Thursday, January 25, 2007

OB woes

I am starting to understand why someone would opt for an unassisted homebirth.

Two nights ago, I sat in my living room with a heating pad tied around my head. I turned it on high, draped it over my head, and then used a long tiki-print scarf to tie it in place. I sat like that for over two hours, while the pain in my head subsided a little, until I could finish my homework without having to stop and massage my skull every thirty seconds to dull the throbbing.

I'm sure I looked entirely stupid - in spite of (or perhaps because of) the small bow I'd tied in the scarf. I probably gave myself some sort of brain tumor, or my child will be born with two heads now. At this point, I don't really care, because when the baby is born I expect the headaches to cease immediately. At least the ones caused by pregnancy.

They started when I was less than a week pregnant, if you do the math. Blinding, pounding pain, usually in the front or top of my head. If the headache went on for long enough, eventually I'd get nauseous and sometimes sparkling flashes of light would dance at the edges of my vision. I tried chugging water, I tried peppermint tea, I tried laying in a dark, quiet room. I tried having a caffeinated beverage or two, I tried hot washcloths and hot showers. The only thing that helped even a little was VERY hot steam - I'd hold my head over a hot of boiling water with a towel over my head and inhale, my nasal passages searing and my face turning lobster-red. It usually provided enough relief for me to fall asleep and hope it would be gone in the morning.

When I started regular visits with my OB, I told him about the headaches. He said there was nothing to be done for it. Drink lots of water, take only regular-strength Tylenol for the pain. I just had to put up with it. I followed his advice, I drank lots of water. The two times I cracked and broke my oath to keep this pregnancy as chemical-free as possible, I immediately puked my guts out. Not so much with the Tylenol, then. Meanwhile, the headaches increased in frequency and duration, the average number climing to two or three per week. Sometimes they lasted for days. I told my doctor at every visit and asked over and over if there was something he could do, something I could take, anything. I got the same response every time: drink lots of water, take Tylenol.

I got the same response from him when I told him about my insomnia, another symptom that started after less than a week of pregnancy. I can't sleep. I can't fall asleep, I can't stay asleep. I have rarely slept more than four hours at a stretch since mid-August. I have asked about it at every visit, and again got "nope, nothing can be done." I specifically asked if there's anything I can take, because although I wanted to stay chemical-free, exhaustion is not healthy for me or the baby. A friend's midwife gave her Ambien during her pregnancy, and both she and the baby were fine. But he blew me off. One time he said "maybe try walking more during the day," but that's all I got. Not even "try yoga" or a handout with stretches and relaxation exercises or anything.

My husband has tried to step in and press the issue, and been similarly blown off. My best friend has advised me to get bitchy with the doctor, to just say "Look. I know I can have Ambien, it's perfectly safe, so just write me a damn scrip already." But I don't feel comfortable doing that. Truth is, I don't feel comfortable with my doctor at all. We barely speak at my visits, which are usually very short (less than seven minutes). The two times he's done ultrasounds, they were also pretty short - "okay, there it is, everything's fine, okay bye." If we hadn't pinned him down and asked him a bunch of questions at the first visit, we never would've known about the internal monitoring issue, or anything else about his regular practices.

I wanted to switch right away after that first visit, because neither I nor my husband was cool with the internal monitoring thing. I was bothered that the history they took was only about three questions long, with nothing about my own birth. But I thought I'd give it a few more visits with this guy, because when my primary care office referred me, the girl on the phone said he was well-liked, and he seemed personable enough. Switching meant picking another random name off the insurance company's list, so what if I wound up with somebody worse? I didn't want to be hasty. I figured I'd give it another visit or two and see how it went. If we liked everything else with this doc and I developed a rapport with him, we could deal with the internal monitoring thing one way or another.

But things have gotten worse, not better. I feel less confident in this doctor now than I did after that first visit. My mom told me that she also had headaches when she was pregnant with me, and was also blown off by her doctors. It's nothing, they told her. It happens. Then, whoops, sorry, ma'am, you have preeclampsia, we're going to to do an emergency c-section 10 weeks early. And that's how I was born. This means that my risk of developing preeclampsia is much higher than normal - four times higher, according to some studies. It's also my first pregnancy, which is when most cases appear. But my doctor has no idea my risk is higher, because he's never asked. And I never get a chance to volunteer the information - our visits are so short and I don't feel comfortable bringing it up. I don't feel comfortable bringing anything up, in fact. At the last visit I didn't even bother telling him the headaches were worse. My husband did tell him, and pointedly asked if there was anything that could be done about that or the insomnia. And again got blown off, the same "there's nothing to be done for it" as the doctor was on his way out the door.

