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Our First Days with Baby Casey: A Story of Fear, Failure and Friendship. Also, Breastfeeding Sucks.

We were discharged from the hospital on a Thursday. Bewildered and bleeding, I tried to dress up this tiny baby in some tiny baby clothes, but the 'going home' outfit I brought had too many snaps and it overwhelmed me, so he went home in some Carter's footed jammies that had only a zipper to deal with. This was the first of many grand plans and optimistic delusions the Internet had convinced me to buy into that would end poorly. I nervously strapped him into his car seat -- under supervision -- as Aaron brought the car around. We drove home at 10 miles an hour. Casey slept, and I sat in the back seat and cried for no reason all the way home.

We brought him into the house, where he immediately lost his shit and the cat lost her shit as well. We changed him on his fancy changing table and tried to place him in all 100 of his fancy baby containers, eventually settling on a little pillow where he slept for a bit. 

Then the sun went down and shit got real. 

I will pause here and say that I went into motherhood with an "eh, if breastfeeding works, great; if not, meh" type of attitude. We had cans of formula stashed in the house, plenty of bottles, and lots of nice thoughts about how laid back I was going to be about all of it. But when I took the breastfeeding classes, when that baby came out, and when those lactation consultants descended in the hospital, I was going to breastfeed come hell or high water and oh my god how could I dream of giving him formula when breastmilk is magic and he'll be immune to everything if he gets it and an obese convict if he doesn't? I remember asking, "how will I know when my milk comes in?" as I left the hospital. "Oh, you'll KNOW," they said. "Should be any minute now."

Here is what I knew: It did not come in.

I fed the baby when we got home from the hospital. He kept sliding around and nursing was awkward and I kept referring to iPhone photos of the notes the nurses had written on the whiteboard in the hospital. Then I fed him again. And he cried. And I tried again. He sucked, he cried, everything sucked. We'd put him down in a bed of some kind. Cried. We'd take turns getting up and walking up and down the hallway with him. None of us -- mom, dad, or baby -- slept. We got out the white noise machine; we tried the Pack n Play, Rock n Play and bassinet; we tried every swaddle and swaddle-like contraption we had in the house through the night. HOLY SHIT. The whole time, both of us were thinking, IS THIS WHAT IT'S LIKE? [We've made a huge mistake, etc.]

The next morning, we dragged our tired asses to the pediatrician's office for his checkup (which is a thing that seems just totally bizarre; like, can't someone swing by our house just this once?) He was down 10% from his birthweight and was yellow like a Simpson. No bueno. My milk hadn't come in and he was hungry as hell. And he was pissed. And I was terrified. 

They sent us to a lactation consultant. He had no tongue tie; he was latching like a champ. It was me. He was getting 5 mL per feeding. There were a variety of things we needed to do, but the big one was this: triple feeding. That meant nursing for 30 minutes, feeding him a small bottle of formula, then pumping for 15-30 minutes to get my supply going. For a newborn baby that eats every 2-3 hours, we were spending 90 minutes feeding and 30 minutes washing shit before feeding again. It sucked, and I cried and cried and cried the first time I poured that little bottle of formula in his little face. My dreams of exclusively breastfeeding were gone, just 3 days in. Now he was going to get typhoid and cholera and he's going to be a convict and it's my fault.

But. After he got formula, something amazing happened: he slept. And I felt so relieved. And so tired while I watched my baby sleep at 2 am while I sat awake and hooked up to a loud ass pump squeezing DROPS out of my body.

We stayed hunkered down in our bedroom for the next 24 hours, with a couple brief breaks for one of us to go to the kitchen to wash pump parts and bottles. I wore nothing but a robe and a diaper in those first days (shout out to the Depends Silhouettes; would wear ya forev if I could). It was overwhelming and we stupidly refused our moms' offers to help for those first few days and we had no idea what we were doing. We Googled lots of things.

