Archive for Pregnancy & Childbirth

12 Great Gifts for New Moms

Check out my latest Boston Mamas post, “12 Great Gifts for New Moms.”

These days it seems that baby announcements from friends roll in about one per week and I spend my weekends cuddling squishy newborn after squishy newborn (no complaints here!). I’ve realized that often we focus on gifts for the new baby and sometimes forget the person who has been through the most — the new mama! In today’s Boston Mamas post, I share some of my favorite gift ideas for new moms…

Read the rest of the article on Boston Mamas: 12 Great Gifts for New Moms.

 

Post-weaning Blues

Several months ago, I stopped nursing baby C for a number of reasons but primarily because it was growing increasingly difficult and stressful to try to fit my pumping schedule into my full-time work schedule. I was able to breastfeed C through his first 10 months of life and it’s honestly one of my proudest accomplishments thus far, but the weaning process brought with it some unexpectedly dark days.

For months, I had been eagerly anticipating all of the wonderful things that could happen once I finally stopped breastfeeding: No longer having to drag myself out of bed at 2:00 AM to pump, the freedom of being able to eat meals without referring to the food guide pyramid taped to my fridge, finally being able to indulge in a glass of Riesling at dinner, and of course, reuniting with my beloved Keurig and enjoying guilt-free sips of Wolfgang Puck’s Hawaiian Hazelnut coffee each and every morning. Woo hoo! I simply could.not.wait!

I was totally unprepared for the adverse effect that weaning would have on my emotional well-being which I attribute to my temporary hormonal imbalance. Although I don’t believe that I actually suffered from full-blown Postpartum Depression (PPD), almost a year after my child was born, I experienced many of the symptoms of late onset PPD, including a sudden sense of emptiness, chronic low-level anxiety that I had never felt before, and persistent feelings of guilt and regret. I became very critical of decisions that I had made in the past (things that I now see as inconsequential) and worried that they might have detrimental effects on my son’s future. In general, I grew intensely worried about the baby. I am an overprotective mama by nature so this just brought me to an extreme. I felt like I had to protect him from every little person, place, or thing that we encountered.

Many of the medical professionals that you see right after childbirth, from your OB to your child’s pediatrician, inquire in one way or another about whether you are experiencing any symptoms of PPD. All eyes seem to be on you watching like a hawk for any possible signs. But after several months postpartum, assuming you show no signs of distress, everyone seems to stop asking about it.

In general, there seems to be very little awareness about late onset PPD and very little information available to the parenting community about the possibility of developing it after weaning. I chat with some of my most experienced mommy friends on a daily basis and have never heard any of them talk about this going through this before. I read about 8 pregnancy books when I was expecting (yes, I tend to overdo it) and don’t recall reading about this once. Surprisingly, even a Google search doesn’t yield much information from reliable sources on the topic.

For me, just being able to identify and have a label for what was going on in my body/brain was enormously helpful. I talked about how I was feeling with my hubby so that he could lend extra support and I felt comfortable confiding in my very best friend who I knew would never pass judgment. I made a concerted effort to try to occupy my mind with exciting short-term projects such as planning C’s birthday party and work-related events. After a few months, my hormones seemed to have leveled themselves out and thankfully things have gone back to normal.  

In writing about this, I’m not hoping to gain sympathy, attention, or anything of the sort. I’m just hoping that perhaps someday this post might be informative or helpful to another new mama going through a similar experience.

Has anyone else dealt with symptoms of late onset postpartum depression after weaning?

9 Things I Wish I Knew Before My C-Section

I learned yesterday that one of my fave CILs (cousin-in-laws) is scheduled to deliver her first child via c-section in two weeks. Immediately, I wanted to compile a list of things to tell her beforehand so that she would be better prepared than I was. These are some of the things I wish someone had told me before my own c-section:

1)       Arm restraints. They might strap your arms down for the surgery. This freaked me out a little, but I think I would have been fine with it if I had known beforehand that it was going to happen. Just know that this is a possibility, although I hear they don’t always do this.

