I am blessed with the ability to be fully functional on 4 to 6 hours of patchwork sleep.  It's hereditary, I think. My sisters were the same way, as was my mother. I am also blessed that Little Man only wakes up once a night for a feeding. I usually feed him at 11pm, again at 3am-ish, and then when we wakes up again sometime between 6 and 8 am, depending on how long it took him to get back to sleep from his middle-of-the-night milk-a-thon. He's drinking 3 and sometimes even 4 ounces at a time now, which is why he's sleeping for longer stretches than a lot of other newborns.

He started out rather small, at 7 pounds 1 ounce, and after losing 9 ounces on colostrum-only, was 7 pounds 9 ounces on Day 12. He's getting about 1/2 a liter of breastmilk a day (18 ounces), which accounts for his weight increase. And some of my weight loss, I'm sure. I'm glad I made the effort to exercise and keep my weight down during the pregnancy, because my energy-level bounced back up to near-normal within a few days after the baby was born. Seriously. I was cleaning house, doing laundry, gardening, baking, and taking care of the baby with just Daddy M's help (my step-mother had to go home the morning after I came home from the hospital) by Day 4. Apparently this quick a recovery isn't common, but I attribute it partially to my hardy Scottish and German peasant heritage (I'm built for baby-making) and partially to my efforts to stay active and keep my weight gain to a minimum so my body isn't burdened with the exhausting task of moving a lot of surplus weight around in addition to keeping up with the demands of a newborn. As it is, I'm looking forward to the soreness and bleeding to end so I can get to work firming up my lower body. I feel loose and jello-y in my abdomen and hips, and trying to walk at my usual pace still causes pelvic discomfort.

The wait to find out what he looks like isn't over yet. Infants are so plastic. So far it looks like Little Man has my nose. I wish he'd gotten his father's lovely grecian nose instead of my snub nose. I think he's got his father's mouth and eyes. Not sure about the chin yet. It's a pointy chin right now. If it had a hint of a cleft or a dimple I'd say he'd gotten mine, but time will tell. He definitely got my ears, which I got from my father's side of the family. His hair is brown and straight right now, but I know that newborn hair often falls out and grows in quite different. I was born with dark hair that fell out and grew in straight and blonde, and then when I hit puberty it turned dark and curly. Everyone comments on the perfect shape of his head. So far it looks like he's got his father's slender build rather than my sturdier one. Hopefully that means he'll have his father's grace, because I have very little. Without a doubt he's got my feet -- I'd know those long, almost prehensile toes anywhere :)

Monday, June 11, 2012

A mother's fears

In my late 30's, I conquered Fear. I picked up the tools for dealing with self-sabotaging fears -- the fears that existed in my head, in my inner world, but not in the real world. I faced my own mortality, I sat with the dying, and I went out and did the things I feared doing because I was tired of being afraid all the time. I learned that everyone is afraid, and that the difference between myself and people who did great things was that the people who did great things felt afraid and acted anyway. I learned that if I wanted to fulfill my own capacity for greatness, I had to develop tools for moving past the paralysis of fear, and use them, every day, until it became second nature to acknowledge my fears and act anyway.

I got off the fear bandwagon, and it was very freeing.

Until last week.

Last week, when my newborn was jaundiced and losing weight and not pooping -- I felt real fear for the first time in years. It was a new kind of fear, and it hit me in the gut like a suckerpunch: What if something happens to my Little Man?

 That thought brought anguish greater than I'd felt at the loss of my sister -- the most keenly felt loss of all the deaths of loved-ones yet -- and sent my mind reeling down the What If path.  As soon as I realized where I was going though, I stopped that self-indulgent sabotage. Down that path lies Smothering Motherhood and an Anxious Fearful Child.

Somewhere there is a balance, and I'll find it. In the meantime, I accept that I'll probably swing between extremes for a bit. I'm sure life will present me many opportunities to confront my mother-fears. I'm also certain I'm up to the challenge of raising a happy, well-adjusted child -- all my fears aside.

I'm also certain that the physical, gut-wrenching response to threats to my son's health and well-being will be with me for the rest of my life. I've just got to learn to accept it as one of the tithes of motherhood and hope it gets easier to think critically and act appropriately despite the fear and the pain.

It does get easier, right?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Little Man's First Week

This first week with our newborn has been challenging. Little Man is jaundiced, but improving. At full-term birth he was 7lbs 1oz but within 3 days he lost 9oz -- about 8% of his original weight. It was tough to see him losing weight on the colostrum he was drawing from my breasts, and when I was told it could take 5 days for my milk to come in, I felt real fear for him. I started drinking Mother's Milk tea and visualizing breasts full of milk during my meditative moments. When my milk came in I was ecstatic, and the blissed-out expression on Little Man's face as he fell asleep with a full belly of milk is one I will always remember.

