A friend of mine invited me to do a podcast on motherhood for her friend / client Lisa York. I agreed! You can find it (and also a brief summary of it) here (warning: loads a little slowly), on Lisa York’s SuperMum website.
Yes…. SuperMum. I have to admit that my friend asked me to do a podcast and I was all “yeah! yeah, sure!” and never really asked what it would be about (I know.. I know). Then ON THE DAY of the podcast I listened to some of the archived podcasts (which I loved!), and dug around in the site and found out that it was all about tips for motherhood. Interestingly, not parenting per se, but motherhood – how to keep sane, or keep happy, or just keep going while “mum-ing”. For example, there were tips on how a quick morning meditation can help your day, and how to have a quick “mummy reboot” or how to “Find Your Lost Identity”. So, my immediate reaction was to look at my unwashed hair and creased clothes, and the general disarray of my life, and think “Cripes, I have got literally nothing to offer here”. It is not unusual for me to wear the same clothes three days in a row because I didn’t have time to wash / choose / think about anything else. There. I admitted it. Be grateful I use Febreeze y’all.Plus, I was worried Lisa would also want parenting tips, and I don’t give parenting a lot of thought. I’m not saying I am a brilliant parent-er, but through a combination of over confidence and and inertia (I like to think inertia sounds better than laziness) I I just mostly do what feels right at the time, somewhat in consultation with the other ‘alf, and rarely actually take stock of what I am doing. I mean, I am prone to suddenly going “ermagahd we all need watch less TV” or “waaaaah, the minions are not being adequately controlled by their masters and anarchy is on the horizon in this household” but at these points I can’t think of a time where I have investigated HOW to watch less TV, or HOW to control the parasites. I just sort of try to do it for a little while, and when a new panic comes [“We all need to take Probiotics everyday or we’ll be 20-stone and ridden with ebola!”] I forget about the old one, and who knows if I actually effected any behavioral change.
I am totally on board that I could do things better, and that my kids could be better in some areas, but I am just not motivated enough to like, read a book about it, or an article. Or, let’s face it, even a listicle (unless it has super amazing gifs, including one of Ryan Reynolds (Greatest Dad Ever TM) in his underwear). I do love that plenty of my friends read this stuff, because then when I am whining that my kids can’t do a basic human act like sit at the dinner table, I can absorb their collective wisdom (nicely digested, synthesized and often tested) as I sob into my Malbec.So, I totally freaked out, but Lisa (who runs the website and its podcasts) was ah-maz-ing and told me just to be myself and then gave me a write-up that made me even want to listen to myself (to be clear: I have not! Ha! I am way too awkward and worried that I’ll sound like a fool or spend all the time fretting about my answers to do that). But, I am glad I did it. As we talked about things like differences between the US and the UK, and the fact that I don’t read parenting books, I am super worried that I will offend someone – but still, I am glad I did it. And I definitely enjoyed it. And Lisa seemed to think that the message of “Oh, I’m just winging it because I guess deep down I don’t think what we do makes an enormous difference anyway…” was an OK message to put out there. Or maybe even a reassuring one. So, if you needed to here it – there we go.
I’m winging it and you can too 🙂
But also, it was good that one of Lisa’s goals with SuperMum is just to tell mum’s stories… and I really enjoyed listening to those – kind of like an audio blog if you will. I’ve subscribed on itunes and I am trying to listen to new podcasts on the way to work, so maybe some tips will seep in after all…
Oh, and at the end of the podcast every person is asked to give their definition of a SuperMum. Apparently the most common definitions involve happiness and health. I won’t tell you what my definition of a SuperMum is (go listen to the podcast!) but can I just make a plea that we stop tying success to happiness and health? Both of those are gifts that are only somewhat within our control. It’s easy to agree that someone who has cancer / has children with cancer (i.e. the health part is tough) is no less a SuperMum than someone without. So, can we generalize and say that someone who is depressed / has children with depression – or is even just struggling to be happy and content right now – is also no less a SuperMum. And this obviously goes beyond parenting: your success, and your worth and your value does not have to tied up to your health and happiness. It’s up to you to decide what it is tied to…
AKA “the part where I lost my freaking mind”.
