Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Colic Days

Mackenzie is 4.5 months old now, and finally, we are on the other side of colic. The first 3.5 months of her life were the longest and hardest months of mine. 

When she was about 2 weeks old, Mackenzie began to cry a lot. Like a lot a lot. Not just cry, but scream. Body thrashing, red-faced, ear-piercing screaming. The generally accepted definition of colic is: 3 or more hours of crying, 3 or more days of the week, for 3 or more weeks. When I first read it to Thomas, we both laughed and laughed. 3 days a week? Mackenzie screamed that much every day. She would cry until she was too exhausted to cry any more. Evenings were the worst, but there would be fits of inconsolable crying all throughout the day. Pretty much if she wasn't eating or sleeping, she was crying. We would only get 5-10 minutes of awake and content baby before the crying ensued. It wasn't even long enough to take a quick shower or make a cup of coffee or brush my teeth.

We tried [what felt like] everything to stop the crying. Endless amounts of bouncing, walking, rocking, swaying, holding. We tried gadgets and contraptions- a swing, a mamaroo, a rock n play, a Dockatot, sound machines, vacuuming, gas drops, probiotics, essential oils, on and on and on. She hated (still hates) the car seat and stroller. The only way I could calm her was to wear her, and even that didn't work sometimes. It was so so exhausting. Physically and mentally exhausting. Most nights she would be up every 2-3 hours and often it would be every hour or more. She wanted to be held all night long, and I was turning into an absolute zombie.

I could feel my heart hardening as I listened to her constant crying; unable to help her, I just had to endure it. I felt cold. I was overly emotional at times from the usual postpartum hormone changes, but more often, I felt emotionless. Like I was just going through the motions of caring for this little being who hated me and everything about the world she was born into. I had a hard time connecting with her. At one point, I even googled the Baby Moses laws in Texas, but it was too late - I'd already crossed the 60 day mark so I couldn't drop her at the fire station. 

Our pediatrician (and the hundreds of articles I read) said the colic would likely peak around 8 weeks, then diminish by 3 to 4 months. 3 to 4 months sounded like an absolute eternity. And it went very slowly. When well-meaning people commented something like, "I can't believe she's already 2 months old!" I was like, glad it went by fast for you, these were the longest two months of my life.

And all the while I still had to care for the house, the dog, the cooking, the cleaning, myself?, oh and our three year old, Maddie. Bless her heart, she weathered the storm well. There were occasions where we'd all 3 be bawling, but for the most part she was patient. Gone were the days of our daily outings, play dates, and predictable schedules. That's hard for a 3 year old! She watched (still watches?) way more TV/iPad than I'd like or than I want to admit to you. But it was seriously just a time of survival. I cried almost every morning when Tom left for work, and on several occasions called mid-afternoon begging him to come home early because I couldn't handle the next few hours alone. I was terrified of being alone with the baby. I felt like I was failing and I wasn't an adequate mother for my girls. I couldn't help Mackenzie feel better. I couldn't give Maddie the attention she needed. Why couldn't I handle having two kids? I would sit in the dark, rocking Mackenzie to sleep, and cry as I watched Maddie play on the iPad. I felt so bad for her and I started feeling resentful toward the baby. It was all so hard.

When Mackenzie was three weeks old, we made our first big attempt at stopping the crying. We had a laser procedure done to correct her tongue and lip ties. Those are the little pieces of skin that can connect your tongue to the floor of you mouth and your upper lip to your gums. They can cause feeding issues, speech issues, and more. For ten days after the procedure, we had to "massage the wounds" 3 times a day to prevent the skin from reattaching. AKA I had to rub my fingers across the sores in her mouth. Of course she screamed when I did so and it made me feel awful. I didn't want her to think her mother was hurting her purpose. The procedure gave us some improvement in breastfeeding, but it was hard for her to un-learn the bad latch habits she had from her ties. We saw a lactation consultant and that was also helpful. But still, she cried. And cried and cried.

When she was two months old, I decided to cut dairy from my diet. A friend had suggested it and I initially rejected the idea because Mackenzie didn't have the same symptoms as Maddie, and honestly, it's a big hassle. Our pediatrician didn't recommend cutting dairy until I had actually seen blood in her stool. But I was getting desperate so I decided to give it a shot anyway. Low and behold, it made a big difference for Mackenzie. It took a few weeks, but gradually her tummy troubles resolved and her crying lessened.

