Saturday, March 27, 2010

Labor Pains

I had envisioned March going one of two ways—either I would simply be pregnant until March 29, when the scheduled C would go forward, or I would go into labor earlier and have earlier surgery (and maybe have to deal with the whole preemie thing). Either way, I figured I wouldn’t have to experience much “labor.” And I certainly didn’t anticipate having to deal with labor pains for at least a week before the babies came.

Is this normal? (Is there any “normal” when it comes to pregnancy?) For more than the past week, in late afternoon or evening, the contractions begin. Mind you, I also have contractions during the day. But they’re not regular, and they tend to be brought on by activity. In contrast, the evening contractions are coming every 8-10 minutes. Or maybe even closer, because I’m still having trouble figuring out what’s a contraction and what is just—for lack of a more precise term—pain. Dude, it hurts! The contractions tighten my abdomen and speed up my heart rate, and sometimes I whine and whimper as they get intense. But then there are also all these other pains in my abdomen—sharp stabbing pains, like one of the babies (okay, let’s lay blame where it’s due—it’s always Baby A) is trying to cut his way out from the inside. And then there are the pains in my even-lower torso (sometimes across my lower back or butt, sometimes in what feels like the bottom of my bladder, sometimes in more unmentionable places). And these extra pains aren’t on a schedule, they just hover around and in between the contractions, sometimes making it hard to tell the difference. Do I count those when I’m trying to figure out how far apart the contractions are? Who the hell knows?

But none of this really matters, because the one clear truth is that none of this is “real” labor. How do I know? Because it eventually goes away—sometimes by midnight, sometimes not until 4 or 5 in the morning. If it were “real” labor, I would have real babies, by now, right?

And so I wait. I hurt, and I wait. The one bright side is that at least I know the babies are coming out Monday morning no matter what. I can’t imagine wondering if this was going to keep going for weeks on end.

I guess I’m going through some figurative labor pains as well, which are a lot more interesting. This morning J and I went to a breastfeeding class. I had signed up for one weeks ago, but missed it (along with most of my other classes) due to hospitalization and recovery. When J mentioned that we could take a make-up class today I jumped at the chance (though I wasn’t even sure I could sit through the class). It was kind of funny to be going to a class like this when we’re going to be putting this very information into use the day after tomorrow (unbelievable!). I’m so glad we went. It seems like feeding the baby is about 80% of caring for the baby, and I was feeling frantic at my lack of knowledge about how it all works (especially with twins). Now I’m feeling a lot more confident.

In between all this whining, fussing, and desperate last-minute preparation, J and I are finding some excitement creeping in. Every day this week J has announced that this is our “last Thursday,” or “last Friday” before the babies come. Or he’ll mention, casually, “Did you realize that in three days our lives are going to change forever?” And then we’ll start giggling in disbelief, because neither of us really can get our heads around this idea. “Really,” we’ll say to each other (a la the SNL Weekend Update segment), “Really. We’re going to be parents on Monday. Really. They’re just going to hand us two babies and expect us to take care of them. Really.”

We started trying to conceive in June 2005. I was only 33 years old—the ideas of infertility, repeat pregnancy loss, adoption or IVF or the use of donor gametes never seriously having crossed my mind. In the past last five years, this naivety has been stripped from my soul. As I told a friend who was afraid she’d scare me with her high-risk-pregnancy stories, I’ve seen the boogeyman. J and I have been through three IUI cycles, one FET cycle, and five IVF cycles. We’ve had intense battles with the blood-sucking HMO over coverage for infertility, surgery, treatment for J. I’ve negotiated a shared-risk contract with my fertility clinic and taken out a second mortgage to cover the costs. I’ve had dozens of sonos, close to a hundred blood draws, and have lost track of how many sharps containers J and I have filled with our various injections. We’ve seen five pregnancies, and four miscarriages—one of which was an especially heartbreaking ectopic pregnancy. We’ve researched adoption, even gone so far as going to an international adoption meeting at a local agency. We’ve seen me through major surgery, and we’ve spent hours in front of my computer choosing a donor.

And god only knows how many tears I’ve cried. Huddling behind a closed door in my office, trying to regain control long enough to escape down the stairs (because waiting for an elevator is just too exposed) without anyone noticing, or praying no one would knock on my door while I waited for the xanax to kick in; hiding behind sunglasses while I walked through a neighborhood full of happy, screaming kids—playing basketball in the street or running through the sprinklers or the inflatable pool in front of their houses; rocking back and forth in my bed, wondering how long I could let myself go before giving myself a migraine. And the one time I heard J cry when I had to give him the bad news over the phone—just one cycle where we got a negative beta and it was just too much for him—when listening to him sob on the other end of the line broke my heart all over again.