So, I have this mom friend I met at work. She is a queen and I have always admired everything about her, professionally and personally: She's brilliant, witty, well-spoken, stunningly beautiful and seemingly comfortable in a pencil skirt and heels (this is not just my rosy perspective because I adore her and she can do no wrong; these are actual facts. Ask anyone.) We got closer as my due date drew nearer, and as I struggled with how to prioritize the what-ifs of my career with the ohmygods of impending motherhood, she was there -- she'd just been through it. She helped me delete useless shit off my registry. She listened and pretended to not be disgusted while my 8-months-preg face wept into my Taco Bell tacos. She was my safe space.

And then she saved me.

Back to day 2 home from the hospital. It's Saturday; I'm in a robe (and a diaper) in my bedroom crying. I felt so alone and scared with this tiny strange creature that I had failed to feed, lying helpless in a bassinet next to me. If you're following along, the baby and I have now been crying for 2 days straight. This friend checked in. I told her via text that I was having a hard time with feeding; I told her my milk hadn't come in, we were triple feeding and I was scared shitless and also what have I done and could she please drive me to Mexico and help me change my identity?

"Been there," she said. "And I get it. I'm coming over." And within the hour she showed up with a bin of every pumping accessory imaginable, a nursing pillow, pumping bras, cans of formula, and gallons of wine. She sat with me while I cried on my bed. She told me I looked thin, because she is an angel sent from heaven. Then she taught me how to use the pump efficiently (NOBODY TEACHES YOU THIS), size the shields, etc -- and then the doorbell rang with the dinner she'd ordered. On Monday -- and the Mondays after -- she showed up with tupperwares of healthy, homecooked food to last us through the week and an open ear for me to ask, "how do I..." questions over and over. She was my saint, and I love her forever. She came right down into the thick of it with me and chose to help me with the nasty bits instead of just swinging by to hold the baby and ask questions like, "are you JUST SO IN LOVE?" And she kept checking in when everyone else stopped checking in, and she came over when the days of mat leave stretched longer and lonelier. 

Anyway. I'm misty. Those first weeks were hard. So, so hard. I look back now and can't remember why, exactly they were so hard, but I think I have a vague idea: my body was in shambles. I had chills, night sweats, soreness, and this constant, consuming feeling of abject terror all existing alongside this feeling I felt when I saw my tiny little baby: like my heart was going to explode. I cried a lot. 

People brought over casseroles and brownies and we were really well-loved and supported. Everyone came over to meet the baby, and family and good friends and acquaintances really showed up for us. It was all real and raw and it was super hard, though. 

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Casey's Birth Story: 8.16.16, Part 2.

And so it was go time. Note that I will leave very little to the imagination, so if you haven't had a baby yourself, turn back now.

Around 9 am, my doctor -- the best doctor in the history of doctors -- came in with something behind his back and declared it was time to break my water. I was already dilated 4 inches and ready to roll. He told me to lie back, so I never actually saw the thing behind his back, but Aaron did and described it as a 14-inch letter opener. Also, Aaron has never been the same. Anyway. Something hurt a lot, a balloon popped inside my body and then a rush of water came out and I thought wow! I'm so glad that didn't happen at work or the grocery store or at Houston's last night! And then the gushing didn't stop. Like all day long. Water coming and coming. Gross. That was the worst.

Nah, just kidding. The worst was yet to come. 

The nurse (who, by the way, was an actual angel sent from above, as were all the nurses in that hospital) started the Pitocin. I think I got like two drops the whole day because my labor was FAST. As soon as my water broke, this baby was like hi, hello, you rang? The Pitocin was turned off promptly.

I sat there and watched the Rio Olympics with Aaron for a few hours as contractions went from cute little cramps to something less manageable. OH MY GOD HAVE I MENTIONED I WAS SO FUCKING HUNGRY? I got a popsicle at some point and it was sensational. Aaron ordered pancakes and ate them in front of me, and had I not been hours away from having our baby, 'beloved husband until he ate pancakes in front of his wife while she was in labor' would have been the words on his gravestone.

