What’s Wrong With Us?

A tiny 8 week old baby started daycare in MADs room this week.  A fragile little boy who still has the translucent skin of a newborn and whose little squawks and squeaks makes my ovaries ache.  And in an instant my heart broke for his parents and my hate of US family leave policies started taking form.  This country has things SO SCREWD UP.

6 weeks.  That is all that 52% of working moms get off with their newborn.  24% only get 4 weeks.  And for 10% of mothers this time, as short as it is, is totally unpaid.  The other 90% get anywhere from 40-100% of their pay via disability – a coverage that they pay into from every other paycheck they receive.  Apparently if you live in the states you want to work for Johnson & Johnson, “The Family Company” where new moms with five years of job nets 26 paid weeks of maternity leave. (Source: Institute for Women’s Policy Research & Working Mother Media, Inc.)

Studies abound about the benefits to all involved – including the company – that comes from extended periods of leave.  Time away from work within the first year back goes down drastically. Long-term (6 months +) breastfeeding increases when leave is longer. Worker productivity is higher upon return when leave is 12 weeks minimum. Heck, the US government’s Department of Health and Human Services has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ad campaigns to convince moms to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months – money that might be better spent allowing new moms to be WITH their infant those first six months.

Now – before you start crowing about how it’s not fair for those who choose not to have kids for women to get this time off, let me finish.  I’m not just talking about maternity leave here.  I’m talking about FAMILY leave.  FMLA  = Family Medical Leave Act and it can be used for more then just birthin’ babies.

For instance, an acquaintance of ours in Toledo just passed away after battling brain cancer for years.  He and his wife were some of the loveliest people you would ever know and they were the kind of couple that upon meeting them you just know they were meant to be together.  They loved each other fiercely.  They had no children by choice. As you can imagine with brain tumors he underwent years of surgery, illness, good days and bad.  In the end his wife had to return to work the day after his funeral because she had used up all of her FMLA time caring for him in the year before he died. They were together 20 some years and she had no time to grieve his passing.

Another friend just moved to be near her 80-year-old father and become his primary caregiver. She’s in her 40s and is facing a few health issues herself, including an upcoming surgery.  She is worried that if something happens to her dad that requires her to take time off work she would put her job in jeopardy.  She’s single, childless by choice and is worried that if something were to happen that FMLA won’t be enough to protect her only source of income.

I have a feeling that as the Baby Boomers continue to age and start leaning on their adult children – the very people that make up the bulk of working America – that things might slowly change.  If the Boomers and their children start pushing for change that would make up a huge majority of voters who could leverage some action.  Which is sad, because most everyone says that family should come first but we don’t do anything to make sure that it really does.