2)       “The Shakes”. You might get “the shakes” during surgery. I couldn’t control my upper body when I was lying on the O.R. table, and I was really worried the entire time that I was going to jerk my body and seriously mess something up as they were “working on me”. My anesthesiologist told me that this was a normal reaction to the anesthesia and not to worry.

3)       Nausea. You might feel nauseous at some point during the c-section. I felt okay until the moment they took the baby out, and then nausea hit me hard. I told the anesthesiologist and he gave me an anti-nausea medication that provided almost immediate relief. 

4)       Cough pillow. If you have to cough or sneeze post-surgery, hold a pillow firmly across your incision with both hands while you cough or sneeze (to add counter pressure). My hospital provided a special “cough pillow” for me, but I’m not sure if all do. If you are not near a pillow when you feel a cough or sneeze coming on, use your hands to gently hold your tummy near the incision.

5)       High-waisted bottoms. When you pack for the hospital, be sure to bring PJ bottoms or sweats that are loose-fitting and high-waisted. You want to make sure that the waistband will not hit you at the bikini line (like many low-rise styles do). Bring something that you can hike up well over your hips and can be worn granny-style. An alternative is packing a nightgown, if that’s your style.

6)       Don’t try to be a hero. Don’t forget that you will have just gone through major abdominal surgery and you probably shouldn’t try to be a hero by forgoing the pain meds. The hospital I went to allowed us to self-administer our pain medication so I tried to take the least amount possible because I was concerned about how it would affect the baby through my breast milk (even though they told us it was safe, I still didn’t feel comfortable). I later learned from one of the nurses that it’s important to stay on top of your pain meds because once you get behind, it takes longer to get relief when you begin taking your meds again. I learned this the hard way.

7)       Post-surgery shower. I was really squeamish about taking that first post-surgery shower. Prior to my c-section, I had never even had an IV before so I didn’t know what to expect and I was worried that the soapy water touching my new wound would sting like a mutha. Rest assured that it doesn’t hurt or sting. They cut a lot of nerve endings when they do the c-section so the area will be somewhat numb for quite some time.  Be careful not to scrub the incision area. Just let warm water run over it and pat dry with a towel.

8)       Soap on a Rope. Buy some soap on a rope, my friend! This might be my most important piece of advice. Trust me, as hard as you try not to, you WILL drop that bar of soap in the shower, and you will NOT be able to easily bend over and pick it up.

9)       Don’t Overdo it. After about 4 weeks you may feel like you’re back to your old self again, but don’t overdo it. Baby yourself for a little while longer and let others pamper you. Otherwise you will be very sore around your incision site at night. Trust me. I also learned this the hard way.

So those are the 9 things I wish someone had told me before my c-section. You might be wondering why I didn’t just make this list “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before My C-Section,” but I only had nine things to say and I think it’d be super annoying to add another point just to round out my list.

To all my c-section sistas out there, what have I missed? Is there anything else you wish you knew before you had your c-section?  

Disclaimer: I am not a medical expert (obviously). This is merely a personal account of my c-section experience.

Why I’m Hoping for a Girl Next Time

When I was pregnant, I secretly hoped for a boy. It was partly because my husband was very vocal about the fact that he wanted a Mini-Me and I wanted him to be happy and I was also probably influenced by Chinese culture’s strong preference for baby boys.

At our 18 week ultrasound, I was thrilled when we found out that we were having a boy. At each subsequent ultrasound up through our last one at week 39, I asked the techs to confirm that it was a boy because I just couldn’t believe that something I had wanted so badly had actually come true.

But for my next child I’m hoping—praying– for a girl.

Don’t get me wrong. We love everything about having a baby boy. My husband enjoys rough-and-tumble play with his boy and loves that he will not have to worry about all those things that Dads of teenage girls worry about. I love traditionally boyish nursery themes, picking out outfits in all shades of blue (my favorite color), and above all else, the special bond that develops between a mother and son.

