the surreality of our life
November 18, 2010

Malcolm at almost 16 weeks!

Well, hello. It’s been a while. I thought I’d just jump in without any sort of plan for the blog. Just writing.

And here’s what I’ve been wondering lately…

Did it ever really happen?!

Did we really live on an island?

I know we did. I have evidence. So much happened in those ten months. Yet, it all feels like someone else’s life. It feels so far away and untouchable. I try to mentally place myself back in Friday Harbor and everything clouds over like a dream.

We’ve been in Chicago now for almost three months. When we first arrived it all felt strangely normal. Strange because a sudden life change and move cross country with an infant shouldn’t feel so normal. Right? But we know this place. We’ve lived here before. Familiarity welcomed us home.

But the last few days all I’ve been thinking about is how different we are now than when we last lived here. We’re not the same people. We’ve come so far and gone through so much. This thinking leads me down a path of memories and my brain has a hard time sorting them out in a way that it all makes sense. How did we go from Chicago to LA to Chicago to Friday Harbor to Chicago? It’s not the how that matters but that we did. And that where are now is here. Chicago. Live in the now. Yes? This is my challenge.

Yesterday I went for a run through my neighborhood (the first run without the jogging stroller as Grammy Pammie was babysitting Malcolm) and I couldn’t help but contrast the setting with San Juan Island and L.A.

Here I was running through city streets and stoplights. There isn’t even a single stop light on San Juan Island.

Here the terrain is flat. Flat. Flat. Flat. In L.A. and on San Juan Island there are hills. Hills. Hills. Hills. I miss those.

Here I was surrounded by humanity. On SJI, I was surrounded by nature.

Here the architecture is all the same (mostly)… brick. Brick. Brick. Running in I loved seeing the exciting and different architecture of the homes from Spanish casitas to mid-century modern masterpieces.

While running I travel back to L.A. on my memories and then Friday Harbor. And I’m suddenly sad. Missing it. Missing both worlds. Then remembering how when we moved to L.A. we missed Chicago. So much. For three years. It really took three years to love L.A. And then we fell hard.

So what?

Am I doomed to this awkward three-year transition period? Perhaps. But hopefully not.

Will we always miss something about where we used to be? Most likely yes. But isn’t that a good thing? That we have something to miss only tells us that we’ve lived some amazing adventures and have been happy.

I feel so grateful to have lived for those ten months in Friday Harbor. An experience I truly never would have experienced had our lives not taken an unexpected turn. Living there was a gift. Experiencing the place, the community, the people… I can’t say enough.

Yet…

In keeping with the LOST comparisons, I don’t go as far as Jack to say “We never should have left the island!” But I do wonder what life would be like had we stayed. When I mentally place myself there now… as in What would it be like if we were still living there? The answer is that it would be hard. Bob would most likely be commuting every week again. Malcolm would have no relationship with his grandparents. I would be missing my family terribly.

So being in Chicago is the right place to be. For who we are today. The here and now.

And man, we love being here. See? You probably didn’t expect that. This is what we have a hard time reconciling. How can we love being here and be happy here when we also miss there? And then? Both L.A. and Friday Harbor? Two places that couldn’t be more different.

It’s maddening.

Or maybe it’s just life.

Our life. That has always had a surreal bent to it.

Today Malcolm and I went to a mama and yoga baby class in the neighborhood (walking distance). To our right was a mom and her seven-week old son. To our left was a mom and her eight-week old son. I looked at these little babies and started to cry. Because it’s already gone so fast. He’s already 16 weeks. Today. That’s four whole months! Malcolm at that tiny 8-week size seems so long ago. I adore every stage, but miss each one as it inevitably disappears.

Even Malcolm’s birth seems surreal. I think about that and wonder, Did THAT really happen?! I miss it. I miss being pregnant. I miss giving birth (did I really just write that?!) And how is that? Why is that the past seems surreal and I romanticize even the most painful moments?

Looking for a way to reconcile it all. Again, maybe that’s impossible.

Maybe that’s just life.

Thoughts?

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Birth Story- PART 3 (the dramatic conclusion)
August 14, 2010

Malcolm is sleeping on Bob’s chest right now… hoping this gives me enough time to post the conclusion of the birth story.