At three months, she was no longer content to nap in the carrier all day (and I was exhausted from wearing her so much), but she wouldn't nap for longer than 30 mins anywhere else. After a short nap, she could only be awake for an hour before needing another nap. I felt like I spent the entire day trying to get her to sleep or stay asleep. And yet she was still so overtired and cranky. I was desperate again to try anything so we borrowed a swing from our friends. It was magical, absolutely magical. She loved the swing and would nap for 2+ hours in it. Truly, that swing saved my sanity. I was able to spend one-on-one time with Maddie, eat warm meals, and rest my weary body. It was the first ray of sunlight we'd seen in a few months of dark clouds.

And slowly, as we inched toward 4 months, Mackenzie began to cry less. She started smiling more. The tension level in our house decreased significantly. Ahhh, this is what it was supposed to be like, we thought. Maddie and Mackenzie started interacting. It was beautiful.

The day before Mackenzie turned 4 months old, I started a new bible study for moms. When a friend invited me and mentioned that childcare was included, I was like, sign me up! The real reason I joined is for Maddie (that's another topic for another day), but the thought of dropping Mackenzie in the nursery and leaving her for two hours sounded amazing. When the day actually came, I felt anxious leaving her. Not because I would miss her or because I worried about someone caring for her, but because I wasn't sure if she would nap in the nursery and I dreaded the grumpy afternoon that would follow. Less than an hour in, I got the call that Mackenzie was inconsolable. As I drudged back to the nursery, I felt frustrated and defeated. I opened the door to hear her screaming her little lungs out while the poor grandmother holding her tried to distract her by the window. As the nursery volunteer passed Mackenzie to me, she quieted immediately. She nestled into my shoulder and let out a big long sigh. My heart melted into a puddle on the floor. She does love me. The nursery volunteer commented about how amazing it is that little babies know exactly who their mothers are. In that moment, I was exactly what she needed. And it was exactly what I needed. I was everything to her and all she wanted. She doesn't hate me. I am enough. It was a special moment for me and it really helped me view my beautiful baby in a new light. After a few minutes of snuggles, she was sound asleep in my arms, right where she wanted to be.

I know we'll have other struggles through the years as Mackenzie gets older, but we are so glad to be out of the colic days. If you ever find yourself parenting a colicky baby, please reach out to me! I'm here to give hugs and lend an ear. It's seriously one of the hardest things I've been through and I would love to help you in any way possible.

Now, if we could just get her to sleep more at night... things would really be peachy around here! But I count my blessings daily that I have two happy, healthy girls. We'll sleep again someday.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mackenzie's Birth Story

[Disclaimer – It’s detailed! It shares the nitty gritty details of delivery so don’t read if you’re squeamish or easily offended!]

Mackenzie Louise Cooper was born on Monday, May 8, 2017 at 2:13am. She weighed 6lb 9oz and measured 19 ¾ inches long.

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Both of my girls were born at the same hospital, Baylor Scott & White Round Rock, and that is pretty much where the similarity in birth stories ends. Here is Maddie’s full birth story, but in a nutshell, I labored for 28 hours total, got an epidural, pushed for 2.5 hours, attempted a forceps delivery, and ultimately ended up getting a cesarean section. She was born at 7:39pm on Thursday, April 29, 2014. She weighed 8lb 11oz and measured 20 inches long.

In the wee morning hours of Sunday, May 7, I was awakened by contractions. I timed them for a few hours while I tried to fall back asleep – they were coming about every 15-20 minutes. When Tom woke up at 6:30am, I told him, “I think I’m in early labor!” He took Maddie to get donuts so I could rest and focus. But instead, the contractions stopped. Argh! It was the 2nd or 3rd time in the past few days that the same thing had happened. So I went on with the day as usual. I had already scheduled a “labor preparation” massage for noon that day and I was really excited to go. The massage was incredible – very relaxing. It went way over the allotted time, and the last 30 minutes was essentially an amazing foot rub combined with a super hippie birth visualization exercise. On my way to the massage, the contractions started again, and I had a few during the massage. I crossed my fingers that getting into a relaxed state would encourage the contractions to continue, and they did. I was back home around 3:00pm and the mild contractions continued throughout the afternoon.

