It’s Getting Better All the Time

Hi, Blog. It’s been a while. Part of that was down to a new baby taking up lots of time and energy, but unfortunately it was mostly due to how unwell I was for the GABOJ’S first couple months of life.

I never really imagined myself writing about a topic like this on a blog that is mostly about our trips and travels and cultural experiences here in Germany, but here it is: breastfeeding. This is, after all, my blog and I can write about what I want to write about.  And frankly, breastfeeding, or rather all of the health problems it caused me over these past couple of months, has been the issue that took over my life for quite a while. So if this isn’t a topic of interest, you’ve been warned.

Let’s start at the beginning. I decided I would breastfeed our baby. It was a pretty straightforward choice as it is drilled into every new mother’s head from the moment she’s learned that she’s pregnant that breastmilk is best for the baby. I knew there might be some challenges, and I was expecting the usual relatively minor problems most new breastfeeding moms have to deal with. What I was not counting on, or even had any idea such problems existed, was a breast infection that landed me in the hospital for two days followed by an abscess. Yikes.

Things started off mostly okay. It was a little uncomfortable latching the baby on, and I found it pretty exhausting to have to do that every 2 to 3 hours, but his latch was pretty good and it was going okay. One challenge was that our GABOJ was a really slow drinker. He liked to spend up to 45 minutes sometimes on one side, which in the middle of the night was particularly tiring. My midwife wondered if, even though I seemed to be producing enough milk for him to gain weight, whether it was taking him so long to drink because there wasn’t a lot of milk flowing fast. I never experienced any engorgement or leaking as most new mothers do, which was another cause for slight concern that maybe he was struggling to get enough. So we decided I would try a couple of different supplements to attempt to increase my supply.

The first was called galaga. I took a dose of it while I was waiting on a bottle of bockshornklee, or fenugreek as it is known in English, to arrive in the post. It arrived shortly after I had taken the galaga, and I took only two pills that day when engorgement set in. It was three weeks after the little guy had been born. My midwife was really surprised as she had never seen a woman’s milk “come in” three weeks post-birth, but we after some time we figured out that was what was happening. I thought I was going to be lucky and dodge that particular breastfeeding problem along with leaking, but I guess the supplements had worked a little too well.

After a few days, the engorgement and accompanying discomfort cleared up and I hoped we were on our way to shorter feeds and breastfeeding working more smoothly. I was also getting a little better at positioning him comfortably, though honestly that is still a struggle sometimes even now as I find breastfeeding pillows with their shifting contents a bit challenging to manuver. (The My Breast Friend pillow is easier to use, so I’d recommend that, although the Mr. thinks the glue they’ve used for the pillow smells toxic.) Anyway, at some point one morning when the GABOJ was having a hard time latching on (he was often fussy in the mornings), he bit me on the left side. That side became sore, and continued to be sore over the next week or two. Then the real fun began.

I had never before heard the term “plugged” or “clogged duct” before I was right in the thick of breastfeeding. A plugged duct is an area of the breast where milk flow is obstructed. What this means is usually developing a hard, painful lump in the breast that hurts badly before and during nursing, and then hurts a bit less afterwards. Most plugged ducts resolve within 24-48 hours. The recommendations to help clear it are using moist, warm compresses before nursing, nursing frequently, and trying to nurse the baby so that his or her chin points towards the blockage. When I developed my plugged duct on the left side, I did all of these things aggressively to try and get it to clear up. The problem was that it would get better after a couple of days, I would think it was gone, and then BAM!, back again. I tried the above in addition to finally renting a hospital-grade electric pump in an attempt to get the plug out. This went on for TWO WEEKS before I finally started developing the symptoms of mastitis. Oh, you didn’t know that a plugged duct was only the pre-party fun? Yep, mastitis is the full-blown event.

So after the plugged duct haunting me for two weeks, I finally woke up one Sunday morning to find myself in quite a bit of pain and with a lovely red streak starting to develop on that breast. I was also feeling pretty worn out and run down, which was a bad sign as mastitis hits you like the flu. I called my midwife and she said I should head to the Missio where we had the GABOJ so they could examine me. While we were waiting for a doctor, the GABOJ got hungry, and I had to most reluctantly latch him on. The pain, when you are breastfeeding during mastitis, is pretty incredible. I had tears just streaming down my face from the agony, while patients and visitors were walking past us staring at me while I was feeding him. Some looked at me very sympathetically. A quick visual scan confirmed by a blood test proved positive for mastitis. I was told that I didn’t have to stay in the hospital as they couldn’t force me, but the doctor highly recommended for me to admit myself and begin receiving antibiotics intraveinously as it would help me recover faster. I was in so much pain, I didn’t hesitate in saying that I would stay.

