Friday, January 24, 2014

The Delivery



My husband has this joke that he loves. He likes to tell all his coworkers how I’m pregnant with a baby that’s not his, only he neglects to include one critical detail: that I’m a surrogate, not a floozy. He thinks it’s hilarious. I think it’s a little less hilarious. (Okay so he says that he actually does end up telling them the truth. Whew.)

37-ish weeks

Anyway. I’m not pregnant anymore so his fun is over. Eleven days ago I delivered someone else’s baby and I still can’t fully verbalize what it was like. I’m hoping I’ll be able to wrap my mind around it more by writing this blog. I’ll start with the facts and then attempt the touchy-feelies. Apparently I’m a dude.

So I was supposed to be induced on a Friday, right at 39 weeks. Baby decided the previous Monday was better (which was fine by me cuz I was ooooover being pregnant). Luckily her mom, L, had gotten to town four days prior, although dad, M, arrived Sunday night. Just. In. Time. 

I woke up with contractions around 2am Monday morning. I’d been having what I can only assume were Braxton Hicks for the past few nights, and had downloaded a kick-ass app on my phone for timing them. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I resigned myself to lying in bed in the dark, playing Sudoku on my phone and timing the contractions, all the while craving a big bowl of cereal but not wanting to get out of bed. At that point they just felt like menstrual cramps so I wasn’t too concerned. Then it occurred to me that I totally didn’t remember the rules about when you’re supposed to call the doctor or go to the hospital, so I started Googling. Hmmmm…so if your contractions are five minutes apart for an hour or more, it’s probably time? Well, how long have I been awake? Oh, it’s 3:30am. How far apart are these suckers? Oh. Five minutes. Guess I won’t be having that cereal. 

At that point I got up and started packing my hospital bag. Yeah, the one you’re supposed to pack like a month before your due date. Once I was up and about the contractions got more intense, so I decided not to drive myself to the hospital after all. I just really didn’t want to have to get the kids up so early. I roused the husband (who woke up waaaayyyy easier than usual) and he hopped right out of bed and loaded the pajama-clad children into the van. They were shockingly pleasant. Freakishly sweet and cheerful for that time of day-slash-night. 

I dutifully phoned the OB on call to get the seal of approval on our departure. She seemed sleepy and irritated but agreed we should head in. Then I called the baby’s parents who sounded much more alert and said they’d meet us there. It’s a bit over thirty minutes to the hospital, where Dooley dropped me off at the front door (at my request) so he could find parking and unload the kids and bags.

I waddled in, hunched over, through the ER and up the elevator to the baby-having floor, where the heartless front desk girl smiled unsympathetically and made me fill out paperwork while standing at the counter squirming through my contractions. I told her it was a surrogate pregnancy and she still wrote “mother” on one of the lines I was supposed to sign, and I had to cross it off and explain things a little more clearly. I. Am. Not. The. “Mother”. BUT. I. Am. In. Labor. You. Jerk.

Of course by the time I was in a bed, the contractions slowed down some but they still admitted me. The parents arrived about the same time we did, and we chatted for a while as the kids played on the tablet I so thoughtfully stuffed in my hospital bag for them (but I forgot my friggin toothbrush!). The nurses had me walk the halls a bit to get the contractions going again; I wish someone had taken our picture because we were a-dor-able. Both kids in their button-down jammies, me in the oh-so-lovely hospital gown and slippers…Dooley was dressed, but still. Walking definitely got things going again, and I kept having to stop when a big contraction hit. Finally I decided it was an excellent time to get the epidural and take a nap.

Getting the epidural was almost the worst part of the whole delivery, second only to getting the catheter. Unfortunately the latter becomes necessary when you request the former, as you can’t get up when there’s a drug-pumping needle lodged in your spine. Then they continuously flood your body with fluids, and it has to go somewhere (pee bag, and cankles of course). There is something seriously unpleasant and weird with the cold prick of the epidural makes the nerves in your back tingle uncomfortably. And there's the uncontrollable shakes and the day-long allover itchiness to contend with. But it’s totally worth it. From then on I was resting comfortably, watching the contractions spike astronomically high on the monitor but only feeling a slight pressure. Worth. It.



Dooley’s mom came to get the kids around 8am. Or 9. I lost track of time. Another OB from the practice (not the doctor from my 3:30am call) came to break my water, but was a little too conservative in doing so, and the nurse had to redo it later. That was some time after 11am. Once the deed was fully done, the nurse calmly informed us that we’d be having a baby within fifteen minutes. 

