Monday, January 30, 2012

The best postpartum gifts

We have continued to be incredibly fortunate to have the most generous family and friends in the world. Before visitors arrive or friends from far away are in touch, everyone wants to know what they can bring. I've been impressed with not only the generosity but also creativity of these visitors and subsequently awesome gift bearers. Because pre-baby I always struggled with what to give someone who's just had a baby (I hate being a redundant gift giver) I thought I'd share with you some of the cool items we've been appreciating lately.

The obvious one is home-cooked meals. Particularly thoughtful friends have spent time researching good foods for breastfeeding moms. As a result we've had some great dinners delivered to us including steak and peppers, Greek salad with chicken, chicken pot pie, brown-sugar marinated chicken and rice, lentil stew, veggie stew, meatball soup, turkey meatloaf...just to name a few. Friends have also delivered awesome sides and desserts such as corn muffins, blueberry muffins (a great breakfast treat), whoopie pies, brownie/cookie bars, and lactose-free brownies (for Matt's diet). Seeing as I can use plenty of calories, I've been thoroughly enjoying some extra dessert as well!

Other awesome gifts include:
Personalized items containing Natalie's name -- since we kept her name a secret from the world, it's been fun to receive in the mail several items containing her name or initials.

Newborn clothing -- we underestimated how much newborn clothing we would need, and with the exception of one outfit, we did not receive any gifts of newborn clothing before Natalie was born. So, it's been great to receive a few sets of footed zipper onesies (the easiest thing to clothe a baby in during the day) and newborn gowns (the easiest thing to clothe a baby in during the night -- makes late-night diaper changes quite simple!). One discovery: Carter's newborn clothing has fit our baby perfectly; the Circo brand at Target has been slightly bigger.

Diapers -- we're going to switch to our cloth Bum Genius 4.0 diapers once Natalie is closer to 12 pounds. Seeing as that will take a while, for now we are using the Pampers Swaddlers that everyone, including the hospital staff, seems to prefer. The 90 diapers we got sent home with from the hospital lasted for about 10 days, and now we've been digging into the massive supply some of our friends brought us last week. Also, on a related note: wipes! These are another item everyone has to have on hand, and we went through 72 wipes in 6 days (since then I think we have learned how to better use the wipes so we can now be more conservative with wipe use).

Magazines/books/Kindle gift cards -- My awesome friend who came to the hospital to be with Matt and me during discharge (aka the worst moment of my life as we left Natalie in the NICU) came bearing about 6 magazines ranging from People and Us Weekly to Real Simple and Vogue. In case you were wondering, this is an amazing arsenal of magazines to have on hand while breastfeeding or waiting for your baby to fall asleep in your arms. I'm also taking full advantage of my new Kindle and trying to read uplifting, hilarious works. This week's pick was Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Office writer and generally funny lady Mindy Kaling (I have a thing for women in comedy). It also happens to be this month's book club read.

Candles -- this is a special request I gave a group of girlfriends who visited the other week. Because I'm adjusting to my new lifestyle of spending most of my waking hours at home as opposed to most of my waking hours at work, I'm loving creating a peaceful, soothing environment here. That means keeping some candles burning as often as possible. It's one thing I did not think to stock up on pre-baby. Another item that goes with this: candle lighters, which for me means one for each level of the house.

Comfortable, breastfeeding-friendly clothes -- OK, this is one I bought for myself, but I was thrilled to have one of my best friends along with me for the shopping excursion I went on about a day after arriving home from the hospital, while Natalie was still in the NICU. We went to Target and Destination Maternity (which is a combo A Pea in the Pod [expensive maternity store] and Motherhood Maternity [pedestrian maternity store] housed under one roof down the street from my house). At Target I got the world's most comfortable robe (with the world's biggest robe pockets, which are large enough to house a Kindle, an iPhone and several baby bottles) and a couple on-clearance button-less cardigans for around-the-house wear. Then we picked up several nursing bras and nursing tanks at Destination Maternity. Pre-baby I had only purchased one nursing bra, not knowing what my preferences and lifestyle would be like, but a baby in the NICU meant I needed lots more nursing-friendly undergarments, stat!

Anything remaining from the baby registry -- I've been trying to keep our baby registry as up-to-date as possible. When I order something from Amazon or, I make sure to take it off our registry. I know most people don't want to buy the most utilitarian items from a registry, such as a crib sheet or a set of infant bottles, but turns out those are the things you most need, so in a pinch, you'll just order it yourself. I did this for a Pack N Play crib sheet the other day. Thankfully, with a coupon and a few more items on the order I got free shipping and the order I placed one afternoon arrived the following afternoon.

Speaking of...
Gift certificates to Amazon, or the store where the couple registered -- Again, no matter how prepared you are before the baby's arrival, there are going to be items you need soon after the baby arrives. We were more conservative with some purchases and some items on our registry, figuring we needed to test the items out with our baby before we committed to getting more. This is the time when you're least keen on going out to stores to pick up these miscellaneous items, so online shopping is, in fact, a godsend. As those of you with babies are probably already well aware, typically has higher prices than Amazon, and Amazon has a program called Amazon Mom which allows users to reap most of the benefits of an Amazon Prime membership for free. As fate would have it, though, beginning on January 12 (Natalie's birthday, for those of you keeping track) Amazon temporarily suspended new enrollments in the Amazon Mom program, so now we're on the waiting list. This is why when I got a couple good offers from I jumped on the coupons and free shipping which ultimately led to a better deal than what I could currently get on Amazon.