Also – before we get to the nitty gritty, remember the recent hoopla over the guy who took selfies while his wife was delivering? Let’s just say he wasn’t the first.
I was 7 cm dilated when I got to triage, and probably about the same when they wheeled me up to a delivery room since the stress of transferring to hospital slowed things down a bit. All my months of denial about birth, and hours of denial about labor made me forget all my Bradley training and pretty much everything I knew about labor and birth, so I pretty much rocked up like one of those women who mistake an 8 month nausea-filled gestation complete with intestinal punches and kicks for “the effects of holiday eating” (and I’m really concerned about how they eat on holidays). Naive, confused and completely fecking useless.
Oh, addendum: before leaving the triage room I stated “I want an epidural”.
We arrive in delivery at about 3 am and the contractions are picking up steam in terms of pain. Having slowed a bit for the jaunt to hospital (an oft-observed phenomenon) they luckily got nice and regular (read: sucky and regular) when we settled in. The nurse started preparing an IV of antibiotics for the group B strep and fluid for the epidural.
Then my OB arrived. She apprised the situation. She uttered the words “but I thought she didn’t want an epidural?” and with -I swear – a sort of disappointed look responded to “she’s changed her mind” with a shrug and an “OK then”. I wanted to punch her, really hard (even though I love her really). The only thing that saved her pretty face and my jail-free life was the knowledge that she’d be poking around the business end of my body soon, and hey, I try to be nice to people who end up there, whatever their reason is.
I gritted my teeth and told her that I couldn’t deal with the pain after all. My OB’s path to redemption began when she looked at my nurses and told them to help me with the pain. She offered me a bath which I declined mid-contraction in tears and so she suggested a yoga ball. This gave me pause. Wes said “she’s the yoga ball queen” so as a contraction ended I bitterly conceded “ok, that maybe sounds good”.
I’ll confess: it was darn good. She then got the nurse to put counter pressure on my back with the contraction and I entered his blissful phase where the contractions were pretty bearable and I got glorious pain free (completely fucking pain free) breaks for a minute or so in between but was high on the endorphins. And all with my OB was forgiven. Happy times.
That glorious state lasted for ooohh… 10 minutes at the most and then transition started. The contractions got stronger until I was flopped over the bed from my yoga ball begging my OB to look at the contraction monitor and tell me the contraction was on its way down. At some point I think they situated Wes opposite me and got him to be reassuring… Unfortunately at that point I felt intense nausea and started shriek “I’m going to vomit” and retch at his crotch. He bore it well but later confessed he was horrified. The nurses did sweet things like ask me if I liked my hair tied up, and when I said yes, they did so. They really tried to help with small comforts.
At about 3.20 I looked down and saw fluid everywhere and felt totally humiliated by it for some reason. I miserably said “I think my water broke” and the nurse looked down and said “yes” then looked at the OB and said “light meconium staining” and I remember feeling truly miserable as I thought through the pain “I am sitting, helplessly bouncing around in body fluid and poo while crying – this is the worst thing ever”.
My water breaking signaled another increase in contraction intensity and a lack of break between them such that one would start before true other ended. I think I truly lost my mind slightly because I remember the OB reminding me to breathe and I didn’t even realize I wasn’t. I also remember the pain ripping angry yells from my body at the peaks. I was lucky – transition lasted only about 15 minutes for me. I guess it was obvious to my experienced OB that I had passed through that because after 15 minutes she looked at me and very calmly said “Alexis, do you feel constant pressure yet?”. I tried to figure it out… I thought that if the pain would just recede a little I could figure out if and where and when I was feeling “pressure”. But the pain was just unending and intense and I gave up and felt useless not being able help, and said in tears “I don’t even know”.
My team was super nice about my pathetic-ness and just gave me space to do my thing; they never questioned or pushed me or intervened to assess me. They seemed to truly trust me and my body which on some level was reassuring and must have been calming because a few minutes later I looked at them with terrified eyes and said “I need to push”. Followed by “actually, thinking about it, I think I’ve been pushing for a while”.
