Baby Notes: thoughts on recently having a baby

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Everyone around here is tired of me being the patient. It’s time to get up, get dressed, start doing something besides making goo-goo eyes at this Little Heavy.

I love how after a newborn has just eaten, you can pick her up under the arms, and she hangs there like a loaf of bread dough with her mouth relaxed into a lackadaisical half-smile. Weirdly, this was the thing I most looked forward to while she was still cooking.

 

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The phlebotomist on staff at the hospital came in to take a panel before they started the induction. She rounded the curtain, put a hand on her heart, and said, “Oh! I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but it is just such a relief to see someone in here who’s not a teenager!” She looked at the ring on my finger and said, “And you’re married too! Wow!… We get so many little girls in here having babies. It’s the cool new thing to do, I guess, with all these teenage mom reality shows.”

I’d noticed a lot of really young pregnant people in the waiting room at the office, but I’d assumed there were at least a few standard married parents as well–enough that it wouldn’t cause alarm when one showed up in the delivery room.

I’m encouraged that marriage is still a comfort to people. We get so much hot air about how marriage is irrelevant and how sexual freedom trumps the confines of traditional family structures. Unfortunately, most of the commentary and defense of go-it-alone-parenthood comes from a privileged class that doesn’t have to suffer the consequences of its own campaign. (Simcha Fisher addresses this issue in a recent post, “For Your Marriage.”)

 

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The phlebotomist finally put the tourniquet on me, smacking her lips like a vampire, saying “Juicy, juicy veins!” This is the response I’m more accustomed to receiving from people trying to draw my blood.

 

*

The fact is, I do feel a bit old, even though I know older women who’ve given birth much more gracefully. It’s been four years since the last time I had a baby, but they were sort of a critical four years–a four years that brought me from my early thirties to my late thirties–past that benchmark of “advanced maternal age.”

Maybe it’s due to the size of this baby at birth ( 9.75 lbs.), that for the last few weeks of pregnancy, I felt like I needed a walker to get around. If I’d been lying in bed for awhile and I needed to get up, I’d have to sit on the edge of my bed and count to twenty before I stood up. Once standing, I’d count to twenty again before taking my first step. Even still, I’d hang onto the bedpost until I was sure my hips wouldn’t give out when I tried to walk.

For the first week postpartum, this trend continued as the pregnancy hormones dissipated. Only for the past day or two have I felt the return of something like my former agility. But I sort of remember being 25 and wanting to go for a jog about a week after delivery.

 

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My inability to get around easily these past few weeks has brought to light just how heavily I’ve been leaning on other people.

There’s a section of my last post on “Just Being a Mom”–even if it was written a long time ago–that keeps recurring to me, and making me cringe. It was the paragraph I spent complaining about wiping bottoms, during which I said something about how I considered such actions “beneath my talents.” I have to own that I once thought those thoughts, but I must have been kind of a jerk.

It struck me in the hospital, what a dangerous world we would live in if more people felt that cleaning those who can’t clean themselves is “beneath their talents.” Consider that my OB doc, a highly skilled professional, spent about thirty minutes post delivery…uh… cleaning things up, and that later it was the nurses who helped me to the bathroom, following that, the housekeeper who, for a living, mops the floors and collects the trash and towels of women who’ve just given birth–there are many, many people on many different pay scales, making a living wiping people’s bottoms.

Having spent some time talking to the housekeeper, about how she home schooled her kids, and taught them all to play guitar and piano by ear, so that they later formed a family Gospel band, I have to say, thank God for the people who do things that are beneath their talents.

 

*

Very early on, in fact, it may have been that “whatever, let’s have another baby” moment, I decided I would get an epidural when I delivered. It was one way I could get through what for me has been a relatively difficult pregnancy, thinking, at least I won’t have to feel labor. I’ve had six term pregnancies, and all but one of them were inductions requiring pitocin.

I delivered three of those without epidural, studying up beforehand in the Sears birth book, preparing my mental arsenal to do battle with pain and health professionals who would do everything in their power to win me over to the evils of medically controlled labor. I was already mad about the pitocin, but it was a way to kick back, to thumb my nose at it, and suck up the pain.

I just don’t have the energy for that kind of a battle anymore. I briefly flipped through the Sears book the night before my induction this time, and almost threw it in the fire. Every page went something like this: Common medical practice looks like A, but that can cause calamity B. You know better, so in order to make your birth experience as peaceful as possible, do everything the opposite of how your doctors want to do it.