What have you appreciated having on hand during your postpartum period?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My c-section recovery

First of all, let me say that I realize Natalie's labor and delivery story may have freaked some people out. I knew this going in, but I firmly believe in being armed with as much knowledge as possible, so I hope my story is also somewhat empowering so that those of you who haven't had children yet can go in with eyes wide open, as I like to say, and that if you're like me more knowledge may actually make you less freaked out. Of course, my good friend has already warned our other mutual friend, set to deliver her first child in May, to avoid reading my blog for the time being.
Too bad she'll miss out on adorable baby photos randomly included for your viewing pleasure!

So, today I want to highlight a lot of positives. I will warn you, though, before you get any further that I will again be keeping it very real in this post, so if that bothers you, read at your own discretion.

And when I share with you, hopefully tomorrow, a more detailed account of our time spent in the NICU, I hope you'll see all the positives in that, too, oddly enough. I am not one to lie, so when I say there are lots of positives to be had, well, that is me being blatantly honest. I am the world's worst liar.

My baby-making experience can be summarized as follows:

Degree of difficulty...
  • Trying to conceive -- medium (a lot of people have it way worse...trying to keep perspective)
  • Pregnancy -- extremely easy
  • Labor and delivery -- average difficulty (you may find this hard to believe, but I was hardly in any pain even before getting the epidural, and getting the epidural was not bad at all, and the whole experience took place in less than 24 hours, so I chalk it all up to a small victory)
  • Leaving our baby in the NICU after leaving the hospital -- worst moments of our lives (even though our stay was about as short as possible)
  • Postpartum period and c-section recovery -- easy
  • Taking care of a newborn -- easy (so far....famous last words?)

Today I'll focus on my c-section recovery, since at this point two weeks after having given birth I would say I am 95% healed. Yes, you read that correctly. I think I am basically back to my old self, and in some ways, dare I say it, better than my old self. This is one of those positive stories I've been wanting to share and hoping it will, if nothing else, not keep my best friends from ever deciding to have kids.

Ironically, during our Childbirth Express class after she'd spent approximately 5 minutes barely scratching the surface of the c-section birth experience, the one question I asked the nurse in front of the entire class was, "Could you talk for a few minutes about the c-section recovery process?" With a confused expression on her face, she asked what I meant. I elaborated by asking her to talk about items such as incision maintenance, using the stairs, pain management, etc. She didn't really answer my question, after all, and simply said these are things we'd learn about if and when we had a c-section. Not particularly helpful, considering approximately 30% of births end up as c-sections and we were at a class to get informed in advance.

It also wasn't helpful that out of all the women I've been close enough with to ask questions about their labor and delivery stories over the last five years only one of them had a c-section. Her story, for what it's worth, was at least relatively similar to mine in that she almost went all the way through with a vaginal delivery before the doctors cut her off and performed a c-section. So, at least as I was crying my eyes out on the way to the operating room, I could take some comfort in thinking of my friend who'd been in this situation.

Well, here's what I would say today if I was running that Childbirth Express class, C-Section Edition.

This is one item that I'd read would be unpleasant. In reality, it really wasn't bad at all. Now, I will say that unlike most moms in c-section recovery at the hospital, I did not have a baby in my room to attend to. But in some ways I actually feel like as I was finally coming out of my drug-induced haze in the early hours of Friday morning approximately 10 hours after her delivery, Natalie's NICU stay provided me with extra motivation to work hard to get back into shape and really meet my little girl.

Quick walking timeline review:
  • Thursday, 8 p.m. -- gave birth
  • Friday, 6 a.m. -- stood for the first time with the assistance of one nurse and two assistants; walked to the bathroom in my hospital room
  • Friday, 11 a.m. -- stood up again with the same assistants as before; walked to bathroom again
  • Friday, 1 p.m. -- stood up with the assistance of one person; walked two laps around the Family Centered Care floor
  • Friday, 4 p.m. -- stood up by myself and walked around my room
  • Friday, 6 p.m. -- once my urinary catheter was removed it became rather necessary for me to (somewhat quickly) get out of bed on my own, so I did and from that moment forward I was up and about
  • Saturday, 9:30 a.m. -- finally got to visit Natalie in the NICU, and Matt wheeled me down in a chair
  • Saturday, 12 p.m. -- again wheeled to the NICU
  • Saturday, 3 p.m. -- walked to the NICU; after this brought the wheelchair along in case I needed it, but only wound up using it a couple of trips because of intense leg swelling (see below)
  • Monday, 8 p.m. -- arrived home after the doctors cautioned me against walking up and down more than one flight of stairs in a day and walked up one flight of stairs (we live in a three-story townhouse). Did not walk up second flight of stairs to bedroom until bed time.
  • Tuesday, 11 a.m. -- stayed upstairs until it was time to head to the NICU to visit Natalie
  • Tuesday, 7 p.m. -- after returning home from the NICU for the day I decide, screw it, I am walking up and down stairs because I feel fine

I was really fortunate to never have any swelling in my hands and face during pregnancy, and except for about four days of my late pregnancy I hardly experienced any foot or ankle swelling either.

This good fortunate wore off by day 3 postpartum. I noticed swelling right after I gave birth, but frankly based on the stories I'd heard I expected it to be way worse thanks to all the saline solution coursing through my body. It all caught up with me, though, by Sunday. Three days after giving birth I had to struggle to pull my legs out of bed, and I could not fit into any shoes except the cheap flip flops I brought to wear in the shower. (Preview of hospital-bag-packing post, a retrospective: pack flip flops no matter what season! They may be the only shoes you can wear.) I called this my Nutty Professor moment. My feet literally looked like they had been inflated like a balloon, and if all the pants I'd been wearing hadn't been maybe off loose yoga-pant material I would have surely busted a lot of seams.

