Baby Number Two — Chapter 4

IMG_0219Our new home had what could only be described as a professionally decorated nursery. The room had a soft pale beige, almost white, carpet with an oversized under padding. It had this luxurious feel when you walked across it and the added benefit of concealing any squeaky boards or any sound whatsoever.

There were two windows that both had metal horizontal pale blue blinds. This meant that you could essentially make the room completely dark by closing them. There were also decorative valences over the windows that were a peach colour. These colours were all found on the wallpaper, which was mainly white but was a high quality; think easily cleaned, paper that had a baby motif. This paper was accented by a border that was hung stylishly a foot or so down from the ceiling. The baseboards and all of the trim had been painted in a glossy white paint that just pulled the whole room together.

I already owned a white crib and a change table that had been leant to me by a professor that I did research for. The change table had been a laboratory bench at the University of Toronto and when they took out the old equipment, this man’s mother had acquired one of the benches. The bench had been fitted with a piece of foam and a plastic covering and was sturdy and ideal for a change table. There was a spot where the chair would have gone, where the diaper pail sat and a drawer and a cabinet on the other side. It had been painted white and looked like it was meant to match the room.

The room had obviously been decorated before the sex of the baby had been determined. It was fantastic to have such a nice room all ready for my baby. The only thing now that I needed was the baby!

Labour began while I was in a Dancefit class on a Friday morning. I remember having the feeling of joy wash over me. My due date had been for that weekend, so from my point of view, I was right on time. Early contractions do not demand much of your attention so it was easy to smile as I felt a contraction and then keep dancing. I felt like dancing anyhow.

The labour was strong and regular so I called the midwife to let her know. As an experienced mother I could tell her that her presence was not needed right away so she told me that she would come over in the morning, unless I needed her that night. This was fine by me.

Then a funny thing happened. I laid down to go to bed and the contractions stopped completely. This is a devastating feeling, but I let it go. I checked-in on the baby and all was well. When the midwife arrived the next day she confirmed that I was indeed in labour and had started to progress. In simple terms, you open up and then push the baby out. I was in the process of opening up. The contractions had begun again in the morning, so I was still progressing. I told her about them stopping and she did not seem too concerned about it.

After she left, they stopped again. Bob and I had read all of the ways that you are supposed to help to bring on labour, which I’m certain has nothing to do with actually starting labour, it is just that enough people try these things at the end of their pregnancies and so even though the nine months of pregnancy should get credit for the beginning of labour, many other things do.

With this in mind, we went for a walk around the neighbourhood, which was, quite frankly, exhausting and uncomfortable. My labour started up again but not in earnest. I was having good, strong contractions but they were several minutes apart and simply not getting closer and closer together as I had expected. Then it stopped again.

In tears, I called the primary midwife that I had for my first birth. I had more of a connection with this woman and my current midwife had done nothing to allay my fears about this starting and stopping. She told me that I had a very large baby. She said that the body knows that it is going to have to do extra work to get the baby out so it takes a rest. The reason that I was unfamiliar with this fact was that in modern medicine, if your labour does not progress, they induce you.

So, I was instructed to get a lot of rest, eat well and be patient. Speaking with this woman helped a lot but I had no idea that it would take another two days! My second daughter was born on the Tuesday morning after four days of off and on labour and yes she was large—an even 10 pounds.

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Rainbows and Sunrises

Early Labour — Chapter 4

IMG_1035A totally new experience for first time moms is Braxton Hicks contractions. Named after John Braxton Hicks who first described them in 1872, these non-painful contractions are the body’s way of training to prepare for the big day. My entire abdomen would tense up and get really hard to the touch and then relax. Sometimes it would do this, at regular intervals, for hours.

Every night, at the end of my first pregnancy, I would lie down in bed and they would start to occur. Since I had been told a full two weeks before my due date that I could, “go any time”, and I was now after my due date, I paid a lot of attention to them. Bob got tired of hearing about it. Early on, I found myself timing them and they were as regular as “real” labour. How was I supposed to know the difference?

The midwives had told us that when we thought that labour had begun, I was to have a small glass of wine. It is an amount that will not hurt the baby and will be completely metabolized before the baby is born. This is important because a baby’s liver cannot metabolize alcohol and that is why when babies are exposed to alcohol during pregnancy it can have such a devastating effect on their development.

The wine served two purposes. First, Braxton Hicks labour will stop when you have a glass of wine, so it made it possible to distinguish warm up contractions from the real thing. Second, wine will relax the mother. After having no alcohol for an entire nine months a small glass hits you like a wall, but it does have a calming effect.

