Where does intersectional feminism fit in with a cancer family?

Before Andy got a touch of the cancer, we were a family that was actively working to dismantle the patriarchy and systems of oppression. I wrote on my blog for my consulting business about identifying internal racial biases. We talked regularly about feminism, intersectionality, and how to be more aware of privilege.

We were a good liberal family. Living a joyful life and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones with regularity.

Andy was largely on the receiving end of education. He embraced the concept of centering marginalized voices and even when it was uncomfortable or required unlearning, he would work hard to be an active participant in this crusade so Ronan would have a slightly less oppressive worldview.

Then…well, you know.

A week or so after Andy had come home, I found myself wiped from all the work of caregiving. My head was constantly buzzing with lists, people, tasks, baby, ideas, tracking, baby, work, chores, Andy, cancer, grief, cancer, Andy, cancer, cancer, cancer, and I had a tiny meltdown. One of many I have and will have. I’ve already lost track of them.

After I had a good cry, I went on to Facebook to check in with the world and was presented with another really good article about mental load. One of the comments struck me: “What makes people think we are genetically predisposed to make dentist appointments is beyond me.”

And I got a little uppity.

YES. I HAVE SO MUCH ON MY PLATE RIGHT NOW! I AM THE ONE MAKING ALL THE APPOINTMENTS IN ALL OF THIS! AND WRITING GROCERY LISTS! AND MANAGING CHILDCARE! AND I HAVEN’T GOTTEN A DECENT NIGHT’S SLEEP IN WEEKS! WHY CAN’T ANDY DO SOMETH…oh, wait. Right. 

See, normally, I would have gone to him and said, Hey, it’s all too much right now. I need some help. And he would have totally picked up slack somewhere, taken on dishes, vacuuming, childcare, something.

But this time, I couldn’t offload this to him.

I had help during the day. Ronan went to my in-laws or to friends, or we had someone come over and entertain him while I did chores or paid bills. But, it was amazing how the workload more than doubled because not only was I picking up the tasks that Andy couldn’t do, but I was also managing grief around this whole situation, which is a motherfucker.

Soon after I had a talk with Andy.

“I’m overwhelmed and I don’t know where talking about mental load and feminism fits into our lives anymore.”

In my head I pictured Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how “Dismantling the Patriarchy” is probably higher up on the pyramid. We were solidly still in the bottom, trying to recuperate physiologically.

Now the immediate crisis is at a low point, though we know it’s going to keep coming back as we continue on this path. But, I still wrestle with how to talk to my husband, who is fighting Stage IV cancer, about intersectional feminism. It’s obviously a huge value to us, but where do you fit it in when most days we can both barely get out of bed? (I’m writing this from my bed.)

We settled on a compromise of sorts: Bring it up and be aware of impact. We are a partnership and me internalizing all the bullshit in hopes of relieving some of the load from him undercuts the whole “marriage” thing. Marriage is not 50/50. Sometimes it’s 80/20 or 20/80. The least he can do is listen to me complain even if he can’t actually do anything. And truthfully the complaining helps.

And me taking on all the work of managing appointments and childcare and household management and not talking about the impact on me to my partner, well that just perpetuates the idea that women are somehow better at this than men and therefore men don’t have to try to do any of that stuff because biology.

I had a funny Facebook interaction a few week ago where someone (a dude) tried to tell me that men were better at compartmentalizing than women. This is one of the most thoroughly debunked myths of “biology” that turned out to be cultural training. But, if we needed personal anecdotes, my ability to compartmentalize right now has never been better. My crazy gets put into a box and is locked up and then the key goes in my butt and the box is buried deep.

(There is always time for a Pitch Perfect clip.)

Back to the matter at hand: Biology or culture isn’t so much what we talk about these days, mostly we have a very active, ongoing conversation about how to relieve the load form each other within the limitations we currently have. We both prioritize Ronan first and then each other (though I think we’re getting better at actually prioritizing ourselves). By knowing that we have clear priorities (happy, healthy, adaptable kid first), we can address the rest because the way how we are living our lives in this current paradigm is inherently about non-oppression. Because at the root is compassion, empathy, and love.

We don’t have the energy for broader impact. We don’t have the ability to be a more active ally than being a friend and taking care of ourselves so we can return to the fight. But, we can continue to do the work inside our own home and in our own hearts of having an equitable marriage in hopes that some day (soon?) we can be soldiers on the front lines again.

IMG_4947

Advertisements

Less dark, still a little twisty

If you’re not keeping up on our CaringBridge account, we recently had an appointment with a surgical oncologist that was very positive. Given the uptick in the mood in the Willhelm household, I wanted to check in with a slightly less dire/macabre/ennui filled post.

It’s still very hard right now.

As I write this, Ronan is playing with our friend, Sarah, while Andy chills on the couch. I find that this space from the day-to-day caregiving of Ronan is such a relief AND I feel incredibly guilty about that.

Up to this point I hadn’t experienced a ton of mommy guilt. I was with him almost every waking minute of his day. He was surrounded by a lot of good, loving caregivers, and we still got time together in the evening for just the two of us. I was clearly fitting all the societal standards as a “good mom” balancing time with my son and time away from my son, a precarious balance that seems to be undefinable except when we see a mom not managing it. And then the internet has a lot to say.

But now, he’s cared for by a veritable battalion of people. Everyone adores him. No one signs up if they’re not into kids. He is proving to be happy, adaptable…interesting, even to some.

But I worry as this is the big initial push for Andy and his care, am I doing harm somehow to him?

Of course, my higher self who can get on the balcony says, “Absolutely not.” Even now his laughter comes easily with everyone who he is with, the ultimate sign to me that he is fine.

But now that the pressure of Andy’s immediate care is letting up, I have mental space again to start to stress about stuff. And first up gets to be my son.

I know I’m not a bad mom. By all other measures, I’m a fucking great mom. But if you know anyone who is a mom, or are a mom yourself, you know the weird standards that are put on us by, largely, white older Christian Republicans for whom family is defined by how it appeared in the 1950s, aka the height of oppression in the post-war age. We’re fighting back against this, but since the internet is full of trolls and people who don’t have to hide their judgment or civility, we still hear regularly about how we’re not doing motherhood right.

For the most part, I can remain immune to this pressure, but my defenses are down and instead of brushing off the bullshit, I find my inner voice that is concerned about single parenthood internalizes this judgment. If I can’t have Andy, can I still handle raising a boy in this time? I don’t know, says the voice, you certainly abdicate your motherhood to a lot of people.

Smarter, more compassionate parts of me look at it as expanding the motherhood circle, really embracing the whole “it takes a village” especially when mom is occupied with, like, keeping Papa alive. And my village is full of wildly capable, extremely loving people. So Ronan’s in good hands. Probably more qualified than me in some cases.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

I’m also wildly overwhelmed with projects. I have several full time jobs I want to apply to, I have a lot of writing I need to do for one of the consulting firms I’m in the dugout for, and I’m still trying to manage a household and a business. It’s just a lot and it feels like a lot of things on my to-do list truly can’t be put off. But when I sit down to work I just want to write about Andy, or about my experience, or just read Facebook.

Again, smarter, more compassionate parts of me are able to see that I’m battling depression, fatigue, overwhelm, and the desire to do self-care first and work second is normal. But I also have a part born out of the trauma of a country that judges a person’s worth on their work contribution and thinks that I’m just not bootstrapping enough. Why can’t I do more?

Because you can’t and that’s fine.

Ugh.

Fine.

I’m back to working out fairly regularly. Listening to my body and doing what it wants as a way to release some of the pent up anxiety. So I’m getting stronger again and it’s helping me sleep better AND I’m not punishing my body in the process in order to meet fitness goals. I’m just moving for the joy of moving…and the better sleep that comes from it.

That’s me. Less dark than before, still a little twisty. Feeling cautious about the future and trying to stay positive, but not Pollyanna about all of this.

Meh

So after my last post I got a lot of messages and texts checking in. My post was very representative of the place I was (am) in and I remain committed to trying to keep this process more transparent for the sake of global education.

