Almost there...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Three weeks and counting...

Erik took Athena this morning while I lounged in bed and read a book uninterrupted for over an hour, followed by a lovely late lunch out at La Pinata with Erik and Athena, followed by lounging with a sleepy baby on my lap while watching Warehouse 13. Not a bad way to celebrate our first three weeks.

So this baby thing is going pretty darned well. Athena Eleanor is an easy baby to get along with for a large percentage of the time. Just don't ask her to change clothes, because sleeves are the tools of the devil. From the first days home, she would surprise me by sleeping for four hours uninterrupted. Sometimes it's five hours. I never expected to be this well-rested, but we get one longish stretch a night, followed by another 2-3 hour stretch, and I'm feeling much less strung out than I expected. Sleep is a magical tool.

She's also taken to breastfeeding like a champ. We had some problems at first with her being too sleepy to eat much, and before the milk really came in, she got really hungry. It was a bleak night when I sat up with her from 2-6 a.m., her inconsolable because she was hungry, me unable to do much about it, and the propaganda saying, "colostrum is all the baby needs for the first few days." Well screw that. Baby was hungry and thirsty and unhappy and Similac and Enfamil had both sent us sample formula which I was now very grateful to have in the closet. Erik's alarm went off at 6 and I asked him to put some together for her and I'd feed it to her with a syringe. A milliliter later, she'd gone from inconsolable to sleeping soundly. Sure, I'd just contaminated my perfect baby with the evils of formula, but she was happy and that's all that really matters. And during the course of the next day or so, my milk arrived and this became a non-issue.

There I was, Erik at work and I'm trying to figure out how to pump (to encourage that milk supply), but really needing a third arm. You're supposed to somehow be able to hold two cones perfectly centered on each breast, then press a button on the machine, then adjust the suction with another button on the machine. And oh by the way, this is having never done this before because this is not something you can practice in advance. While trying to figure this out, I got a text from Rachel asking if I needed any help. Yes! Oh yes please! She came by, pressed the buttons for me, and took photos of Athena. It's amazing what she can capture. I'm consistently amazed at her skill and vision.

We lived our first week at home day by day. Tuesday evening, Alex and Sherman stopped by. We went to Kaiser on Wednesday for a weigh-in and nursing check and she hadn't gained back enough weight yet, so they wanted to see her again on Friday.  Wednesday evening, Fred, Malaya, and Mira came by, officially kicking off our food train. On Friday, I was amazed at how much better I felt as I trudged back across the parking lot at Kaiser. Athena had gained four ounces in 2 days, which is well above the 1/2 to 1 ounce expectation. They pronounced us good and told us we needn't come back til her first pediatric visit next week. We'd made it to the weekend, and Erik's mom was due to arrive on Tuesday evening.

Erik doesn't get maternity leave right now as it's not really like he can just bail on his class. He gets 2 "personal days" to take off during the year, so he used one of those to stay with us in the hospital on the Monday after she arrived, but it was straight back to work for him, Monday through Thursday with a class (lab) starting at 8 a.m. We've settled into a nice routine of me staying up with the girl til she's ready to sleep, and him sleeping. Then I get up when she rouses, nurse again, and go back to sleep with her. Then I get up in the late morning with her again. If Athena needs extra support or I need an extra pair of hands, then I wake Erik, but mostly, he's gotten some half-way decent sleep most days. Then there are the exception days.

Sometimes she's not a perfect angel. Sometimes she utterly refuses to sleep. After hours of nursing, feeding from pumped, and sometimes even formula to supplement, she won't relax and let go. Swinging won't tempt her to sleepytime. The bassinet is clearly a torture chamber. And inevitably, just as she starts drifting off, we hear the tell-tale blast of poop on diaper, inevitably starting the cycle all over again as she's stripped down to too chilly to enable the diaper change and reassembled. Those are the hard nights. But most of the time, so long as she's warm and well-fed, she goes to sleep sometime between 1 and 2 a.m.

