Thursday, January 19, 2012

The longest shortest day

I've been meaning to write about Kaelen's birth day to preserve the memory of it, as well as to share the story with friends who don't know how it all transpired.  I debated between writing it up on my personal facebook page or posing it here.  You can guess my decision.

December 21, 2011 was the winter solstice, the day with the fewest hours of daylight of the year.  It was the longest shortest day of my life.

5:45 a.m.
The alarm started beeping shortly before 6.  I was scheduled for an induction and had been instructed to call the hospital at 6 a.m. to find out what time to arrive.  We were thinking, oh, 10.  The answer: 7:00 a.m.  Yikes!  We leapt out of bed - OK, I moved as quickly as a pregnant woman a week past her due date could - took showers, ate breakfast, and put my bag into the car.  Thank goodness we only live about 3 miles from the hospital and that it's a straight shot.  At most it's a 15-minute drive.

7:00 a.m.
The game of "Hurry up and Wait" began.  Upon our arrival at the hospital, we were directed to the business office to complete paperwork.  And wait.  That task complete, we headed to the 14th floor.  Again, we waited.

While we were waiting to be seen by the nurse and settled into a room, we sat in the waiting room and listened to a woman screaming through the final stages of her labor.  I don't mean moaning.  I mean full on screaming at the top of her lungs.  I tried hard to ignore it but instead felt discouraged, especially since I had decided that I wanted to see how far into my labor I could make it before asking for drugs.  Would that be me?  Could I handle the pain?  People talk about labor pain being the most awful thing they've ever experienced.  I wasn't feeling very confident at that moment.

8:00 a.m.
We finally got into a room on the Labor & Delivery floor.  And waited some more.  The nurse eventually come to see us.  She explained that she had been assigned to monitor my progress and that of the woman being induced in the next room.  Then she started to get down to brass tacks: explaining how the day would progress, hooking me up to a fetal monitor, checking my cervix, completing yet more paperwork, and taking my vital signs.

9:00 a.m.
I took my first dose of Cytotek, the medication to help induce labor.

Each round of the medication is preceded by 30 minutes of fetal monitoring and followed by an hour of monitoring.  After I was "released", I was told to walk laps around the hospital for an hour, and then return for the next bit of monitoring and medication.

12:00 p.m.
My second dose of Cytotek.

3:00 p.m.
My third and final dose.

Hospitals were not made for walking laps. It was a very boring and tiring day.

6:00 p.m.
The fetal monitoring showed that I was having some contractions.  Honestly, though, I didn't really feel them.  After checking my cervix and finding that it was the same at 6:00 as it had been 10 hours earlier in the day, the doctor suggested I return on December 23, two days later, to finish the induction.  He wanted me to come back in the evening, take additional doses of the Cytotek overnight (no walking required), be able to sleep through the monitoring and labor, and have my son after the medication had had more time to do its work in my body.

As you might imagine, Gene and I were disappointed.  We'd told everyone that the induction was going to happen and we'd gotten emotionally ready help  me go through the labor.  We were tired.  I was sick of being pregnant and eager to meet our son. 

We checked out of the hospital and it was about 6:30 p.m. by the time we got to our empty home.  Rosemary had been sent to my folks' house until after we returned from the hospital with a new baby.  I missed her and wished she were there so I could snuggle with her.

8:00 p.m.
The combination of not having slept well the night before, having shuffled countless laps around the mind-numbingly boring corridors of the hospital, and the disappointment of the failed induction caught up with me.  I was exhausted and went to bed.

There was one small problem, however: frequent, but not painful, contractions prevented me from sleeping.  I used Gene's phone app to time them, dozing off in between, and by 9:00 they averaged 4-5 minutes apart.

9:00 p.m.
Gene called the hospital to ask if we should return.  The nurses, after being told I had described my contractions as "feeling like hard menstrual cramps", told him I should drink some water and take a bath to see if that helped alleviate the contractions.  I did both, and both actions seemed to help.

10:00 p.m.
The frequency and intensity of my contractions had both increased significantly, though the pain was not intolerable by any means.  Each contraction, now ranging from 2-3 minutes apart, brought with it a wave of heat.  I laid on our bed with the ceiling fan on me and when the contraction ended I would huddle under the covers to warm myself.  I was still trying to get some sleep. 

