Post matrem

Written as a daylog in Everything2, my on-line community:


Feeling pretty flat right now. My mother, who has been over for a fortnight, has just left. M, B and I drove her to the airport this morning. M dropped us off – he had to get to work – but B and I lingered with her until the very last minute.

It was a great visit. Our relationship has changed since I got pregnant. At last, after 31 years, I am a real adult in her eyes. She didn’t mean to treat me as less than an equal before B came along; she didn’t even realise that a closer relationship was possible. Since her own mother died shortly after my elder brother’s birth, she had never seen how it could be.

Of course, it was also hard having someone around for two weeks while we do the baby work. She helped out, but as a guest, she had a certain claim on our time and energy. We even took her – and B – on a day trip to Amsterdam (EasyJet flies there cheaply and often). All I want to do now is stay at home and pull the drawbridge up.

Still, it was hard to see her go. We bummed around the airport for the maximum possible time, sitting in the cafe, buying presents for the family back in California, chatting to the shop assistants about B, and finally sitting down on a bench by departures and talking quietly. Then waving her off at the “Passengers Only” sign and the long bus ride back home.

A further disappointment awaited me, like a sting in the tail. I’ve been in touch with H, a woman living nearby, first to reassure her about getting a C-section, then trying to support her in breastfeeding. Scottish culture is profoundly ambivalent about breastfeeding babies – the health service promotes it, but very few new mothers make it work. H is a case in point – she was determined to breastfeed her baby. Then, deep in the baby blues, she started doubting that the baby was getting enough milk. So when I called her today to ask how things were going, she admitted she’d changed to formula feeding. I was nice – she’s made her decision, and there’s no point kicking her about it.

Even as a Californian, from a culture where breastfeeding is ingrained, I was vaguely worried in the first weeks. Bottle-feeding mothers can see how much their babies are eating. And since a newborn’s stomach is the size of a walnut, there’s very little perceptible difference between the breast before and after feeding. The contrast between even a full breast and an empty one pales in comparison to the huge engorgement that happens when the milk comes in. I got through that time on faith in the natural system, based on having seen it work. H had no such basis for confidence. She didn’t want to starve her baby out of a stubborn desire to breastfeed.

Now I’m sitting here, B fussing on my lap (he has mild colic), my mother’s forgotten hat visible on the coat rack by the door.


For the last day of

For the last day of the visit, we went to Craigmillar Castle, one of Edinburgh’s undiscovered treasures. And a good site for portraiture. (click on the picture to see a bigger version)


Are we crazy, or what?

Are we crazy, or what?

A day trip to Amsterdam with a baby
Click on the pictures below for larger versions.

One dad, one son, one airport – arriving in Holland.

Mom, Martin and B crossing a canal.

Look! a tourist!

Quick, take a photo.

Mom, Abi and B at the end of a long and Dutch day.

Thank you, Mick and Sarah, for the loan of the baby pack. I can’t picture doing this any other way…

New parenting…hmmm…

New parenting…hmmm. Half the days I’m on top of the world. The other half, I feel like I’ve been run over by a steamroller.

Yesterday was a top of the world day. M kicked me out of the house in the afternoon. With 120 ml (1 1/2 feedings worth) of expressed milk in the fridge, we felt it was time to try B on the bottle. The standard condition for introducing a bottle is that “breastfeeding is well established”, to avoid nipple confusion. With B, breastfeeding has been established since Day 1.

So I went out shopping. We’re going to a wedding in 3 weeks or so, and I haven’t a thing to wear at this size (I’ve lost about 15 pounds since the birth, but there’s at least twice that to go). I didn’t want to spend too much, since I do not intend the clothing to fit for long. The additional complication, of course, is that whatever I wear has to be suitable for breastfeeding. So it either needs to be a 2-piece garment so the shirt can be raised, or it must button up the front.

Didn’t find anything. Some of it is that I don’t like my current size, so everything I tried on looked awful. But I went to the tanning salon, which gave me the sort of lift that only bright light can.

