Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: health

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.

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.

Week 40: Ticking Time Bomb

Tick, tick, tick.

I knew it was possible that I would go beyond my due date again. I went to 40 weeks and 5 days with my first child.

But who really wants to believe that they’ll be put through that again?

But, here we are.

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So what do you do when you’re past your due date?

Hand off responsibility of raising your children. Let Grandma take center stage. Send your kid to daycare without an ounce of guilt. If you can’t do either of those, turn on the TV and embrace the zombification of your kids because it’s preserving your sanity.

Walk. Because it’s the only exercise you can really handle at this point. And moving at least 30 minutes a day gives you a better chance of going into labor.

Do yoga. Practice your breathing. Get in some good down-dog and butterfly poses.

Lie on your side. Because it takes the weight out of your back and pelvis. Which now feel like jelly.

Avoid people. Or at least the people with whom you have to engage in small talk. You don’t want to constantly think about the fact that you’re beyond your due date. But it’s the only thing on everyone else’s mind. Don’t get pissed about it. They either can’t help themselves or they don’t know what else to talk about with you.

Read. Start books that you don’t mind if you don’t finish. Because you probably won’t.

Nap. This is the best part. By far. Especially since you’re only sleeping in 45 minutes increments throughout the night now. Because you need to pee, or shift sides, or eat at 3:00 a.m. (Because, of course, the baby is hungry again.)

Google the probability of going into labor on this particular day. I liked this website. I currently have a 57.93% chance of going into labor today. Tomorrow, the probability increases to 61.79%.

Do puzzles. This one is driving me nuts right now. But I’ve got a feeling I’m ready to bust this case wide open.

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Write. Whatever you want. Without much thought. Because it’s mostly about passing time and not so much about imparting words of wisdom.

Be still. Honor the beauty of silence and suspension. Because soon the day will be full of crying and cooing, dishes and laundry, visitors and friends.

Let go of the perpetual need to accomplish. Because soon “accomplishing” will have much, much different definitions than it does today.

 

On Using the Snotsucker: A Letter to My Colleague

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Last weekend, one of my colleagues became a father for the first time. Thinking we had plenty of time, our work planned to have a baby shower for them today. Well, life happens, and his wife gave birth a full three weeks before her due date.

A healthy (8 pound!) baby girl.

Our work is still hosting a shower for them today. And frankly, my hat is off to these new parents if they actually show up to this shower when their baby is not even one week old yet.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend.

Still, I wanted to do something nice for them, beyond the typical baby registry items. So I emailed my colleague and asked him what they still needed. He requested some diapers, size 3, for the future. I got those.

But what else?

What else could I get them that would actually be something they would really need as first-time parents?

Then it came to me.

The Nosefrida.

A.K.A. “The Snotsucker”

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But such a gift would require some explanation.

So here is the letter that I wrote to go along with my colleague’s gift.

***

Colleague,

Okay, so listen.

Your baby is going to get sick.

Maybe (hopefully) not right away. But she will get sick. And it’s going to suck. Big time. Not just because it hurts to see your kid in pain, but also because you don’t get any sleep if your kid doesn’t get any sleep.

And your kid can’t sleep if she’s so congested with thick mucus that she keeps coughing. And bonus, she can’t blow her nose either.

So with that in mind, I’m presenting you with several items that can help you get through a bad cold. Not all colds will require this level of care. But—God forbid—if she gets RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), getting out that thick mucus could save you from a trip to Children’s Medical Center (and the hefty bill that goes along with that.)

Looking at the Nosefrida (A.K.A. “The Snotsucker”), I know what you might be thinking.

Ain’t no way I’m doing that to my kid! Sick! That’s sooo gross! Forget it!

I thought that, too. And hey, I completely understand the repulsion that drives you to arrive at that decision. In fact, go ahead and continue to think that. You are totally justified in thinking that. It seems rational. It makes sense now.

