Back to work, mostly

So yes, back to work for about 6 weeks now. As much as I wanted to go back, as much as I missed thinking and seeing people outside my immediate family (size 3 humans 1 dog), it was weird, and good, and bad all at once.

First, the good: I am in such a good mood when I am teaching! I’m really good at this; perhaps it comes from no longer over-thinking everything, because I’m prepping very little. Perhaps it comes from the several-year build-up to this goal, of “covering” less material and going deeper, getting the students to think more thoroughly and use the information. Perhaps because I’m just not pregnant or hijacking my hormones for the first time in three and a half years. (I added it up; with all three pregnancies, I was pregnant for 65 weeks before giving birth. Awesome.) I’m pretty sure my students didn’t do so well on yesterday’s exam. And my approach this year? “It was a hard exam! I’ve scaled your scores! You did great on these things, and you should be proud of yourselves.” Because, hey, why not? It was a hard exam. For them, anyway.

I love that I finally have the emotional and physical energy to tackle some projects that I’ve been thinking about and doing tiny bits of work on for the last few years. I’m writing again, and it’s going well. Because I’m good at it, and because I am no longer worrying that I or the baby will die, or that I will never have a live, healthy baby. I am starting to remember why I wanted to do this job in the first place, and how good I am at it. My grief and fear have been so big for so long that I was wondering if I just was, you know, not good at my job.

But going back, being in that building, was hard. My office, which I love, has no windows. That never bothered me; I have lots of plants (although they’re at home now, until I’m back full-time next fall). Now it feels timeless and small and kind of dead, without the constant change of light throughout the day that I got used to at home.

And going to the bathroom? It’s easier now, but for the first two weeks, just walking into the faculty women’s room gave me a fright. I checked for blood, even though there was no possible way I could be miscarrying or going into labor, since I. Am. Not. Pregnant. I felt the same startle reflex as I had while I was pregnant. Crikey, will I never get a fucking break?! That fear/anxiety/startle response has slowed down now, although last night before I left I allowed myself to check that what I’d felt was *not* bleeding. I knew it wasn’t; there was no way it could be. But my poor, exhausted body said, “It might be! Check anyway!” So I did, and I felt better. Not stupid for checking.

On top of that, I  have what seems to be hormonal-nursing-induced anxiety. Sometimes it takes the form of irrational catastrophising fear of the baby dying in some random way, or the car being stolen while he is in the back. Those fears I can calm easily, because I trust my thoughts that say, “it’s really unlikely that will happen.” But then comes the work anxiety, and wondering if I will be able to get tenure, being angry in advance of anything actually happening, thinking, “if you knew what I had been through, you would be praising me to the heavens for how much I have been able to do, not scolding me for doing too little.” I imagine myself asking the provost, “imagine that either your kid dies, or you and your kid both die. Those are your choices. That is what I have to live with for the rest of my life.” I imagine explaining “your body has 12 units of blood. I lost 9. So no, I am not exaggerating when I say that I almost died as a complication of pregnancy.”

I was on the elliptical today, and anger and anxiety and sadness poured through me. It was good. I need to do that more; it will help. So I will. I am just so tired of being controlled by these emotions that it’s time to take them back a bit. Yoga class is helping. I’m remembering to breathe when I feel anxious. Sometimes I’ll practice mindfulness while the baby is nursing. It all helps. I probably should blog more, too…!

I guess it’s just complicated now. I didn’t expect that having this baby makes losing that one so much more vivid and painful. I didn’t expect to be shoved backwards in time to relive my pregnancy.

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Christmas Eve (Part 2)

As I was saying, it is just not possible to get through Advent and Christmas without being bombarded by pregnancy and childbirth. The good news? I nursed the baby during the church service tonight; what could be more perfect than that? The music director smiled; we were sitting in overflow space in the choir loft.

And I cried through a lot of the service, because I couldn’t help but think about how incredibly painful this pregnancy was for me.

My OBGYN said it best. “Of course you’re scared. Your body thinks that pregnancy is a bad thing.” Because it was. She told me, at every visit, that I was doing great and that what I was feeling was perfectly normal for someone who has had a traumatic pregnancy loss, or traumatic childbirth. That helped, but it never took away the constant fear.

I had PTSD. Every time, and I mean every time, I felt the least bit of discharge, I startled. My body thought I was bleeding again. And guess what? I put out a lot of fluid when I’m pregnant. And there just wasn’t anything I could do about it. My head knew that I was probably fine, probably not bleeding. But my body? It wasn’t listening to my head. It was going to keep  me alive, damn it, and if that meant keeping me in a state of hyper-awareness for weeks on end, then that’s what it would do. And it did. And wow, did it just suck.