Came home to find B doing just fine. I knew M would have called if the Source of All Milk was needed at home, but it was good to see the baby sleepy and well-fed. When he woke up and nursed without any objection, I was even more delighted. Now if I can persuade M to do the late night feeding, I can sleep through the night sometime! Wow.

Today was a steamroller day. Not enough sleep last night, plus the exertions of shopping to recover from. When B didn’t settle again after food at 6am, I apparently got really grumpy (I have no memory of this – I was talking in my sleep). M took him into the guest room to fuss, and I got a few more hours’ rest.

Still felt shattered today. But the weather was so nice that we went out for a walk. There were errands to run – posting the Child Benefit claim form, registering B with the local doctor’s surgery, getting some food. In addition, we went by the two nurseries nearest the house, to scout them out for when I go back to work.

The first one, Mother Goose, is in a fairly small house right next to the surgery. There are 3 rooms, one for babies, one for toddlers, and one for pre-school age kids, plus a back garden for good days. We were by right at midday, when the half day kids are coming and going, so there was lots of tiny traffic (plus parents). The place felt…happy. All of the kids were bright and active, the carers were friendly and cheerful…we just liked it. In some ways, it reminded me of Louise’s, the place we used to take my younger brother and sister, though (unlike Louise), all the carers were sighted.

The other one, The Little Drummer, was larger but more…austere. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to the staff (though they were as attentive to B as I could wish). The kids were more solemn. The vibe wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t as warm and delightful as Mother Goose. I think our choice is made.

Then an added bonus – at the supermarket, we ran into a woman I wanted to look up. She came to the breastfeeding workshop in my antenatal class, and lives around the corner from us. Her son is 4 months old. Useful to know another new parent nearby (but amazing how much babies grow in 4 months!).

Tomorrow…who knows?

It’s been one week since you looked at me…

9:30 am, Wednesday April 18, 2001

What a week. I’m just waiting for 10:11 today to give B a happy one week birthday kiss. He’s sitting on my lap right now, replete with milk and kicking idly about. He has is own distinctive personal smell, like nuts and roasted grain, which drifts up at me from time to time.

A week ago now, I was being prepped for surgery. I was very nervous – they were going to cut into me! – but the anaesthetists, theatre assistants, and midwife in the pre-surgery preparation were so matter of fact, so humourous, and so calm that by the time I was numb enough to be taken in to theatre I was no longer frightened at all. This despite the fact that I needed 2 doses of spinal anaesthetic to go numb, had a dramatic drop in blood pressure, and could still wiggle my toes when it was time for the C-section. (The anaesthetist, an Glaswegian Indian named Bob, was agog at this last. The spinal was supposed to give me complete numbness and immobility from mid-chest downward. He sat around theorising about physiological differences and wishing he had an excuse to do an MRI scan.)

The birth…how can one describe the birth? So strange to see the source of all those prenatal kicks, to meet the heart of all our hopes and the goal of all our efforts for nearly two years. It was too much to assimilate. I went into the emotional version of shock, I think, and am only now coming out of it.

I am astonished to discover how quickly one recovers from abdominal surgery. By Thursday, I was on my feet and able to go for a shower. By Saturday, I was ready to leave the hospital. My stitches got taken out Monday. I am still weak, and in occasional pain, but over the counter painkillers are adequate to control it.

B is being breastfed, which is apparently a slightly wild and crazy idea here. Only half of Scottish mothers choose to breastfeed at the start, and many give up on it within the first few weeks. This is alien to me, coming from the Californian culture, where bottle feeding is rare. The NHS is desperate to improve breastfeeding rates, for all kinds of health reasons. I’m fully in favour of this, but I found the midwives a bit…overbearing on the issue. B turns out to be a strong feeder, with really good instincts. No tuition was required. Still, the midwives all insist on giving me the same lecture on how to get him to “latch on”, even seizing breast and baby to show me the “orthodox” position if I am foolish enough to nurse in front of them. I just ignore them – we’re doing fine, and it’s good practice for them, so that they have their lines down pat for mothers that need help.

