Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ode to Breastfeeding

Throughout my pregnancy, one of my nagging, back-of-the-mind worries was whether or not I'd be able to breastfeed. At one point in my life, I had both nipples pierced. I removed the piercings a few years ago, and they healed up well, but I was afraid the resulting scar tissue would be in the way and my milk would never flow...

But flow it does! And Aedan is a natural at this nursing thing. And so, every couple of hours, I am obliged to settle myself quietly, usually reclined on the couch with him across my stomach, and engage in the oh so beautiful bonding experience that is breastfeeding.

I can't help but laugh as Aedan hungrily smacks his mouth all over the place, trying to latch on to his hand, my hand, and anywhere on my breast his mouth happens to land. He snorts and grunts like a little piggy until I calmly give him a little bit of direction. Sometimes he gums at my nipple for a bit, too excited to really get things going, but then he gets serious and...ah! he latches. And then he gulps. And gulps. Such a loud swallower as he begins! You can hear him from across the room. He looks up at me as he suckles, his dark grey eyes wide, or sometimes he looks past me, focusing on the muted, late-autumn sunlight that comes through the window. Gradually, his frenzied gulping settles a little, and his eyelids grow heavy. He swallows less frequently, until eventually he stops altogether, my nipple slipping from his mouth. He'll snooze for awhile at my breast, and then wake with a grunt and we begin again on the other side.

I am so in awe of the human body, and of human nature, each time Aedan and I partake in this most natural of functions. I'm amazed that he just knows what to do...the way he kicks his little legs against my stomach, pushing himself up and over towards a breast, or the way he's able to latch on by himself and get the good stuff flowing. The first day, in the hospital, I had different nurses showing me different ways to get him latched. I was holding his head over my breast and all but shoving my nipple in there, always trying to correct. It was frustrating for both of us. Finally, though, I just let him do what he wanted. And, of course, a beautiful latch every time! I'm amazed that my body can produce this most perfect of foods for him, amazed to know that the make-up of my breast milk can change day to day, feeding to feeding, always delivering exactly what he needs. That my body produces more when he's having a growth spurt, and less when things even out, and that my body will keep producing as long as he keeps breastfeeding.

Incredible mother nature!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2 weeks postpartum

Aedan is 2 weeks old today! We also had our first real snowfall today, which I've been secretly anticipating. The ground and the spruce trees are all dusted in white, and there are still little flakes falling.

Back to the baby. He's a pretty wonderful little guy. He's beginning to have more periods of wakefulness. This morning I had him lying on the sheep skin, where he waves his arms and legs around a lot -- just starting to discover that he's got a whole wide world to explore with those limbs! He does lots of looking around, too. He kept craning his neck towards the window, where we could see big, fat flakes of snowing coming down. I flipped him on his tummy for awhile, too. He's already able to lift his head for short periods of time, and he even rolled over! I think it was a fluke, though. We were both pretty surprised.

I'm starting to get the hang of this new home-life. I spend lots of time laid back on the couch with him on my chest, nursing and napping and reading. I'm reading my first ever e-book right now, Elizabeth I by Margaret George. I thought I'd hate an e-reader but I actually quite like it. It makes reading an almost 800 page book with one hand a breeze, that's for sure!

I keep reflecting on how everything happened two weeks ago. How certain things all came together to add up to my particular birth experience. Like finding a house-sit. There is no way I would have laboured as long as I did out of the hospital if I'd been in a hotel. Actually, I think I would have been in the hospital when I first woke up with strong contractions, 10:30 on Monday night. That makes me wonder if things would have happened as fast as they did. I have a feeling that on hospital time, with cervical checks and fetal monitoring, and someone different popping into the room every 20 minutes, things might have happened at a much slower pace.

What really led me to have the experience I did, though, was Asheya's presence. Having a doula there gave me so much confidence to just trust in what my body was doing, to allow everything to progress naturally, and I think it gave P some real confidence, too. Otherwise, we both would have been bumbling around, wondering if what was happening was normal, going back and forth to the hosptial, and ultimately spending way more time there than we actually did.

Must cut my musings short...I haven't mastered the art of nursing in the Moby wrap just yet....

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Birth Story

September 9th. My "expected date of delivery". 40 weeks gestation came and went without any sign of labor. I'd already been in Whitehorse for 2 weeks. P was there, and so were my mother and my sister, Breanne. Waiting. Walking the trails in Whitehorse and waiting. With all of us being away from home, out of our comfort zones and normal routines, this waiting was brought into sharp focus. I kept thinking: a watched pot never boils.

