Monday, December 16, 2013

Two Lines

A year ago I found out I was pregnant.

I had suspected that I was pregnant for about 9 days, but hadn't tested because then it would become real.  What was just a late period on December 15, became a baby on December 16, thanks to the miracles of peeing on a stick.

I started suspecting I might be pregnant on December 7.  It was a Friday night, and we were out with my friend Jerin.  I was super-tired and wanted a nap on the drive down to see him, which was always an early symptom for me.  And when he asked me to taste his homemade holiday mead, I just took a tiny sip in case I actually was preggo.  When we were at dinner, I kept running to the bathroom to see if my period had come yet.  Nope.  On the 8th we went new car shopping, and picked out the Cmax, which we picked up on the 10th.  Still nothing.

I started googling what Letrozole could do to your cycles - that was the drug I had been taking that cycle.  Everything I saw said that Letrozole could actually make cycles shorter, not longer.  I also started needing naps, which always seems to be the telltale sign for me.  So my hopes got a little higher.  But I resolved that I would wait until the following Sunday, the 16th, to test.

Saturday night we watched It's a Wonderful Life, and I bawled my eyes out.  Another sign that my hormones were out of whack, in some way or another.

Sunday I went to Von's and bought organic apples, a big bottle of water, and a pregnancy test (which had been in a locked case - nothing like asking a teenage guy to get you a pregnancy test).  I couldn't wait till I got home, and went right into the bathroom in the store.  I knew that I should actually test first thing in the morning when the hormones are higher, but I figured that it was far enough along that a positive line would show up if it was going to appear.  I've peed on lots of pregnancy tests in grocery stores.  Generally because when we were doing artificial insemination, J would make fun of me for testing too soon, so I would never want to bring a test home and risk him telling me that I was just wasting money, and should wait until I missed a period the way they did before pee-sticks came along.  So I'm used to the drill of peeing on sticks in grocery store bathrooms.  I'm even more used to getting a negative in grocery store bathrooms.  I'd strain to see whether a line would appear for several minutes, willing it, thinking that maybe that tiny little pink dot right there was a line?  Can't you see it?  Doesn't that count?  No.  It doesn't.  I'd cry for a minute or two in the stall, then gather up my stuff, check the test one last time, then go out and wash my face, and go back into the world.

This time I sat in the stall tapping my feet, biting my lip, and pulling the sticker off my apple while the screen was flooded with pink - this was nothing new - the dye always runs across the whole panel before you see whether it "sticks" on the line.  I tried not to look.  I sat the test on top of the toilet paper holder and turned my head, and counted to sixty.  When I turned back, there was the darkest line I'd ever seen.  Suddenly I was shaky and nauseous.  I looked down at my belly.  There was a baby in there.  This wasn't just a late period.  There was an actual baby growing in my tummy.

I stepped out of the stall where a queue of women had been forming, and held up the test.  They all clapped, and asked if it was my first.  I explained that I had been pregnant twice before, so was keeping my fingers crossed for this one to work.  They all said that the third time was the charm, and it was a special Christmas gift, so it would surely work out.

I put the test in my pocket, walked out to my car, eating my apple, and started talking to the baby.  "Ok, baby," I said.  "You're in there now; it's just you and me in this together, and we're gonna do it, ok?  If you're not in it for the long haul, then you should just go now.  But if you stick around, I'm going to do my best to make your environment comfy and cozy, and take really good care of you.  And we'll have an awesome life together.  But you have to stick.  You can't pull this crap of sticking for a little while and then leaving.  If you're going to do that, then just leave now.  I'll let you think about it a little bit, ok?  I'll check in with you again tomorrow when you've had time to think it through."

The next night I went to the Messiah Sing a Long at Disney Hall with my friend Sarah.  It went late thanks to carol singing in the lobby, and J texted me:  "Come home.  It's 11.  You're pregnant.  You need sleep."  That was the coolest text ever.

Hannah did threaten to leave, a month later in mid-January, when I thought I was miscarrying for three days.  And again, I sat her down and had a talk with her.  "We made a deal, little baby," I said.  "I'm holding up my end of the bargain.  You need to hold up your end, too.  If you're going to go, we will still love you, obviously, but we really hope you stick around.  Because we're planning an awesome life for you."  Then I camped out on the couch watching Girls and playing Skyrim to keep my mind off of it.

And now here we are a year later, with me wondering whether I'll ever sleep a full night and feel rested again in this lifetime, thanks to this little goober who melts my heart when she wakes up and smiles at me.  She gives me the biggest grins, and just looks like she's so in love with me.  And it all started a year ago.  It's always going to be a special day for me.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Week in Books

I used to do semi-regular entries about the books I was reading, and want to resurrect that.  I'm not reading as much as I used to, for obvious reasons, but I've been pleasantly surprised at the amount of time I still get to read (she sleeps a lot - just not in long stretches yet) so I've been able to get a lot read.  I don't know that I will continue to read a book a week, so this might turn into The Month in Books rather than the week, but for now I'll keep my fingers crossed.