Also, I like to whine to a lot of people at once.

As the weekend has passed and I’ve watched Andy just get stronger and stronger each day, the acute sense of anxiety has passed. I’m still so, so deep in planning. There are so many plates I’m spinning and I’m just tired all the time. When people are taking care of Ronan for me, I find I have little energy for more than just scrolling Facebook. I’m not ashamed to say I rely heavily on long drives with the kiddo in the car seat so I can get a break from the pressure of the house, which has so many things that need to be addressed and is in a new state of upheaval.

Our bathroom is really hard for me to walk into.

We had to remove a bunch of things from shelves because toddler. But now we have new shelves that house stoma supplies and are at a good height for emptying a stoma bag. The wedge pillow for Andy lives on the couch and the leftover dishes from delivered dinners linger.

I’m reminded everywhere of the state of deep transition we are in.

I’m trying to do a lot right now.

I’m still trying to secure clients, apply to jobs, write regularly for our family, communicate with everyone, update calendars, track all the pieces, and still do some self-care. I get angry and sad when I think about how much more of this we have ahead of ourselves and how I desperately need a self-care routine to solidify and actually work.

I added exercise back into the mix. We went to the YMCA yesterday and I did a really straightforward 30 minutes on the elliptical. Nothing fancy, just pushed myself cardiovascularly so I can start to get my endurance back. I think we’ll go tomorrow morning so I can lift some weights. My arms are still like steel cords thanks to baby bench presses, but I can feel my back and core and pelvic floor slackening as even long walks have become difficult to work in.

I’m inundated with the sheer number of people who are constantly asking me questions. Some of them are good like, “Can I include olives in the meal I’m delivering next week?” Good question. (The answer is yes.)

But  have like 3 too many people asking for personalized updates that I just don’t have the bandwidth for right now. As I told Andy, a surprising number of people feel entitled to these sorts of updates. I appreciate the notes of encouragement, the cards in the mail, the texts that say “I’m thinking of you,” but I just can’t tell this story one more time to one more person when I have several outlets to collect this information.

Let’s face it, I’m tired.

I’m anxious about my ability to keep up with everything if I should eventually be a single parent. I’m doing research and asking questions about how to set us up for that (“us” includes Andy who is rightfully worried about it). Some people have told me not to think like that. SOME PEOPLE.

It relieves me to know that if I need house projects done that I have friends who have already committed to it. It relieves me to know that Andy is writing a house calendar for me of all the things he does around the house to keep it functional so I can follow it if he’s not around to direct that work. It relives me to know who exactly has my back right now, even if it all changes.

It abates my anxiety to do this ultimate Willhelm Planning. This whole supporting a family through the hard times is a contact sport. This is why we asked those present at our wedding to take a vow themselves to support us in times like this. Though I had always envisioned our marriage being tested because of boredom or something, not through an illness this serious.

His mortality scares me. Andy was always invincible to me. I knew that someday I would live without him, but I didn’t expect to have to reckon with that for another 20 years at least. We know so little at this point about what we can expect with regard to that, but the idea of being a widow in my 30s, losing My Person when we are just getting going…it’s unfair that we have to do this.

And yet, I think about moms who have to do this when they are sick themselves with kids and no family. Or people who go through this with literally no one. We are so lucky to be as supported and resourced as we are.

And yet, I don’t care. I want the guarantee that I (and Ronan) have more time with him.

Will someone clean up this word vomit please?

You know most Thanksgivings I can come up with a substantial list of things I am grateful for. Everyday I can come up with at least 10. I live a pretty beautiful life.

But yesterday I was incapable of looking for things I am grateful for. Yesterday I was mad and scared and sad. Everyday I go through many cycles of grief. I come around to acceptance several times until I am faced with yet a new reality of this whole situation that requires a new cycle of grief.

Some examples:

Listening to Moana in the morning and thinking back on our trip to Maui in 2015 and how we likely won’t be able to explore all the Hawaiian islands together.

Watching Ronan dance to Moana and wondering if there will be a point where I won’t be able to listen to the music, not because my toddler has worn it out, but because of the other thing.

Watching Andy hold his niece at dinner, seeing how her beautiful red plaid taffeta dress spreads over his lap and thinking how, despite feeling like we achieved perfection the first time around and won’t have another kid, he will likely never be a father to a daughter. Or father in law to a daughter in law (or son in law).

How many more Thanksgivings do we have? I have a part of me that thinks someone has this answer, but isn’t giving it to me.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

The grief is triggering. I spend most of the day managing my anxiety about abandonment, unsteady attachment figures, a need to be more competent, more intelligent, more charming to get what I want, which is my husband whole, healthy, happy.

But, my full planner and overworked to do lists are not good coping mechanisms. In this time, I think I need coping mechanisms that balance the need to be ordered and the need to feel. I feel like I’m spinning 12 plates at once, but what I really need is a good workout or an orgasm.

Also, I need people to stop suggesting more things for me to do. I’m not going to seek out more doctors right now. I’m not going to suggest Andy try on essential oils or new diet. I do not want your suggestions unless you are someone who deals with cancer patients or have been part of the inner circle of someone battling cancer. Stop projecting your shit onto me.

I also need coffee shops to stop playing moody music. And I need a little break from movies where people who love each other lose each other.

I definitely would not be able to watch the opening scene of Up right now.

This time reminds me of when I was a new mom and I lacked the words to adequately describe just how fucking hard it was. Except now instead of balancing the feelings and work of welcoming a very wanted family member into the fold, we are trying to figure out how to keep one who is already in the family happy and healthy.

Health is so fickle, right? I hear a lot of language about how if people are just trying to be healthy then they can be whatever size they want and that’s the price of admission to being part of our society. But Andy went from presenting the healthiest he’s felt in the last 15 years to fucking Stage IV cancer. If that doesn’t highlight the reason why heath-ism is bullshit, I don’t know what will.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Also, I’ve lost God.

I mean, we were never really tight to begin with. I sort of believed in the Universe or a collective unconscious. Last year I started playing with the idea of reclaiming some version of a Christian God.

Now, I can’t reconcile a lot of the language Christian religions use to describe God and God’s role in everything with what is happening.

Did God give Andy cancer? Does God really think we need to be tested this way? Are we less blessed because of this? Were we blessed to begin with? What is achieved by shortening Andy’s already shortened lifespan? How does this help me or Ronan or any of the other people who are clearly deeply affected by this?

God works in mysterious ways.

He sounds vindictive to me if this is how he chooses to be mysterious. Like the coworker who keeps using your half and half you’ve clearly labelled in the fridge as yours.

What if he’s the variety of God who stopped meddling? What if this is just a product of what he put into motion early on and we have to live with the outcomes? Then praying seems useless.

I’ve stopped praying. To a God anyway. I will sometimes have parts of me who will need to say out loud, “Please just let this all be ok.” I recognize these are parts of me who are young children afraid of losing the most protective, loving person they have had in their lives.

I don’t feel reliable. To myself, to my husband, to my son. If this all blows up, can I keep it together? I’m barely keeping it together. People keep commenting on how we seem to be handling this well. For sure I can present a version of myself that needs to be informative and accurate. I’m aware that there are over two hundred other people in the world watching all of this go down. (I didn’t even realize I knew that many people.)

I am aware of how many people want a silver lining in this.

Is it wrong if I can’t find a silver lining? I can’t find hope right now. I think in the whole large arc of the grief, I’m in Depression right now. (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance–not necessarily in that order or with finality in any of the stages. Grief is not linear. Acceptance is not permanent.)

Ok, enough of this for now.

 

Just some thoughts I’ve been having

To say a lot has happened since my last post would be a serious understatement. Right now we’re 2 days out from a very sudden surgery for my husband, which is part of the treatment he is now receiving for colorectal cancer. The news, meeting doctors, coming up with a plan, arranging the surgery, all came on very fast. You can read about it on our CaringBridge site, but basically from first blush to surgery scheduled was all of 3 weeks.