You’re thinking, I hate snot! You don’t understand. I really have a gag reflex. I’ll puke all over my kid at the very thought of sucking snot out of my kid’s nose!

Yes, I know how you’re feeling. Go ahead and continue to feel that way.

As long as your child is healthy.

But when it’s 2:00 a.m. and your kid has been coughing and coughing and coughing… And you know she’s not going to get better unless she sleeps… And you are out of your mind without sleep… You’ll try anything.

So when you’re ready to “try anything,” here’s what you do.

  • Get your wife. You will need two people to do this.
  • One of you holds your daughter’s head in place. She’s not going to like this at first.
  • The other person sprays the saline mist into each nostril. Be prepared. Your daughter is going to cough. And if she’s a hefty cougher, she might take it too far and actually puke. It probably won’t happen. But better to be prepared.
  • Get the Nosefrida. Make sure the blue spongy filter is in place.
  • Put the light blue end of the Nosefrida up to your baby’s nostrils. Pin the other nostril closed with your finger.
  • Put the red part of the Nosefrida into your mouth.
  • Suck in air. As hard as you can. If you need to empty the gunk in the blue tube into the sink before doing the other side, do that.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Wipe your baby’s nose with a Boogie Wipe. They will keep her nose from getting too raw.

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  • Evaluate if you need to repeat. Listen to her to determine if her breathing is less rattling.
  • Comfort her back to sleep in whatever way works for her.
  • If you have a humidifier (and I recommend you get one), turn it on close enough to where she sleeps so her breathing passages don’t get too dry. This is especially useful in the winter.

So there are my tips for getting through that first awful cold. Like I said, not every cold is going to require this level of care. But some do. And having things on hand to help you get through it will make life a lot easier.

One last little truth. Even though taking care of a baby can be tough, the love that you have for your child numbs you to how hard it really is. You’ll get through it.

Wishing you both all the very best,

Sharon

(P.S. Here is my cell phone number in case you need clarification on what to do.)

Global Billing: Wait, You Want Me to Pay Before the Baby is Born?

Let’s imagine that I need knee surgery.

Let’s say the total estimated expenses for my knee surgery are $20,000.

I have “fairly good” health insurance (at least these days…) so I will pay my $1000 deductible and then 20% of the total costs as co-insurance, which is $4000. And of course, we’ll be paying with our credit card which has a 10% APR (because who has $5200 in their savings account anymore?)

When will I pay for these costs? After I have the knee surgery, right?

Ah, but then the surgeon says, “Yeah, we’re going to need you to pay for the procedure in full, at least a month before your scheduled surgery.”

Wait, what?

Seriously?

And this is becoming a standard practice for obstetricians now. Take a look at these discussion forums, in which mothers talk about the different variations of this wonderful billing protocol called “global billing.”

In some cases, you may have the added bonus of paying two deductibles if your baby was conceived in one calendar year, but born in the next. (Which, by the way, is anyone who conceives a baby from April-December.)

(And in case you’re wondering, it’s also terribly expensive to not have a baby. When I miscarried last year, our out-of-pocket expenses were $1500 for a D&C.)

Global billing can be useful. It simplifies all the billing involved in prenatal care by bundling all the prenatal visits and the obstetrician’s fees for delivery into one big package.

When I had my first child, that obstetrician also practiced global billing, but she didn’t send me a bill until all the services were performed. Then, we got a big, fat $3000 bill about a month after our daughter was born.

That was exciting.

money

***

With this pregnancy, our estimated out-of-pocket expenses begin at about $1400, just for prenatal visits and delivery.

And then there’s that lovely line in the letter explaining that they would like to start immediately collecting payment for all of these services… at my next appointment.

At 23 weeks.

Oh, and…

“These fees are to be paid in full by the 35th week of your pregnancy.”

Their administrative assistant delicately told me that these expenses would not include the hospital costs or ultrasounds.