This week I finished One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson.  I first discovered Bill Bryson with his Notes from a Big Country column he wrote when he returned home to the US after living in the UK for 20 years.  I had only lived in the UK for two years, but I also found myself identifying with his observations.  Wal-Mart is a scary place if the biggest store you're used to is the Tesco Metro which stocks only five brands of cereal.  I actually wrote him a physical letter, and was surprised when he wrote a physical response back to me, which I still have, tucked away in one of his books.  I pretty much devour anything he writes, whether it seems interesting to me or not, and this was no exception.  

America in 1927 was a place that we would find at once comfortingly familiar (baseball hasn't changed much) and frighteningly foreign.  The 1920's aren't really a period of history that I'm particularly interested in, and so when I first saw that Bryson's new book was focused on one summer in America, I kind of wondered what the big deal was.  But man, what a summer 1927 was.  

He opens with the story of Charles Lindberg's flight from New York to Paris.  That leads into aviation history, the other pilots who attempted the flight and didn't make it, and a history of planes in WWI.  

From there we go on to Babe Ruth's record year; which dovetails nicely into a history of baseball, the 1919 World Series fixing, the history of the hot dog and concession sales, and the various rivalries going on at the time.

Babe Comes Home was a silent movie that had been released earlier in 1927, but the real highlight of the motion pictures in 1927 was the release of Wings, which had amazing action shots and aerial shots that no one had ever captured before.  Within two years, talking pictures would take over Hollywood because in 1927 The Jazz Singer also came out, so while Wings was the summit of silent movies, the talkies were already moving in.  That leads to a history of Hollywood, movies in general, technology that supported motion pictures, famous actors and actresses at the time, and other fascinating tidbits.

1927 was also a big summer for:

-Murder Trials - Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray were on trial for conspiring to kill Ruth's husband so she could marry Judd.  They botched it up terribly, though, attempting to take advantage of the rampant prejudices against Italians by leaving an Italian language newspaper on the kitchen table, and staging a robbery.  Even in a time when most murders went unsolved and there was no forensic evidence, everyone was able to solve this one.

- Herbert Hoover - who capitalized on some of the worst flooding in history in Mississippi and surrounding states by heading up relief attempts and publicizing the heck out of it.  He would win a landslide election in 1928 thanks in part to his PR efforts.

- Blaming the wrong people - two Italian men in Boston wound up being executed for a robbery and murder that they probably didn't commit, thanks to the aforementioned prejudices and fear of fascism.

- Gene Tunney - who beat Jack Dempsey in one of the most watched boxing matches ever thanks to a much-debated long count.

- Television - in 1927 Philo Farnsworth applied for an image dissector tube patent, which made modern television possible.  Unfortunately he never got any credit for it because of RCA and a ruthless executive who quite possibly stole his information and violated the patents.

One thing I really love learning about this period in history is that so much of it is available to watch on youtube.  There aren't videos of Henry VIII jousting, which is the period in history that I usually read about.  It's really cool to see the Dempsey Tunney match, freely available to watch.

I love Bill Bryson's curiosity about the world, and I can't wait to see what he pulls out of his hat next.  A book that was as enjoyable as it was educational, which doesn't happen that often.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Heather's Guide to Exclusively Pumping

Four months ago today two important things happened in my life.

First, I gave birth after a 25 hour labor (and without an epidural!) to Hannah.

Second, because she went into the nicu right away, I started pumping.

Hannah is now a happy, flirty, smiling baby who seems to be past the worst of her colic, and in four of the past eight nights she's had sleep stretches of longer than five hours.

And I'm still hooking myself up to a machine and pumping.

Baby Hannah hasn't had a drop of formula, except for the first three days when she was in the nicu and my milk hadn't come in yet.  And I'm really proud of that.  That's the upshot of pumping.  I get to feed babygirl my good milk - the best food on the planet for her - even though she won't nurse from me.

The downside is that it sucks.  You get none of the feel-good hormones of nursing, it often hurts, and it's hella inconvenient, especially if you're working.

But I've found that there are a ton of women like me who for whatever reasons (usually medical - not many people choose this) exclusively pump.

There are plenty of guides out there with information on the practicalities of exclusively pumping including how often (every 2-3 hours - yes, even at night - until your supply is established, around 12 weeks), and things that can help supply (oatmeal, fenugreek, blessed thistle, etc).

But what those guides don't tell you is how to actually get through pumping for 15-20 minutes at a time, 7-8 times a day, when you have a newborn and/or a job.

