I was incredible moved when I read this blog post written by the very talented Libby Emmons. (click here to read) It wasn't about her playwriting - it was her birth story and her struggles with her expectations of herself as a mother and the reality of being a mother.
I have organized a semi-weekly meetup in Fort Tryon park for new parents and their babies. It's great for the children to interact and I think it's even greater that the new moms and dads get to talk with other people that are going through the same thing. I have heard a lot of birth stories - some wonderful, some harrowing, some with a bit of both - but all of them share the fear of the unknown and how quickly we have to learn to adapt to these new, tiny lives we have been trusted with.
I think it's incredibly important to share your birth story and your experiences as a parent. There are too many voices that scream: "If you don't do THIS you are a terrible parent." Instead, I like the women and men who say: "This is what happened to me - maybe something I did will work for you." Maybe it will.
I went into labor at 11 am on. Gerald and I were staying with his parents in their one bedroom apartment because the closing on our new apartment had been delayed until the week prior. Gerald was getting ready to go into work. We ate a nice breakfast and I said: Hmmm. My back is really sore." 10 minutes later my back was really sore again.
Our slightly ridiculous but pretty much informative birthing class had told us to expect laboring at home for most of the day before going to the hospital. They also said the contractions would start gently and be about an hour apart. Mine quickly left the "uncomfortable" stage and progressed to the pretty intensely painful stage. They were ten minutes apart for about 40 minutes. Then they were six minutes apart.
At this point Gerald had called out of work and we decided to call our OB/GYN. I talked to her and explained that the contractions seemed to be very intense and six minutes apart. She thought we were probably wrong but should go to the hospital if we felt strongly about it. The worst that would happen would be that the hospital would send us home.
Gerald started zooming around the apartment looking for what to bring but it was all already packed in a suitcase so he was just zooming around to blow off some steam. I wasn't sure about leaving for the hospital - I didn't want to make the trip to be sent home again. Contractions were 5 minutes apart. A friend called to offer me free tickets to a performance of Nice Work If You Can Get It on Broadway that night. I said: "Well, I don't think I can go. I'm pretty sure I'm in labor." Another friend called to catch up - and I finally ended the conversation with: "I think I need to go to the hospital now - I'm in labor."
I waddled to a cab with Gerald, hissing in pain. In the cab ride over my contractions started getting extremely painful and were now 4 minutes apart.
We got to the hospital and went to Triage. They whisked me inside and when Gerald tried to come with me they told him he had to wait outside for a few minutes. They got me into a curtained section and I promptly threw up into a sink and all over the floor. Gerald came in a few minutes later and they checked my cervix - 6 centimeters dilated. I was taken up to labor and delivery.
At this point it had been about 2 hours. For the next 4 hours my contractions were incredibly intense and 2 minutes apart. I couldn't get comfortable and the pain was becoming unbearable. I was naked except for that ridiculous hospital robe - all my sweaty lady parts flapping in the wind. I was embarrassed for about thirty seconds and then just gave up. I was exhausted. I was so sure I didn't want an epidural. But the Doctor thought I would labor through the night. If it was going to be this hard for that long I knew I couldn't do it.
I sat still for the epidural for a half an hour. The intern or resident mis-threaded it and someone senior had to come in and do it. Blessed, blessed relief.
A few minutes later the OB/GYN came in. She told me my labor had slowed (it hadn't, the belly monitor had fallen off unbeknownst to both of us), and though she thought I would labor for another 10 or 12 hours she was going to check me out.
She looked inside and said: Forget what I just said. You're going to give birth in the next fifteen minutes. Would you like to know what color her hair is?"
10 sets of pushes, an episiotomy, and a slight poop accident later, Clara was born - lying on my chest while we waited for the placenta to stop pulsating before cutting the cord. I wish I had known I was that close to giving birth, or that they had checked me out before giving me the epidural. I would not have gotten it had I known I was that close.
It took five days for my milk to come in. Angry night nurses yelled at me that I was doing it wrong as I tried to breast feed every two hours. When we took Clara home when she was three days old she spent the entire night crying. Nothing was coming out of my breasts.
At our first doctor's visit the next day Gerald and I were jittery with fatigue and worry. The pediatrician said: "She's hungry. Why don't we give her a bottle? " And we did and our little girl stopped crying and promptly fell asleep. We gave her formula until my milk came it two days later and then I was in full on breastfeeding mode.
All those feelings they describe in books of your breasts feeling full enough to burst never happened to me. Those pads you put in our bra to sop up milk leaks collected dust in the linen closet. I seemed to be making enough for Clara but that was it. I couldn't ever pump enough out for a bottle. When I went back to work part time when she was three months old I couldn't pump more than a couple of ounces at work. We had to supplement. I met a lot of mom's who were exclusively breastfeeding and not using bottles. They crowed: "My child has never even seen a bottle" or urged me to only breast feed with vague fears: "breast milk is the only way to go or their development will lag." They were very critical and it worried me. What choice did I have? What was the point in making me feel bad?
I had the intention of breastfeeding Clara for a year. But one day, at nine and a half months - Clara walked away from my boobs. Well...she crawled. She refused to breastfeed. She was done. It didn't matter that I wanted to breastfeed for another two months. She was good to go. "Bottle, please, Mama."
Every child is different and we all have become experts in our own children. I have used quite a few tips proffered by other parents. Some have worked: (a bowl of pacifiers by the bed so you don't have to hunt for the one that ended up under the bed in the middle of the night) and some haven't. (Endless recommendations for sippy cups have all been rejected by Clara who would prefer to drink from a grown up cup at all of 13 months."
We need to do more of this for each other. I want to hear your story.