Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Baby Removal Surgery - Part II

Warning: This is a tad long, but I'm hoping you'll indulge me since it's my birth story. Also, flagrant use of cuss words.  Cuz... you know... it's my futhermucking birthstory, and sometimes it's not pretty.


Just hours after writing my last post, lying in bed, I felt something… um…. Down there… and thought to myself: Damnit.  I just got my period, how annoy…  No you nitwit, you’re pregnant!  No period.  Your water just broke!  This is it!
“Um… Colin.. Wake up.  My water just broke.” 
Colin darted out of bed and we were in frantic motion.  We stupidly packed a suitcase as if we were going on a 3 day holiday, woke up our very tolerant roommate so she could watch Caleb in the morning, called the hospital, and soon we were speeding off in the eerily empty Nairobi roads.  Including a brief stop to vomit along the road, a trip that takes 2 hours in rush hour took us 15 minutes at 2:30 AM.  So, point one for middle of the night labor.
Entering the hospital, I clutched my belly hoping to cut an empathetic figure, but the nurse on staff looked understandably unimpressed and even half-way annoyed to see us (take away that point for middle of the night labor), and pointed us to an open labor room. 
And we were there.  2 weeks before our carefully planned out C-section, feeling a mix of panic and excitement. 
Colin and I kept looking at each other in disbelief repeating as if in a trance, “We’re going to meet our baby soon. We’re going to meet our baby soon.” 
As we waited, we were treated to heavily religious gospel music interspersed with bible stories narrated by someone with an uncanny likeness to James Earl Jones.  I suppose if you’re religious (and Christian) this could give you a bit of comfort in such a momentous time.  For the Jewish Bahai couple, it was perplexing, bordering on funny.
After some routine confirmation that I was in fact in labor, our doctor was called and the C-section was scheduled for 6 AM. 
Now, here is where you need a little background.
I’m not exactly the bravest of patients.  Scratch that. I’m positively squeamish nearing phobic of all things medical.  I cover my eyes when getting blood drawn.  Even when it’s not my own.  Even in the movies.  I sit in the theater saying “tell me when it’s over Colin!”  The very idea of being poked and prodded gives me a panic attack.  I’m a total wimp.  Or, if you prefer, a “delicate flower.”
If I’m being totally honest with myself, that was part of the reason we tried to use midwives with the first baby, and I remember being disappointed that they all wore lab coats and their office was so “medical” since I was foolishly expecting the more comforting ambiance of Tibetan wall hangings, the aroma of chamomile tea and lots of cranial-sacral massage.   
And yes, I’d been through a C-section before.  But, let’s just say I was eased into it after 30 hours of labor during which the poking and prodding was slowly introduced.  First an IV, then a heart monitor, eventually an epidural, after a while that dreaded fucking catheter…. 
When they finally broke the news that I had no choice but to have a C-section, Colin scrubbed in and he and my angel of a midwife sat with me and held my hand through the weird but painless tugging and pulling in the operating theater, and I was fully awake when I heard Caleb’s first screams and saw his perfect little neotenous face.   
OK.  Flash forward to Feb. 21, 2012. 
Only 20 minutes before the C-section was scheduled, I sat in the waiting room with nothing but a hospital gown.  We were then informed that Colin would not be allowed into the operating theater.  For that perculiar request we would needed special dispensation from the hospital director.  
Before I knew what was happening, I was placed on a meat tray of a gurney and very quickly whisked down the halls, barely stopping to wave what I’m sure was a very pathetic goodbye to Colin.  The train had left the station.
I was then wheeled into a scarily large operating theater filled with intimidating medical equipment and that centerpiece operating table lit by blinding industrial bulbs, as if set for a macbre alien abduction probing scene. 
Men started swirling around me busily.  There were no women – not even the nurses –  and even though they were exceedingly nurturing it somehow made me feel even more alone to be the only woman in the room. 
Then, everything started happening to me with a quick efficiency that I’m sure is standard protocol, but only had me panic screaming in my head “Wait Wait STOP! I’m not ready. I don’t know if I can do this.”
Not hearing my brain screams they continued on at a brisk clip.  First with the epidural, inserted as I sat hunched over on the gurney a ball of obvious and quivering tension, trying some yoga breaths to calm myself.  When you know what’s coming next, “you’ll just feel a little prick” can be some the most frightening of phrases. 
After the spine probe, then the vein probe (IV), then those pulse monitoring pads slapped all over my chest, then that fucking catheter again, then a mask placed over my nose and mouth.  Did no one hear that I wasn’t ready for all of this???
My mouth immediately became unbearably almost painfully dry and I kept pulling the mask off my face to futily ask for water.  My internal narrative had on a loop “I don’t think I can hold it together.  I don’t think I can hold it together.” and the panic manifested physically as a pain winding its way up my body until I started twisting my head side to side and repeatedly pulling off my oxygen mask.
So people, clearly, I panicked. 
Not my proudest moment.
They later told me that they had to sedate me, so I have no clear memories of Emmet’s first cries and I have a fuzzy dreamlike image of a very whitish baby being shoved in my face for my sedated inspection. 
But soon enough it was over.  I was back with Colin terrorizing him with my impressions of the experience.  We were through.  But something was missing…
The baby!
Where was the fucking baby?
After an hour we started asking the nurses.  “He’s coming soon. Don’t worry.”  Then another hour.  “They’re just bathing him he’ll be right here.”  Then ANOTHER hour.  And my doctor came to see me.
“Yes yes doc.  Everything is fine.  We just want to see that baby. It’s been 3 hours. What are they doing with the baby??”
“Oh, don’t worry.  They are not doing anything.”
WHAT?  I suppose that was meant to be comforting.  But NO!!  If they are “not doing anything,” bring the little guy to his mother godfuckingdamnit!! 
Hour 4.  Still no baby.
We were making nuisance of ourselves and every nurse on call had already heard the message that the crazed wazungu couple in room 4 “wants to see their baby.” 
Colin started pacing so fiercely he nearly wore a groove in the floor.  Feeling totally helpless, I asked him to “pace harder.  It think it’s working!”
Finally after 4.5 hours, we got to see the baby. 
Emmet was absolutely perfect.  Full sweet face with kissable lips and angelic little eyes, blissfully unaware of everything it took to get him here.  Completely worth all the trials and then some to get him into my arms. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Baby Removal Surgery - Part I