This time, the Mr. ordered a bed next to me and “admitted” himself as well. I knew I would need his help taking care of the baby, and also to help position him for feedings as I was exhausted, in pain, and had an IV in my hand. The GABOJ was back in one of the baby beds attached to mine like he had used when he was first born. Still, even with the Mr. right next to me almost the entire time, those two days were really rough for all of us. A hospital is never a great place to be as it is so noisy and disruptive (even with your own room), let alone when you are actually unwell on top of it all. The two good things, however, were that firstly we had a better experience with the staff this time around. It seemed like the nurses on duty had more time, and were more empathetic in general to what I was going through (though we still had to be very assertive about asking for pain medication. It still wasn’t stronger than paracetamol or ibuprofen, and I still wasn’t offered even that regularly, but at least this time we understood better that we had to be proactive in asking for it.)  It was interesting because I was in a ward that was technically separate from but right across the hall from the post-natal ward, so we saw some of the nurses that had cared for me initially. They were all amazed at how much the little guy had grown and changed. The other good thing was the food. Seriously. The food at the Missio is pretty darn good in general, but when you combine that with exhausted new parents who haven’t had much time or energy to cook anything good, it was like heaven being served up on a plate at each mealtime. Well, that might be a bit of an overstatement….when my mother-in-law came to help us out for a few days after we came home from the hospital with the baby, now THAT was heaven served up on plate. That woman can cook! Anyway, by the time we left the hospital, I was a bit better but still really weak, and the lump was still there. I had to go a few days later for a check-up, and I began to become concerned that the lump wasn’t disappearing even after I had started taking the antibiotics and was doing my best to drain that breast. The doctors also found it a little concerning, and the following week they did an ultrasound and discovered an abscess. The doctor tried to drain it with a needle. She numbed it first, but even then I had some sensation and it was uncomfortable. She wasn’t very successful in getting much fluid out as it had thickened, and told me I needed to come back in three days’ time so she could try a bigger needle. Yippee.

Now I don’t want to frighten you, dear reader, particularly if you are a woman of child-bearing age who plans to have a baby someday that you want to breastfeed. But if you google “abscess” and “surgery,” prepare to soil yourself. Once my abscess was discovered, I started to go into panic mode thinking I might have to have the surgery I had read about. And while they knock you out for it, of course, the real kicker is that (if you don’t want to look this up yourself) they leave it as an open wound so that you have dressings you have to change every day (which is apparently pretty awful) as you are leaking blood, pus and milk on a regular basis. I love the internet, but seriously, in some situations it’s better to just turn off the computer and not have so much information at one’s fingertips.

Those next three days were spent doing a lot of worrying. When I showed up for my next appointment, the head doctor (the one who had tried to unsuccessfully suction out the GABOJ) examined me and he said that it appeared to be healing and we were better off to just leave it alone (God bless that man). I was so relieved to hear that not only would I not have to be jabbed with a bigger needle that day, but they wouldn’t do anything to it anymore. So no surgery. I also spoke with a lactation consultant I had worked with a couple of times before, and she also said that eventually the lump would turn into a chalk-like substance and my body would slowly absorb it. She said it could take months, maybe even years, or I might even have the lump the rest of my life, but that it wasn’t dangerous and I shouldn’t need surgery.

While I was in the hospital with mastitis, I had come to the decision to wean the GABOJ. It was a hard choice to make, and there were lots of tears, but in the end it was also a relief to just say “enough” and to make that decision to move on. I had had such a difficult time over the first two months’ of our baby’s life, and I was so tired of being unwell and unable to be the mother that I had envisioned for him. All of my time and energy was so focused on me and my problems, and I was sinking into a real depression. So I began to slowly wean the little guy. I didn’t want to go too fast for fear of causing myself more problems, so over the course of the next few weeks I began to reduce pumping and latching time. At the beginning I had a couple of scary lumps that were painful on the right side, but thankfully, the little guy was able to clear them up both times very quickly.

I’m now at a place where my left side is pretty much dried up. I could have dried up my right side by now, too, but since my milk production has been so dramatically reduced on the right side I’ve stopped having any problems with painful lumps and I’m latching the little guy on that side once every night. It’s going so well that I might continue to do this for quite some time as it means he’s still receiving a little bit of breastmilk, even if it’s just a small amount. I had the goal of giving him breastmilk for the first six months of his life, and although it’s much less than I originally intended, I’m proud of myself that I might actually still reach that goal.

Breast is best, and I would never try to dissuade any new mother from trying to breastfeed. Most women have only minor problems when they breastfeed, and some (like my mom) are lucky and have practically none. But I have to say that for me, formula has made all the difference to not only how I feel physically, but mentally, too. Over the past few weeks since I started weaning, things have gotten so much better. I no longer have constant health problems, worries, and I’m finally able to enjoy my little guy and being a mom to him.

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C-Section Recovery in a “Baby-Friendly” German Hospital: My Experience

It’s taken me quite some time to write this, but the following is my account (as best as I remember it) of my c-section recovery in the Missionsärztliche Klinik in Würzburg. I’ll pick up where I left off from my birth story in this previous post.