So let’s add those expenses here:

  • One ultrasound at 20 weeks. (about $300)
  • Any non-stress tests.
  • My hospital bed for 2 days: $1720 (20% of $8600)
  • My baby’s bed in the nursery for 2 days: $1120 (20% of $5600)

Even if I don’t use it. That’s right. Even if I room-in the whole time, I will be paying for the availability of the nursery bed. Ha!

  • Anesthesiology fees, if I have that.
  • That newborn hearing test machine that will roll into my room and seem like a good idea. ($400. Not covered by insurance).

I mean, really. What other medical procedures do physicians require to be paid for in full before you have them done?

And by the way, I really hate referring to birth as a medical procedure. I did all the work until the baby came out. I humbly acknowledge how many people were required to pick up the aftermath of the birth and take care of me during recovery, but I was the one doing the “medical procedure” for the first 34 hours.

Maybe I should be paid. Ha!

When I told my husband about all of this, his response was, “They aren’t getting a dime until after January 1st!”

You know, when next year’s FSA accounts go into effect.

You know, after the baby is born.

The good news is the hospital’s billing department is agreeing to let us start paying after January 1st. Nice of them, huh?

But really, isn’t it a bit strange that we have to request this?

Week 14: Why Am I Eating So Much Apple Crisp?

I suppose there are worse foods that I can be obsessed with right now.

With Felicity, I ate about 35 tomatoes in the span of four days. My husband had a bunch of tomatoes leftover from some cooking event for our church and I just went to town on them. At first, I ate them on salads and sandwiches. Then, I thought, Who are you kidding? Just go for it. Then it was just tomatoes. Tomatoes upon tomatoes, with nothing in my way.

I have no idea why.

Last week, I was looking at the fruit bowl, pondering what to do with a bunch of apples and pears that were getting too ripe.

I will make apple crisp, I thought. I’ve never made it before, but I can figure this out.

To the Internet.

I got some good ideas and then looked around our cupboards. And because it brings a smile to my face to make something that I can share with Doug, I got some ideas from him about how to make it gluten-free so he can enjoy it, too.

Apples, oatmeal, some brown sugar, some rice flour, cinnamon, and a little safflower oil.

YUM.

In the past week, I’ve made two 9″ X 11″ pans of it. Doug has eaten some of it, but really… I’m doing the damage.

I just can’t get enough of this stuff.

Here’s the recipe I’m using if you have any interest. Proportions of sugar and cinnamon are flexible, depending on what you like.

Apple Crisp of Destruction

IMG_3653.JPG

Apple Mixture

  • 8 apples, peeled, cored, and cubed
  • 1/2 cup rice flour (if you’re going for gluten-free. Wheat flour is fine too.)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Topping

  • 3 cups of oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2-3 tablespoons of safflower oil (or whatever oil you have on hand)

 

Apples in an ungreased pan first. Then, cover with topping.

Cover with foil. Put in the oven at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove foil. Finish baking for another 25 minutes. Check to make sure the topping doesn’t burn.

You’re welcome.

Without a Name: When a Parent has Bipolar Depression

I knew something was seriously wrong when my mother told me that she had woken up late one night to find my father sitting in the living room, talking to some pennies that he had been collecting.

To be fair, there were a lot of other signs before this that made us think, What the hell is going on?

Like when he ominously thanked my mother for all she had done before slowly sinking to the bottom of my brother’s pool. (He eventually came back up.)

Like when he spent that one family reunion handing out tiny envelopes, each carefully labeled with a person’s name and their birth year. Each holding a penny stamped with that year.

Like when he suddenly became completely comatose for a week, refusing to eat or talk, but the doctor said that it wasn’t a stroke, and he should be fully aware of his surroundings.

Like when he insisted that my mother not talk in the house–because it was bugged and the FBI was listening to their every word.

We called it paranoia. We called it depression.

It all started with a sudden change in his career that catapulted him into a future where he could not see his identity.

