Zoe’s Birth Story, Part 2

As I sit on my couch, milk-drunk infant draped across my ample chest, nutritious lunch consisting of a withered carrot and a bag of goldfish crackers in hand, I am hit by the truism that babies take a lot of time. Basically, ALL the time. I had heard this before Zoe was born, but I didn’t fully grasp it – how could a mewling mini-creature who spends two thirds of the day sleeping occupy your entire waking life? I still don’t have a rational answer to that question, but my current lifestyle would suggest that I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. Not that I’m complaining – Miss Ham Hocks is awesome – just bewildered.

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Is it just me, or do my braces make me look vaguely menacing? Sort of like a hungry crocodile…

I’ve been meaning to finish writing Zoe’s birth story for awhile, and this afternoon, the stars have magically aligned: I’m slightly less sleep-deprived than usual, she’s asleep, and I’m not experiencing a complete hormonal meltdown. So here goes:

Zoe’s birth story, Part 2.

After I spent an hour passed out on the operating table, I was taken to the recovery room, where I spent another 3.5 hours before I was finally moved to my room. Looking back, it seems pretty strange to me that it took so long before I was reunited with Zoe, but at the time, I was pretty loopy. I knew she was with her dad, so I was ok. I found out later that the hospital was pretty unclear regarding its regulations: before the surgery, they told us that Todd would be able to visit me in recovery, and that our doula Catherine was allowed in the nursery, but after the surgery, neither of these were allowed. Catherine gestured at Todd through the nursery glass to give Zoe skin-to-skin contact, and then she waited for us in our room. Todd spent the next few hours bonding shirtless with Zoe, who just wanted to nurse, and wondering if I was ok. Finally, I was given a dose of some sort of gnarly pain killer, and brought to my room. By the time Todd and Zoe arrived, I was basically comatose once again. I was told that I couldn’t sit up, eat or drink for 24 hours, so Catherine helped Zoe latch while I lay there. I was so grateful that Catherine was there to help us, because between Zoe’s stoner mother, and her father-who-just-spent-five-hours-with-a-little-piranha-trying-to-suck-his-bicep, I’m not sure that first breastfeeding session would have happened.

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We spent 5 days total in the hospital. Looking back, they were probably both the hardest and the best days of my life.

The Hard:

The hard parts were both physical and emotional. Somehow, it had never really occurred to me that a c-section is major abdominal surgery. I’m ashamed to admit that I sort of thought of it as the “easy way out” (no pun intended). Now, I believe that there is no “easy way” to get a baby out of you – whether it’s the birth itself, or the aftermath (or both), birth is arduous. Recovery was painful – my whole torso ached. In addition, during abdominal surgery, it’s common for air to get trapped in your abdomen, leading to terrible gas pain in your shoulders, neck, guts, etc. I spent the first few days post surgery bent almost double – the fact that the custom in Thailand is to tightly bind the wound with stiff fabric probably didn’t help. In the meantime, breastfeeding had changed from pain-free to painful. Because it was still difficult to sit up, I fed Zoe lying down. The only problem with this technique is that I couldn’t really see her mouth, so Todd had to help me. Feeding sessions went something like this:

Todd: “Her mouth is wide open!! Quick!! Latch!!”

Me: “Gaahhhh! She looks like a piranha!! I can’t do this!!!”

Followed by both mother and daughter bawling. The days following my milk coming in (potentially the most bizarre experience of my life) were particularly rough, as the hormones made me feel nauseous, and Zoe wanted to feed much more often. Fortunately, things have since improved.

Emotionally, our days in the hospital were also tough. Zoe’s birth day was nothing like what we anticipated: it felt almost as though we had trained for a marathon only to be driven to the finish line (to complete the c-section metaphor, I guess our arrival at the finish line would be accompanied by getting a sledgehammer to the knees or something). We also had to come to terms with the way the three of us had been separated almost immediately post-birth. And while we really did receive excellent care in the hospital, the language and cultural barriers, as well as the hospital regulations often left us feeling bewildered. Crazy hormones and lack of sleep did not help our mood either.

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The piranha awaits

 The Good

As tough as the experience was, it was also incredibly good. Bringing a new life into the world is the most beautiful, miraculous thing that I have ever experienced. Todd and I would often stop and stare at Zoe, and marvel that we were involved in the creation of such a perfect creature. Watching her sleep next to me was surreal – it was hard to believe that this was who had spent the last 9 months inside of me. Even though the extra 10 days after my due date felt like an eternity, I am grateful that she was born during the Advent season. She is a treasure that was greatly anticipated.

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I’m also so grateful that our doctor recommended the c-section. While it wasn’t the birth experience we hoped for, it ended up being the birth experience that Zoe needed. As a blog that I recently read put it: “Natural isn’t always the best. Death and illness are also natural.” I feel blessed to live in an era in which medical intervention in childbirth is available. When my doctor came to take out my stitches, I started bawling (“crying” is not an adequate verb for the waterworks I unleashed in the hospital) as I thanked him for saving our baby. He patted my leg, and told me that he felt like he was part of our family now.

Because I wasn’t able to move around much after the birth, Todd did everything baby-related short of feeding Zoe (not that she didn’t try). It was so neat to watch him father her, and he quickly became a pro at diapering, bathing, and swaddling her. I was already a pretty big fan, but our first days with Zoe gave me a whole new appreciation for Todd.

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A nurse teaches Todd how to bathe the angry hippo

I also got to watch my mother become a grandmother. She dropped in daily with random foods that she had bought while conversing with half the street vendors in Bangkok. Needless to say, she was pretty pleased with our little spawn.

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My precious…

After five days, it was finally time to go home.

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It’s been 16 days since Zoe’s birth, and I’m still processing the whole experience. I still cry when I think about our hospital stay – both out of sadness and gratitude. No doubt sleeplessness and hormones are triggering some of the tears. But the tears also come because I know that we aren’t the same people that we were before we entered that operating room. Just as Zoe was born that day, Todd and I experienced a kind of birth into our new roles as her parents. It is simultaneously the most beautiful and the most terrifying journey that I can imagine taking. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.