What a New Mom Should Know (But No One Tells Her)

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger and photographer, Jess Levey.  Jess covers all thing baby almost every Monday on Beccarama.

week4ink'tan carrier_1Maternity Mondays is back with exciting news of our baby girl’s birth! Baby S was born on January 23, 2013 in Brooklyn, NY.  23 has been my favorite number my entire life, not just because my birthday falls on a 23 as well, but also because of its many auspicious meanings.  For example, there are 23 chromosomes in a human sperm or egg, the angle between the earth’s magnetic and rotational axis is 23, the number of flavors Dr. Pepper claims to be a blend of is 23, the number of distinct orientations of Tetris pieces is 23, and I could go on and on or you can just Google it instead.

I had secretly hoped that S would be born on 1-23, being that I am a bit into numerology, but that would mean she would be 11 days late so how could I ever hope for such a thing?! Well, I guess she heard me, if only her birth had been as easy as 1-2-3.  I don’t want to go into great lengths about my traumatic birth experience but in brief (if there is anyway to be brief about a 36 hour labor) everything that I had initially feared happened.  Well, that’s not fair to say since we have a beautiful healthy baby girl at the end of the horror story.  I just re-read a Maternity Monday post that I had written when I was 38 weeks pregnant about the unknown and letting go of control. In this post, I wrote,

“ I can practice my hypno-birthing meditations every night, do my squats, begrudgingly do perineal massages, walk and walk and walk, insert and ingest primrose oil, eat my greens and omega 3s, talk to baby, stay positive, drink my pregnancy tea, and visualize the ‘perfect’ birthing experience, but in the end, something major or minor can occur and I can end up with an emergency C-section, or maybe I won’t be able to breast feed, or maybe our baby will be jaundice for a few days. As much as we can try to prepare and control what is to come, I know deep down that placing too much attachment on this ideal labor is dangerous.”

Funny enough (but not HA HA funny) all three of these major and minor occurrences that I had mentioned happened to us, and now that we have gone through them (still dealing with the breast-feeding issue though) I am that much wiser about the ability to truly let go of expectations and move on without regrets.

Nobody tells you how difficult the first few weeks are, just like they don’t tell you that once you bring your baby home (and even in the hospital) you will cry at least twice an hour; that you may look back at the day your child was born as the worst day of your life due to the fact that you back labored for 36 hours followed by an emergency C-section; that the recovery from a C-section is almost as bad as labor itself and lasts for weeks; that you may not instantly bond with your baby mostly due to PTSD or Post-Partum anxiety/depression, or that breast-feeding can be frustrating beyond belief and that most babies, regardless of whether you had a C-section or not, need help latching on, that all nipples will get blisters, and maybe even blood blisters too, yuck. All anyone ever tells you is that you will be tired, but that’s the least of it!

Maybe we keep this all a secret to protect soon to be moms, but I am happy to tell everyone every minor and major detail if it means that they may be prepared just a little bit more for one of the most trying times in a woman’s life, or that they will ask for the help that they will need, even if it is just for someone to come over and bring them some food, or maybe even feed it to them while they feed their baby. The good news is that this difficult period passes rather quickly!  I am now entering week 5 and love each and every day with my new baby. She is already cooing and is more alert and attentive and I am pretty sure that her smiles are not just from gas anymore. Also, thanks to Tracy Hogg’s famous book, The Baby Whisperer we have her on a predictable feeding and sleeping schedule that helps us know her cues/cries so that we can give her what she wants immediately. This was not the case for the first couple of weeks when every time she was over-tired and screaming we figured it was gas and would give her gripe water or massage her tummy when really she just needed to be put down in her crib and shushed. The gripe water did seem to work though, I think mostly because fructose is a main ingredient, oh well; I will just add that to my list of “things I never thought I would give my child.” Speaking of, here is a helpful list for new moms that I wish I had been given when we first brought S home.