By 2 pm, I was super dilated and HURTING. I tried to hold off demanding drugs until the contractions were unbearable (not for any noble reasons; just that I once heard a horror story about getting the drugs too early and then they wore off before push time), and I believe I succeeded. Every contraction felt like going to the top of a roller coaster where my uterus was tied to the roller coaster car and I was dragging it upward, and then going over a peak. It was heinous. Bring all the drugs. 

As the anesthesiologist marched in, Aaron -- who fainted on the ground at the Costco when we got our TDap shots -- made his graceful exit, and my mom tagged in.

"Do you have scoliosis?" they asked. "YES, YES SHE DOES," my mother hollered from the other side of the room. I wasn't going to tell them. It's an old lady disease and who needs to know? 

TURNS OUT THEY DO. THEY NEED TO KNOW. 

Here is where I learned that an epidural isn't like a little prick in your back; it is an EVENT. And when you're in epic pain, that event feels like it never ends. So after 20 minutes of misery, the epidural was in and I looked forward to bliss. The dude left and I lay there for an hour thinking, "man, these people really hyped up this epidural thing. This isn't that great." I could still feel all the contractions. I felt super drunkers, that was for sure, but I also felt contractions. 

Sidenote, what I didn't feel was how many times I peed into this little bag hanging next to my bed, much to the delight of my husband and I both. He'd say, "you're peeing!" And I'd say, "NO WAY!" This was really a special memory. I'm glad we shared it, and that I could share it here.

Finally, after an hour, I told the nurse that maybe the epidural guy missed or something? She tapped my knee and asked if I could feel it. I kicked my leg out and told her yes. "You're not really supposed to be able to move your legs," she said. Hmm, yeah. Fix it though?

The man came back; the event happened again; the epidural took. The next hour was bliss. 

And then it was time to push! To check in here, I had been in labor for about 7 hours at this point. Which is a dream situation, especially for an induction. Good job, baby; thanks for behaving on that one day even though you have behaved not one single day since. The nurse checked my cerv one last time, and she could SEE THE BABY'S HEAD which is fully the weirdest thing. We asked her if she saw red hair and she said it was covered in stuff so she couldn't really tell (ew), but the real issue was that he was dabbing: he had an arm up by his head, so she was touching his dumb little fingers also. 

This was of very little concern, apparently, because when my doctor arrived for the big finish, he reached up and pushed his little arm back where it was supposed to go and it was go time. 

Allow me to pause for a moment to remember what my friend Kelly said to me: she warned that I needed to check all my dignity at the door and to be prepared to sit there with business out and up "in front of God and everyone." I could hear her voice in my head as I assumed the birthing position and grabbed the back of my knees. I put my hair in a ponytail at this point because it was bidness time. 

Casey's heart rate was dropping a smidge, which caused me to panic more than a smidge -- which meant I needed an oxygen mask to keep everyone under control. That was all fine, but when you're lying there in a mask with your vagine out and 3 people staring down at you and shouting things, it's not really the moment you'd envisioned. I yelled at Aaron only once because he kept repeating some stupid and unhelpful direction over and over. I was advised to 'bear down,' but I couldn't feel a single thing so I very well could have been shitting on the table. I was told I did not, but I also have a particularly kind husband who may have wanted to spare me from the humiliation so who knows. 

3 big pushes and he made his debut. As he came out, everyone was shouting, "Look down! Look down!" And excuse me, I had not one ounce of core strength to do any sort of maneuver that would allow me to look down. I did catch a tiny glimpse of a squirming red creature just before the nurse said, "Do you want to hold him, or do you want us to clean him up first?"

Here are the first words my son heard his mother say as he entered the world: "Um, clean him up. I don't even know how to hold a baby." Like why didn't they call CPS?