Thankfully, one week postpartum I had no more swelling. In fact, when I could see my ankle bones, I told Matt my ankles looked anorexic. He said that's just what ankles look like. I had apparently forgotten. So, turns out I did have some ankle swelling basically all throughout my pregnancy, but it happened so gradually and rarely got out of hand (minus a few painful days) that I hardly perceived it was happening.

OK, this is where I get to brag. My mother always said that when she gave birth to my brother she left the hospital weighing exactly what she weighed before she got pregnant. I really did not believe her. (I still find it debatable, but I don't know why she'd make this up, either.) But, to her credit, back in the 1970s hospital stays were significantly longer, so she does have that on her side.

Well, prophecy was in fact fulfilled for me. Not only did my mother tell me I'd be back in my old body in no time (she has to say this, though, seeing as she bore me) but all the nurses in my doctor's office would make this remark at every single appointment.

Here's my weight loss timeline:
  • Pre-pregnancy weight: 119 lbs.
  • Weight upon checking into the hospital: 149 lbs. (at one point I reached 152 lbs. toward the end of my pregnancy, but in the final week of pregnancy I lost 3 lbs., which is apparently a fairly common phenomenon)
  • Weight upon leaving the hospital Monday, Jan. 16 (4 days postpartum): 139 lbs. I found this at the time discouraging. This 10-lbs. loss was simply baby (8 lbs.) and placenta, I assumed.
  • Weight on Thursday, Jan. 19 (7 days postpartum): 133 lbs.
  • Weight on Friday, Jan. 20 (8 days postpartum, 15 hours after bringing Natalie home): 128 lbs.
  • Weight on Sunday, Jan. 22 (10 days postpartum, 3 days after bringing Natalie home): 121 lbs.
  • Weight on Tuesday, Jan. 24 (12 days postpartum): 118 lbs. (1 lb. less than my pre-pregnancy weight)

Here's what I can say: breastfeeding is for real. I am so fortunate that so far breastfeeding has been working perfectly. As a result I am burning calories like crazy (apparently 500 a day?!) and eating a ton (having third helpings of some dinner items...I never have seconds, let alone thirds) and shrinking that uterus down to size. I still have a little bit of extra flesh around my stomach, but I assume that will either go away once my uterus is back to normal and/or I get the OK to go back to my exercise routine which includes my Core Fusion Body Sculpt DVD.

9 weeks pregnant, hello flat stomach club!, still at 119 lbs. (and still using a crappy camera lens)

41 weeks pregnant, last pregnancy photo, 149 lbs.

Today, two weeks postpartum and 118 lbs., back in my old jeans (the kind that zip and button! The glory!) and you know, holding a baby!

Right now my stomach looks about as big as it did when I was 12 weeks pregnant, and I can totally handle that (in fact, I am shocked this has occurred so quickly, but again: breastfeeding!).

Incision care
For the first week postpartum I was feeling some pain on the left-hand side of my scar. Pain meds definitely masked that pain, and now I feel no pain there at all.

My nurses in the hospital told me that I did not need to directly clean my incision but instead simply allow the soap I'm using to wash the rest of my body to trickle over the wound. They also told me to use a separate towel or wash cloth to pat dry the incision area to avoid any cross contamination.

The doctors put about 12 pieces of heavy-duty medical tape over my stitches. The nurses at the hospital said I could pull the tape off after having it on for only two days. I said it wasn't bothering me so I'd rather not bother it. The nurse at my own doctor's office advised me to keep the tape on until it started peeling away on its own. That moment arrived yesterday, and I was happy to remove the last piece of barely-sticky-anymore tape.

Now I can have a good look at my scar, it's not as bad as I thought it would be. First of all, in keeping with my doctor's promise to me as I whimpered on the operating room table, it is LOW. No one will be seeing this puppy, even if I wore a really skimpy bikini (which is not my style, and I have a big butt, thus sizing me out of the skimpy-bikini-bottom market). Second of all, it is not as big as I thought. It's about three inches long. It is, however, raised, and I wonder (as someone who's never had stitches) if the raised nature of the scar will diminish or if this will simply be the scar I can tell stories about during future icebreaker activities (I kid).

Pain management
I was instructed by most of my nurses to try not to take too much Percocet because it causes constipation (see below). So, after one week postpartum I had completely weened myself off Percocet. I've been taking some prescription-strength Motrin here and there for the past week, which mostly helps me manage some lower-back pain which appears to be leftover from my epidural. So, in terms of c-section-induced pain, I would say it has been very manageable and way better than I would have ever thought. In fact, I could possibly have been in more pain if I had completed a vaginal delivery. (The irony, I know.)

I knew that with a c-section women still experience heavy-period-like bleeding, but that the bleeding is typically less than what women experience after a vaginal delivery. Though I am sure this is all relative, I would say this is another statement that has held true to my experience. Now, two weeks postpartum I have minimal bleeding, and even since day 1 postpartum it really hasn't been that bad.

All my friends who delivered vaginally have told stories over glasses of wine about their first attempts at postpartum bowel movements. One described it as worse than giving birth. One didn't have one until 12 days postpartum. One said she kept rehashing through her mind the following statement while sitting on the toilet, "I have no idea how this is going to come out of me."

Well, again, here I am probably lucky that I did not have a complete vaginal delivery because this has not been the case for me. Yes, I had the irrational fear of somehow breaking through five layers of stitches at the site of my c-section incision, but clearly that did not happen. In the words of our Childbirth Express nurse: when offered stool softeners at the hospital, take them; when offered a suppository at the hospital, embrace it.