A few days ago, and 2 weeks before it was scheduled, I wrote down my thoughts about my planned C-section.  2 hours after I finished it, I went into labor.   That should teach me who’s really in control.
I’m all set.  Next Friday at noon.  I’m going “in” to have a large but benign (and I’m guessing quite cute) parasite removed.  It’s just been growing continually for the last 9 months, and something has to be done about it.
I know that’s sounds flip, but I have to laugh about it.  Or I’ll cry. 
I’m outing myself here: I’m having a planned C-section.  You can now throw your dashikis and lemongrass tea at the screen in disgust and protest.
Truly, I feel utterly sheepish about the whole endeavor.  I’ve avoided telling people when they ask about the due date and even falsely make it sound as if “hey, it could happen anytime.”  
Last time around we tried to have our baby as naturally as possible.  We read all the books, watched that Ricky Lake movie and were swayed by the humanistic logic of it all: we have WAY too many C-sections in the US, mainly for the convenience of doctors and because of the escalation of non-essential interventions to help “move the baby along.”  And mothers are denied that most core of feminine rites – birthing their child.
But we were balanced about the whole thing.  We also knew how lucky we were to be in a part of the planet where, because of medical interventions, maternal and child death are really a thing of the past. Not so everywhere. Not so where we live now.
So, we used midwives that worked in a hospital, and ended up needing an emergency C-section anyway.  I feel confident it was not done for anyone’s “convenience” and I shudder to think what could have happened were I living in a place without access to the needed surgical intervention.
But this time, I have done the unthinkable and actually opted for a C-section.  It makes sense for me given my history, the uncertainty of being another country and what the doctor and others recommend, but I can’t help but feel I’ve sold myself out -- that I’m one of those women who are “too posh to push” too easily swayed by the mother-hating medical industrial complex. 
The thing is, they do do V-BACs (Vaginal Birth After C-section) here.  But instead of calling them an oddly hip sounding acronym (Please welcome to the stage MC V-BAC!), the procedure here is cringingly called “trial of the scar” which does little to put me at ease. 
And I am surrounded by supportive non-ideological people who are certainly not judging me for my decision. 
But, then why do I feel so self-conscious about it?
Because I know the judgment that goes around about nearly every child-birthing/rearing decision a person makes today.  And I’ve been made to feel that a planned C-section is right up there with refusing to try to breast feed and leaving your child to forage for his own food.
And it’s funny to think that I won’t really have a “birth story” – one of those hallmarks of motherhood, like making an elaborate first year birthday cake from scratch, that women use to simultaneously bond with and one-up each other.  I could write my “birth story” today: I went into the hospital at 8, got an epidural at 9 and heard my sweet baby’s first cries at 10.  There is nothing gripping or heroic about it.  Nothing worth repeating.
But soon enough it will be over.  All things going well, I’ll have a healthy baby in my arms and it won’t matter at all how he got there.  
Turns out I do have a birth story of sorts.  That’ll be Part II. But more importantly mama and baby are healthy, thriving and one of is us quite adorable indeed.  Emmet is pretty cute too.
Emmet Daniel Christensen - hour 10 (or so)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My dark confession