Dooley had been out in the waiting room with my dad and the parents; they all had been coming in every so often to say hi, then would wander the halls and/or go get another cup of coffee. At 11:49 I texted him “You all can come in…stuff is gonna happen soon”. 

I think she was born at like 12:03. The parents, L & M, stood near my left shoulder and Dooley stood to my right. The delivery nurses were very helpful in ensuring discretion by keeping a sheet up to my knees, so that L & M could be present at their baby’s birth but not see all my business. 

The OB, Dr. R., was actually there for the whole thing, which was a new experience for me seeing as the doctor barely made it for my other two deliveries (and the nurses pretty much did everything). Dr. R. was so calm and sweet, telling us what was happening with the slow, serene tone of a teacher breaking it down in the simplest terms for a preschooler. “Okay Sweetie, you’re doing great. Here comes another contraction. Get ready to push. Her head will be out with this one, then the shoulders will come with the next push. Good job!” Meanwhile the snarky nurse, who I loved, teased me in her Czech accent: “Come on, Sarah. You can do better than that!”

The parents were quiet. He had his arm around her. I think they were holding hands. The few times I glanced at them they looked extremely anxious. Tears hung in their eyes. Dooley didn’t say anything either, just held my hand. It was almost awkwardly silent and strangely tranquil, and I was self-conscious of my loud breaths as I pushed. I thought about how we should have been playing Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” in the background. I pushed through three contractions, then baby J was born.

The tears let loose—both mine and the parents. Delivering a baby is an emotional experience, even if it’s not painful, and even if it’s not yours. The mom and I hugged (as best you can hug when lying in a hospital bed with your feet in stirrups), and then they moved to the warming table to watch the nurses tending to their brand new daughter. 

I think they were too overwhelmed to care about cutting the cord or doing immediate skin-to-skin, so they just stood back in shock. The mom, L, told me later that my delivery brought back memories of her stillbirths, so she was dealing with an unimaginably huge range of emotion. 

But this baby was healthy. She was perfect. 

A few hours old

I didn’t hold baby J until much later. I didn’t really feel the need to hold her. I took pictures on my phone of the parents with her after I was all done and cleaned up, around 12:30. L’s smile was huge, eyes gleaming with joy and pride. The dad, M, looked dazed. 

I stayed in bed for several hours, until the epidural began to wear off and I could attempt to walk. My right leg stayed numb for a long time, and even after I could stand, taking steps was the weirdest, most lopsided affair ever. I was super happy to be disconnected from all the cord and wires, IVs and monitors, and was very glad to go pee by myself, on the toilet. Catheters are sick, and not in a good way. Ew.

L & M got their own hospital room with baby J, and we all stayed at the hospital until Wednesday. Dooley stayed with me on Monday night while my mom stayed with the kids at home, but I didn’t force him to sleep on the horribly tiny fold-out chair/couch thing for two nights, so he went home to be with the kids Tuesday night. It was odd being there with no newborn, but not as odd as I felt like it should feel. I was pretty thrilled to have people bringing me drugs and food at my whim, while I napped and watched movies at my leisure. I didn’t want to go home. 

Quiet morning in the hospital, with flowers from L's mom

My parents, mother-in-law, and one friend came to visit me in the hospital. I think people were confused as to whether or not they were supposed to visit or not, since traditionally they would be coming to meet the new baby. Not that L & M didn’t want my friends and family to see baby J—they actually encouraged it, and we went back and forth between each other’s rooms to visit (and deliver milk, which I started pumping for them) a bunch of times, and all my visitors held the baby.

I think meeting the family really helped my dad wrap his head around the whole thing. He wasn’t unsupportive or anything, but he was very worried the whole time. In fact, my dad, father-in-law, and Grandad said essentially the same thing: “I’m glad it’s over. Don’t do it again.” Not sure what to make of that other than the fact that they were worried and a little weirded out. Still, my dad was my longest visitor at the hospital, and brought me an enormous bouquet of beautiful flowers with a card that said how proud they were of me.



Now to try articulating the emotional side of things. I went to the monthly surro support group yesterday and was asked to describe my feelings on the whole experience; all I could muster was “surreal” and, like a tongue-tied teenage boy from the 90’s, “cool”.

I feel weird accepting praise for being a surrogate. I am proud of what I did, and I am really happy for the family, but somehow it doesn’t seem like a very big deal. It really is surreal—doesn’t even seem like it happened at all. Our lives returned to normal almost immediately. The pregnancy and delivery were pretty easy, and I was fairly compensated. The parents’ overwhelming gratitude makes me uncomfortable. “You’re welcome” sounds so trite. 