Although he was still a husband. Although he was still a father. Although he was still, still, still. Once he lost his professional identity, the great unraveling began.

***

I remember walking into the room in our house where Dad had set up his laptop on a cheap table and called it his “office.” Our border collie, Gator, dutifully lay beside his feet. He said, “Sharon, I don’t know what I’m going to do. If I can’t do the bakery business… I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

It was 2006. For twenty-five years, he had been a bakery specialist for SuperValu grocery stores. But faced with increased competition, SuperValu pivoted its marketing strategy towards a higher-end retail model and launched a new produce company, W. Newell & Co.

His boss told him that he could also pivot in his career. He could abandon his twenty-five years of experience in bakery marketing for SuperValu and embrace a new career in produce marketing for W. Newell & Co…. Or…

“Well, you don’t want to know the other option… That’s what my boss told me. Those exact words, Sharon,” he pointed an accusative finger at me, the only person there who was listening.

I don’t remember what I said. Probably something like, “It will be okay. Maybe it’s a good opportunity to learn something new.”

But he just kept saying,

“I’m not a produce man. I’m a bakery man. Always been one. I don’t know what to do.”

Dad_2005

***

Looking back now, I can track my dad’s slow descent into madness. I can see how he withdrew and surrendered, year after year after year. I can see a constellation of strange interactions and responses.

I remember him walking up to an empty cash register at Wal-Mart and suddenly screaming, “I NEED HELP!!! HELP ME DOWN HERE!!!”

I remember my brother telling me that they barely got back into the country after a trip to Jamaica because Dad was “making a fuss” at the airport.

We didn’t know what to call it, so we called it moodinessWe called it angry old man syndrome.

When he started to walk with a strange gait, when he started to lose his facial expressions, when he started to go days without speaking, we began to understand that something else was going on.

The doctors called it Parkinson’s disease.

But we all knew that wasn’t enough.

More doctors added that it was bipolar depression.

It seemed fitting, but we still wondered: What is causing what? Will we find out there’s a third monster, just waiting in the wings? Why now? Why haven’t we seen this until now? Has he always had this and we just didn’t realize it?

Could losing his career really push this precariously balanced snowball down the cliff of his mind?

Or would he always have disintegrated this way, regardless of the stressors in his life?

***

In his last years of life, stranger things started to happen.

He called the sheriff on himself, insisting that he be arrested. He was convinced that the government was going to come and arrest him for not paying taxes on some Parent Plus loans that he had taken out for my sister (He had just received a notice that the loans had been forgiven because of his disability).

The government was coming for him. He just knew it. They would hunt him down–and he deserved it.

But when the sheriff arrived, he said that he couldn’t arrest my dad.

To which my dad screamed, “What does a guy have to DO to get ARRESTED around here?”

“You have to be a danger to yourself or others,” he explained.

“Well, I AM! I’m a dangerous person!”

“Are you going to hurt yourself?” the sheriff asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“If you were going to hurt yourself, what would you use?” he asked.

“A gun.”

My mother interrupted, “You don’t have a gun.”

“Then, a knife! I’d use a knife!”

God bless this sheriff, who mercifully took my mother aside and asked her if she wanted him to take him to a nearby psychiatric hospital. She said yes.

***

My mother. Oh, my mother.

The things this woman has plowed through. The pain that she’s endured over and over again.

Sometimes, there are no words.

***

Last summer, she passed out in a grocery store while shopping because her doctor had her on medication that caused extremely low blood pressure. I sat with her in the emergency room while they checked her out, making sure she was okay.

We told stories to pass the time. It was coming up on the one year anniversary of my father’s death, and she asked me how I was doing. The conversation stalled for a moment and she started laughing.

“What are you laughing about?” I asked.

She told me of a time she needed to drive my dad back to this psychiatric hospital, on one of his particularly manic days. It was mid-February in Minnesota, the high for the day averaging a balmy five degrees below zero.

My father was growing frustrated that they hadn’t already arrived at the hospital, so he started banging the dashboard of the car.

