Friday, October 28, 2005

The First Hit Is Free, Then You Have to Pay

We flew across the country last week so that I could attend a conference and TrophyHusband could spend time with some college friends who have a five-month-old little girl. This trip posed a challenge: How to survive six hours in an airplane with HellBoy?

On the trip out, we made use of:
  • puppets
  • a beachball
  • soap bubbles
  • breasts
  • candy
  • dvds
  • singing
  • books
  • friendly stewardesses, and
  • many, many, many trips up and down the aisle
On the trip home, we made use of:
  • Benadryl
Yes, I drugged my baby. Despite my general belief in Better Living Through Chemistry, the idea of doping my child for my own convenience has seemed less than savory. But this time I realized that it was not for my convenience, it was for my sanity. And for my marriage. We don't tend to keep score in our relationship, but there's something about spending hours locked in an airplane with a maniac toddler that really gets a person watching the clock. OK, I've been making funny faces for 4.5 minutes. That means you have to chase him down the aisle for 7 minutes. Because it's harder to make funny faces, and you run faster anyway. So I bought the clever melt-in-your mouth children's Benadryl ("Children under 6: consult a doctor." Check!). He gobbled it up and asked for more. I felt like a pusher.

However, my guilt didn't last long. It would seem that HB has inherited a hardy liver from his mother. Because although he did settle in for a nap about 45 minutes after his dose, the nap didn't last much longer than his usual one, at which point he awoke, extra rested for his next assault. And then we entered some turbulence. The stewardess, who was either very rules-conscious or just sadistic, insisted that the seatbelt sign applied to HB as well, and he had to be strapped into his carseat.*

And then his DVD player, which apparently was not designed to survive being repeatedly hurled to the floor, broke.

How bad did it get? So bad that we actually had notes passed up the aisle with suggestions from other passengers on how to make him shut up. And I couldn't blame them. I actually hoped someone might have a good idea. But really, all he wanted was Out. Of. This. Frickin. Seat.

There was no evidence that the Benadryl had any lasting effect whatsoever. And when we got home he wouldn't go to sleep until 11:30. I guess next time we slip him some Xanax, or on second thought, take it ourselves and then offer it around the plane.

*This highlights the weird double standard about babies and airplanes. If they're under two, they can sit on your lap. Ah, they'll be fine, just hang on to 'em. We tend to get a seat for HB anyway, since we risk bodily injury if we try to control him within the confines of our two seats. But if we buy him a seat and bring his carseat, then they get all official on our asses. First they have to check if the seat is Approved, and then they make him sit in it. WTF?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

My Breasts, or, When Are You Going to Stop ... THAT?

I entered motherhood committed to the idea of breastfeeding, and fully prepared for how much it can, well, suck. I knew it would be difficult and painful -- never mind what some rabid BF advocates say, I'd seen enough women go into it with the best attitude and support possible reduced to cringing, weeping wrecks to know that it can be really, really hard.

And it was. First the (unfounded) terror that my milk would never come in and my baby would shrivel away -- or that I would weaken and give in to the evil, evil formula supplementation and prevent my milk from coming in.

Next the (well-founded) fear of the pain. I hoarded the Percocets prescribed after my "crotch c-section" and used them prior to evening nursing sessions, which for some reason were the most painful. (Yes, I exposed my baby to narcotics. Also to alcohol, caffeine, cow's milk, and cabbage. And he's fine. Well, crabby and tiny, but fine.) I remember TrophyHusband holding the baby until he got fussy, then suggesting timidly, maybe he was hungry? He can't be hungry! I just nursed him! Figure out a way to calm him down! Sometimes I felt like I was constantly being chased around the house by my husband, the squalling baby held out in front of him like the masthead of a ship.

Then came the WWF breast-wrestling matches -- it took weeks for my "let-down" to get coordinated, during which period of time each feeding session began with the baby latching on, then letting go and howling in frustration, latching on, howling, over and over and over ... I timed it, and the average length of time it took for him to start really nursing was 20 minutes. Average. Sometimes it was 40 minutes. Including middle of the night feedings. And each feeding lasted about 45 minutes, which meant I was nursing or trying to nurse approximately 26.5 hours per day.

Finally it all clicked, stopped hurting, went smoothly and efficiently.

It was right around this time that people started asking, "How long do you plan to keep doing ... THAT?"