And here we go… we are in Birth Room 6 at Island Hospital in Anacortes and I am shouting my “labor safe word” in my head…

Gorilla!

When Melinda returns she tells me that she’s concerned about how depleted I am.

“I know it seems we’re going down your birth plan and crossing everything off, line by line,” she says.

I know! I was thinking the same thing. This is not how I planned this. Why is it so hard? Why is everything going wrong?

“But,” she continues. “We need you to rest so that you can have energy for pushing.”

I’m totally paraphrasing here. How can I be trusted to remember Melinda’s EXACT wording in that moment? I can’t. But that’s what I was left with. Whatever she said was very close to that. Had that same meaning. Which was… exactly what I had been thinking.

I’m relieved. Why?

Because… she won’t think less of me for having the epidural. Why do I care about what my midwife thinks in this moment? I’m not really sure, exactly. Except that she has been the person committed to me having the birth I wanted all this time. Letting her down would be like letting myself down. Looking at Melinda in a way is like looking in the mirror…

Then I remember what Laurie promised:

“You cannot disappoint us.”

And I know exactly what this moment is. It’s my choice. I’m allowed to say “Gorilla” because this is my birth. My story. And the only way to disappoint myself is to allow myself to be disappointed by my own choice. I will not do that.

I am proud of myself for being so strong thus far. Nothing can change that.

I then think that there’s no way I could know how it would be or how I would feel until I was here. In this moment. Having the labor I’m having. And how I feel in this moment is ready to surrender. And I’m okay with that. I realize that not surrendering would be only about me proving how tough I am.

I have nothing to prove.

So I tell Melinda that I feel like this is the exact scenario that we talked about in relation to getting an epidural. Long labor and things not progressing…

“Let’s do it,” I tell her. “I want the epidural.”

There. I said it.

Utter relief washes over me.

Still, we have to wait thirty minutes for Ken the anesthesiologist to arrive and thirty more once he places the epidural before it kicks in.

The contractions between the time I decided to get the epidural and the time that it actually kicked in are by far the worst. And that could very well have been mental. I had made the choice to not feel them anymore. But I still have an hour left of feeling them.

At first Laurie continues to coach me to relax into the pain. But mentally I can’t do it anymore. I’d already surrendered.

She must have seen this because she gives me permission to fight against them at this point. This final hour of feeling the contractions, I  swear more than the entire labor.

These contractions began not with my deep breath and exhale, but with the word F#$%@!

The Epidural

I’d heard about the giant needle so I was intent on NOT seeing it with my own eyes. I just focus like I had been on my contractions. I lean into Bob… press my forehead into his. Really hard. I keep telling him to push harder. So he does. Until his eyes roll back into his head and his knees buckle.

“I feel dizzy!” he exclaims as he falls back.

People (I don’t remember who) rush to him.

“Oh, Bob! Sit down!”

And they help him to a chair. This is welcome comic relief.

“I’m the one getting the epidural and YOU faint?!” I tease. “You are SO not living this down. This is totally going in the blog!”

So there it is. Apparently watching the needle go in is worse than feeling it go in.

In Bob’s defense, he had been up all night with me and was probably dehydrated… and when I kept telling him to push harder, he locked his knees. Which brought on the fainting spell.

I must reiterate here that Bob was an absolute champ and EVERYTHING I could have hoped for in a partner. And more! Definitely more. He was perfect in every moment. Well, except for choosing bacon. And the whole speech about all the women in the world in labor at the same time as me. But… he was perfect even when I snapped at him about those things.

Oh… and one more… at some point in the hospital he mentions how he is hungry for Taco Bell. I think my head actually turned 360 degrees at that moment. DON’T YOU DARE EVEN THINK ABOUT EATING TACO BELL! His response? He laughed. And promised he would not eat Taco Bell. And he didn’t. Perfect.

The Amazing Feeling of NO PAIN

“You’re having a contraction now,” says Traci, our amazing nurse. “Can you feel it?”

“I’m having a contraction? Now?”

“Yes. Can you feel it?”

“No. I don’t feel anything.”

It’s amazing. My body is doing the work it needs to do to have this baby, and I don’t have to feel the pain of it?

This realization that I can’t feel my contractions sends me into chatty Cathy mode. I suddenly perk up and can actually talk.

