Friday, April 20, 2018

Avery Evelyn's Birth

A few days after my first daughter, Avery, was born, my wonderful doula sat on my couch and said: "Write it down. Write down the story of your daughter's birth, or you'll forget the details." It's been almost four years (where did the time go!) since that day, and I've tried many times to write this story. I've told it to Avery. I've told it to myself. And yet, I've never written it down. Not the whole thing.

Then today, I read the story of the birth of a friend's fifth child – an emergency C-section at 34 weeks. I was so moved by the story. The strength and confidence of the doctors and nurses. The love between my friend and her husband. The lump rose in my throat. And suddenly, I was ready to tell my own stories.

Avery Evelyn Pepple came into this world nine days late, at 8:55PM on Sunday, June 22nd, nine days after her due date, after being served with the biological equivalent of an eviction notice. At seven days past my June 13th due date, I'd been looking forward to the membrane sweep that would hopefully induce labor and bring forth my daughter into the world. My body had other plans. My cervix, far from "ripe" was shut up tight. Not effaced or dilated – at all. So closed that a membrane sweep was not possible. Nothing indicated that I was anywhere near labor. That baby was perfectly comfortable where she was.

I, however, was not so comfortable. After nine months of morning sickness, I was sick of being sick. I was still throwing up all day, every day. I was tired. I was more than ready to meet this baby. And so  when the OB-GYN who check my fluid levels said "I'd induce," I decided to ignore the cautions of the midwives who were my primary caretakers and serve my stubborn little daughter with her eviction notice.

The warnings about induce in my "unripe" state were ominous.

"It could take 48 hours, maybe 72."

"It might well result in a C-section."

"Your body might not go into labor at all."

I didn't care. I was done. I was willing to try anything.

Induction was not what I'd planned for. I'd told one of the midwives a few weeks earlier that I wanted to labor for as long as possible at home, where I felt safe and comfortable. I knew that the longer I labored at home, the better my chances for the natural birth I so badly wanted, and I was determined to make it so. I'd also written in my birth plan that I didn't want a Hep-Lock (the IV port), or other medical interventions.

With an induction in my "unripe" condition, that was all lost. I checked into the hospital at 7AM on Sunday morning. I was immediately outfitted with several monitors and a Hep-Lock in my left hand. At just after 8AM, the midwife, just starting her shift, administered the first dose of misoprostol to cue my cervix to dilate.

And then we waited. And waited.

At 12:30PM, all was still quiet on the uterine front. The monitors to which I was attached still blipped  with agonizing calm. The midwife came in. She checked my cervix. Zero dilation. Zero effacement. As she administered the second dose of misoprostol, she began the quiet expectation setting conversation. "This is your second dose. If things don't start to move along, we are going to have to start discussing alternatives. Some women just have a very hard time going into labor. Sometimes a C-section is best." Not the words I wanted to hear.

Two long hours passed in agonizing peace.The 2014 World Cup was on, and we fretfully watched soccer as the minutes ticked by and nothing happened. at 2:30PM, the nurses administered the dreaded pitocin in the hope that it would nudge things along.

Just after 3PM, I was wracked by a contraction. It came on with force, and lasted. My first reaction was that I needed to sit on the toilet, so I did. When it passed, I came back and resumed watching soccer.

Ten minutes later, I shot out of bed with another contraction. Another trip to sit on the toilet. When it passed, I stood at the sink basin to wash my hands and was calmed by the cool water running over them. So I stood before the sink, hands in the cold water. Another contraction came, and then another. Mark sat watching the World Cup game, periodically asking me if anything was happening. I kept telling him "No, it's still early. Nothing to get excited about." Meanwhile, the contractions were coming faster and faster. With each one I let the cold water flow over my hands and pressed my forehead to the cool formica of the sink basin, my body angled at 90 degrees, legs splayed.

I heard the game end. The US lost, knocking them out of the World Cup. And then it really began.

But I didn't know that.

I'd never been in labor before. What did I know? And everyone – all the classes, all the books, the midwives and my doula who'd cautioned so strenuously that inductions like mine take days to produce a baby – told me that what I was experiencing was "early labor." It was pain that women vacuumed their carpets through. Pain that women showered through. Pain that women held young children through. Early labor lasted for hours, sometimes days. And damned if I was going to be weak.

So I stood at the sink basin. And I swayed. And I let the water run. And I reassured my husband that I was fine. I was fine! My water hadn't broken. I hadn't lost the mucus plug. It was early. No reason to call the doula.