Geez, people. I just finally got the hang of it! Was what I wanted to say. What I really said was something along the lines of, well, it's recommended for the first six to twelve months, yadda yadda. But really I had no clue. I sort of figured it would, as we say in medicine, declare itself. He'd wean himself, or he'd start biting, or I'd get sick of it.

None of which occurred. And once the early hurdles were over, the rest didn't really bother me. Breastfeeding in public was never even the slightest issue. I've never been shy when it comes to exposing body parts, and it certainly didn't bother me to haul out a boob for a crying baby. And I've never noticed anyone appear to be bothered by it. Once when I was sitting in a public park I realized that several people were staring at me, but then I looked behind me and realized that it was a cute cat pouncing on leaves that was drawing everyone's attention. It didn't even faze me to do it in front of TrophyHusband's 80-year-old grandfather. I figure, if it makes someone uncomfortable, they can look away, and if someone gets off on it, well, I'm glad to spread some happiness in the world. There was one episode at TH's work Christmas party where AngelBaby kept popping off to look around, causing me to spray milk onto adjacent guests, but mostly it was all good.

Well, I'm remembering now, pumping at work was occasionally a hassle. I have my own office with a door that locks and my mornings are flexible, so usually it was ok (though time-consuming and messy), but one night I had to stay late so I pumped an extra time, and suddenly I heard a key turn and the door flew open and there I was, breasts laid bare, the two trumpet-like pump flanges protruding from my chest and the machine going runk-runk-runk, facing the kid who cleans the offices at night. He still averts his eyes and won't return my greeting when I pass him in the hall.

Then AngelBaby turned one and I found myself wandering around in the world of Extended Breastfeeding. It appears that without realizing it, I have become an official member of the wacko-hippie-crunchy-holier than thou CULT. At least according to some of those who stopped breastfeeding earlier. And my mother. AB is small for his age, so it's not always obvious that I'm nursing a walking, talking child, but when he toddles over, climbs into my lap, straddles my legs, yanks up my shirt and bra yelling "NUR! NUR! NUR!" and displaying his mouthful of teeth, it can cause quite a stir.

So how long am I going to keep doing ... THAT?

I still have no clue. It's so easy, and so useful -- nothing fixes a pissy mood or a smashed finger faster, and when he's being HellBoy, my boobs are the only weapons I've really got. There's no up-side to giving that up.

So how bad would it be, really, to send breastmilk care packages to my son at college? I know FedEx can ship frozen stuff.

Monday, October 17, 2005

How I Became a Doctor

Mine was not the typical path to medical school. In my family, we weren't raised so much as allowed to grow up. What pressure there was, was to be creative. My mother was an artist who taught school to make ends (approximately) meet, and I always got more praise for my artistic endeavors than my good grades. (My father was a violinist who worked as a statistician to make ends meet, but he died in a motorcycle crash when I was five.) I didn't do more science classes than absolutely required. Instead I took English, French, German, creative writing, art, music ... and I decided to major in creative writing in college.

Yet all along I was fascinated by medical subjects. Really fascinated. Weirdly fascinated. I guess it started after I had a nervous breakdown at the age of fourteen following an ugly period involving a sadistic live-in boyfriend of my mother's. I developed major depression accompanied by panic attacks and anxiety, and the main focus of my anxiety was that I was dying of some dread disease. (I'm not sure why this made me so anxious, since I also wished that I would die.) It's a good thing the internet wasn't around yet, because I could have whipped myself into a nonstop frenzy looking at all the paranoid sites that exist today. What I did do was read every medical article I could find in every magazine and newspaper I could get my hands on. The nervous breakdown finally ran its course (for the time being) and the evil boyfriend left (for good), but my medical article addiction remained.

After college I got a nearly free ride to get an MFA in creative writing. It was there that I first began to realize that the creative life might not be the one for me. Because while I loved writing a really good story, I only managed to produce something I considered to be really good once or twice a year. The rest was crap. I also got fed up with the workshops. After a while I just didn't feel like commenting on yet another semi-autobiographical story of awakening. (I did make my best friend in my MFA program, and her approach to writing -- as hard work she could do for hours, days, weeks, months, years on end without much return -- made me realize that mine was dilettantish. She did ultimately become a published novelist, richly deserved.)