Things I could not live without during the first month (and after)

  • Kangaroo fleece sling for the cold winter days!
  • with kangarookorner fleece sling
  • Gripe water for gas
  • Ktan carrier
  • Medela hospital grade pump
  • Zip up footies (anyone who tells you to buy those damn gowns are wrong!)
  • week3withbrestfriend
  • Baby Whisperer book
  • Rectal thermometer (much easier to insert than I had thought_
  • Baby comfy nose nasal aspirator (seems kind of gross, but works very well)
  • Soothie pacifier (never too young!)
  • Baby poop, eat and sleep log
  • White Noise App (specifically “pouring rain”) 

Things I never thought I would use:

  • Formula
  • Pacifier
  • Baby poop, eat, and sleep log
  • Pharmacy bought gas reliever AKA gripe water- easy to make your own without fructose, but who has time?!
  • White Noise App

There is No Such Thing as an Un-Natural Birth

I had a C-Section.  From the moment I found out I was having identical twin girls the possibility of a C-Section loomed large in any and all discussions about delivery day.  I also had one of the most un-New Agey pregnancies you can imagine.  I had sonograms every two weeks until 28 weeks to check for twin to twin transfusion syndrome.  I had 2 amnios – one for each fetus – and a third shot full of blue dye to make sure they weren’t pulling fluid from the same sac twice.  That Maternal Fetal practice was my second home for 37 weeks.  And never once did I feel like all that medical care distanced me from the experience of pregnancy, or intervened in the “natural” process of gestation.  As a data geek I actually loved having the inside look at my developing babies, charting their progress and having the documentation.  But, there were plenty of forces out there telling me that everything I was doing, that my doctors were recommending, was somehow unnatural at best, and plain out misogynistic and corrupt at worst.

I started writing this a few days ago, as I sat and waited while my sister was in the midst of a long, painful, drawn out labor delivering her first child.  My sister threw herself into creating the perfect circumstances under which to give birth “naturally.”  She fought her insurance company – and won – for the right to have a midwife instead of an OB/GYN.  She did hypno-birthing, acupuncture, massaged places you’d rather not ever have to massage, bought flameless candles for the delivery room, and basically focused for 9 months on making sure that the delivery day would be exactly the way she envisioned it – with minimal medical intervention.  And, boy did I hope it would go that way for her.  But, anyone who has been through the process knows that anything can happen once labor begins.

The problem is that an entire industry has cropped up telling women that the pain and complications are mostly in our heads; that with enough focus and determination – and not giving in to the evil “business” of birthing – we can attain the beautiful, connected birth experience women are meant to have.   This movement that was meant to empower women to feel more in charge and less scared of the birth process has now become one more source of pressure and judgement on women at their most vulnerable.  When I was in my 36th week of my twin pregnancy my girls were in two very different positions.  Baby A was head down ready to go.  Baby B was transverse, stretching under my ribs, and she was bigger than Baby A.  My really wonderful doctor said to me, “Well, we could try to deliver Baby A vaginally and then try to turn Baby B, but chances are you’ll end up having both  – vaginal and C-Section.”  He tried to say this matter-of-factly, but I immediately blurted out, “BOTH? Are you nuts?”  He looked so relieved and the nurse laughed.  So, scheduled C-Section it was.

And yet, still, even after my multiples childbirth class where C-Section was a major topic, a part of me felt like I was copping out.  That I was somehow not getting the full birthing experience, that my babies wouldn’t be properly prepped for the world, by having a C-Section – scheduled no less.  When my water broke at 37 weeks, 3 days before my scheduled date, I took a taxi to the hospital, met my husband there, went right in to the doctor’s office, was then whisked into the pre-op room,  and then hung out for 6 hours reading and watching TV until they decided enough time had passed since I had last eaten that they could now do the C-Section.  20 minutes later my girls were born.  Healthy, adorable, and raring to go.   I never regretted that decision, I actually often thought to myself that 90 years ago both I and Baby B would most likely have died during the birth, but I also have to admit that I still thought that I didn’t have the “full” experience somehow.

My sister’s 30-hour, excruciating marathon labor ended in a C-Section – and a beautiful, healthy baby girl.  My sister was literally in shock.  She said she felt like she was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress afterwards.  And, she was disappointed.  She couldn’t shake that somehow it was her fault she didn’t have the delivery she had planned for – that she came to the hospital too early, that somehow her “mental” state changed and caused her body to slow down the labor, that the pain soared because suddenly she was too anxious.  Of course, none of this is true.  And it made me angry.  My sister was wiped out, cut off, and sad.  The exact opposite of everything the “natural” birth movement is supposed to encourage.