Now I am sitting in my office, overwhelmed with things to do. But actually there is nothing to do. I have done everything I need to do in reality. My son’s care is accounted for for the next week, I have a lengthy list of caretakers if something happens to one of them, meals are planned and ready to go, all the final bills and mail and chores that have to get done are done. Now we are just waiting.

I am reminded that when I was in high school I had a habit of writing in all my homework very diligently in my planner. I was in an intensive international baccalaureate program and there was a lot of homework always. The closest TV experience to the one I had was Rory in Gilmore Girls. Except instead of writing for a paper, it was singing in my school chorus and every elite chorus I could audition for.

At the same time, my dad was at rock bottom in his journey with alcoholism so I spent a lot of time alone in my room, trying to deal with all the feelings of school pressure and my family being a source of constant, overwhelming tension.

To cope, I would write and rewrite to do lists and spend time looking in my planner at all the things I had to do without actually doing any of it. It’s like the act of making lists would soothe the part of me that couldn’t handle all the disorganization.

I’m feeling that very intensely these days. I write the same to do list in 4 places, often adding and removing things that have nothing to do with what is happening. Or creating lists upon lists that don’t really need to be figured out yet.

I feel the need to write in my journal when there’s really nothing else to say. I stare at blank pages thinking something has to come out because I feel such pressure right now, but I’m just tapped out.

But also, I’m not sleeping well. I’m exhausted every day, but I wake up early and find that I have to lay down partway through the day while my son naps just so I won’t get a migraine. I’m constantly on the verge of a migraine, which is kind of unacceptable right now.

People are worried about me in a way that feels equivalent to the way they are worried about Andy and that is a problem. I get worried that somehow I am coming across as weak, in need of help, unable to cope. Do these people who are worried about me think I need more help because I am not handling this well?

They likely see that care taking a sick person is a difficulty in and of itself, but I feel remarkably selfish being the center of this kind of attention when it is my husband who is ultimately dealing with the mutilation of his body and the lost time with his son. He’s on a lifting restriction for 6 weeks after the surgery and I just can’t imagine my life where I can’t hold my son. I’m trying to brainstorm ways to make this easier for Andy, but I’m stuck.

And then I get mad. I’m mad at the fucking cancer. I’m mad at a healthcare system that doesn’t just support people in these times. (Btw, in the middle of all this we got the notice for the premium increase for mine and Ronan’s health insurance. It went up 50% for 2018. What the hell are we even doing anymore?) I’m mad that we had a moment of gratitude that this was happening at the end of the year and his out of pocket max had already been reached, so we’re effectively getting free surgery. I’m mad that instead of spending time with him and Ronan, I’m freaking out about money. Andy will be missing a huge tech so the normal pay bump we get during the time won’t be happening. We have a GoFundMe to cover some of those expenses, but I’m pissed that I live in the richest country in the world and have to worry about paying our mortgage.

I’m mad that out of all the things I can do, all the skills I can offer, all the experiences I have, I can’t seem to make this less uncomfortable. Andy will still have to have major abdominal surgery. Ronan still won’t be able to be picked up by his Papa for over a month, and I still have to hold all the strings together when I don’t feel remotely qualified or prepared for this. (False, says a voice in me, you are the most qualified and prepared for this.)

When the surgeon gave us a worst case scenario of the cancer having already spread and said that the cancer might be “incurable” and it “would be more about prolonging your life,” I almost died right in that moment. The blood all rushed to my head and I felt the room spin.

How can I have found this man who loves me so much, a man who I could spend almost every waking moment with and not get tired of him, a man who makes me feel special and loved and appreciated and beautiful in all the ways that matter, and have him ultimately taken from me in this way?

We have a long way to go before we know if this is even a thing, but I’m already mourning his loss. I watch him at night when he turns away from me to turn off the light before bed and think, how will I survive without him? I don’t want to be a single mom. I don’t want to have this giant bed all to myself. I don’t want another person, I want him.

And then I bargain. Right? Because there is always bargaining. What do I have to do? If I keep all the details perfect, will it go away? If I promise to stay on top of the housework and find a job and stop running my own business, will this be the magical equation the universe needs to keep him alive?

And we aren’t even sure if this is the thing yet. But I’m already going through the 5 stages of grief with this.

And now I’m back to thinking how selfish I am that I even have grief over this. I’m not the one with the cancer. How can I think of myself at a time like this? How? How? How?

…just some thoughts I’ve been having.

Traveling…again

I never really talked about our first foray into travel with Ronan. We took him to Florida when he was 4 1/2 months old when Andy had a convention in Orlando. We spent about a week there and then spent a long weekend with my family in South Florida. We did a ton of prep and when I started writing a recap of our experience it was ballooning in a 3-part series, which is just too much info about traveling with a baby.

So this time, I wanted to do a little comparison of how it was then and now.

Packing

Holy lord, it’s a mess no matter what. I started making a list way in advance of what we would need. Basically it was just notes of all the stuff we used during the day. The first time around I had to account for pumping and breast milk storage since he was still all milk all the time. I also had to find a swing for him since he was napping in a swing every day. This time I had to take into account that he walks and needed a convertible car seat and food and entertainment. So both instances had some basics like clothing, diapers, sleep stuff, pacifiers, and all my stuff. The first time was more about keeping him comfortable, this time was more about entertainment.

The Flight

The first time I flew with Andy. We had to carry my breast pump and food and baby stuff. I was so anxious about sleep since he still was being fed twice at night, so since we had 2 suitcases I split his sleep stuff (PJs, sleep sack, bottles) into both suitcases so if one got lost the other would have stuff for him. This time I flew alone and we had one giant suitcase with everything.

Both times we got him his own seat since he chills out in a 5-point harness. This is so worth it. Not having to hold a baby or a toddler the whole 6 hour flight is fucking worth $400 (helped that my parents picked up the tab on this one and the first flight we covered with travel miles).

IMG_4475

For the first flight we packed entertainment for both of us adults, my pump, a change of clothes for Ronan and each of us, lots of snacks for us, and enough breast milk for a whole day on the road.

For the second flight I brought entertainment for me and him, a change of clothes for him and a shirt for me, lots of food, and all the diaper bag stuff. I crowdsourced (aka asked Facebook) the best toddler entertainment options. I ended up buying him a Quiet Book and brought along a book with a finger puppet, washi tape, and so. Many. Snacks. I now know that the most interesting things to him were the cups from the beverage cart and being able to take things out of the seat pocket. He also flirted with the people around us a lot and those who were into it played and those who weren’t didn’t. No one seemed overtly upset about my super cute baby being super cute.

We had a couple of tough moments with him where we experienced turbulence and he had to be put back in his carseat after I let him out. He wasn’t a fan, but I gave him a paci and his Peep and distracted him with a finger puppet and we were back to being ok. He also chilled if I turned the overhead light on and off, I just made sure it wasn’t pointing in his eyes.

He napped on both flights and that’s when I got a break. I brought a book, but now I know that that was not a great choice. The iPad with downloaded episodes of House of Cards and a diverse Podcast playlist on my phone with one headphone in was the best entertainment for me. I didn’t have the ability to relax enough into a book, but these were both options for entertainment when I was tending to Ronan (Podcasts) or not (House of Cards).

On the flight back, I put him down for bed and did our whole bed time routine including bottle, stories, and songs. I had to give him a paci to calm down, but he chilled and slept for the 2 1/2 hours until we landed.

IMG_4481

A quick note about the airline I few. I flew Alaska and I have never been so well taken care of on any flight ever. I sat in the second to last row so we’d be near the bathroom and the galley. The flight to Florida was chill and the flight attendants regularly checked on me. The flight to Seattle was equally chill, but the flight attendants kept dropping me little “mommy gifts.” By the end of the flight I had a free entertainment unit (they normally rent them for $10/flight), 2 glasses of wine, a fruit and cheese plate, 2 full cans (!!!!) of ginger ale, and chocolate. They were so sweet and made me feel very special and gave me tons of compliments about how chill Ronan and I were on our flights. I think the combo of baby+alone mom+lots of smiles= lots of special customer service. Fly Alaska. They know what’s up.