I went to work as an editor of technical writing, while trying to keep writing fiction on my time off. I really liked my job, but the part I most enjoyed about it was getting a project that I could dig into and know that I could finish. I began to realize that I have a hard time with delayed gratification when it comes to work. I like to know that I've done something useful every day. Creative writing is far from that kind of work. You can measure the number of words you write each day, but the chance of them being useful in some way is dauntingly tiny. Not that fiction isn't useful -- it has enlightened, encouraged, emboldened, and educated me in many ways over the years -- but I had no faith that most of what I produced would be of use. Partly because the chances of being published are slim, but also because as I said before, most of what I put out seemed like crap.

I joked from time to time that I had missed my true calling, because medicine is not a particulary good hobby. But I never seriously considered going to medical school. It seemed absurd. It was absurd. To do it, I'd have to figure out a way to do all the premed requirements; then take the MCATs; then apply to med school; then if I got in, spend four years in med school followed by at least three years of residency and then possibly fellowship. I was terrified of the idea of spending the next ten years of my life on something so grueling. I'd never been someone who could skimp on sleep; how on earth could I survive being on call? And wasn't I too old?

When I was 27, some messy painful stuff happened having to do with a man, and I found myself feeling depressed again. One day I started wondering, How did I get here? This is not my beautiful life. So I asked myself, All right, where is my beautiful life? And I thought, I wish I'd gone to medical school. What about all the objections above? Well, I thought, so it's ten years, but it's not ten years of prison. It's ten years of living, just doing something different and harder. And if I wait any longer, I'll just be older. Around the same time I inherited some money -- not a ton, but enough to let me quit my job and take premed classes for a year. Which I did.

It was pretty terrifying at first. I didn't do a prepackaged postbac year -- too expensive; I went to a state school as a special student and waitlisted myself on all the premed courses I needed. My schedule was like a complicated jigsaw puzzle. And I was rusty. I got a 39 on my first physics quiz, which made me hyperventilate. But taking all the premed courses together was actually very efficient; once I figured out how to study for one, the methods applied to all of them. And I did figure it out. Eventually I totally kicked ass on every subject.

When I interviewed at medical schools, I was worried that they'd be puzzled by me and the path I'd taken to get there. As it turned out, they loved me -- they were bored of seeing the cookie-cutter 21-year-old premeds who had never gotten a chance to do anything interesting in their lives because their parents had pushed them into medicine. And when I started med school I found that I had a real advantage over those kids. I'd already spent a summer bumming around Europe -- three summers, in fact. I'd already had my fill of waiting tables and writing fiction and hanging out and generally living the slacker life. It didn't bother me to buckle down; for me it was a refreshing change. Especially refreshing was learning something real rather than pondering the abstract.

There were some drawbacks, of course. First was the money. When I had to sign the documents to borrow the first $25,000 for the first semester, I cried. Second was the time commitment. It was indeed hard, and it left me with little time to develop the rest of my life. For instance, I didn't deal with getting rid of the boyfriend with the messy painful issues for several years, during which time my biological clock started winding down. Third was the way it transformed me. In many good ways to be sure, but I did lose some of the things I liked about myself. I'd always had a phenomenal memory, but now I no longer could remember many details of my life. I actually forgot entire events ever took place. And I was no longer as able to be supportive of other people.

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely -- it really is my beautiful life much of the time. I am so suited to being a doctor. I've always been curious about the inner workings of other people -- both physical and mental -- and medicine gives me license to actually poke around and take a look. And I found TrophyHusband during residency, which was such a stroke of good luck I could hardly believe it -- I'd pretty much resigned myself to being single, since I'd rather be single than be with someone just to get married, and I was a terrible judge of who might be right for me.

I do regret that I didn't do it slightly sooner. I urge others who are considering med school to put it off a little while, because I think being older and having more life experience was tremendously helpful, but seven years was a bit longer than I needed.

People often ask if I still write fiction. I don't. I keep waiting to see if I'll ever feel the need to express myself in that way, and so far I haven't. But clearly I feel a need to express myself in some way, because here I am.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Oh Boy, Here We Go: The CIO Missionary

My sister-in-law has a son who is six months younger than HellBoy. He's also already two pounds heavier (we get his hand-me-downs). He's a fat, blond, happy happy happy baby. Put the two of them next to each other, and HB looks like a worried gnome.

Until now, our styles of baby raising had been fairly similar -- breastfeeding, some cosleeping, lots of carrying around. But the two babies' temperaments are very different -- I've never actually seen PerfectCousin cry, while on bad days HB uses screaming as his main means of communication.