Around 8:00pm, the contractions started to get a little more intense and they were coming every 8-10 minutes. I decided this was the real deal, and asked my mom to go ahead and come to our house, under the assumption that we would likely head the hospital overnight and need her help in the morning with Maddie. I also gave our doula, Sarah, a heads up that I’d likely be needing her overnight as well. When my mom arrived at our house around 9:30pm, I was still in good spirits. The contractions were continuing to get stronger, and were now coming every 5-6 minutes. My mom and I chit-chatted for a while, pausing when I had a contraction so that I could sway back and forth to get through it. Around 10:30pm, I considered drawing a bath, so my mom went downstairs to give me some privacy. About that time, I gave Sarah a call to see if she could head over to our house. She commented that I still sounded pretty chipper, and that generally in her experience, when a mom can still cheerfully talk in between contractions, she may not be as far along in labor as I thought I was. But she said she would gather her things, grab some caffeine, and head our way. I’m pretty sure I just have a cheery telephone voice ;)

Pretty much as soon as I hung up with Sarah, the contractions started coming much faster, longer, and stronger. I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to be in water, so I asked Tom to get the bath going – fast! The contractions were getting really strong and I started making what could only be described as dying cow sounds – low moaning and groaning. I tried using some mantras to get through them: “It’s not pain, it’s progress” “It’s almost over, it’s almost over” “Breathe, relax, breathe, relax”. When Sarah arrived at 11:30, she seemed a little surprised at how quickly my labor was progressing. She told me I was doing great, and to continue being vocal if it was helping. The contractions continued getting faster, longer, and stronger still – now coming every 3 minutes and lasting over a minute long. I changed positions in the tub a few times, trying to find the most comfortable way to get through the contractions. Sarah sat with me, squeezed my hips, and rubbed my back. Tom stood nearby – absolutely terrified – and used an app on my phone to time the contractions. Around midnight, the pain was becoming unbearable. I started shaking uncontrollably, having trouble breathing through contractions, and suddenly I felt a heavy weight with the feeling of needing to have a bowel movement during contractions. Sarah acted quickly – she told me that these were all signs of going through “transition” which is when you move from the “active” stage of labor into the “pushing” phase of labor. We needed to head to the hospital!

I did NOT want to get out of the water. When I stood up, I started to panic. It literally felt like the baby was going to fall right out (wouldn’t that be nice, actually?). I started crying and breathing fast. Sarah and Tom helped me calm down and get dressed. We left our house at 12:15am and headed to the hospital. The car ride was awful. I started feeling the need to push during contractions. Poor Thomas, I was making demands like, “drive faster!” “slow down!” “slower over the speed bumps!” and “stop the car!” (when we were literally 100 yards from the entrance of the hospital). We arrived at the hospital at 12:30am, but the front doors were locked. We had to drive around back and enter through the ER. They wheeled me up to L&D in a wheel chair, which was also awful. The nurse begged me not to have a baby in the elevator! When we arrived in our L&D room, there were lots of papers to sign and blood draws and IVs – it was all a bit of a blur. The nurse asked if I wanted an epidural and I said, “I’m not sure yet.” She then checked my cervix and announced, “You’re complete!” Meaning, I was already dilated to 10cm. There would be no time for an epidural! It was baby time!

The room was so bright, I kept my eyes tightly closed the whole time, trying to stay in my relaxed zone. At one point, our nurse was going to step out of the room and she said, “don’t push while I’m gone!” I looked at her like she was crazy and said “But I need to push!” She immediately pulled the emergency cord and our room was flooded with people. I started actively pushing at 1:00am, and good gracious, no wonder they call it “labor”. Pushing was hard work! And it was taking a while! Thank heavens for our incredible doula, Sarah, and my super patient doctor, Dr. Fernandez. Sarah talked me through everything, got me sips of water, put a cool washcloth on my forehead, and encouraged me when I said thinks like “I can’t!” Thomas kneeled beside me the whole time while I gripped his hand so tightly, making me more comfortable with his steady presence. At about the one hour point, Sarah got down beside me, looked me in the eyes and said something along the lines of, “You’re doing so great! But we all think you can give a little more. With each push, push a little harder, push a little longer. You are so close to meeting your baby.” It was just the pep talk I needed. The baby’s head was starting to crown and it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt – burning, searing, stretching. I used every ounce of strength I had, through tears, to push that baby out. Her head was halfway out through several contractions and I wanted to give up, but obviously there was no going back now! I had to muster the strength. And I did. At 2:13am, Mackenzie came out crying! When my water broke shortly after 1:00am, it was stained with meconium (meaning the baby had pooped), so there were concerns that she might have trouble breathing. But thank heavens, she didn’t. They placed her on my chest and I have never felt such a high. I was elated, relieved, proud, amazed! There is nothing like it. I cried happy tears as I looked into our sweet girl’s blue eyes. I did it! I succeeded in an unmedicated VBAC! I couldn’t believe it - I am such a wimp! My birth plan was to labor at home as long as possible and to *try* to make it without an epidural. By “as long as possible” I certainly hadn’t meant until I was fully dilated! Ha! But everything went so smoothly, it was just perfect. Mackenzie got to stay on my chest for the next hour or so, and it was incredible.