“Quit that!” my mother yelled at him. “You’ll set off the airbags.”

He hit the dashboard harder.

Then, God knows why, he rolled the window down and started making bird calls.

My mother cranked up the radio to drown out the sound of his bird calls. With the windows rolled down, freezing air pouring in, she could see strangers peering curiously into the chaotic scene of their small Ford Focus wagon.

Sitting in that emergency room, two years later, we laughed about this.

“How did you get through all of that?” I joked with her.

She smiled. “What else was there to do? I could cry about it or laugh. So I laughed about it. It was the only way to get through it.”

***

How do you love your father when he makes your mother miserable?

Where do you place the blame when you know it’s not his fault?

There were times when my mother would open up and tell me how bad it had gotten and I would hang up the phone and think, What if she leaves him? What will happen? Who will take care of him? 

Truth be told, part of me wanted her to leave him. Because he was that heavy stone, pulling her down in the dark, suffocating depths of psychosis. And my mother didn’t deserve that. Couldn’t she be released of her marriage vows if the partnership threatened her very well-being? Wasn’t marriage about bringing out the best in each other?

But then… who would take care of him?

Who?

I try to fathom what it was like for my mother to have been caught in this conflict every day.

To be married to someone who had become so completely different than the man she fell in love with.

To be caught in the tension between her love for his past self and her anger toward his present self.

To run through the narrow list of options every day and still come to the same conclusion:

I promised in sickness or in health.

For me, I couldn’t choose to end my connection to my father. He is half of my DNA. He is my nose, my chin, my dark features. He is my stubbornness, my sarcasm, my sentimentality, my impeccable memory, and my gift for storytelling. We are ISFJs, the practical workers who work with their “noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel” (as Dad would put it) and then quietly revel in a job well done.  

But it was different for my mother.

For my mother in those last years, showing love for my father was a painstaking, daily decision. One in which my father rarely even acknowledged and, on a bad day, even resented. She could have chosen to walk away after thirty-four years of marriage, chalking up their connection to nothing more than years and years of shared memories.

But she didn’t.

And that is how my mother has schooled me.

She showed me that love is more than fortifying the ship as it sails along on smooth winds. She showed me that love is also grabbing his hand when the ship crashes and refusing to let go when you see him sinking. Even as something dark and terrifying grabs hold of him and takes him down.

Sometimes, your love for your partner cannot be returned.

And when it can’t, your love needs to be strong enough to hold the both of you.

SCN_0046

***

It took me time to understand how sick my father really was. That’s the way it is with illnesses that alter behaviors, emotions, and moods. I think it would have been easier for our family to understand and adjust if some visible growth had invaded his body rather than this invisible force that laid waste to his mind.

We could have understood earlier that he wasn’t just “being difficult” or “acting funny.” We could have understood that a bad exchange with him wasn’t because we said something wrong or because he was suddenly a terrible person.

But it took years to diagnose him with bipolar depression. And without a name to call it, we just called it “Dad.” And for me, this is what hurt the most.

Because this wasn’t my dad.

***

I didn’t see my father many times in the last years of his life. They lived in Texas for a few years, and then, they moved to Minnesota. I lived in Ohio.

I wish I had known that 2006-2011 would be the last years that I could still have semi-normal conversations with him. Ones in which he would at least say something after I said something, even if it didn’t quite respond to what I said.

I wish there had been some kind of map at the beginning of his descent into mental illness. Some kind of markers along the way that read,

This is your last chance to tell your father you love him–and have him believe it.

Or This is the last time that you’ll see him smile without being prompted.

Or This is the last time that he’ll make a joke with you about politics.

But there were no markers. No maps.

There were just moments upon moments when we decided to draw close to each other or to move away.

To move away.

To move away.

Until he was gone.

***

I don’t tend to be a mystical person. But sometimes, I wonder.