But I really grappled with the decision to circumcise my son and just could not bear having to make the decision to circumcise another child. We had no religious reasons for having him circumcised, and culturally, we were torn. Circumcision seems to be the norm in the US, but my family is from an area where circumcision is fairly uncommon. And the thought that I would be knowingly inflicting pain on my helpless baby was beyond excruciating. 

I started to feel like I was the only person who was struggling with this decision. Of all the couples expecting a boy in our childbirth class, we were the only ones who were uncertain. All of the others seemed to think it was a no-brainer. Of course they were going to do it.

My husband felt strongly that his son should be circumcised, but we both knew that it was primarily my decision and this was not a decision that I took lightly. I read paper after paper on the issue, sought the advice of trusted medical professionals, and surveyed my mama friends, trying to gain some perspective and guidance. Still, I remained undecided for a long time and endured several sleepless nights.

A comment that I heard often during this information gathering process was that my son would not remember the pain afterwards. That was not a comfort to me. Regardless of whether he would remember it, knowing that I would be inflicting pain on my child at any point in time was something I was really not comfortable with.

I read about the group in San Francisco seeking to ban circumcision, which they believe is a form of genital mutilation. Their hope is that circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18 and that the practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail.

I also read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Circumcision Policy Statement published in 1999, hoping it would help me make my decision. No such luck, even after three reads. The AAP acknowledges that while there are potential medical benefits to circumcision, the data are insufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.

For those of you also struggling with this decision, the following are excerpts from the paper that I found most useful:

  • According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 64.1% of male infants were circumcised in the United States during 1995. 
  • Penile problems may develop in both circumcised and uncircumcised males. In one study, circumcised infant boys had a significantly higher risk of penile problems than did uncircumcised boys, whereas, after infancy, the rate of penile problems was significantly higher in older uncircumcised boys. 
  • There are anecdotal reports that penile sensation and sexual satisfaction are decreased for circumcised males. 
  • Should circumcision become necessary after the newborn period because problems have developed, general anesthesia is often used and requires a more formal surgical procedure necessitating hemostasis and suturing of skin edges. 
  • There is considerable evidence that newborns who are circumcised without analgesia experience pain and physiologic stress. Analgesia is safe and effective in reducing the procedural pain associated with circumcision and, therefore, adequate analgesia should be provided if neonatal circumcision is performed. 
  • All studies that have examined the association between UTI and circumcision status show an increased risk of UTI in uncircumcised males, with the greatest risk in infants younger than 1 year of age. Initial retrospective studies suggested that uncircumcised male infants were 10 to 20 times more likely to develop UTI than were circumcised male infants. 
  • Reports of several case series have noted a strong association between uncircumcised status and increased risk for penile cancer; however, there have been few rigorous hypothesis-testing investigations. Although the risk of developing penile cancer in an uncircumcised man compared with a circumcised man is increased more than threefold, it is difficult to estimate accurately the magnitude of this risk based on existing studies. 
  • Studies suggest that circumcised males may be less at risk for syphilis than are uncircumcised males. In addition, there is a substantial body of evidence that links noncircumcision in men with risk for HIV infection… There does appear to be a plausible biologic explanation for this association in that the mucous surface of the uncircumcised penis allows for viral attachment to lymphoid cells at or near the surface of the mucous membrane, as well as an increased likelihood of minor abrasions resulting in increased HIV access to target tissues.

 A 2010 review article in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine seems to make the case for neonatal circumcision. The article states that since 2005, three randomized trials have evaluated male circumcision for prevention of sexually transmitted infections. The trials found that circumcision decreases HIV acquisition by 53% to 60%, herpes simplex virus type 2 acquisition by 28% to 34%, and HPV prevalence by 32% to 35% in men. Genital ulcer disease was also reduced. This review urges the AAP to fully reflect the long-term health benefits of male circumcision.  