MAD’s Birth Story

He was due on April 14.  I had been dilated to 3-4 cm for about 3 weeks when the due date came and went without a single contraction, not even Braxton Hicks.  My midwife, Cindy, was a bit concerned that my blood pressure was inching up during the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy.  That, coupled with my history of fast labor with M, and she decided to schedule an induction on April 17.  She did try to jump start things by stripping my membranes but with no luck.
I was honestly relieved that we wouldn’t have to make any frantic midnight calls to friends to come watch M had things taken their own course.  Instead, Grandma and Grandpa arrived on Friday night to spend the weekend taking care of her.  We were scheduled to be at the hospital 10:30 AM on Saturday and Cindy told me to eat a big meal before arrival since I couldn’t eat once I got there.  We all went out to the Original Pancake House for breakfast, then took Grandma, Grandpa and M over to her swim lessons.  Then Mark and I went to the hospital.
Once we got settled into the labor room, Cindy tried stripping my membranes again.  We spent the next hour walking laps around the maternity ward, hoping to get something going.  Nothing happened.
Finally, at 12:45 she broke my water.  Nothing happened until I stood up, and then small contractions began almost immediately.  But, they only continued as long as I was moving about the room.  Cindy wanted me to be hooked up to the monitor for 30 minutes so we were stuck in the room.  Finally, she let me go walk the halls again and the contractions continued.  We walked for about 30 minutes until contractions were coming about every 3 minutes and were getting stronger.  As we walked, I had to clutch on to Mark to help me get through them since my knees buckled. When Cindy checked me again an hour after she broke my water, I was up to 7 cm.
At this point Cindy asked that I stay in the room, so I paced around the perimeter while the Cavs game played on the TV.  Contractions were fast, steady and very, very strong.  I really didn’t think I could take much more.  Each time I had one I had to hang on Mark as I rode out the pain.  I asked him to call Cindy to give me something to dull the pain.  I felt like my pelvis was going to split in two.
Before Cindy even arrived, I got the urge to push.  She checked me out and declared me ready which was a good thing because I wasn’t waiting since I could already feel the baby drop down. A flurry of activity happened around me as a small army of people came in the room.  I had given permission for the resident and a nursing student to attend the birth as neither had seen a drug-free birth before.  Including Mark there were 6 people in the room with me.
Contractions were intense and pushing felt great.  Cindy worked me through the whole process and all I remember was gripping the sides of the bed and grunting/shouting through the pain.  The couple of times I opened my eyes the only thing I could see was the TV with the Cavs game.  The pain was much more intense then I remembered and I just wanted it to be over.  I believe I chanted “get him out!” a few times.  A couple of pushes later and Cindy lifted him up and placed MAD on my chest. All 8 lbs.  1 oz. ,  20.5 inches of him.
It was 3:45 PM, only 3 hours after it all started.  I only pushed for about 45 minutes, but that was the most painful and intense 45 minutes of my life.  But in hindsight, I only really remember about 3 pushes and the searing pain that came with them.  I had 2 small stitches and was shaking like crazy the whole time. Mark called my parents and they headed to the hospital with M.  After a little while I ordered dinner as I was starving.
M, Grandma and Grandpa arrived around 5:30 to meet MAD.  M was so excited and couldn’t wait to hold him.  About 2 hours after he was born, he went to the nursery for his bath while I moved to the postpartum recovery room.  Daddy, M and Grandma watched him get your first bath.  After some time under the warmer he joined us in my room.
We spent 2 nights at the hospital.  Mark would go home to put M in bed, then come back until about midnight.  My parents brought M to visit and she took right to him, giving him kisses and wanting to hold him.
We brought MAD home with us on Monday, early afternoon.  I took full advantage of the food delivery/clean-up of the hospital and had lunch before I left.  I knew it would be the last “easy” meal we had for awhile! My parents stayed one more night, and then we were on our own as a family of 4 for a few nights.  M went back to school on Wednesday and got back to her schedule, which gave us a chance to bond with MAD and get some naps in.
Almost 3 months later and we are all doing just fine….

Reset

When I walked out of the hospital with MAD I was 25 lbs lighter then when I got pregnant.  My body reacts to pregnancy in a different way then most women’s bodies do.  I don’t get crazy cravings.  Ice cream holds no appeal.  I forget to eat.  Sweets sound gross.  As a result, during both pregnancies my net has been a pretty good weight loss.

However, once the baby is out and nursing begins my sugar cravings go through the roof.  I can’t get enough sweets.  I don’t have to fight to get the baby weight off.  I have to fight to keep the nursing weight off.  Which is where I am right now.  Luckily during this time of year I can usually satisfy these cravings with fresh fruit.  Every night I have a big bowl of fresh, local berries and milk. But it’s so easy to make up a batch of homemade shortcake to go with the strawberries, or sprinkle my blueberries with sugar.

With M I exercised throughout my pregnancy.  I walked almost daily and took a weekly prenatal yoga class.  With MAD, I barely did anything.  A cardio class here and there.  A few dates with a treadmill and that was it.  I might have been down in weight but I was completely out of shape.

So a couple of weeks ago, when a neighborhood girl dropped off a flyer about her babysitting services I called her the next day.  After 2 days of me staying home while she was a “mother’s helper” for a few hours, I was confident MAD was ready for me to leave him in the sitter’s care.  The next day I looked at the class offerings at my gym and attended one.

Last week I went to five classes.  I went to Total Conditioning with Pauline and got my ass kicked several times over.  I tried a boxing class using weighted gloves.  A barbell strength class that should be renamed “do squats for an hour while lifting” was awesome.  And Zumba had me laughing at myself the entire hour (I am SO not a dancer!).  I feel great.  I’m sore and tired but it’s such a good feeling, one I haven’t had in awhile. The squats are getting easier.  I feel strong again.

This week it’s the same thing.  And I’ve already booked the sitter for next week, too.  Then I go back to work.

My gym only offers one late evening class a week (something I am really trying to get them to change).  I’m bummed because I love classes.  I love mixing it up and pushing through an hour of moves.  I challenge myself much more in a class then I would on my own.  I did burpees today!! I would NEVER do those on my own. But, I’m trying to come up with a plan to keep me motivated after I return to work.

I think I will start the C25k program which I can do outside or on our treadmill after the kids are in bed.  I’m going to try to make it to that Monday night class.  My office has yoga on Thursdays which I will start again. Maybe I’ll do the 30 Day Shred or Power 90 a couple of times a week.  Or head to the gym after the kids are in bet to use the weights.  I have to do something to keep the nursing weight off.