The OB told me to get on the bed and the thought of actually balancing and putting weight on my legs was like someone asking me fly so I declared I couldn’t do it. I looked at the resident who was evidently going to actually deliver the girl and said in a measured and dangerous tone: “my epidural?”. I swear j have never seen a doctor look so scared and she mutely shook her head. That was it. I wailed “I can’t do this” as the nurses hoiked me onto the bed. Half way up I yelled out “oh, ring of fire! Ring of fire“. My nice OB said no stirrups or anything like that, just to let me get into my own position. Basically a glorious hands off approach.
Left to my own devices my body really did take over and push with the contractions at the end of transition. My mind had nothing to do with this… My body was pushing and wailing and screaming through contractions and I was completely unaware of it… It all seemed to be on autopilot and I truly felt like an animal. A couple of minutes after getting on the bed, when my OB said “try to use your energy to push down not yell out” it brought me to my senses more. I realized that I had not even realized I was yelling and needed to pull it together a but. The contractions had more or less gone and the pain was gone. So I did what any reasonable person would do at this point when faced with the prospect of reopening the door to pain and took a deep breath, looked the staff In their eyes and calmly, but firmly, re-iterated
“I can’t do this”
Everyone joined in this team effort to convince me I could. I was highly skeptical until my OB told me that I could, because I basically already had. Caroline was almost out – she had been pushed most of the way on the ball, and was now crowning. I should have known that from my “ring of fire” yelps, but my reason had gone. Gone. Even the crowning didn’t move me – it was when my OB said “she’s blonde” (I responded “blonde? Really? Like her brother?”) that it became real to me – my daughter was here and she had hair like her brother.
So I pushed. And pushed. Probably only 3 pushes or so, but it hurt. It really hurt – the contractions were like the most intense I-might-pass-out type pain. The pushing was nowhere near as painful but just deeply unpleasant – I felt like my intestines were going to fall out of my butt hole. Seriously. Like I was going to turn inside out. The level of pain was bearable… The unpleasantness held it back. My OB could tell I was holding back and put two fingers in me and pressed down stretching my entrance. I got quite cross and said “you’re hurting me!” And she said triumphantly “yes! Now push past that pain” which helped – a lot. I could focus on an area and push beyond it. A couple of pushes and I asked if I could have a break to breathe… They said yes…. Then as I started up again, the other super helpful thing my OB said was “when you get her out all this pain will go” which was a good motivator. A few more painful pushes and the nurses looked excited and said “yes! She’s here”. Her head was half way out! I asked for another break…
At this point. All the pain really really stopped. I mean, I’m not going to claim that it was comfortable having half a baby’s head out of me, but it wasn’t painful. And it was nearly 4 am and I was tired and it really did cross my mind that I just wouldn’t start pushing again. I’d nap. Have a snack. Maybe start again tomorrow. Maybe.
My team began to get a bit nervous as their wailing gnashing banshee sat there serenely peaceful, doing nothing. For all the world as if she was about to settle in with netflix and some wine… Apart from the baby half hanging out of her. They made all sorts of encouraging noises (it got to the stage where even the non-medical staff such as the clean-up lady give me huge thumbs up of encouragement). I just half closed my eyes and felt peaceful. Eventually it crossed my mind that this might not be too good for my baby and that galvanized me into one last push… And out she came. Caroline was here.
The pain did indeed immediately end. The pediatric team had been called because of the meconium staining, but Caroline came out roaring and my OB said “as she’s crying can I hand her over?” (Love my OB!). They pediatric team obviously said yes and a sticky, gooey, poo-ey Caroline was laid on my chest while they suctioned her and did a clean up right there on my chest. I had an itty bitty first degree tear sewed up and just looked at my daughter. She was here!
Everyone – and I mean everyone – got sick this week (including poor Caroline, which was heartbreaking). So we postponed Sam’s birthday until he was at school, and well enough to enjoy it (although we did give him his present from us – a massive box of Geotrax – so that he had something to play with while home from school during Caroline’s massive feed-a-thons), and at school so that he could give out his muffins and party bags (why muffins? Because when we asked is we could send in cakes, the teacher said “we prefer something healthy’ [oh good, I’m on board] “like muffins” [Aaaargh, tears hear out].
So now, 2 days late, I get to say:
Happy 3rd Birthday Sam.