On Tuesday, Erik's mom arrived. She'd originally planned for a shorter stay, but the moment Athena was born, she went to reschedule her flight to arrive earlier. Erik's mom is pretty cool. She's a fountain of energy and reminds me a lot of my grandmother when she was her age. On her first day, she cleaned our bathroom. The next day she vacuumed. The next day she dusted. Then she did laundry. Meanwhile, she cooked yummy turkey meatloaf and loved holding the baby. I shuffled around and got a few things done and it was great. We took Athena out to Trader Joe's and Target on Thursday. She likes her car seat so she slept like an angel the whole time. We even walked from the TJ's all the way down to the Target at the far end of the shopping center and back, me enjoying stretching my legs, and Athena sleeping in her carseat on stroller. On Saturday, Erik's stepdad, Rich, also arrived from Cape Cod. My Grandmother was having a birthday, so my mom drove her and grandpa down for birthday lunch with her great-granddaughter. Karen (Erik's mom) made us stuffed chicken with roasted veggies and rice with spinach salad and ciabatta. I baked a berry/peach pie on Friday (since my grandmother shares my lack of love for cake). After lunch, we all shuffled over to Kevin and Rachel's place for a quick photo shoot because my mom wanted to capture the four generations in a photo.

Sunday, we tried to walk over to Naglee Garage for brunch, but got a late start and arrived about 45 minutes before they were due to close and found that they were actually out of food early. We regrouped and headed to dim sum at Dynasty instead. Karen and Rich had never done dim sum, so that was a new experience for them. Once again, Athena sleep peacefully in her carseat perched on the stroller. After lunch, we came back and took care of Athena's needs, and eventually made it back out for a stroll around the Japanese Garden in San Jose and finished the day with meatloaf sliders and various other leftovers.

Karen and Rich were heading home Tuesday morning, so we had a lovely lunch of Thai Pepper and dinner of burritos, and with one last bottle of breast milk, Karen said her teary goodbyes to her first grandchild. We expect she'll be back before too long.

So, after the whirlwind of the first two weeks, we made it through the rest of the next week one day at a time. Friends brought us food, so we never went hungry. We did more laundry than seems possible. Having a child is clearly the least eco-friendly thing I've ever done as we are also keeping the house at 72 degrees for Athena's sake. Our hands are dry from so much handwashing of bottles and breast pump and from keeping our hands washed so frequently. Erik came down with a cold, but neither Athena nor I got it. Hopefully she inherits my immune system because I tend to dodge most of the bugs that hit everyone else. Luckily, this cold didn't get too bad, but we learned that Athena's least favorite sound is Daddy's cough. Erik spent most of the week sleeping in the guest room so that when he woke up coughing, he would neither wake her nor manage to cough in her face or mine. By the weekend, we were ready for a fairly mellow time, save for missing our annual trip to Dundracon. As our friends converged in San Ramon, we sat on the sofa watching Warehouse 13.

In general, I like to prepare for upcoming challenges. I prepared for sleep deprivation, no showers, cold food, screaming baby, and being covered in spit-up. Sure, a lot of that has happened, but not with the frequency I expected, and I've managed to get a shower every day so far. I have no idea how people do this as a single parent (or with twins). Without Erik to hand her off to, I'd be drowning, but he's a willing participant and so far, this just isn't as bad as I was prepared for. By setting my expectations low, I've managed to feel like I'm doing alright with this whole thing.  Life is weird and very different (she says as she types while pumping her breasts), but it's not overwhelming. And there are other things that I expected to be far harder. A week after giving birth, I felt pretty good so long as I kept up on ibuprofen. And two weeks after giving birth, the weirdest thing of all was that I'd lost all my pregnancy weight gain. After all the water drained from my legs, suddenly, I was 30 pounds lighter. Of course, though I'm currently about a pound less than when I started this process, I wouldn't say that weight is anything like the weight I had before. My legs look positively skinny now and my middle is squishy and stretched, and that speaks to a lot of loss of muscle mass as I've been sitting on my butt for two months straight. No Irish dance. No polkas. No climbing the stairs of the Clark Center. I'm an awfully flabby 30 pounds lighter. We'll fix that. And maybe, just maybe, I can peel off another 10 pounds and get to my goal weight from before this adventure began. I'm certainly a lot closer than I expected to be at this point. I've climbed up the attic last week to swap the clothes in my closet. Suddenly v-neck shirts with stretch are significantly more valuable than all other clothes as they work for breastfeeding. All the turtlenecks have been banished til next winter.