At the risk of this blog totally contradicting my tagline and becoming ALL mommyblog, I have another post about babies.  I am 2 weeks away from my due date, so you all will indulge me, right?


I’ve known I wanted a baby as soon as I wasn’t one myself.  It’s never been a question in my mind. I’ve never wavered.  A childhood friend just reminded me that when all my girlfriends were taping pictures of Ricky Shroeder and other Tigerbeat hearthrobs to their notebooks, I taped a picture of the Gerber baby.  You see what I’m getting at here?

When I was pregnant with Caleb I would do nauseating things like lay out a little newborn outfit in his crib and beg Colin to come imageine how cute our baby was going to be.  I had waited a long time for my first baby and I was over the moon about it.

See?  Look closely in the co-sleeper.  One of many practice ensembles for my coming little angel.
But I have a huge dark confession to make and I’m begging no one judges me for it. 

This time around the overriding emotion I’m feeling is terror.  There’s very little joy.  I know full well what the sleep deprivation will do to my emotional state, my patience and my marriage.  I know the searing pain of sore nipples.  I know how taxing the recovery process will be, how isolated I'll be when my husband leaves for work.  I know my relationship with Caleb will never be the same, and I worry I'll never be able to love another soul with the intensity I love Caleb.  And all I can think about this that stuff.  I half-joke that I already resent the little guy. 

Discussing these fears over a dinner with friends, Colin and I jokingly declared, “newborns suck!”  This was met with uncomfortable silence.

And of course we wanted another baby.  Never thought twice about it.  Only one child didn’t feel like full family to Colin or I, and as much as our siblings mean to us we didn’t want to deny Caleb that relationship. 

But now mainly what I feel is terrified. 

I’m told this is normal, and I’m sure it is.  I also know that women successfully have more than one child all. the. time!  Some have even told me it’s easier the second time around.  (Others annoyingly tell me that it’s “more than twice the work of one.”)