Sam, you have made me understand the phrase “the light of my life”. When you are around, things seem brighter. You make me smile more broadly, laugh louder and hug harder than anyone else (sorry about the endless hugs… I know you have stuff to do and they get in the way). Every day, your crazy energy reminds me how much joy there is to be had in life. Your unconditional love teaches me about loyalty and trust. And eating your grow up is one of the greatest pleasures, and greatest achievements, I have in my life.
I am so proud of of what an empathetic boy you have become. Yesterday, we were all sick, Caroline had cried for over an hour, and then you had a meltdown because I put water in your cup when you had asked for juice (sorry about that). So, helpfully I started bawling my eyes out (I might be where you get your fair for the dramatic… sorry about that too). You tired to ‘kiss it better’ and when I was still crying you said “I think we need to call Daddy to make it better… I think Daddy has your medicine… I took medicine in my mouth and it made me better..” Then you proceeded to look for my shoes and socks so we could get your sister to the doctor. I was awestruck by how mature you could be, and touched by such sweetness. I hope that concern for others, and that need to make those you love happy (which comes from your Dad) never leaves you. It will make you a wonderful son, friend, partner and human.
I am watching you grow into your role as big brother too – again, I am so proud of how you have adapted to no longer being the center of attention, and to the care you show your sister. I know it was tough when she came home, and when things changed, but you have bounced back and are our cheerful, happy boy again. I admire your resilience, and wish I had it too.
You’re crazy – definitely a little wild. You quite proudly announced you had a time out at school you because you “broke Scott’s tower”. You looked me dead in the eyes and said “I broke it so hard”. You poured pretzels all over the floor today so your dump truck could scoop them up. We frequently find you have locked yourself in Ellie’s dog crate. You are crazy and loving and curious and wild and smart and demanding and just you. I am so grateful you are you. Every bit of you I love and I can’t wait to see what this next year brings out of you.
If you ask people how long I was in labor you can get a range of answers. My OB would say “5 weeks”. When our pediatrician asked my husband, he said “2 hours”. My Mum would probably say somewhere in between. The truth is, I have no idea how long labor was for me. At 36 weeks, Caroline had dramatically stopped moving and no amount of icy lemonade, loud noises nor pokes with a wand could get her move on the ultrasound nor even take a breath. So we had a non stress test (NST) to check she was OK at our routine OB visit. Caroline was fine and passed with flying colors – just heavily sleeping and then moving like a champ when she deigned to wake up. What surprised everyone was the fairly strong, very regular contractions I was having.
My nurse read my output and said “Did you know you were contracting? Like… for a minute every 5 minutes?” *cue awkward pause* She asked: “Are you in pain?” and I said that honestly, I was having the least comfortable pregnancy ever and was always in pain. However, I told her that I didn’t “feel like” I was going into labor, and she said “I don’t know… I think we might be seeing you tonight”. That is when my OB could count my labor as starting.
Of course, Caroline didn’t come that night and made me wait another 4 weeks and 5 days. But in discussing the results of the NST with my OB, who similarly asked me if I thought I was in labor, I did say “so what does labor feel like?”. I explained “I missed being labor with my son… I got an epidural because I thought labor had not even started after a couple of days on pitocin, but when they gave me the epidural I was actually 10 cm and it was a bit of a mistake… so I am wondering what it feels like”. My OB squinted at me and said “Are you telling me that you think you won’t know when you are in labor??” which sounded so darn ridiculous when said like that in the cold light of day that I quickly laughed and said ‘No, of course not, I’m sure it will be obvious”.
Ha. Famous last words.
This general pattern of things happening and people telling me I was in labor happened for weeks… My high-risk OB gave me a final scan and was worried about the contractions and ordered more tests… I got actual contractions…. I lost my mucus plug… I bled… and everyone kept saying “We’ll be seeing you at labor and delivery within 24 hours…” but they never did. On Friday 10th, I thought my water had broken so Wes and I went to labor and delivery. It hadn’t… the doctor used the litmus paper type test and it was negative, but then there was so much fluid just generally about she couldn’t believe my water hadn’t broken so did more tests. All negative. She reluctantly let me go saying “it really looks like your water has broken… I am sure we will be seeing you very, very soon”. I rolled my eyes and went home.
