Sunday, August 7, 2016
NB: the following is by far my most TMI post and is intended exclusively for those of my fellow mothers who have been to the childbearing battlefield and made it back again in more or less one piece—and now find sharing their gory, super personal experiences to be strangely cathartic. For everyone else, you’d probably be better off avoiding this one. There, you’ve totally been warned.
OK, so first of all I realize that I promised to write the conclusion to my 3-part series on US presidential elections before going off an any more tangents, but a) all five of my readers will probably forgive me and b) childbirth is way more important than the electoral college. I mean come on.
Anyway, so, childbirth. I just did that. And it was beautiful and miraculous and also kind of physically awful and emotionally terrifying and if it had gone down like that 100 years ago we’d probably all be dead and so I don’t think I’m going to do it again, like, ever. #ThanksEve
So, as you know if you’re a regular, hubby and I already have one awesome child—little g—but we wanted to go and add a second awesome child, because why stop at one, especially when that one really needs a playmate, seeing as how Mommy can only get down on the floor and build train tracks and stuff for like 15 minutes before she realizes that she has some super urgent thing to do (literally anything else).
Thus, we went and “made” a second awesome child, which is the part of the whole “pregnancy” thing that my body is actually “good” at, and so I passed GO and entered the first trimester. It was kind of more gnarly than I had remembered it, with many more Ugggggh I’m going to barf/faint/fall asleep standing up moments, in addition to that wretched omnipresent fear of something going wrong, which all we pregnant ladies live with night and day for nine frigging months but try to just suck up and not talk about because really—who’s listening? I also developed a severe aversion to drinking water of all things, I who used to chug two liters religiously every day. But I made up for it with juice and a lot of “fun” newfangled sodas, which in hindsight was pretty dumb of me sugar-wise, but hell, a girl’s gotta stay hydrated.
Now, with the birth of awesome child #1 in 2013, we moved out of Paris and into the western suburbs, thus necessitating a change of maternity for awesome child #2. I researched diligently, found just the right place, and chose a lady doctor with a reputation for being a straight shooter, which is really all anyone should want from an Ob-Gyn. Our first encounter was predictably a little odd; in France, women’s health visits are generally performed entirely in the buff, so the first one with a new doctor is always awkward—at least to my American sensibilities. Like, we just met; do I really have to take everything off and clamber onto this exam table all naked and stuff? Shouldn’t we at least go for coffee or something first? Plus this particular doctor turned out to be pretty damn austere in both word and manner, but surprisingly not in eye makeup—magenta one day, glitter the next—thus adding an extra layer of weird to our budding relationship.
Anyway, I made it through the loooooong, barfy first trimester and joyfully leapt into the second, which as we all know is the “good one.” And indeed it was good. And it went by all too quickly. And I really have nothing more to say about it other than that my belly got way big way fast, but I felt pretty bitchin’ anyway, and have I mentioned that awesome child #2 turned out to be a GIRL and how extra awesome that is? I love me some pink!
Then along came Mr. Mean and Nasty Third Trimester, who was already NOT my friend the last time around, since the nearer I came to my due date, the more crazy shit my body started to do, some of which was NOT FUNNY at all. First, my feet went: I came down with Plantar Fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the soles of the feet causing intense pain and making moving about even less pleasant than it already is with a big ol’ pregnant body. Then I started blowing up like a balloon, or rather a water balloon, and got bitched out by my then-doctor for gaining too much weight when really—it’s water, dear doctor. Look up “edema,” which is pretty common and you should know that ‘cuz it’s sort of your job—but worst of all, around week 36 I developed this in-SANE itch. It began on the soles of my feet and spread to my palms, belly, face, and pretty much everywhere else and it ROYALLY sucked. It sucked so much that I mentioned it to my doc, and bless her heart, she recognized it as being all kinds of NOT FUNNY and sent me for immediate blood work and fetal monitoring. I didn’t quite get what was up, but with the lab results and the help of good ol’ Professor Google, I soon realized that I had a hideous liver disorder called Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP), which basically means that one’s liver cannot deal with the hormonal deluge any longer and decides to just stop working. Aside from being royally unpleasant for the mother, ICP can straight up lead to stillbirth—right at the end, too, just when you thought you were ready to cross the finish line. The only cure for this mofo of a disease is to deliver, and thankfully, awesome child #1 seemed to sense that and decided to exit my toxic body of his own free will some 10 days later. Phew. Of course, I then went and got saddled with a host of crazy postpartum crap, such as D-MER and Diastasis Recti, but oh hell, who’s keeping track at this point? So my abs split in half and I felt like throwing myself off the balcony every time my milk let down—so what? In exchange, I somehow came away with a pair of lovely skinny legs, zero stretch marks, and a child for Pete’s sake, so let’s try to keep a little perspective.
THIS time around, the Plantar Fasciitis gave me a break, and the edema was slightly better (yet I still managed to get bitched out because apparently the entire medical profession thinks that edema is a joke and really it’s just too many cakes we fat pregnant chicks are wolfing down, in addition to all that juice and soda, which furthermore makes BIG babies and by the way your baby is “too big” which means STOP THE FUCKING SUGARY DRINKS RIGHT THIS RED HOT MINUTE OR IT’S STRAIGHT TO C-SECTION LAND). But worst of all, I once more came down with FML, er, ICP, and naturally, several weeks earlier than in 2013, leaving me with much more time to totally freak the hell out. Wassup, liver? Why you hatin’? Okay, so there were a few years in my wayward youth running around in Paris when I may have gone slightly overboard in the alcohol department, but c’mon. Liver disorder? From that? Well, no—rather, it seems to be a hereditary thing, meaning that my Scandinavian blood is to blame. My mom didn’t have it, but apparently it can skip a generation. Great. Anyway, if you want to know all about ICP, and just how much it sucks, here is a blog by a fellow sufferer and here is a support group and here is a Wikipedia article and if after reading all that you still don’t appreciate how terrifying it is to be diagnosed with this satanic POS of a disease, then you have no empathy and are probably a sociopath.