At 4:45PM, I agreed to call the doula. She'd told me that she'd know it was urgent if I couldn't talk through a contraction. Convinced that I was in early labor, I forced myself to talk through multiple contractions. I gritted my teeth. I kept talking. "Yes, I'm fine. Yes, It's early. No, you don't need to rush. Give your kids dinner."

My nurse kept urging the labor tub. "No, too early. I'll need it later. Too early for that."

Finally, a little after 6PM, the midwife came in and decided it was time to check dilation. I was at 4cm. I'd come a long way, but not that far. No one said I was in active labor.

I agreed to get in the labor tub. And I hated it. The heat was unbearable during contractions, so I asked that the water be cooled. I sat in a bath of cold water until my doula arrived around 7PM and immediately demanded that we turn up the water temperature. And as soon as we did, it was unbearable again. I was burning up. I had to get out.

I made it back to my room on my own two feet. I profusely apologized to the nurses at the central nursing station for loudly groaning through two contractions. They were coming so fast! So fast! Contractions in early labor weren't supposed to come this fast.

The doula asked if I wanted to have my cervix checked. It was 7:35PM. I did. Seven and a half centimeters! But bad news, I was putting too much pressure on my cervix. Far from standing at the longed-for sink basin, they wanted me to lie down on my side. Keep the cervix from swelling. I remember nothing but the contractions coming wave on wave, focusing all of my energy on one canister light on the ceiling, breathing in the unnatural way the nurses and doula instructed me to breath.

I was permitted to get up to use the bathroom. Finally, the mucus plug came! For me, it felt like progress, a sign that maybe things were actually happening.

Not five minutes later, I had an overwhelming urge to push. This was not optional. Not at all. It was primal. It was happening.

I remember screaming, "I'm want to push!" as I pushed. I think nurses rushed in.

I remember a flurry.

I remember shouting at someone, "Why hasn't my water broken? I can't have a baby if my water hasn't broken!!!"

I remember the midwife suddenly appearing between my knees.

And then my water broke, like the force of a levee breaking. A massive release of pressure, liquid shot across the delivery room and people diving out of its path.

And then I pushed. For 45 minutes. I kneeled. I stood. I squatted. Compared to the contractions, pushing wasn't painful, just profoundly uncomfortable. Imagine taking the biggest, stubbornest shit of your life... that's pushing. Except that you don't have a choice. You push when your body tells you to push.

At some point, it became necessary to push while lying down. The placement of the placenta had made it hard to get the baby's heart rate all day, and according to the monitor, her heart rate was dropping with each contraction. They needed to attach a monitor to the crown of her head. I barely remember this, but I'm told by the other people in the room that it was so.

Finally, the midwife could see the head. A little fuzzy crown began to emerge. Unmedicated, I felt the ring of fire as my body stretched to its limit to birth this baby. I felt the contraction wain, but I was done. I held the push, and finally... release. Avery's head emerged. With the next contraction, her body slithered out and into the waiting hands of the midwife.




I'd later learn that the midwife delivered six babies during her 24 shift, Avery being one. When she'd checked me at seven and a half centimeters, she had rationally assumed that I still had some time to go. She got the call that I was 10 centimeters and pushing 30 minutes later as she scrubbed in to assist in a C-section. She told the doctor, "gotta get this one out, I've got another on the way!"

Avery's birth was not the birth I imagined. It was not the one I planned. It was assisted by some intensive labor-inducing drugs and a great deal of naivety on my part. It was fast and intense, and gives me immense admiration for the women who endure long labors. But it was the birth I gave, and an experience for which I'm immensely grateful.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Vehicular Miracle at Palm Springs

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Palm Springs, California, with my two children. My husband, Mark, was taking the California Bar Exam (long story, too much of a digression for this post), and I volunteered to fly alone with our two children, ages 3.75 years and 3 months, respectively, in order to facilitate a mini family vacation.

Did I mention I volunteered to fly solo with our two children?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A little pregnancy rant

So here's the thing...I started this post sometime back in October, and then totally forgot that it existed. Why? Because pregnant. With that said, here's something that should have been committed to the internets several months ago.

I've heard it said that some women enjoy being pregnant. They feel womanly. They feel like they are participating in some higher calling. They feel divine.

Those women are fucking crazy.

Pregnancy, best as I can tell, is a nine months long slog of indignities, some subtle, some less so. Some are inflicted by your own body. Some are inflicted by assholes.

