Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Love's labor

The day that my first son was due was also the day that Princess Diana died in France, August 31, 1997. I spent the next week on bed rest crying about the loss of a mother to Diana’s two sons, Will and Harry. Little did I know that I was getting ready to birth my own heir (and later a spare). We had purposefully left the gender of our first offspring a secret to get me through the birthing process. Labor finally came during Diana’s funeral and I got to writhe during the whole ceremony in a hospital bed while the unsynchronized and unorganized contractions did little except flip this baby to the occiput anterior position.

At the time we lived in BFE and I was a pediatrician in a small group practice. I had witnessed several hundred deliveries in pediatric residency. I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to how I wanted my own delivery to go, but I knew some things I didn’t want. I didn’t want a cesarean section. I have a child-bearing pelvis for a reason. I also didn’t want to be in pain if I could help it. I had seen women cuss at their husbands, scratch, spit, and refuse to push. I didn’t want to be out of control like that. I believe in good drugs and an epidural was part of that picture. I knew I was no hero, and would deliver in the same hospital that I worked in. If the hospital was good enough for the parents of my patients it was good enough for me, but I also wanted to keep it together as best I could. First and last I wanted this baby to be healthy.

Part of my initial Obstetric packet was information about writing a birth plan. At the time, I was pretty naive to how detailed some women write their birth plans. Not many mothers had or followed birth plans in the inner city hospital of my residency training. Those that wrote birth plans in BFE probably delivered at the teaching hospital an hour away. Also knowing what I knew about babies and deliveries, I realized that anything could happen, and it was important not to get too attached to my own agenda. I wasn’t the only one in the picture. That philosophy has paid dividends many times over in my life as a mother. The one thing that I really wanted to experience as a new mom was breastfeeding. All of my exposures to hundreds and thousands of germs would pay off by passing on my immune experience to my new son. That was the least elastic part of any plans I had for this delivery. I would breastfeed, end of discussion.

This baby provided me with excellent lessons in flexibility. The epidural didn’t touch the back labor, but it did a great job of turning my legs to jello. At one point my labor nurse (bless her) had me on all fours trying to shake my OP baby loose so I could deliver him. I lost my balance on the jello legs and tried to fall out of the bed. My quick thinking nurse and husband caught me before I went over the rail and pulled out all of my tubes – IV, Foley, and epidural. More lessons came quickly when my mom appeared at 10 cm. My husband and I had made a tentative pact that the delivery would be just us and any needed hospital personnel. At 10 cm and needing to push, I could have cared less if the whole high school football team had been in the delivery room. With the first push, I quickly caught on that the pain and pressure would be over if I could put the pedal to the metal. While Number One Son didn’t flip out of the sunny side up position, I was able to avoid the c-section and delivered his 8lb 6 oz body with lots of pushing and a third degree tear. He appeared with a lusty, masculine cry, and twelve hours of labor melted away into a memory. We had a son!

Breastfeeding humbled me. Latching on made Will claustrophobic – a personality trait he still has to this day. He would cry every time I tried to make him try which made me a teary mess. Next he turned pumpkin yellow with jaundice, and got sleepy enough that he didn’t care much if he was hungry. My ample chest apparatus (to go along with the child bearing hips) missed all the milk-making memos. Maybe all of the tears from the death of Princess Diana soured the whole system. And with no lactation consultant in BFE, I was up the creek. We tried silastic tubing and supplemental nursing systems, cup feeding and so much fenugreek that I smelled like a pickle. After three weeks of trying to starve my sweet baby boy, my husband kidnapped us both and took us out of town so I wouldn’t have to look at my new breast pump and cry anymore. A formula family was born! A more empathetic pediatrician to new mothers was also born as I labored to learn and relearn my lessons of flexibility.

P.S. Harry’s birth was much easier.

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