After I nursed the little guy for the first time down in the labor ward, the Mr. was told he could go ahead and head up to my room and take our things. We had decided in advance that the Mr. wouldn’t be spending the nights in the hospital with me. When we initially made that decision, we thought it made the most sense given that he had chosen to continue working after our GABOJ was born. (All working parents in Germany are offered something called “Elternzeit,” which means “parent time.” You do receive 2\3 of your salary if you choose to take it, but only up to 1,800 Euros per month. The Mr. could have taken this, but in our case, with the relative flexibility of his work, we decided it made more sense for him to continue working normally.) At any rate, it was a decision that we would sort of come to regret as the Mr. ended up needing to be with me in the room caring for both me and the baby far more than we had originally anticipated, spending most nights with us anyways.

As I was wheeled up to my room with the little guy on my chest, I remember the midwife apologizing to me about the bumps in the floor along the way. I laughed and told her that feeling a few bumps were nothing compared to labor pains! In my room, the next few hours were a haze as I was still drowsy from the surgery and exhausted. But I guess with all the hormones coursing through my body combined with the adrenaline of what had just taken place, sleep was hard to find. It didn’t help that our GABOJ was vomiting up amniotic fluid periodically as he lay in his bed next to me.  The nurses assured me that this is common with c-section babies and that he would be fine and it wasn’t dangerous, but good luck convincing an already keyed-up new mother that her newborn baby vomiting and making choking sounds next to her isn’t any cause for concern. Plus all of his little sounds and cries immediately had me on alert. So thus began a period of several days of practically no sleep, and unfortunately, a lot of pain. I’ll explain.

It all began with me not being able to sleep. The Missio is a “baby-friendly” clinic, which means, in part, that the babies room-in with their mothers. While I’m not sure if this is true of all “baby-friendly” hospitals in Germany, at the Missio this also meant that they had no nursery where a baby could be taken even for a short time. While I think the idea of rooming-in is great, the reality for me was that it ended up making my recovery so much harder as I had such a difficult time sleeping with our GABOJ next to me. I simply couldn’t get any real sleep (especially in the first couple of days). We were told that if a mother was absolutely desperate, a night nurse might be able to take the baby for a couple of hours in the night while she is making the rounds and caring for patients. I think that essentially meant she would be carrying our baby around while doing her normal duties. It was made pretty clear to us that asking for someone to do this would be a burden on the staff, so it should only be requested in a real emergency. And it didn’t really sound like something we’d be comfortable with anyway. So while rooming-in probably does work out well for most women, it seems crazy to me that there is nothing in place to help moms who have had surgery and need more rest, or even women who have had a normal vaginal birth but just need a short break away from the baby for a couple of hours to get better quality sleep.

And then pain became the main problem. The first day after surgery I was exhausted, but I at least had plenty of pain medication. Although I wasn’t getting much sleep because of having the baby next to me and needing to feed him every 2-to-3 hours, I was able to rest somewhat in between feedings. But by the next day, on Wednesday, they began to reduce my pain meds. I remember at one point feeling pretty awful, and looking over at the empty IV drip and wondering what they were giving me if it was empty. Thus began the eternal struggle of the next few days: the nurses offering me little to no medication to control my pain. I had to continuously ask for something, as it was rarely offered. And what they did give me (once they took away my IV meds) was over-the-counter strength ibuprofen and paracetamol. What we began to slowly figure out (as I was constantly in tears as I was in so much discomfort) is that the philosophy of the hospital seems to be that they don’t want to give you anything strong, and they won’t even offer that freely; you have to ask for it. I, of course, had no idea they wouldn’t just bring me pain medication on a regular basis, so I’d be miserable by the time I’d ask for something. And unfortunately it wasn’t just pain medication that you had to have the initiative to ask for; it was anything that might possibly help you.

Because of the general anaesthesia, I ended up with phlegm in my lungs that made it difficult for me to lie down without feeling like I was choking. Just as I would start to drift off to sleep, I would wake abruptly and need to cough as I was starting to choke. It meant that I essentially had to try to sleep upright. I choked less in this position, but never lying flat (or even close to flat) became increasingly uncomfortable over time, and ended up causing me horrible back pain. I told the nurses time and time again that it was actually my back pain that had become so unbearable, but still, with surgery pains and severe back pain on top of that, nothing except ibuprofen or paracetamol was ever offered to me. (They did give some sort of tablet to help me sleep a couple of times, but it wasn’t very strong as I never felt groggy from it). We asked once if there was any kind of ointment that could be applied to my chest or back to help me breathe better and relax my muscles, and one nurse said, yes, that they had something, but it “might interfere with breastfeeding so we have to be careful.” And that was the end of the conversation. A few hours later, it took another breakdown of me in tears at 3am because I was so miserable, and us practically demanding that they give it to me, before I finally got any relief. It was essentially the equivalent of Icy Hot. The nurse applied it to my back, and I was finally able to sleep for a couple of hours for the first time in days. Why in the world it took a breakdown and me practically begging at 3am for some Icy Hot to be applied to my back is one of the many mysteries of my hospital stay that I am left to ponder. The Mr. the next day also came up with the idea of a hot water bottle to help relax my muscles. Again, you would think one of the many nurses caring for me might have suggested this medication-free natural therapy for tense muscles, but nope – it was up to us to find solutions. On the day before I left the hospital, I was finally offered a hot mud treatment called Fango for my back. It was shaped like a heating pad and it was placed in my bed for me to lay on for a half hour, and it helped, too. I would have liked to have had it on Saturday, as well, the morning of the day we left the hospital as I still had very intense back pain, but apparently they don’t offer those kinds of treatments on the weekends (I love this. It’s like you’re in the hospital on vacation or something, so better not have any serious back pain that falls over the weekend!)

