Baby boy, journey and joy
I’m indulging myself and straying from the topic of food. A few weeks ago, I could have sworn I’d be making time this week to post about fun edible adventures like quinoa and chickpea falafel, tapioca uses, and almond butter freezer fudge, but I just don’t have the focus. All that’s being directed to our tiny little package named Felix Rory McMillan, born August 22nd at 4:37 pm.
Felix is long and lean like his Dad. He stretched out to 21 inches at birth and weighed 7 pounds 10 ounces. That dropped to 7 on the nose by the time we left the hospital, but by the time we went to his first pediatrician’s appointment two days later he had climbed up to 7 pounds 5 ounces! In other words, he eats like a champ, also like Dad. Still, he’s slightly below average weight. He is exceptional, however, as in 95th percentile, for his big head! That, I am sure, is due to his beautiful, amazing big brain.
No matter the numbers, this baby doesn’t look big, not even his cute, adorable, larger than average head. He looks tiny. He is tiny. But he already has a story that is gargantuan in so many ways. At least to my heavily biased, swooning heart and mommy mind.
Felix was our miracle baby from the moment we discovered his little spaceman shape with its furious heartbeat at 9 weeks along. We’d just given up on the idea of having children at all. After fourteen years of marriage and over a decade of keeping the “door open”, we’d been told a year ago that our options toward that goal were IVF or adoption. We’d finally concluded we were no longer pursuing either one. I’ll never forget the feeling when, one crisp day in November, I went for a run and felt the weight of the decision lift off of my body and float away into the blue sky like a kite. In an instant, an oppressive stress-lined coat of tension washed off me in a way I can’t help but call spiritual. I had no idea what a burden we’d been carrying with the overhanging question. Within a week, I was pregnant.
Throughout my pregnancy, Dave and I marveled at the lucky breaks we’d been handed. Oblivious to my “condition”, I ran the Tuscon marathon at 6 weeks along; we then flew to the UK for Christmas where I ran every morning in the rain alongside my husband who, we were soon to learn, had contracted whooping cough. This special baby had a purpose, to survive and thrive in spite of our ignorance.
I was convinced early on of two things: the baby I was carrying was a boy who was craving burgers; and, he was going to be early, or at least punctual. But as my due date neared and then passed, I had to accept that the sense of timing was more wishful thinking than intuition. We were scheduled for an induction at 41 weeks.
When induction day arrived, we got to our hospital room and I was hooked up to the monitor for contraction and heartbeat measurements. “Wow,” Heidi, my OB (who is my hero, and exceptionally amazing and skilled), said. “Based on the strength of these, you look like you should be right there.” I was pretty surprised at that, because I’d been having contractions of same or similar strength for close to a week. I just figured that the Braxtons were getting uncomfortable, not that they’d evolved into actual contractions. Yet, I was hardly dilated.
Our wonderful nurse that night, Camille, administered cytotec to help get labor progressing before they’d start with Pitocin the next day. My body’s response was swift and strong, and before I knew it, I was having painful back labor. We’d been told baby’s head was face down and didn’t anticipate this, but as it turns out he was tilted in a way that created the extra pressure.
I had an open mind to pain relief going in but really wanted to try to have as natural an experience as possible. As the night progressed, however, and the pain got worse, it started to become clear that everything providing relief for me had the reverse effect on our baby. I went into the jacuzzi tub and felt instant soothing effects. Then, when Camille brought the doppler in to measure baby’s hearbeat, we spent an agonizing, intense minute listening to…nothing. Camille’s face was beginning to look blanched, and there was an undeniable urgency in her voice when she told me to get out and move back to the bed so we could monitor from there. To our enormous relief the heartbeat was again detected, but it had become more erratic. We were already feeling ragged.
The contractions continued to strengthen with no to minimal change in dilation, and by morning I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I elected to the epidural along with the Pitocin, which in itself I had seriously been dreading. Once again, my body responded well to something that baby rejected. Throughout the rest of the day, we were scrupulously monitored, and Pitocin levels were altered in response to baby’s reaction. He wasn’t descending further; and I wasn’t dilating beyond 8 cm. I was completely exhausted. Worst of all, baby’s heartbeat was experiencing regular dips whenever medication was increased.
At 4 pm, Heidi came in and even in my drug-induced state it was clear from her face what she was going to say. “Uh-oh,” was all I could muster, swollen and woozy from fluids, collapsed on my side with nausea and fatigue. “Yeah,” she said soberly. “We have to talk.” She went over the risks of a c-section, but concluded by telling us that there was no other option. It seems because of an operation I’d had at birth for a diaphragmatic hernia and residual scar tissue, my uterus had tilted to a degree that baby’s descent was obstructed. Poor little thing had been trying to come out punctually after all. In fact, when he was delivered, he had a bitty cone head forming from pushing so hard to make that impossible journey.
The room suddenly felt oppressively hot, and a short sharp shock of dizziness flooded me with the news. I threw up as Dave frantically tried to call my parents to fill them in quickly even as I was being rolled towards the operating room. At the end of the hall we got to share a quick “last kiss” before Dave was ushered elsewhere to get into scrubs and I was transferred onto the operating table.
