Bingo- a birth story.

Somehow, Bingo is six months old. I want to write a post about her transformation from squishy newborn to funny, active little person, but right now I’m painfully aware of both my overall failure to blog and my specific failure to blog about Bingo’s birth. I’ll begin with the latter in an attempt to remedy the former. Still following? Good!

Bingo’s birth story was mostly written at the time of the event, time- stamped updates typed into my phone by me and then, later, by Sea.  If you don’t want to read it, here is the summary:

After the contractions brought about by induction #1- cervical gel- tapered off, induction #2- pitocin- went ahead as scheduled, beginning on November 21st. Labor was long, painful, and scary at times. It culminated in two hours of pushing, followed by a caesarean after I spiked a fever and labor stalled. Of course, what it really culminated in was the birth of the fabulous Bingo. This end product- and the care/love of Sea, our friends, and our fabulous midwives- make this a happy story, even though, at the time, a lot of it felt like anything but.

And here is the long version, written on November 21st and 22nd, 2013.

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Today.

(Yesterday, now.)

I text my friends to wish them a happy due date, telling them that I’m excited for them.  Text sent, I go and look in the mirror.

The wrinkled t-shirt I pulled out of the pile of unfolded laundry in our room is even more wrinkled after a restless night. Its front is stained with milk: in the next 10 minutes its shoulder will also be covered in spit up. Under my stained shirt, my stomach is stretched in a way that still feels unfamiliar.  The stretchmarks are always a surprise.  I look tired, and my hair is too long. I try to think when I last had a haircut, I can’t remember. I try to think about when I might go for another haircut, and I can’t imagine. I’m pulled away from my pathetic reflection by the sounds of a stirring baby: the same sounds that pulled me away from my bed no fewer than four times the previous night.

I go into the baby’s room. Picture-perfect before she was born, a basket of unfolded laundry now sits in the middle and books are flung across the floor. I turn off the humidifier and the white noise machine, mechanisms necessary for sleep. I’m greeted by a smiling baby. She is kicking happily in the center of her crib, surrounded by a small ocean’s worth of spit up. Despite yesterday’s bath, she smells like sour milk. I pick her up, and immediately realize that she has pooed out the sides and up the back of her diaper. Again. 

After the first of the day’s three outfit changes, I have breakfast while I feed the baby.  This, in itself, is a feat: I’ve eaten cookies or nothing more mornings than I care to admit.  Today I balance my bowl of cereal in the hand partially pinned under the baby’s head, and try not to drip milk onto her clean outfit.  I eat lefthanded, a newly acquired skill.  While I eat, I think about my friends, awaiting the arrival of their any-day-now baby.  I think of our own anticipation in November, and the days that followed.  Even remembering, I feel overwhelmed by the exhaustion and the pain.  I think about the long labor that ended in a c-section, about how I could barely turn or pull myself to sitting afterwards, about how my body leaked and bled.  I think about the night when Bingo cried constantly, and all of the tears (both hers and mine) that came both before and after.  I think about how I really had no idea, and how often I still don’t.  And I think about my friends, and how some of these things might still be ahead.

And then I’m pulled back to the here and now, mostly because the baby has managed to sink her elbow into my bowl of cereal despite my breakfast gymnastics.  Finished eating, she turns her head and smiles up at me.  In the past five and a half months, she’s transformed from a fragile newborn into a sturdy (and pudgy!) child.  I think now about all of the things she does.  She rolls, and sits (sort of), and wrinkles her nose when she laughs.  She has likes and dislikes, favorite toys and games.  After an absence (no matter how short), she greets me or Sea with an enthusiasm that radiates through her entire body.  She is more herself every day, and I am more myself with her.  As exhausting and chaotic as these days sometimes still are, they are palpably different from those first overwhelming weeks when I found myself wondering– more than once– what we had done.  These days are different, filled with more with joy than fear.  I am wrinkled, I am exhausted, I am happy.  And I am excited for my friends.

Sick day.

Anybody who knows me can tell you that I am not very good at being still.

Before having a baby, I would head from one meeting, activity, or gathering with friends to the next, raising my hand to volunteer far more often than I should have. If I got sick, I would drag myself into work, sneezing and dripping as I went. My coworkers would cover their mouths and glare, rightfully annoyed at the person bringing in the germs.

It should come as no surprise then, that I have created a post-baby schedule almost as busy as the one that existed before. I have signed up for song groups and reading circles, playgroups and educational sessions. I make muffins to bring to gatherings in the houses of my new parent friends, and travel across the city to see my non-parent friends with Bingo strapped to a carrier on my chest.

Last night, we woke up at 2am to the sounds of Bingo sniffing and coughing pitifully in the cosleeper by our bed. By 6am, she was tossing fitfully and too congested to sleep. As Sea showered, I sat with the poor baby in the steamy bathroom and held her as she finally dozed off. As the sun rose, I lay with her in bed and watched her sleep, still coughing and sniffling. I thought about our plans for the day: a friend to meet, a playgroup to go to, a meeting to attend. I thought about how I could still go. How hard could it be to wipe the baby’s face, get us both dressed, and power through? That is, after all, how I operate. But then I asked myself who I would be doing that for. Not for the baby , certainly. Not even for the people I had planned to see. I would be doing it only for me.

So I stayed in bed. We’ve spent today reading, playing, and singing songs, but mainly just staying cozied into the warmest corners of our house. I’m not going to lie: I’m feeling a little twitchy. Next week, when the sniffles have hopefully subsided, we’ll resume normal activity. But for today, I’m choosing to be grateful for the slowed pace and quiet moments of our first sick day.

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A year in the making.

A year ago today, a fluish Sea and I set out to the fertility clinic on a cold morning.

