Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"maternity leave"

Academia is generally a nice place to take maternity leave from a strictly time-scale perspective; one term off isn't a bad deal, and I also appreciated having several weeks off before we had the baby, since late pregnancy is not a fun time to stand a lot or to go out in the snow and ice.  I am very much aware that the US has terrible leave requirements and I am lucky to have so much paid time at home.  Mine has been a little more hectic than it should have been, though.

- My department is hiring a new tenure-line colleague, so I have been participating in phone interviews (sometimes while breastfeeding and trying to keep the kid quiet), dinners (kid was home with dad and I pumped for her), and on-campus events (I skyped in for some of it, which mostly worked but was not ideal).

- I am teaching in an immersion program next term and needed to participate in some weekly meetings (kid comes too) and evening seminars (kid is home with dad), though I didn't start that until several weeks postpartum.

- I am supervising two student projects (mostly email, rare on-campus meetings) and am on a committee that needed me to come in once.  I also have random research/leadership stuff to keep up with via email. 

Some of this was me being too nice (supervising students), and some of it was self-interest (job search) or not wanting to bail on things I had agreed to do and/or worrying about backing out of things as I go up for tenure.  I should probably have been less worried about other people and more worried about my own needs, in hindsight.  It hasn't been terrible, but I could have done without the hectic schedule in February and the amount of time away from kiddo during the terrible screaming evening hours; I have guilt that I took away the magical boobs when they were most needed.  If I had it to do over again, I would do some of this stuff but certainly not all of it.

I have been surprised by the response from my colleagues in some cases.  People in general are pretty supportive, and some of my colleagues have been very flexible and open to me doing what I need to do in terms of missing or moving meetings, bringing the baby, etc.  Others have been surprisingly thoughtless when it comes to making things happen in a way that makes it easy for me to participate, even after having an initial conversation about how my participation would have to occur. 

One mistake I made was assuming that people with young kids of their own would "get" my needs - this has not been the case.  In fact, some of the more supportive and flexible people are childless, and the most frustrating has two kids.  It is probably significant that all of these colleagues are men; I should not have made assumptions about how involved they were in their babies' lives or how their families chose to feed their kids as newborns.  Still, after being fairly specific about what I could and could not do (I thought), I have in some cases had to act in my own best interest and say no. 

Most of this extra work is finished now, but I'm left feeling that I was too accommodating.  I put myself through a lot of hassle, and Partner through some very frustrating time with the baby, when I probably didn't need to do so.  I know that there's never true "time off" in academia, when we can be completely off the radar for months, but if I do this again I will try much harder to get closer to that "I'm unavailable" ideal and stick to it.  I will try harder to be selfish.  And it will help a lot to be tenured.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

birth story (2)

Birth Story!  Part 2!

So!  Heading to the surgical suite, I am kinda out of it and feeling every contraction and finally actually feeling the urge to push (which is incredibly unpleasant).  Of course, this means that my epidural isn't cutting it, which means that when they give me the drugs for the c-section through that catheter, those drugs also do not cut it.  When asked whether I can feel the sharp instrument being pushed against my lower abdomen, hell yes, I can feel that.  So, they had to put me under.  Which meant that Partner was not allowed in the operating room, and neither of us got to actually see the birth of our daughter.

This is the only part of my birth experience that annoys me; I don't know if I'm really angry about it.  Maybe I will be eventually.  The epidural was not exactly centered, and the anesthesiologist knew that because I told her.  The epidural wasn't enough at the end, or wasn't delivering, or who knows what, and my nurses knew that because I told them.  I am therefore annoyed that there were no other steps taken to get me numbed for the c-section - maybe there weren't any available.  But part of me still blames the anesthesiologist just a little for messing that up for me, even though I'm sure it's impossible for her to get that tube in the perfectly correct spot and meds will only do so much for so long.  Another part of me says, if only I hadn't bothered with the ECV and had gone right for the c-section, I would have at least been conscious for the birth.  Hindsight, and all that.  My rational mind says that I had to try to have the safest birth experience I could, and at the time that meant turning the baby and attempting a vaginal birth.  Hopefully my rational mind will win when I have these little regrets in the future.