The actual birth?  That’s a blip, and as far as I’m concerned, if they gave out medals for that sort of thing, my sister would have won the Iron Woman prize three times over.  The fact that women are now made to feel guilty and less-than because they couldn’t have this idealized, magic, essence of womanhood moment is infuriating to me.  We should stop condemning the “business” of birthing, and start thinking about supporting women through birthing – no matter what.  C-Sections and epidurals are not a sign of failure, nor an evil plot by doctors.  In the end, you have to do what is necessary for the health of mom and baby, because that is the ultimate goal – a healthy mom and baby.

I have friends who delivered “naturally,” friends who trained for months with the Bradley method, friends whose babies were crowning by the time they reached the hospital, and friends who ended up with emergency C-Sections, more than once (because they were convinced that they should try VBAC and have the experience they had missed out on the first time).  Guess what?  In the end, they all, thankfully had a baby arrive in the world – and then had to start the really hard part – being a mom.

This is what makes me angriest of all about my sister being disappointed in herself and trying to replay what she did “wrong.”  She is now a mom.  A mom who made sure for 9 months that she ate healthy food, took her prenatal vitamins, avoided alcohol, caffeine and pesticides – and then carried that baby 10 days past her due date!  She had already put in the first foundation of caring for her baby and considering its needs over her own.  She should be proud that she brought this healthy, sweet baby into the world, that she already tried her best to give her baby a solid start to life.

And she will be a great mom.  As she gets her mojo back, physically heals, gets some distance from the actual birth day, and settles in at home I know she will feel connected and more present.  In the meantime, she will realize that her birthing experience taught her the first important lessons of motherhood:

It’s a long, long journey full of things she won’t be able to control.

Things won’t go exactly as planned.

There’s plenty of guilt and judgement to go around.

Confidence in your choices is key.

And never feel bad for admitting you need help, need to change course, or need a little something to help get you through.

So, maybe, in the end, she got exactly what she needed out of that harrowing birth experience – candles, tubs and hypnotherapy be damned.

Nesting for Baby – 2 weeks to go

This is a guest post by Jess Levey as part of Maternity Mondays.

We are now at 38 weeks, and as Braxton Hicks contractions (or ‘practice labor surges’ as we say in hypnobirthing) appear as quickly as they dissipate, the reality has definitely set in, that yes, we will soon be experiencing a life changing event, probably the most altering life event that we have yet encountered and may ever encounter. And, like any great adventure there is that amazing excitement and fear of the unknown that I have learned to embrace while trying as much as possible to control what’s to come, as futile an attempt that may be. We all do it- we try our hardest to control parts of our lives that we know are uncontrollable, and as much as I have prepared mentally and physically for labor, I know deep down that most of what will transpire is really out of my hands.

I can practice my hypnobirthing meditations every night, do my squats, begrudgingly do perineal massages, walk and walk and walk, insert and ingest primrose oil, eat my greens and omega 3s, talk to baby, stay positive, drink my pregnancy tea, and visualize the ‘perfect’ birthing experience, but in the end, something major or minor can occur and I can end up with an emergency C-section, or maybe I won’t be able to breast feed, or maybe our baby will be jaundice for a few days. As much as we can try to prepare and control what is to come, I know deep down that placing too much attachment on this ideal labor is dangerous.

That said, my husband and I have been greatly enjoying nesting and preparing as much as we can. If we can’t fully control the birthing experience, we may as well control what will happen when baby comes home. After my ridiculously fun baby shower a couple of weeks ago, we had to find room in our tiny one bedroom apartment for all the baby goodies- a task which has been quite an overwhelming challenge. The more stuff we get, the more anxious I seem to get. But, with subtle furniture re-arrangements I am hoping we can make it work. The most satisfying preparation we have done thus far is cooking home-made meals and freezing them so that we have yummy food to just heat up and enjoy during those sleepless first few weeks (or is it months?). So far we have made butternut squash soup, meatloaf, chili, lentil stew, sweet potato Quiche, broccoli Quiche, and currently my husband is cooking up a shepherd’s pie and some kugel.