I just keep saying, “I can’t believe I can’t feel my contractions!” And talking about how my legs felt like gelatin. I can see my legs. I know they are my legs, but I can’t feel them. I poke at them and feel nothing. So bizarre.

“You need to rest now,” Melinda tells me.

And so I do. The anesthesiologist had me on my back because it more evenly distributes the medicine. Since I’m not feeling pain anymore, being on my back is fine with me.

And because I’m not feeling pain, Mom takes a moment to make some phone calls and Bob runs out to refuel. Everyone wants me to rest. So I close my eyes and manage to doze off into a painless sleep.

The Wrong Position

I’m not sure how long I’m out. All I know is I’m suddenly being awoken by a bunch of nurses frantically telling me,

“You have to get on your side now!”

“What?” I drowsily respond?

Why are all these people in here? Where am I? What’s going on?

“Your baby’s heart rate has dropped.”

What? Shit! What? Oh God. Oh God.

“We need you to get on your side.”

Get on my side? I can’t feel anything waist down. How do I get on my side? Things are happening around me that have nothing to do with me. I’m a fly on the wall. This is a scene from ER. I’m not here. This isn’t me.

They roll me over to my left side and I’m suddenly face to face with an oxygen mask.

“Take deep breaths.”

I breathe.

“Deeper!”

I breathe deeper. But it’s not easy. My breaths are shallow and frightened.

I’m thinking: C-Section. The baby is in danger and they’re going to have to get him out ASAP. I’m about to be wheeled into an operating room.

I’m thinking: This isn’t supposed to be like this.

Then Laurie is there. A vision of serenity in the midst of hysteria.

“What’s going on?” I ask through tears that are now pooling around the mask.

“What’s happening,” she starts calmly.

I so appreciate her calm presence. Such a contrast to the frantic energy all around me. It’s clear everyone is worried. Which scares the shit out of me.

“Malcolm’s heart rate dropped for a brief moment,” she tells me. “We’re trying to see if it will go back up on your left side. It’s already working.”

“It’s back up?” I ask. Now full-on crying.

She doesn’t say “Cesarian.” Maybe I’m not about to be wheeled into the OR for emergency surgery.

“Yes.”

Thank God. Thank God. Then:

“Is this because I got an epidural?” I ask. Feeling so guilty. Feeling like I’ve endangered my little boy’s life by choosing to feel no pain.

“Possibly. We’re not sure yet.”

“Where’s Bob?” I ask…. suddenly realizing he’s not here.

“He’s on his way back.”

I look over and see Mom. She’s terrified. Crying.

“It’s okay,” I say. Laurie’s calm has convinced me. It will all be okay.

Bob rushes into the room. He comes right up to me. Holds my hand. Laurie explains to him what happened and he tells me that everything will be okay. I’m amazed at how calm and present he is. It’s not that he’s not concerned. He is. But he’s not getting dramatic about it. He’s just being present and level-headed. This is exactly what I need.

Malcolm’s heart rate is back up and steady. And it was only down for less than a minute.

I’m told later that Laurie was the one who caught it. (Thank God for Laurie!) She was the only one with me and happened to look at the monitor just at the right moment. She saw the dip in his heart rate. And went out to tell the nurses.

The consensus seems to be that Malcolm either tugged on his umbilical cord or he was on top of it while I was on my back. So it is agreed that I will remain on my left side.

I’m thinking: I KNEW there was a reason I didn’t want to be on my back!

A fetal monitor is administered. Placed on Malcolm’s head so that they can accurately monitor him.

The Pain Window

Things slow down after the scare. Labor-wise.

This becomes a concern. Melinda has already broken my water. (Forgot to mention that.) Not even sure when it happened. But I’m pretty sure it was soon after the epidural took effect.

I’m not sure how long it has been since the epidural was administered, but I’m feeling pain in the lower left side of my uterus. I tell Traci. She tells Ken.

Traci has the thought that perhaps emptying my bladder would help with the pain. So we try that first.

“I’m going to put a towel between your legs. Try to pee on it.”

Try to pee? I can’t even tell that I need to pee. I can’t feel anything down there. Try to pee?! I think if I simply tell my brain to pee that perhaps that would work. It does not.

So a catheter it is. Of course I don’t feel any of this.

But I do still feel the pain window. So Ken administers another dose of medicine.