I just feel so helpless and angry. I don't want this man delivering my baby. I want to switch to a midwife, but our insurance doesn't cover either the traveling midwives or the nice birth center nearby and there are no others in the area.

I called another OB to try and switch, except this time I was going to to do like the books advise, and interview them first. I called a clinic with three doctors listed, two of whom were female. I wanted a woman this time, to see if that would make me feel more comfortable. I was going to do things right and do my homework before I came in as a patient. I was going to be prepared.

Except those doctors don't do that, apparently. I called and asked if I could come in and talk to the doctors before making an appointment, but was told that I need to drop off the records from my current doctor for their doctor to review, and then he will decide if he wants to take me as a patient. The girl who answered the phone kept saying "he," and I gathered that it was the male doctor I'd be seeing if I'd even be accepted as a patient. One of the female doctors, although listed with this clinic's name and phone number, doesn't work there, she only works at their office in another city. The girl also seemed incredulous that a) I wanted to switch doctors at 22 weeks along, b) I wanted to switch just because I was unhappy with the care I'm currently getting, and c) I'd called up wanting to talk to the doctor at all.

So, basically, I'm screwed.

The message board I hang out on has members in other countries. The women on there who live in places with universal healthcare make it seem so effortless - they just ring up whoever they want and make an appointment. If they want a homebirth with a water tub and a crunchy-granola midwife, they get it. If they want the most sterile hospital environment possible, they can have it. Meanwhile I am stuck with no way to get what I want, no control over how this is going to go. My hopes for a nice, friendly midwife-attended birth are just silly fantasies. It's enough to make a person go buy obstetrics textbooks and take a crash-course in baby delivering.

Friday, January 12, 2007

On (not) Getting Ready For Baby

We have done nothing to get ready for the baby. Partly because I figure we’ve got plenty of time (more than 4 months to go), partly because I don’t know where we’ll be after it arrives (a possible job change could have us moving across the country within 6 weeks of my due date), and partly because I’m not entirely sure what “getting ready” would entail. The women on the message board are busy picking out baby furniture and painting nurseries, something which is not likely to happen in our house any time soon. It’s an apartment, so we can’t paint anyway, and our spare bedroom is chockablock full of crap like guitars, bookcases, a futon, half-completed craft projects, boxes that never got unpacked from the last move, and anything else we don’t know what to do with. Not only that, but I don’t even have $2,000 of matching furniture and $500 bedding in MY room, why would I do it for someone who’s not even born yet and won’t care about any of it after they are?

I suppose I could buy something other than the one or two clearance-priced outfits we’ve picked up so far, but all my friends and relatives are telling me that we’ll be buried under an avalanche of baby stuff that has been bought, loaned, given, and otherwise transported to our house by well-wishers. There are two fanged, drooling grandmothers waiting in the wings, and we’ve speculated that this could turn into the episode of Mad About You where both grandmothers buy a crib and then get into a fistfight about whose crib should be used.

I do need to sign up for some classes, but I’m not really sure what ones to take. I already know how to take care of a baby; taking care of siblings, babysitting, nannying, and other interaction with kids is something I’ve had plenty of. Max has not has as much, but really how hard is it? You change the diaper, you feed it (although I’ll probably be doing most of it, since my husband doesn’t have the right equipment for breastfeeding), you hold it for a while, it sleeps. When it gets older, don’t let it stick its fingers in electrical sockets, eat small sharp objects, or play in traffic. I already have a pretty good idea what to expect during childbirth, and we have some books for pain-management techniques. I’m not sure we need a bunch of six-to-twelve-week classes to tell us stuff we already know. I suppose I should schedule a hospital tour, so we can make sure the place we have to go to have our baby isn’t the set from Hostel or something.