Okay, okay, let me caveat the term "asshole" here. In some cases (many cases?), the assholes I'm referring to are well-intentioned souls who somehow lose all sensibility the minute they spot a pregnant woman. Decorum either goes completely out the window, or comes out in some tortured form.

Probably the most classic example of this is the infamous belly touch. If you've ever been visibly pregnant, you know what I'm talking about. The casual acquaintance or total stranger who suddenly reaches out and pets your belly as though its some shiny inanimate object as opposed to a distended mound attached to a living, breathing, conscious human with boundaries. Just because I now have a bubble protruding from my abdomen does not mean that my personal bubble has ceased to exist, people.

But today, I'm here to complain about two specific pregnancy-related indignities. I refer to these things as "The Door Pretzel" and "Gestational Jeopardy."

The Door Pretzel is a phenomenon that occurs when someone in the vicinity of a pregnant woman and a door decides that all hell will break loose should that pregnant woman be forced to come into contact with said door. Thus, in an effort to keep hell safely contained, this good samaritan engages in what can only be described as great feats of athleticism and acrobatics in order to prevent this contact from happening.

Some sample scenarios from actual experience:

(1) A sprint across the lobby in full Heisman, followed by a stiff-armed thrusting open of the door, requiring me (standing on the other side) to leap backwards in order to avoid being knocked unconscious.

(2) A sprint to catch the door from behind me as I begin to open it, lest I should be forced to open the door the entire way.

(3) Being forced to duck down a good 18 inches while folding myself inward in order to awkwardly maneuver beneath the short-statured gentleman standing on his tip-toes, holding the door open with the fingertips of one hand and beckoning me through with the other.

People, I'm pregnant. I can open a fucking door.

...

Gestational Jeopardy is something with which you may be more familiar thanks to movies and television. This game happens when someone (usually a total stranger) attempts to guess how many months pregnant you are. This game is never fun, because they always, without exception, guess wrong.

During my first pregnancy, the "you're ready to pop!!!!" comments (from total strangers) began around seven months. When you're seven months pregnant and still barfing in alleys and trashcans and so fucking *over it*, hearing some man you don't know from Adam stop you on the street to casually tell you that you look huge is not endearing. In fact, looking back on it, I'm frankly shocked those men survived. It's only thanks to years of gender normative socialization ("be a nice girl") that a punch wasn't thrown. The placating smile is now reflexive. But I digress...

With baby #2, the comments started much earlier. This was a combination of second pregnancy (bigger, faster) and the fact that I gained about 10lbs less weight, making the contrast between belly and body that much more distinct. Beginning shortly after five months of pregnancy, the comments started to roll in.

"That's a big baby you've got there!"

"Growing a linebacker I see!" (I should have replied "yep, NFL's first female linebacker you POS.")

"Any day now, huh?" (how about three more months?)

"Looks like you're ready to pop!" (Yeah, how about I pop you... right in the nose.)

Of course, just as the comments started earlier, my patience wore out sooner. This reached its apex when a man in an elevator made some remark and I calmly responded, "oh, I'm not pregnant." I think I looked basically like this at the time:



I wish I'd had a camera to capture the look on his face.

By the time I was 8 months pregnant, I'd simply stopped responding.

So... in closing:

(1) Pregnant women can open doors. I promise.

(2) Don't assume gestation. Not worth it.

(3) I am so glad that I never have to be pregnant again. 


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

No Words

Yesterday, 59 people died in Las Vegas. Over 500 were injured. One gunman, with many high-powered rifles, standing at his window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, looking out over the glittering expanse of Las Vegas, the beauty of the high desert obscured in darkness beyond, firing down into a crowd of people.

There are no words left to say when these things happen. They've all been said before. They will all be said again when it happens the next time. And of course it will happen again.

When I was 14 years old, crouching beneath my desk in social studies, the school under lockdown as two boys killed 13 people at Columbine High School 30 minutes away, it felt like a terrible anomaly. A once-in-a-lifetime tragedy. Everyone treated it that way.

I remember the quality of the light that afternoon as my friend drove me home in his red Chevy pickup -- a little too stark for Spring, a little colder than it should have been for that April day. I remember listening to Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" play on the radio as we drove in silence.

These massacres have become too commonplace to sear my memory so deeply now.

...

Two and a half years ago, a man carrying a gun entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and killed nine people. Nine days later, then-President Obama stood before a crowd of people giving the eulogy for Reverend Pinckney. He stood at the podium. "Amazing grace." Pause. "Amazing grace."

