Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

I Wore a FitBit During Pregnancy and Childbirth: Here’s What I Learned

Disclosure: I’m a bit of a data nerd.

Not in the sense that I like to design studies and collect data. Just in the sense that I like to look at charts and graphs and timelines and other visuals.

Call it “data-nerd-light.”

I began wearing a FitBit Charge HR last February, shortly after I started running as a regular form of exercise.

At first, it was useful for keeping track of my exercise. Having information about my sleep patterns and steps was just fun information to use to challenge myself.

Then, in early May 2016, I got pregnant.

Over the course of my pregnancy, I regularly wore my FitBit and amassed loads of interesting data about how my body changed and responded differently to exercise over the course of my pregnancy.

The FitBit Charge HR will monitor your heart rate and calories burned, as well as your number of steps, floors climbed, and miles traveled. Then, it spits out all of this data into usable and easy-to-read charts.

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I started this pregnancy at 147 pounds (at 5′ 7.5″) and my ending weight was 192 pounds, which is a 45-pound weight gain. My pre-pregnancy condition was quite good. I was running about two miles in the morning every day and lifting weights once or twice per week. I was maintaining my weight. I had good energy. I could climb several flights of stairs without getting winded.

So what does pregnancy do to a healthy body? Let’s take a look.

Resting Heart Rate

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My pre-pregnancy resting heart rate was about 56 beats per minute, a sign of a fairly athletic lifestyle. You can see my heart rate climb steeply in the second trimester when I have my first major growth spurt, and then again in the last trimester during the last month of growth. Both time periods correspond to an increase in blood volume in my body.

Fun fact: at the end of pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases 40-50% throughout pregnancy.

Weight Gained

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I put on most of my weight during the second and third trimester growth spurts, and just a few pounds gained in the first trimester. This is a healthy weight gain curve, although, I assure you, it didn’t feel healthy at the time. I remember that I kept thinking, No! Four pounds in a week! This baby is going to be twelve pounds by the end of this!

Daily Calories Burned: Pre-Pregnancy

On the left is a typical day of exercise on a pre-pregnancy day, which includes a two-mile run in the morning and regular movement at work.

On the right is a day that I’m proud of: the day that I ran six miles around the National Mall in Washington D.C. Included in this number are the other calories that I burned throughout the day, just by existing. See the number of calories burned? Keep that in mind as I show you how many calories during the late third trimester.

Daily Calories Burned: First Trimester

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In my first trimester, I continued to run whenever I felt well enough. (Weeks 7-11 were Nausea City, so I limited my exercise to walks during this time.) But I took it easy. I didn’t exercise in the peak heart rate zone if I could help it. I monitored my run pretty closely so I stayed in the lower heart rate zones.

Daily Calories Burned: Second Trimester

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I continued to run in the second trimester. In the early second trimester, I incorporated more indoor aerobic exercise because it was so damn hot outside in late July to August. In this screenshot, you see the end of October, when I was 24 weeks pregnant, right at the end of my second trimester growth spurt.

The important difference is my resting heart rate, which has jumped to 70 beats per minute. Because of that elevated resting heart rate at this point, I was more likely to reach a fat-burning heart rate for daily activities, beyond the time when I was intentionally exercising.

Daily Calories Burned: Early Third Trimester

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I continued to incorporate running in my exercise all the way to 32 weeks of pregnancy, but over time, I slowly decreased my running in favor of walking. By 33 weeks of pregnancy, I was done running. This screenshot is from Week 30. It’s not terribly different from my second trimester stats. Notice that my resting heart rate continues to rise.

Daily Calories Burned: Mid-Third Trimester

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This is when pregnancy becomes an outright test of endurance. This screenshot is from Week 36 (which, for my 41.5-week pregnancy, was mid-third trimester). On this day, I walked for 30 minutes. And I existed. End of story.

I mean, it’s the day after Christmas, for goodness sake. What could I possibly have done? I’m sure I was doing things like eating my fifth sugar cookie and picking up bits of wrapping paper and rogue pine needles. Along with a rousing game of “Ketchup or Mustard?” with our three-year-old. (What? You’ve never heard of that game? You just ask the person if they want ketchup or mustard over and over and over again. That’s it. Fun, huh?)

So that’s why pregnant women say, “God, I’m so tired” at the end of the day. Not only are they carrying around a lot of extra weight, but their resting heart rates are elevated, causing them to be burning loads of calories for hours.

But wait. It gets harder.

Daily Calories Burned: Late-Third Trimester

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Okay. So here I was at five days past my due date. At this point, I was desperate to get this kid out of me. So I decided to go for two thirty-minute walks, which you can clearly see on the graph. My pace was much, much slower than normal because my hips were so gelatinous and my gait was off. But pace isn’t important. It’s getting the heart rate up there that counts.

With just two thirty-minute walks and existing for 24 hours, I burned as many calories as I did when I ran six miles and existed for 24 hours. Courtesy of an elevated resting heart rate and additional body weight.

In addition, my body’s center of gravity was off, it was difficult to move, and I had an assortment of new aches and pains to deal with just to get through the day (and night).

What were your calories burned on the day you gave birth?

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So glad you asked.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. That peak heart rate must have happened during my pushing phase.

Nope.

That was when I started hemorrhaging after the birth. Obviously, this wasn’t part of the plan and it isn’t a typical part of the birthing process for most women (thank God). Only about 4% of women will experience a postpartum hemorrhage. (The most likely cause of my PPH was an “overdistended uterus” due to my baby being over 8.8 pounds.)