There is a difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and the real ones and it is not what you think. When real labour starts your body knows the difference and begins preparing. Unlike having Braxton Hicks that made me feel like I was grasping and needy, almost as though I was trying to will labour into happening, real contractions have more of a peaceful feel. The body begins to produce endorphins, the natural painkillers, at the same time as real labour begins.

This means that the pain of labour is somewhat mediated by the endorphins but it also means that you get the ‘high’ that morphine users must experience. When my actual labour started the world was rosy and there were endless possibilities for goodness. I did not feel like I was trying to urge labour to begin. I felt like the world was in technicolor. This was a marked difference and it occurred at the beginning of true labour, each time.

So, I was well past my due date for my second pregnancy. This upset my doctor considerably and he had begun the induction threats as he had with my first pregnancy. I was not worried. Midwives take a different stance on this. They have been trained to help you to “check-in” on the baby. Essentially, you can feel the baby moving and the baby should be moving regularly. I forget how often and that sort of details but it is not just random. The baby needs to be behaving normally.

There is a large black bird just hanging out in my front yard as I edit this. It has been walking around in the rain, going back and forth across the yard and up and down the driveway. I thought that I should add this into my story. These birds are my consistent totem animals and my guess is that it just wanted to be mentioned.

As a veterinarian, I had learned how long the pregnancy should be for cows. It was recognized that different types of cows had different pregnancy lengths. In general, smaller breeds of cows had shorter pregnancies. Why was it that human doctors thought that all women should have the same length of pregnancy regardless of ethnicity and size? It did not ring true for me.

As a scientist, I had known exactly what day I had ovulated on. This is not actually the start of pregnancy, per se, but it does determine the timing. The egg moves into the uterus and may or may not become an embryo along the way. It is more exact to know when the egg was released than any other measurement. So, dating my pregnancy was not a question. I knew how many days my first pregnancy had been from ovulation to birth and so I had a pretty good idea how long my second pregnancy should be.

I was unable to get the same primary midwife for this second pregnancy because of the political climate. Midwifery had become a contentious issue. The medical doctors could see a large amount of their practice going to what they considered to be an “unregulated” profession and they had started to fight back legally. In some parts of the United States, parents were being arrested for child abuse or neglect by choosing to have their babies at home. I was not aware of anything so outrageous in Canada, but the medical profession is quite powerful and well funded.

It looked like midwives were going to have to be licensed, so my first midwife had decided to go back to university to become a nurse so that she could continue practicing in Ontario. The Mennonite women did not care about the law regarding births outside of their community so it did not have the same impact on them. I was able to get two midwives. The primary midwife was different but the secondary one was the same as for my first birth.

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Baby Number Two

Begin With a Move — Chapter 4

IMG_1065It seems almost predictable that the first thing that Bob and I decided to do together was move. The house that I was living in was my home alone. Bob felt that if we were going to start a new life as a couple, we would need a home that was ours and not just mine. I couldn’t argue with this and we began the process of looking for another place to live.

Bob had managed to get a job at another university in the same general region in Ontario and we decided to move closer to his work. Since I had quit my job, location was not important to me. I had no intention of going back to that particular job so it made the most sense to focus on living near his work.

We could not afford a home that we liked in the city where the university was so we bought a house in a city that was very close to where he worked. It was a beautiful older home that had been built in the early 1900’s. It was a two-story brick home with a full dry basement and three bedrooms on the second floor. The baseboards were a full foot high and there were hardwood floors and solid oak doors and finish throughout.

The walls in this place were almost a foot thick. They were a sandwich of space with wallboards and then plaster on each side. From the point of view of a mother that had a child that woke at the slightest sound, this was a dream home. The backyard was fenced and had mature trees. We moved into this place three months before our second child was born.

I immediately connected with this city. I joined a Dancefit group that exercised by dancing to choreographed songs and met a bunch of women right away. We could walk to the public library from where we lived and there was a preschool nearby. The preschool was not a formal full time school; it was a community centre that had a playtime three hours a week. This allowed me to take my oldest daughter out to play with other children and gave me the opportunity to speak to some other mothers.

The main difference between a first pregnancy and a second one is that during the second pregnancy you have a child to take care of. Unlike when I was in school, my time was not my own and was largely dictated by my daughter’s needs. This had contributed to the stress of being pregnant and my having to quit my job.

Of course, this was not the only thing that contributed to the stress. I had not made the adjustment to being back with Bob. We were actively looking for another house, which required a lot of driving around and visiting homes. We were also trying to sell the house that I had bought which meant that it had to be kept clean enough to show and even if I did have time for a nap, it was often interrupted because there were people that wanted to see the house.