I think we’re pretty well-prepared mentally, too. I mean, not 100% and all, but we realize that this will be a tiny human being whose every need we’ll have to see to for quite a while. We realize that it will be a person, with its own ideas and will. We realize that there will be fun stuff sometimes, and not-so-fun-stuff other times, and then it’ll be a teenager who slams doors and screams “I hate you!” even though we tried really hard to be sensitive, understanding parents without creating a total brat in the process. I just hope we do a good job.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Pregnant Island

One thing I was totally unprepared for about being pregnant was how lonely it would feel. We moved from the Midwest to Southern California almost a year and a half ago, and I haven't made any friends at all. I had a gig for a bit as a nanny, and while I at least got to interact with another person during the day, she was only four months old, so our conversations were somewhat limited. Other than that, all my work has been done at home. I have a few acquaintances, people I know through my husband's job and chat with if I see them around town, but there is not a single person here I can call up and ask out for coffee. I have searched the Internet and the posted notices at coffeehouses to try and find groups I might join, but have had no luck. Having a baby on the way only limits my options further; it's not like I can open up our apartment for an all night booze-fest with the clean-faced Freshmen in my Sociology class. Nor would I want to if I could, I'm just not at the all-night booze-fest stage of my life anymore. It would just be nice to talk to another human being once in a while, that's all.

Even the human beings I do talk to, though phone calls back to friends and family, leave me feeling like I'm marooned on my own little island. My mom and sister have been polite and concerned when asking about my symptoms, and my mom laughs when I ranted about how tired I was of throwing up, but I often feel like they're checking my growth as an experiment-in-progress, with most of their focus on the end result. My childless friends, aside from some curiosity, don't want to hear me talk nonstop about my pregnancy (nor do I blame them for that). My few friends with kids either offer up their own tales of gestational woe or sit back with a smug "Yep, you'll have that" when I talk about some new symptom or sign. I get a lot of "well, you could have it a lot worse, my cousin's friend's sister puked for her entire pregnancy and lost 50 pounds and could only eat wildflowers from the slopes of the Andes..." I also pick up from one or two friends in particular a vibe of superiority, as though since they've had a kid or two they are now the ultimate expert on pregnancy and birth, and I should be grateful for their sage wisdom.

My friends with kids are pretty out of sync with our lofty first-time parenting ideals as well. I have a friend who absolutely can't fathom our plans to cloth diaper; I get the impression that she thinks we'll be doing some sort of irreparable harm to our baby by not buying bulk packages of Pampers and running with it. None of our childed friends can understand our dislike of ruffles and pastels and ducks and bunnies (and this is a lost cause as far as most of our family members - especially the grandmothers-to-be - are concerned. They just don't understand why we don't want everything in sight covered with baby animals and big, squishy-looking letters and huge bows) or our attempts to keep the "baby-looking" baby crap to a minimum. Limiting TV time? Fuhgeddaboutit. Many of my friends' kids knew what Elmo's favorite food was and all the words to the Spongebob Squarepants theme song before they took their first steps. I'm trying not to be critical of their choices, since I realize that in a year or two we could be viewing Elmo as our Lord and Savior and popping in that DVD at every opportunity. It would be nice, though, if even my best friend didn't make me feel like I was from Jupiter when I mention I don't want an epidural and I don't like baby toys with flashing lights and loud noises.

The Internet has been no saving grace, either. The message board I joined expecting to find camraderie and support has not quite panned out. The women there are busy talking about how they're decorating their nurseries and what they're all registering for and going on about the fabulous birthing centers inside their hospitals and how great their midwives are. I read it all but don't respond much, since I am sitting here not planning to do a room for the baby at all, with no plans to purchase furniture or register at The Den of Satan (otherwise known as Babies R Us) and an obstetrician I don't even feel very comfortable talking to. It sort of makes me depressed, because I look around my own situation and it's so very far from how I wanted all this to go.

It all makes me feel very alone, like I'm on some tiny desert island in the middle of a vast ocean. My husband Max is wonderful, he's been very excited and supportive and pays as much attention to me as he can, but it's not the same as having a trusted circle of friends to talk to. I just wish I could talk to somebody who was on the same page as me, somebody who likes modern baby things and is a bit unsure about this whole parenting gig. Somebody who isn't getting the ideal set of options but has figured out how to make the most of it. Somebody who isn't going to make me feel hopelessly uncool for not being a hipster or sit in smug judgement when I say I'm tired of throwing up and feeling exhausted. But I don't have that, and I can't figure out how to get it, short of cloning myself.