If this all seems like TMI, let me assure you that after you lose all your dignity carting around your own urine in a bag attached to your IV pole in the hospital, the function of your bowels and your baby's bowels will be one of your top priorities and you will not care who witnesses you taking care of business. In fact, most of the abdominal pain I was experiencing in days 1 and 2 postpartum magically disappeared after my nurses helped me get to the bathroom.

What did I leave out? If you've had a c-section, what do you recall as the best and the worst or biggest surprises of the recovery process?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

First parenthood-inspired organizational blunder

I have a whole host of blog posts in the works on topics such as what to take to the hospital (in retrospect), c-section recovery, NICU culture and blessings in disguise, gear to have on hand for a newborn, etc., but for now I'll interrupt my "regularly scheduled post" to share this little gem.

The long and short of it is that for the basically the first time in my life I missed a deadline. Specifically, my car is up for its state inspection every December, and this year's inspection just happened to take place on Jan. 24 (this Monday). Whoops.

The best part of the story is that I did not even realize (nor did Matt, for what it's worth) that my car was well overdue for its inspection until we took it to a repair shop on Monday. You may recall that there is only one place in my 2003 Mazda Protege where our daughter's car seat will fit -- that would be directly behind the front passenger's seat. Unfortunately, this is also adjacent to the only door in the car in which the power lock is broken. After taking about two car rides as a family we decided enough is enough, we'd have to suck it up and pay the $250 to have the door taken apart and the power lock fixed. (Fortunately, this was $200 cheaper than the estimate we'd been given at our usual auto-repair shop, so we drove across town to the cheaper repair shop, newborn in tow.)

Of course, when you drop off your car for any maintenance, the repair people inevitably have about 20 other items they find that you could fix. In my case, the fact that they caught that I needed a state inspection was legitimately important. The fact that my car would not have passed the inspection due to nearly dead brakes was also slightly important. And the fact that I legitimately needed maintenance such as a transmission fluid flush also ranks up there on the importantness scale. Matt and I plan to keep my car alive for as long as possible, so we're viewing routine maintenance as rather critical. His car (a two-door) will be the one to go when it's time to upgrade.

So, $900 worth of car repairs four days after bringing our newborn home from the hospital wasn't what we'd bargained for, but I suppose that's just what happens sometimes.

And now, of course, inside our house the basement door is having trouble locking and unlocking thanks to the cold weather, and two of the toilets in our house that have never caused us problems in five years are starting to run whenever they gosh darn feel like it. It's amazing that none of these things happened when I was waiting for Natalie to arrive.

Monday, January 23, 2012

iBaby Log app: iLove You

There have been quite a few baby items that we've really come to rely on already in these first 100 hours or so that Natalie has been home with us from the NICU. By far the most important one -- OK, besides Pampers Swaddlers in size one and well, frankly, my own boobs -- is the iBaby Log app for the iPhone. Best part? It's free!

This app allows you to set up your basic information about each of your children...
...and then start tracking information in 18 categories:

  • sleep -- starts tracking as soon as she goes to sleep, or if you forget you can go back and enter the nap's start time.
  • diaper change -- allows you to enter whether diaper was wet, dirty, or both, and write comments about what you discover in the diaper more specifically (this sounds insane, but once you have a newborn you start to become quite interested in the consistency of the items that come out of their little behinds).
  • nursing -- track which breast you start a feeding with as well as how long the baby nurses on each side. You can pause the feeding, which is especially useful if you baby is like ours and needs to be burped frequently during a feeding.
  • bottle feeding -- we are fortunate that Natalie was nursed both by bottle and breast in the NICU, so at 11 days old she is taking bottles just fine (what a blessing in disguise from her NICU time!)
  • solids -- not for a while!
  • pumping -- useful to know as I attempt to stock a freezer supply. Fresh breast milk is OK iin the fridge for 24 hours; frozen breast milk is good for up to 3 months in storage.
  • to do list -- not really sure about this one. I still keep a running to-do list on a pad of paper on our kitchen island.
  • activity -- probably cool for things like "tummy time" (i.e. putting your child on his stomach for a short period of time to help him develop neck muscles). All the NICU nurses commented that Natalie has impressive neck control for a newborn, which I would attribute to the fact that she was placed on her stomach in the NICU incubators while under the bilirubin lights for her jaundice treatment.
  • mood -- I am not really sure on this one...haven't felt the urge to track...yet. Her moods appear to be awake and quiet or asleep and quiet.
  • baths -- guess who's getting her first at-home sponge bath tonight? At least we got a practice round in the NICU.
  • medication
  • temperature
  • sickness -- Not looking forward to using this one.
  • diary -- I'll use my paper and pen journal, but this one could work, too.
  • milestone
  • Dr. visit -- Natalie had her first doctor's appointment Friday morning, after having been home all of 16 hours. When the doctor asked us about her habits and patterns, we said they were good based on our 16 hours of parenting experience. Good news: as of Friday's appointment she'd only gone down 6% from her birth weight. It is normal for newborns to lose 10% of their birth weight in the first couple of weeks. So, she is right on track.
  • vaccination -- Also not looking forward to this one. There is a room in our pediatrician's office named "the shot room." Literally. It says that on the outside of the room on a plaque. I am sure this does not win over the little ones who can read.
  • growth -- Natalie was born at 65 percentile for everything -- length (20 in), weight (8 lbs., 1 oz.) and head circumference.
At this point, we've been using the sleep, diaper change and nursing categories the most. This means that I constantly have my phone on me (though I may not answer because I'm occupied with some baby duty).