As a result, my heart rate soared in the peak heart rate zone for close to an hour. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped loads of fresh blood to the affected tissues and organs. All of this put my body into metabolic overload and it was the main reason I ate like a crazy person for the first five days post-birth.

Most of my labor raised my heart rate into a low fat-burning zone rate, so it was still important that I ate and drank during labor. This is what I will never understand about typical hospital policies regarding labor. Is it really worth it to deny women the right to eat during labor simply because of the minuscule possibility that 1) she’ll have a C-section and 2) during that C-section she aspirates?

Labor burns a lot of calories. And if you’re restricted to clear fluids, you’re pretty much relying on the sugar in Sierra Mist to pull you through. I think that if you have the urge to eat, you should be allowed to eat. The risk of eating harming a woman in labor is just far too small.

I mean, really… When you are awake for days and laboring for hours and hours, you burn a lot of calories.

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So there you have it. An inside look at one slice of what a woman goes through when she carries a child and gives birth. It is a test of strength and endurance simply to carry a child to term and give birth.

The fact that women give birth so often might make the process seem ordinary, but it is truly an extraordinary feat for both mother and child to come out on the other side, whole and alive.

Birth Announcement Photos: Henry Jacob Glass

My husband is a bit of jack of all trades. Chef. Carpenter. Handyman. Gardener. Landscaper. Interior Designer. Electrician. Engineer. Maker of sausage, ham, bacon, and goetta.

Photographer.

Last Sunday, when Henry was nine days old, Doug managed to get newborn pictures done. Special thanks to my co-worker, Jeri, who crocheted the beautiful blanket in the pictures.

Henry Jacob Glass

Born February 2, 2017, 1:27 p.m.

8 pounds and 10 ounces, 21 inches

Welcomed by The Glass Family, Doug, Sharon, and big sister, Felicity

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Photo credit: Douglas Glass, 2017

Days 8-13 Pictures: Recovery and Establishing Routines

But first… Baby pictures.

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Day 7: One week old

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Day 7: Umbilical stump, just about to fall off

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Day 8: Buckeye

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Day 7: That face… It’s just a giant eraser to the pain of childbirth.

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Day 9: Awaiting visitors

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Day 9: Milk drunk

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Day 12: Happy Valentine’s Day

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Day 12: Sibling Bonding

The Incredible Shrinking Uterus

Is it just me, or is the uterus a fascinating organ?

Right now, mine is in the process of shrinking from the size of a watermelon to the size of an orange.

Day 8

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Day 9

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Day 10

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Not sure why I look bigger on Day 10 than on Day 9…

Day 11

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Day 12

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Day 13

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Compared to Day 3

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If you’re wondering just how much work a woman’s body has to do to return to its pre-pregnancy condition, the Alpha Parent’s Postpartum Recovery Timeline is a good reference.

Notes on Recovery

Last Friday and Saturday night, Doug took the night feedings and I was able to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Seven whole hours both nights.

Yeah.

Now, of course, my body continued to wake up every hour, but I forced myself to go back to sleep. And I succeeded.

With just those two nights of normal sleep, I noticed that my energy during the day doubled. But getting those hours of sleep post-birth is really, really difficult. And if you’re breastfeeding, it’s pretty impossible this early on in the postpartum period, unless you’re one of those blessed women whose milk supply comes in early and strong and you can pump ahead so someone else can do night feedings.

In any case, my recovery for this birth has been much quicker, I think, for a few reasons.

First, I stopped nursing pretty early on. For those of you who are new to this blog, I suffered a postpartum hemorrhage with this birth and have a history of breastfeeding problems and postpartum thyroiditis. All of which worked against my ability to breastfeed this time as well.

And secondly…

Recovery: Tearing vs. No Tearing

Yeah. I gave birth to a baby that was a whole pound heavier this time–without the second-degree tear that I had last time.

What was the difference?

A midwife who did perineal massage during my pushing phase.

Yeah.

Sure, I was still swollen after all was said and done. But there is a world of difference between the pain of being swollen and the pain of being stitched back together.

When you’re swollen, the 800 mg of Motrin mostly numbs the pain. And you can (mostly) sit comfortably. When you’ve got stitches, the last thing you want to do is sit upright. And when you’re trying to nurse, the last thing you want to take away is your ability to sit upright. With my daughter, sitting (no matter how much I propped myself this way or that) hurt like hell. Nevertheless, I nursed. And nursed and nursed. Mostly in the same, single position that was at least bearable. But over time, it was agonizing.

So I’ll take swollen over stitches any day.

So, thanks, midwife.

Recovering from Postpartum Hemorrhage

As I mentioned in previous posts, I was extremely weak from Day 4 to Day 8. The most I could handle was getting out of bed to eat and shower before lying back down again. My body was working overtime to replenish all the lost blood from delivery. I am so thankful for my mother, who watched Henry during the day so I could just eat and sleep. And my amazing friends, Ryan (a.k.a. Bear) and Cate, who brought us dinner two nights in a row. I gobbled up chile verde carnitas and roasted chicken like it was my business. God, that was good.

The good news is that this week is markedly different.

On Day 10, with the help of my mother, I was able to get myself and my two kids to church for our first Sunday back since the birth. Since Doug did the night feedings, I got seven hours of sleep the night before. Thus, I was even able to drive! Woot. And bonus, this baby slept in the Moby wrap for nearly the whole time (save feeding time). Miracle of miracles.