This past March, I was making some cookies for St. Patrick’s Day with my daughter. We were using mint chips instead of chocolate chips and adding green food coloring. As I transferred each piping hot cookie from the sheet to the cooling rack, I could almost hear my dad crooning one of his favorite sayings as he would rub his hands together excitedly.

You’ve got to have the patience of Job, he would say, as if he were advising himself from giving in to his childlike temptations.

Baking was his life and I smiled as I thought, He would love to have seen this.

And then this song came up on Pandora:

Remember when our songs were just like prayers

Like gospel hymns that you called in the air

Come down, come down sweet reverence

Unto my simple house and ring… and ring…

It was Gregory Alan Isakov’s “Stable Song,” the same song that I used for the video that I created for my dad’s funeral.

I looked out into the kitchen, partially expecting to see him standing there. It was just a millisecond, I’m sure, but for that millisecond, I really had the expectation that he would be there when I turned around.

I would see him inching his way toward one of my cookies with his sneaky smile. I would tell him, Hands off!

But he would grab one anyway, shove it in his mouth, and then say, Heh? What was that? Did you say something?

Then I would laugh and poke him in his belly.

Then his hands, already in motion to grab a second cookie, would instinctively curl up to protect his middle, only to arrive too late, leaving me free to poke him mercilessly until he would twirl out of the kitchen, hands clutched around his belly.

For that moment, he was not only alive, but fully restored. There was no anger or paranoia. No delusions or mania. Instead, he was funny, charming, and tender. He was the man I always knew him to be.

And that was how I was caught in one of the paradoxes of grief: the simultaneous desire to laugh and cry.

Then the hurt all over again. Wishing that I had the superhuman ability to push into another dimension, where we are not caught between these two fundamental dichotomies of human biology and physics. Alive or dead. The past or the present.

I pray to God that this is true—that there is another possible reality, one in which life and time are suspended so that there can be no more loss or illness or deviation.

Only wholeness.

 

 

How to Run

 

running

A Saturday, January, 1:00 p.m.

First, you’ll need gloves.

An insulated running jacket.

Headphones that double as earmuffs.

Turn on Pandora, channel Hozier.

(Because “Work Song” goes well with tiny, white puffs of air.)

Tissues in your pocket.

Runner’s lunge. Down dog. Streeeetch.

Go.

Remember that you won’t stay cold forever

Warmth comes when the blood flows

Fix your eyes on the next mailbox, then the next

When your heart soars too far, slow to a walk

Feel the earth against your feet

Find your footing, your roots

Then, rise again.

 

A Sunday, March, 1:00 p.m.

First, plan your route.

Preferably with a park along the way.

Dress for fair weather, one layer only.

Drive to the park. Park.

Slide your key off the ring

Put it in the tiny pocket by your hip

Turn on Pandora, channel MGMT.

Runner’s lunge. Down dog. Streeeetch.

Go.

Lose track of time as the songs carry you forward

As your feet pound the concrete

As your breath picks up and your body finds its rhythm

And when a new song catches you off guard

And you find yourself throwing front jabs to its beat,

Say a prayer of thanks for this world’s endless creativity

For the depth and breadth of expression that keeps your hope alive

That keeps you believing that there will always be something new to appreciate

As long as you keep your heart open

Check how far you’ve run.

Be amazed in yourself.

 

A Tuesday, April, 5:00 a.m.

First, you’ll need to wake up.

Water on your face, if you need it.

Dress in two layers. Make the outer one bright.

(Remove one on the way back.)

Turn on Pandora, channel Richard Marx.

(Because “Hold On to the Night” goes well with the stars.)

Runner’s lunge. Down dog. Streeeetch.

Go.

Remember that the first five minutes are the hardest.

As you pass under streetlights, watch your shadow creep up beside you

And then go before you.

Remember that you’ve always found the most power in difference

In the moments when you did the opposite

Remember that there is strength at the end of fatigue

And satisfaction at the end of trying and failing and trying again

Keep going.