Security

Security was the biggest concern for me on the trip. With a car seat, the stroller, my diaper bag, the liquids, my purse, shoes, jackets…a baby, I was nervous about all the stuff and tracking I would have to do to get through security. Fortunately, the agent at the bag drop granted Andy a gate pass, so he was able to come through security with us. This was so helpful since when it was all unloaded on the belt we had 7 bins/things we had to track, which is just on the outer limits of what my brain can manage. Even with Andy we almost left Ronan’s blanket behind. It was also helpful to have Andy so I could use the bathroom and get water without having to track my squirrelly baby. Also Andy got some final snuggles with him before we got on the plane.

On the way back we had to go through Ft Lauderdale security, which makes a particular effort to be the most un-customer friendly it possibly can be. They initially didn’t grant a gate pass to my mom, but when a supervisor came out of the back and saw me with all my stuff and the baby, she relented. This was so helpful since they had just changed security measures and we now had to take any electronic larger than a phone out of our bags and we had to spread all the liquids out in a bin so they could be seen individually. So I had one more thing to track on my way through. There was only one line open and the TSA agent was telling everyone individually what had changed. Fun.

Mom held Ronan for a bit and was able to help me collect things on the other side. Then she treated us to dinner and got to hang out with us for the 90 or so minutes we had before boarding.

So, moral of this story, it doesn’t hurt to ask for a gate pass, but don’t expect people in Ft Lauderdale to be helpful.

The Trip Itself

The first trip was still part of the early daze. Lots of tracking milk intake and planning naps and walking around. The weather on the first trip was gorgeous. Mid to high 70s, low humidity. It was November so the Disney Christmas decor was out and it was gorgeous. We ordered diapers to arrive at the hotel and we ate lots of sandwiches and snacks until we got to my family, who cooked for us a lot.

The second trip was much more mellow. Sleep was sort of all over the place. Ronan slept through the night thanks to hurricane shutters that provided a super dark room and my travel Bluetooth speaker that played white noise from the spare iPhone. Ronan got his own room, which was good because my biological clock didn’t let me fall asleep before 1a EST (10p PST) every night. I was slightly more rested than the last time when I was waking up multiple times at night. We were fed every meal of every day by my family, so no need to figure out food for either of us.

We did an overnight in Orlando to visit my dear friend Julie. She and her husband met us  from Tallahassee. It was so hot and humid. Ronan was just miserable until we were in A/C. He was stuck in his stroller since he’s still not reliable to follow me or stay nearby, so as we walked around, he got to a point where he just wanted to get out. I think when we do this again we’ll just stay close to the hotel and go to the pool or stay in the room. He was happy to run around the room and Julie, her husband, and I were happy to snack and watch the Food Network. Lesson learned.

IMG_4395

So overall, while this trip had the potential for more stress (traveling alone with a toddler), it was ultimately easier from a logistics and keeping the kiddo chill the whole time. We will continue to get a seat for him since that helps both of us. Next time I’ll likely pack a lot less on the flight itself and remember that I have a surprisingly chill and adaptable baby, so I don’t need to stress as much about meltdowns and stuff falling apart. Also, I will definitely be flying Alaska again and if I don’t get offered free wine by the flight attendants, I will definitely purchase a glass to keep my nerves a little chilled out.

And then suddenly, it was easier…

Something clicked around the time Ronan became 14 months old. Things got…easier.

The first year was super intense. Figuring out sleeping and eating and new skills being learned and teeth and managing a baby and my own needs and my husband’s needs and trying to run a business and really intense stuff with my family and my in-laws and on and on and on.

And then one day I realized it had suddenly gotten easier.

He was walking, I knew enough about him to learn his cues and how to anticipate his needs. I had figured out the short cuts for when Andy was at work. I stopped pumping.

Part of this ease can be attributed to the new pattern for care taking. Ronan and I go to co-working 2 mornings a week and then straight home for a nap. He spends almost a full day with my mother in law and another almost full day with my father in law.

The timing between naps is longer so we can take our time getting places and doing things. We don’t have to rush back home or to the car for a nap or so I can pump.

I had a therapist make a really condescending remark about how I needed to just lighten up my standards for motherhood. I remember thinking, “Well, they’re not really that high.” She used the example of using paper plates for dinner instead of real plates. Um… you do know that when Andy’s running a show only one of us actually uses a plate?

My standards were and are pretty middling. I want to experience some joy and happiness while parenting and don’t want to make myself sick with my choices. I have a partner who is a true partner, so I never can commiserate with moms who have significant others who don’t really help.

But despite my choosing a partner who was a help, despite my sort of middling standards, things were hard. Like as a blanket statement, it was hard.

And now it’s…less hard.

A mom in one of my Facebook groups was candidly talking about how overwhelmed she was with her 4 month old and was looking for perspective about how one day it would get better. Other moms were telling her to “enjoy it, they’re only small once,” which is the worst advice you can give to a mom who is just in the weeds.

I told her about how it gets easier. They figure stuff out. You figure them out, they figure you out. You get a rhythm and a routine. And then one day you find yourself with a spare couple of hours to read and scroll Facebook and maybe do some laundry if you really feel like it, but everything feels less compressed.

Don’t know how long this will last, but for now I’m really enjoying hitting a phase of parent/childhood that seems to work with my temperament a little better. Having more help from many angles definitely helps since I can work more and remember parts of me that had to get put on hold this last year.

There are acute moments of discomfort, but for now it all feels a little bit more manageable than it did before.

My breastfeeding journey start to finish

When I got pregnant I knew immediately that I wanted to breastfeed my little nugget. There is so much stuff in the world about how good breastfeeding is for babies that I was like “I’ll be damned if my son uses me not breastfeeding him as an excuse for his behavior when he’s in therapy.”

Andy and I attended a class all about breastfeeding and knew that pretty immediately we would want me to pump milk so he could be part of the feeding process. We’d watched a lot of dads be shut out of the really beautiful ritual of feeding their baby because mom refused to pump or just didn’t think to share the experience with dad. I also knew that if I was the sole person responsible for keeping our baby fed I would go crazy pretty quick.

But life is fickle and we were thrown a tiny curveball when our tiny curveball was born 5 weeks early. This meant while he was born with the ability to suck and swallow (some premies lack these reflexes because they are so early), he would tire himself out easily doing so. So we quickly shifted from trying to nurse to exclusively pumping.

Some vocabulary: “Breastfeeding” refers to a baby getting any breast milk, even if it’s not yours. “Nursing” is the process of a baby getting milk directly from a breast. So when people asked me if I was breastfeeding, I would say yes. This is a “thing” for moms and the medical community. Women want to fight with other women about how they aren’t really breastfeeding if they aren’t directly nursing and some medical professionals are behind on this change in the vernacular.

The women who want to fight about the right to solely claim breastfeeding are the ones who believe moms who pump are taking the easy way out by not attempting nursing.

In fact, I got several snide comments like “Did you even try?” “Why would you not give it to him directly from the tap?” (Do not get me started on all the misogyny that gets laced into this.) “Aren’t you afraid you won’t bond with him?”

And the thing is, we did try. I tried maybe a dozen times to nurse him, each time feeling euphoric when it worked (thanks oxytocin) and sort of frustrated when we couldn’t. After a few weeks of going to lactation consultants, one of whom told me I was overfeeding Ronan–hint: you cannot overfeed a newborn–we decided that this was dumb and we should just stick with pumping and bottles. Our pediatrician was behind us and so we became an EPing family.

This made things so much easier. I started by pumping 8 times a day, roughly every 2 hours with a longer stretch at night. This was when Ronan was still only sleeping in small chunks (a whole ‘nother post for another day), so I would pump twice on my overnight shift, usually during or after feeding him (it quickly became after when I learned the logistics of pumping and feeding a wiggly newborn just wasn’t going to work out).