On Day 11, I was able to go for a 23-minute walk. By myself.

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You know what feels amazing? Walking without a 41-week-pregnant belly.

A-maz-ing.

On Day 12, I cooked my own eggs and made my own coffee.

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Small victories.

Other Changes That I’ve Noticed

  • I am jiggly. Nothing to be done about that.
  • I’ve lost about 15 pounds so far. 30 pounds to go.
  • When I stand on one leg, I no longer feel like I’m going to fall through my hips.
  • I have successfully trained myself to sleep in small chunks around the clock. I sleep about 3-4 hours at night, 1 hour between 1 and 3 p.m., and 1 hour between 7 and 9 p.m.
  • When I do lie down to sleep, I can actually reach a deep sleep every time now. Before, I would lie there and agonize that my mind wouldn’t spin down. I was on high alert to all the new sounds of my baby. But now that I’ve acquired this new language of sounds, my mind is letting go when I need to sleep and allowing me to sleep more soundly. Now, when I wake up from these bursts of sleep, I have a feeling of restoration. That is worth its weight in gold.
  •  I’ve decreased to two doses of 800 mg Motrin per day, instead of three doses.
  • My face has finally lost its super-puffiness. My thighs and legs, not so much yet.
  • My lower back doesn’t seize up in spasms if I sit the wrong way. This happened a lot during the first three days post-birth.
  • My night-time leg cramps are starting to go away.

The Beginning of Routines

From the pregnant woman’s perspective, I have to tell you, there are not many advantages to going all the way to 41 1/2 weeks.

Except…

Your baby comes out more developed.

Which means they can take in more milk in one feeding once their stomachs fill out.

Which means they sleep for longer intervals earlier on.

By the time he was one week old, Henry was regularly eating 3 ounces in each feeding and sleeping for 3-4 hour stretches. With our daughter, it took us three or four weeks to get to this point. (Granted, we’re not dealing (yet) with issues of colic or reflux or other horrible conditions that keep babies awake all hours of the day. My hat is off to you parents who regularly deal with these kinds of pains.)

We have about one or two night feedings right now. And that is totally doable.

And finally, I got this fortune in my fortune cookie over the weekend. I read it when I was in that warm haze of sleep deprivation.

I had to laugh.

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These Holy Hours

1:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m.

These are holy hours

when the soft rooting of newborn hunger stirs the silence

And weary, warm exhaustion is brushed aside once more

In these holy hours

new life feeds and grows, minute by minute

Neurons connect and thicken

their paths beginning to deepen

Eyes open and drink

swallowing light and one familiar face

Eyes, free of shame and guilt and secrecy

Eyes that stare and stare

Eyes that wonder

These are holy hours

but hours for which no one wants to awaken

save the mother, whose body craves the contact

In these hours

ordinary actions become superhuman feats

witnessed by no one

In these hours, maternal instinct strengthens and sharpens

and all other desires recede

and it is mothers who detect and interpret

even the smallest of signals

In these hours, love is quietly knitted together

one diaper, one feeding, one burping at a time

In these holy hours

two human hearts rest closely together

synchronize and slow

synchronize and slow

the inside, now the outside

These are holy hours

when questions of creation come forth

and the shells of sacred mysteries begin to crack

under the magnitude of these most ordinary of moments

Their rays of light shining through

Revealing new truths in the Whole Story

Beginning of beginnings

These are quiet, still hours

when the rhythm of the present slows

suspended between the past and the future

when memories and hopes and prayers

swirl and mix

creating new galaxies of possibilities.

These are holy hours

When the Divine bends down to offer mother and child

a blessing that washes over them

and pulls them underneath into an ocean of warm sleep

once more.

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The First Week: In Pictures (Pt. 2, How We Eat and Sleep)

Day 5

My postpartum belly continues to slowly shrink. And if you’re wondering what it looks like to wear cabbage leaves inside of your bra, look no further. A little lumpy, but not too bad. I wore the leaves for two days to relieve the pressure and pain.

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Everyone has different sleeping arrangements that work for them. I’m in favor of whatever works for the parents.

Because if the parents have lost their minds, it doesn’t matter whatever positive benefits studies show.

We are following pretty closely to what we did last time. One parent sleeps apart from the baby and gets a full night’s sleep and the other parent sleeps next to the baby in the baby’s room. During the week, Doug gets to sleep in our bedroom without the baby (since he is working full-time.) Then, I take the night watch. During the weekend, I get to sleep in our bedroom and Doug takes the night watch.

I haven’t dreaded being the night watch parent so far. In fact, I think my hormones are demanding it. On Day 4, I thought I could just knock myself out with some Zzquil and sleep for eight hours and be totally caught up on sleep.

Ha. Ha.

My mind had other ideas. It kept playing and replaying images from the birth. Over and over again. And when I wasn’t remembering the visuals, my mind would nurse on the songs on the playlist that accompanied all of the visuals from the birth that will remain with me forever.

Honestly, how could my mind do anything else after experiencing birth?

Birth is such a tremendously life-changing event. In my experience, it far surpasses other milestones like graduations or even my wedding. The only times in my life that approach this level of preoccupation were the times I fell in love. That’s it.

So what does all of this mean?

I basically didn’t fully descend into a deep sleep from birth to Day 5 (February 1st, the last day that I got a full night’s sleep, until February 6th). I “rested.” But during that rest, my senses were amplified. Everything was on high alert. I noticed everything, as if my mind were logging all of the possible noises that could come from my baby and what they meant.