I began to speculate that I might have a full moon baby - the moon was to be full on September 12th. Working in the service industry, I'm well aware of how people are affected differently at this particular moon phase. Women have long tracked their menstrual cycles with the wax and wane of the moon. Why shouldn't that apply to labour and delivery, too? I googled it, and found that although there is no statistical evidence to support the idea, paramedics and L&D nurses will attest to the fact that, yes, there are more babies born on and around the time of the full moon. Go into labour on the 12th, I predicted, and deliver on the 13th.

Sunday, September 11th was my 28th birthday. I woke up to a bit of a "bloody show", a sign that labour could happen anywhere from the next 24 hours to the next week. I let myself be excited, but told myself I could also be in for more waiting.

Mom and Brea and I went for a gentle hike in Miles Canyon, and sat in the sun by the river for awhile, sharing a chocolate bar and marvelling at how clear the water was. That night, the four of us went to Georgio's for dinner to celebrate. I had all my favourites and a glass of red wine, too. Afterwards, I rented "Insidious" in an attempt to scare the baby out of the womb (though, in retrospect, a movie about a little kid who's astral body is held prisoner by a demon trying to possess the boy's physical body is maybe not the best way to entice a baby into the world). Before going to bed that night, I glanced out at the full moon, shining bright in the sky, wondering what the next day would bring.

It wasn't long before I found out. I awoke around 1:30 a.m. on September 12th to mild contractions. Though it was awhile before I actually looked at a clock and timed them, they seemed to be lasting less than a minute, and happening fairly frequently. I lay in bed awhile, contemplating waking up P, breathing through each one and telling myself to relax: things were only just beginning. I decided to have a warm bath, and through each contraction I thought to myself: relax. open. I hadn't planned to use any blossoming flower visualizations, instead I wanted to just be curious about what was happening with my body. I was attentive to each sensation and wondered about the things happening inside of me. After my bath, I lay back down and rested another few hours. I wanted to see if the bath would slow things down, or if labour would continue to progress, which it did. At some point P woke up and I told him that labour had started. Just after 4 am I gave my doula, Asheya, the same head's up, made some toast for myself and, restless, began to pace around the island in the kitchen. I was holding my birth necklace in my hand, touching each bead like a rosary and thinking of the strong women in my life, of all the women who'd done this before me, who were doing it right then at the same time as me.

Asheya came to the house sometime after 8, my mom and Brea a bit later in the morning, and we all just hung out, going for short walks around the neighbourhood. Across the road from where we were staying was an abandoned R.V. park/campground. We did laps around there, going up and down a hill. At the house, I sat on a big exercise ball and rocked back and forth, while Asheya took note of each contraction, reminding me to take deep inhales and let them out slow, and to keep my mouth and face relaxed. We listened to music, Bob Dylan (my biggest craving throughout this pregnancy), Neil Young, and some peaceful, meditative recordings that Asheya brought along. Asheya massaged my feet, paying particular attention to my little toe, an acupressure point thought to stimulate contractions. She massaged my belly, and got P to do it, too. I took a few short naps. I continued to drink water and juice, and to eat light snacks, like fruit and chicken noodle soup, throughout the day.

Despite all of this, things were not speeding up. Contractions continued to last no longer than 45 or 50 seconds, and were coming 10 to 15 minutes apart. Asheya, my mom and my sister all decided to leave for awhile. After they left, I baked a chocolate birthday cake for my baby, pausing to breathe through each contraction. P and I made love, slept for an hour or so, and then went for a walk in the woods. Sometimes I thought the contractions seemed a bit stronger, but overall, I felt like there was no change. Back at "home", I lay with my head in P's lap, feeling discouraged. Asheya told me that some women can labour like this for days, and I feared that would be the case with me, too. I called mom and Brea and told them I didn't think anything was going to happen that night, that I'd call them in the morning. I called Asheya and told her things hadn't stopped, but that they certainly weren't speeding up, either. Finally, around 9 pm, I lay down to sleep for the night.

At about 10:30 that night, I woke up to a much stronger contraction. It lasted longer than they had been all day, and was followed by another one in a shorter amount of time (again, I wasn't really watching a clock). I tried to rest a bit more but couldn't sleep through them, so I got up to pace around the kitchen a little. I put on some soft nature sounds and rocked on the ball. The contractions continued at the same intensity and pace: longer, stronger and closer together. During each one I thought to myself: long and strong. Around 11:30 I called Asheya and told her I thought labour was picking up. She arrived around midnight.