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If there is one thing that Jewish people do when they are anxious, it’s eat, and in our case, it is cooking that has given us this wonderful sense of control and ease, and a feeling that we will be well taken care of when we bring baby home- not just by our close family and friends, but also by ourselves. My mother keeps telling me how much help we will need when the baby arrives. I keep trying to remind her that we are only having one baby (while my sister had the great challenge of two at the same time), that it’s not THAT hard, and that in case she forgot, my husband is actually a domestic maven who works from home, so there are two of us here supporting each other, doing the laundry, cooking, and cleaning together. While we are constantly in sync organizing and cooking and cleaning, I am reminded how lucky I am to be in this situation and it just boggles my mind how women have been doing this alone for so many years. Every time I go to do the dishes with my aching back, my husband looks over and says “you want me to finish that up?” And, as much as I want to continue to praise him for his ‘modern ways’ I also believe that this is really how it should be- we are in this together, preparing for what’s to come, even if I am the only one pushing through the pain.

And, with that, I wish you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR full of adventurous unknowns…20121231-094739.jpg

 

Pregnant in Flats (Because I’m working all the time!)

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger Jess Levey.  This series appears almost every Monday on Beccarama.

I have been taking a break from Maternity Mondays since, well, I have been very busy starting a new teaching job, shooting and editing weddings, and working in my art studio – did I mention, that I lead three different ‘work’ lives?  All of this busy-ness has got me thinking: When did it become OK for pregnant women to take on as much when they are pregnant as they did pre-pregnancy?

As I begin my third trimester I have developed new aches and pains, walking up a flight of subway stairs or bending over to buckle my shoes has become increasingly difficult. The pressure in my pelvis and uterus (and well, entire abdomen really) seems to be cause for alarm, but from what I have read, this is all normal. I am so thankful for the Ingrid & Isabel BellaBand that I’ve been using to help support and lift my tummy.

I wasn’t sure if I’d need it when they sent it to me a few months ago since I couldn’t fathom my stomach being big enough to need something like this – but now it’s a life saver – giving me support and taking weight off my back, especially while teaching all day, and shooting all night!

Finding something to wear is a whole other issue, especially since I am now teaching in a religious school where I need to hide my bulging cleavage which seems to want to pop out of even the highest of necklines.

Most of the time when I am home, I sleep or I think about sleep. I have never been a morning person, but my sleep patterns have become as upside down as a newborn’s.  On Sunday, I slept till 11am!  Then went to brunch with my husband where I drank two cups of (half-decaf) coffee and a ridiculously too heavy eggs Benedict with chorizo, came home and slept for another 2 hours! Granted, I was resting up in preparation for a wedding I was off to shoot starting at 5:30 in the evening and ending at 11pm, but even after all that sleep, I still felt exhausted.

So, I guess it is true that the 2nd trimester is truly the honeymoon period, full of much more energy than I think I ever had pre-pregnancy.  And, just as quickly as our actual honeymoon in Costa Rica flew by, so did the 2nd trimester. I just can’t believe that I have 3 ½ more months to go until my due date, and my workload will just get more and more intense as winter approaches.

All of this need for rest but lack of time to do so, has got me questioning this pressure that pregnant women have succumbed to be as busy as possible before the birth of the baby, if not even more so. We are so terrified of the possibility of three months without work post-baby, that we do as much as we can beforehand to make up for the likely lost income, especially if we are freelance like most of my friends and colleagues.

I am not sure this is healthy for my baby or for my sanity.  I am constantly hearing stories from friends about how they worked up to the very last minute before giving birth. One friend just yesterday was saying how she was shooting a gig in midtown (a 45 minute commute by subway) on a Wednesday and she delivered on Friday. Another colleague told me that she was shooting a wedding two weeks before giving birth, and she had three herniated discs at the time and was on Percaset! An artist friend told me that the day before giving birth she was on the last step of a 12 foot ladder installing a project in her studio. The stories of ‘survival’ continue and when women tell these stories, it is with a sense of pride. Pregnant women have not avoided this NYC mom competition to be able to do it all, regardless of how far along in pregnancy they are .

At first I welcomed my busy-ness, finding it a nice distraction from the daily changes that my body was enduring. But, now as my body seems to want to rest more, I am beginning to want to relax, connect with my unborn baby, work on my new hypnobirthing homework (more on that later), and search for more baby-must-haves to add to my registry. But, no time for that!  Mommy needs to work, so she can afford that Made in England Co-Sleeper!