And then, unaccompanied, broke into song, "ahhh-mazing grace, how sweet the sound..."

I remember watching the video of Obama singing for the first time. The hairs on my arms stood on end. My chest tightened. Listening to him sing, then listening again. My mind preserved that memory, that feeling. 

At times of tragedy, it is so easy to deliver the same rote platitudes. What can be said? Words themselves are woefully inadequate balms for a battered soul.

...

It is not the words. Never has that been more evident that yesterday as we woke up to a rising death toll. "Warmest sympathies" were the first words from the President, issued over his Twitter feed to a nation feeling the full brunt of the punch for which we are now perpetually braced. 

"Warmest sympathies." 

A platitude, and a painfully awkward one at that -- "warmest" usually being a word paired with "wishes" or "congratulations," one used for happy occasions: the births of babies, marriages, holidays. It belied something deeper: a man so ill-versed in empathy that even this most rote of phrases was mangled in his delivery. 

...

"Amazing Grace" was written in 1779, three years after the United States declared its independence. Almost 240 years later, I've come across very few who don't know the words. It's part of the American identity, an acknowledgement of a deeply flawed existence always striving to find the better angels of our nature. 

To sing "Amazing Grace" at a funeral is not a novel idea. It's done all the time. It's quite another to hear it sung by a President, impromptu and unaccompanied, reverberating out across a packed church and dozens of live broadcast channels to a nation thoroughly steeped in rote platitudes about the latest  gun violence tragedy. In the midst of so many tepid, impotent responses, it was a sharp splash of ice water to the face.

On that day, at that funeral, the words of the song "Amazing Grace" were barely relevant. They paled in comparison to how they were voiced. President Obama imbued them with deep empathy for the families of the victims, with a nuanced recognition of the community that had been targeted. In two and a half minutes -- from the first bars of the hymn sung solo, to the great swell of voices rising to join the President, to the speaking of the nines names of the people who died that Wednesday in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church -- Obama did what so many carefully expressed sympathies had failed to do: he reawakened our national grief. He reminded us that this is not normal, that we cannot allow ourselves to go numb, that on these occasions the shutter of our mind should click, capturing the quality of the light, the glitter of so many neon signs against the darkness of a high desert. 

...

Last night, after I put my daughter to bed, I pulled up Obama's rendition of "Amazing Grace" on YouTube and sat on the couch in the darkness of my living room. 

"Amazing grace." Pause. "Amazing grace." Pause. "Ahhh-mazing grace, how sweet the sound..." 



There are no words. 

But with empathy and grace, there might still be hope. 




Monday, September 11, 2017

Can I please just crave a doughnut?

A couple of weeks ago, we finally made public the news that Baby #2 is on the way, due in December. After 6 long months of waiting, I now get to complain.

Here's my litany of excuses for the most recent blog silence:

(1) I'm pregnant
(2) I'm tired
(3) I have a 3 year old
(4) Did I mention that I'm pregnant?
(5) Work is incredibly busy.
(6) Oh, and I'm pregnant with a 3 year old and a full-time job.

I hereby excuse myself. Now on to complaining.

And so will the...cribbage?

I know I start practically every blog post this way, but I'm sorry it's been so long. I have buckets of good excuses. I considered going into them, but I won't. Let me just tell you a funny story.

Back in October 2016 (OMG, almost a year ago!), we were driving to the annual Toddler Nightmare at the Pumpkin Patch (in which we join thousands of other parents and their equally whiny, snotty offspring in the muck and mire of a Seattle October in order to gape at slightly harassed barnyard animals and purchase over-priced gourds in the name of "childhood"). Avery was having an especially whiny morning, and with a good 15 minutes of drive time yet to go, she demanded that "dada" get out of the car. As Dada was driving, this was rather problematic.

Trying to avert a tantrum, Mark gamely explained to his hostile offspring that "if dada gets out of the car, the car will stop." And then something strange happened. Avery repeated this fundamental truth, with one subtle addition: "If dada gets out of the car, the car will stop...and so will the cribbage."

*cue screeching record sounds*

Ummmm... "the cribbage"?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pussyhat

Dear Women of the United States, thank you for today. Thank you for getting up, for standing up, for shouting up. For demanding visibility and acknowledgment. I was so, so proud to be a woman in America today, and these past few months it hasn't felt very good.


Thank you for recognizing that women are not the only group with a hell of a lot to lose here. For raising your voices for all of those who would be silenced: minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ, the disabled. For demanding better for all of us.