This weekend, I plan on missing the Gaskell Ball. I'm sending Erik to teach the class and host the ball, but Athena's immune system is just too immature to face 200-300 people in a room during cold and flu season. Hopefully I'll get a trip out to Friday Night Waltz the following week to make up for it (as I'm dying to learn the Peanut Butter Jelly Time dance). Word is, she needs to be kept out of crowded places for the first six to eight weeks, but after that, expect us to be back. Lord knows I need the exercise.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Delivering Athena

The baby is asleep in her bassinet. The in-laws are out getting dinner at El Sabroso. I've just had a fruity rum drink. All is right in the world.

Let's back up a bit shall we?

Two weeks ago, in a nearly cinematic quality event, Miss Athena Eleanor Woodbury arrived. I was making matzo ball soup, having given up on having a baby especially soon, planning to hit Friday Night Waltz later that evening, when suddenly my water broke. They tell you that it won't be like the movies. There won't be a sudden gush. There won't be a puddle.  But she had other ideas. She was still riding high (relatively) and when things gave out, she didn't plug the leak, and suddenly, my underwear, my tights, my pants, and the floor were covered in amniotic fluid. I waddled over to the toilet and told Erik to call Kaiser. Just a little freaked out, but ready. She was due officially on January 26th according to Kaiser, had been given a January 23rd due date by my OB/GYN, but was predicted for January 27th on the internet. It was the evening of Friday, January 27th, and things were kicking off. On the plus side, if she held out til 8 a.m., my OB/GYN would be on duty at Kaiser. Calling Kaiser led to a recommendation to be in around 9ish, depending on how things were going. I decided to take it easy, take a shower, get into some fresh clothes, wash the now saturated clothes, finish the episode of Warehouse 13 we were watching, and saunter in to the hospital around 9:30.

Meanwhile, the contractions that had been "Braxton-Hicks" style contractions were indeed getting stronger. Still, it was less bad than a bad menstrual cycle. They shuffled me into an observation room, asked me to pee in a cup, and took my blood pressure. Unfortunately, it was high, and the urine sample had +1 protein. This combination leads to folks being concerned about pre-eclampsia. They wanted to start me on a magnesium sulfate IV. They wanted to get a better sample though before proceeding. So, we moved on into a labor and delivery room since I had most assuredly broken my water and this all had to happen sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, contractions were coming quickly and getting more painful. By 1 a.m., I was no longer feeling especially patient and asked them to check how far along I was. The disappointing answer was, "About 4 cm." Oh god. Okay. So, all hope of super-speedy like Mom's delivery went out the door. I said, "I want drugs." We started with a little Fentenyl. That wasn't much help. Then the CRNA came to give me an epidural. That's when things went wrong. She wanted to raise the bed up to about four feet high, wanted me to bend over with my feet dangling and my arms forward, and then arch my back while sitting on the very edge of the bed. I was having real trouble doing what she asked because my belly was pushing against my thighs in the position she wanted. I asked to pull my legs out of the way. She said no. I tried putting my hands behind me to push down and get some leverage. That was unacceptable. I tried putting my feet on Erik's thighs. Nope, not okay. I tried bending over as hard as I could, but that wasn't good enough. Eventually, I was in tears, and she said, "Well, you know this is totally optional. If you can't do this, then you don't have to." She was impatient. I was frustrated. I'd watched videos online to get prepared for this, and all of them had the woman on her side. I asked about changing to that position and she said that I might end up paralyzed. Um... okay... So we sent her away, and I figured I'd practice the position she wanted and try to figure out how to do it and eventually it'd work out or I'd get through the rest of labor the old fashioned way and I wouldn't need it. We spent the next two hours struggling with a TENS unit, Fentenyl, and natural childbirth methods. The contractions were coming every two minutes and lasting for a minute, so there was very little time to rest and figure things out. Erik pressed into my hips, which gave enough relief to not completely fall apart, but I couldn't imagine us doing this for another 10-20 hours.