Fight For the Maternity Care You Want

stamp series for the social welfare, midwife a...

stamp series for the social welfare, midwife and child :*Ausgabepreis: 7+3 Pfennig :*First Day of Issue / Erstausgabetag: 1. Oktober 1956 :*Michel-Katalog-Nr: 243 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger Jess Levey.  This series will appear every Monday on Beccarama. 

Soon after the excitement about my pregnancy began to set in, the practicality of medical care became a reality.  Would my meager insurance plan cover the midwife that I wanted?  In the beginning I mostly spoke on the phone with my gynocologist who I have been seeing since I was 16 years old.  She no longer delivers babies, nor does she take insurance, but she was happy to chat with me about my options, ease my anxiety about miscarrying, recommend some midwives, and call in a prescription for my first sonogram.  I felt in control.

Then, I started calling around to different midwives. I knew all along that I wanted to deliver at the local hospital where I was born, where my dad has worked as a doctor for over 30 years, and which happens to be a 10 minute walk from my house. It’s not the most popular hospital in Brooklyn, and most women seeking a birthing center experience travel into Manhattan to Roosevelt Hospital.   That’s a 45 minute car ride, or more if there is traffic.  But after speaking to one of the local midwives, she assured me that being at my local hospital feels just like a birthing center, and it’s even better since it is much quieter than Roosevelt.  Plus, they have Jacuzzis in the room, (which sounds oh-so glamorous even though I have yet to meet anyone who has actually used the tubs during labor.)

So, I knew what I wanted, that was a very important first step, now the real work would begin. I spoke to a few midwives and decided on a woman named Chris. Not only does she have the same name as one of my all time best friends, but she also was a midwife at Roosevelt for many years before deciding to move to Brooklyn, so I was confident that she had loads of experience. Plus, I just liked how she sounded on the phone, she was kind, down to earth, smart, and seemed to get my humorous neurosis. Now, the main issue here is that not one of the midwives at this hospital take insurance. I called my insurance company, and after being told that it is VERY rare to get what they call an “in network exception,”  I could try, and see what happened.

So, that’s what I did. The first time I tried for the exception was by phone, explaining why I wanted Chris as my midwife and why I wanted and needed to deliver at my local hospital.  I am due in January, and for all they know NYC may close their roads due to a snow storm, and then how on earth would I get to a different hospital?  A few days later I was told that I was denied.  But!  I could appeal! This would mean writing a letter to the powers-that-shouldn’t-be and explaining my case once again, this time on paper.  A week or so later, I got a call that once again I was denied. But!  I could appeal AGAIN! So, that’s what I did.  At this point, I was pissed. That feeling of control was dissipating, and my anger towards nasty American Corporations was stirring once again.  I don’t take NO very lightly, never have. At some point I started spotting, and felt so frustrated that I couldn’t just go and see someone to make sure the baby was OK.  I had to wait for THEIR approval to get the care that I needed.

At some point during my frustration I called my insurance company to tell them that they really needed to speed this along since at this point they were threatening the health of the pregnancy.  I happened to speak to a woman who has children, who actually listened to me, and who responded with compassion. She told me there was really nothing she could do since I am not allowed to speak with anyone in the appeals department, but she could at least write a note to speed things along.  The next day I received a voice mail message from her telling me that she was thinking about my situation all night and was going to try her hardest to do what ever it was she could do to get this approved. Wouldn’t you know, around a week later, they approved my midwife, Chris! I wanted to send this woman flowers and chocolates, but of course when I called back no one could tell me who she was.  It’s confidential I guess, which makes sense considering all the hate mail they must receive.

I remember calling my dad during all of this stress and being a typical MD, he said “you know, it’s not the worst thing if you just have a doctor.”   But I feel like birthing is different for a midwife.  Each patient is special. Every appointment is at least an hour, and when I was having some pains the other day, I could text my midwife and ask if I could come in and hear the heartbeat, and she replied right away with “sure, anytime.” About 4 million American women may give birth every year, but it’s still pretty miraculous, and I want someone helping me through this process who understands how unique this is for me and my husband, and who doesn’t see it as just another routine procedure.  I don’t believe that everyone who chooses a doctor to deliver their baby is going to have a bad experience, but I for one did not want a doctor who I never met before come into my room during the most intimate and trying experience of my life and tell me what to do, as can happen when you’re at a mulit-doctor ob/gyn practice.

I am curious how you chose your doctor or midwife, and what was important to you in making your decision?