Ultimately, the actual operation was a really positive experience. Not how you’d typically think of major abdominal surgery! I wasn’t groggy, but surprisingly alert, and Dave squeezed my hand tightly while we carried on a fairly normal, even upbeat conversation. The medical team I had working for us was beyond awesome. I had complete trust in them and their talent. My ego was even stroked a little when I heard them talking about how nice and easy a procedure it was because there was no fat to cut through. The whole thing was completed within 30-45 minutes.
Towards the end, I asked the anaesthesiologist standing on my side of the curtain and looking over whether he could see baby yet. “Not yet,” he responded, “but I do see lots of hair!” Then there was a single, high-pitched, beautiful baby cry that brought on the joyful tears, and everything sped up. Dave was a few feet away, still in view, and I could catch glimpses of him cutting the umbilical cord. His voice was reassuring, exclaiming through tears and bewilderment, “oh he’s co cute, you’re going to love him so much, he’s so cute, just so cute.” His fabulous 8-9 Apgar score was announced, and finally, little Felix was placed on my chest. I knew him at once as the little love and light of our lives.
Adrenaline was soaring. Felix was cleaned up and both our vitals measured. An hour later, we were back in a recovery room and my parents, visiting from the east coast, came over to see their first grandchild for the first time.
If only that were the end, but the toughest part began in the middle of the night, when I began severely bleeding. I had only to stand up and pools of blood were on the floor. Camille, again on night shift, did her very best to keep the concern she felt from showing, but it was there. I was so thrilled with our new baby, and perhaps a little buzzed on painkillers; it would really be days before I’d begin to process how scary the night became. At about 3 am, after several more rounds of blood loss, Camille determined it was time to call Heidi. In the moment, all I could think was “oh no, I’m ruining her night”, and I couldn’t stop apologizing for all the trouble I was causing.
Heidi arrived and the next thing we knew, the hospital bed looked like a murder scene. The way my uterus was tilted, the lower half wasn’t retracting in pace with the upper portion, and blood was pooling and clotting, making further retraction impossible. We needed to go through another procedure, but there was no time to call in the anesthesiologist. “Be prepared it’s going to be painful and intense,” Heidi said. “Basically you’ll feel my whole hand reaching in as high as I can get to pull out as many clots as I can.” Several nurses assisted and I squeezed Dave’s hand until it must have felt like it was breaking off while I felt my body contort in ways the scarring from the c-section abhorred. It was so painful. When it was over, though, once again I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the incredible medical professionals who were taking care of us, and the sweet baby boy lying quietly in his bassinet just feet away.
Since that moment, life has mostly been a blur of one continuous, emotional day. The labor and delivery experience was harrowing, but the hospital experience itself was actually superb. Aside from the unavoidable discomfort of being monitored, poked and prodded constantly, we couldn’t have been happier. The staff at LUH were exceptional, in competence and friendliness, and they went out of their way to do everything they could. I had a complementary massage on the second day post-delivery; they even sent us home with a lasagna and cookies.
The ups and downs of post-pregnancy so far are strangely unrelated despite their inextricable connection. The ups are all about baby brilliance and being new parents, and I’d never blame baby for the downs, as overwhelming as they can get. While I feel I can safely say I’m not at risk for depression, there is a part of me that has been wholly revolted by my post-partum body. I worked so hard to keep as fit as I could throughout pregnancy, even doing an easy run on the treadmill the day we went in to be induced. It’s not that I feel like all that was for naught, but I didn’t expect to leave the hospital wearing weird mesh granny panties, looking 6-months pregnant still, and dragging fluid-filled legs, sausages ready to pop from their casings. The long recovery period sometimes looms ahead like a black cloud. And “baby brain” during pregnancy was nothing compared to the real deal I’m experiencing now. I can’t seem to remember anything involving numbers at all, let alone work out real math. Every day is a marvel for just how unproductive I can be, outside of nursing (which is actually going startlingly well…and I now have breasts for the first time in my life, only they’re really more like rocks with nipples), baby laundry (thank goodness for my Mom’s gift of a cloth diaper service to begin…it is the best time-saver ever), and managing to not sleep. Considering how much I was prepared for post-partum period ups and downs, I can’t believe how much remained secret when it comes to the nitty gritty. Adding insult to injury, on top of the stretchy “lacy” hospital panties, I had an allergic reaction to the bandage dressing over my sutures, and my whole abdomen was covered with itchy blisters.
I could seriously go on and on. I’ve probably already done so far too long anyway, and it’s tempting to just keep on going. But in spite of everything, the core of me is truly always reveling in the perfect, precious gift we’ve been given. It doesn’t seem possible until experienced that love can be so very instantly, magically strong, and such hard work so completely rewarding. I get down on myself, but trust that the time will come soon enough when once again I have a better sense of self and body back. Eventually I will get to post about quinoa falafel and the like; I’ll take on more freelance and re-organize my teaching stuff. Fingers crossed, it won’t be too long before I feel in shape enough once more to focus on running and multisport goals, too. I’m nervous about that…hoping the process of finding my athletic self again will be more about exhilaration and less about discouragement. That said, I know those goals may never be quite the same. I’m so utterly head-over-heels in love. More than future finish lines or fast times, I’m sure to be concentrating on one perfect (to me) little boy I hope will be cheering on the side. I’m so very thankful for this chance to cheer and support him in everything he chooses to pursue, for the rest of my life.