Oh, that snort is okay. He’s fine. 

Now, he’s smacking his lips and eating his fingers. He’s hungry.

He’s whimpering. He needs to be held close.

Oh, he startled himself awake when his arms flinched. He needs to be swaddled more tightly.

It’s a little easier this time to understand what the sounds mean because I know a range of possibilities of why babies wake up. But obviously, this is a new baby and this is an entirely new inventory of sounds. It’s taking my mind time to acquire this new language.

From Day 5-7, I was able to establish a passable sleeping pattern for myself. At least, one that steers me off the road to psychosis. I was able to sleep in one-hour increments and still reach a deep enough level of sleep for my body to partially restore itself. During the night, I was even able to dream in one-hour increments between feedings.

Nevertheless, I’m still not close to being able to drive safely. Would you want someone like this on the road?

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So, you’re welcome.

This is markedly different from my first child, when I went on a 12-day bender with nearly no sleep at all. Not only did my hormones keep me awake, but so did all of the breastfeeding challenges that grew worse over time and never improved.

So this is what is working for us right now. Me, sleeping on the inflatable mattress in the baby’s room, close enough to calm my mind, but far enough away to still sleep somewhat soundly. Maybe it’s just me, but I actually sleep with earplugs in my ears. That’s how heightened my senses are. I can still hear him through the earplugs when something’s wrong.

Nature. Just wow.

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Best friend, “Bear,” holds the first boy among our Monday Night Dinner friends. After six girls. (Just means we’re raising a legion of strong women.)

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We bought these tiny 2-ounce bottles, thinking we would use them for a few weeks. Of course, he outgrows them in two days. Now, we’re on to 4-ounce bottles. I guess it *does* make a difference that he stayed in the womb for an extra week.

Day 6
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Nasty? Yep. After this birth, I’ve forever crossed into the realm of “badass-dom.”

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Collecting things for the baby book

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You know you have amazing friends when this is the card they get you.

I saw this card one night as I was preparing for the night watch and I had to smile. My friend, Suzy, gave me this card for my birthday last Thanksgiving (yep, same day), and it was such an encouragement. I was 32 weeks pregnant and already feeling massive. Wondering how much larger I was going to be at the end. (Thank God, I don’t have the gift of foresight.)

I think she knew I needed to hear that.

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The night watch supplies. Not pictured: Stephen Colbert videos via smartphone.

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When I see his legs crossed like this, I think, “Oh. That makes sense. Now I understand what I was feeling for the last month.”

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3:30 a.m.

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Wide awake, studying my face.

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The “old man” face

Day 7

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Just before I lie down for another 1-hour nap, I see that it’s Henry’s 1-week birthday, right down to the minute.

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For how much walking I did to get labor going, you would think that I would not miss it. Especially some of these mornings have been so cold. But, of course, I do. I haven’t really been outside since the birth (except to take H to the pediatrician).

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Can I just say, this page of the baby book is uniquely challenging. Although, when I posed this challenge to the Facebook hive mind, I got some great ideas for how to inject humor into the bleak and unforgiving reality of the time in which we are living.

My favorite? Use “Donald Trump language” to fill out the whole page.

So that is where we are so far.

And now I’m going to do something daring.

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Here I am, in full postpartum glory.

Exhausted. Imperfect, but authentic. Continuously putting faith in the idea that I have all I need, even though I feel short on everything.

There’s a cliche saying that I grew up hearing in the Southern Baptist church. God, I really hated it when people said it. But I cannot deny the truth of it in this moment.

They would say, His grace is sufficient for me.

In other words, Trust that God will give you what you need to pull through.

I’m doing just that.

What Bleeding Taught Me About Trump’s America

Betsy DeVos. The refugee travel ban. The Syrian War. Trump/Bannon. Alternative facts. The war with the press.

It’s just so much that it nearly paralyzes you.

Then part of you thinks, Hey, it will be okay. Things will work out. They always do. Let’s just see what happens.

To that voice in your mind, I say this:

Fight.

Fight like hell.

Fight for your life.

Fight for the future of this country.

Don’t listen to that voice. Don’t be lulled into thinking that things will take care of themselves.

This country is bleeding. We are bleeding.

It’s true that if we’re healthy, the bleeding will stop on its own. But does it seem like we’re healthy? And if you feel like things are okay, are you blind to the signs that you see from everyone else?

Do you see the pain of others or do you blame them for their pain? Or worse, do you belittle their pain?

Do you realize that you are bleeding? Or will you allow yourself to bleed until you’re too weak to fight anymore?

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about blood loss in the past few days.

Just a week ago, I suffered from a postpartum hemorrhage.

I was afraid something like this would happen. I even wrote about it in my book, Becoming Mother. Dissatisfied with the difficulty of having an unmedicated labor in a traditional hospital setting, I decided to give birth in a natural birthing center attached to a hospital for my second birth.

Sometimes, people would ask me if I would ever be interested in a home birth.

Here’s what I wrote:

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Eerie.

To lose that much blood moves your mind into a place of limbo, caught somewhere between reality and dreams. Awareness and unawareness. The physical and the spiritual. You become light. Hazy. Detached. Almost as if you’re drifting off into sleep.

But it doesn’t feel quite right.

It feels like you’re leaving something behind.

Let me take you into those moments just after it happened to me.