Now, if I can only kick this insane sugar craving. I’m reading about AndreAnna‘s journey with great interest. I know that’s the next step, but one I’m not quite ready to make.  Yet.

My Girl

As we barrel towards the arrival of our new family addition (arriving 4/17 via induction, in case you haven’t heard) I find myself marveling at our first born.  All of a sudden she seems so grown up and I know this feeling will intensify when the baby arrives.  But, this kid, I just love her so much.

For spring break her daycare/preschool was shut down for a week and a half.  We swapped days with another family so no one had to take more then 2 days off.  But having 2 days to spend with this amazing child was just what I needed.  In keeping with my motto “if kids aren’t IN the house, they can’t mess it up” we had lots of excursions.  We went to Preston’s Hope Playground, made brownies for snack, hiked at Shaker Nature Center, traveled out to Playground World for the morning and spent a glorious afternoon at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Her partner in crime was a friend’s son who attends the same school is about 6 months older then her – they’ve known each other since birth.

What was so fascinating about these couple of days was just watching how M interacts with other kids.  We don’t do many playdates (with the whole full-time-working, crazy weekend thing) around here, so watching and listening as I waddled my pregnant self after them was eye opening.  Seeing her adjust and change on a dime, negotiate who got to do what first, when she decided to play by herself rather then play with him, the painful twinge in seeing my own shyness manifest itself in her around unknown children… it was all just really cool to see it unfold in front of me.

Back at home she’s been so attentive and cuddly.  She’s prone to crawl in my lap and proclaim me the “best mama in the world” at any moment.  She’ll stop what she’s doing just to tell me she loves me.  She’ll run over to me mid-dance to give me a kiss and will then kiss my belly.  I get gifts of dandelions and pretty leaves every evening and each morning she lifts up my shirt and tells the baby ‘good morning’.  This is not to say that she is some magical perfect child – oh, no way! She still has her tantrums, doesn’t listen and tends to ignore you if she doesn’t like what you are saying.  But the good is far outweighing the bad right now.

With spring here we spend a lot of times outside and she’s so interested in everything around us: “What kind of tree is that?” “What’s the name of that flower?” “What kind of bird is singing?”  She comes home from school and retells elaborate, detailed stories about her day. She can spell her name and write the letters (more or less). At her swim lessons she plunges fearlessly into the water and is getting quite good at propelling herself underwater.  Her memory is amazing and she will randomly compare something she sees/hears to something that happened over a year ago.  Every night, after an epic and sometimes comedic period of stalling her bedtime, she will lay in her bed and talk or sing to herself for up to an hour.  While I can get a tad annoying when she’s still up at 9:00, I also can’t help but giggle a little at everything I hear. 

There is truth to the saying “every age is the best age” and I have certainly felt that myself.  She’s getting so grown up so fast. But right now there are several moments each day that my heart just feels like it will burst with love and pride for this girl and I want to remember every second.

M’s Birth Story

I swear this isn’t going to be an all-birth/pregnancy-stories-all-the-time blog, but I’ve been revisiting things I wrote in the last weeks of my previous pregnancy and first weeks of being a parent.  It’s what’s on my mind right now, so bare with me as I remember and share some of these stories.

M was due on 9/15.  My midwife, Abby, was a bit concerned about the amount of amniotic fluid (I had too much).  That along with a period of days with no midwife on-call at the hospital and already being dilated several cm prompted me to have my membranes stripped on 9/15 in the hopes of jump starting labor.  We went into the office early on Friday morning for the procedure and came home, hoping to head to the hospital at anytime.  By late afternoon, with not one contraction, we figured it wouldn’t happen.  I returned to work on Monday, trying to work as much as possible in an attempt to extend my maternity leave to the holiday shut down in December.  We returned to the midwife on the afternoon of 9/22 and decided to have my water broken the next day.  An ultrasound said that “Baby D” was just over 8 pounds and the amniotic fluid had reduced to a more normal level.  Abby tried stripping the membranes again, in the hopes of getting things started (it failed, again).

Saturday morning arrived and we went to iHop for a big breakfast.  I was admitted to the hospital very close to our house in Toledo around 8:15 and we were lucky to get the birthing suite with the labor tub as we requested.  We settled in while our nurse, Velma, asked all sorts of questions and took my vitals.  I even requested for the TV to be on so we could watch college football – Michigan vs. Wisconsin (yes, I’m that much of an awesome wife)!