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They did what they promised and cleaned him up and handed him to me. He was so tiny and magical and perfect I could not even believe it. It was the most surreal moment of my whole life. He was 7 lbs even, 19.75 inches long, and a real, real nice baby. We spent a while staring at each other and time stopped. 

Time resumed when I looked up and caught a glimpse of my doctor sitting by my nether regions and pulling a needle with a 2-foot long thread above his head. I knew I wasn't supposed to care about that, but some significant damage was done and I'm now the proud new owner of something that looks like the monster from Stranger Things.

Anyway. As a tiny baby squirmed on me and the doctor did his thing, the nurse, blessed angel, turned to my husband and ordered him to get me some food. He did. Andthat 6:30 pm bacon and cheese omelette was the best food I have ever eaten in my life. 

The next two nights in the hospital were dreamy and surreal and glorious. People brought me food; entered the room constantly to bring me drugs and help me go pee; came in to reassure me that my baby was healthy and perfect and did not have a stupid name; took the baby away and brought him back circumcised (and pissed); helped him latch; took him away one night so we could sleep, and wheeled him back in when it was time to feed. I laid on a bed and we ate steak and lobster. It was heavenly and simple and terrific. Being parents was great! 

And then we left. 

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Casey's Birth Story: 8.16.16, Part 1.

Allow me to preface this post: When I reached my 35th week of pregnancy, everyone who has ever known anyone who has ever birthed a baby unleashed their most traumatizing, horrific, grotesque birth stories on me: the rushing to the hospital; emergency C-sections; cords wrapped around necks; unnatural tearing; infections; thwarted attempts at natural births -- you name it. This is not one of those stories. 

When we first found out I was pregnant, Casey's due date was predicted to be around 8.22.16 based on the ol' cycle method. Because I had been obsessively tracking all manner of conception happenings and variables via every expensive physical kit, at-home test and iPhone app available, I was certain this was wrong (I am actually an OBGYN in my spare time, did you know?) He was due earlier. His ultrasound measurements throughout the pregnancy confirmed this, so we (me, the OB) ended up estimating his due date to be around 8.14.16 eventually.

Here are the other things I, the OBGYN, knew: I was not going to attempt a natural birth. I had no interest, even after reading all the books and Googling all the things and watching the Ricki Lake documentary about how American birthing practices are dangerous and commoditized. Nope. No doula; no midwife: Come at me with your graduate degrees and your drugs; cut me open if you want to. I told my doctor -- the greatest, coolest doctor in the history of doctors -- to just do what needed to be done. If he thought a C-section would be safer, holla at me and we'll suit up and get that baby out.

I also knew I needed to feel like I had some manner of control over one of the most chaotic and terrifying events I will ever experience, and I was not willing to be one of those women who goes to 42 weeks and births a 10-pound baby. 

And so when it looked like he was not particularly interested in coming out on his own and the Braxton-Hicks contractions thwarted not one but two fancy last-hurrah dinners we'd planned, we scheduled an induction for August 16th at the last minute. He weighed 7 pounds, he was cooked to medium well and it was time. 

We were set to check into the hospital at 5:30 am on Tuesday. On our very last night as DINKs, Aaron and I went to Houston's for our last leisurely meal. I had a massive French Dip sandwich -- the last of my pregnancy -- and, wouldn't you know it, when we told our server we were having a baby the next morning, the restaurant picked up the tab for the meal. 

Full and happy, we returned to our quiet, clean home, spent some time with Eva, and slept exactly one hour. Both of us were wide awake by two AM, watching the minutes tick by like hours as we waited to meet our baby boy. By 4, I sprang out of bed, took a long shower, straightened my hair and double-checked our hospital bag. AND THEN.

As we were putting our shoes on, the hospital called. 'There are no beds,' they said. 'You're going to have to wait a few hours. Maybe come in around 7 or 8. Kbye!' I WAS ENRAGED. I was so ready, I was so tired and, most urgently, FUCKING STARVING. They don't let you eat after midnight, you see, and I was more pregnant than I'd ever been in my life and I was pissed. 