I loved my natural labors, and I think it’s wonderful when women can deliver with midwives at home or in birthing centers–places oriented towards natural delivery–so that you’re not always facing subtle resistance. My medical history, unfortunately, has not allowed it. I have decided to be ok with that.

Maybe it’s something to do with the 2012 election, and Drudge-style media paranoia, but I’m just tired of skepticism, and conspiracies, and default positions that everyone in the world is trying to do me wrong. I wanted to go into labor trusting that I was in competent hands. I was in a new hospital with a new doctor, so it took a little leap of faith. Nothing about it was familiar. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately, in a lot of different situations, that ignorance can be a mercy.

I realize that’s not a popular position–no one wants to be taken by surprise, say, by the end of the world, by aggressive government policies, by cut-hungry OBs. But it was nice to go through Advent and the nativity right before delivery, thinking about how God entrusted himself in complete powerlessness to human caregivers. Why would God, who knows how wrong people can be, choose this kind of voluntary impotence?

My friend Pedge was telling me about a Fulton Sheen quote, in which people who have lost their fear of God tend to redirect their fears onto imaginary human assailants. There must always be an antagonist, whether it’s doctors or politicians or people who think or look differently. It’s so easy to consider oneself a potential victim, when what really motivates fear is an excess love of self.

And let me clarify–I’m not saying natural labor enthusiasts suffer from excess love of self–but rather that I, personally, have pitted myself against imaginary assailants ranging from doctors who were not supportive of my desire for natural birth to whomever the political villain of the day might be.

 

*

It also might be worth noting that there’s a tradition in the Church that Mary didn’t feel pain in labor. I want to be like her in all things.

 

*

Nevertheless, I did feel some pain. It was much lighter than unmedicated birth, but still hard enough that I had to breathe through the transitional contractions.

There’s always a point in labor where I turn inward. I don’t want to be touched or talked to. I remember saying, “I’m having emotions,” and leaving it at that. I couldn’t name the emotions or what initiated them. I just want to have my weepy moment alone and emerge on the other side of it with a baby.

I’ve noticed that a similar transition occurs postpartum. In the first twenty-four hours, I want company, lots of it, all night long–a party. The next day, I’m getting a little tired, and the baby’s getting a little fussy. By day four, I’m sick of everyone, and making that inward turn. I get the weepies for no good reason. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want people touching the baby. I just want to hole up, practice sleeping, eating, and being alone, and emerge in a couple days with a sense of being settled.

I should know better than to ever plan something on the fourth day postpartum.

And yet, it never fails–day four is like the epiphany–everyone wants to come see the baby, and I always end up snapping at someone, or crying, or otherwise making people feel bad. And there’s no warning to it. At four o’clock, the sun is shining, and the thought of company sounds sort of nice. By six, I’m a monster.

 

*

There usually is a trigger though: either my husband and I have come to some impasse about a parenting issue, or I’ve received some kind of bad news. This time, my trigger was a phone call from the pediatrician’s office, letting me know that in the nurse’s home visit, the baby had lost 10% of her birth weight, and that therefore, if she had not gained weight in 24 hours, I would need to supplement with formula.

While I was passive going into labor, I am rarely passive after it, and I get very annoyed with all the checking of the vitals and whatnot that occurs in the first few days after giving birth. This is the point when it seems health professionals provide more stress than relief.

The night nurse says, “Make sure she’s eating every two hours. She’s already lost 7% of her birthweight.”

The day nurse says, “She’s only lost 7% of her birthweight, so that’s good.” And I’m totally confused because the night nurse made it sound so ominous.

In the first episode of the PBS drama, Call the Midwife, a mother who has given birth at 32 weeks refuses medical care for her newborn, yelling at the midwives, “I’M HIS HOSPITAL!”

I couldn’t agree more.

In any case, the girl started eating a prodigious amount as soon as my milk came in. It was not a cause for alarm.

 

*

In all, I’d call it a pretty good birth experience. Labor was easy, the baby is healthy, and I’m recovering predictably, if a little slower than in the past. I’m grateful.

 

About Elizabeth Duffy
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  • calahalexander

    I hope I can write like you when I grow up. Also, the “I want to be like Mary in all things” line made me laugh out loud. That particular tradition is near the top of my “list of irritating traditions that are completely implausible and ludicrous”, right under, “Jesus passed through her like glass through a window.”

