Connected to Her

Even before I was pregnant with El, I dreamed about breastfeeding her. There is nothing more engaging and powerful, in my experience, than sharing this experience with my children. There were times when I thought that maybe the only reason I wanted another baby was because I wanted to breastfeed. 

Breastfeeding is also one of the most difficult things I have ever done for my children. To ensure they get as much breastmilk as possible, I pump while I am at work and on call. Breastfeeding my baby means that most of the time I am attached to a machine – not my baby. This is the part I hate; but I am reminded of why I endure it when I lay down at night with El by my side, her little body pressed up against my chest, listening to her suckle as she falls asleep. I never want it to end. 

A few weeks ago, the “brelfie” (breastfeeding selfie) began trending. I loved the idea of having a picture of my experience feeding my baby. I have many photos of me feeding my baby, but they are all from far away, or with covers, or even just for me to see. I was delighted to create something that I could share with the world. This is my life; what matters to me the most – giving myself to my children. 

Breastfeeding is so much to me: it is food, but it is also comfort, bonding, sharing, and love. I wish my babies didn’t grow up because I will never get tired of this amazing experience 

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The Birth of Baby El

I shouldn’t be surprised that El came into the world with a relative fury – she is my third baby, after all… and my first girl.

She came early on a Tuesday morning, but her decision on when to arrive seemed to be a few days in the making.  For the entire weekend preceding her birthday, I experienced contractions that would start and stop every few hours.  Sometimes they would get worse, but they would always just stop.  When Sunday night came, I was anxious about whether or not to work the next day – or even for the rest of the week, given that my maternity leave was scheduled to start the following Monday.  After weighing the options, I opted to listen to my body and I sent an email to the necessary people advising that I would not be in the next day.

I spent Monday feeling guilty about my decision to stay home from work.  I moved my prenatal appointment to the morning with the hopes that talking with my Doctor would make me feel a little better about my decision.  She didn’t seem phased by my decision to take  the day, or even the rest of the week, off work.  I was, for goodness sake, 38+ weeks pregnant.

She checked my cervix and told me it was 3cm and 50% effaced.  “Do you want me to strip your membranes? ” She asked.  I gave her permission (I preemptively took  two extra strength tylenol before my appointment, in anticipation of this possibility).  It was more painful than I remembered and I made more noise than I expected myself to make.  Then, I left her office with hopeful anticipation that labour wouldn’t be too far away.

The day passed uneventfully, with nary a contraction to bring up my hopes.  I went about the usual business of taking the kids to their activities, and given the beautiful weather, we even walked the short distance to get where we were going.  I took the boys for frozen yogurt after taekwondo, and if I could go back now knowing that would be the last thing we would do together without the baby in our lives, I would have been kinder and more patient with them.  We went home, prepared for bed and I tucked them in as usual.

I was getting ready for bed around 10:00 and the same contractions that had plagued my weekend showed up again.  They were mild and not even painful.  I shrugged them off as more of the same, non-productive, braxton hicks.  Thirty minutes later I went to the washroom and noticed a significant amount of “show,” and for a second I though that maybe these contractions were different.  Regardless, I made an effort to go to sleep.

Sleep didn’t work for me that night.  By midnight the contractions were still coming regularly and they were starting to get painful.  I suggested to my husband that, “maybe it’s time.”  He groaned in his sleep and rolled over.  By 1:00, things didn’t seem to be improving, so I made the decision that we needed to go into the hospital.  I called my nanny and woke up my husband, who begrudgingly had to go and pick her up.  By the time she arrived at our house and we drove across the city to the hospital where I was checked in, it was 2:30.  Somehow, Baby El got the memo that we were at the hospital because contractions started getting a whole lot worse!

The nurse I had was kind enough.  She didn’t immediately recognize me, and I was okay with that… until she presented a rather inappropriate plan to observe the progress of my labour before admitting me: “You’re only 4cm, so maybe we’ll get you to walk around for an hour and then we’ll re-assess. Do you want anything for pain?”
I turned down the morphine and said I would wait for my epidural.  She tried not to raise her eyebrows at me, but she didn’t do a good job.  When she disappeared behind the curtain, I expressed my frustration to my husband:
She obviously doesn’t recognize me… This is a stupid plan. She didn’t even look at my prenatal sheets.  I would never send a para 3 woman who is obviously contracting and uncomfortable away to walk, especially when her last labour was only 5 hours.”

The nurse came back after a few more contractions had come and gone.  The contraction pattern on my NST was impressive, to say the least.  Thankfully, one of the other nurses must have told her who I was, and maybe also discussed a better plan with her.  The new plan was to admit me right away and get me an epidural… Oh, and she also mentioned that she “realized how she knew me…”

I walked down the hallway to my labour room, stopping twice for contractions.  I placed out my arm eagerly in anticipation of my IV start… step one to my epidural acquisition.  The nurse missed.   She couldn’t find another good vein, so she decided to wait for the anesthetist.  He couldn’t find a good vein either and it felt like an eternity before he finally decided to retry the hand where the original attempt failed.  My contractions were close now, and more intense than I could tolerate.  I asked for the gas – I needed something and I didn’t even have an IV yet – I began to fear the possibility that I would be delivering this baby without any pain medications on board.  Breathing was barely working. I may have swore.  That moment reaffirmed for me that women who gracefully deliver their babies without pain medication are my silent heroes.

The IV was finally in and we wasted no time in positioning for my epidural.  I was starting to feel pressure and the sounds I made with the contractions were the audible evidence of that.  Whatever was going on behind me didn’t matter, but I had seen so many of them done before that I could picture the steps as he was doing them.  I knew when he was threading the catheter into my back, and despite the pain of a contraction, I was relieved to know that the medication would come soon.

It took a few contractions to feel the effects of the epidural, but once it was effective enough, my nurse checked my cervix again.  9cm.  It was 4:15 and it was time to call my doctor.  I didn’t know who would arrive first: my doctor, my baby, or my mom – who was driving frantically from 3 hours away.  Baby El held out- I could feel the pressure of the contractions and waited for my water to break with each one.  My wonderful doctor arrived after 15 min, and my mom was 15 minutes away.  I asked her if we could wait to push until my mom arrived – and as wonderful as she is, she obliged.

Baby still held on and by 4:50 the party was ready to start.  My epidural was fantastic – maybe too fantastic – because I couldn’t feel a single thing, not even the urge to push.  But with great coaching and some determination, baby El came into the world at 5:15 Tuesday morning. With her tiny little peanut body, her head full of black hair, and her tight double nuchal cord (which we would have never guessed from her heart rate strip, but explained my need to push for 20 minutes), she was placed on my flattened belly for me to see.

There is no way to put into words that moment when you see your new baby for the first time.  She was beautiful and I loved her immediately.  Her cord was cut and I slid her up onto my chest, where she stayed for the first hour of her life.  We took many pictures while my placenta delivered, and I received the final piece of wonderful news: no tearing at all.  I could finally sit up in my bed and I cradled my beautiful baby El up against my breast.  She was eager to suckle and I helped her latch.  It was so surreal to be nursing my baby only 10 minutes after she was born.  After only 4 hours of strong, active labour.  Just barely longer than a day after I decided to listen to my body tell me that it was time to take care of myself and my baby.

Tomorrow Baby El will be a week old and my mind is mixed with one paradoxical feeling: it has only been a week of having her in our lives… but how has it only been a week?