We sat fully dressed on the bed for a couple hours and watched the news while I complained. Time stood still. The news was mostly about Zika, the Olympics, and Zika at the Olympics. At last, it was time to head to the hospital. I can't really explain it, but I LOST MY WHOLE ENTIRE MIND while saying goodbye to Eva and sobbed uncontrollably all the way to the hospital. Looking at her, our first baby, knowing that when we returned to the house her whole life would be turned upside down and she was none the wiser... my heart couldn't take it. Looking back, I think I was so scared and overwhelmed myself that I was projecting all of that onto a cat because I didn't know how to express it.

We checked into the hospital (which took FOREVER, by the way: thank god I wasn't having painful contractions because there were so many questions to answer and papers to fill out that I would have pushed out the whole entire baby on the floor in front of the intake desk), they brought us back to our giant L&D room, and we got the show on the road. 

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On Pregnancy.

I wish I'd written this while actually pregnant, but alas: I have an outside baby now, but am trying to reach back to 3 weeks ago to remember what it was like to be knocked up. 

 38 weeks.

38 weeks.

Ah, yes. I remember now: MISERY. 

It's hard to think about anything but the recent trauma of being grotesquely pregnant in the Texas August heat, but all things considered, I actually had a fabulous pregnancy. We were lucky.

The worst part of my first trimester -- barftown USA -- was gloriously timed so that I could wallow on the couch or in bed during a 2-week holiday break from work. Unfortunately, because those early weeks coincided with the holidays, I was drinking club soda at parties and bubbling over with excitement and so the whole world knew we were pregnant by the 8-week mark. Tacky, maybe; but I was real excited and about to bust out of my jeans, literally and figuratively. 

We found out we were having a boy around 12 weeks. I knew in my bones that we were having a boy; I had wanted a girl for as long as I can remember (I had grand visions of attending Taylor Swift concerts together and teaching her how to put on makeup; what the hell was I going to do with a boy?) -- but around 8 weeks, I was CONVINCED we were having a boy. I told everyone. We did a blood test around 10 weeks to screen for a variety of scary complications, and lo and behold: mama had some Y chromosome action going on and was carrying a little dude. It's a good thing we had gone ahead and found out the sex; he and his little weenor were not shy on his ultrasounds as the pregnancy progressed. 

The second trimester was superb. I felt great, I figured out what sounded good when literally zero foods sounded palatable: yogurt with granola, any fruit on the earth except apples, Taco Bell crunchy beef tacos and Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches. I felt Middleton-pregnant (not walrus-pregnant) and was focused wholly on one of the busiest and bumpiest stages of my career. I had a three-week stretch of travel to both coasts and it made my back hurt, but otherwise the second tri was a dream and I slept a lot in my Snoogle cocoon. 

And then. 

The third trimester was a spectacle. I was huge. I waddled. The only shoes that fit me were size 12 Tieks, cheap Target sandals and a pair of Madewell wedges that made me feel like a potato on stilts. Men at work acted strangely around me, and people made comments about my body constantly -- which is a weird thing about pregnancy, really: friends and strangers feel comfortable making the size of your body a topic of small talk at bathroom sinks. Time moved at a glacial pace; weeks 35 and on felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff, knowing someone was going to come up and push me over, but I just didn't know when. It was hot. I was ready to get this show on the road. I was a miserable tornado of bitchiness and complaining. Looking back, I slept a lot and ate whatever; it really wasn't that bad. I probably should have slept more, and I definitely should have spent more time mentally preparing for the jarring transition from being a selfish eating machine to keeping a tiny selfish eating machine alive. 