It's great to start a nursing session and know when she last fed. Because she's supposed to be fed "on demand" for the time being (i.e. whenever she shows signs of hunger, mostly by crying and bringing her clinched fist to her mouth) we need to know how often she's feeding. She can't go more than four hours from the start of one feeding to the start of another feeding, doctor's orders to keep her on the right growth track. In other words, if she started one feeding at 11 a.m., even if the feeding lasted 45 minutes, she'd need to be awake and ready to feed no later than 3 p.m. Normally this is not a problem as she wakes up typically about 3 hours from the previous feeding. Also, for some perspective, sometimes babies eat every hour. This means if you start a feeding at 11 a.m. and the baby eats until 11:30 a.m., one hour later is actually 12 p.m., not 12:30 p.m. If it sounds exhausting, it is, and thankfully I've only had one 1-hour feeding in the time we've had her home. Otherwise she loves the 3-hour feedings.

It's also helpful in the middle of the night to press the "sleep" button and know when she finally went to sleep between feedings. Because without this app we would have no clue when she fell and asleep and subsequently we fell asleep. For example, her first two nights home she barely ever slept more than one hour at a time. Saturday night and last night she slept 3 or 3.5 hours at a time between each feeding, which was incredible. Matt and I each are logging 7-8 hours of interrupted sleep these past two nights. It feels amazingly luxurious. Matt gets up for diaper changes, then hands Natalie to me for breast feeding. Matt did one bottle feeding last night. So, we're pretty even right now, and it's a nice division of labor.

Finally, especially because our baby had a little early battle with jaundice, we need to know how many wet and dirty diapers she produces a day to know she's getting adequate nourishment. The best way to beat jaundice is to get the baby expelling waste because jaundice has to do with poor liver function, a problem every newborn deals with on some level. Doctors are looking for between 6 and 8 wet diapers a day. Dirty diapers can follow a more loose schedule (bad, unintentional pun). So far she is living up to her potential and I sincerely hope she doesn't back track.
This iBaby Log app is truly outstanding. If you have a baby on the way, I highly recommend downloading it now and playing around with it before the baby arrives. It will take away a lot of the new-parent jitters.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jail break!

Little lady got her get out of jail card today at 1:30 p.m. She is home, safe and sound, where she belongs.
Thank you all!

Natalie's labor and delivery story

Every woman who has been through labor and delivery has an amazing story to tell. Amazing and graphic, no doubt. I am no exception here. I am going to be incredibly frank, so get ready. I think it's useful for all my friends and family who've been asking questions and want to know the gory details. I will give them to you. If you don't want those details, please don't read this post.

My labor and delivery story can be summarized as follows:

1) If it could happen it did happen. Thank god I went in well informed.
2) I am way stronger than I realize. This is my new mantra and one I've already started sharing with my lady friends to encourage them as well.

My labor story really begins Dec. 8 at my 36-week appointment. My doctor performed my first cervical check and discovered that I was already 1 cm dilated and 75% effaced. She was really excited, saying that for a first-time mom this was excellent progress and she was convinced I would go into labor early, or if nothing else I would not go past my due date. She recommended I pack my bags and get everything in order. I started to freak out at work, getting all my grading and planning and packing done in case I wouldn't make it to Dec. 22, the start of my maternity leave.

Well, as you know, I clearly delivered 10 days late and went a little stir crazy at home in the process of waiting for Natalie to show up. By 39 weeks I was 3 cm dilated and 90% effaced. And that's where I stalled out. I had three different non-stress tests at my doctor's office leading up to Natalie's arrival. (If you're unfamiliar, this is a test where the mom is hooked up to two monitors: one for the baby's heart rate and one for the mom's contractions. Natalie took contractions like a champ, showing that she was well-suited for labor. Turns out I was having lots of contractions, some rather intense, that I could not feel. During one somewhat significant contraction at 39 or 40 weeks I told my doctor a story and she said, "Did you not feel that last contraction, because it was rather intense." No, I did not.)

So then I started worrying that I wouldn't know true labor when it finally arrived. I figured this was absolutely ridiculous, but I still worried. Overall, though, my fears of childbirth had subsided and I reached a really Zen state, ready to bring this baby into the world at the time she decided was right.

Then I went in for my 41-week appointment on Tuesday, Jan. 10. My doctor stripped my membranes for the third time. This is barely a procedure. It pretty much involves the doctor digging around the cervix while she's performing the cervical check for dilation. It's just more vigorous digging. Usually doing this procedure once can help some women go into labor within 24-48 hours. Not so much for me! But, good news is that I spent pretty much all day Wednesday having noteworthy contractions and my "bloody show."

By 8 p.m. Wednesday night I told Matt I could no longer focus on watching our Netflixed episodes of session one of Downton Abbey. So, I went upstairs and settled into bed, reading my latest novel selection, Room.

By 10 p.m. I was fast asleep.

Here's where I am going to let the timeline take over:

11 p.m. Wednesday -- I bolt out of bed. I had a huge pregnant stomach, yet I had a strong enough contraction that I actually jumped out of bed. Such a feat had not occurred since approximately August. I attempt to time contractions to no avail. They seem constant.

11:30 p.m. Wednesday -- I call my doctor. The doctor on call is not picking up, so the nurse talks me through my contractions to assess the situation and puts in word for the doctor to call me back asap.

Midnight Thursday -- Still haven't heard from the doctor, and now I am worried I won't make it to the hospital in time.

12:15 a.m. Thursday -- The doctor calls and advises me to get to the hospital. We take our bags to the car, throwing in the few remaining items like our cell phones and iPad. I remember to turn off the computer and turn down the thermostat to 62 degrees.