At first, it’s uncontrollable shaking. I’m so, so cold. Nurses cover me with heated blankets upon heated blankets, but still I shake and shake. Then, the weakness. I can barely lift my head from the pillow. The nurses won’t let me walk to the bathroom, so it’s the bedpan for me. Once. Twice. Three times. Four times. With all my strength I push my hips up so the bedpan can slide underneath me.

When they finally let me stand, each of them takes an arm and helps me to my feet. They tell me to look up, not down. They ask me if I’m ready and I say yes.

“Actually, let’s wait on that,” one of them says. “Your lips are blue.”

Then, the fogginess. I can see my husband talking to the nurse, but I don’t immediately understand their words. My understanding is on a several-second delay. The nurse tells me to drink the entire contents of a giant plastic cup of water. I don’t know what to do with it until she puts it in my hands. Using both sight and touch, my thoughts finally click into place. I should drink this.

My husband asks me if I want to eat. I say yes and he hands me the menu. I hold it for a moment, my eyes seeing words that I know are food, but that I don’t understand. Turkey hot shot? What is that? Salmon… is a fish. Salad… Vegetables. Side items are… oh, like fries. Dressings… are for salad. 

The menu falls against my face and I doze off.

But when the food arrives, I eat like a mo-fo.

My husband feeds me bits of burgers, fries, carrot cake, cheesecake, salad, juice, more juice, water, soda, salmon, broccoli, pizza, waffles, sausage, fruit cups, and more. I eat it all and with each bite, a breath of life comes back to me. My mind opens and clears. Voices make more sense.

I feel myself coming back.

The next day is deceptively good. The happiness of new life and the excitement of going home overshadow how hard it is to walk and move from one place to another. I tell myself that I’m already doing better than after my first birth. Look at you move! I praise myself. I didn’t tear this time, so I can sit (mostly) comfortably.

I continue to eat and eat and eat. Chicken, kale smoothies, lamb, mushrooms, baked potatoes covered in butter and salt, granola bars, bananas, apples, thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spoons of peanut butter straight from the jar.

It makes sense later on, this hunger. For fun, I check my Fitbit stats during labor. Look at this.

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I know what you’re thinking. The peak must have been during the pushing phase.

You. Are. Wrong.

That period of peak heart rate happened when I started to hemorrhage. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped more and more blood to keep delivering oxygen to the tissues and cells that were under attack.

It began after I delivered the placenta. My midwife noticed the bleeding wasn’t slowing. She massaged my uterus. A nurse gave me a shot of Pitocin in my right thigh. Another nurse was prodding my left arm, trying to get an IV started as my tiny veins rolled and rolled. I apologized to her as she stuck me and dug and dug and dug for the vein. Stick after stick.

When the Pitocin didn’t work, the midwife gave me Cytotec.

But I kept bleeding.

The nurse finally got my IV threaded. Pitocin and fluids entered my veins.

But warm blood kept flowing out of me.

If you’re cringing in pain, don’t. All that bleeding was completely painless. My body sent me no signals that I should fear it.

What my body did feel were all the people trying to save me. The nurses, poking and prodding me with needles and IVs. The midwife grinding and massaging my uterus to help it contract. It was those who were working to keep me here that I protested against. My body didn’t understand that those pains were signals of my salvation.

I asked my midwife how much I had lost so far.

“500 ccs is what we usually want to see… You’re probably at 1,000 right now.”

And I kept bleeding.

More uterine massage. I groaned. I moaned. I looked for my baby, but I couldn’t see him. I heard my husband talking and figured that he was the one holding the baby.

I must assure you that I wasn’t afraid when any of this was happening.

You forget.

I just had a baby.

I had climbed the highest mountain I had ever attempted in my life and I had pulled both of us up by fingernails of sheer will and grit. This birth was nothing like my first, which had been a thirty-six hour humbling of body and soul that felt more like spiritual possession.

No, this birth was a struggle. From beginning to end. This birth was a seemingly impossible task that required me to engage and confront over and over again. (Don’t worry: I will write more about this later.)

So as I lay there on the bed, painlessly bleeding life out of me, I was not afraid.

What I was feeling was relief. Peace. Profound gratitude. Love. All covered with the surprise that I had just given birth to a boy.

Then, finally, the drug that works: methergine.

***

The seriousness of what had happened to me did not fully set in until the next day. My husband told me that he could tell from the expressions on the nurses’ faces that the situation was getting tense. That we were probably only minutes from a true emergency.

But hey, I had come through and I was fine. Right?

All’s well that ends well. Time to move on and forget about the whole thing.

After all, I had another hurdle to overcome: establishing breastfeeding.

But just like the last time, inverted nipples and poor milk production have their way with me. Every few hours, I try something new. In the beginning, I use a nipple shield while my husband drops formula from a syringe onto the shield to encourage our baby to not get frustrated and continue to feed. Sometimes, my husband feeds him with a bottle while I pump. Sometimes, I just pump between feedings. Then, I try to get him to latch without the shield.

I don’t realize it at first, but I’ve started to lag behind in my eating and resting.

It’s not something I do on purpose. It happens naturally as my mind focuses on what we can try next to continue breastfeeding.

Then comes the Dreadful Day Four Postpartum. The day when my body starts to register the absence of my placenta, which just days ago was flooding my body with estrogen and progesterone. But now, like a baby rooting for nourishment, my body cries out for that hormonal lifeline that is no longer there and will never return.

This is when the shit hits the fan for me.