     

In all my preparation for the birth, I hadn’t really given much thought to tearing during delivery. Which is a really good thing, because if I’d known how painful it would be to get stitched down there without an epidural, I probably would have been more hesitant to push! There was of course, local anesthesia, but it was still a lot of pressure in a very sensitive, traumatized area. Thank goodness I had that beautiful girl in my arms to distract me. This was for sure my least favorite part of delivery. Everything leading up to that point had been progress toward meeting our baby and that made it more bearable. The stitches just sucked.

Around 3:30am, we let our families know that Mackenzie had been born. The doctors, nurses, and our doula slowly left the room and just the 3 of us remained. We tried to rest, but adrenaline and happy hormones kept us from getting any shut-eye. We talked about the night – how I’d gone from happily chit-chatting at 10:30pm to pushing out a baby at 2:13am. We were so surprised! Given the amount of time I labored with Maddie, we had very different expectations. We couldn’t get enough of our sweet baby and we were so thrilled to become a family of 4.

  

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After succeeding in a VBAC, here are my takeaways and pieces of advice for anyone wanting to attempt a VBAC, and really for anyone going into birth. 
  1. Hire a doula. A doula is “a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.” Essentially, she is a support person for the mother. The doctors, nurses, and medical staff will be there to look out for the baby, but the doula is really focused on the mother. She will usually provide you with advice and support leading up to the delivery, at your house when you go into labor, at the hospital/birthing center, and postpartum. I really wish I had a doula for my first pregnancy. As a first time mom, there were so many unknowns when I went into labor. We took a birthing class, but when the day actually came, I felt clueless. How could I get through the painful contractions? When should I head to the hospital? When should I get an epidural? (I was 100% certain I wanted one the first time) While there’s really no point in “what-ifs”, I do wonder if I might have had a different birth outcome with Maddie had a doula been present. Maybe she would have encouraged me to labor at home longer, wait longer to get an epidural, or advocated for me when I was stressed out by the nurses yelling at me to push for 10 full seconds (ok maybe she wasn’t actually yelling but it felt like it). Anyway, hire a doula! Especially if your spouse or mother or whoever you want present during the birth isn’t a super cheerleader, or is nervous in hospitals, or if you’d be offended if they told you to “push harder!” – I probably would have smacked Tom if he told me that, but I wasn’t bothered when Sarah did.
  2. Attend a VBAC class (or labor class if it’s your first birth). The VBAC class we took at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center was invaluable. The instructor was also a doula who herself had a successful VBAC. We talked through our memories and emotions surrounding our c-sections, discussed fears and concerns for a VBAC, pros/cons of VBAC vs. repeat cesarean, and more. I thought it was really encouraging and it was nice to be in good company with couples who had been through similar experiences.
  3. Eat dates! There is an actual scientific study to back this one up. This article includes some discussion and a link to the study. Basically, dates were shown to shorten labor times for women who ate 6 dates a day starting at 36 weeks. Ever the preparer, I started eating them around 32 weeks, just one or two a day. They really grossed me out – they look like roaches and I couldn’t get over that. So I tried a couple recipes for different snack bars and energy balls using dates. At 36 weeks I upped my game and tried to eat 6 a day. I probably averaged more like 4 a day and sometimes forgot. I know that second labors are generally shorter than first labors, but 28 hours vs. 12 hours seems pretty significant. It can’t hurt so why not try!?
  4. Drink red raspberry leaf tea. The support for this is more anecdotal. Here’s an article I read about raspberry leaf tea. It’s reported that drinking raspberry leaf tea in the 3rd trimester helps build up the uterine muscles and therefore shorten labor time. A strong uterus is especially important for a VBAC mom because it reduced the risk of uterine rupture. Similar to the dates, I figured, worth a shot! Around 34 weeks, I started drinking Earth Mama’s Third Trimester Tea and around 37 weeks I drank Traditional Medicinal Raspberry Leaf Tea.
  5. Take evening primrose oil. I know I know, another hippie thing. Here’s an article – it’s said to help “ripen” the cervix and get it soft for delivery. I was 90% effaced at my 39 week appointment, so I’d say it might have worked! I started taking 1000mg daily at 37 weeks (I only took it orally).
  6. Read positive birth stories. I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (happy to lend it out!) and I thought it was really fun to read the birth stories. In our culture, there is a lot of fear surrounding childbirth, and this book helped me to reshape my thoughts about giving birth.
  7. Be confident and know that your body was made to give birth. But also give yourself grace if it doesn’t go as planned.