Our next challenge to face was bowel movements. After 5 days he stopped passing the meconium (which I call toxic waste) and stopped passing anything at all. After 24 hours I called the advice line. They recommended I stimulate his bottom with petroleum jelly and breastfeed him longer and more often, so I did. After 48 hours I was at the pediatric clinic, where they tested his bilirubin (up but not at danger level), took his temperature with a generously lubed anal thermometer, and observed me breastfeeding him to make sure he was drawing enough milk. He was a very aggressive latcher, and I'm producing lots of milk, but the lactation nurse recommended that we supplement the breastfeeding with an additional 2oz of expressed milk every 2.5 to 3 hours. Five feedings later we got what we were looking for, thankfully, but with an undesired side-effect: nipple confusion. He won't latch on anymore, I think because it's so much easier to get milk from a bottle's nipple. So, once we've got his weight up and his bilirubin down, I'll start the battle to get him back on the breast. Thankfully, Kaiser Permanente is strongly committed to breastfeeding because it makes for healthier, happier babies, so I'm getting lots of support from the lactation consultants on staff.

Speaking of Kaiser Permanente, I've got to say that I'm really impressed with this foundation as a health care provider and insurer. My prenatal care was excellent. There was no stinginess when it came to making sure that the baby and I were as healthy as possible, and with all the ultrasounds, fetal non-stress tests, dozens of doctor's appointments, specialist visits, lab tests, etc, I only made one (yes one!) $10 co-pay. My only expenses were my medications and nutritional supplements, and gasoline for all the to-and-fro. The birth experience was great, too. The Redwood City birthing center is staffed with midwives in addition to nurses and doctors, which is why I chose it. It was a very caring environment and the staff all did a great job of keeping me in the loop and educating me so I could make informed choices about how to progress with the laboring and delivery processes. I ended up with two hospital stay co-pays of $100 each. Knowing that I didn't have to worry about minimum deductibles and residual fees made the pregnancy much less stressful than it otherwise could have been.

What else? I'm retaining more water now than I did during my pregnancy. My feet and ankles look pillowy. The past couple of days I've been wrapping them in compression bandages and elevating them, and it does help -- they look better than they used to, but some of the swelling comes back within an hour or so of removing them. I'm still feeling bloated and flabby, and very sore/tender from the waist down, but that is to be expected. Even so, it appears I lost a dress size or two during the pregnancy. I had to dig deep into my closet to find a pair of pants to wear that don't hang off of me, and most of my skirts are way too loose. It will be interesting to see what my weight is now, and what my dress size is once I've firmed up.

Daddy M is being great. He never fails to step-up when I ask him for something. He's taking time out each day to do a skin-on-skin snuggle with his son, and helps with the supplemental feedings. We had a couple of emotional flare-ups the day after my parents went home, mainly because I was in pain and tired and feeling overwhelmed, but since then, my emotional state has been balanced and my body is handling the pain/discomfort better as I'm adjusting to the new sleep schedule and feeling less tired.

Almost time to wake Little Man for his next feeding! I think I'm going to hop into the shower while I can.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Little Man is here!

Our little man arrived this past weekend. 

It seems I managed to avoid the C-section that the doctor thought I was going to need because my cervix was so slow to dilate. They put in an epidural before they started the pitocin, and thus before there was any real pain, because my history of long, difficult intubations (for anesthesia) could be problematic if an emergency C-section was needed and I was too far along for an epidural. However, the slow induction worked out in the end -- after 20 hours on pitocin I suddenly progressed from 4cm to 8cm in a 2 hour period and then there was no stopping his arrival -- I pushed 3 times (with a lot of yelling on my part as it seemed once he was in the birth canal the epidural wasn't as effective) and there he was! The midwife said that the birth was so fast he was in shock when he arrived. It took a minute or so for him to cry.

M and my step-mother were there for the birth. Just barely. They walked into the room as he was crowning. M really surprised me by how much he participated in the delivery (he'd expressed some squeamishness) and early care of the baby. He was going to cut the cord but as they handed him the scissors the doctor cut the cord -- apparently it was wrapped around the little man's neck. My mom was here for a couple of days but had to go home. Fortunately, M is on paid paternity leave so he helps me with Little Man. He's a bit overwhelmed right now, but I've never known him to fail to step-up.

He's a perfectly healthy baby boy, thankfully. We had our concerns, even after the genetic screening came back clear, because of my age and the fact that I was on some medications in the first trimester (including the contraceptive pill) that they steered me clear of once I was diagnosed as pregnant. Since I managed my pregnancy weight so well, he was 7 pounds at birth. It looks like he'll have brown hair and brown or hazel eyes. He's got long legs and big feet so it looks like he's going to get the height on my father's side of the family, just like M wanted. Unfortunately, it also looks like he got my nose, which I have courtesy of my father ;)
The Unintentional Mother's Little Man
The first days with Little Man have been pretty intense, especially when he was only getting colostrum from my breasts, but now that my milk has come in, he's sleeping longer and the quality of his hunger cries is far less heartbreaking for me.

Well, the little guy is awake. Time for breakfast!