All I can say is it seemed like the thing to do. People talk about how remarkable it is that I “made a baby” for someone, but I think the credit for such a miracle is due elsewhere.

I love seeing how inexplicably happy the family is. We’ve formed an unusual but very special bond. Strangely, I feel closer to the mom, L, than to baby J—despite carrying her for 38 weeks. I only met the parents twice before giving birth and we mainly communicated via email through the whole pregnancy, but now I’m surprisingly sad that they live so far away. I wish we could hang out more. And not for the reason you might assume—that I want to see the baby—but because I want our families to be able to get together.
Baby J is adorable and tiny and beautiful, but when I see her or hold her, I have no underlying maternal longing or attachment. It’s just like seeing the newborn of any friend or relative: I marvel at her teeny tiny toes and stroke her soft cheek with one finger, then hand her back to her mom. 

They rented a cute little house in town for a few weeks before flying back home. We went to visit them the other night, and when we went to leave, I hugged and said goodbye to everyone but baby J, who was sleeping in another room. I actually forgot.

Even Dooley is sad about their departure. He feels like he and M could really be friends. They do have a lot in common, come to find out, and not just their beardedness and loud voices. L is artistic, just like me. Our kids both love playing with their three-year-old son, who is equally obsessed with trucks and tractors. My dad got along great with L’s dad. They are all such cool people.

Shortly after the delivery, L & M gave me a necklace, a tear-drop red garnet on a small gold chain. L told me that garnet is the January birthstone, so I could always remember baby J and feel close to them. She told me she always wanted to stay in touch. That necklace is already enormously special to me. 

From the same jeweler in their hometown where M got L's engagement ring

I painted them a picture of the flower that is baby J’s namesake. Other surrogates have beautiful pregnancy photos taken or construct elaborate scrapbooks, but I suck at scrapbooking and felt weird about gifting pictures of my belly. I know it’s not necessary to give a present at all, since I gave them a human being and all, but it seemed like a good idea anyway. 

12x12" oil on canvas

So. Soooo. My recovery at home was uneventful. I felt almost normal after a week or so, physically. I had some emotional days dealing with hormones, coming to terms with getting back to our ordinary lives. I was very sleepy and a bit overwhelmed by my own two kids, but Dooley was off work to take care of all of us and he did an awesome job. I can honestly say my hormonal, teary moments had nothing to do with wishing for a baby though.

The kids don’t give it a second thought that I was pregnant and now I’m not. Tuesday was adorably very interested in baby J, wanting to touch her and help feed her and all, but readily accepted the fact that L & M were her parents and she wasn’t staying with us. Dirt was completely indifferent. And they never asked for a more detailed answer about how baby J got out of my tummy. Dodged a bullet there!

The only thing I’m adjusting to is pumping. Yes, I’m going to be mailing massive coolers full of frozen breast milk cross-country. Not only is it the best nutrition for baby J, but from a selfish standpoint, it will help me get back in shape much more quickly. But it is really a pain—in both senses of the word. To keep my supply up I have to pump every three or four hours, which means getting up at night (at least once) as if I actually did have a newborn. It is all-consuming. It is also seriously de-humanizing, and is the only thing that almost makes me wish I had a baby. Breast-feeding is so much more pleasant than pumping. Plus it makes my nips excruciatingly sore, to the point where I have to carefully shield them from the water in the shower. Still, I hope to keep it up for at least a few months. I actually dropped 20 pounds in one week since delivery—all water weight, but still thrilling.

What else? I know this entry is super duper extra long already, but I’m trying to cover all my bases, trying to remember all the recurrent questions I’ve gotten along the way and doing my best to answer them. Oh. Here’s another one: would I do it again? Yes and no. I was definitely over being pregnant towards the end of it and it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The two rounds of hormones and daily giant butt shots and one failed transfer also sucked, but I would definitely say that it was all worth it. The only thing I’d change is to have the parents living in the same state. So would I do it again if I could go back? Yes. Would I sign up to have another baby with new parents? Probably no. Three pregnancies is enough. Probably.
 
But it was an amazing experience. It was…cool. 

Feel free to ask more questions if you have them. It might help me sort through things a little more.

Mountain Mama / Dirty Hermit

Revisiting and updating the ol' blog today, naturally as a mode of procrastination, when I should be working on some art. Sound fam...