Partner, after waiting around not knowing what was going on (poor guy), was allowed to hang out with the baby in the nursery.  I remember waking up (in that very bed, staring at the operating suite door, where I had had my ECV) and seeing Partner, and then my midwife brought in the baby.  I remember touching her feet.  Then I was treated to that wonderful "let's push on the uterus" experience, which is somehow excruciating even after everything else that has happened.  After that, I assume I was out again, as I woke up in a recovery room, which I don't remember very well.  I have a vague memory of being asked if I wanted to breastfeed, of holding kiddo for the first time.  But these are still pretty vague, and again I regret it only because I feel like I'm missing out on these parts of my life just because I can't recall them as well as I want to. 

Breastfeeding was hard at first - my milk didn't come in until 6 days after the birth, and I was pumping between feeds and feeding her the extra but she was still hungry and crying most of the time.  After two days I gave in to supplementing using a supplemental nursing system (SNS), which doesn't require artificial nipples.  Baby lost a full pound and we stayed an extra night in the hospital to get that working, and then I went home and used it until she was a week old, at which point my pediatrician had managed to convince me that I had enough milk to keep the kid alive. 

This was not the birth experience I wanted, but it was also not the worst birth experience to have.  Epidurals are still pretty awesome in my book.  C-sections aren't as terrible to recover from as I feared.  The scar is pretty minimal, and if I can get my abs back at some point in the future I will probably not care about it at all (seriously, how do they get a baby out of there?  It's tiny).  Baby is fine and her head wasn't squished, so she was super cute from the beginning.  We did get thrush, probably due to all the IV antibiotics (the crappy medical support for breastfeeding mother issues is an entirely different rant), but things are going pretty well.  And we get to learn all about our dysfunctional medical system by being billed for almost every procedure that can happen in labor & delivery, so there's that as a bonus.

Now that we're six weeks in things are getting better in terms of sleep and knowing what baby wants, plus she's starting to interact with us and smile, which makes it all much more worth while.  I'm told the hardest part is over; I'm sure that's relative.  Having made it through all of this so far, I'm not too worried about what comes next. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

birth story (1)

Kiddo is six weeks old now, and it's been both a very long time and an instant.  I'm not sure how that works.  I look at her newborn photos and can't believe how much different she is, yet how is it already the end of February?

In the haze that was our first month as new parents, I recorded much of what I remembered from the birth, though it's amazing how quickly it fades.  No wonder people manage to have more than one kid.   If birth stories are not your thing, that's all there is here, so skip this one.

We were due on Christmas and kiddo showed up on January 4th, so that was its own adventure.  After our successful ECV, she still refused to budge, and there was nothing going on that suggested she would be arriving any time soon.  On the 3rd I had an appointment with my midwife, who told me to report to the hospital that afternoon for induction.  It's weird to show up in labor and delivery with nothing imminent occurring, just waiting around for the nurses to have time to deal with you, but that was also a Friday and apparently the busiest day they'd had in a while, so we were lucky to even get a room.  My midwife is awesome, though, and had reserved us a room with a tub.

We settled in, I was put on an IV, and a nurse inserted a foley catheter since my midwife didn't want to use pitocin right away.  Partner and I watched TV, and I will now forever associate the Star Wars prequels with the birth of my daughter (maybe that's unfortunate, depending upon your Star Wars affiliations).  It wasn't terrible, I had pretty mild cramps for a few hours before a nurse was able to pull it out at 3 cm dilation.  Luckily I continued to progress on my own, which is not always the case, so they held off on the pitocin and gave me permission to eat/sleep/whatever.  Contractions got more intense, I spent some time in the tub (which was awesome), my water broke.  I threw up a few times, which was not awesome and made me glad I hadn't eaten much when they told me I could.

At this point I was back in the bed, and I was bleeding a lot more than they were comfortable with, so we still held off on the pitocin since they were worried about placental abruption.  A little while later they gave me a lowered dose of pitocin and waited to see how I would respond.  Contractions were increasingly tough, but perhaps they were getting us somewhere.