It is impossible to describe the impact B has had on our lives. It’s not just the late nights (for Martin) and early mornings (for me), nor the actual work involved in keeping him going (soothing, diaper changes, endless laundry, and – for me – a round the clock feeding schedule). There’s the same vertigo, the same exhaustion, the same lack of confidence that we’ll cope that accompanies every dramatic stage in personal growth.

And B? Well, he is the ultimately selfish creature – he literally has no idea of the existence of other people. On the other hand, he isn’t that clear on his own existence either. He’s got the hang of “I need”, but is very far from any concept of “I want.” When he gets difficult (crying in the middle of the night, for instance), it’s hard not to think it’s deliberate. But ascribing volition to a kid that small is a serious mistake, one we have avoided making. Irrationally enough, however, we tend to give him credit for his seriously cute and charming moments.

And the name? Alexander, from his great-grandfather in the paternal line. Still not sure which variation of the name we’ll use – Alex, Alec, Xander, Sandy, Lex, Leck…His aunt and uncle Sutherland have tended to use Alex. Beowulf from the great epic poem, which we have read in the Heaney translation. Based on this, my mother refers to him as the Monster Slayer.

We still call him B.

Here it comes

The baby’s birtday will be April 11, 2001. How strange to know it already.

We just went into the doctor’s surgery to speak to the consultant. The scan last week showed that the baby is oblique breech, meaning it’s diagonal in the uterus, with its bottom and feet down. (This is not normal – babies at this stage should be head down). The appointment was to discuss what we should do about it.

The consultant poked around my enormous belly and stated that it was now breech, meaning that its bottom had settled into position to come out first. This change is a good thing, since if it were still transverse, they would want me to come into the hospital and wait for it to be born. With a due date 2 weeks away, that just sounds horrible.

As things stand, there are a number of options.

  1. Try to turn the baby by external manipulation. This has about a 60% chance of success, but there’s also the chance of foetal distress and an emergency 1 Caesarian section right then. Although the doctor didn’t discuss pain, I have looked into it, and the procedure is uncomfortable at the very least. If the baby went head down, and stayed that way (some do shift back), we could have a normal birth.
    Further web research by M has just revealed that in cases of Rh incompatibility, exernal manipulation is not recommended. There’s too much chance of foetal bleeding, which is A VERY BAD THING INDEED.

  2. Since the doctor thinks it’s breech (I’m not sure, based on where the kicking comes from), just wait on things and try a standard delivery. Now, I know from talking it over with mothers of breech babies that this is not fun, not even by the standards of childbirth in general.
  3. Book us in for an elective 2 section.

Option 1 really didn’t grab me. If it were that or go through a breech birth, then I would have jumped at it. But it failed the Guilt Test…if something went wrong, and we found ourself rushing for an emergency section, and (God forbid) the baby was in distress, I would blame myself terribly.

Option 2 was right out.

So we’re scheduled for a C-section on Wednesday, April 11, 2001. The first choice date, medically speaking (Friday April 13) was ruled out because it’s Good Friday, a bank holiday, and the hospital will be (relatively) lightly staffed (can’t say I mind skipping surgery on Friday the 13th). The second choice, Thursday April 12, was booked solid already.

So in a week, I have a baby. Wish me luck.

  1. An emergency section is generally done under general anaesthesia. This presents a risk to the mother (as all general anaesthetic does). It can also affect the baby.
  2. An elective section is done under spinal anaesthetic, usually an epidural. That means I will be awake for the whole experience, and that the baby will not be affected by the anaesthetic.

B’s Profile

So here it is, by popular request: B’s profile. You can see the forehead, the nose, and the mouth (the first three bumps under the central text). We’re fairly sure it had its hand up by its face at the time the shot was taken.

Now, had it been a movie shot, you could have seen that it was moving its mouth while we watched. Practicing for nursing, perhaps? Or talking to itself?