There are some shitty bits about pregnancy, for sure. The cruel irony of having sensational cravings and a massive appetite with inadequate stomach space; the vague understanding that sleep will be hard to come by once the baby comes out, but a bladder the size of a pea is relentlessly disruptive and the tiny dolphin doing flips in your abdomen has other plans anyway. Zika. Maternity clothes in general (TRASH TRASH TRASH), but particularly designer maternity jeans which are clearly the Joe's/Seven/Paige factory rejects with a very thick pantyhose-like band sewn shittily to the top that never stays up, ever ever ever. The anxiety of not knowing what's going on in there, which I attempted to mitigate by trying to negotiate an ultrasound at like every OB appointment. Lastly, maternity leave in this country? We all deserve better. 

But there were also some wonderful things about pregnancy, and here they are: First, my husband was a gold star, A+ husband. He massaged my back frequently, and my nastyass feet once. No food ever sounded good, and it was impossible to do the meal planning & cooking for the week when the dinner I selected on Sunday sounded heinous when it was time to cook it on Wednesday. Grocery shopping and cooking is my singular household responsibility, and I turned on the stove three whole times (to make pancakes) in 9 months -- so he cooked for himself every night without complaint, and then eventually gave in to eating fast food/frozen pizza/trash from a dumpster alongside me by the end. He was also just generally helpful and interested and involved and concerned, enthusiastically joining me for TV in bed immediately after work most nights near the end when the fatigue was overwhelming. Oh, and don't worry: we ate more indulgently than we'd eaten in years, with nary a vegetable on anyone's plate -- and he actually lost weight. Cool. 

Secondly, other women. I knew becoming a mother would change my relationships with other mothers in my life, but I never realized how profoundly supportive and understanding and important those relationships would become. Almost immediately after announcing my pregnancy at work, a handful of moms in the office reached out individually to begin building a new relationship with me. As my due date ticked closer and my career concerns converged with my motherhood concerns, those women were sounding boards and counselors and truth-tellers in a way I needed badly. That was great. 

Perhaps our greatest accomplishment of the last 9 months, besides successfully growing a human and keeping us both fed, was choosing a name. Boy names are terrible. We had 72 girl names picked out, and not a single boy name appealed to us because of the following: all the good names are too common, all the unusual names are stupid, and all the pleasant names are associated with someone one of us disliked at some point in our lives. So we made a list of 10 names we could find nothing wrong with, read them aloud every night for a few weeks, and crossed off the names we spontaneously decided to hate as the days progressed. We landed on Casey because we both didn't hate it, it's not very common lately, and (we realized later) it sounds like KC. 

In his 3 weeks of life, he has been referred to as a "she" by no less than 3 nurses at the hospital or pediatrician's office, so there's that. But the birth certificate is printed and the kid already has a social security card so, the deed is done. He can go ahead and get an early start on his list of grievances against his parents. But I will also note that our other favorite name was Graham and we were kind enough to spare him the humiliation of going through life as Graham Thacker. 

Finally, here is a list of products every pregnant woman needs: 

  • The Snoogle 
  • Belly Band (til your ass gets too big for your pre-preg jeans, true life)
  • Actual maternity dresses (I AM HERE TO TELL YOU: YOUR PRE-PREGNANCY DRESSES ARE TOO SHORT); mine came from ASOS, but I thoroughly enjoyed a couple standbys from Old Navy and A Pea in the Pod
  • Preggie Pops at the beginning for nausea
  • The book 'Expecting Better' by Emily Oster
  • Cocoa Butter lotion, which does absolutely nothing for stretch marks or dryness, but makes you smell like chocolate which I really, really enjoyed!
  • A Bota Box, so you can have a single glass of wine without the whole bottle going bad
  • Rainbow Light prenatals, which are gentle on your tummy and turn your pee neon green so you're reminded of whether or not you remembered to take it
  • A Kindle so you can read in bed with minimal light when you wake up at 3 am and can't get back to sleep ever; sorry, it's real. 
  • These tanks.
  • Babylist registry, which allows people to buy stuff you want from wherever they want -- instead of forcing them to go into BuyBuyBaby, the worst place on the earth.
  • These blessed sleep shorts.

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