At first, I’m doing okay. Marveling that I’m not the sobbing, crying mess that I was with my daughter. After my first birth, I would be tearful and weepy all day long. But it’s different this time. I tear up every now and then, but I’m mostly composed and collected. Is it because of some different hormonal cocktail that I’m experiencing because I had a boy instead of a girl?

But at the end of the Day Four Postpartum, I’ve decided to stop breastfeeding. I climb the stairs to where my baby boy is sleeping in the bouncer, and I have to stop to catch my breath. My Fitbit reads 116, 115, 117, 114, a fat-burning heartrate. I hold onto the walls and allow my breathing to slow.

Then I see his face and it’s over.

The crying starts. The choking sobs build and I don’t make an effort to push them down. I close the door and let it out. All of it. I let all of the thoughts surface. All of the memories of when I stopped breastfeeding my daughter come forth, as clear as the day they happened three years ago. I let them come and talk to me. I let every doubt and fear and reassurance express its voice.

I don’t deny myself the right to feel any of it.

These are my emotions and I’ve learned that I need to let them out.

One voice says:

You shouldn’t give up yet. We have so much breastfeeding stuff! Pillows and the pump, nursing pads and bottles, lanolin lotion and nipple shields. Your milk is coming in this time. Give it a chance!

Another voice says:

You did all you could. It’s okay. You know he’s going to be fine. You know it. And fuck anyone who even subtly holds this over your head. They don’t understand. 

But the loudest voice of all says:

Sharon, seriously. You cannot do this again. Your body cannot go through that hell again. This is the last baby you will give birth to and hold and care for. Don’t you dare rob yourself of the joy of enjoying your child. 

That final voice is right. I know it.

But, God, it still hurts.

I call for Doug and he holds me while I cry. But now the afterbirth pains have skyrocketed because of the weeping and I’m moaning in pain. Doug leaves for a moment and I’m in the bathroom, feeling a tiny stream of blood falling from me. And when I stand, a golf ball sized clot falls into my hand.

That blob of jet black jelly now stains my skin blood red.

I shudder.

I call for Doug.

***

But it gets better.

The next day, I’m relieved that the weaning has begun.

But then the tiredness has returned. At the baby’s first doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician comments that I look really pale.

In the car on the way home, I review my hospital bloodwork that was drawn on the day after the birth by accessing my on-line records. My hemoglobin and hemocrit are way down. I read a brochure about life after a postpartum hemorrhage and I understand that I need to take this more seriously.

I need iron. I need to eat and eat and eat. And rest and rest and rest.

So I do. Eating and resting is what I do.

After I make breakfast, I’m completely spent. So I eat and sleep. Then I rise and I shower. I sleep again. I get up and eat lunch. I rest on the couch and talk with my mother. I sleep some more. I eat a huge snack and I sleep again. I let my friends bring food and I eat and eat more. I sleep.

I do not do the dishes.

I do not do laundry or even pick up my clothes.

I don’t take out the garbage or get the mail.

I forget about any plans to go on a walk anytime soon.

Instead, I conserve and gather my strength.

Every time I eat, I feel life coming back into me. I feel my body swallowing life whole and absorbing it.

I feel reconnected. I feel my mind hook into awareness and reality.

I start to crawl back to the living.

***

This is what I want you to understand about blood loss: it doesn’t just get better on its own.

You have to know that you are not okay. But to know that you’re not okay, you have to rely on more than just your instinct to respond to pain.

Bleeding is painless. It’s the wound that hurts. It’s the attempts to stop the bleeding that hurt. And once the bleeding is over, you can still be slaughtered by it if you don’t equip yourself with enough armor for the battle. If you spend too much of your energy preoccupied with things that don’t ultimately matter, you have halfway lost that battle. And once you realize that you are too weak to fight, it will be too late.

Right now, I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.

Right now, I’m fighting to bring myself back to independence. Part of it is because I didn’t appreciate my own condition. Part of it is because I neglected to understand my own limitations. That instead of pouring energy into nursing, I should have been strictly eating and resting.

Right now, I fight for myself and for my son and we are slowly winning. I look down at his face.

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And I think, we are going to be okay.

But not because things naturally become okay.

Far from it.

We will be okay because I’m recognizing and engaging this weakness and tiredness. I’m conquering it with food, food, more food, and rest.

I am not sitting back and assuming that my body will naturally take care of itself.

This is a struggle.

The same is true of our country. If we sit back and assume that our county will be okay because God blesses the USA and screw everyone else in the world, we are in for destruction.

Things don’t naturally become okay. We need to work for it.

But when I read the news, do you know what I see?

Hope.

That’s right. Hope.

I see so many of you fighting. Protesting. Calling our senators and representatives. Even my husband now has Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown on his speed dial and is planning a group meeting to sit down to talk with our U.S. House representative.

Many of you are responding to the pain of watching your rights and freedoms threatened. The right for every child to access good public education. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The right for every American to have health care.

These battles are good and just.

But we need to vigilantly search for the ways that we are painlessly bleeding.

Where is our attention and what are we missing?

Men, do you fight for women’s equal pay?

White Americans, do you speak out against racial profiling?

Cis-gender Americans, do you squash the laughter when someone points at a transgender person?

U.S. citizens, do you fight to create a welcoming environment for those who are fleeing war and systematic killings on par with the Holocaust?

Christians, do you seek to understand your Muslim brothers and sisters? Or do you paint them all with the same broad brush of suspicion?

Which wounds do we not feel or see yet?

When you can’t see your own wounds, you need to be willing to hear when others tell you that you need help.