Friday, March 31, 2017

35 Weeks Update

I'm 35 weeks pregnant with our little Mackenzie Louise (we're like 99% sure that's what we're going to name her. I just can't bring myself to actually write it in her baby book though, it just seems so permanent and I'm having commitment issues). For a while there, this pregnancy really seemed to be dragging on, but now it is suddenly right around the corner. 35 short days until our due date! I had an appointment last Friday morning, where I told the doctor that I'd been having a lot of Braxton Hick contractions. She said that after the 34 week mark, they won't do anything to stop labor - which was both exciting and terrifying to hear. Let's all cross our fingers that I don't go into labor for at least a few more weeks! I still have 2 weeks of work, a long to-do list, and a soon-to-be 3 year old's birthday to celebrate. So basically, I'd love for her to come after April 23, around the 38 1/2 week mark :) Got that, baby? Great!

I really love a good excel file, as well as a to-do list, so a few weeks back, I put together a week-by-week checklist of all the things I'd like to get done before baby comes. Before the list, I felt so overwhelmed by all of the ideas swimming around in my mind. I couldn't figure out how to prioritize either, so basically I was just worrying a lot but not actually getting anything done. I haven't stuck to the plan perfectly, but it feels so good to have all of my thoughts written down and prioritized. Knowing that I only have 5 or 6 tasks to do each week and that every task has an assigned "due date" gives me a lot of peace. Upcoming this week: finish making a "big sister" busy bag for Maddie, clean all of our baby gear that has been in storage, and order a new breast pump.

A couple weeks ago, Maddie went to my parents' house for the entire weekend, and it was glorious. I love the girl more than anything, but the peace and quiet was so nice. I was able to tackle so many things on my to-do list without a little "helper" tagging along. Tom and I even went out for a date night! It's likely the last one we'll have for... a while... so we enjoyed it! Before we left, I convinced Tom to recreate the maternity photos we took when I was pregnant with Maddie. The Maddie pictures were taken on March 22, 2013 at 35 weeks pregnant, and the recent pictures were taken on March 18, 2017 at 33 weeks pregnant. Same dress, same camera, same field at the end of our street. We were just in time too to recreate them in the same place because a new neighborhood is going into that field this summer.

 
Madelyn - March 2014 / Mackenzie - March 2017

 
Madelyn - March 2014 / Mackenzie - March 2017

 
Madelyn - March 2014 / Mackenzie - March 2017

 
Madelyn - March 2014 / Mackenzie - March 2017

I am really committed to pursuing a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) with this baby, so I'm doing all sorts of hippie things to prepare for labor. I'm drinking raspberry leaf tea, eating so many dates, and taking evening primrose oil. I'm also walking a lot and doing plenty of stretching/yoga poses. We've even hired a doula to help during labor and I'm feeling so at ease knowing she'll be there for support. Are you happy, Austin? Look what you've done to me, turning me crunchy! ;) We also took a VBAC class at a local hospital. I feel really confident in my decision, and in my body, to take on this challenge. I am a major wuss when it comes to pain, but I feel like I'm so much better prepared for labor, physically and mentally, this time around.

I'm already done with the nursery, because it was really easy. Basically exactly the same as it was with Maddie. I just updated the name banner and put up a personalized print. For now, we have our guest bed in the nursery and the crib in our bedroom, since she'll sleep with us to start anyway, and we'll have a spot for grandmas to stay when they come help. The name banner looks a little silly without the tall crib underneath it, so just use your imagination. Easy peasy, done done done :)

   

And that's all I can think of! Did I miss any important details? Pregnancy brain in full effect these days.