All of Us

All of Us

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Becoming a Mother

We had always planned to have children, but were completing graduate school first. As my birthday in August of 1991 approached, I was suddenly overcome with the feeling that I should have a child. I kept teasing Daryl, saying, "I'm 27 and childless." Our first child was conceived about 2 weeks later.

We were living in Syracuse, NY, a town where we had no family and a few acquaintances. We'd moved there for Daryl to complete his postdoctoral fellowship at Syracuse University. Shortly after our arrival in Syracuse, I'd discovered I was pregnant. We were thrilled. We had always had the nagging fear that we would have trouble conceiving, yet had succeeded on our first try!

I was underemployed as a social worker for the Salvation Army, a job that I not only didn't enjoy, but paid about 40% less than my previous position as a Public Health Program Manager and grant writer for the City of Detroit. Although I had always assumed I would work most of my life, during my pregnancy I became certain that I both wanted and needed to stay home with my baby. The feeling was both overwhelming and certain. Unfortunately, we had a lot of student loan debt and needed my income, since Daryl's trainee position didn't pay well. We had enough savings for me to stay home for several months past my maternity leave, and the Salvation Army granted unpaid leaves of absence, but I was refused one on the grounds that I hadn't worked there long enough to deserve one. They had no written policy on this, but since I had been pregnant but not yet showing at my interview and very noticeably pregnant on my first day on the job 6 weeks later, I had been viewed with suspicion and subjected to some harassment. My supervisors were sure that I planned to quit working after I had the baby, and accused me of having a poor attitude.

Several weeks before the baby was due, Daryl was invited to Arizona State University to interview for a tenure track faculty position. He was chosen from a pool of 350 applicants and offered the job. His professional salary would be about what we'd been earning combined, so I wouldn't have to find another job.

It was a week past my due date. I went to bed at 11pm, and the baby began kicking vigorously and would not stop. After a while, I got up and did some stretches. I began having some contractions. Around midnight I got D. out of bed and we started timing them. When they got to be about 5 minutes apart, we went to the birth center. It was 5am. They said I was in labor, but not active enough yet, and sent me home with instructions to take a nap. I took a bath and laid down, but just could not sleep through the contractions. They weren't really painful, but definitely noticeable.

We went out and walked around town, had lunch, browsed a bookstore and went to my weekly prenatal appointment. I was seeing an obstetrician named Pierre Rizk, who was head of obstetrics at the hospital. He had a solo practice and was unfortunately at this time out the country, visiting his native Lebanon. A colleague was seeing his patients for him. He examined me, promclaimed me 4cm, and said, "You will have a baby tonight."

By dinner time the contractions were getting stronger, so I only ate a yogurt. Daryl went for a run, and when he got back we went back to the birth center. This time they admitted me. Around 10pm the doctor on call came in to check on me. He suggested that I take a sleeping pill and a small shot of morphine to dim the contractions a little and try to sleep, knowing I had been up all night the previous night and had not slept all day. He said if I could sleep for just a couple of hours it would be helpful, and maybe things would progress while I was sleeping. I was exhausted and this sounded like a good idea. I took the medication and laid down. D. laid down with me since there was a double bed in the room, and we turned out the lights. Immediately the contractions seemed to get stronger, and within a half hour my water broke--a huge gush. I buzzed for the nurse and she came and helped me change and changed the bed. I laid down again, but now the contractions were much too strong to even think about sleeping through. Unfortunately, the medication left me rather woozy, and their rule was that I could not walk unaccompanied until it wore off, which they estimated would take about 4 hours.

The nurses walked me up and down the hall endless times, got me in and out of the bathtub, had me squatting, etc. By 9am I was about 9cm and not at all stretchy. I had been at 9 for a while. The baby was high, at -5 station. The doctor on call was now the one I'd seen in the office the day before. He suggested that I go into the hospital, which adjoined the birth center, and have pitocin. I really wanted to deliver at the birth center and he said I could come back there for recovery. He said, "You should be fully dilated within an hour." Again, this sounded great. I was REALLY tired and wanted it to be over.