Cross Another Thing Off The Birth Plan

Pitocin. So my birth plan explicitly says that I do not want Pitocin. Why? Because I felt like any intervention would begin to pave the way for a Cesarian.

After another check of my cervix, Melinda gives us two options.

Option #1. C-Section
Ah, there it is. I knew it. I knew it. She says that given the lack of progress we could opt for a Cesarian right now.

OR

Option #2. Pitocin
We could try Pitocin and see if it speeds things along. Melinda’s only concern with Pitocin is the slight chance that the cause of the drop in heart rate was the stronger contractions. Pitocin would amplify my contractions, she explains. And if Malcolm can’t handle them, we would know right away. Her plan is to try just a little Pitocin to see how he does with it and go from there.

Everyone steps out of the room to give Bob and I time to discuss our options. We both are agreed right away. PITOCIN.

So I am given a very small dose of Pitocin. So small it’s as though they only waved it under my nose.

Return of the Pain Window

The pain in my lower left side of my uterus is back. It was gone for about an hour. Now it’s back.

Bigger than before.

And it’s radiating to my lower back.

HOLY EFFING PAIN!

Ken tells me that he doesn’t want to keep dosing me. And that perhaps the only way to numb the pain is to re-administer the epidural. I so do not want to go through this, but what is the point in feeling pain when you’ve chosen the epidural?!

I begin to scream the pain is so bad. So intense.

Make it go away!
Make it stop!
I can’t do this!
It’s so bad.
Hurts so much!
Oh God. Oh God!
Help me!

They call for Melinda.

I’m desperate to end the pain.

I’m lying on my left side. ON the pain. So I try, using my arms, to lift myself up off of it. Bob and Mom are by my side. They’re yelling,

“No! The baby! You can’t move!”

And I’m thinking,

“The hell I can’t!”

I manage to prop myself up using my left arm. I’m still technically on my left side, but I’m not lying ON the pain anymore. I’m on my left forearm. Wanting to scream bloody murder.

Melinda enters.

This relieves me for a moment. She checks me. And then says something I don’t expect AT ALL in that moment. She says,

“Okay, let’s sit up and have this baby.”

(I will never forget this moment.)

What? What? Now?

This is all I am thinking: Already?!

Ha. Already. That’s hilarious to me now. But that’s what I was thinking. Already. It seemed like only moments before she was in there telling us things were too slow. And here I was ready to have my baby?

By the way, the reason things progressed sooooo quickly (it is later determined) is not because of the Pitocin (not enough was administered) but because Traci emptied my bladder. Apparently my full bladder was in Malcolm’s way. Emptying it gave him the room he needed to continue down the birth canal. And continue he did. At lightening speed.

“You’re going to have to push,” Melinda tells me.

“I CAN’T! IT HURTS TOO MUCH!”

She assures me that the pain in my uterus (the pain window) will go away after only a few pushes. Just then Ken walks in with everything he needs to re-administer the epidural.

He enters. Looks up. Sees Melinda and the light shining between my legs. And realizes that he won’t be re-administering any epidural in Birth Room 6 tonight. It’s clearly go time.

“Get ready,” someone says. And the oxygen mask is placed back on my face.

This is how this looks:

Laurie is holding my right leg up in the air. (Because I’m still on my left side & have no feeling in my legs)

Bob is standing at my head. Holding my hand. He’s next to the fetal monitor.

My mom is at my lower back pushing me so that I stay on my left side and don’t roll onto my back.

Melinda, Laurie & Traci coach me on how to push.

Bob is right next to the monitor so he is the one to tell me when my contraction is starting.

GO!

And I do.

Thank God Melinda was right. The pain window is gone after a few pushes.

Okay. I CAN do this.

Deep breath in. Tuck the chin down. Hold the breath. And push. As long as I can.

I hear my mom say,

“She’s got GREAT lungs!”

I’m determined. This I can do.

This is the final sprint. The finish line is in sight. I’m almost there. I think of cross-country and track and how my final kick was always the strongest part of my race. I can handle the pain in the end. I’m made for this. Completely.

I breathe and I push and I’m totally encouraged on by my team of people surrounding me.

Bob, Mom, Laurie, Melinda, Traci…

“You can do it!”
“Good job!”
“That’s so good! Another one!”

And pretty soon…

“We can see his hair!”
“Do you want to touch his head? Reach down!”