I realized when Hannah was about 4 days old that breastfeeding was going to be a challenge, and started doing research on pumping exclusively, and there wasn't a lot out there that told me how to do it with the least amount of suckage.

So here is my Guide to How To Exclusively Pump In the Most NonSucky Way:

First, you MUST get a hands free pumping bra.  No joke, it's a necessity.  It will allow you to read magazines, watch netflix on your ipad, massage your boobs to get more milk, or any number of things that make pumping less sucky.  I have the one from Simple Wishes and it's ok.  I also made one out of a sports bra to keep at work - just cut some holes where the shields go through.  It's not as pretty, but it works just as well.

If you have a baby like mine, who needed to be held All The Time early on, it's hard to find time to pump on schedule.  I clearly recall a time when she was about 3 weeks old when I was desperate to pump at about 2am, and she was crying any time I put her down.  Finally she fell asleep in her bouncer, and I started pumping.  Three minutes into it she started screaming again.  There I was trying to hold her close to me and avoid banging her head with the bottles hanging from my boobs.  Not a good time.  Now I can put her in her swing and she can amuse herself, but those early days were rough.  It's important to talk to your partner and stress the importance of breastmilk, and get their help in caring for the baby while you pump.  The upshot is that you get a "break" every three hours to read.

You really need extra parts.  Washing parts sucks.  Washing parts at night sucks worse.  A lot of people keep their parts in the fridge in between feedings to avoid having to wash.  Overnight, though, I didn't even like to go out to the kitchen to grab parts if I don't have to.  Before I went to sleep I would lay out three sets of parts, which would see me through till morning.  When I was done and went out to the kitchen to put my milk in the fridge, I'd dump them in a bowl of soapy water, and then wash them all in the morning.  I've since dropped my overnight pumps, and keep my parts in the fridge, but not having to make two trips out to the kitchen each pumping session (one to get parts, one to put milk away) was a big deal.  It's the little stuff that helps you keep your sanity.

Speaking of stuff you need, you need a really good pump.  I had the Medela Symphony while she was in the NICU, and then there was a wait until the one from my insurance company arrived, so I kept renting the Symphony.  When you rent it by the month for three or more months at a time, the Symphony is only $40/month, so I kept it, and keep my insurance pump at the office.  It's a nice luxury not having to lug my pump around, but it's luxuries like that which will keep you going.

Build up a freezer stash early on.  When Hannah was only eating 2 ounces at a time, I froze almost half of what I made.  That means that now, four months later, I can drop my overnight pumps and be ok with losing that supply, because I have a kickass freezer stash that I'm digging into.  A lot of people don't think about the freezer stash until it's too late and you're struggling to keep up with the baby.  Get a box of storage bags and fill those suckers up early on!

Figure out a rewards system.  I read that formula costs, on average, about $300/month.  So every week I put $75 into an account which is my Fun Account.  I use it for massages, a new laptop, and will hopefully use it to fund a trip to New Zealand if I make it 6 months, which is my goal.  Whenever I think about quitting, I look at pictures of Auckland, and it keeps me pumping.

Make a Comfortable Pumping Nook.  I have a comfy chair with a wonderfully soft and warm blanket, a new robe and new warm slippers.  Pumping at night is extra sucky - there's no way around that - but having a place that's warm and inviting to sit, with a night light, a book or magazines on your ipad really helps.

If you have an Awesome Partner, you can work out a system like J and I did for overnight pumps: we would both get up for each feeding.  He would feed her, and I would pump, thus cutting down the time I needed to be awake by 15 minutes.  Before he would feed her, he would set the kettle to boil water, and when I was getting ready to pump I'd have hot water for tea.  This really helped around mid-October when I got a bad cold, and needed tea and honey around the clock.  Pumping with Tea is actually a pleasant experience.

I focused this guide on pumping at night, because that's really the worst.  During the day it's not so bad.  If you have a hands free pump you can pump while you're doing your hair or putting on makeup, doing laundry, or even cooking and driving.  But it's the 1 and 4am pumps that will cause you to want to quit the most; and sadly, they are the most important ones that you can't skip (your hormones are highest between 1 and 5 overnight).

Pumping is a miserable experience, pumping at night is just awful, but the key I've found is to do lots of extra things to nurture yourself, which you might not have otherwise done, seeing as how you have a newborn and all.  I've actually read a lot of books over the past four months, which I wouldn't have read otherwise.  I've read a lot of magazines, and watched the final season of Gossip Girl.  None of which would have been done without pumping.

My goal is to make it for 6 months, but I'm not hung up on that date.  I've made it this far, and I'm really proud of that.  Baby Hannah is thriving and happy, and when I get cozy in my pumping nook, I'm pretty happy too.