When they began the pitocin, I requested pain medication, which they put in my IV, because I was seated in a bed/chair attached to an IV and a monitor. At some point the nurses came and got Daryl, saying we had phone call at the desk. It was his parents, calling on behalf of themselves and my parents. We had called them when we left the house the second time, and after such a long time and no word, they were worried. He assured them that the baby and I were OK and hurried back to me. Around 2pm the doctor returned. He said that in view of the fact that nothing had changed, he was now recommending a c-section. He said that neither the baby or I was in distress, and that I was welcome to continue trying, but after this amount of time had passed with no progress, he felt it was unlikely that I would dilate the rest of the way. By this point I was totally out of it. My eyes kept rolling back into my head involuntarily. After 2 entirely sleepless nights, I was at the end of my rope. Although I had wanted Daryl to support and encourage me to have the baby naturally, at this point I wanted to quit and I hoped he wouldn't try to talk me out of it or be disappointed. The doctor left the room to let us discuss it and when I said I wanted to go ahead and have the c-section, he immediately agreed.

They turned off the pitocin and began preparing me for surgery. At this point the contractions had entirely stopped. I commented on this to the nurse and she said that happens sometimes when the uterine muscle just poops out from overwork. The other interesting thing was that there must not have been much amniotic fluid remaining, because instead of a round belly, you could now see the outline of the baby perfectly.

They gave me a spinal and did the surgery. It was very quick, and I only felt a pulling sensation. Daryl stood up and was looking over the curtain they had put up, but they asked him to sit back down. They were concerned that he might faint, not knowing he had performed many animal surgeries. When they pulled him out, they exclaimed at his size, and he screamed REALLY loud. It echoed in the operating room. He weighed 10lbs., 2oz. and had a ridge in his forehead where he had been stuck on my pubic bone. Since he wasn't pressing on my cervix I wasn't able to fully dilate, in fact it's surprising I got as far as I did.

They showed him to me, wrapped him up and gave him to Daryl to hold while they stitched me up. Then I went to the recovery room where we called our parents. At this point I was in and out of consciousness. I remember holding him, but can't believe they let me!

I never had any pain from the incision, nor did I have the bad gas pains some people get after abdominal surgery. The nurses commented on the fact that I wasn't using any of the self-administered morphine, but it just didn't hurt. I was hungry, but I was only allowed flat soda. I went to bed around 7pm, and I remember how very nice the nurse was to me. She helped me brush my teeth and rubbed my back with some lotion. She said I was supposed to get out of bed, but she was satisfied with seeing me sit up and dangle my legs over the side of the bed. The nursery was great about bringing my baby to me every time he cried, not giving him pacifiers or sugar water or formula per my request.

Unfortunately, I developed a spinal headache the next day. Now in addition to residents in several specialties coming in and asking me if I passed gas every few minutes, I had anesthesiology residents quizzing me on the qualities of my headache, when exactly it began, etc. Apparently this complication is fairly rare these days with improved techniques, around 2%. They started me on IV fluids and liquid caffeine drinks, both believed to speed spinal healing. When that didn't work, they prescribed Percoset.

I had requested a private room, but they didn't have any available, so they put me in a double with no roommate. On my third day there, I got a roommate. She was still pregnant and having complications. She was had a fetal monitor on, and the TV on (you had to pay to use it and I had not been watching prior to her arrival), and enjoyed talking on the phone. After several hours the noise was driving me crazy, and a private room had opened up, so they moved me. It was torture because they had to move my entire bed, and remove the clean bed that was in the room, which took some manuevering, during which time I was sitting in a chair. Any time I was not absolutely prone, the pain in my head was intolerable.

The food in the hospital was truly awful, and D. was bringing me carryout for most meals. He was working some, but spending a lot of time at the hospital.