I’m 38 years old now, and while I’ve been beaten and battered by the last five years, I wear my scars—literal and figurative—with pride. I would never wish this experience on anyone, but I’m not sorry about who I’ve become as a result, or what this has done to my marriage. I once thought that when I finally made it through this phase of my life (and that’s how I always made myself look at infertility—just a phase I had to get through, one way or another, to become a parent) I would look back on these years as “lost” years, years wasted on tears and obsession and desperation. But I don’t. I’m not even sure that they were the worst years of my life. Certainly infertility has been the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. But in these years good things have happened, too. In some ways, I feel like I’ve finally grown up. I finally feel like a real lawyer in a job that could well satisfy me for the rest of my career. I finally took the steps necessary to heal my chronic lower back problems, and I feel more confidence in my body’s ability to cope with aging than I have in years. And J and I have grown to love and appreciate each other’s strengths more than I ever thought possible. I couldn’t have chosen a better father for my children, and just thinking of him holding one of my babies makes my heart ache.

I’m scared about next week. Scared that, no matter how good our intentions, taking care of two babies is going to overwhelm us beyond our ability to cope. (It doesn’t help that much of the support promised from various friends has evaporated in the cold reality of their own job schedules and family obligations. And I can’t blame them—annual leave is precious and free time is hard to come by these days.) Scared that when neither of our needs are getting met, J and I won’t be able to maintain the cohesion we’ve achieved over the years. Scared that being stuck at home with two babies while J escapes back into theatre la la land (which will happen about three weeks after the babies are born) will make me bitter and resentful, or lead to post-partum depression.

But underlying that fear is a confidence that even if the beauty and magic of parenting doesn’t show up right away, even if J and I start sniping at each other, even if I get depressed and bitter and angry, this is going to be wonderful someday. We will get through this and still love each other, and we’ll love our babies more than anything we ever imagined. And I’m not sure I would have this confidence in myself—and in J—if we hadn’t traveled through hell and back together.

The day after tomorrow it all starts. I’m going to be a mommy. J’s going to be a daddy. And we’re gong to be a whole new kind of family. As J puts it, on Monday our lives change forever. To which I can only add: Hallelujah. It’s about fucking time.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole

(Prelude: I never wrote about it, but on February 26 I was hospitalized with a kidney stone. After five days, we agreed to have a stent put in—not to solve the problem, but to make it tolerable until after the pregnancy when they could actually do something to get rid of the stone. But some asshole anethesiologist talked me out of the agreed-on spinal block, which was a safer/more rational form of anesthesia for a woman 33 weeks pregnant with twins—he did this moments before the operation when I was wacked out of my mind on morphine and desperate to do the procedure—into general anesthesia, which carried a much greater risk of aspiration. And so I aspirated some of my stomach acid into my lungs, woke up in the recovery room with instant pneumonia, and spent four days in the ICU trying to breathe, with the doctors freaking out because I was having preterm contractions and was in no condition for a c-section while so ill.)

I’ve been home from the hospital for two weeks, and still haven’t been able to get myself to write about it. Which is a shame, because my memories of those 11 days, or at least the back half of them, could prove useful in a med mal lawsuit someday. Which is a possibility, though by no means a guarantee. And I’m already having trouble remembering what it was really like, remembering the physical pain and claustrophobic panic of the ICU, the sinking feeling of being totally duped by my anesthesiologist, and the sure knowledge that if I’d just had the mental wherewithal to say “no” to his suggestion that I switch from a spinal block to general anesthesia, I could have been home already, maybe even working, rather than struggling to breathe and wishing I wasn’t exposing my babies to yet more medicines, x-rays, and other interventions I’d hoped to avoid.

But right now that seems so far away. I’m in another place entirely—waiting for my world to change. I don’t know when it will happen, exactly. And I don’t know what I need to do to get ready for it anymore. J’s been working 16-hour days for the past week, maybe more. I’ve actually lost track. And though I’ve had some friends come by, it isn’t the same as having a real life outside of the bubble I’m floating in.

When I first got home I was still recovering, still healing, and desperately weak. I lost 15 pounds in the hospital, which sounds great in theory, but so much of it was muscle mass. I’ve never seen my arms so skinny.

Despite my weakness, I had a purpose. Every day, I would have a new priority, just one thing to I would have to deal with. I only had a couple of worthwhile hours a day to get stuff done. The rest of the time I was sleeping or resting or trying to get my feet up to reduce the swelling (the swelling was so bad in the hospital that even my slippers wouldn’t fit—I came home in hospital socks—but it suddenly went away (thank God!) about four days after I got home). The first day it was setting the wheels in motion for my disability insurance to process, and figuring out how to work my sick and annual leave around that. And then there was all the baby gear, bedding, and clothing that had been unpacked and arranged by the group of family and friends that had come to set up the house while I was in the hospital, just in case we came home with babies. I had to find space in my closets for more stuff, find ways to arrange everything so I knew where it was. And because any day could bring the babies into my life, each day was critical for getting ready. In fact, last Tuesday night I knew I was at the brink of total insanity when I vacuumed the house. That’s right. I’m on bedrest, but I vacuumed. I just couldn’t take it. The floors were disgusting, and J is at wits end just doing the essential stuff, so I couldn’t ask him. I actually hoped he wouldn’t notice (and if he did, he didn’t mention it). In short, my nesting hormones had taken over and I was helpless to resist.