So we had the scan.

So we had the scan.

It was wonderful to see B again, after all these months. It was way too large to see onscreen, but we got a great fly-by view. Started at the head (we have a printout of the profile on the fridge now), then looked at the heart, the spinal cord, and the tiny hands and feet. No sign of the genitals; B ws in the wrong position for that particular piece of voyeurism.

All the bits looks good, according to Maureen (our midwife), apart from their position. The head definitely is under my ribs on the right, the bottom is in the lower left, and the feet down in the bottom of the uterus. Maureen says that we need to discuss things with the consultant, but in her opinion, we are headed for a Caesarian.

Indeed, if I go into labor early, I am instructed to call the hospital immediately and tell them it’s oblique breech. They will want me in immediately for an emergency section.

I don’t mind the C-section. I am disturbed, however, that had I been born a hundred years before or a few thousand miles to the south of where I was, I might not live to see May.

On Wednesday, we see the consultant and (probably) decide on B’s birthday.

Baby Baby Baby

Coming right up

It occurs to me that there’s nothing on this website that covers the pregnancy in a relatively comprehensive way. Since our Christmas cards directed people here for updates, I should put something in.

So here goes…

We’ll be 37 weeks pregnant on Friday. If you’re not au fait with counting pregnancy in weeks, that’s 8 months and 1 week, roughly. So we’re coming into the homestretch. The baby, whom we’ve been referring to as B, is due April 20, 2001. This of course bears little relation to when it will be born.

Early pregnancy was difficult – we had a lot of worrying symptoms, and ended up getting 3 ultrasound scans in the first trimester. We were very anxious, but the scans all showed that everything was going well.

The second trimester was much easier. Part of it was that I was feeling a lot less nauseous, and a lot more energetic than I did in early pregnancy. Also, somehow, I stopped worrying, which is highly unusual for me. I think it helped being “out” at work, since I had to go through all the worry and exhaustion of the first three months without being able to let it show during the working day.

The last three months of pregnancy are turning out to be really exhausting. Part of that is work; we’ve been in a busy time, and I’ve done some long hours. Part of it was that I’ve been having lower back pain throughout the pregnancy, and it’s getting harder to get a good night’s sleep. And part of it is just being pregnant.

I’ve finished my last day in the office. Tomorrow and the next day, I’ll be working from home, and then I’m completely off work and onto maternity leave. That will be nice – getting up in the morning has been difficult, and sitting all day nearly impossible. My back hurts too much. Besides, by the afternoon, all I want to do is put my head on the desk and sleep.

Although this has been a difficult time physically, I am always conscious of how much worse it would have been a century ago. We’ve run into a couple of problems in the pregnancy.

  1. Rh incompatibility
    Basically, I am Rh negative (a recessive trait), and Martin is Rh positive (a dominant trait). This means that the chances are excellent that B is Rh+.

    Now, Rh- people can form antibodies to Rh+ blood, and develop severe immune reactions as a result. An Rh- mother with antibodies to Rh+ blood, bearing an Rh+ baby, can also reject the baby in utero, leading to miscarriage or extremely premature birth. A couple of generations ago, I would have been able to have one child at most; any others would die, possibly taking me with them.

    The trick is to keep the antibodies from forming in the first place. As long as B’s blood doesn’t mix with mine, we’re safe. Barring a car accident or some such, that won’t happen until delivery. So they have a blood product called Anti-D, which they inject after birth (and after any instance where blood could have mixed). They tell me it “soaks up” the Rh+ factor before my immune system can form antibodies to it. In addition, the midwife has been taking my blood every few weeks and testing it to make sure nothing’s happened thus far.

  2. The position of the baby
    The baby seems to be lying oblique breech, meaning that it has its head wedged under my ribs on the right and its bottom down on the lower left.

    This is not a suitable position for giving birth. We’ll be getting an utrasound on Friday to confirm the situation, but it’s looking like the only way B can come out is by Caesarian section.