We finally left the hospital after five nights on Saturday afternoon. Thank God our private insurance meant I had my own room during the entire stay. I can’t even imagine how much more miserable it all would have been had I had to share my room with another woman and her baby. It also would have been mortifying as the only thing I was dressed in post-surgery was an elastic band around my breasts and mesh, see-through underwear. No hospital gown at all, and I was far too weak and miserable to even contemplate putting on one of my nightgowns or some of my own clothing I had brought along (and none of the nursing staff ever suggested it, or offered to fetch it for me and help me get dressed). For days I had to shuffle back and forth to the bathroom essentially naked as it wasn’t until towards the end of my stay that I had enough strength to put on some of my clothing. To some extent, I had stopped caring and had lost all modesty after everything I had been through, but it’s yet another mystery to me why the hospital wouldn’t have at least put me in a hospital-issued gown post-surgery.

After this difficult c-section recovery, I seriously don’t know whether I could ever go through that experience again. The two things that would have to absolutely change would be the strength and frequency of painkillers given to me in those first few days, and I would probably also need to be able to hand over the baby periodically so I could rest better. I’ve spoken with an American friend about her c-section recovery experience, and it was so different to mine. Firstly, her hospital had a nursery, so she had the baby taken there a couple of times so she could rest. And secondly, the nursing staff at her hospital told her how important it was for her take pain medication and to take it regularly, and she was definitely given perscription-strength pain medication during her hospital stay (and she’s a breastfeeding mom, too.)  I also learned from watching videos and reading information about c-sections in that US that many women (even those who breastfeed) continue to take prescription-strength painkillers for up to a week or so after they leave the hospital. I wouldn’t have needed something that strong for that long, but certainly I could benefited from something stronger while I was still in the hospital. I think had I been in less pain, I possibly would have slept better and felt more relaxed, helping to speed along my recovery. I don’t have a particularly high pain threshold, but I’m also not the sort of person to pop a pill for every little ache and pain and problem that I might have. I didn’t take pain medication a single time during my entire pregnancy. And I’m actually very open to the idea of homeopathic treatment (which is popular here in Germany), but if homeopathic treatments aren’t sufficiently treating the problem, I’m of the opinion that it’s time to move on to real medication.

In addition to a difference in philosophy to pain medication, this particular hospital doesn’t care for c-section patients very often. The c-section rate at the Missio is a low 20% or so, I think. And I’m sure only a very small percentage of the 20% has had general anaesthesia. Perhaps treating fewer women who have had surgery makes a difference in the understanding and attitude of the nursing staff. A few were consistently kind and patient, others were more abrupt and almost impatient with me towards the end. I was, admittedly, no doubt a more needy patient than most with all of the problems I was having (and I understand that this can stress already overworked staff), but I was always polite, of course, even when I was miserable. The Mr. told me that apparently one of the nurses told his sister that they thought I was more focused on myself than bonding with our baby and she feared that I might “reject” him. That really hurt, and what it says to me is that this woman had no idea the amount of pain and discomfort I was in, and how impossible it is to concentrate on anything other than pain when you’re in the midst of it. I was sad and frustrated because what I wanted more than anything was to stop focusing on me, and to be able to hold my baby and care for him and bond with him like any other new mother.

Despite the above criticism, I do have to praise the staff that they were always helpful with breastfeeding. They were good about instructing me how to get him to latch properly, and were always willingly ready to help position him and answer any questions I might have. That’s one area where the Missio hospital really does shine.

I’ve had several people ask me about my experience in the Missio, and whether I would recommend it as a hospital to give birth in. I’d say that if all goes according to plan and you have a normal vaginal birth with few or no complications, I think you would possibly have a very positive experience there. I have friends here in Würzburg who had just that, and were, on the whole, pleased with their experience. But for us, before we have baby no. 2 (and particularly if I were to have another c-section), we will most definitely be looking into the other hospital in town, the Universitätsklinikum Würzburg.

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Baby Steps

P1060582I’ve wanted to post before now, but it’s crazy how little time one has with a newborn at home. And given that we don’t have any other children, I can’t even imagine how people who have a baby with a toddler at home do it! I am in awe of you all.