And I do. Apparently I make a grossed-out face.

It’s not long before I hear my team saying:

“We can SEE his head!”

And everyone is more animated now.

Totally excited.

Bob is wide-eyed! I’m pushing with everything I have.

I’m thinking: I’ve totally got this! I’m going to get him out so fast!

I’m also thinking: I have to get him out fast before the epidural wears off!

And: This is my way to end the pain. PUSH. HIM. OUT!

During one contraction I manage FIVE pushes.

Bob is so excited by the progress we’re making. He exclaims,

“Oh my god, Stephie, you’ve never been sexier than you are right now!!”

All the women laugh. Including me. Mid-push. I take the oxygen mask off my face to say,

“Don’t make me laugh while I’m pushing.”

And Bob says,

“I wasn’t trying to make you laugh. I’m totally serious!”

(This becomes one of those moments we re-tell over and over afterwards. Another one I’ll never forget.)

After each push, Malcolm slides back a little. Out a little… and back a little. Out a little more… still back a little. I need a big push to get him out and not have him slide back. I’m determined to get him out.

So I try to make my inhales between pushes as short as possible.

At one point I actually say,

“I’m going to poop him out!”

I KNOW. Gross. But that’s what I was thinking. So I said it. And now I’m telling you. Because I just can’t help myself. And because I think it’s kind of funny. And it’s true. That is how it feels, okay? Come on, ladies. Back me up on this one.

It feels like I’ve been pushing for only ten minutes before Melinda starts saying that I’ve almost got his head out.

Bob continues to call out contractions and also check out the progress down there.

The next never-to-be-forgotten moment happens when Bob exclaims wide-eyed:

“OH MY GOD, STEPHIE! HIS HEAD IS COMING OUT OF YOUR VAGINA!”

I push and I push and I push and I push.

Then I rest. And wait for the next contraction. Gathering myself.

Then I push and I push and I push and I push

And finally…

FINALLY

he crowns.

Ring of Fire

The widest part of his head is there in my vagina IN BETWEEN CONTRACTIONS. So I have to wait. With it there. For like a minute.

If it isn’t clear already… this is by far the most painful part.

But the thing is, it’s moments away from being over. So the pain presents itself very differently. It’s mind-blowingly painful. But totally manageable. If that makes sense. Also… the epidural is still working. So, women who didn’t have an epidural might have (probably, most certainly have) a different experience of this moment.

Anyway… here I am with my baby’s head ready to burst forth into the world.

At this point I can tell when I’m having contractions. At the start of the next one I inhale. Then.

PUSH.

HIM.

OUT!

I hear a chorus of exclamations! Then I hear Melinda:

“Stop pushing.”

She has to suction him as he had expelled his bowels inside of me and his airways need to be aspirated. Something she could tell when she broke my water earlier. She had prepared me for this moment. So there’s no noise. Until she suctions. Then crying.

OH MY GOD.

But still pain.

I push again and he comes out completely.

He’s on my chest before I know it.

Everyone is emotional.

I can’t believe it.

We did it.

And I think I actually say it out loud:

“We did it!”

Time of birth: 1:40 AM on July 29, 2010

The After-Birth

I could stop right here. Because that was the moment. The moment that we brought Malcolm James Walker into the world.

But…

There’s more.

And it’s this part that people don’t usually talk about. And because of that, I didn’t expect it. Which is what made it harder. Which is why I choose to continue the story…

What I don’t expect? The pain.

The awful pain that continues after my son is on my chest. I’m so overwhelmed by the sensations in my body that it’s hard to be present to my little boy. I’m trying. But it’s honestly hard. I need to end the pain first.

“It hurts so much!” I yell.

Time to deliver the placenta.

It hurts much more than I thought it would. Way more. Maybe this is another mental thing… because I had expected the pain to be over once I pushed my baby out. But it’s not.

At some point in there, once the umbilical cord stops pulsing, Bob cuts the cord. There’s talk about how the cord is a very healthy size.

Melinda holds up the placenta to show us what it looks like. Everyone else seems more interested than me.

And I’m noticing the feeling return to my legs.

I’m not sure how long it takes, but the pain subsides enough for me to take in my baby boy.

The first thing I notice is his nose.

“I know that nose,” I tell him.