By the morning of the fifth day in the hospital, I was despondent. I just wanted to go home. In addition, my ears had begun ringing. My doctor had returned from Lebanon and was not pleased to see the condition I was in. When I complained that my ears were ringing, he said, "That's because they are drugging you!" He explained that their reluctance to more aggressively treat me was in part due to the fact that they were reluctant to admit the mistake had been made. He also said that I could not go home because I could not take care of my baby in my current condition, which was true. He was angry, and marched off to talk with the anesthesiology staff. A short while later, the nurses informed me that they would be coming to get me soon to perform a blood patch, a procedure the nurses thought should have been done much sooner. It involves drawing some blood and injecting it into the spinal cord, where it will usually clot over the hole. Once spinal fluid is no longer leaking, the headache goes away. There is always the risk that they will create another hole, which is why they try other less invasive techniques first.

The procedure was quick and painless. I was soon back in my room and my head still hurt. I was worried because they promised instant results. Daryl brought some lunch and I was able to angle myself up a little bit to eat, something I'd previously been unable to do, and believe me it's hard to eat every meal laying down. By the time we were done eating, I could feel that the pain was subsiding, was almost gone, yet there was another feeling, which I would describe as the memory of the pain. It was as though I could still feel the pain but it no longer hurt. Soon I was able to get out of bed and go to the nursery and get my baby. The nurses cheered when they saw me in the hall. Later that afternoon we all went home.

Daryl, who had been unsure about my decision to stay home with our baby, felt much differently once he'd arrived. He told me he felt that no one else was good enough to care for him.

Once home, we had to learn to be parents. The nurses had done all of the baby care at the hospital, which used cloth diapers. It took both of us and many wipes to successfully change the first diaper at home. I was also struggling with breastfeeding. It took 8-10 tries to get him latched on at each feeding, amidst a lot of crying from both of us. My parents arrived after we'd been home for 2 days, and it was wonderful. They were helpful and good company. Daryl was now back at work full time. My parents stayed a week, and I began to cry the night before they left. I cried all day the next day after they left and kept crying into the evening. I went to bed early, but was unable to sleep. I felt so alone. I heard Daryl talking to my parents on the phone when they called to say they'd arrived home safely, and he told them he was concerned about me, that I wasn't coping very well.

The next day 2 things happened that helped a lot. My mother suggested I call my doctor about how blue I was feeling, and I did. They weren't very helpful, but they did give me the number for the lactation consultant at the hospital. I made an appointment with her and she was wonderful. Of course I was able to latch him on easily in her office, so she coudn't see the problem, but she was very sympathetic and encouraging. I told her how a perfect pregnancy had turned into a nightmare delivery and recovery. She reinforced that I was doing a good job taking care of my baby and breastfeeding him. More than breastfeeding help, she gave me confidence that I badly needed. I also talked to my mother-in-law, who suggested that we drive home for the family reunion that weekend, which we weren't planning to attend since it was a 9 hour drive. When Daryl came home, I told him what she'd said, and he went out and rented a car for us to drive home in the next day. We had a tiny hatchback and he thought I'd want to ride in back with the baby so I'd be more comfortable in a bigger car.

By the time we got to Michigan, my breastfeeding difficulties had begun to diminish, and it was a lot of fun to show off a new baby and have everyone make a fuss over me. Daryl went home after the reunion, but I stayed a week and my in-laws drove me home.

I had a meeting with my boss near the end of my maternity leave. To my surprise, she offered to let me have the unpaid leave, since the agency was undergoing some financial struggles at that time and wanted to save some money. To her surprise, I quit!

Upon my return to Syracuse, it was time to get ready to move to Arizona. Our lives went through so many changes in such a short time. Becoming a mother was the most glorious of those changes.

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SE Michigan, United States
Mother to 10 fabulous kids, ages 4 to 21 years! Married for 26 years to my best friend.

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