On Monday, it will be four weeks since our GABOJ was born. This last month hasn’t been an easy one. Both my recovery after the c-section and breastfeeding have both been a lot harder than I had hoped. I feel like we’re slowly moving in the right direction and things are starting to fall into place, but there are still plenty of moments that feel overwhelming and exhausting. For example, I feel like I have the motherly instinct to love and nurture, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into practical skills like knowing how best to soothe a fussy baby or being able to juggle holding him and doing something else at the same time. Heck, I don’t even have the upper-body strength yet to hold him for any real length of time!

Anyway, I still plan to write about my recovery in a German hospital, but in the meantime, I thought I’d post some photos taken two weeks ago of the little guy’s first trip into town with us. It was a short trip as I was still fairly weak from my surgery, and I also don’t feel comfortable nursing him in public yet. It’s not really about embarrassment, but more the practicalities of managing to do it with a tiny infant and no breastfeeding support pillows. So basically, at the moment, my trips out of the house are limited to no more than 3 hours. But short trips into town are still good training exercises for us as we learn to navigate getting around with an infant.

We first grabbed a bus into the town center.

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In general, he seems to really enjoy being in his pram. He usually looks around quite a bit, and then drifts off to sleep. And we love the stroller we picked out for him. The Brio Go is so easy to manoeuver, has tons of shopping space at the bottom, and is stylish as well.

ImageOnce we arrived, we had a coffee and cake in a bakery and then walked just next door a little bit into the Juliusspital “Fürstenbau” courtyard. The Fürstenbau is a palatial building built in the Barock style with historical cellar vaults, a garden pavilion and the fountain statues of Jacob van der Auvera.

Afterwards, we went into the nearby organic market and did some shopping. All in all, we were probably only in town for two hours, but it was a nice trial run. One valuable lesson we learned? Trying to take the bus home at 6pm on a Saturday is potentially disastrous with a pram. We got lucky in that we got on at a stop early enough on the route out of town and found a spot for our stroller, but the bus was packed and there were other people with prams who wanted to get on at later stops and struggled to find space. I’m hoping at some point soon to get the hang of wearing the little guy in a carrier, and I figure that might make short trips into town during busy times (when we don’t do too much shopping) a little easier.

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The Birth of our GABOJ

The following is my birth story in the Missioklinik in Würzburg.

Around 6am on the 28th of January, I was turning over in bed when I felt my water break. I quickly dashed to the loo (and managed, somehow, to keep my bed dry thankfully!) and realized that this was it: the day our son would be born. I woke up my husband and told him what had happened. Our midwife had said during our birth preparation course that we could stay at home up to 12 hours after the water had broken, but being first-time parents we thought it best to err on the side of caution and phone the hospital and ask what we should do. They said that since I wasn’t having any contractions yet, it would be better to come within the next hour or so. My husband and I quickly showered, made sure the cat had enough to eat, and gathered our things.

When we arrived at the hospital, a midwife hooked me up to a monitor and did a quick exam. She confirmed my water had, indeed, broken (as if there could be any question at this point, with liquid gushing out of me in periodic bursts). She next suggested an enema to try and get contractions to start as I still wasn’t feeling too much of anything, or at least not any real labor contractions. This is apparently a popular contraction-inducing method in Germany. Afterwards, she told us that we had to go and check-in at the hospital in an office in another wing. She suggested that I go with the Mr. as walking and moving around can help labor to progress. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t done this, and I’ll explain why.

Part of my preparation for labor was reading Marie F. Mongan’s Hypnobirthing book about her method for a calm and relaxed labor. The basic idea behind it is that you put yourself into a deep state of relaxation through self-hypnosis so that you feel little or no discomfort during labor. Having now experienced labor and labor pains, I see that that’s a pretty tall order to fill. Contractions hurt. Like crazy bad. I don’t think it’s impossible to experience less pain if one were really properly trained (you ideally attend Hypnobirthing classes with your partner and learn the methods from a certified instructor) and had really mastered the self-hypnosis exercises, but in my case, I had only read the book and listened to the relaxation tracks that come on the accompanying CD. We also printed out a script for my husband to read to me. The script ended up being the most useful tool we had as what he said to me did actually help relax me a little bit and helped me to better cope with the pain for the hour or so that he was reading to me, but I was never really able to put myself into any sort of deep state of relaxation (and that’s obviously vital to the method working).  So anyway, I ended up walking to this office with the Mr. to check in when I should have been lying in a darkened room listening to my relaxation tracks and attempting to put myself into a deep state of relaxation. I think my reasoning at the time was that even if I did start to experience contractions, they would probably start out mild enough so that I would still have time to get back to our room and start listening to the tracks to get myself into a deep state of relaxation. That was a major misjudgment as the contractions started kicking in while we were in this woman’s office talking to her, and they felt very uncomfortable very quickly. We finally headed back to the labor ward after what seemed like an eternity.