I got a lot of praise for pumping. Other women were in awe at my ability to do it. I would correct them at first and then just stopped trying because, the thing is, I didn’t know any other way. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything heroic or special. I wanted to give my son breast milk, I didn’t want to try nursing anymore, so pumping was the default.

And my boobs were primed to give breast milk. Holy shit.

By a month into this whole thing I was producing a massive surplus. So much so that we had to move a chunk of my stash from our freezer to my mother in law’s freezer. My body wanted to make breast milk, so I went along with it.

I think moms who don’t have supportive partners in the whole pumping thing have it the worst. Part of what made it easier on me was Andy’s willingness to wash bottles and pump parts and troubleshoot how to make it easier. We bought extra pumping supplies, more bottles, and concocted an elaborate system to separate AM from PM milk so we could do ANYTHING to help Ronan sleep in longer than the 1 hour stretches he was doing at the time. If I had had to pump, prepare bottles, and wash everything myself for those first 2 1/2 months before Ronan learned how awesome sleep is, I would have stopped much sooner if my boobs would have allowed it.

When Andy went back to work in September, he prepared all the bottles for the day and washed all the pump parts when he got home. He had this ritual where he would put on an episode of a show on his phone, prop it up on the kitchen window sill, and go to town for the 30 or so minutes it took to get through everything.

I went from 8 pumps a day to 7 pretty quickly once we learned I could produce a ton of milk. I dropped to 6 when Ronan started sleeping in longer chunks, like 5 hours at a time, when he was about 3 months old. I dropped to 5 when he would only wake once in the night for a dream feed and dropped to 4 when he started sleeping through the night at 5 1/2 months. I wasn’t pumping 4 times at night, but as he got older I was making so much milk that the need to keep up with pumping to preserve my supply wasn’t as pressing.

It got harder when I was on a weird pumping schedule that didn’t quite coincide with his naps and he was less cool about hanging out in his crib for 30 or so minutes while I pumped in the morning. I dropped to 3 pumps when he was about 9 months old, which meant I had to carry pump stuff with me everywhere (I did anyway for emergency purposes, literally in case we had an earthquake and I needed to pump) and plan to pump in the middle of the day. I got really good at pumping in my car. I also had a recurring nightmare that I was in a car accident and couldn’t move or talk and no one would figure out that I was a lactating mom and pump my breasts. Overly full breasts are so uncomfortable. Like a full bladder but times two and on your chest.

I dropped to 2 pumps a day right around his first birthday, then down to one a few weeks later.

Dropping pumpings was hard for me. My body was so ready to make milk that I always ended up leaking and with clogged milk ducts, which feels like having marbles in your breasts. I was always afraid of mastitis, an infection in your breasts from clogged ducts that produces flu like symptoms and can escalate to to needing to have milk ducts removed if they become too infected.

Then I started to taper down to be done with pumping all together. I wanted Ronan to get enough breast milk to make it to one year from his due date and so, knowing I had an ample freezer stash, I tapered for the month of July thinking August 4th, a year from his due date, I could turn off my pump forever.

Ha. Haha. Hahaha.

Fucking overproducing, high achieving boobs.

I basically had to stretch out my single pump by 12 hours every day. So at 24 hours since my “last” pump, I pumped again. And then 36 hours later, then 48, then 58 (didn’t quite make it that day), then 72. And I couldn’t make it past the 72 hour mark. I would start to leak so I would just pump and get an ounce in my 5 minutes of relief pumping. Stupid ounce making such a ruckus.

I eventually got the advice from a fellow mom to bind my breasts. So I wore tight-fitting sports bras for 3 days with my breast pads tucked in to collect any leaks. And, voila! It worked. So now, here I am, officially off the pump a week later, no leaking, no clogged ducts. Done done done!

Here are some things I learned in the process:

Some medical professionals, including lactations consultants, spread outdated information about pumping.

I can’t tell you how many moms I talked off a Facebook cliff about their milk supply drying up because they pumped or that they’ll never be able to produce enough to keep up with their baby. The trend I’ve observed through really scientific Facebook research is women have the same experience pumping that they would have had nursing. Meaning, if you were an overproducer, underproducer, or just-enougher while pumping, that is likely what would have happened while nursing.

Some will also say that if you give your baby breast milk that you pumped months ago, that it won’t be as beneficial for your baby. Not really. There are some micronutrients that might be in slightly different levels, but largely your baby is going to be fine.

Also that you are doing your baby a disservice because you don’t latch and therefore your body doesn’t make milk super specially formulated for your baby. Yeah, that’s false. Your body figures out what kind of milk to make by getting info about your baby when you kiss, hold, touch, or get slobbered on by them. Pumping moms’ milk changes just like nursing moms. One week we had a stash of milk in the fridge that included white, yellow, blue, green, and purple milk. Obviously Ronan and/or I was going through something.

One mom even reported to me that their lactation nurse said her uterus wouldn’t contract when she was pumping, only when she was nursing. Mmm, k.

Get all the supplies you could need.

Mom groups are ripe with women offloading their pumping supplies, often for free. I got 6 full sets of pump parts from a mom selling them for $15. I also got a total of 6 pumps for free from people, most of them never or barely used. I would give most of these away to other mamas who needed new pumps but their insurance didn’t cover the cost. Fortunately we saved 2 and I used one when my hospital grade pump, Bertha, had to get returned. The second one was used for spare parts, which was mighty helpful with the battery pack died on the first one.

If you’re a mama who has a pump that doesn’t work for you, check with your insurance to see if you can get a new one. I heard a lot of bullshit from moms saying they didn’t respond well to the pump when, in fact, their pumps were broken, or didn’t properly mimic the way their babies would nurse. I had 3 mom friends who all had pumps that legit didn’t work and they thought that it was because they just weren’t suited for pumping.

If your insurance won’t replace one, ask around in a mom group. Chances are there’s someone like me who hoards pumps and would just love to give you a spare. Also, Groupon is ripe with deals for breast pumps. Fer realz.

There are all sorts of things about pumping that freaks people out. 

Probably because anything that has to do with women’s bodies is inherently laden with misogyny, but women who pump get the same kind of ire that women who nurse in public do. It makes people deeply uncomfortable. I was pumping one day at home and had a guest, who, despite saying it was fine that I was pumping in front of her, was clearly so uncomfortable that she didn’t mention when the front of my shirt was suddenly soaked in milk because I was overflowing the containers I was hooked up to. I couldn’t feel it because my shirt was pulled away from my skin over the pump parts. Look, it’s not a spaghetti sauce stain. See something, say something. In terrorism and in breastfeeding.

Also we hear about how you need to “pump and dump.” Not so. Unless you are black out drunk, you filter alcohol out of your breast milk a little more efficiently than you do out of your blood, so if you’re ok to drive, you’re ok to pump. Some women who would prefer not to use milk after pumping either dilute it with other milk or use it for milk baths.

Some people say the rudest fucking things.

I got compared to a cow more times than I care to count. Which, you know, is an animal that women are always favorably compared to.

I was asked if I had even tried to nurse. Whether I had or hadn’t was no one’s goddamn business, but it was particularly offensive to ask me, the one who is such an overachiever that even her boobs can’t chill out, if she had attempted nursing. Uh yeah, I live in one of the most liberal hippy cities in the country, of course I did.

I was told I would have a hard time bonding with my baby. I mean, he came out of me, so I think we’ve got that covered.

I also got a lot of side eye from women checking out my bottles who couldn’t tell if I was giving my kid formula or what. Even if I was, who fucking cares? Seriously, liberal ladies, we have got to stop shaming moms for choosing formula, whether it’s instead of breast milk or in addition to.

There’s a lot more to this, but I’ll stop here for now because I want to enjoy my chocolate chai. My breastfeeding journey has been incredible. I truly enjoyed almost every moment of it, which is not something I think a lot of women can say. Not many moms know exclusive pumping is an option. My hope is that we eventually give information about it not as an aside to nursing, but as a whole, separate option for women who want the benefits of breast milk but can’t easily nurse. We have a lot of hurdles for moms to clear in the early days of motherhood, easily and safely feeding our kids shouldn’t be one of them.