After taking all of this into account, I was persuaded by research which suggests that there are potential medical benefits to circumcision, particularly with regard to preventing STIs.  I suspected that if I didn’t choose to circumcise my son at birth, he may wish to be circumcised later in life, which would require a much more involved, painful surgical procedure and a difficult healing process.  I had read absolutely horrifying stories of parents who circumcised their children after the newborn period and knew that I would not want my child to experience even worse pain later in life. And I worried that if we didn’t have him circumcised, my adolescent son might be ridiculed or develop body image issues for a decision that I had made.

I eventually recognized that I actually wanted my child to be circumcised; I just didn’t want him to have to endure the painful process of being circumcised. And I realized it was not my decision alone to make. I had to take into account my husband’s strong feelings on the matter.

In the end, Baby C was circumcised.

I cried – actually, I bawled — when they rolled baby C’s bassinet away for the circumcision. It was HEARTWRENCHING, probably the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced knowing that I was allowing my child to be taken away for a painful procedure.  I felt like someone had ripped out my heart and ran it through a meat grinder. Honestly, I would have preferred that. It still pains me now to think back on it.

While I am relieved that my son is circumcised, I’m not sure that I have it in me to make this decision a second time. But could I really have one son circumcised and not his brother?

Disclaimer: I am not a medical expert. This is merely a personal account of our family’s circumcision decision.

Featured on BlogHer!


I’m thrilled and flattered that BlogHer featured my post on C-Section Remorse in the BlogHer Moms section today!  

Reaching 34 million women each month, BlogHer is the leading cross-platform social media network created by, for and with women social media leaders.

If you have a free moment, please check out the article on BlogHer C-Section Remorse: “I Was Robbed of My Birth Experience” and show some comment love!

Talking Thirty featured on BlogHer
Source: BlogHer

Thank you BlogHer Moms!

 

Silent Suffering


At a recent girls’ brunch, a friend I’ve known for years, shared unexpectedly, in a very emotional moment, that she had experienced a miscarriage earlier in the year. She explained that although she had wanted to tell us girls about it, she was hesitant since miscarriage is still such a taboo subject in our society. She tried to pretend that everything was fine, suffering in silence through others’ baby announcements, but in the end, her still very raw emotions took over.

Most women keep their pregnancies a secret until safely past the first trimester, the riskiest period. This means that if they suffer a miscarriage, they are forced to grieve alone and in silence. There is so much unnecessary shame surrounding miscarriages and there seems to be an unspoken understanding that we’re just not supposed to talk about it, even if it would help to do so. That doesn’t make sense to me.

While I’m obviously sad about my friend’s loss, I am perhaps even more sad that at the time of her miscarriage, when she needed us the most, she couldn’t talk about her loss and receive support from her friends. She shouldn’t have had to pretend in front of people who care about her that she was not suffering. Although I understand her hesitation over sharing this information, I feel terrible as I imagine that the isolation only exacerbated her pain.

Approximately one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. This means that there must be millions of women out there who have mourned the loss of a child. I once heard from a woman who had a miscarriage that she thought that she didn’t know anyone else who had a miscarriage, but once she began to tell people about her loss, others came out of nowhere to say that they’d been there, too.

These past few weeks have made me realize that I likely have other girlfriends who have silently suffered a loss. And chances are, you do, too.

I’ve been mentally rewinding conversations I’ve had with my girlfriends lately and second-guessing all the things we talked about that could potentially be upsetting to someone who has miscarried. As a new mama in my thirties, with so many girlfriends who are expecting and so many of us starting families, it can be easy to get caught up in excessive baby talk. When I hear that someone is expecting, I want to talk all about baby products, wacky body changes, cravings and aversions. When someone has just had a baby, I just want to talk birth stories, maternity leaves, developmental milestones. There’s just so much to talk about and at this stage in my life, I find it all really exciting and interesting. But moving forward, I need to remind myself to curb the constant baby chatter and be extra sensitive about the possibility that I may be in the presence of others who are silently grieving.