The rest of the day, to be honest, is much of a blur. Once the contractions set in, I pretty much lost all sense of time. Each contraction felt like an eternity. I spent about an hour or so in one of their birthing tubs, and while it did help to relax me a bit, I began to panic at some point that I wouldn’t be able to get out again when things would progress to an even more intense level. At some point, I think in the early afternoon, I started asking about the epidural. My thinking was to get it as soon as possible so I wouldn’t have to suffer more than necessary. They told me I had to wait until I was dilated to 4cm, and we think that happened around 3pm or so. They said things would likely progress more quickly now with the epidural, and I did end up dilating from 4 cm to 10 much more quickly over the next few hours than it had taken me to slowly get to 4cm.

The epidural was great, and I felt a bit of relief after hours and hours of lots and lots of icky pain. But, unfortunately, it didn’t lead to the calm, relaxed birth that I saw in this video and was anticipating. The epidural only took on one side, so while it was a huge improvement over having no epidural, I was still experiencing the most intense lower backache of my life on one side. (I kept thinking I might get sick from the pain, though thankfully I never was). The other problem was that even though it had only taken on one side, I still couldn’t feel enough to push. And they determined, at some point, that he was in the wrong position. So for at least a couple of hours, they kept making me turn positions from side-to-side, on my hands and knees, and my back, to try to get the baby to move. I remember I kept asking why it still hurt so much, and I think it was because it had only taken on the one side, plus at some point the midwives made the call to turn it off because I wasn’t pushing right. They also started to give me something to “make me feel the contractions more,” which freaked me out as I thought I was feeling them pretty damn well, thank-you-very-much. They assured me that it wouldn’t “make them hurt more,” which didn’t make sense to me at the time (and still doesn’t); how would feeling them more not mean more pain?? At some point, they called in a doctor and she had a look with an ultrasound to try to see the baby’s position. They determined that the baby still hadn’t moved positions, and the head doctor needed to be called in.

He finally arrived (this was around 9pm so he had been at home), and determined that they needed to try to use a vacuum extractor to get the baby out. At this point, my epidural was empty. I distinctly remember them saying that in German. But the plus side was that I could actually feel how to push, and I finally started doing it “right.” Together, with the doctor using the equipment and me pushing when they told me to, I threw all my (quickly fading) energy into trying to get the little guy out. But alas, it was not to be. Despite my best pushing efforts and the doctor trying several times with the suctioning equipment, his head wouldn’t budge. The doctor made the call for a c-section.

The Mr. and I were both prepped for surgery. While he was getting suited up to be in the operating room with me, they began doing needle tests on my abdomen. Now that my epidural was flowing again, they needed to make sure that it would be sufficient for me to feel nothing during surgery. Remember how I said the epidural had only taken on one side? Yeah, that ended up being a problem. While the one side was completely numb again, I could feel them pricking me with the needle on the other side. The head doctor quickly made another decision, this time for general anaesthetics. Tom was told to unsuit and head outside, and I was knocked out with gas a few moments later.

When I awoke a couple of hours later, I was told congratulations on my little boy. I remember asking if he was healthy, and they told me yes. I also remember being incredibly thirsty. I think I basically hadn’t had anything to drink for hours (at least that I can remember) during labor, and now that I had just had surgery I wouldn’t be able to have anything for quite some time. I did have an IV drip with pain meds and fluids, but it wasn’t enough to quench my thirst. The first real drink of water that I had in the morning tasted like heaven.

The Mr. said it took a couple of hours after the surgery until I was wheeled into a room in the labor ward with him and the GABOJ. Although I was groggy and exhausted, it was pretty amazing to have his tiny little body put on top of mine for the first time. We spent about 45 minutes in that room where I breastfeed him for the first time before I was wheeled up to my hospital room.

Preparing for my own labor, I read birth stories of other women and some would say that they’re still troubled and haunted by a bad birth experience long after their bodies had physically healed. I remember thinking how surprised I was by that. After all, their babies survived, they survived…isn’t any birth with those two outcomes a “good” one? But now, I have to admit, I do think a lot about what happened and wonder…did I do something wrong? Did I screw up somehow? Maybe I should have stayed at home longer after my water broke, and just trusted what my midwife said. Maybe the contractions would have naturally come on more slowly, and I would have been better able to relax myself, making the entire process go more smoothly and quickly. Maybe I should have waited longer for the epidural. The Mr. thinks me having had one (and therefore not being able to feel to push) maybe slowed the whole birthing process down and made it difficult for the baby to position himself right. And clearly I wasn’t able to push properly for quite a while. There are so many “what ifs” and question marks that I can see why some women say they are haunted by the experience. I am trying really hard to just accept what happened, and not blame myself, but it’s crazy how feelings of guilt and failure threaten to overtake those efforts (maybe this is due to hormones??)

I’ll leave the story here for now, as I need another post to talk about my recovery in the hospital. As difficult as this birth was, I’m so thankful that the little guy came out just fine in the end, with an Apgar score of 10 out of 10. He’s continuing to thrive and do really well, and it’s amazing how much bigger he already seems to be after just two-and-a-half weeks! And for that result, I’d go through it all again.