 

Final total of breast milk produced: 339,033 ml or 94 1/2 gallons.

NO I’M NOT ON MY PERIOD

Y’all don’t need me to tell you this, but imma say it anyway for those who need it repeated: misogyny is just everywhere.

The most prominent way I’ve seen it lately is blaming women’s intuition about themselves on “hormones.”

I’ve been going down a bit of a black hole on hormones lately. Postpartum hormones are no fucking joke and now that I’m almost 13 months postpartum, I figured it was time to do something about the hormonal symptoms I was experiencing.

Some examples of legitimate hormonal symptoms (courtesy of the book Woman Code): insomnia, waking up during sleep, headaches, low libido, facial/body hair, hyperthyroidism, metabolic syndrome, oily skin, bloating and water retention, acne, eczema, constipation, diarrhea, body odor, night sweats, mood swings, PMS, irregular cycle, ovarian cysts, breast tenderness, PCOS, unexplained infertility, cramps, heavy periods, painful periods, missing periods, migraines, and depression.

Things that are not a product of hormones: Clinical depression or anxiety, divorce, seizures, stress, a desire to be treated well, aversions to sexual harassment, mental load.

And yet, in the last year I’ve heard all of these things be blamed on “hormones.”

When I went in for my 6 week postpartum appointment, the one where they give you the clearance to start exercising again (ha…hahahaha), I mentioned feeling “off.” Andy pointed out to my doctor that I felt angry sometimes, and while this was true, this was not what I was referring to. I felt overwhelmed, out of control, or on the verge of tears all the time. My sanity felt like a very precariously balanced thing and I did my best to describe this. But, I was told it was likely postpartum hormones and to give myself some time to recover.

I went to my therapist and said the same thing and she echoed the sentiment that motherhood was hard and not getting enough sleep was hard. Yeah…but it was something else.

My second visit to my therapist was where shit got real and I used the D word: depression. I ultimately was diagnosed with mild PPD, but the amount of convincing it took that Something Was Up was kind of insane.

I have a dear friend who regaled my mommy support group with the tale of how she was having eclamptic seizures a few days postpartum. When she called 911, the paramedics arrived and took her pulse and blood pressure, both of which were really high, and instead of treating her for, you know, a medical condition, told her “Being a new mom is hard.” This woman is a nurse and she was like “yah, no shit, now get me to a hospital.” They got her there and after more patronizing and gas lighting from male doctors, she was eventually seen by an OB who knew immediately what was going on and got her treated immediately.

Yesterday a mom in one of my mom FB groups posted about how she has felt distant from her husband for over a year and really wants to ask for a divorce. But, every time she tries to get some support in the process of leaving him from a friend or family member, she gets told that it’s just her hormones that are making her feel off about him and that eventually she’ll like him again.  When I said it’s not hormones this is what it feels like to have legitimate and scary feelings, she explained, “But I’m breastfeeding.” Sure. Pregnancy hormones and postpartum hormones are fucking insane. But they make you want to get a burrito (and a muffin and a smoothie and an ice cream sundae and a block of cheese…you eat a lot while breastfeeding), not a divorce.

This systemic gas lighting of women and their experiences is ridiculous. When someone says covertly or overtly that what they’re experiencing is a product of woman-ness, aka hormones, instability because of hormones, or a lack of mental clarity bc hormones, it’s misogyny.

Let’s try on something new and just believe women when they say something that involves a fair bit of intuition and soul-searching. It is likely because of our ability to be deeply intuitive thanks to our hormones that has helped us to draw this conclusion. Ok so yeah it’s because of hormones, but it’s not because HORMONES. Our biology is something to be celebrated, not in the least because we produce literal life, but also because it is precisely our ability to find deep meaning and connection in tough moments and tough decisions that helps the world keep from being a burning pile of garbage.

I’m sure I’ll have more of these stories and more rage about the way women are treated. I promise my rage is not because I’m PMSing. I’m just mad.

Birth Story Part 4: Labor and Delivery…Part 2 (Final, I swear.)

Want to read Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3?

When last we left our intrepid heroine…

I was about to get my water broken in hopes of kicking me into actual labor. I was 6cm dilated, relatively pain free save for a very rude Cook catheter.

I asked Dr Flum, the doctor on call that day, if I could shower and have breakfast before we got started. I was showing no signs of problems from the magnesium, so she thought it was a good idea.

Ok, a little bit of transparency into my life: Andy and I love to shower together. It’s never a Thing, but more an opportunity for us to check in, say hi to each other, hang out, like watching Netflix but also getting clean.

Back at the hospital, Andy got his swim suit on and acted as my lifeguard in the shower. I showered with the dumb portable fetal monitors on, Andy holding onto one arm the whole time. Moving was very hard at this point with the fetal monitors, Pepe (my IV stand), some weakness from the magnesium, and the whole being pregnant thing, plus I had been essentially bedridden for the last week and was feeling the soreness and stiffness in my muscles.

I emerged clean and ate a hearty breakfast while Andy and I chatted with the nurses and my doula, Kim. My Labor and Delivery nurse for that day was Joy. I kept wanting to call her Amy because I swear she looked like Amy Schumer. But she fit her name, Joy, and was an absolute pleasure to have around.

After breakfast, at 10:15a, Dr Flum arrived with one of the residents who had been with me through most of the journey, Edie. Dr Flum pulled out what looked like a long crochet hook and had me lean back on the bed. I felt absolutely nothing except a giant rushing of warm water all over the bed. Dr Flum said she’d check back with me later.

15 minutes later, it started. The contractions came on stronger. I was breathing through them, Kim pressing onto my low back while they crested, Andy holding my hand or talking to me. It was a strategy we worked out in our birthing class. I took deep, yogic breaths, trying to steady my body. I thought, “Yeah, I can do this. I can do this.”

3 hours later, it got decidedly more uncomfortable. It wasn’t comfortable before that, but it felt like the kind of cramps I experienced when I was in high school before we knew that hormonal birth control would make the first few days of my period easier on me. I knew this feeling so I would breathe and breathe and breathe. It would dissipate and I could relax.

This new feeling was un-fucking-believable. It hurt so much. My back, my thighs, my belly, my chest, everything would tighten up and I would have to work so hard to get a breath in. I remember when I was 12 and I took a really bad fall during a ski trip and tore my meniscus in my knee. I remember the feeling of not being able to catch my breath because of the pain where the only thing I could do was sob and hope my breath would come back.

This was worse than that.

Kim suggested I try different positions. I had a sense of what would have felt good, but all the cords and wires and this goddamn belly meant that I couldn’t really get in the position I wanted. Plus my feet and hands were still swollen, so putting pressure on them was unbearable after about 5 minutes because everything would fall asleep, not good while in labor.

At 1:30p Dr Flum did a progress check, 8cm along. They decided to put an internal fetal scalp electrode on my son’s head to monitor him better. I could be free from the external monitors and have slightly more mobility. I had 3 things hooked up to my keychain, what was another wire coming from my vagina? This turned out to be a great idea. We could hear his heartbeat and track the contractions better.

I remember looking at the clock around 2:15p and thinking, “This has to be over soon. I want pain meds, but we have to be coming to the end.” Part of all the discussions of pain medication, we had been told that if they thought I was within an hour of delivery they would not give me an epidural or fentanyl. The magnesium was going to make my son floppy already and the pain medicine would make him even floppier, possibly making it difficult for him to breathe.

I kept going.

I found myself constantly saying, “Come on.”

I would say this to my son, “Come on, enter the world.” To my cervix, “Come on, open up.” And to this fucking intelligent designer, “Come on, really? This is what I have to endure?”

I vividly remember clutching the side of the bed and thinking, “I am never doing this again.”