12 hours after we started, I was only 4 cm dilated, I was tired and in a lot of pain, and I was really disheartened by the lack of progress.  I asked for an epidural, though apparently there was still a bleeding issue and I had to wait while they figured out what was the most likely cause.  I remember being really annoyed that it was taking so long, and I was about to say something unkind just as the anesthesiologist walked in.  We did the forward-lean for the needle, and I honestly don't remember feeling anything after the local anesthetic.  That could be the labor pain talking, but the catheter was in (and slightly too far to the left, which was important later) almost immediately.  A minute later I was pain-free and wondering why there weren't songs and poems written in praise of the epidural.

The next 8 hours were pretty good - I was still pain-free, I didn't have to get out of bed and drag my IV stand to the bathroom any more, and I napped off and on.  Things progressed slowly, and pain management slowly became a problem.  Eventually the epidural stopped working as well on the right side - the issue of pain meds being delivered more on the left.  By the time I was 10 cm, the right side was feeling it and the left was not as numb as it had been, but I was still not able to stand, so it was a "worst of all worlds" kind of situation by the time I had to push - I could feel it, but I couldn't get myself into a better position for pushing and was stuck on my back.

I started pushing almost exactly 24 hours after we started the induction, and I remember it being very non-intuitive but doable with coaching.  I had no idea whether anything was happening, except that I was told that I was doing well.  I got myself into a decent pattern with each contraction, doing a long push and then two short ones each time.  Throwing up a few times.  For two hours (and poor Partner held up a leg for that entire time).  It turns out that kiddo was finally head down, but decided to come out face-up (posterior), making it more difficult for her to descend through the birth canal.  I was told that they could see hair, but she was still too high for any external help and she wasn't making progress.  The doctor (who had also done my ECV) came in to try to turn her head, but she wasn't going anywhere.  I couldn't stand up, I had a fever, baby was tachycardic, especially when I turned on my side.  I was told that we should really think about a c-section.

From my perspective, it wasn't presented as an emergency, but as serious concern.  My midwife told me that she estimated another 3-4 hours of pushing at the rate we had been going, and told me the c-section would be safer.  She offered me another attempt to see if we could get somewhere without causing problems for the baby, but I was so tired at that point that I said no and agreed to the c-section.  I think part of me had been prepared for that anyway, given the fact that the baby had been breech for so long and my sister had followed almost the exact same scenario with her son's birth a few years ago (long labor ending in c-section).

I don't know whether the epidural caused any of the problems we had, like the slow progress.  I don't feel bad about it as a "what if", as I know a lot of women do.  After 12 hours without any meds and with minimal progress, I was ready for the epidural and don't feel bad about having it, even if it slowed things down.  Given the induction, that might have happened regardless, and her posterior presentation may have led to a c-section no matter what I had done.  I say this not to cover some sort of secret guilt, but just because so many women who write about epidurals also write about how they feel guilty and responsible for bad things that come after, and fuck that ladies, medical science has some awesome perks and we should totally take advantage of pain medication when we are in labor for 28 hours. /rant

And...this is long!  To be continued!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


The end of the year has decided to throw us a few irritations, but I can't complain too much since this year has been a pretty good one overall.  At the moment, baby is saying "screw you and your tax deduction" and refusing to come out - a few more days and it won't be up to baby any more, but for now we're still waiting.  Also our sewer says "screw you and those guys who came out to fix this problem last month", so we had a New Year's Eve roto-rootering and will be seeing the plumbers again later this week when they come back with a camera.  Hooray for sewer line insurance and the fact that my mother is visiting, so we don't have to worry if we have to run to the hospital during a plumbing call.

I have nothing to request from 2014, except that we get through January and figure out all the new challenges in store (and fix the sewer line).  I'd say that my goal is to get tenure, but my file is in already so that seems like cheating; I can't do much to help my case at this point.

Happy New Year and less troublesome households to all of you!   