1 a.m. Thursday -- Arrive at labor and delivery registration. They take me to triage to assess the situation. Another non-stress test reveals I am contracting every 1.5 to 3 minutes. I take this as a good sign, seeing as I'd been advised to come to the hospital when my contractions were 5 minutes apart lasting 1 minute at a time. The baby's heart rate still looks outstanding. The nurse performs a cervical check and discovers that I am still only 3 cm dilated (after nearly a day of noticeable contractions). They give me two options: I can walk around the labor and delivery floor in circles, or I can go ahead and get pictocin (a drug that stimulates contractions...and is known by some to cause contractions to become very painful). I opt for the walking option.

2 a.m. - 5 a.m. Thursday -- Matt and I walk for 3 hours. I hope that when this is over I will have gained at least a couple centimeters dilation. The only contractions that matter are those that lead to dilation. My contractions are definitely feeling more painful, truly like awful period cramps, and I have to pause periodically on the labor and delivery floor and put my head on the guard rails on the walls and swing my hips back and forth.

5 a.m. Thursday -- I am in a bed in the labor and delivery wing and Matt and I are ready to settle into real labor. I stay in bed for a while, hoping I've made progress. I am still at 3 cm. They ask me if I want to start pictocin, and I say not yet, give me one more shot.

6 a.m. Thursday -- Still stuck at 3 cm, so I opt for pitocin. I am told by my nurse that I need to anticipate the pain I'll be in 45 minutes from the time being when I consider requesting an epidural because it takes about 45 minutes to get the anesthesiologist there and to get the epidural inserted. I think this sounds crazy. How can you anticipate pain in the future? But I try to keep it in mind.

7:15 a.m. Thursday -- I decide that while my contractions are manageable now, by 8 a.m. they may not be, so why risk it? I request the epidural.

 7:45 a.m. Thursday -- The anesthesiologist arrives and tells me to hold still (as I had heard before) and that the epidural insertion would feel like a bad bee sting. I intentionally never looked at any of the equipment being used so as not to worry. I remained shockingly calm. The nurse gave me a pillow to grip and hunch over and I barely needed her to hold me still. The whole thing only took about 5 minutes to administer, and I felt no pain at all from the epidural insertion. It immediately goes to work. I can feel my legs and move my feet and toes, but I no longer feel any contraction pain. According to what I had been told at our childbirth class, this sounded like the ideal epidural experience.

7:55 a.m. Thursday -- Thank god I got the epidural when I did because my water broke on its own. My doctor told me that my amniotic fluid levels were healthy (aka high) and when my water broke I would know it. Well, I did. People had said it would sound like a ping. It was a little deeper sound than that to me, but when it broke there was a huge gush and I said to the nurses, "I'm pretty sure my water just broke." Good news, the fluid was totally clear. I am so glad I had my epidural when my water broke because I've heard contractions after the water breaks are more intense, and contractions with pitocin are more intense, so contractions with pitocin and broken water with no epidural would have been a recipe for disaster.

The majority of the daylight hours following are anti-climactic. We just waited. I felt no pain. Matt slept. A lot. So much so that when I finally needed him for something I shouted his name 15 times before he woke up. He finished reading his book. I watched the fourth hour of the Today Show. Kathie and Hoda are truly more entertaining that the Saturday Night Live parodies of them. I flipped through some magazines. I even slept a little myself.

11 a.m. Thursday -- Cervical check: 5 cm dilated! The doctor reduces my pictocin because my body is finally laboring well on its own.

3:30 p.m. Thursday -- Cervical check: 9 cm dilated!

4:45 p.m. Thursday -- Cervical check: fully dilated and effaced and ready to push.

5 p.m. Thursday -- just as I am starting to push my contractions slow down to one every five minutes! We cannot believe this. This is when you're supposed to call the hospital initially to come in. When you're ready to push contractions are nearly constant with hardly a break in between. Still, I continue to push as I'm able to. I push well. The secret to pushing? Take a deep breath like you're about to go under water (I used to be a swimmer); lift up your legs by grabbing your thighs (I am flexible); push arch your chin over your stomach and, in my doctor's words, push like you are about to have the biggest bowel movement of your life (thanks to pregnancy side effects, I am good at being constipated). So, the nurse and doctor were impressed with my technique!

5:45 p.m. -- My doctor tries the vacuum extractor since I only need a little help to get the head out. No dice.

7 p.m. Thursday -- Still pushing. Her head is almost out. Every time I push, though, her head goes RIGHT BACK IN. ALL THE WAY. My doctor is confused and starts to look concerned. I am doing everything right. The baby is not too big for my body. Why won't this baby come out? All of a sudden, I look over at my nurse, who has a worried expression on her face. My temperature, which has been a solid 98.6 degrees during the whole labor and delivery process, has spiked to 101.4 degrees. They're worried about possible infection. My doctor says the word c-section. I start to push with everything I have, telling myself I have nearly birthed this baby, I have got to avoid a c-section.

7:20 p.m. Thursday -- A woman in operating room attire comes into the room. My doctor says, "Uh-oh, here comes the Grim Reaper." This is apparently the woman who starts the c-section preparation. My doctor says, "Let's not do that yet. I'm giving her one more chance." I hold my breath like I've never held my breath before. I imagine the baby's head just spilling out. Her head is RIGHT THERE. No dice.