I had wanted so much to be pregnant. For years, before I was even close to considering actually getting pregnant, I wanted to be pregnant. I don’t know why; it wasn’t about the baby or the children that would come after; I just wanted to be pregnant. And from what I can tell, looking past the PTSD, I think my body is good at it. I think I would have enjoyed it, if I hadn’t been so sure (in one part of myself) that the baby, or I, or both of us would die.

My birth plan? Nobody dies. That’s really all I wanted.

I cried a lot. I cried at prenatal appointments. I cried so hard I  had to leave the room a couple of times during the “prepared childbirth” (ha!) class. On the intake form for the class, there was a spot to write what your fears, so the instructors could address them. The nurse running the class said that everyone had put “pain” as what they were most afraid of. Me? I left it blank. Dying, that’s what I was afraid of, but I didn’t write that on the sheet. Pain? I can deal with pain. Dying, on the other hand, not so much.

I cried trying to read the pregnancy books. I cried when we visited a farm and saw a goat with her hours-old twins, banging their heads against her so the milk would let down. (She ended up having triplets. We came back after lunch, and there was the third, lying in the placenta. I guess it was warm. Ick.)

I basically spent the entire pregnancy in fear and crying, and I couldn’t talk or think myself out of it. Because I knew. Even though the chances of anything bad happening were small, they were real. And people who had seen this before kept telling me that what I was feeling was perfectly normal under the circumstances.

I had just started to enjoy being pregnant when my water broke. Almost literally. We were about to go outside and take pictures of me being pregnant, visibly being pregnant, but we went to the hospital instead. I still resent it. I am still angry that I didn’t get to enjoy being pregnant, that I held my breath for the whole time, that it was just so hard. It wasn’t until I met my doula that I felt like myself for the first time in the whole pregnancy, but that’s a story for another post.

Maybe next year it will be different. Maybe next year I won’t be thinking about Mary facing the possibility that she might die in childbirth. Maybe next year I can just watch my son enjoy the lights and colors and singing and happy people on Christmas Eve.

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Christmas Eve (Part 1)

It is impossible to get through Advent and Christmas without thinking about pregnancy. Which is why, in part, I cried through the little one’s first Christmas Eve service. I’m so happy he’s here, and sometimes I can’t believe he’s real–it feels like he’s going to stay little like this forever. But man, this pregnancy just sucked, and it is so hard to hear how happy Mary and Elizabeth were about their babies. Hey, one was conceived immaculately and the other was too old to have a child–reminds me of IVF, somehow…

In any case, here’s my story of how difficult this pregnancy was, even without throwing up once.

So to start, we went to the first ultrasound, and it was twins. Twins! Our annoying RE was  in shock. “I’ve been doing this for thirty years, and this is how many times we’ve had twins at 43” (he held up his hand–like, 5 times). Yippee (not). We hit the lottery. Again.

I. Was. Not. Happy. We were never sure that we’d be able to handle more than one child to begin with, back in blissful ignorance land when the worst thing we’d had to endure was one successful IVF cycle. So I cried, was in shock for a while, and started to learn about twin pregnancies and risks. I had come to a place of acceptance, and I was even happy about it sometimes, when overnight I felt less nauseated than the day before.

So when we went for the 12-week prenatal visit (my third) the first thing I said was that I didn’t want to continue with the appointment until I could be sure I was still pregnant. Because, you see, that’s what had happened the year before. I’d thought I was just having the normal progression of pregnancy, but I wasn’t. My nausea had stopped because the fetus had stopped growing, although we didn’t know it.

I explained about the nausea drop-off. We waited, and waited some more, and had another ultrasound, and we found out that one of the twins had died. More tears, super-sympathetic MD, anger: why can’t anything be easy for us? And huge relief that we had put back enough embryos so that we still had a live one.

And then. Sitting in the kitchen being gossipy and looking up real estate values for no reason, I felt a gush. A big gush. Of blood. Which is not what should be happening at about 13 weeks along. And then another. You’d think I’d panic, but I didn’t, exactly, just called the hospital, talked to the OB on call, and went to the ER. And everything was just fine.

And then. Ten days later. The same thing. Another ER visit. This time I was so scared. At some point I looked at my husband and said, “If this doesn’t work out, I don’t want to do this again.” It was too much, too scary, too many days and hours and weeks of just terror, not only that we might not have a baby but that this time I might be hemorrhaging again.

But (as you know), it was OK. We all looked at the ultrasound screen, me, my husband, a couple of residents, a L&D nurse, and by golly the little guy was doing flips. Seriously. He was so active that he was spinning around in there. “That’s a good sign. A very, very good sign,” the senior resident said. And we went home at 2 a.m. and slept in the next day.