From my first mention of itchiness (“It could just be my hay fever, right?”), I found out precisely why this particular doctor has a reputation for no-nonsense; she may wear funny eye shadow, but she does not fuck around when a pregnancy starts to head south. She immediately put me on the drugs Ursodiol and Atarax and prescribed a strict regimen of weekly blood work and ultrasounds, bi-weekly fetal heart monitoring and all kinds of other reasons to hone my driving skills driving back and forth from home to clinic to home to clinic—but no complaints here because holy shit, I’ve never been so scared in my life. There is a famous quote by Audrey Hepburn about how the toughest part of motherhood is the inner worrying that cannot, must not be shown, and that is SO TRUE, especially with an ICP pregnancy. I mean there you are, after gutting it out for 8 months and OH SO READY to finally meet your little one, only to come down with this rare, wretched disease that turns your heretofore safe, cozy uterus into a toxic prison. And no one knows what you’re going through, and you can do nothing about it, aside from following your doctor’s orders and praying night and day that everything will work out. In other words, it is out of your hands—way, way out.
With the help of the Ursodiol, whose role is pretty much to do the job that one’s loser liver has decided it no longer wants to do, my blood work showed marked improvement. This allowed me to, you know, sleep at night and not totally lose my mind. Until it stopped working, that is—obviously while my doctor was on holiday. She had been planning to induce me at around week 38, as most ICP patients are, but in light of my spiking bile salt levels, the head midwife at the clinic decided to go ahead and induce me at week 37—which was absolutely fine because every second my baby spent inside me constituted a risk of the absolute worst nature. So the day after my 37th birthday (let’s all appreciate the parallel), I headed for the clinic with Chéri in tow, there to spend much time ushering awesome child #2 out of me and into the world, which despite Islamic terrorism, Zika and Donald Trump, is still a hell of a lot safer than my frigging body.
Now, a fun fact about induction is that it hurts. It hurts A LOT. It hurts more than normal labor, which as everyone knows really, really hurts. But at first it didn’t; at first it just felt like big nasty cramps, leaving me with the silly idea that I could handle the pain for a few hours before summoning the anesthesiologist. But once the epidural was in place, they plugged in the oxytocin drip and GAHHHHHHHH!!! I was like, “Why can I feel this despite the BIG ASS needle sticking out of my fucking spine?” And Science was like, “I’ll tell you why. Because contrary to popular belief, epidurals are not fail-proof; they fail quite a lot, actually.” This one had the particularity of failing only on my right side while functioning perfectly on my left, but pain management during childbirth does not lend itself to philosophical discussions about having a half-empty or a half-full perspective; it’s really an all or nothing affair, and if you opt for all then you should get all and not fucking half is the point I’m trying to make here. But such is life.
Ultimately the midwife, who must have gotten mighty tired of listening to my groans and whines and whimpers echoing down the hallway, told me that if I wanted the pain to end then now would be a good time to start pushing. “Seriously? But there’s no doctor here,” I said, but apparently that was no biggie. The baby was high, the pain was unbearable, and we had time to kill. So push. Well alrighty then—I pushed. A bit too enthusiastically it seems, because suddenly the midwife was shouting “STOP STOP STOP!” and there was still no doctor in sight because the guy on call obviously had a very screwy notion of what being “on call” actually means and was thus tied up in a fucking appointment at his fucking office and OMG there’s no MD here and my body really hurts and this is not how it’s supposed to work—I want my mooooooooom! But then, the midwives had been taking care of everything since I had shown up that morning, so why the hell would we suddenly need a doctor anyway? In the end they drafted some random one from another delivery next door and together they all shouted encouragement and then suddenly, out pops this little head and then out comes an entire 8-pound baby and holy crap I am such a STAR at pushing I had no idea! To be fair, I think I can definitely credit awesome child #1 for blazing the trail down there with his own, much more difficult passage three years ago. *Shudder*
OK, so they take this wailing baby, who I am SO ELATED to see, into another room to be wiped off and weighed and all that, and only THEN does the actual on-call doctor decide to actually show the fuck up. Did I still pay him? Yes. Why? Because he turned out to be quite an excellent conversationalist once he decided to finally get to work—coaxing scary things out of scary places that you honestly don’t want to know about and stitching up other things that may or may not have gotten a tad ripped, the whole gory operation perfectly reflected in his glasses as he explained to me how much he appreciates the States and how great it is that we Americans always seem to keep a sense of humor. “Do you want to see the placenta?” he said. I laughed.
And that is my, or rather, our birth story. Did it go according to plan? Sort of—my plan being basically “Give birth to a healthy baby and live to tell about it.” And here, two weeks later, our beautiful, perfectly healthy little girl is asleep on my lap as naturally and innocently as can be, and 90% of my own pregnancy-related difficulties have evaporated. And if that isn’t sweet Deliverance, I don’t know what is.