Monday, March 25, 2013

A Journey Begins

If I thought I had a lot of doctors appointments during my pregnancy, nothing compare to the first two weeks of Ondine’s life on earth. Or what’s to come over the first year of her life.
The first post hospital visit was a visit to Seattle Children’s Hospital craniofacial unit. This was my second visit, Collin and Ondine’s first. This appointment isn’t what were hoping for. We’re hoping for a meeting with the surgeon to discuss the trajectory of her surgery. Nope.
1st up are the nurses. They check weight, length and skin color. They have me feed her to watch and judge if she’s eating correctly. Turns out Ondine and I are pros at bottle feeding. You see, a cleft lip & pallet child can’t nurse. It’s been one of those ongoing “I’m an unfit parent” internal conflicts for me. And everyone else wants to tell me just try to breast feed. I want to scream “I can’t!” But the reality is she can’t. It’s not her fault any more than it is mine. She can latch, but because there’s a hole in the roof of her mouth and a gap in her lip she can’t get any suction.  It’s been hard for me to come to terms with but I refuse to formula feed if I can avoid it so our schedule is pump-store-feed-repeat. It’s painful and exhausting but it has to be done for her sake.
Next up is the social worker. I panicked slightly when they told me I had to meet one of those.  Luckily she turned out to be a fabulous woman whose purpose there was to make sure I had the tools I needed to care for my child. Her job is to be there to support us if we have questions, help us navigate insurance if necessary and anything else we could think of. She was the first social worker I’d ever met and trusted from minute one.
Finally the pediatrician comes in. She takes the exam even further checking reflexes, ear canals eyes and all the other standard healthy human tests. Ondine passed with flying colors. Then they were able to answer a few questions but not the main one. The answer is still 3-6 months and we won’t know until you meet the surgeon.
So we head into Easter. We have not yet met the surgeon, but we’ve met his team.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Painful Joy

3 am wake up.
During the course of pregnancy I’d come to recognize this as my nightly bathroom break, or perhaps it was time to shift to the other side because baby had decided it was time to practice her ballet bar then.
This was very, very different.
I couldn’t breathe at first. I sat straight up an immediately regretted it. My husband slept beside me and I didn’t want to wake him up in a panic if it was another false alarm. I grabbed my phone, flipped on the stop watch and started timing.  Contractions: 5 minutes apart, lasting for a minute… 20 minutes.
They had us practice in our birthing class holding ice in our bare hands to feel the pain and breathe through it. Sounds crazy but that ice burns like a mo-fo and without that mental prep, I could see how it was easy to grab the nearest intern and roar for drugs before you rip out their heart. I’m luckily stubborn enough that it worked. Time to wake up the husband.
“What?! What’s wrong!”
“It’s time.”
“Are you sure? We can call the midwife.”
“No. It’s time.” 10 minutes or so later my husband and my mom had me in the car and we were on our way.  It was the most painful car ride I’ve ever endured. Not sure if it was the pain or my mom and my husband cracking really bad jokes to take my focus off the pain. Either way the drive sucked big time. Mom dropped us at the front entrance. I’m praying the doors are unlocked because I really don’t want to waddle through emergency and then up to the birthing center. Luck was on our side.  Contractions: 4-5 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute for the last 45 minutes.
My husband checks us in at Swedish Hospital in Ballard and fills out any paper work not already prepared in our birthing plan folder. The midwife comes in and they get me into a gown, explain that they still have to check my cervix to determine if they should keep me for now or send me home.
“You made it to 5 cm dilated before coming in? I’m impressed”
“I told you I have a high pain tolerance.”
The first thing they did was put me on antibiotics with a locked IV in case I needed a bath or shower during the process. About 2 weeks prior I had tested positive for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) which is normal and occurs in 25% of healthy adult women, but can be harmful to newborns. Ergo, antibiotics.
For the first several hours not a lot happened. Meaning I did a lot of breathing and bracing through contractions. Friends started to show up. My vitals were taken, we monitored baby and the routine parade of medical professionals made their presence known to me, who they were and what their specialty was. I was tough. I can handle this. Just breathe.
Around 12 hours I broke down.
I was ready for an epidural. I felt like I had failed. I had wanted so desperately to have a drug free delivery, and with my scoliosis, it was incredibly risky .
I even had second thoughts when my midwife came in, asking her to check how dilated I was because if I was getting close enough to push then it wasn’t worth it.  Then the mother of all contractions hit me and I couldn’t breathe at all.  I was on all fours screaming in my pillow until it passed. I collapsed on the bed and sobbed. I didn’t care anymore, I just wanted to pain to stop. I held my husbands hand and waited for the anesthesiologist. What seemed like hours later, I woke up. I had finally gotten some real rest. I was able to joke again, tease my husband and hold his hand. I couldn’t feel my legs at all, so they turned off the epidural. I’d need to be able to feel at least a little in order to push.
When the pushing came time, it wasn’t at all what I expected. In the movies I see the crinkled faces and the screaming anguish. But I was drugged and couldn’t feel my legs. I felt the contraction, but barely. Time to push. To me, it felt like I was doing sit ups for an agressive trainer who wont take no for an answer.
With one foot in my mothers hand, the other in my mother in laws and gripping my husbands hand so hard I might break it, I pushed. Ten seconds. Breathe. Repeat.
I’m not sure how long this took, maybe thirty minutes, maybe an hour. And then she was here. Ondine Evelyn Neal, 8lb 15oz, 20inches long. She was purple, and crying. But she cuddled onto my chest, set foot on my belly and was a part of our life from here on out.
Everything else sort of faded away.  Pain didn’t matter, and while the doctors were busy sewing me back together in spots, I was completely distracted by the most beautiful face I’d ever seen. I was now a mother.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Waiting for Baby