Regaining Pregnancy Weight: The Unthinkable Phenomenon


For the first two trimesters of my pregnancy, I was really careful about diet and exercise and was right on track to gaining somewhere around the recommended 25 lbs. But the third trimester was a doozy and before I knew it, I had gained a whopping 40 lbs. seemingly overnight! I think much of it was water retention as I sported Miss Piggy feet and some pretty sweet Kielbasa fingers for the last few weeks, but it was still pretty discouraging.

Thanks to breastfeeding and a baby who had to be walked to sleep for what felt like hours each night, I lost every single one of those 40 pounds within the first few weeks without expending any extra effort outside of normal new mommy duties. As someone who has always struggled with my weight, I was thrilled.

But then the unthinkable happened… I REGAINED my pregnancy weight. Not all of it of course. Ha. That would be amusing (not really). But after baby started sleeping through the night and I started to get the hang of this mommy thing, I actually gained BACK 5 lbs. of my pregnancy weight. What the!?! I mean seriously, who DOES that?!

Has anyone else experienced this unthinkable phenomenon?  I tried Googling this: “Regaining pregnancy weight.” No results found. “Gaining pregnancy weight back after losing it.” Still nothing. Great, it seems I’m the only moron who has allowed this to happen. I was given a free pass and I blew it. Enough is enough. I have to stop this from spiraling out of control.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but this is a great time to commit to making a big change.  I’ve always hated running, but have learned to just do it anyways because it’s the only way I can keep my weight in check. I was running 6 miles a day when I found out I was pregnant, but then stopped cold turkey because I was afraid to hurt the baby. Time to pound the pavement once again. My goal is to lose those last pesky 5 lbs. plus another 10 by the summer. I figure if I commit to this publicly, then I’ll have to stick to it!

Wish me luck.

 

Sad news for rice lovers


I swear this isn’t a blog just about pregnancy, but having recently been an overly cautious pregnant lady, I find that any headlines related to risks during pregnancy still capture my attention. Yesterday, I heard on the evening news that women might want to be cautious about eating rice while pregnant! RICE?! What possible harm could a little fluffy white rice do? This piqued my interest so I dug a little further.  

Researchers recently published a paper in PNAS which suggests that rice consumption may lead to potentially harmful arsenic exposure in pregnant women.  Arsenic occurs naturally in soil and rice absorbs more arsenic from soil than other crops because it is grown in flooded fields, which dramatically changes the soil chemistry.

For those of you who are interested in the specifics, the researchers reported that pregnant “women who ate the national (US) average of half a cup of cooked rice per day in two days prior to urine collection, ingested an amount of arsenic equivalent to drinking four and a quarter cups of water per day containing arsenic at the maximum allowable level set by the EPA.”

Although arsenic exposure obviously isn’t great for anyone, exposure during pregnancy is a particular concern due to the additional health risks imposed on the fetus. In utero arsenic exposure has been related to infant mortality, low birth weight, poor immune function, and increased mortality from lung cancer later in life.

This one is particularly worrisome to me because I’m Asian (okay, okay, Asian-American is probably a more accurate descriptor) and grew up eating (several bowls of) rice on a daily basis. Also, I’m fairly certain my own mom ate a ton of rice while she was pregnant with me! Although most of the news articles on this are clear that there has not yet been any definitive study that suggests that rice consumption has led to adverse health effects, I’ll be following this one closely.

How traffic fumes can affect your unborn baby

My office building sits along a major commuter highway in the Boston area (128 for all you locals). When I was pregnant, I always intended to get out of the office and take a walk at lunchtime to get some exercise and “fresh air,” but for some reason I never once did. Something would come up, I’d be too busy, or sometimes it was just plain laziness that kept me indoors. But I read something today that makes me feel better about never following through on my lunchtime intentions.