Because we need you. We cannot afford to blind ourselves from the truth of what is happening.

Because we are fighting for this future.

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We are fighting for this planet because, in the end, this is what we truly leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

We are fighting against insatiable greed for power and the deceit that feeds it.

We are fighting because we see ourselves in those who are fleeing war and displacement and fear.

We are fighting because we understand that it’s not such a crazy reality to imagine that we could be the ones who are fleeing next.

We are fighting for the future.

For life.

For love.

This world still smells like everything I hate

But I’m learning to love, ’til that’s just not the case

And all my friends, they feel the same way too

We look inside the mirror, and all we see is you.

The water’s still rushing and the blood is still gushing

From the wound you left inside.

….

My eyes have seen the glory of your love

And I won’t turn back this time.

No I won’t turn back this time.

The First Week: In Pictures

As can be expected, my ability to write is greatly diminished right now. And that’s totally fine with me. Self-care first. Instead of putting effort into writing, I’d like to just show you around my world in the last five days.

The Last Day of Pregnancy: February 1, 2017, 41 weeks and 3 days

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Birth: February 2, 2017, 1:27 p.m.

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Minutes old. Skin to skin.

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Life-saver. I suffered a postpartum hemorrhage, but my midwife and nurses were able to control the bleeding within the first hour of delivery. Thank God for modern medicine. 

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Putting on my Warrior hat to breastfeed after the birth.

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Day 1

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Getting ready to leave Family Beginnings, a natural birthing center attached to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. They. Are. Marvelous.

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Temporary living quarters while Doug finishes the baby’s room. 

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Self-care ain’t pretty sometimes.

Day 2

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Day 2 profile

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My viewpoint, post “nap.” So hard to sleep soundly.

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Day 3

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Day 3 Profile: Breasts actually feeling milk come in this time. Feeling a bit hopeful in this moment.

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Can you see it? Just barely? That is what 20 minutes of pumping yields. It won’t even drain into the vials. Baby has a good latch, but I have to use a shield to get a good latch. But he gets frustrated when hardly anything comes out. Can’t really blame him. Poor guy.

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How small, he starts.

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Yawn.

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Stork bite on right thigh.

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Looks just like his sister in the first week. I will show a side-by-side comparison someday.

Day 4

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Day 4: Weaning. As my breasts fill and ache, latching is more difficult and the pump won’t relieve it. I try having him latch without the shield. Awful. So awful. Baby is doing well with formula, and I’m tired of working to overcome these barriers. So I am utterly done with breastfeeding forever. And you know what? That’s okay with me. We’re not having any more kids after this one, so it’s time to stop stressing and just enjoy having a baby.

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Day 4 Profile

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Nipple shield with last bits of milk still on it. 

Day 5

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First doctor’s appointment. Henry receives an excellent bill of health. “You look pale,” says the pediatrician. “You should take iron to help with the breastfeeding.” I tell her that I started the weaning process yesterday and he’s exclusively on formula. “Well, he’s doing great. Can I get you some free cans of formula?” Thank God for choices and supportive pediatricians. I leave without the same feelings of guilt that I had with my first child. 

What’s not in these pictures?

All the people who are supporting me.

My husband, who has spent the last month painting and installing lights and shelving in not one, not two, but three bedrooms.

My mother, who has been watching the baby during the day while I have been sleeping and recovering from the blood loss. (I’ve got the night shift.)

My friends, who brought over bagels and scones and muffins on Day 2 and sat with me. Small reassurances that even though crazy things like birth and recovery happen, life goes on. And it’s all beautiful and holy.

My church, who lifted me with their prayers.

The postpartum period can be incredibly isolating and lonely, but all this help has made it just a little easier.

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So much beauty in the world.

Finally, We’ve Had the Baby

I was supposed to have a January baby. Thought there was no way I would end up giving birth in February.

Ha.

Ha.

Just like last time, my expectations for what would happen during this birth didn’t quite pan out.

Like just about everything else in parenthood.

I’ll write about the details later. Not today.

Today, I simply say that life is unpredictable and messy. No matter how much we like to pretend that we have things under control, we very much do not. We don’t like the storms that plow through our neatly plotted lives. They uproot what we’ve planned. They can undo our hard work and make it irrelevant and meaningless.

But a lot of beautiful things can emerge from the storms of our lives.

Like rainbows.

Years ago, my husband worked in a lasers lab. One day, he told me something interesting about rainbows. The shape of a rainbow is actually a circle, not a semi-circle. If you were to be flying above a rainbow and looking down at it, you would see a circle.

It’s your perspective on land that limits your ability to see the full circle.

When you’re too close to the storm, it’s hard to see the full beauty of the rainbow. It’s hard to see that is has no end. That, like many truths in nature, it goes around and around. Forever.

But the more distance that you gain from a turbulent time, the more you realize that even hope and goodness still abound.

In fact, maybe they exist because of the storm.

For these reasons, I especially like the term “rainbow baby.” A “rainbow baby” is a baby who is born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss.

Today, we had our own rainbow baby.

Henry Glass

February 2, 2017

1:27 PM

8 pounds 10 ounces

It’s a funny thing though.

Even though this is the deepest part of winter

Even though the storm of labor has just now passed

And I’m sitting here, holding this flawless face in my arms,

I feel like I’m seeing the whole rainbow.

Not just half of it.

“Do You Realize” by the Flaming Lips

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize we’re floating in space,
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

41 weeks, 3 days: Ranting and Raving

Forget anxiety and fear of the imminent pain of childbirth.