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Our GABOJ Arrived!

ImageOn January 28th at 10.21pm, three days before his due date, our little German-American bundle of joy arrived. It’s taken me a while to get around to posting this as I’ve been recuperating from a C-section. I’ll write more about the little GABOJ’s birth and my experience in a German hospital, but for now, the good news is that he’s here and he’s healthy. It all feels a little surreal as we adjust to our new lives as parents, but we’re slowly finding our way and getting used to each other (including Mia – she didn’t cope so well with the GABOJ’s crying at first, but isn’t running away quite as quickly now 🙂 )

Anyway, I’ll post more again when I can. Off to bed once he’s done eating, so I can try and get  jump start on the nighttime feeds. Ahhh, the exhilirating life of a parent!

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…Extended!

Christmas has been extended for us this year, a little bit like it was for me last year. I have absolutely no problem with this as I always feel January comes a bit too quickly for my liking, forcing me to reluctantly let go of my holiday cheer. While last year I got to actually celebrate late Christmases with family and friends in January, this year my holiday has been continued in a different way: gift packages!

ImageThe first to arrive was from two of my best friends back in Indiana. It was chocked full of fantastic things, like the knitted cowl and fingerless gloves shown here. This was knitted by the same friend who has made me other lovely items, such as my cityscape mittens and the adorable Scotty dog cardigan and hat set. I LOVE this set. These are some of my favorite colors, and I’m sort of obsessed with polka dots, so I basically want to wear it all the time. However, it’s gotten really cold here in Germany these past couple of weeks, so I’m back to wearing my cityscape mittens doubled up with thin gloves underneath, but come milder temperatures again I’ll be busting out the cowl and fingerless gloves on a regular basis.

P1060459They also sent me this super cute squirrel bag. Have I mentioned that I’m also very into woodland creatures, particularly squirrels and foxes? Our GABOJ was pretty much destined to have a woodland-themed nursery, no matter what gender.

P1060458Also included in the package were a few ornaments (I have to remember to take photos of those next year as they are now packed away), a couple of cute bracelets, chocolate chips (always handy to have for baking as they don’t exist, really, in Germany) and some lovely knitwear for the Mr., too. They didn’t forget about our GABOJ, either. He received a very nice assortment of children’s books that will be added to our collection. There were a couple of hardback Dr. Seuss books, too.

P1060453After all the excitement of the above package, it wasn’t long before another one arrived from my brother and sister-in-law and their family! (Note: there was also a Toblerone bar in the box, but the Mr. had wolfed it down before I could snap the photo.)  I was really happy to see some of my favorite American treats, like Reese’s and the sinfully delicious Moravian thin mint cookies included in the box. (If you like Girl Scout Thin Mints, do yourself a favor and try these instead. They are a hundred times more delicious, if you can believe it!) I’m also excited to try out Lavanila baby lotion. I try to mostly buy beauty products that are as natural as possible for myself, and I’ll do the same for the GABOJ. See the cute fox wrapping paper that I had to include in the photo? I’ve saved it and I’ll try to figure out whether I can use it somehow for paper crafting. My family and friends know my tastes well 🙂

Christmas was also extended a bit for the Mr. and I as it took us ages to open the gifts we bought for each other. I think we didn’t end up opening our gifts until a couple of days before the Christmas tree had to be taken outside for pick-up.  (And that was on the 7th of January!) Anyway, that’s sort of the way Christmas has gone for us the past few years. It seems like when we spend Christmas here in Germany visiting family, we get home from the holiday and the Mr. always wants to wait to open our gifts to each other. I can’t decide whether it drives me nuts (I want my pressies and I want them NOW!) or whether I love it (Ooh…Christmas is extended into January – score!) Either way, I think our days for this practice may be numbered. Once the GABOJ is old enough to understand the concept of Christmas presents, he won’t want to wait until January to open them!

P1060443The Mr. got me a few things for Christmas that I had on my wishlist. One was this tea calendar, which I absolutely love. I had their 2012 calendar, as well, and decided I wanted the same one for this year as I enjoyed it so much. Apart from the gorgeous photography, I like that the calendar includes interesting information about tea (a good exercise for me to read in German) and different recipes using tea. Another gift was the DVD The Secret World of Arrietty, co-written by Hayao Miyazaki and with animation by Studio Ghibli. I’m a huge fan of both. Ponyo and Kiki’s Delivery Service are two of my favorite children’s films of all time, so I was excited to be gifted Arrietty. The Mr. also gave me the beautiful pop-up book shown in the image above. It’s called “Winter’s Tale.” (Check out this link to it on Amazon if you want to see more of what’s inside.) I love pop-up books, and although it will be quite some time before our little guy will be old enough to be allowed to enjoy them, too, I think they’re a nice edition to a children’s library. Sadly, the house that is supposed to light up at the end of the story by pulling a tab doesn’t work in my copy (even after we changed the batteries), but I’m still really happy with it.