In an article in today’s Wall Street Jourrnal titled, “The Hidden Toll of Traffic Jams,” Robert Lee Hotz talks about how exposure to traffic exhaust can damage the human brain by injuring brain cells and synapses key to learning and memory. The article suggests that exposure to air pollution may adversely affect mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability at every stage of life.

A group at Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health studied the effect of exhaust on expectant mothers. Their research suggests that the mother’s exposure – what she breathed in her lungs- could affect her child’s later behavior. They discovered that prenatal exposure to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in exhaust could leave a molecular mark on the genome of a newborn for life, and that children in areas affected by high levels of emissions, on average, scored more poorly on intelligence tests and were more prone to depression, anxiety and attention problems than children growing up in cleaner air.

Egads! Makes you really think twice about where you live, work, and play. Makes me even consider changing my commute so that I’m not stuck in traffic for hours everyday amongst thousands of other idling cars and trucks.

Add this to the long list of things to be paranoid about during my next pregnancy!

C-Section Remorse

 

Throughout my pregnancy, I never considered the possibility that I would have a C-section. Who knows where I got this idea, but I just figured a C-section was what “other people had”, people with complications during pregnancy which I didn’t have. I only skimmed the chapters on C-section in my pregnancy books and we paid little to no attention to the C-section video in our prepared childbirth class. 

On D-day, I reached 9 cm. in no time. My OB and nurses all commented on the remarkable rate of progress. But hours and hours passed and I could not get to full dilation. My OB felt “a section” was necessary, but in our stressed and exhausted state, everything that she said was a bit of a blur. Arrest of dilation, failure to progress, baby’s size, possible cervical swelling, etc. Since I was not keen on the idea of having a C-section, we waited a little while longer and even tried pushing, but to no avail. Finally, my OB scared the bejesus out of us by telling us that I could “bleed out” if we tried to have a vaginal delivery and we could be putting the baby at risk.

Needless to say, I had a C-section.

In the months following my son’s birth, I was riddled with guilt and filled with remorse over the C-section. I wish I had asked more questions. I wish I hadn’t let the OB pressure us into having the section. Since the baby wasn’t in distress, I felt like I should have been able to labor longer. Aren’t there plenty of birth stories in which the mothers were in labor for a ridiculously long time?

My reasons for not wanting the C-section were not superficial. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want a scar. Trust me, there are plenty of other things about my body that aren’t perfect so I wasn’t too focused on that. It was that I somehow felt robbed of the true childbirth experience. I felt that I missed out on a sort of rite of passage into motherhood by not suffering through a vaginal delivery. I wanted to prove to myself that I was strong enough to endure what many consider to be the worst pain, all for the sake of my child, but I never got that chance.

I was disappointed that the first few days postpartum were not as I had planned. I couldn’t jump up when the baby cried and pick him up the way I had expected to. I couldn’t walk him to sleep. I couldn’t nurse him without help. I felt like this interfered with my ability to bond with my baby in those early days.

For weeks following CJ’s birth, I questioned whether I really needed a C-section. After speaking with my OB and reading her postoperative report, I felt even more strongly that it was unnecessary. The baby was not in any distress and my OB herself admitted that she wanted me to have the baby “before her shift ended.” I wondered whether I would have been able to have a natural delivery if we had just waited and labored longer. I speculated that perhaps my OB was motivated to do the C-section for financial reasons and/or due to her own impatience. What irks me most is that her decision did not just affect this birth but likely my next as well.

It has been four months and I think I have finally come to terms with what happened. It’s easier to accept when I think about the possibility that something could have happened to the baby if we had attempted a regular delivery.  It’s been helpful to talk to others who have also experienced these same feelings of remorse. In the end, I have a healthy baby boy and that is all that matters to me. It goes without saying that he has been worth it all… But I will definitely be switching OBs.