In the early 1990’s the bottom fell out of the real-estate market and we were unable to sell my house so we put it up for rent instead. This turned out to be a great thing. For tax purposes it was worth substantially more when we converted it to a rental property than it was when we finally sold it about year later. This shows up as a capital loss and we received a large tax refund because of it. We still managed to sell it for slightly more than I had bought it for a couple of years earlier.

This was a busy time for me. The sheer work involved in having a preschooler plus moving into a new home and being pregnant meant that I was fully occupied. Bob was settling into his new job and I was getting to know the neighbours and my way around the city.

It made sense for me to be taking care of the house and the meals because I was at home full time. This was not something that I questioned or argued with Bob about because I felt that this was the way that it was supposed to be. Long gone were the days when he would do half of the work that needed to be done. He shifted into doing very little. No yard work, no garbage, no car maintenance, just his job.

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No Leg to Stand On — Chapter 3

What was initially a great job with a lot of accomplishments and room for me to contribute positively to how the calves were raised and their general care had disintegrated into a political battle with a pseudo-veterinarian. This man had been masquerading as the go-to man with health care issues even though he did not have any formal training. I can hear half of the audience sighing.

Our popular media often glorifies the people that have learned by experience, that have hit the ground running and know so much more than the ‘educated’ people. This may apply in some instances but definitively did not apply to this individual. He saw me as a threat and often contradicted my advice to people.

There was one particularly unfortunate calf that bore the brunt of our disharmony. The calf had caught it’s leg while jumping out of a pen and had tore the nerves that served the leg. Nerves are important. Not only do they allow the animal to flex the muscles of the leg, a requirement of standing, but they are also there to help protect the leg. If an animal cannot feel pain in one of its limbs it will not take care of it.

I was called in early when the calf was discovered. I did a simple test to see if the nerves were intact. They were not. The calf could not feel anything in the leg. I recommended to the farmer that the calf be immediately sent to slaughter. There would be some loss because of bruising, but once you treat an animal with any kind of drug a withdrawal time must be respected before the animal can go to slaughter so it was best to do it right away.

The other fella pressured the farmer to keep the animal alive arguing that the animal was worth a fraction of what it would be worth when it was fully grown. The farmer followed the advice of the other guy and kept the calf alive. As the calf grew larger and larger it became apparent that it could not get up on its own. The farmer had to get into the pen and lift the animal up so that it could reach its food. It would lie on its leg and not recognize that it was cutting off all of the blood flow. Sores began to develop which meant that the calf needed to be put on antibiotics. While on antibiotics the calf cannot go to slaughter. The meat would get thrown out if it did. The calf never did go to slaughter and died a few weeks later from infections that began in the sores of its leg.

Watching this calf suffer, when I was there with the intention of making sure that these animals were well cared for and treated properly, was heartbreaking for me. This was only one example, but it did show that I had no power in this job and that made it unpleasant for me.

I had been actively applying to other jobs. On one particular day I got a call from a human resources person to set up a job interview. My daughter was in her crib upstairs when the call came in and Bob was in the house. During this conversation about the job and when I could set up an appointment to go in for an interview my daughter started to cry. Bob brought her down and stood right next to the phone so that the person that was booking the appointment was being drowned out by the crying.

Bob explained that he did not know how to calm her down and was holding her there to let me know that I needed to hurry up and get off of the phone. There is no question in my mind at all that “has a young baby” was written on my application. The truth was that this was the second time that he had purposely tried to interfere with my success. Let’s not forget that he left before I was able to finish veterinary medicine. Individually they both seemed unrelated but they became part of a pattern.

So, when my second pregnancy was difficult and my doctor said that if I did not take time off from work he was going to hospitalize me, I did not hesitate to quit my job. I was eligible for money from the government if I left because I was pregnant and I wanted to take some time to stay at home with this baby. I had learned the hard way with my first daughter that going right back to having a full time obligation was not ideal.

Did I mention that I got pregnant right away?

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Begin With a Move

Pregnancy Support — Chapter 3

The main thing that I remembered about being pregnant was that I was tired and out of breath, and oh yeah, I was emotional. My emotions were so close to the surface that I found it embarrassing.

On the first day back to school, Bob and I biked up to the university. We had spent a lot of the summer biking around. We had biked about 120 miles to my hometown, we had biked to my friend’s wedding and we had biked to his parents place. These were all long rides.

There was a large hill between our apartment and the university that we had to go up. I noticed that I was short of breath. I figured that it could be the increase in traffic on this particular road up to the school, but it was not. Before I even knew that I was pregnant, I was short of breath.