All I hope for now is that as soon as that little baby is placed in my arms, all of the terror melts away and all the difficulty I know is coming becomes secondary to my love for him.  And I find the girl taping pictures of Gerber babies in her school notebook because she can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


My sister recently had a beautiful baby girl – her second child.  She had a home birth in the house she and her husband built (and I’m not talking about directing a bunch of architects and contractors – they literally did the hammer and nailing!) and have made their home for the past 13 years. 
After the birth she relaxed into the soft familiar sheets of her own bed to snuggle with her new baby, husband and son.  Dozens of longtime friends and neighbors took turns bringing her food nearly every night.  Her mother flew in to help care for her 4 year old son while she recovered. 

Can you even imagine a more tender scene?

As I look down at my ballooning belly and contemplate the birth of my own second child, I think of my sister in the mountains with utter envy.
I’ll be having this baby in a city where I know very few people and have no relatives to speak of.  I have some new friends and acquaintances, a loving but very overworked husband and an adorable but very demanding toddler. There will be no one else to bring me food, comfort me, help my son adjust to the biggest upheaval to his life so far or my welcome my new baby to the world with unconditional love.  It’s daunting to say the least.
At least that’s what I thought until recently. 
As luck (and maybe a little creative planning) would have it, Colin’s father will be traveling to Nairobi for work during the weeks around Jelly Bean’s birth!  So, Caleb will have his loving Babu to distract him from the fact that his little brother is sucking his mom’s attention (among other body parts) and JB will have another soul to welcome him to this world the way only relatives can. 
Things were looking up. 
And then, just this weekend, over a Skype call, my dad, in his typically nonchalant offhanded manner, told us that he would be coming for the birth too.  Ha ha, very funny dad. (I naturally assumed he was kidding.) 
My parents had, just months before and at great expense and risk of pissing off clients/bosses, taken a trip to visit us in Kenya.  They had never been to Africa before, and it’s not an easy trip.
The plan was for us to visit Chicago as soon as JB could travel.  Plus, I figured that with 6 new grandbabies in 4 years, some of the shine had worn off of this whole “being there for the birth” thing.
But he wasn’t kidding.  He’s coming all the way to Kenya to be here for me.  For Caleb.  And for his grandson. I could cry it makes me so happy. (It’s breaking my mom’s heart, but she can’t take any more time off of work to join him)
All of this makes me feel incredibly lucky and blessed. 
But something else as well…
You see, giving birth is the most female of rites of passage. Around the world, births are predominantly attended by women and so is the recovery process.  In some places, men are chased from the scene, and not too long ago in the US it was a man’s role to simply wait anxiously outside and then merrily puff on cigars and receive congratulatory pats on the back.
So, I’m in a kind of unique situation here.  I’ll be surrounded entirely by testosterone: my husband, my father, my father-in-law, hell, even my son and new baby – not a drop of estrogen between them.    
Which is fine.  I mean, they are all loving, compassionate and generous people.  And, like I said, I’m so lucky to have family around me. 
But I’m thinking a bit of training re: recovering moms might be required. 
They’re not going know the first thing about soothing sore nipples or any of the other weird and intimate pains I’ll have after child birth.  They probably won’t anticipate how thirsty I’ll get the minute I start breast feeding or know the kinds of foods that satiate a rapacious post-pregnancy hunger. 
I’m guessing they won’t totally relate to the impatience I’ll feel at reaching for my newborn as soon as he starts to cry (men seem a bit more tolerant of this kind of thing).  I imagine any post-partum emotional crises will be met with sympathy but a bit of head-scratching.
But that’s OK.  They are going to be some of the most doting grandfathers this side of the Atlantic, and the pleasure I’ll get at watching them meet their new grandson and play with Caleb will surely outweigh any possibly clumsy (but always well intentioned) caregiving to the recovering mom.
Bring on the men!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Spilling my whine

The first real "belly shot" of my pregnancy at 36 weeks. Caleb is admonishing me.