And then, even though I knew things were OK, even though we were past 12 weeks, even though that little fetus was super-wiggly, the pregnancy actually got more difficult and stayed that way.

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My Weird Reaction to Miscarrying

Note: Quick reminder that this blog is mostly a record of past events; this post is about my one and only miscarriage, which ended my second pregnancy.

Eleven months later, I was pregnant again. This time, I was going to do it right. I was so happy! One of the things that was hard after the trauma was that I had hardly enjoyed the pregnancy. I was so cautious because of my age. My husband’s mother had died suddenly a few weeks after we found out that I was pregnant, two years and two weeks after his father had died, so we had that grief overlaying anything good we might have felt. Plus, there was the guilt over not having told her, although we had good reasons for staying quiet.

So this time I just enjoyed it. We planned, we dreamed, we bought a totally age-inappropriate baby toy while we were Christmas shopping, we just let ourselves be happy again. We bought a house, and the next year was supposed to be a better year.

Then at our 12 week prenatal appointment, the nurse couldn’t find a heartbeat on the doppler. They brought in an ultrasound machine; nothing. I remember turning to my husband and saying, “this isn’t good” or something; it was clear there was a problem.

They moved us to the “good” ultrasound down the hall; nothing. We were there during a snowstorm, although the roads were pretty clear, it seemed like almost every other patient had cancelled. So on the walk down the hall to the “good” ultrasound machine, we passed half of the staff waiting in the hall. And we had to see their expressions faking normalcy but filled with pity and fear.

This ultrasound tech looked, asked us the due date, and practically ran out of the room. Our MD came back to give us the news: the fetus had stopped growing at 9 weeks.

The miscarriage was the first time I was forced to face the possibility that we would never have a baby, but more on that later.

So our amazing OBGYN, whom we’d only known since after the first loss, was able to schedule me for a D&C that afternoon. She walked us through the options of miscarrying naturally vs. surgically, and given my bleeding history, we all felt safer with the surgery. The last thing I wanted was to be at home bleeding again, and who knows what might happen this time?

And here’s the thing: of course I was sad, but mostly I just kept thinking, “Now I’m just like everyone else.” I was “just” having a miscarriage, like “everyone else.” It wasn’t nearly as isolating as the medical termination; most women who have lost a pregnancy have lost it because of miscarriage. It was so, so much easier.

This time we sat in a pre-op unit for hours, waiting for it to be long enough after my breakfast to make the anesthesiologist happy, going through all the red tape and procedures and disclosures and explanations of what was going to happen. I kept thinking how much less scary this was, when it wasn’t an emergency. People talked to me like I was a person, because they had time to. It was going to suck later, but I was so relieved that I felt safe. That I wasn’t in any danger of dying because of this. That I was just like all of those other women who’d had a miscarriage.

And here’s the part of the story that wasn’t so great. I was getting prepped for the surgery, IV and all, and a nurse came in to tell me how sorry she was because she had had a miscarriage.

“I know how you feel,” she said.

“No, you don’t,” I said.

“Yes, I do,” she said.

“No you don’t!” I shouted, and threw the kleenex box across the room. Because she didn’t.

What I wish I had said to her was, “Were you grateful and relieved? Because that’s how I feel right now.”

But I didn’t, because that just seemed too mean. I knew she was trying to be nice,

I was grateful that I could have a nice, safe, calm procedure that was tremendously unlikely to result in any serious complications.

I was grateful that I didn’t have to kill a perfectly healthy fetus again.

I was grateful that almost no one knew I was pregnant.

I was relieved that this pregnancy had not killed me, or come close to it.

I was relieved that it could be over that day, and that this end-of-pregnancy would be so much easier than my first.

But really? There is no way in hell she could have any idea what it felt like to be me right there, and she should have known better than to say so.

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Imperfect Update

So, yeah, the little guy is 3 months old now, and really, it’s much easier to live my life and get things done than it was even a couple of weeks ago. This “settled baby” thing is actually happening, albeit later than I might have wanted. In other words, yes, I could have been blogging more but I haven’t. Maybe because I want all of my writing to be really good, hence the title of the post. So, throwing all thoughtfulness and order to the wind, here’s some random thoughts (wow, I’m living on the edge, aren’t I?)

First off, the small child has been asleep for nearly two hours in the Baby Bjorn, so whatever gets written before he wakes up is what will get posted.