And Christmas still isn’t over! The Mr. had ordered one more gift for me (another book, apparently) that hasn’t yet arrived. There’s another small Christmas package that some family friends sent as well, that we’re still waiting on. And finally, my mom and dad have been putting together a belated Christmas package for us. It’ll be a combination of some things I’ve bought online in the US and shipped to them to send over (Numi decaf vanilla tea and a tea thermometer – so excited about these items!) as well as some gifts from them. So it’s looking like my Christmas season might very well spill over into February….:)

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Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013

Marienberg Festung

Marienberg Festung

Happy 2013 from Würzburg! The Mr. and I enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that was much needed after a whirlwhind of activity for us over the past couple of weeks.

Firstly, the Mr. and I were busy hosting visitors earlier in December. It’s been sort of a quiet year for us in terms of friends visiting, but we ended up with two different groups of friends staying with us for back-to-back visits in mid-December. The first friend was stopping over in Germany on her way to a new job in Africa, and the second (along with her boyfriend) is German and came through Würzburg to see us on her back home to spend Christmas with her parents. It was great having friends come and stay with us during this final calm period before the craziness that will ensue in early 2013 with the arrival of our GABOJ. And thankfully, I also felt relatively good while they were all here and could move around fairly well.

Sommerhausen Weinachtsmarkt

Sommerhausen Weinachtsmarkt

After our visitors left, the Mr. and I rented a car for an entire week so that we would have an easy way to get around and visit family over the Christmas holidays. On the weekend before Christmas, we decided to visit the Sommerhausen Christmas market as we had done last year.

Sommerhausen’s market is perhaps my favorite here in Germany. While it can’t compete in size with a world-famous market like Nürnberg’s, it more than makes up for it in terms of character. (And it doesn’t hurt that even on a “crowded” day, it’s nowhere near as suffocating as the bigger markets are with wall-to-wall people.) What I love most about the Sommerhausen market is its setting. Although there are some tented stalls set up, many of the stalls are located inside historic buildings in the town. Walking down the steps into an old cellar or walking into an old barn beautifully decorated gives the market a special atmosphere and character. Also, most of the items for sale are hand-crafted, with many being locally made. I didn’t manage to take any photos, but we bought a couple of beautiful porcelain tealight holders for the Mr.’s mother and sister for Christmas. He also had some gorgeous dishware for sale, and I had my eye on a white mug with swirled designs, but the Mr. said we need to break a few of our mugs before we can fit any more in the cabinets!

My Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox

I couldn’t resist this little guy. He wasn’t particularly cheap, but I fell in love and couldn’t leave him behind. He’ll sit somewhere in the nursery, so I have to figure out the perfect spot for him.

On Christmas Eve, we drove to the Mr.’s sister’s home in Ludwigsburg and spent that evening and most of the next day with his family. Christmas Eve is the big event in Germany, with the children being distracted after dinner with a story or game while the parents and relatives set out the Christmas gifts under the tree and light the real candles adorning the branches. The Mr.’s family then starts to sing Christmas carols to signal that the children should come to the tree. Unfortunately, two of the three kids there were sick with low-grade fever so the celebrations were a little more low-key than usual, but it was still a lovely evening. The next day we had breakfast all together, did a little walk and had some lunch afterwards. The Mr. and I had to break off relatively early from the group walk as I’m more limited in what I can manage these days, but it was a fairly nice day (some rain) with very mild temperatures.

KissSalis Thermal Spa (image from website)

KissSalis Thermal Spa (image from website)

The following day the Mr. and I decided to check out Bad Kissingen’s thermal spa called KissSalis. While I couldn’t really use the sauna, jacuzzi or some of the other facilities of the spa, I could enjoy swimming around their heated indoor and outdoor pools. At first I felt a bit weird in the water; but after about 20 minutes or so, I started to feel more normal and even found myself relaxing. It was nice to have some of the pressure of my abdomen relieved under the water, and I could really feel all the weight of what I’m now carrying when I got out of the pool. I would definitely love to go back to KissSalis at some point, though I’m not sure whether I’d like to go again being this pregnant. I sort of felt like a spectacle waddling around like a whale, and I was a little worried about slipping and falling on the wet tiles. Though it did feel nice in the water….

We then took the car the following day to see the Mr.’s older sister and her family in Ulm. It poured down rain on the way there and the way back, but we enjoyed our visit mostly inside the coziness of their home. We did a short little walk in their neighborhood, but the wind, cold and rain made it rather unpleasant so no one stayed out for too long.

The following day was our last one with the car. We ran some errands, picking up a couple of things at Ikea as well as doing some grocery shopping, before returning the car.

And now begins a more quiet period in January as we prepare for all of the changes ahead. As uncomfortable as I’m starting to feel, I’m thankful I have these next few weeks to read, watch movies, and just generally relax. They’re my last few weeks “off,”so to speak…for forever, I guess! 🙂

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