We found a position with me sitting on the corner of the bed, my head against Andy’s chest. I would hold his hands and breathe, breathe, breathe, through the contraction. Then the swell of oxytocin would make me so sleepy, I would close my eyes and sometimes doze against him.

Over and over I did this, Andy at one point just holding my head and saying, “I am so proud of you. You are so strong.” This was the encouragement I needed.

At 3:30p Dr Flum did another progress check: 9cm. How did I have another centimeter to go???

At 4p I said, “I need to push.”

I can’t explain the feeling of this. It was so overwhelming, so all-encompassing a feeling. Pushpushpushpushpush.

I was told to hold, wait for the doctor.

It was like holding in a giant poop after I had food poisoning, only worse because I had my whole body telling me to push, not just my digestive system.

20 long minutes later, Dr Flum arrived. I had a little lip of my cervix left, which she manually moved aside. This was more rude than the Cook catheter. She felt a contraction while that was happening and all I could do was moan and try and keep still.

At 4:22 I made my first push.

Sidebar: During all of this talk of gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, the thing I kept hearing is that I could have a seizure. I didn’t know what this would be like, but Dr Hannon, a doctor from earlier in the week, told me that I wouldn’t feel anything, I would “just wake up and not know what had happened while the rest of us worried about you.”

After my first push, my son’s heart rate plummeted and the put an oxygen mask on me. I thought for sure the oxygen mask was because I was going to have a seizure. I started to panic but listened for my doctor’s voice. At this point about 6 people were talking to me, so I just kept trying to hear what Dr Flum was saying.

“You’ll have to get him out in one push,” Dr Flum told me. She asked if she could use a vacuum to help and I, of course, said yes because, duh.

We waited for another contraction. This goddamn contraction took 6 MINUTES TO ARRIVE.

Finally, Dr Flum told me to push, we couldn’t wait.

I pushed as hard as I could, I paused to catch my breath and everyone was screaming, “Push push push!” I pushed again…

And my son literally somersaulted out of me. His head landed in her hand and his legs flipped over his head.

4:34p, Ronan Lon Willhelm made his entrance into the world. Wassup, kid? We’ve been waiting for you.

I learned later that Dr Flum called me one of the best pushers she’s ever seen.

I’ll take it.

He came out screaming. Dr Flum cut the cord, Andy trimmed it at the warming table, and my son was deposited onto my chest.

Someday I will write more about this moment. A lot happened for me in the 20 minutes I held him. Edie stitched up my one first degree tear, I delivered the afterbirth, Andy looked lovingly on at me and Ronan, tears streaming down his face.

They took him up to the NICU at 5p and I had dinner around 6p. I got text updates from Andy about his progress, his measurements, what was happening.

I updated Facebook.

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 5.13.34 PM.png

Since this post is already almost 1500 words, quick summary of the aftermath.

I had some dizziness when they were trying to transfer me to the postpartum wing. Turns out my uterus had clamped down pretty fast after delivery and a clot got stuck in my cervix, so my uterus was still bleeding and filling with blood. The doctor that evening had to remove the clot, which is how I ended up with the most expensive painkiller in the hospital: Liquid Tylenol. Yup. Turns out that puppy is the most expensive and largely reserved for people like me who can’t have more intense painkillers because of blood pressure issues.

After he removed the clot (fingers in my newly raw cervix, blood everywhere, fun) I lost over a liter in blood. They were going to monitor me but chose not to give me a transfusion.

We went up to the NICU to see our baby. He was a monster compared to the other babies, who were all barely larger than a good steakhouse potato. He was beautiful. I wanted to keep holding him. I did not have that “in love” feeling people talked about, but I didn’t want to let go of him. Andy and I would eventually have to have a very serious discussion about holding time since we both wanted to hold him all the time. We eventually left the NICU around midnight so I could get some rest and would return around 6a to do some more holding and feeding. Moms with complications like mine are encouraged to rest more than anything so we can be adequately recovered to actually care for our babies.

The funniest thing happened on our way up to the NICU and on our way to postpartum. Apparently word got around that after 3 days on magnesium sulfate and 2 days on Pitocin, I didn’t deliver with any pain medication on board. This, apparently, warranted all the Labor and Delivery nurses, including those I had never met, to come and give me congratulations. I didn’t have the heart (or brainpower) to tell them it was purely my own idiocy assuming we were close to the end that prevented me from asking. I would have wanted the drugs.

Andy was adorable and told anyone who didn’t outright congratulate me about my feat.

We stayed in the hospital for 2 more days, Ronan would stay for another 11. We brought him home on July 10th, spending most of our days at the NICU, holding our son, me pumping breast milk every two hours for him, eating lots of sandwiches and pita chips and chocolate with hazelnuts.

And that is the story of how Ronan came into the world a little over a year ago.

Birth Story Part 3: The labor and delivery…Part 1

Want to read Part 1 and Part 2?

When last we left our intrepid heroine, she was hooked up to Pepe via her keychain ready to get an induction started.

For women with high blood pressure and preeclampsia, Magnesium Sulfate is administered to reduce the risk of stroke during labor and delivery. Most women experience fever-like symptoms: feeling flushed, body aches, weakness, etc. This is because the medication replaces the calcium in your body with magnesium (not all of it obviously). Calcium not only makes up your bones, but is one of the main chemicals used in brain activity and muscle movement. You’re at a heightened risk of falling while on magnesium because of this.

The nurse that evening started the magnesium sulfate. She put an icepack on the injection site to reduce the burning as it entered my blood stream. I was really nervous about this. Labor and delivery is hard enough when you have all your faculties. When you have essentially a flu at the same time, it sounded unbearable and made sense why many women who had to have magnesium sulfate quickly got epidurals.

I had to have magnesium on board for a full 24 hours before they would start Pitocin, the drug that would mimic labor and kickstart my uterus into contracting.

I also received misoprostol, which is a cervical ripening agent. Yup. Cervial. Ripening. That’s how it’s described.

The night was uneventful. I keep the ice pack on my arm all night to reduce the burning feeling. I woke up in the morning to my twice daily blood draw. I was feeling good, fine even. For me to use the bathroom, a nurse had to be called to essentially act as a spotter in case I fell. I stood up and felt no more or less steady on my feet than I had the day before. I certainly couldn’t stand for longer than 15-20 minutes, but they wanted me in bed as much as possible anyway.

That afternoon the new doctor on call, Dr Salemy, decided to put in a Cook Catheter. This is a figure-eight shaped balloon that gets inserted into my cervix and presses on either side in hopes of mimicking the pressure of the baby’s head and encouraging opening.

Holy shit this part suuuuuuucked. I was crampy and uncomfortable the whole time. The insertion was the worst part. I hadn’t experienced pain and pressure like that before, which makes sense because why would anyone be trying to open my cervix?

This stayed in for 12 hours. The hope is that it opens enough that it falls out on its own before that point, but my cervix was feeling stubborn (appropriately so because we were 5 weeks early) and didn’t open as far as we were hoping. At the check around 7:15p, I was 4cm dilated thanks to the catheter. That evening they wheeled me up to the delivery room and started the Pitocin.

The new doctor that evening, Dr Flum, suggested that we break my water the next morning to try and get things moving along even further. I was interested in this possibility since it seemed like it would bring us to the end of this faster. The main risk to this is that if I’m still in labor 18 hours after breaking my water, I get a C-section. We wanted to avoid a C-section because recovering from major surgery while caring for a newborn is, I imagine, fucking hard. I didn’t really want to find out.

With that in mind, we went to sleep.

Andy posted this on Facebook the next day:

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 4.05.22 PM.png

Around 2am the catheter was removed. The nurse I had that evening was new and obviously having some issues finding my son’s heartbeat. Once I got the Pitocin, I had to be hooked up to a fetal monitor at all times. They monitored contractions to determine how much to elevate the dosage. My uterus was stubborn (again, appropriately so) and the contractions were small. I felt like I had minor period cramps, but was able to sleep through most of it. My poor nurse, though, kept waking me up trying to move the fetal monitors. She had me shift position multiple times at night, which meant my already interrupted hospital sleep was even more interrupted.