I have the distinct displeasure of being 36 weeks pregnant at the pinnacle of the hottest time of the hottest season here in Western Kenya.  I can't sit in a chair (with this extra 35 pounds weighing down on my ass) without a pool of sweat forming on my seat and my skirt clinging to my tush like saran wrap on a casserole dish.  

But I can't complain. 

That's what I say each time someone asks me, with sympathy in their voice, how I am handling these last stages of pregnancy: "I can't complain."  (Little do they know I probably complain twice as much to my poor husband since I "can't complain" to them.  He's a lucky guy, right?)

I can't complain because I've been pretty lucky.  I'm one of those horrible women who gains pretty much all of their pregnancy weight in the belly.  I really never threw up in my first tri-mester.  I don't have high blood pressure or gestational diabetes.  I've never had to be on bed rest.  Hell, I did a 5 hour hike in my seventh month. Relative to most, it hasn't been that difficult.

Plus, I'm surrounded by women who have had miserable pregnancies.  My sister threw up, every day.  For NINE months.  My sister-in-law did the same.  I think she was on some kind of medication they give to chemo patients.  So, I can't complain. 

Other friends struggle to even conceive in the first place.  They look at swollen bellies with jealousy and longing.  So I can't complain. 

And living where we do, where access to pre-natal care is not a given, I have to consider myself lucky. Should something go wrong, I'd be able to get the medical attention I need.  So. again,  I can't complain. 

And yet, and yet...I sorely want to exercise my pregnancy prerogative and do just that - complain. Complain about my back and my exhaustion.  About the heat and my swollen feet. About the fact that my husband can't pamper me the way I'd like because his work is too demanding.  About my 3 year old who insists on being carried up the stairs.  About my unborn baby who is doing bench presses on my diaphram and forcing my dinner half way back up my esophegas.  

And I'd like some sympathy.  

But I can't complain.  

Can I complain about that?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ant invasion

We are generally loving our new digs.  It’s spacious, the neighbors are great and the landlord is almost weirdly responsive to tiny requests.

There’s just one thing: 

We have an ant problem.  It's actually more of a plague than a "problem. Seriously people, the ants rule the roost.  It’s as if our house were plopped onto an ant colony that’s seething right under our feet, and any stray teeny tiny morsel of food pulls them up through the cracks in the thousands.  

Example: I left a knife, with trace amounts of peanut butter on the counter for 20 minutes.  20 MINUTES, and came back to this. 

We have to scrub every plate before we go to bed because even the littlest whiff of food will bring them out in tiny battalions, and by the morning the counter tops will be crawling.

All of this, of course, heightens our pre-existing marital tension over doing the dishes – I want them done but don’t want to do them every night, and Colin doesn’t want to do them really ever.  Now, they HAVE to get done, or it’s a morning ant party.

So, it’s pretty important that we fix this problem.

I tried to talk to our neighbor about what he does with his ants (which he inevitably has, because, like I said, we are firmly in THEIR territory).  And, being the wonderfully unique individual that he is, he only offered this: “Oh, I love the ants! You can do little experiments with them and then end up cleaning your food for you.”  OK.  That’s one approach.

We’re a little less welcoming at our place.   We take a more “bomb the bastards” stance here. 

But it’s failing.  We use this toxic bug killer, ominously called “Doom” to kill the little buggers when they appear on our plates and counter tops, but are now wondering if we’re actually slowly killing ourselves with this poison.  And the ants are undeterred.

You can’t get ant traps here for some reason. Cockroach traps and mozzy spray are in abundance, but nothing for ants.  What am I missing?

And it seems as though the ants are winning.  I went downstairs the other morning to see a plate (which I had carefully cleaned and placed in the strainer the night before, mind you) teeming with ants.  I looked at it, sighed, and then just walked away and prepared my breakfast, silently resigning myself to cohabitating.

But I’m still open to new battle strategies. Anyone have any ant-destruction tips? There's gotta be some combination of vinegar, bleach and pixie dust or some other home remedy concoction that somebody knows of....