I’m so beyond being nervous or afraid of what comes next.

Now, I’m just pissed. I’m downright angry.

If I want to give birth in the birthing center that I’ve chosen, I have to give birth by 41 weeks, 6 days. That gives me until Saturday. After that, I’ll have to go to the regular maternity ward and play by their rules.

Just like last time.

Which is what I was trying to avoid.

I will literally take whatever contractions come my way if it means this is the last day that I’m pregnant. 

F— this pregnancy! I’m so over it!

I will die pregnant. I know it. Labor will never start. Ever. And I’ll be that one crazy case where the pregnant woman just dies because her body splits open because the baby keeps growing. 

I simply cannot believe this has not happened yet. What is wrong with me? Why? WHY?

The most frustrating thing? I’ve had four times when contractions have started and then just stopped.

And I’m not talking Braxton-Hicks contractions. I’m talking full-on, labor contractions. Sometimes 4 to 8 minutes apart for several hours. They last long enough for me to get excited, to gather my things, to think about plans for the rest of the day that include going to the hospital.

And then? Nothing.

They just stop.

WHYYYYYY??????

And then, I get this email from Babycenter.com.

1-week-old

Just shoot me now.

Are you kidding me, Babycenter? I never told you my baby was born. So you just automatically send these emails? Are you trying to piss me off? And what if my baby were stillborn?

This is the worst. I despise living in this constant state of suspension. I don’t tend to be a control freak. My job as a teacher requires me to constantly practice the art of flexibility.

But this is too much.

You think it feels like a long time since Trump became president on January 20th? Tired of processing bullet after bullet that he’s shooting into American democracy?

Now, imagine adding the additional mental burden of realizing at the end of every day that you will, once again, have to find a way to sleep with an enormous pregnant belly, tossing and turning every 45 minutes until the sun rises.

And being pumped full with as much estrogen as a non-pregnant woman has in three years of her life.

February 2nd is Groundhog Day. And how perfectly appropriate. I feel like I’ve been living my own personal Groundhog Day since January 22nd.

So, I’m at the end of my rope. If the point of me waiting this long to have a baby was to teach me a lesson in patience, I’m beyond that lesson. I’m not learning anything anymore.

Now, I’m just pissed.

41 Weeks: The Answer is No. And Yes.

No, I haven’t had the baby.

No, I’m not going to ask to be induced.

No, the baby doesn’t seem to be huge. Just average-sized.

Yes, the baby is healthy. So am I.

Yes, I’m positive they calculated my due date correctly.

Yes, I’ve tried that. And that. And that.

Yes, I’m losing my mind.

Yes, this is eating into my maternity leave now.

Yes, I’ve had some signs that I’m getting ready.

But no.

No real, regular contractions.

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***

This last week has been an interesting combination of nice and awful.

Nice, because my mom is here, helping with our daughter, running errands, and just helping the hours pass. With Scrabble and Penny Press word puzzles.

Nice, because I haven’t had to work. My daily responsibility is to get my daughter to daycare. And take walks.

But it has also been awful.

Starting with the fact that this last week was the first week of Trump’s presidency. What a week… Can anyone process all the garbage that’s coming out of the White House right now? I feel like every day this week, there has been something else that threatens fundamental American principles, values, and norms. (Please tell me I’m not the only one.)

And then there’s the thought that my mind returns to about every other minute of the day: I’m still pregnant.

My mind spins on and on.

Why in the hell is this baby still in there? Am I not walking enough? Am I not eating enough? Is it because I’m drinking decaf coffee? Is it because I have some undiagnosed hormonal imbalance? Is it because I’m 35?

Oh, you’ll go into labor earlier with your second one, they all assured me. The second time is much easier. Your body still has the muscle memory from the last birth. It will happen a lot sooner and faster this time.

Ha.

Ha.

Maybe I should have had my membranes swept at 39 weeks to speed the process along. Maybe that’s the reason I went into labor earlier with my first child. My doctor swept my membranes–without my consent, might I add–at 38 weeks. It still took me until 40 weeks and 4 days to go into labor though, and another day to actually give birth.

So I ask myself, What is so different about this time?

I keep comparing this whole experience to what happened to me with my first baby. I can’t help it. I’m looking for patterns and signs, aligning them with last time, and then making estimates.

I’ve lost six pounds of water weight. Should be another two days.

Or

The baby has moved down further. Probably just another week.

Then I blow past my estimates. Over and over again, I’m disappointed.

Every morning I wake up, and I tell myself to start fresh. I go for a walk in the darkness of the morning. Enya sings to me and I feel understood.

Winter has come too late
Too close beside me.
How can I chase away
All these fears deep inside?

I’ll wait the signs to come.
I’ll find a way
I will wait the time to come.
I’ll find a way home.

I tell myself that today is a new day. Today might be the day. I tell myself that tomorrow, maybe, we’ll be through this birth.

I tell myself to imagine my future self, reaching back through time, shaking me by the shoulders, telling me to not wish away these last moments of pregnancy.

I tell myself that once this birth is over, I will likely mourn its passing.

I tell myself to enjoy this time with my mom.

I tell myself that all I have right now is this moment.

This day.

I tell myself that even though my mind craves the certainty of falling back onto my previous experiences, in my heart I know this birth will be nothing like last time.

I tell myself, Just one more afternoon.

Then, Just one more night.

Then, Just one more morning.

Today could be the day.

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