    • http://egregioustwaddle.blogspot.com/ Joanne K McPortland

      I laughed out loud, too, especially because when I gave birth—long, long ago in the earliest days of natural childbirth, when you had to fight not only the urge to push (and the urge to smack your husband across the chops when transition set in) but also the whole hospital routine—I remember half-praying, half-yelling, in a maternity wing bathroom where I was coping with the combination of contractions and the then-mandatory pre-delivery enema, “Hail Mary, full of grace . . . you can’t tell me they made YOU go through this! Like light through glass, my . . . !” Blasphemous, I know, but it’s good to know others have been there!

    • kara

      Oh my gosh! Whenever some one brings those up, I have to grit my teeth and fight the urge to puke. It’s like “oh, great, so the bar is now so high she and I have nothing in common. At all. Thanks.”

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      Yes, this is one of those teachings on which I’ve decided to remain undecided. I can’t rule it out, since she’s the New Eve, conceived without sin, but I’d relate a lot better to her, knowing she had a similar experience in childbirth to the rest of humanity.

      I guess that raises a some questions:
      A.) Am I supposed to ‘relate’ to Mary? When I think about it, I’ve never read anywhere that Mary is supposed to be my BFF.
      B.) And if she were, do I require other women to share my birth experience in order to earn my friendship or admiration? Not really.
      C.) So who is the Mother of the Redeemer to me? I’m still figuring this one out.

    • Maggie

      I don’t know why people are so uncomfortable with this particular idea (which is very ancient, not something some well-meaning devotional writer came up with in the middle ages). Pain in childbirth is an effect of original sin, which Mary did not have. It makes sense that she would not have this pain.

      An article by Mark Shea on this subject where he examines the evidence and finds that the idea that our Lady’s physical virginity remained intact at birth is more ‘than a pious tradition’ [his words] (which does get into some gory details about physiology): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2010/12/i-stand-corrected.html

      • Elizabeth Duffy

        Thanks Maggie. Shea’s post is a goldmine.

  • http://knowledgehungry.wordpress.com Jeanne G.

    Congratulations!

  • http://sharonksteele.blogspot.com Sharon

    The part about the epidural? Exactly how I felt after Lucy. I decided upon seeing the positive pregnancy test that I would take the easy road. I loved this – even though it made my old bones scared to death of ever having another baby.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      Heh–Having another kid is never “the easy road.” The epidural just makes it less painful on the day they’re born.

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  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    “Unfortunately, most of the commentary and defense of go-it-alone-parenthood comes from a privileged class that doesn’t have to suffer the consequences of its own campaign.” A fine sentence in a lovely article.

    Do women understand that men spend their whole lives standing outside and looking in at the wonder of motherhood?

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      “Do women understand that men spend their whole lives standing outside and looking in at the wonder of motherhood?”

      I always feel a little conflicted that my husband can’t be as attached to the babies in the first year of life when they’re gestating and breast feeding, and they seem to only want me. I try to keep this in mind when it occurs to me, for instance, that his part in making babies seems much, much easier.

  • Mikayla

    You do write beautifully. Congratulations on your little heavy!

    I know you were kinda tongue-in-cheek about the tradition of Mary’s painless birthing of Jesus, which hangs on a particular application of a theological point, and is by no means a required belief, however consistent it has been… But some of the responses in the combox compel me to share that I personally know two women that did not experience pain in labor and delivery. One credits it to hypnobirthing and a total lack of fear combined with a deep sense of relaxation. The other (my wonderful MIL) doesn’t know why. She had natural vaginal births of all 3 of her children, and describes birth as an effort, with pressure, but no pain. I was not to fortunate; I coasted through transition in some kind of meditative state, but that broke into a bajillion little pieces once pushing started.
    It’s not a pie in the sky possibility, ladies. It may be unusual and rare , but let’s allow for the real experience of women even if it doesn’t suit us theologically.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      Thanks for sharing this perspective. I’ve also heard of a few real people who didn’t have pain, or much of it, in childbirth. I think it’s fascinating.

      I believe the other commenters, however, were conflicted about the tradition that Mary had no pain, and that Jesus never came down the birth canal (so that her virginity was never defiled).

  • Sarah

    will be having our sixth in a few months, oh, how I identify with much of what you’ve posted over the last half year. Right down to the barely getting around. Everything is so much….. looser this time? I’m the same way after a baby – just leave me alone and let me cry for a few days and ooze from every orifice without an audience. Drives me crazy how everyone is so chipper and wants to come hold the baby for hours, while I can barely put together a sentence and just want to fall asleep. I suppose it would be ok if they came over and brought cookies, or did something other than take every last ounce of my energy.