On one day, Bob asked me if I was going to the library. I said no. He replied, “That’s great!” and I started to cry. Sad commercials, normal interactions with people were all making me weepy.

The other great difference was that I needed way more sleep. We were living about a half of an hour walk from the university when I first got pregnant. Bob wanted to take dancing lessons and even though I tried to attend with him, I was exhausted. I was a full time student. We did not own a car. Walking for an hour to do a dance class seemed unreasonable to me.

Bob was upset. He wanted to take these lessons. He had a good friend, an older man, that danced with his wife and that was what Bob wanted. He invited another woman to take the classes with him. To him, this was a great solution. I did not need to go and he could go with someone that wanted to go.

In baseball, when the batter goes up to the plate, the next batter goes into a spot beside the batter and warms up. This is called being “on deck”. The advantage is that the next batter is there and ready when it is their turn to go to bat. The position of this warm up space allows the batter, that is on deck, to see how the pitcher is throwing from a perspective that is closer to the perspective of being up at bat. Essentially, it means that the next person is ready to step in as soon as the play is completed.

Bob always had someone “on deck”. This sounds so much worse as I write this story. In my own defense, my world had been reduced to going to class, doing homework and sleeping. The fact that Bob now did not even come home one evening a week—it was easier to stay on campus before the dance class and only come home later after the class— did not have the significance that it actually had both at the time and in hindsight.

It was all that I could do to make it through the work that I had to do without babysitting my husband and questioning his motives. By the middle of the school year I was exhausted and ill. We had moved to a smaller apartment closer to campus and the move was an additional stress.

The day of my small animal final exam I had the flu. I remember vaguely Bob being there and me having to say to him, “Could you call med services?” Med services was the on campus medical facility. It was a doctor’s office for all of the students that attended the university. They were the official people to call if you were going to miss one of your exams because of illness. I was vomiting so frequently that it was difficult to make the call myself. Bob left. He said that I was sick and that there was nothing that he could do for me, so he left.

I made the call, leaving the phone twice to go to the washroom to vomit. It became clear while speaking to this woman that the option of crawling back into bed was not open to me. I either had to come into med services and actually vomit there for them or I had to write my final.

With the option of going back to bed off of the table, I decided to write my exam. I explained to the professor that I was sick and my conversation with med services. They put me in a professor’s office that had an adjoining bathroom and I wrote my small animal medicine and surgery exam in a haze of fever, vomiting and this surreal out of body feel that made me think that I was about to faint. I passed, but I did not do very well.

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Keep Reading: Student Newspapers

Medical Literature — Chapter 3

IMG_1683Access to the medical research journals at the university was a blessing that I will be forever thankful for. As any new parents can attest to, once you become pregnant your focus shifts to things pregnancy and baby related.

My first concern was with weight gain. I was gaining weight way faster than any of the baby books thought reasonable. I went into the library to research aspartame. It seemed reasonable to see if there were any problems with it. I felt that if I was gaining weight too fast one way to deal with this was to replace real sugar with no calorie sugar. I looked up the two peptides or the ‘dipeptide’ that is used to make aspartame and found a study.

It is well known that some people have sensitivity to one of the components of aspartame. Blood taken from babies when they are born is routinely checked for this sensitivity so that the diet can be adjusted accordingly. So, I found a study that was designed to take a group of “normal” subjects and expose them to aspartame in order to establish a control group. Then subjects that were known to be sensitive would be exposed to the same amount of aspartame and compared to the control group.

In any scientific experiment it is necessary to develop a control group. The control group essentially balances all of the things that the experimenters cannot account for. Biological systems are so complex that it is difficult to draw any conclusions unless you have a group that has been exposed to exactly the same “experiment” without whatever it is you are testing.

So the idea of this experiment was to bring in the control group and have them do basic comprehension and math tests. Then, after exposure to the aspartame, they were to repeat the tests. The test group, the ones that were sensitive to a component of aspartame, would go through the same process and the results from the two separate experiments could be compared to see if there were any differences in how the test subjects responded.

In this particular scientific paper the authors explained that when the “control” group came back in to do the comprehension and math tests for a second time the study was discontinued on ethical grounds. Simply put, their ability to do the tests was diminished so significantly that the experimenters could no longer ask anyone to participate because they knew that exposure was doing them harm. Enough said. No way I was going near aspartame while pregnant.

The second thing that I started to research was the interventions that occur during birth. When you go into the hospital you will find that each hospital has a protocol of what needs to be done to a woman in labour. The range of these procedures is great and varies with the hospital. At the time, things like fetal monitoring were quite popular. It has been sixteen years since I had a baby and I have no way of knowing if they still do fetal monitoring or if the same equipment is being used. But although most hospitals used fetal monitoring, it was already established that it was not related to healthier babies but it was related to more intervention in the birth including a higher cesarean section rate and a higher rate of induction. Scary stuff.