7:30 p.m. Thursday -- My doctor says, "This baby is not coming out. We need to get you prepped for a c-section." I start bawling. Tears are streaming down my face. A team of highly efficient doctors and nurses burst into the room and take over. "Stephanie, this is Dr. Kennedy." "Stephanie, now we're going to do this....and that....and blah blah blah." I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. All I can do is stare at the ceiling and cry. I do not cry because I have been robbed of a vaginal delivery. I freakin' had a vaginal delivery. I cry for surgery, for the possibility of death, for loss of blood, but mostly for fear of not getting to bond with my baby, for it all being so clinical and depersonalized. Despite it all, I manage to whimper to my doctor, "If you must perform a c-section, please use stitches to sew me back up rather than staples." She agrees. I'm thankful my friend told me to request that.

7:45 p.m.  Thursday-- I am in the operating room, laid out like people have pictured Jesus on the cross with my arms spread out and strapped down, staring into the intensely bright lights of the operating room. Matt is not there with me. He's still scrubbing up and putting on OR scrubs. I am just crying.

7:50 p.m. Thursday-- Matt joins me. Since I had an epidural I am already numb, but then the anesthesiologist adds more...something...that numbs you. Whatever. At this point I give up.

right around 8 p.m. Thursday -- I say to Matt, "Our daughter is going to be born during the session premier of 30 Rock." At least I have a sense of humor as I am being ripped open. The doctors say I might feel some "pressure." I've watched enough episodes of A Baby Story of TLC to know this line. In all c-sections, right before they take the baby out they reference "pressure." Well, at that moment, it felt like a Sumo wrestler was jumping on my upper ribs. All during labor and delivery I remained virtually silent to the point that my doctor and nurse called me a trooper and said they wished all their patients were as calm as me during the whole process. The "pressure" moment, though, is when I lost it. The Sumo wrestler jumped on my ribs three times. I screamed out three times. Right after my third scream...

8:03 p.m. Thursday-- I screamed, then she screamed, and out Natalie emerged into the world. Matt and I immediately started sobbing. The tone of my cries immediately changed. All the pain was gone. People were talking to me, but I was just staring off into the corner of the operating room, watching Matt take the first photos of our daughter while the nurse cleaned her off and performed her Apgar tests (which she passed with flying colors!).

My doctor says, "There was no way that baby was coming out. The cord was around her neck twice. And she was lodged underneath your ribs" (which explains the Sumo-wrestler sensation and my last-minute yelling).

The nurse asks Matt if he would like to cut the cord. At first he says, "Sure," and then immediately says, "You know what, I am bad with scissors, why don't you do it?"

8:15 p.m. Thursday -- Natalie is all cleaned off and they bring her to me so I can kiss her. I am shivering despite having warm blankets all over me, but I am distracted by my daughter. Then she and Matt are taken away to the c-section recovery room and I am left to be put back together.

After they take Natalie and Matt away I ask, "When can I have some water? When can I have something to eat?" It has now been over 24 hours since I had food and 20 hours since I had anything to drink.

8:45 p.m.  Thursday-- I am finally being wheeled into the recovery room, and I finally get to really be with my daughter and my husband. The nurse asks me if I have any sensation in my legs. Immediately I move my knees and wiggle my toes. "Wow," they say, "That was fast! We were going to see if you could just wiggle a toe." Matt calls his parents and I call mine to share our happy news. Then we call our siblings. Finally I email my best friends. Then later on we send out our bbc'ed email to the rest of the world announcing Natalie's arrival.

9 p.m. -- Once the nurses are done attending to Natalie they place her on top of me. My shivering stops. I look like the Bride of Frankenstein, but I am totally calm and content and with my daughter. Then they unwrap her and unwrap me and place us skin to skin. I feel her kicking on top of my stomach, and it feels exactly like it felt when she was in the womb.

As they are taking her away from me so we can get ready for transfer to our room upstairs, I notice that Natalie is breathing like a pug and is turning more red. I ask the nurses, "Is she going to the NICU? She doesn't seem right." The nurses say, "That baby? No, that baby is perfectly healthy. Not going to the NICU."

10 p.m. -- We are up in our room in the Family Centered Care unit where we'll be staying until we're discharged from the hospital.  I remember how it felt painful as I was being moved from the transfer bed to my bed in my room. Being lifted after having just had major surgery does not feel good. But Natalie is there in a bassinet, so everything is fine. And they let me drink water! Sweet, glorious water. It never tasted so good.

11 p.m. -- Natalie and I breastfeed for 35 minutes. She is a champ.

12:30 a.m. Friday -- Nurses come into my room to check on Natalie. Something isn't right. They say they are going to go assess her, so they wheel her away.

1 a.m. Friday -- Natalie is whisked away to the NICU. She has fluid in her lungs (aka pneumonia). She swallowed my amniotic fluid. Because my water broke on its own 12 hours before I gave birth the risk of infection that always comes along with water breaking came to fruition when my temperature spiked. If she had been born vaginally the bad fluids would have been squeezed out of her and she probably wouldn't have pneumonia and probably wouldn't be in the NICU. So, for all intents and purposes, my c-section sent Natalie to the NICU.

At this moment, though, 1 a.m. on Friday, after having basically been awake since 8 a.m. on Wednesday I am a rag of a woman, so the severity of what is happening hasn't really set in with me. I somehow manage to sleep a little under the stupor of Percocet and heavy-duty ibuprofen.

5:30 a.m. Friday -- My amazing nurse Lauren wakes me up to use the breast pump because I want to breast feed but can't since my daughter is in the NICU. We manage to get out a lot of colostrum (the milk moms have before the real milk comes in 3-5 days after delivery), which is great. Lauren explains to me that because I have a fever and because my daughter is in the NICU I can't see her until my fever has been gone for 24 hours. I'm on antibiotics for infection as well.