I think I was starving him for a few nights. Really. The received knowledge about breastfeeding and milk supply is that you will produce as much as your baby needs. However. A couple of nights he was screaming bloody murder, as my mother would say, and we thought it was just normal fussiness. It’s at the fussy time, after all. Then in desperation one of us would give him a bottle, and you’d think he hadn’t eaten in days. This after nursing for an hour. Yikes. I’ve decided that between my “advanced maternal age” and sort of getting my period again, I’m just not producing as much milk as I was. And thank goodness for formula. Guess what? He’s much happier when he’s not starving! Who knew?!

We are so lucky. He’s a really easy baby. For one thing, he loves getting his diaper changed. I’ve known other babies who cannot stand having their clothes taken off, but he just smiles and talks to us when he’s on the changing table. So great!

I’ve been taking him everywhere, and so far no meltdowns in public. Yay! I was really, really looking forward to being able to wear the baby everywhere, and I am. And it’s just as cool as I had hoped.

The most common reaction when we’ve taken him to places where we know people (like work or events)? Nostalgia for when their own, grown children were his size. It’s such a wistful look, and you can see their thoughts going back, back, back, see the memories on their faces, the love and the happiness and sadness that their children grew up.  And I can’t help but think, “that will be me someday.” And I think that we have no idea how he will change as he grows up, that one of the things these parents might be thinking is about their hopes for their little ones and which ones came true and which didn’t.

I feel better, emotionally, than I have in five years. Really. It’s great. I knew while it was happening that I was situationally depressed, and I had a lot of reasons to be (in addition to all pregnancy loss & infertility ones, we had other major high-stress life events going on, yikes). I knew it, but deep down I kind of felt like I was just a depressed person, that I would always feel a little down even if things got better. Even if/when we got to have our live, healthy baby. I was wrong. It’s great. I have energy (although not nearly enough time) to do some of the things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, silly things like make salad dressing on a regular basis instead of always buying it. I am working on projects and being really productive, and it feels easy, not like I’m fighting against myself to do them.

As much as I love my baby, I do not love taking care of a newborn. It’s much, much easier now, but it’s still boring and wildly time-consuming. I think I have a draft post about it. I have never been the kind of person who is mainly engaged in physical things for fun or work; I read, I think, I watch TV. And caring for a newborn, nursing a baby, is pretty much 100% physical. I have bought a ton of books about babies (and managed to find five conflicting opinions about sleep training), but still. So it’s been a challenge.

At one of his checkups, the nurse measured his head and said, “borderline genius!” That struck us as so funny that we say it all the time, whenever he does anything. Stuffs his fist in his mouth and keeps it there for two sucks? Borderline genius!

He likes to look at the lights (comparisons to a moth are acceptable), and he likes to look at trees. It’s great–if he’s a little fussy, I can walk outside and he’ll just look up and get quiet. Oh, and yesterday in the car, he turned his head to look at the big truck next to us. Go figure. Three months and already likes trucks.

And it’s been 30 minutes, and I think he’ll wake up screaming to eat soon, so this is the end for now. Mostly? It is so good to be happy for a change.

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Still Writing

I’m not sure why, other than the insane adjustment to having a new baby in the house, I haven’t posted more since his birth. I have a bunch of drafts waiting, started while I was pregnant. This blog was never intended to be a record of my everyday life; it’s a place to write my story so someone else who needs to read it someday will have it–or she already has found it and is reading it now. And I guess that’s a good thing, because it was so difficult to even acknowledge the reality of my pregnancy while it was happening. I’m sitting at the computer with a sleeping baby strapped to my front, head tilted sideways and face toward the heavens, one curled-up hand near his mouth. Maybe now, almost two months in, I’ll be able to write about him and me and how we got here.

The other reason it’s important for me to remember that this isn’t an everyday update kind of blog is that so much of what I have to say is sad or angry! I promise that I don’t feel like that all the time (now), and that I do not have PPD, and that it’s kind of a balance–the good days are really good, and the bad days, not so much. Maybe once all the  unhappiness has made it onto the page there will be room for more happy, pleasant things to read, like when the baby smiled at me the first time. But right now? I’m not sure I have anything more to say about the good stuff than my FB post after it happened: “He smiled. Bliss.”

All this is a roundabout way to say, “I’m still here! I’m still writing!” And the baby is beautiful and amazing, and I can’t believe we get to keep him.

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July Surprise

Well. I was just getting to a place where I could write more about this pregnancy–and I have a lot to say. As my OB said, my body remembers pregnancy as a bad thing. So of course it was hard for my mind to believe otherwise, even though everything was going just the way it should, physically.

But then my son decided to arrive a month early! He’s here, and everyone is doing fine. 35 weeks 6 days is “late preterm,” and he had jaundice, so we were in the hospital for 5 days.   We’re home. We’re adjusting. He’s wonderful. He’s really, finally here, even if sometimes it’s a little hard to believe.

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