    This is not a big issue as far as I am concerned. It doesn’t matter much to me how I give birth, as long as B and I both end up OK. But I can’t help thinking about how it would have been before C-sections were so common. Then, if we couldn’t get the baby turned, I would have died in childbirth.


Amazingly enough, this is a low-risk pregnancy. I am a big fan of modern medical science.

Dream Log

Pregnancy has brought any number of odd dreams. Last night’s was particularly vivid. I posted it on Everything2 as a dream log, and reproduce it here…

Last night, I dreamed that Norm Abram and Francis Ford Coppola were brothers, growing up together on a remote ranch somewhere in the US. I was watching a black and white film of their childhood, complete with a narrating voice-over.

First the setting: the high country desert, like where we used to go camping when I was a kid. On the valley floor, the sagebrush and Mormon tea create a knee-high haze. The film can’t convey the fragrance, but I know it well enough to imagine it as I watch: sharp, spicy, resinous, with a tang of dust underneath it all. In the distance, I can see the hills rise up, separating this valley from the next (and the next, and the next…somehow I know this landscape goes on and on in a classic basin and range pattern). The hills are dark grey in the film, either from piñon pines or darker stone. I can’t tell which; they’re too far away.

The valley floor isn’t perfectly flat – it undulates. There’s a road running straight away from the camera, visible only in segments, hidden on the downslopes facing away from us. It’s not the typical desert road, two tire tracks with stunted sagebrush between them; this one is a proper dirt road, graded and cleared of plants. Coming toward us, over the nearest rise, is the wreck of a Conestoga wagon. The desert has aged it, drying the wood and pitting it with decades of sandstorms. The hoops over the box body are rusted and bent, and only the last rags of greyed fabric cling to them.

One boy pulls the wagon by the yoke, and the other rides on the front of the box. They’re nine or ten years old, no more, and look so similar that it’s impossible to tell the elder from the younger, the filmmaker from the woodworker. Both are dressed in homespun clothes, rough-woven, rumpled. The textures are vivid and sharp in black and white. Despite the desert heat, neither has taken his shirt off, or seems to be sweating in the least.

“One day the boys found a wagon in the desert, and decided to go west like the pioneers. They travelled ten miles that day before walking back home. They left the wagon behind, just a little closer to the destination it was built for.”

I sit forward in my seat, trying to identify that voice…

The next scene in the film follows Francis Ford Coppola as he rides a large tricycle along the same road, away from the camera this time. He’s older, but the trike is scaled for an adult, and doesn’t seem juvenile at all. Norm Abram is not in view.

The tricycle has one flaw: the front wheel doesn’t rotate freely on its axis. As Francis Ford Coppola rides up the hill away from us, the wheel sticks once or twice, needing extra pedaling to keep it moving. The camera moves forward to follow the trike over the rise. Francis Ford Coppola clearly thinks the speed he’ll pick up on the downslope will free the wheel, make it move more smoothly.

It doesn’t. Halfway down, the wheel freezes up completely. The entire tricycle flips, throwing Francis Ford Coppola over the handlebars and face-first into the dirt. He lies there unmoving as the camera comes closer, past the still-spinning wheels of the upside-down tricycle. The boy’s head and shoulders fill the image, hair tousled and dusty, shirt disarranged, the entire form too terribly still.

“Their parents rushed him to the hospital. Since he was going to be famous when he grew up, they were anxious that he wasn’t too badly hurt. He spent days in the ward, with his mom and dad beside him every minute.”

Now I recognize the voice, with its flat Boston accent. Norm Abram has been narrating this documentary. The film is in color now, showing him in the New Yankee Workshop. But instead of wooden furniture, he’s working on a motorcycle. The camera zooms in on his hands, tightening a nut to hold some piece of flexible rubber over an engine part.

I woke up wondering if Norm Abram had used his mechanical skills to sabotage Francis Ford Coppola‘s tricycle when they were boys together, out of jealousy that Francis Ford Coppola would be so much more famous when they grew up.

a blog by Abi Sutherland