There is this thought that birth is like it is in the movies. I am here to tell you that is a dirty lie. It’s NOTHING like it is in the movies. I should know better, being a filmmaker. We practice in the magic of illusion everyday. But I also have this hopeless romantic faith in fairy tales and happy endings so I can justify my naiveté here.
Early Sunday March 17th I pulled myself out of bed. “Today’s the day!” I thought. Anticipation since July when a sudden and surprising little bird made her presence known. It was our delivery day. Our little peanut had been right on target every week for growth and there’s no reason to even think she won’t come on time. Saint Patrick’s Day was finally here and we were determined to encourage her to hit her holiday. Both her dad and I missed our holidays by one day (4th of July and Thanksgiving) so we didn’t want her to suffer the same irritation.
I had decided I would refuse C-section unless medically necessary for personal reasons. My husband and I had also discussed at length the pros and cons of drugs during the labor and decided a natural birth (unless medically necessary) was also on the books. So we began our Sunday with a game plan. Operation Baby Drop was a GO!
I was feeling contractions and could time them but there is this numbers rule they give you in preparations to judge when it’s best to ACTUALLY show up at the hospital. 4-1-1. Contractions are 4 minutes apart lasting for a minute for at least 1 hour. I have an absurdly high pain tolerance so I called the midwife and she told me I would really be able to tell the difference, so wait. Contractions: 10-15 minutes apart lasting for 30 seconds.
First, a nice… long… hot…
Bath. Where was your mind?  My two girlfriends picked my mom and I up. The four of us headed to Bella Nails in Ballard. We made our appointment and walked to Cupcake Royale. What’s a birthday without Irish Crème Cupcakes? Or Whiskey Bacon Cupcakes? This is an Irish baby damnit, she’s got to start it out right. Back to the nail salon and we all pampered ourselves. There is rhyme to this indulgence. There are pressure points on your feet that can induce labor. Of course it would have been awkward if my water had broke there, but hey we were on a mission. Alas, baby has enough of her stubborn Scottish mama (Me) to stay right where she was. Contractions: 10 minutes apart lasting for 30 seconds. I’m not unsure these are just really powerful Braxton Hicks at this point.
Onward we went to the Freemont Sunday Market.  We mingled, bought things we had no intention of buying until we got there, and I got my photo taken with the best baby buggy in the world. Still my baby wasn’t encouraged enough to make her appearance.  Time for lunch, er… dinner.
Normally a spicy meal is in order. But seeing as A. I’d been eating Pho and Indian food my whole pregnancy I didn’t think it would do the trick and B. It was St. Patrick’s Day we opted for home cooking. It’s sacrilegious to eat anything other than corned beef and cabbage in the Neal house on St. Patrick’s Day. My mom had recently shared her recipe with my husband who then took that and ran with it creating his own fabulous concoction.
The boys had been busy playing Halo and making the meal while we were out so it was time to head home. Contractions: 7-10 minutes apart lasting for about 30-45 seconds.  Still thinking these might just be my uterus doing push-ups in preparation for the marathon.
The Godparent couples (we have two) and some more close friends showed up and it was a regular Irish gathering. We talked, they drank, played games and ate delicious food.  We went for our second walk up to the elementary school and back. During the walk the contractions increased in intensity and I was happy for the pain. “This is it!” I thought.
As soon as I sat down to time them more specifically they went right back to being strong Braxton Hicks. Lame. I consulted the midwife again, emphasizing my pain tolerance and again being told that I would really be able to tell the difference. That the reason so many women have “false labor” pains is because they’re not listening to their body. “Trust me, you’ll know when it’s time. You wont have to ask, you’ll just come in.”
Several hours and rounds of Cards Against Humanity later, it was time to say goodnight to our friends. Contractions: 5-8 minutes apart lasting 45 seconds.
Well, it was time for bed. The sun had set on St. Patrick’s Day and I felt a little sad, but equally happy that our little girl had decided that she was going to do things on her own schedule.  Perhaps it’s delusion, but I thought to myself it was an encouraging thought knowing she was exerting her independence even before she’d left my body.