Luckily, our nurse, Catherine, was a saint. She spoke to the attending doc about the situation at some point in between helping me practice positions, helping me calm down and stop crying, and providing Fentenyl every hour or so. She explicitly said that she wanted me to be more comfortable by the time she left for the day. The attending stopped by and suggested getting another anesthetist, the attending anesthetist in fact. Catherine said that if she were doing this, Jason, the attending, would be the person she'd want. So they called him down and he came in and worked magic. I asked if I could put my knee up to make room for my belly. "No problem." I asked if I could put my foot on Erik for a little leverage. "Sure. That's fine." He spent a lot of time reassuring me that I was not doing it horribly wrong and that he was not going to paralyze me and that I was not going to mess him up as he did this. About this time, I realized what a bitch the other anesthetist had been. We should have told her to take a hike right off the bat and get someone in there who knows how to do their job. Oh well. Doesn't matter. What did end up happening was that Jason made it all better, and I was exhausted. It was nearly 6 a.m., and suddenly, the wracking pain of the last few hours was gone. I was asleep in no time at all.

By 10 a.m., we'd had a good rest and we figured we should check in with the staff. I'd been expecting to see Dr. Nguyen any time, but he hadn't popped in. Turns out, they were all waiting for us to wake up and say we were ready. He'd just been called in for a delivery, but should be out in the next 30-45 minutes. Okay, we'll wait. Unfortunately, 45 minutes stretched to two hours. When he arrived, we found what was expected - that labor had slowed with the epidural. He prescribed a little Pitocin to speed things along. I had been pretty set against Pitocin, but with the epidural, it just didn't matter as much. Things got moving again, and within a few hours, we were ready to go.

I don't know why, but when they told me the average length for the pushing phase was two hours, I just felt like I'd been slapped with a fish. Two hours? Really? I can't do this for two hours!!! So, I didn't. I did it for just about one hour. With Dr. Nguyen and a resident, Dr. Vivian Lei (no, really), delivering the little space alien at 5:18 p.m. on January 28th. They then sewed up my second degree tear (not so bad, but not great), I was once again intensely grateful for the epidural. I have been dutifully following Magenta's advice to "don't look" ever since. Eventually, weeks from now, I'll look at what is going on down there, but for right now, we just rinse, blot, and apply a new pad and don't look. It'll all be fine. Women do this all the time.

Meanwhile, there was this amazing, perfect little baby girl lying on my chest. She wasn't all gross. She wasn't shaped like a space alien. She wasn't red and wrinkly. She wasn't freaky and weird. She was looking at me, wondering what the hell just happened, and why was it so comparatively bright and cold. But really, mere minutes after delivery, she looked like a baby rather than what I'd been told to expect. She sat with me for an hour and a half before I gave her up to be weighed and measured and vaccinated and checked. She was perfect. She scored a 9 on both APGAR tests. She was 7 pounds, 12 ounces and 20 inches long. And with the sole exception of the unfortunate anesthetist, the whole experience had gone swimmingly well. The staff were amazing and I felt well-cared for and like I could have had any birth experience I'd wanted.

After a while, we called Kevin and Rachel and had them come by with our pending dinner order. After months of avoiding deli meats and sprouts, a sandwich from Erik's Deli Cafe was at the top of my list. They came by, bringing me a bucket of Diet Coke to go with it, and took a few pictures of our wee miss in her freshly minted glory. Then we moved across the hall just in time for my mom to arrive from Sacramento. Eventually, we settled in for the night with a little girl who wasn't ready to sleep just yet. She'd had an exciting day and just wanted to look around and be held. 

Weeks ago, Erik turned to me in bed and said, "I'm thinking Athena Eleanor." I said, "That's funny. I'm thinking Eleanor Athena." With a shrug and little else said, we knew we were close to deciding on a name. When she arrived, she was the picture of a fully-formed and somewhat magical creature. I decided that I'd gotten the One-Child Compromise, and gotten my wish for a girl, so if all Erik wanted was Athena as a first name rather than the middle name, then he could win that one. So, she became Athena Eleanor Woodbury the very next morning.