And then the next day I was done. Oh sure, there’s plenty more housekeeping to be done. The fridge needs cleaning out and the mountains of crap balanced precariously on my dressers needs a home. And I guess at some point I need to get out the bag of tubes and bottles and mysterious paraphernalia that goes with my breast pumps and figure out how it all works. (Though I’m planning on renting a pump from the hospital the first month, so I’m counting on them showing me how it works.) But the basics are in place, and, like flicking a switch, the nesting instinct has switched off. And the house is getting gross again, because suddenly I just can’t face it anymore.

Last week J and I were faced with an unexpected choice. We went to our doctor’s appointment last Tuesday, fully expecting to be told that two days later—when I hit 36 weeks—I was to go off the procardia (the anticontraction medication I’d been on since arriving at the hospital in late February) and we would let nature take its course. If I went into labor, we would do a c-section immediately. If not, we stick with the 29th as our scheduled date.

But the doctor said we could stay on the drugs all the way up to the 29th if we liked. It was our decision. Mind you, this “choice” probably gave us a false sense of control, because the procardia won’t keep me from going into labor if my body really forces the issue, nor does going off it guarantee that labor will ensue. Part of me desperately wanted to stop taking the drugs. But J really, really, really needed me to stay on them for another week. I know a lot of people won’t understand how someone’s job can be that important, but he has a show to finish and he has classes to teach. He’s trying to convince his university to hire him full-time, an event that could lead to him being a tenured professor, rather than a freelance lighting designer who’s gone all the time. We’re desperate for this to happen in the next few years, as I don’t fancy raising these kids on my own. And he’s got some important classes next week (though now it’s looking like Thursday’s class is less important). Besides, we all know that bigger babies are better, and 37 weeks is better than 36. So I decided to stay on the drugs, as hard as I was struggling.

And then, late last week, the pregnancy took a turn for the stranger and less tolerable. I was up all night last Thursday and Friday nights with contractions. By Friday I was timing them, and they were averaging 10 minutes apart. Not real labor, not enough to warrant emergency surgery. But not something I could ignore either. By 3 a.m. Saturday morning J and I decided that it was just too much to expect to stay on like this for another week, and I stopped taking the procardia. We fully expected to have the babies on Saturday. But despite stopping the anticontraction meds, the contractions slowed and faded in the wee hours of the morning. By Saturday afternoon I had given up and gone back on the procardia. I still had the occasional contraction on Saturday and Sunday, but it looked like we were back in the waiting game. So I put on my game face and decided to settle in for the long haul.

Then last night—Sunday night—the contractions started again. Again, just outside of the reach of true labor (averaging 8 minutes apart for several hours), painful but not so bad I could be sure of a c-section if I went to the hospital. (Mind you, the LAST thing I think I can cope with is more time in the hospital and coming home still pregnant. I refuse to go to the hospital with a false alarm.) Again, I called J at work at about 10 p.m. and asked him how he felt about having babies that night. This time I stayed on my drugs, though. And sure enough, after a long and painful night, the contractions slowed down around 5 or 6 in the morning, allowing me to get a bit of sleep, an hour at a time. And then they faded away almost altogether, appearing only once or twice an hour.

When this happened on Saturday I was pretty chill about it, despite the fact that the contractions caused me to miss my allergy shots, which I desperately need this time of year. But today has been different. I don’t know if it’s that I’ve been home too long alone, or whether the all-day headache (likely from aforementioned allergies) wore me down, or whether I’m just having another hormone shift. But instead of being chill about waiting, or excited about the babies, all I feel is empty and tired and depressed.

The contractions are back tonight with a vengeance—it’s been going on for hours. They are starting to hurt like hell, but they still aren’t more often than 8 minutes apart. I never knew someone could be in sort-of, limbo-labor like this for so long. It’s so frustrating.

I expected J to be on his way home at 10. My procardia dose was due at 9, but I figured I’d wait and talk to him. At 10:45, I called to see if he was ever getting out of rehearsal. As soon as I heard his voice I started to cry. He told me that he’s in as good of shape as he needs to be this week, and we agreed that I should just stop taking the drugs.

So maybe I’m having babies tonight, or tomorrow. Or maybe not. Maybe my body is just going to keep fucking with me for another week.

I’m so tired. And frustrated. And weak. I wanted to go into motherhood strong and hardy, geared up for the c-section recovery and the challenges again. Instead I feel like I’m limping toward the finish line, both mentally and physically. Which would be great if the finish line was actually the finish, instead of a whole grueling new beginning.

I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole for sure. But I’m not in wonderland yet. I’m just falling and falling, waiting for the bottom to rise up and meet me.