We stopped to help a man named Tom who had collapsed on the pavement, before heading into the building that had housed our three previous attempts at babymaking. With the aid of an app, I pointed myself towards Mecca and took a sip of holy water before following the ever-rushed Dr. Text into a clinic room. As Call Me Maybe played over the radio and we talked about conception stories, Dr. Text performed our fourth IUI and first try with our second donor.

A year later, I’ve seen Tom once, walking across the same pavement where he fell. Dr. Text has moved back to his home country. Call Me Maybe has been replaced on radio stations by more popular songs. The holy water sits at the back of a cupboard, in case of future need. And Sea and I sit in our warm home on a quiet evening, with our 12 week old daughter sleeping beside us.

What a year it has been.

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So long, Diet Coke.

Last Wednesday marked Bingo’s last visit to the midwives’ clinic: her first graduation.

After my first visit to the clinic last April, I wrote that I was just “another November” to them: one more patient somewhere in the middle of a long stream of pregnant people.  It’s still true that we’re just one family of many– the fairly small clinic had thirteen patients deliver the weekend was born and one of those thirteen babies shares Bingo’s (not that common) name– but it didn’t feel like that by the end. 

I think I really began to feel like I had a relationship with our midwives beyond blood pressure checks and fundal height measurements when Bingo was breech.  When I sat on the medical table, made up to look like a B&B bed with its paisley sheets, and cried in their office for the first time (though certainly not the last); when Diet Coke’s voice softened and she told me that birth was a doorway, not a destination; when she hugged me with such genuine excitement after Bingo magically flipped.

I had other moments too, with Herbal Tea and the student midwife.

Herbal Tea wasn’t working when I was in labor, but happened to be nearby. She appeared in our hospital room, wearing her coat and smelling like the outdoors. She sat by the bed, smiling her perpetually serene smile. And while I had sensed judgement in many of our prenatal appointments, her preference for home birth clear, there was none as she sat next to the tubes and monitors tethering me to a highly medicalized delivery.

Herbal Tea’s visit happened during the day. The student midwife was the first to appear that night, when the nurses paged the midwives and told them that Bingo’s birth was coming closer. The student midwife came into the room, smiled, and looked at the monitors with total calm and confidence. I was comforted by her presence then, and again when she guided me through two hours of pushing. When Bingo was born in the operating room, she took the camera from an overwhelmed Sea and made sure there were photos of Bingo’s first moments. When I sobbed after a sleepless night with Bingo she hugged me, told me and Sea how well we were doing, and patiently sat in our bedroom until Bingo was fed and asleep.

Our midwives became more than our medical practitioners. The comfort and support they provided was more like the comfort and support you might find in lunch with your best friend after a breakup, in venting to your partner after a terrible day at work, in seeing somebody you love at your bedside when you’re sick. Their experience and medical knowledge was amazing too– the ability to detect a breech baby by touch when all I could feel was a lump– but that care is really what mattered most. It was hard to leave.

Bingo’s final exam, done by Diet Coke and the student midwife, was a mixture of questions, measurements and goodbyes. Bingo showed off, cooing and smiling through the whole appointment. Diet Coke commented that Bingo will likely be a laid back extrovert, and the student midwife wrote “Healthy baby!” all over her discharge paperwork. At the end of the done-too-soon appointment, we gave the midwives small, homemade gifts. They gave us long hugs and an exit package that, unnecessarily, included a brochure on birth control. And then we left the warmly lit clinic, already feeling a little bit lost.

Yesterday we brought Bingo to see our own doctor, now Bingo’s doctor too. The perpetually cheerful doctor (blog name Dr Cheer?) admired our baby, took measurements, administered vaccines. She was efficient and as cheerful as ever, but her office felt cold and too bright. Hours later, Bingo was screaming. I called Dr Cheer’s office to ask how much of the recommended pain relief medication I should give her. Call the pharmacy, the receptionist told me, the doctor is too busy to answer. I missed our midwives painfully then.

When Bingo was first conceived, Sea and I talked long and hard about whether to leave prenatal care to a midwife or an OB. I am so glad that we chose the former. Knowing that there was somebody on call 24/7, somebody who actually cared, meant everything. We came across a lot doctors in our journey to have Bingo, and received good medical care from many of them, but that care didn’t even come close to what we found in the hands of Diet Coke and her friends.

After leaving their warmly lit clinic, Sea and I walked to the bus stop and wished aloud that midwives followed their patients for more than six weeks after a baby’s birth. Ten weeks, maybe. Or six months. Or a year. Or five years. Really, we decided, midwives should be for life. For nine months our midwives cheered us on, reassured us, comforted us, and celebrated with us. Pregnant or not, couldn’t we all use that?

Six weeks.

Six weeks, they say, is the time it takes to recover from a c-section: the time it takes for muscle and skin to knit together again, the time before the patient can “resume normal activity”.

Today, six hours and three minutes from the time that I’m typing these words, marks six weeks since Bingo was born. Six weeks during which I’ve been allowed to lift nothing heavier than the baby, six weeks of relearning children’s songs, six weeks of becoming a parent. I’m sitting here with the baby, who has just finished nursing, sprawled across my lap. I’m rocking her gently in the same white wooden chair where my mother once rocked me. Beneath the baby, I imagine my muscle and skin still slowly knitting back together. Strong enough to resume normal activity, perhaps, but also still in the process of reforming. I wonder what “normal activity” even means in this context, anyways: is there even a normal to return to after something that feels so (and I’m only being slightly hyperbolic) cataclysmic?

Though I’m not sure about a return to normal, I do know that a lot has changed over the past six weeks. A lot has also changed since that first week: for me, for Bingo, for our little family of three.

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