At about that point, I pretty much decided I was never going to go into labor naturally. Google confirmed my fears that some women’s bodies just don’t go into labor. This was going to be me… I was going to get induced again. I tried to make my peace with that and stopped looking for clues I was in labor. So, when I started to get stomach cramps on Saturday 11th, I didn’t give them much thought. I have no idea when they actually started, all I know is that at 6 pm, I got up from dinner to get a drink and remarked that my stomach cramps were so bad I could not stand up straight. I remember hunching over as I brought Sam his juice. After dinner I took Sam to bath (we bathed together) and I remember more cramps in the bath – cramps with backache. I wouldn’t say they were rhythmic but there was relief between them. I also felt uncharacteristically grumpy (actually, scratch that, that was very characteristic of me in during Caroline’s pregnancy). I remember being shorter tempered with Sam than I should have been and lying on the bed after the bath feeling like the pain was making me very reluctant to actually go through his bedtime routine. But I did, and the nagging pain made me think that baby might have wiggled into an odd position so I did some spinning babies to try to maneuver her into a more comfortable position.
At 9 pm ish, I went downstairs and found Mum ready to go to bed. I told her about my stomach / back pains and kept trying to stretch out over my yoga ball to relieve them. Mum asked if I thought this was labor and I snapped “I am sick of this! Everyone keeps telling me I am in labor and I never am!”. So, Mum went to bed, and then came back to see me, finding me in my bedroom again trying to work out my cramps. We chatted for a while and Mum said “Sweetie, I think you are in labor. I think you should phone Wes”.
I thought about it. I knew I was supposed to go into hospital early because I needed antibiotics for group B strep, and I needed blood tests to determine the need for clotting factors. But, again, I had had so many false alarms and even dragged Wes to hospital the very day before – I’d feel such a fool if this was another false alarm. Plus there wasn’t really anything to indicate this was actually labor. I decided that I would text Wes telling him how I felt, and try to sleep. As I said to Mum “I mean, if I am in labor, I won’t be able to sleep, right? If I am not, I can sleep off the pain”. She agreed this was a good idea and I went to bed, watched an episode of Girls, and decided against a second one as it was now 11 pm and I didn’t want to be tired the next day.
At about 1,30 am Wes came home from work, and woke me on his way to bed. He asked me how I was feeling and I said “Oh fine… it wasn’t labor… AGAIN”, so we chatted for a while, during which time I kept curling around my tummy saying “It hurts”. I decided to go and “walk off my cramps” but I couldn’t, so Wes asked me to at least time the cramps. I dragged out my little ‘contraction timer’ app and blow me – even though I kept forgetting to hit ‘start’ until a way through the contraction they were 1 minute apart and the little app said “You are in transition”. “My app says they are one minute apart” I yelped in surprise. “We have to go to hospital NOW” said Wes, and went downstairs to collect his stuff. Then the cramps became seriously strong – I remember yelping for Wes during one, and he rubbed my back before bundling me in the car. I remember my Mum coming in when I was fussing about the pain and saying “Breathe, Lekki, Breathe” and thinking “oh yes! breathing, that’s supposed to help”.
The car ride was pretty harsh, although all the changes and hassle had slowed the contractions to every 3 minutes or so. At the peak, I would kind of arch my back in the seat and hold my breath and repeat like a mantra “it will end… it will pass”. And it would. Between contractions I felt great – totally normal and no pain! I even said to Wes “I hope this is really it and I am not wasting anyone’s time…” and he got a bit shirty and said that if I was still thinking like that there was nothing he could say to help me and convince me to be sensible and I thought that this was mean and not very understanding and I thought about being stroppy about it, but didn’t really have the energy and maybe this wasn’t the time to start a fight anyway. So I TOOK THE HIGH ROAD (while in labor – major points to me I think) and we distracted ourselves getting pissed off at all the drunk drivers around.
We arrived at labor and delivery at about 2.40 am and when we pulled up the valet helped me out of the car. A contraction hit and I bent over and gritted my teeth and probably wailed a little and the valet looked totally shocked and I remember thinking “Don’t you see women like this all the time? I mean, this is a labor and delivery hospital!”, so then I did get annoyed because I figured I was acting all wrong and started to feel awkward about it all. I coldly declined his offer of a wheelchair because: high horse, and marched up to labor and delivery.