Abby broke my water at 10:15 AM and I was immediately happy this had not happened at home and that I was in a place equipped to deal with the mess.  Mild contractions started within 15 minutes.  I felt better while I was up and about so Mark and I spent a lot of time walking up and down the hallway of the labor and delivery ward, having mild contractions and hoping things would get moving.  Every time I laid back down, contractions stopped.  Around 12:30 I laid down and rolled to my right side and I was struck with severe light headed-ness and nausea.  Mark helped me to the bathroom and I got sick and felt better, but realized I was very hungry.  I had some crackers, jell-o and ginger ale to get my blood sugar back up.  After I was feeling better, Velma filled the tub and I got in.  It was very relaxing and the contractions, which had been getting stronger, felt so much easier but came faster in the warm water.  After about 20 minutes in the warm water, I got the urge to push and things got moving.

Again, lying down on my back felt uncomfortable and stopped the contractions, so Mark helped support me as I semi-squatted and pushed while standing.  Abby suggested that I labor on my knees and adjusted the bed so I could kneel on the end and support my upper body on the top of the bed.  I was an odd position, but it worked very well for me.  Contractions started coming faster and the pushing, while it hurt, was not nearly as bad as I expected.  Mark was great, getting me water when I needed it, keeping a cold washcloth on my neck and encouraging me to keep going.  Abby was great, explaining to me what was happening and what I needed to do.  After about 30 minutes, Baby D started to crown and I lost my will to go drug-free, saying “I can’t do this” and  “This needs to be over”.  The pain was intense, but between contractions was all calm.  Abby, Velma & Mark were all very positive and encouraging as I proceeded.  Abby worked me through the crowing and I felt the head come out.  Two pushes later and I heard Mark say “it’s a girl!”.  It was 3:03 PM.  I was shaking and disoriented as they placed M on the bed between my arms.  I was scared to hold her as my hands were shaking and my arms were half-asleep from leaning on them.  Mark helped wipe her down and he cut the cord.  Velma and Mark took her to the warming table while Abby helped my turn over and lie down.  I started shaking again and Velma brought me M.  I was overwhelmed – tired and excited all at once.  I couldn’t believe I had just birthed this little baby, all without any drugs and it happened so fast.  It all seemed a blur.

All of a sudden I felt the need to push again and out came the placenta.  Velma and Mark took M to weigh her while Abby gave me three stitches. They brought me M and I tried nursing but she wouldn’t latch on.  She finally did but only stayed on for a short time.   Mark, M and I hung out for awhile while we continued to try to nurse.  Mark made phone calls to family and friends announcing the news and we just kept staring at this tiny baby, who weighed in at 7 lbs 1 oz.

About an hour and a half after the birth M and I were wheeled down to the postpartum rooms.  M went to the nursery with Mark for her first bath and I went to the room.  I settled into the room, took a shower and tuned into the OSU game while the nurse brought me dinner.  Mark came back and M followed about 30 minutes later, after being under the warmer post-bath.

My parents, who were at a BGSU football game, came to meet their granddaughter and stayed for a short time.  That night, Mark stayed at the hospital with me after running home to let Mac out.  Although I had been adamant pre-birth that M stay in my room all night, I finally did have a nurse take her down to the nursery since every tiny move and noise she made kept me awake.  Other then being a little tired I was fine – no pain or anything and M became a champion nurser in no time.  My sister and brother visited the next day and we all just sat around the small hospital room chatting and staring at M.  I insisted Mark go home that night so he would get one last night of good sleep while I again sent M to the nursery and a nurse brought her to me for feedings.

The next morning, exactly 48 hours after my water was broken we arrived home as a family of 3.

Labor Rant

With my due date 10 weeks away, I’ve obviously been thinking a bit about labor and delivery.  Of all the things that can go wrong, the scary stuff, my hopes and our fears.  But I’m healthy, the baby is healthy, I’m having a good pregnancy and there is no reason to plan for any medical interventions.  They are there if necessary, but given my history with M there is little reason to believe I will need them.

So, yesterday I got a bit riled up when not one but 2 birth-related things surfaced on my interwebs.  The first was a link to this People Magazine article about Gisele Bundchen’s birth experience and the reaction was to lash out at her for being awful. I’m the first to admit it’s totally over the top to believe that she felt no pain.  But to assume she’s a liar-McLiarface because she had a low pain and easy birth experience? I just don’t understand.  I did much of my labor in the water with M and, as Mark can attest, while in the tub my pain level went way down.  It’s not much of a jump for me to see how a water birth would have been pretty low pain for Gisele. (Okay, okay I will call her a Liarface on her quote that says she does her own dishes – riiiight).