It’s the same nose that I saw on his ultrasound many months ago.

I notice his fingernails.

“Look at his little nails!”

I notice his feet. They’re so big for such a little guy!

He tries to nurse almost right away. His little legs pushing himself up my chest. Trying to locate my nipple. And I manage to nurse him before he’s even had his first sponge bath. Before he’s even weighed. It’s not perfect. But it works. And I’m relieved because prior to Malcolm’s birth I had been having dreams about this moment… or rather how this moment never happened. In my dreams it would be days after Malcolm’s birth before I realize that I didn’t get to nurse him in the hospital.

So he nurses for just a few moments. Or more. Really, my concept of time at this moment is so far off.

Skin to Skin

Part of my birth plan requests an hour of time for Malcolm, Bob and I to just be skin to skin with the baby immediately following the birth. I had a totally different picture in my head about how that would go.

I thought we’d be all cuddly and relaxed. But again. I didn’t expect the pain. Or the need for stitches. (Only a couple of stitches… due to a “Stage 1 perineal tear.”) Or the multitude of sensations happening in my body. Or the utter exhaustion. So it’s not all cuddly and glorious. It’s awkward and strange.

I nurse him (YES! Success!) and keep him on my chest with Bob by my side for some time (no idea how long.) Just smelling him. Connecting. And then I give him to Bob. Because I’m still not totally present. I need a break. Bob can give him more attention than I can right now. So Bob takes off his t-shirt and puts Malcolm on his chest for some skin to skin, Father/son time.

We just keep saying. He’s perfect. He’s so perfect!

Once he’s cleaned, weighed and measured (none of us can believe he weighed 8lbs, 2 oz!), it’s Grammy Pammie’s (my mom) turn to hold him.

Traci asks Grammy Pammie,

“Do you want me to put a diaper on him first?”

Grammy Pammie says, “No. That’s okay.”

She just doesn’t want to wait a second longer to hold him.

“At least let me put down a blanket,” she says.

And she does. She puts a blanket over Grammy Pammie’s lap.

Do you see where this is leading?

Yes. Malcolm’s first bowel movement outside of the womb was on his grandma. On her white shirt. Black tar meconium poop on Grammy Pammie’s white shirt. Another never-to-be-forgotten moment of hilarity. Traci gives Grammy Pammie a scrub top and she now has that as a souvenir.

Eventually it’s time for Grammy Pammie, Melinda and Laurie to go and get their rest. And to let Bob, Malcolm and I get ours.

It’s somewhere around 3AM.

Malcolm sleeps that night on my chest.

And I’m in heaven.

We did it.

And when I say “We” I so mean WE.

Had it not been for Melinda, I am positive I would have had a C-Section. Her calm and faith in the process is what allowed me to birth Malcolm vaginally… just as was my commitment. Luckily my body cooperated. I always suspected my wide hips were “made for birthing.”

Laurie so completely prepared us for what to expect in the birthing process. And she was there with us every step of the way.

My mom – as always- was my biggest cheerleader. Her presence is so wonderful. Reminding me of my strength and just being there in those moments where I needed my mommy.

Bob, as I said before, was my perfect partner. In every way. I cannot say enough to praise him. He’s amazing!

And Traci– our birth nurse. She was fantastic. We loved her. And we were so lucky that she was working a 12 hour shift that day… she started at 3PM and was off at 3AM. There was a point in the birth process where we worried that Malcolm wouldn’t arrive during her shift given how slowly things were moving. But he did. And we were so glad since she had been there for the entire hospital portion of labor. She was so willing to do all of the post-birth procedures in our room so that Malcolm didn’t have to leave our side for even a moment following his birth.

Though I was hoping for a quick and easy labor without any complications, I have not one single regret about how it all went down. I’m totally nostalgic about it now. I feel proud and strong. Like I can do anything.

I’m in awe of nature.

It’s all so completely surreal.

I look at Malcolm and try to fathom him looking the way he does… inside of me. He actually looked like this inside of me! I actually had a human being inside of me!!! It will never not be surreal.

I could go on an on… (oh, I already have)… but I’ll save more (such as the first week home, etc.) for future posts.

For now, I will wrap this up with a few photos from Malcolm’s first few days of life…

Just Born

Only a couple of hours old

Nap time with Daddy on his cot in Birth Room 6