Be amazed in yourself.

Keep going.

The Picture I Don’t Like to Remember

Here it is.

Sharon_2013

This was taken at 10 days postpartum.

And, yes, I am a hot mess.

What’s even worse is that I was actually really trying to make this a good picture. I put on a clean, non-covered-in-spit-up dress. I brushed my hair.

But here I am. My face drained of color. My eyes red and puffy. My body bloated and broken. My left arm still has the bruises from the IV during labor.

The only redeeming quality of this picture is that beautiful, tender baby on my chest.

At this point, I had been sleeping for about 1-2 hours per day for the previous 10 days. I was still trying to breastfeed, but failing miserably. When I wasn’t nursing, I was hooked up to a pump, scarfing down more food to help with milk production (sometimes both at the same time), changing diapers, cleaning bottles, or staring off into space while my thyroid went bonkers and kept me awake even when I had 30 minutes to sleep.

I didn’t pass by mirrors much, but when I did, I shocked myself.

Who the hell is that? I would think. What has happened to me?

This picture reminds me of how difficult it was to be a new mother to a newborn. I can see it written all over my face.

My face screams, I’ve never been so exhausted before. I need to invent a new word to describe this level of exhaustion.

But I was also thinking,

I love my child. I’m so happy this child is healthy. Still, it’s really hard to be thankful right now.

So I’m going to smile because this is what new mothers do.

I’ll avoid mirrors so I don’t have to think about how terrible I look right now. Instead of looking at myself, I’ll look at my baby.

Everyone says that this time passes so fast, but honestly, I don’t even know how I’m going to get all the way through to tomorrow. Because tomorrow is six feedings from now. Six.

But I kept these thoughts to myself. Because I thought expressing them would make me seem less motherly. And I already didn’t feel like a mother. I had only been one for a few days. Instead, I felt like an exhausted, aching, leaking, sleep-deprived hospital patient that just wanted to get some rest so she could finally focus on doing the hard work of being a mom.

Which is exactly the point–that was the hard work of being a mom.

Doing everything despite all the physical pain and exhaustion.

I share this picture with other new mothers because, girlfriend, I have been there. I have been anchored to a nursing child or a breast pump for hours on end, watching the world pass me by, my jealousy mounting at everyone else who was lucky enough to sleep three solid hours at a time.

If you feel like no one else in the world could possibly understand how tired you are at this very moment, know that someone else does. Just look at that picture.

This one’s for you.

***

As I write this, I’m reminded of the Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, a photography project that is “dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought by motherhood, childbirth, and breastfeeding.” A colleague shared this website with me after I gave birth to my daughter and it made me feel so… understood. Welcomed. Like someone was saying, “Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it changes you forever. But isn’t it beautiful?”

It is beautiful. I’m not denying the love and beauty that wrapped around me in those moments in the darkness when it was just me and my daughter, rocking away as I hummed.

But, God, it’s also hard. So hard.

And sometimes you look like hell.

And sometimes you feel like hell.

And that’s the truth.

Still Running

I didn’t intend to continue to run this long.

I thought I’d just run a few times to help me climb out of the rut of miscarriage. Maybe I would keep it up for two weeks. Maximum.

But, oh my God, I’m still running.

running

 

I don’t do it every day. I’ve found that running every day aggravates my left knee. So I run once per week. On the other days, I do my usual weightlifting, cardio kickboxing, or yoga.

I’ve noticed that now I’m looking on the sides of the road as I drive, scoping out decent, long stretches of sidewalk where it might be fun to run in the future.

I’m running longer stretches.

I’m not getting tired as easily.

And when I’m done… Oh… The feeling.

And a close second? Reviewing my heart rate charts.

February_28_run

I love seeing the peaks and valleys. Up and down. Over and over again.

I love seeing how far this heart and this body are carrying me. It’s one more reminder that, yes, I’m moving forward.

Yes, I can do this again.

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