Then later in the day an old high school friend posed on Facebook asking other mothers about birthing classes. Within just a manner of minutes, there were a dozen comments all basically chanting “Forget the classes, get the epidural! Get it before your water breaks! All you need to know is E-P-I-D-U-R-A-L!”  So I posted the following:
“…And you don’t need an epidural, I opted to try without one (always having the option to get one if I wanted) and found I didn’t need/want it. Everyone’s different and you never know what you can handle until you’re there.”
And of course that was followed by a chorus of “you must be superwoman!” and “you’re a superstar for trying” and the like. Those comments, while said with good intentions drive me nuts because I just know that while they are saying it they are thinking “what a crunchy-granola-eating-hemp-wearing hippie freak”. I’m not a superwoman or a hippie – I’m just a woman who trusted the medical staff with whom I had worked with for 7 months and my own body to do what needed to be done and react to things as they happened, not before they happened.

Was my labor with M any less truthful or real or gritty because I was able to do it without any medication? Is it less meaningful because I didn’t have any intervention or last minute scares that I could share with everyone in the months after her birth? Why should I feel like I have to whisper that I enjoyed her birth and it really didn’t hurt all that much?

I went into having M with my eyes wide open and I know I was lucky in that it went so well.  I knew the risks and possibilities involved, but I also knew that it was an experience I had never had before so there was no medical reason for me to take measures to prevent something that we weren’t sure would even happen (i.e. intolerable pain). I don’t get up every morning and take a Tylenol “just in case” I get a headache later, why would I take medication in at the start of labor before I knew how bad the pain was?

Look, I totally understand that everyone has their own tolerance for pain and has their own medical history and assorted fears/issues they bring with them to a labor ward.  But I really and truly don’t understand the condescending backlash and accusations of being a liar against woman who admit that 1) labor wasn’t all that hard/painful for them or 2) was actually kind of wonderful and not at all as scary and harsh as they had anticipated? And yes, asserting that someone is a “superwoman” or saying “I could never do that” is condescending to all involved.  How do you know you could never do it until you tried?

Just so we are all clear I am far from an earth-mama hippie. Yes, I had a medication-free birth with M by choice/luck/effort/education and hope to do the same again.  I also have eaten sushi, soft cheese and had an occasional glass of wine while prego and sometimes let the TV babysit the girl.  Yes, we use cloth diapers, breastfeed, use non-toxic cleaning products and recycle.  But I will also drive to the grocery store 3 blocks away instead of walk if it’s cold or I’m tired. I also use probably highly toxic extra-strength deodorant, not a rock, and hate the smell of patchouli.

Looking Ahead

There is no doubt that 2010 is going to be life altering in many ways. The arrival of baby 2.0 will make sure of that. But right now, I’m having a hard time looking even that far into the future. Just taking a look at my/our January calendar is making me tired – excited but tired.

We will be heading to Disney on Ice in just over a week and I predict M will loose her mind when she sees princesses! and ice skating! together in one show. Then my mom is coming up for the long (for her, not schmucks like me who have to work) MLK weekend to help paint the baby’s room (and maybe M’s room, too – if we hustle) and this will make it official – our guest room will become the baby’s room and then there is no denying the impending arrival.

After that comes a jam-packed week of a Cavs game followed by yet another 36-hour trip to Las Vegas for work. I don’t mean to sound whiney but these biannual trips lost their luster after the 2nd one – now they are just exhausting. It’s nice to go to a warmer place even for a few days, but I really do find Vegas kind of gross and dirty. The hotels are nice, but I’m not a big gambler and when you’re only in town for about 27 hours which is book-ended by 4 ½ hour flights it gets old really fast. And Vegas while pregnant? Yippee! At least I will get to see my college friend who is due with her first baby just a few weeks before I am.

Looking past January my eyes go out of focus as all I see are days whipping past at break-neck speed until mid-April and my due date. February and March are hectic times at work and are the dreaded never-ending grey winter months of NE Ohio where you feel like you are doomed to never see the sun again.

And all I can think about is “OMG, are we really doing this again? What were we thinking?” There are 3 things that my mind is dwelling on at the moment: 1) I will never sleep again after 04.2010 and this makes me very grumpy. 2) The great fear of my water breaking in public has returned – this gets me more freaked out then any other part of the birth process. And 3) I had better get a private hospital room. If I have to share a post-partum room I’m going to be livid.

So there you have it – my excitement and fears for 2010. Well, the first quarter of 2010 anyway. The rest of the year is up in the air.