Saturday, December 21, 2013

the funnest things

The funnest things of December: A sarcastic list

- the inability to make any plans for anything because there may or may not be a baby showing up
- in particular, not knowing when exactly to clean the house in anticipation of my parents' arrival, because if we do it too early and don't have a baby it will get dirty again, but if we wait too long and go into labor we will never do it at all
- crossing that line between "being pregnant is ok/sometimes nice" to "get this thing out of me"
- answering student emails about why they received the grades they received
- having students who continued to blow off their coursework even after I kindly granted them extensions into the break, since they earned the same crappy grade they would have gotten in the first place despite the extra time and work on my part

Some good stuff: Sincerity

- having the time to do all of the million and two loads of preparatory baby laundry
- not having to leave the house during snow/ice/other crappy weather
- having Partner home on break
- December: low-stress, cozy, and generally pretty quiet, this is my favorite time of year, even more so when I don't have to worry about traveling 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My ECV (oh yes, a baby post)

This pregnancy has been pretty good so far - minimal nausea, some tiredness to fight but nothing actually dangerous or seriously disabling.  I know a lot of people who have had difficult pregnancies, so I'm not complaining.

The one issue we did have was baby remaining head-up well past the point when that was ok.  We waited a few weeks to see if I could get some flipping action to happen, but right before 38 weeks we went in for an external cephalic version (ECV), where the doctor attempts to manually flip the kid from the outside.  I had read a lot of conflicting reports about what these are like - some people report a lot of pain, other people say it's no big deal.  I had no idea what to expect, but I figured even a painful attempt would be better than a c-section if it worked.  The potential down-sides included putting the baby into distress or triggering labor, so there was a small chance we'd end up having the baby instead of flipping it, but at about 38 weeks that was ok with me.  We did bring our hospital bag in the car, just in case.

We showed up at the hospital at an ungodly 6:15 am, went up to labor and delivery, and sat around for an hour while they monitored the baby's heartbeat and movement.  This happened in the outpatient/c-section recovery room, while sitting in a bed facing the door to their operating suite; I found this a little intimidating and distracting given the chance I would end up being wheeled through that door. 

Eventually I was given a muscle relaxer, which was a very sharp needle prick in the back of the arm that felt like a wasp sting.  Which is no big deal, but I mention it because it was the most pain I felt through the whole procedure.  Next the doctor verified baby's position via sonogram, gooped up my belly with gel and put pressure on the baby's head and butt to try to get her to turn forward.  There was a little resistance from baby at first, and there was a lot of pressure and some cramping, but it couldn't have taken more than a few minutes and suddenly we were done, with very little discomfort overall.  I had spent most of it waiting for the pain to start.

I had a few things going for me - baby is still riding high, and there was still plenty of fluid in there and some space to turn.  My doctor is also reportedly very good at this procedure.  I've heard that first-time moms have less luck with the ECV, but it seemed no problem at all for me.

Another hour of monitoring and we were out of there, though the day was pretty much shot for me between the very early wake-up and the muscle relaxer.  In the aftermath I was shaky and tired and couldn't control my shivering in the cold when we went outside; I sat around and took a nice 3-hour nap in the middle of the afternoon and that was my day  Otherwise, no negative effects other than a little soreness in the abdomen.

So far baby is keeping the head-down position, though there's a chance that could change.  Hopefully not.  But I'd recommend trying the ECV for those facing a potentially breech birth - just don't believe them when they say you can drive yourself home (you probably could, but you probably shouldn't), and don't plan anything for the rest of the day if you can avoid it.  I had read a lot of anecdotes online about women who just skipped it and went for a c-section instead; that seems like a rough decision to make when the ECV might be pretty easy.  I'm sure it depends a lot on personal circumstances, but it's probably worth a try, especially since it shouldn't go on for long if it isn't working.

We were pretty relieved to have at least a few more days to get ready - I'm not a huge fan of this "any time now, but maybe not for weeks!" thing that happens at the end.  Still, we are more prepared now than we were at the beginning of the week, and the laundry pile just keeps getting smaller.  Baby says, hurry up and wait!