At check-in they also seemed quite surprised to deal with someone in pain, which was really starting to get my goat. But they did check me in super quickly, and put me in triage where a nurse came and got me within a few minutes, although I wouldn’t go to a room without Wes because I THINK AHEAD and could just see Wes coming out to an empty hallway and not knowing what blinking room I was in, and really – I could foresee what kind of mess that would create. So the nurse and I waited in triage while I sank to my knees in pain (50% I sank to my knees because squatting felt good and 50% of the reason I sank to my knees is because I thought that looked ‘laborly’ and what I had seen people do in sitcoms when they rocked up to deliver a baby and as no one actually prepares you for how to act when you turn up to hospital in labor I decided to copy American TV for a lack of any other ideas). She didn’t look shocked to see a woman in pain, but she also didn’t seem very sympathetic to my plight so maybe I did something wrong after all.
We got into an assessment room, they made me put all my clothes in a plastic bag, dressed me in one of the ugliest hospital gowns I had seen, hooked me up a monitor, took blood to check my clotting factors, did a check and said “You’re 7 cm dilated with no cervix and the baby’s head is right there, I can feel it with my hand.”. I don’t know what we said to the doctor… if we told her that it was only on the third day in hospital that I had actually managed to have my son, or if I started wittering on about needing blood tests and anti biotics but it still had not really sunk in that I was definitely in labor. I think, honestly, I may have said that I needed time to poop before having a baby. The doctor said, firmly, “No, you have declared yourself by showing up 7 cm dilated, you’re having this baby now”. And I just had to wait for our nurse to show up with a wheelchair.
And off I went in a wheelchair out of ‘labor’ and into ‘delivery’ and the fun really began.
Where, by ‘fun’, I mean ‘gut wrenching agony and me being a giant baby about it all and things did not go as I had planned (but they never do)’. Which is sort of fun I guess.
I can’t believe I last posted at the end of the second trimester. Suffice to say that the third trimester was pretty tough and uncomfortable – although the nausea got better in the second try it never really abated and the exhaustion just seemed to build and build. So you’ve been saved a lot of moaning (which I feel guilty about knowing I have friends who would take anything to be pregnant) and I can just say that there was a great ending, since Caroline Grace joined our family at 3.54 am on October 11th. She was 5 days overdue, 19.5″ long and weighed 7 lbs 4 oz.
So far, she not only looks like Sam’s mini me, but acts like him too – very mellow. Rarely cries, and is easy to calm down when she does. Eats well, but sleeps deeply and is a late riser – like their Mum, neither of my kids really like the pre-8 am time.
In fact she sleeps so deeply and so long, I am worried about my milk supply – I am not the kind to wake a sleeping infant so we go 5h + stretches without feeding. Hmmm… I’ll pump occasionally but my Freemie pump, while convenient, does not seem as powerful as my old Medela (we have a Spectra on the way), so not too much comes out. Plus, (1) ain’t no way in heck I am waking up at night just to pump (I really do value sleep above all else!) and (2) I am always leery of pumping too much and then Caroline waking immediately and me being all “sorry, canteen is shut until new stock arrives…”. So for now I am just hoping her long sleep stretches from 12-4 and from 11-5 don’t cause problems down the road. I’d like to say that if we do have to switch to formula again, I’ll take it on the chin and remind myself that Sam went to all formula before 4 months and is happy, healthy, tall, slim, capable, loving and all that good stuff. But honestly, I know I’ll weep and wail and take it hard. So, I am hoping that we do build a good supply with her sleep habits.
Not much else to say about a newborn really… when awake, she seems very alert to me. She feels good, smells good, snuggles perfectly. Hates being put down – something I will work on (very gently) a little next week when our guest has left and I can get more of a routine going. She has Daddy absolutely wrapped around her little finger. Sam has mostly adapted very well, although that is clearly an ongoing process, and worthy of a post all on its won.
As is her birth story, which I was shocking and painful but ultimately healthy so we are all crazily grateful for that. I will write it up soon – I feast on other people’s birth stories so it is only fair to contribute 🙂
Until then we are going to keep enjoying a postpartum that is a whole world away from last time. Not to be too “basic” (am I using that correctly?) but we all feel very #blessed with how things went.