The literature was full of controversy. If you go to any doctor or hospital and ask what their policy is, you will always get an explanation of why they do what they do. These are “truisms” that are believed by the staff. My favourite is that you should get an episiotomy before the baby is born. For those of you that have not been intimately involved in a birth, this is a cut that is made to open the woman wider so that the baby can come out.

The “truism” is that it is “better to have a clean cut than it is to have a ragged tear”. Nice visual imagery, I must admit, but it is completely false. The reason that women need an episiotomy is because when you are in the hospital you are forced to give birth on your back with your legs in the air. This is not true of all hospitals, but it was certainly true in the 1980’s. This is very unnatural. Just try having a poo in this position and see how things turn out. It is essentially the same process.

Fear overwhelmed me. My friend told me that she was looking into having a midwife. I remembered seeing a television program about them and being impressed so I looked into it. Fortunately for me, there was a Mennonite Settlement not far from where I lived and they still had births attended by midwives and so I found myself a midwife.

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Keep Reading: Midwives

Pregnant? — Chapter 3

IMG_5137The whole reason we had decided to get married was to try to get pregnant. That had been the plan all along. If you do the simple math, a pregnancy is nine months long and getting pregnant in August would have the baby arriving right after final exams of third year.

As it turned out, we were highly fertile. The first time that we tried to get pregnant resulted in a late period. To say that getting pregnant before finishing university is controversial is really understating how people felt. There had been a couple of other women ahead of me in veterinary medicine that were already mothers or had become pregnant accidentally but it was very uncommon.

It was hard for me to get my mind around the idea that I was becoming a mother. Being a biologist, it was easy for me to know exactly the day that I may have become pregnant and therefore exactly the day that I would know for sure that I was not pregnant. I had started (yes—I am a scientific person, so forgive me) charting my cycle a few months before we started to allow a pregnancy to occur and I had already developed an understanding of when each aspect should occur.

So the first time that we tried I was late. Significantly late. I was a full seven days late and even though I had not gone to the doctors or done a pregnancy test this was significant. Even in hindsight now with several years of data at my fingertips this is significant.

Bob was ecstatic. I told him that I needed some time to get my mind around the fact that I was pregnant and that I would appreciate it if he would give me some time before he told anyone. He couldn’t. I saw this as very selfish at the time. He would still get to tell all of the same people and get the thrill of sharing an awesome secret, he just was asked to wait for a while. He couldn’t. This was very upsetting for me. I had people that I barely knew stopping to ask if it was true and expressing their surprise. I felt cornered and exploited.

Then, I started my period. Of all of the emotions that could surface at a time like this, the one that Bob expressed should have sent me running for the hills. With only one week of knowing that I was pregnant and not quite coming to terms with it, I did not suffer the same loss that many women feel when they are several weeks along. To be honest, it just felt kind of normal. My period was back and things were the same as they always were.

Bob was furious. I had embarrassed him. He said that it was my fault that I had mislead him and now everyone knew that we were trying and had been unsuccessful. He was livid.

The next cycle stuck. Bob was not so eager to go out and tell everyone this time. He insisted that I go to the doctor and find out for sure. I went to the doctor and I had a test done at a clinic. It was all very disorienting. I remember already feeling light headed and having a type of out of body experience where I was aware of what was going on but I felt disconnected from my actual body. I was ill.

I doubt that this would happen nowadays, but the doctor called home with the results of my pregnancy test. I was not home. He told Bob that the test was positive and I found out from a neighbour that Bob had already told before I arrived home. Nice.

Then a strange thing happened.

Like a flick of a switch, I became less important. Bob’s new priority was his career. He would correct me at this point. He would let me know that he was not interested in a career. But, he would be dissembling. His whole self-esteem is based on people telling him how good he is and he needs this constantly. He needed this like oxygen. In order to ensure a supply of praise, he needed to be accomplishing something that people could applaud him for. It was a compulsion.

At the time I wrote journal entries trying to decipher what had happened, but I was missing some key information. I thought perhaps that now that he had a child on the way, he was worried about reaching some point in his career before the child was old enough to know about success. I guessed that perhaps he was in a particularly tough part in his research. He now had a deadline. He needed to be done before the baby came so that he could stay at home and do the childcare. The truth would not be known for many years and was not so benevolent.

Keep Reading: Medical Literature

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Are You Living With a Narcissist