Snapshots

Oh dear. A month between posts has to be a new low for me. I feel like I’ve been stuck in a bit of a trance – not enough sleep combined with the unpredictable schedule of my tyrannical new boss has led to a lack of motivation for doing anything other than eating sugar and trying to manipulate my computer’s VPN address so that I can watch the Winter Olympics. Nothing like watching the world’s best athletes compete while you try to complete the extremely physical task of remembering where you left your baby.

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“You left me in this pile of Canadiana”

Here are a few snapshots of our life over the past month:

1. Good news! I’m not having a heart attack

I have been experiencing pain in my sternum since Zoe’s birth. I kinda suspected that it is due to my bad posture (hauling 15 lbs of baby fat* around tends to drag the ol’ shoulders forward), but since my ribs did take a bit of a pummelling during my c-section, I thought I’d get it checked out. I made an appointment with my OB/GYN, and when I arrived, he seemed quite pleased to see me. Imagine a small, old, uncle-y Thai man who wears suspenders so his pants don’t fall down when he’s rushing to a delivery, and who talks in a sing-song voice when he’s in a good mood.

“Ahh. Ruth! Here for your last check-up! Please, please, let me poke and prod you in the most painful and awkward of places so that I can assure you that you are capable of going through this whole miraculous experience again!! Tralala.”

“Uhh… Actually, I’m here because of my rib pain. Andthethoughtofproducinganotherchildatthismomentishorrifying.”

“Rib pain? Haha! Beyond my jurisdiction! I will refer you to my colleague. Now, please, please, allow me to examine you!”

After he ascertained that I am (physically if not mentally) still capable of bearing children, I ended up in a cardiologist’s office. Before I knew what was happening, a nurse was strapping these weird suction things to my chest and administering an EKG. When I saw the doctor, he had a confused look on his face.

“Uh… Miss Ruth. Your heart is fine. You are only 29, you know. Still so young. You are not having a heart attack.”

What a relief. My rib pain and I will just mosey on home, secure in the knowledge that at least my heart is still ticking.

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So relieved.

2. First-time parenting neuroses

Todd and I both experienced some pretty strange dreams during pregnancy (well, I was pregnant. Not sure what Todd’s excuse was). A real fun surprise during these last few months is that these middle-of-the-night episodes have continued into parenthood. They’ve now slowed down somewhat, but during the first month, Todd and I would have this conversation in the middle of the night, EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.

Ruth “Where’s the baby?!”

Todd “I’ve got her right here!” (as he squeezes one of the pillows on our bed hard enough to decapitate it – just one of the reasons we don’t co-sleep).

Variation:

Todd “Where’s the baby?!”

Ruth “I’m just nursing her” (as I fumble through the sheets, unable to find the baby)

In both these scenarios, Zoe was happily grunting like a goat in her own crib while her parents lost their minds.

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Glad you find this so humorous, bobblehead.

3. Travelling with a baby

Todd had a week off for Chinese New Year, and we made the brilliant** decision to pack up our 2-month-old, and head for the closest island. We’ve been to Koh Samet many times, and have always considered it an easy jaunt from Bangkok. Doing it with a baby would be simple, right? We packed Zoe up (ie: tried to shove her into her carrier, which she hated, because her boneheaded parents couldn’t figure out how to use it properly), and headed for the bus terminal, where we encountered the first glitch in our plans – the bus was leaving an hour later than anticipated. So we picked Zoe up (no packing this time) and went across the street for a coffee.

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“I wonder if I could ask for my latte to be made with human milk…”

We finally boarded the bus, and tried to ignore the people glaring at our baby. I can understand why people aren’t fans of travelling in the same confined space as babies, but I have to say that Zoe behaved like a champ. She hardly made a sound. This, however, was because I was so afraid of disturbing people that I would neurotically nurse her as soon as she gave any indication that she was even alive.

“Gah!! She opened her eyes! Slap her on, quick!”

This made for a gruelling 4 hours, especially as the bus never stopped for its requisite noodle break. In Thailand, it is widely understood that humans cannot go more than an hour or two without a break for food, so we planned accordingly: we would eat lunch and change Zoe when the bus stopped. As the trip dragged on, it became increasingly obvious that we would not be stopping. It also became increasingly obvious that Zoe’s diaper was not going to last. All I can say is that it is amazing what you can accomplish in a moving vehicle. And I am very grateful that Zoe is no longer operating like a SuperSoaker filled with poop.

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At one week old. That pack of wipes was a write off.

When the bus finally arrived at the pier, I was famished and feeling pretty done with the whole trip. But we still had a speed boat ride to look forward to. Todd and Zoe camped out on the dock while I bought us some nasty pad Thai, which we ate on the pleasantly diesel-scented dock.

We finally boarded the boat for our destination, and I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that we were the worst parents on the planet. How could we subject Li’l Ham Hocks to the turbulence and danger of a speed boat ride?! How selfish could we possibly be?! Nothing like a heapin’ helpin’ of parental guilt to help you relax and enjoy your vacation.

When we finally arrived, we realized that we didn’t really have a place to set Zoe outside of our hotel room. At mealtimes, one of us would hold her while the other ate (when she was happy) or one of us would sit with her in the room while the other ate (when she was not happy). We also got to enjoy taking turns on the beach (“would you rather stay in the room with Zoe first, or hang out with too many acres of aging European flesh on the beach?”).

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Zoe’s only trip to the beach: carefully timed to be after the sun went down, but before the bugs came out

Zoe seemed to realize that she was in a different place at night, and grunted extra-loud and woke up extra-often in response. We didn’t have our usual white noise with us, so this translated into her parents waking up extra-often.

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But don’t worry – we’ll still keep you.

After two nights of this, I was “relaxed” out of my mind. Fortunately, I had a long bus ride home on which to plan our next “relaxing” trip.

Maybe I should book another appointment with my OB/GYN to discuss my sanity. I wonder which specialist he would refer me to…

 

*When I say “baby fat” I actually mean “fat baby”

** Boneheaded

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.