But my SIL hasn't been getting much sleep, and last week she tried letting PC cry it out. As it often does, it worked within two days, and now he doesn't wake them up at night. I'm truly happy for them; I'm glad she is no longer so sleep-deprived.

But now SIL is proselytizing for the CIO method. She's calling us up every other day insisting that we have to do it too. "I just want you to get sleep too!" she says. I've told her that in fact I feel quite rested most days, and that the main person in our house who needs to have improved sleep habits is me -- I've always tended to wake up in the middle of the night and wander the house waiting to feel sleepy again. (Despite having been a CIO baby myself.)

I've never told anyone they shouldn't use CIO, and I don't think I project an aura of disapproval, either. I don't think it's evil. I just don't want to do it with HB. So why does everyone want to convert me? I'm starting to know how smokers feel.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Talk

TrophyHusband and I had The Talk the other night. The Talk about whether we want another child, and if so, where to get one.

We agree that yes, another child is theoretically something we both want. So far so good.

The problem is where to get this child. Options include:
  1. Go back to the ART clinic and see if another few go-rounds with IVF yield anything.
    Pros: Might get another bio kid, resulting in a matched set; no arduous adoption process.
    Cons: Much less likely to work now than last time given my age; the time, energy, and cost; pregnancy; birth; the cold sweat and palpitations I get remembering the needles, the probes, the walking around throbbing with rage at anything and everything when my estradiol level goes above 1000.

  2. Donor eggs.
    Pros: TrophyHusband's mensch-y genes; no arduous adoption process; get a baby from birth.
    Cons: End up with a hard-to-explain half-matched set of kids; cost; pregnancy; birth.

  3. Adoption.
    Pros: Could choose the sex; no pregnancy; no birth.
    Cons: The whole arduous process; cost; not having the baby from birth; and, where to adopt from? The open-adoption circuit is out -- I watched my sister go through that and I know I couldn't take the uncertainty. So that leaves non-white babies. TH's stepfather is African-American, which makes this question even more delicate in our family. I'm not sure I'd be able to watch one of my children be discriminated against. But would we seem racist if we chose to adopt internationally?
Ever since the topic came up I haven't slept; I just lie awake watching these questions dart around my head like crazed weasels.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I'm Hiding Out Over Here

Holy cow are things heating up over at the Leery Polyp. I didn't comment, partly because there are too many words there already, but partly because it doesn't seem like a discussion that includes people like me. I haven't read all of the comments (I don't have time for a third full-time job), but from what I saw, the discussants fell into two camps: the I Gave Birth Through My Vagina Without Drugs and I Am Proud camp, and the I Couldn't Give Birth Through My Vagina and I Am Hurt that You Are Proud camp.

Where's my camp? The I Gave Birth Through My Vagina With Drugs and Had a Terrible Tear and Still Am in Pain and Wish I'd Had the Damn C-Section but Really Don't Mind if You're Proud camp?

From the research I've done, in the days before modern medicine when women gave birth at home without drugs, very few women died. But a lot of babies did, or were damaged. Birth plans are really for the mother, not the baby. Yes, babies born by uncomplicated vaginal births with minimal drugs do very slightly "better" at the beginning, but this effect is small and transient. And babies born by complicated vaginal births do much worse than those born by c-section, and these effects can be large and permanent. And it's very hard to predict which way things will go. (I've always been intrigued by the stories of girls who give birth in secret and then go back to the prom -- how do they have such an easy time of it? But one of my best friends is an OB, and she's seen several such mothers after the births. She said usually the perineum is a wreck after these deliveries, and extremely hard to repair.)

Women who sense that OBs are resistant to their birth plans are usually correct. But this is because if the result of a delivery is not a healthy baby, the OB is the one who will be blamed/sued/devastated. Hardly any of my students want to go into OB now; it's not worth it.

But I'm way too chickenshit to post this over at Jo's.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Center Cannot Hold

So despite the stealth ibuprofen, AngelBaby did get a fever, and was banished from daycare. His illness has a domino effect:
  • Our dinner with the people from New Orleans had to be postponed
  • TrophyHusband has to stay home with AB, and had to cancel his Thursday 6am deal
  • I have a plausible excuse for skipping the leadership class
Note that these are all actually good things. Too bad AB has to suffer for them. He'll have a good time with his dad at home, though. I, on the other hand, am up in the middle of the night again, this time with a scratchy throat and gritty eyes, cursing that little fomite. I'll take something and eat some ice cream, and I hope to fall back asleep soon ...