The next morning the new doctor was the one who had given me false hope of going home and, keeping on trend with changing the plan against all other doctors’ better judgments, decided not to break my water. Andy and I talked to my doula, Kim, about it. Kim knew this doctor and said she was known for a more conservative approach, but to trust her. I was feeling a little stressed about the changing plan coupled with the very interrupted sleep.

I had had a dozen different nurses at this point and asked my daytime L&D nurse to please make sure I had a more experienced nurse on that evening. If I was going to have another night before my son arrived, I wanted it to have as much sleep as possible.

That night my cervix was checked again and nothing had changed. I was still solidly 4cm dilated. The doctor decided to pause the Pitocin, give my uterus a chance to rest, and then restart it early in the morning.

This is where I caused another medical power struggle. The summer time is a very busy time for baby delivery and the charge nurse saw my paused Pitocin as me taking up a bed that could be used for a mom actually in labor. The doctor wanted me to have a full 8 hours off of the Pitocin, so it was turned off when I went to bed around 10p and was supposed to be resumed at 6a. Looks like there was a tiny power struggle because at 4:30a, the Pitocin was turned back on.

I was woken again at 6a for my morning blood draw. At this point the crook of my elbow was covered in little bruises from the blood draws. I don’t know how women who are on hospital bedrest for months deal with it.

Dr Flum, the doctor who wanted to break my water, arrived around 8a and said basically she wasn’t leaving until I had a baby and they were definitely going to break my water that day. I liked the way she put it, “This should be harder for you by now.”

The Pitocin pause obvious helped since when she checked again I was 6cm dilated.

Up next, a broken bag of waters, my idiocy, my son’s arrival, and how I got the most expensive pain medication in the hospital.

Check out Part 4!

Birth Story Part 2: Hospital to actual labor

Want to read Part 1?

Andy and I went on a baby moon from June 13-17. We used our annual anniversary trip to Whistler to also use it as an opportunity to have a final vacation as a couple pre-baby.

It was a wild departure from our usual active vacation, which typically includes lots and lots of hiking. Instead we would sleep, swim, eat, and watch TV. I would nap at least once a day and take a bath in the deep soaker tub in our condo. Someone had given me the advice to take epsom salt baths to handle the intense swelling I was dealing with as a result of the high blood pressure. We bought huge bags of the salts and I would dump easily a pound or two into the water and almost float with the buoyancy.

My belly would make getting in and out of the tub a little treacherous. I felt constantly off balance and had to move slowly. The blood pressure medicine I was on also gave me very low energy. We’d take a leisurely walk around the Village or on an easier trail, but it was usually 20 minutes at most. The last visit to Whistler had included a full 8 hour hike with a picnic in the middle, so the contrast was stark.

We came home from Canada and Andy had a weekend of work ahead of him, which I spent doing low key activities like prenatal yoga and lots and lots of couch time with my feet raised.

That Tuesday, June 21st we had our now usual non-stress test followed by an appointment with my OB (it was an OB week, the week before vacation was a midwife week). A non-stress test is where they put sensors on my belly to monitor the baby’s heart rate and movement and track my heart rate and blood pressure. The last few I had passed with no problems. This one the technician thought was a little high, even though the readings were roughly the same as they had been in the weeks before.

She brought it to my OB, Dr Story, who told me that I was going to be sent to Swedish hospital again for observation and there was a very good chance that I was going to deliver. This was a full 3 weeks earlier than our even earlier due date. I started to cry. Like I said before, I couldn’t recognize why at the time and thought it was purely fear. Now I know it was a sense of failure for our son. Dr. Story told us to go home and pack a bag and then head to the hospital.

At home we quickly put our hospital bag together. Fortunately we had been talking about the contents for weeks (ok, I had been talking) and it was relatively easy to actually put together following our vacation.

We arrived at Swedish and I walked to the triage area where I was admitted and given the battery of tests including being hooked up to a fetal monitor again. Shortly thereafter we were given a room in the antepartum wing. It was a big, gorgeous room with a huge window that looked out over downtown and the water. The unfortunate thing was how much damn heat would come in, so after the first day, we would close the blinds as the sun would come in and try to keep the room cool.

The first day was all about getting a baseline of information. They were appropriately concerned that I would develop preeclampsia. Dr Story told me later that for most women with gestational hypertension (as I had), preeclampsia can develop and become critical in a matter of hours, which is why close monitoring was so important. I had to pee into a bowl so they could monitor my liquid output. For real. Fluid retention was a big concern.

Nothing materialized that day. Except my blood pressure being high, it was all normal.

Wednesday my best friend arrived from LA. Our baby shower was going to be that weekend, so he and my family from Florida were coming to celebrate. We had one scheduled for Saturday morning and Sunday evening. I kept my hosts updated on the progress and my friends quickly decided to cancel the Saturday event. We weren’t sure if I was going to be in or out of the hospital, but they seemed to think canceling was the right thing to do.

I was hopeful I was going to be out and could attend the one on Sunday evening with mine and Andy’s families and my best friend, who was going to be my son’s godfather. Wednesday also proved uneventful. We just spent the day watching West Wing, meeting nurses, getting lots of consultation from doctors. A team of doctors came in at one point and said “If we were on call tomorrow, we would induce you.” The evening doctors would come in and say, “We want to wait to induce you.” Basically every 8 hours when I would have a new doctor, the plan would shift.

At one point on Thursday I had a doctor tell me that there was a good possibility I could go home if I could keep my blood pressure stable. This woman would turn out to be the naysayer of all the other doctors. Doctors would come in and make a plan and she would be on the next shift and change it back. I got my hopes up about going home and being on bed rest at home. It turns out there’s a joke with the nurses at Swedish, “No one comes to a hospital to get sleep, they come to get well.” We were not getting any sleep and I wanted my big, cozy bed with the bedroom AC on at home. I was barely moving during the day because nurses and some doctors were scared of me being out of bed for laps around the hospital floor. But I knew if I stayed in the hospital room I would go fucking insane. The lack of activity made sleeping at night even harder.

On Friday my doctor, Dr Story, was finally on rotation at the hospital. He came to my room and I told him about how the doctor the day before had said I might be able to go home. He delivered the news that I was not going home until I had a baby. This is when he gave me the info about how preeclampsia could develop very quickly and at this point they knew it would come for me, they were just waiting until it got bad enough to start an induction. I told him I needed some stability with the planning. I told on the other doctor and how she had altered the plan already a couple times and could he please tell everyone to stick to something so I could prepare appropriately?

He agreed that the back and forth was likely the most stressful thing for me and had a lengthy chat with the other doctor. We heard from the nurses later that they actually had a bit of a public argument over my care and Dr Story laid down the law about keeping it consistent for me.

Saturday morning, after arriving late the night before, my mom, brother, and sister-in-law came to visit. We had a blast chatting and checking in. My sister-in-law was coming to the end of her first trimester so they kept activities low key and would visit twice that day.

Sunday morning the doctor on call, Dr Flum, saw my numbers were becoming elevated. My BP wasn’t getting any better, despite a high dose of Labetalol, and there was now elevated protein in my urine.

We would start the induction that evening.

All throughout this, Andy and I were routinely calling Kim, our doula, to give her updates. She came to the hospital almost every day to check in and we practiced birthing positions with things like all the fetal monitors and the potential for an epidural in mind. I was not interested in being in pain for long and was constantly reviewing my pain management options with the doctors and nurses.

That Sunday evening my sister-in-law, Malorie, Andy’s sister, moved our baby shower to the hospital. We had dinner and cake and opened gifts. Andy and I watched Game of Thrones with my brother, his wife, and my mom afterwards.

My nurse let me take a shower and then we got set up. I had an IV in my wrist with 4 ports that I lovingly called my keychain. My IV stand, Pepe, was filled with Magnesium Sulfate and Saline. We were ready to go.

Up next I’ll give the play by play of my almost 3 day induction and how we finally met our baby.

Check out Part 3 and Part 4!