    Many congratulations on your beautiful baby girl, promise I won’t come hold her, but I have been praying for your safe delivery. thank you for sharing your wonderful news.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      Thanks, Sarah.

      I’ll pray for your safe delivery also, and that these last few months are not too wearying.

  • TSO

    You be on fire with this post! A lot to unpack which I should meditate on at length before commenting, but “video meloria….etc…”. Fear as excess love of self is fascinating in and of itself. Isn’t fear an evolutionary-developed self-defense mechanism that served more helpfully in our hunter/gatherer days? Is fear of God also an excess love of self? Like happiness, I tend to think there’s a genetically set “fear level”. But of course that doesn’t change the fact that if fear doesn’t have a target in God, I can see where it would find others.

    I can see ignorance as a mercy and I’ve practiced it with some success (to the extent I know I’ve practiced it, ha) but I think I’m moving the other way inasmuch as I’ve seen negative things happen due to a lack of awareness of the risks on my part, which I blame on a lack of reading (though I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking “education is salvific”.) I’m probably not giving ignorance its proper due because there’s certainly a benefit from not worrying about things that won’t happen, are overblown, or just plain wrong. Perhaps there’s a balance.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      To tell you the truth, I’m still trying to figure out what “Fear of God” is. But I think it has something to do with awe of Creation, and recognizing that everything that happens in it, including suffering, is God’s providence.

      From a continued conversation with Pedge (she reads all these books and shares the best parts with me):
      “Some people call pleasant things ‘providential.’ Mary and Joseph thought everything was. God is in everything and every place. Nothing is without God.”–Father Peytons rosary book (med on Nativity)

      That’s the hardest part, I think, to give thanks at the crucifixion, at our own potential death. Fear may be an evolutionary instinct, but a Christian is sort of required to overcome it, through humility. I’m trying to figure out if humility means entrusting oneself to the people and times with whom and in which I live. Early Christians were at the mercy of Nero, and went praying quietly to be fed to the lions, trusting that their blood and self sacrifice would feed the faith for thousands of years. I think they were right. What if, instead, they took up arms and fought against the emperor? Would we even remember it? Radical self sacrifice is the vocation of the Christian. And if, in just living that vocation, we encounter blood martyrdom, so be it. It’s not likely to happen in our lifetime, which is harder for us, because then we’re responsible for our own self-death, which our self-love opposes at every turn.

      “Kill the self. Every blow to self is used to shape the real, eternal, imperishable you. Be very candid and rigorous with yourselves. ‘Did self prompt that?’ and if it did, oust it at all costs. When I died on the Cross, I died embodying all the human self. Once that was crucified, I could conquer even death. When I bore your sins in My own body on the Tree I bore the self-human nature of the world. As you too kill self, you gain the overwhelming power I released for a weary world, and you too will be victorious. It is not life and its difficulties you have to conquer, only the self in you.” (From 365 One-Minute Meditations: God Calling edited by A.J. Russell. ©2008 )

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  • Elissa

    You help make me brave. I am expecting the birth of my third in a few months and it has also been four years since I had a baby.

  • Elissa

    And congratulations on your little darling!

  • http://d-isis.blogspot.com ~sarah Isis~

    I was very much humbled by the nurses helping me out post-delivery. All that bloody mess down there…..
    I am not even 30 yet but I can tell the difference from baby 1 postpartum wise and baby 2. I totally agree with you.
    congrats!!!!!!!

  • http://www.martinfamilymoments.blogspot.com Colleen Martin

    Oh my gosh, I want to be like Mary for my next delivery. After 3 epidural births, then 2 natural births, I’m thinking epidural next time for sure. My anxiety about labor just seems to increase tenfold for every baby. I can’t believe you had an almost 10 pound baby! You’re a rock star and she is adorable :)

  • Rebekka

    I would be making goo-goo eyes at her, too, she’s gorgeous! Congratulations!

    I’m a nurse, and I thought it was hilarious that the other women in my mother’s group were really looking forward to going back to work and doing meaningful things instead of changing all those diapers. Seriously, except for me and a doctor, they’re all office workers and number crunchers. One works for a company that makes toothpaste. The diapers don’t bother me – which is good, because when I came back to work I went from changing little diapers to changing really big diapers. I guess changing diapers (among other things) IS one of my talents.


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