I let P sleep a bit longer while Asheya and I hung out in the lamp-lit living room, me rocking on the ball while Asheya timed my contractions, which were coming every 2-3 minutes, each one just over a minute in length. The next time that I peed, there was more blood-tinged mucous. The "bloody show" continued with the contractions, at times bright red, causing me to worry a bit. Asheya called the midwife she normally works with, who assured us that everything was most likely okay. Throughout this time, I continued to feel my baby move regularly.

1:15 am. P is awake by now. I hurried to the bathroom and threw up. At this point I was feeling increasing pressure in my lower back and butt, and beginning to vocalize during my contractions. I was spending more time in the bathroom now, standing against the washing machine, Asheya behind me and massaging my lower back through contractions, helping me to rock my hips back and forth, telling me to o-o-o-pen for my baby. I was vocalizing regularly at this point, trying hard to breathe through each contraction and to stay relaxed, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. The sensation of pressure was intense, and I was also starting to feel an urge to bear down through the contractions. Asheya and I figured I was most likely in transition, and she said we could go to the hospital any time I liked. I was feeling good labouring where I was, and I think at this point the contractions were happening so frequently that I couldn't imagine getting into a car.

At about 1:45, Asheya suggested I try a warm shower. This felt good, and was relaxing, but the hot water ran out before long. I got out of the shower and Asheya helped me to dry off, and I continued labouring against the washing machine. The urge to bear down was overwhelming. I remember being acutely aware of my cervix, like I could feel it stretching and opening the last few centimeters. In retrospect, I realize this was most likely my baby's head beginning to emerge. At 2:10 am, I decided it was time to go to the hospital. P grabbed our bags and called my mom and sister, and we ran out the door.

I had another strong contraction up against the car, and the fingers on my left hand got slammed in the door when it fell shut -- I hardly felt it! Asheya and I got into the back seat, with me kneeling facing backwards, Asheya always a calm presence beside me, massaging my back and reminding me to breathe. In the car, my contractions seemed to be on top of each other and I was bearing down through all of them, feeling lots of pressure in my butt and in my vagina, too. Still that strange awareness of my cervix, a feeling of being stretched.

At about 2:35 am, we pulled up to the front doors of the hospital. I looked at Asheya and said "I think I feel something coming out!" In a calm voice, she told me I was probably just pooing. "No!" I said. "I think it's the baby!" I reached into my pants to feel...I touched something warm and soft and squishy, and most definitely too large to be a poo. I asked Asheya to feel, and together we pulled my pants down a bit. "That's a head! You're having your baby!" I remember eyes: Asheya and I looking at each other, wide eyed, as we realized what was happening, and then, looking down between my legs in the dim of the car--his eyes. Seeming just as surprised as Asheya and I, big dark eyes looking back at me. With the next contraction, his body was delivered, and Asheya helped me to unzip my hoody and pull up my shirt so I could bring him up to my chest. As soon as I lifted his tiny, slippery little body, he cried. He looked healthy, and continued to cry a bit as I held him awkwardly to me.

I remember the doctors,  nurses and paramedics gathering around my door, passing in blankets to cover him. They asked me if I'd had a boy or a girl, but at this point I hadn't checked. There was some discussion over cutting the cord and whether or not I'd delivered the placenta--I had not. I told them I wanted to wait until the cord stopped pulsing, and then they clamped it and cut it. I was bleeding quite a bit, but I didn't really notice any of this. I remember smiling at P through the car window, and seeing my mom and my sister standing out there, too. And, of course, I remember this tiny, brand-new human being snuggled to my body. I remember feeling incredulous that I'd just delivered my own baby in the backseat of a car. Mine were the first hands to touch his perfect little body, I was the one who first lifted him up and held him to my breast. Writing this now, I recall all of those hippy birth stories I read in "Spiritual Midwifery", and how I giggled the women describing their experiences as mind-blowing, far-out, psychedelic head trips. And I totally understand. That was by far the biggest trip of my life.

Eventually I was transferred onto a stretcher and wheeled up to the maternity ward, my baby still on my chest. I'd had a look by then, and told everyone that I'd had a boy. In the room, I delivered the placenta. While the doctor and resident stitched up a minor tear, I held my boy to my breast, where he rooted around, nuzzling at my nipple. He made little grunts and squawks, wide eyed and alert, and around 4 am he finally latched on and breastfed for the first time. At this time I also received a shot of Pitocin in my arm, because I was bleeding enough to cause some concern for the doctor and nurse. Between the Pitocin and my baby breastfeeding, the bleeding slowed. The doctors, nurses, my mom, sister and Asheya eventually left, and P and I were finally alone to marvel at our tiny son.

Aedan Brennan Lorne McDonagh, 6 lbs, was born on September 13th, at 2:35 a.m., in the light of the full moon.