All day Friday we have visitors, and all of them get to travel down to the NICU to see Natalie while I am stuck in the upstairs recovery room. The baby I have had in my belly for 10 months is now away from me and with others. It all seems highly unfair.

I finally get to see her Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Once I could start visiting her, Matt and I were in the NICU every three hours for her scheduled feedings.

She is still as of this writing in the NICU and has been in the NICU ever since she arrived there Friday, January 13 at 1 a.m. (I just realized she went in on Friday the 13th...superstitious, anyone?).  My initial hospital discharge date was going to be Sunday, Jan. 15. Sunday at 1:30 a.m. we were with Natalie in the NICU and got to talk to a doctor. We had initially been told she might be discharged with us. But Sunday at 1:30 a.m. we found out she'd be staying until at least Thursday (today). Our hearts broke. Matt wheeled me back to our hospital room and we just broke down. At 3 a.m. my nurse came in to take my blood pressure and it went through the roof. I was at heart attack levels. My blood work all came back normal, though, indicating that my suddenly high blood pressure (I've never had high blood pressure in my life) was the result of anxiety over leaving our daughter.

Thankfully, because my blood pressure spiked to intense levels, I earned myself an extra free night in the hospital. My doctor said it was for the best. I agreed.

My new discharge date and time was Monday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. Matt and I went to the NICU on Monday for Natalie's 6 p.m. scheduled feeding. We snuggled her and bundled her back up and put her back in her incubator. We left the hospital with an empty car seat and empty hearts.

Tuesday and Wednesday we spent the majority of the day at the NICU, visiting her every three hours for her feedings. When she's not feeding, though, she really needs to be in the incubator under the bilirubin lights. So, as much as we want to keep her out and snuggle, we know she needs her treatment.

She did in fact have pneumonia which she is cured of now, but she needed a week's worth of antibiotics to make sure she was fully healed. She also had jaundice. They were proactive and put her under the bilirubin lights Saturday morning before her jaundice got any worse. While in her incubator under the blue lights, wearing her baby sunglasses we dubbed her "the baby of the future."

Yesterday (Wednesday) at 9 a.m. Matt turned off the bilirubin lights for the last time.

Here's Natalie in her bassinet yesterday! Free from the incubator! Looking like a normal baby.

She is also on an IV to get extra fluids in her body to get the jaundice out. Despite all the odds against us, we are breastfeeding (albeit in front of everyone in the NICU, with sirens going off every minute from various baby's machines and Natalie's IV and other cords in the way). The nurses are supplementing with my milk that we bring to them that I am pumping (rented a hospital pump....not buying our own heavy-duty pump was a great decision because renting the hospital one is a better deal for us and it's super efficient). They are also supplementing with formula. 

Now that Natalie appears to be just about recovered, we are hopeful that today will be her official discharge day. Please keep us in your thoughts today, and I'll update on her status.

(And if you haven't yet had children, I hope this doesn't scare you off. You really should have babies if you want them. They're pretty awesome.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Drumroll please....

"Holey moley me oh my
You're the apple of my eye
Girl I've never loved one like you"
-"Home" by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes

Matt and I are thrilled to announce the arrival of our baby girl.

Born Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 8:03 p.m.

Weighing in at 8 pounds, 1 ounce

20 solid inches long

Full head of dark hair, long eyelashes, long fingernails. She has her dad's cheeks.

Welcome to the world, Natalie Anna!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We have decided "Home" is our song for her. We loved it the moment we heard it for the first time, but now it holds really special meaning for us. (Yes, there is foreshadowing in that.) We are going to require her to dance with her father to this song at her wedding. That is the only non-negotiable requirement we have for her future.

I will share detail -- there is much much much detail than we could have imagined -- as soon as circumstances present themselves. I will also post painstakingly adorable photos when those same circumstances arise. Right now, though, we celebrate new life.

"Ahhh home
Let me come home
Home is wherever I'm with you
Baby I'm coming home."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A pictorial pregnancy timeline

5 (almost 6) weeks pregnant, May 7, 2011, waiting for first doctor's appointment; in the meantime, enjoying our little secret at a friend's wedding

9 weeks pregnant

10 weeks -- At the time, I think I'm starting to show. Hahaha. How silly.
11 weeks

12 weeks -- the tiniest bit of definition begins

13 weeks -- solidly in the second trimester, I start to have a more legitimately rounded stomach.

15 weeks -- hiking on Catalina Island in Los Angeles

16 and 17 weeks -- in Buenos Aires, Argentina

19 weeks

20 weeks -- August 15, 2011, one day before turning 30. And, we found out that day it's a girl!

21 weeks -- This is when I think I "popped."

22 weeks -- Maternity clothes start to look normal on me. And, it's back to work for a new school year.

24 weeks -- The beginning of "is that a small soccer ball attached to your stomach, or are you legitimately pregnant?"

25 weeks -- Hiking the black diamond in Deer Valley, Utah at a friend's wedding.

27 weeks -- Can't touch this.

29 weeks -- Back at U.Va for a football game and an important onesie.

30 weeks

31 weeks

32 weeks

34 weeks -- Heading to Thanksgiving dinner!

35 weeks -- Belly button is officially an outie.

37 weeks -- Officially full term! Thought I could deliver any minute. How silly.

38 weeks -- Home from the shower my newspaper students threw for us.

40 weeks -- Thought this had to be the last weekly shot of my pregnancy. How silly.

41 weeks -- January 11, 2012. Done.

Total weight gain: 30 pounds
Belly button definitely out in the home stretch
No stretch marks! I did not use any lotion on my stomach either.
Only a few days of ankle swelling.
Shockingly few, if any, spider veins.
Thank you, genetic code.