Gene checked on me every 10 minutes or so and ask if I wanted to go to the hospital.  I felt listless and indecisive, distracted by my contractions.  I didn't really want to go anywhere and didn't think I was in heavy labor yet.

10:30 p.m.
Gene came into the bedroom to check on me and made an executive decision: he was taking me to the hospital.  I relented, but reluctantly.  Despie my contractions being minutes apart, I wasn't in much pain and doubted that my labor had progressed.  I had, after all, been discharged from the hospital a mere 4 hours earlier, dilated to just 2cm.  A typical labor progresses at about a centimeter an hour: I couldn't be much beyond 6-7cm.

The short ride to the hospital was very uncomfortable because of the position of the baby.  As we drove the 3 miles, it got even more uncomfortable, even painful.  I was having contractions constantly with very little time to rest in between.

I distinctly remember saying 2 things to Gene:
1. "When we get to the hospital I think I would like to get some drugs."
2. (A couple of blocks and at least a contraction later...) "I think I'm in stage 2 of labor." 

We arrived at the hospital ER and Gene drove the wrong way through the one-way parking lot.  A hospital security guard ran out to stop us and Gene yelled, "my wife is in labor!".  Wow, those magic words really get people hopping.  The guard got me settled into a wheelchair and pushed me into the building while Gene parked the car.  I remember noticing that the night was cold and clear, with slick ice crystals on the parking lot's surface.

11:00 p.m.
According to the ER paperwork, which I gritted my teeth and signed between contractions, I was admitted at 23:00.  I had a doozy of a contraction in the office and said to the woman, "it feels like I'm sititng on the baby's head" as I braced myself on the arms of the wheelchair in an attempt to take the weight off my pelvis.

Paperwork signed, the hospital admission staff then directed Gene to wheel me into the hallway and wait for a nurse from the 14th floor to retrieve us.  It took forever and I practiced breathing through my labor pains.  By this point, they were definitely "pains".

It took a while for a nursing aide to get me from the ER.  By the time she did I spent much of the trip to the 14th floor panting and blowing.  I felt and winced at every bump the wheelchair hit.

11:20 p.m.
We arrived in the labor room.  I was still wearing my fleece pajama pants and a t-shrt, my normal sleeping gear.  The nurse came into the room and said that I could put on a robe if I wanted.  I said to Gene that I should probably get out of my pajama bottoms while I still could but I left on my t-shirt.

The nurse returned to the room to examine me.  She asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10.  I told her that if 10 was full on labor and that because I still had a ways to go, I was probably around a 6 or 7.  Then I added that my back muscles hurt like I'd worked them too hard.  Her response: "I bet, sweetie".

She performed the exam and I asked how dilated I was.  I was expecting to hear her respond 6 or 7cm.  Instead, she said, "you're 10cm and complete, and presenting your bag of waters.  You're going to have this baby!"

My first thought: Oh shit.  It's too late.  I'm not going to get any dugs. 

At that, the nurse turned on her heel and walked out of the room to have my doctor paged and the delivery room prepped.  As soon as she reached the doorway I felt a huge gush, just like in the movies.  I loudly declared, "my water just broke!"  I hadn't realized how loudly I said that until Gene told me later that I'd practically yelled it.

The urge to push was overwhelming.  With each contraction I threw my head back and breathed hard in order to avoid the temptation to curl forward and push.  I felt Gene's hand on my ankles and realized that I had braced my feet on the bed's footboard in an effort to help my body push.  It was just the two of us in the room at that point and I had no choice but to avoid pushing to the best of my ability.

11:34 p.m.
My rushed transfer to the delivery room was complete and I had one final challenge before I could give birth.  The nurse was urging me to slide over into the room's bed, which seemed an impossible task!  Somehow I managed to scoot my girth to the new bed between contractions, but it wasn't easy.

The bed was brand new and the nurses had not yet been trained on how to adjust it.  They couldn't get the sides down, nor would the mattress on the drop-down foot section stay put.  Every time I put my weight on it, it threatened to shoot out from under my feet. 

The room was a hive of activity.  The doctor had arrived and was settling into place on a stool at the foot of the bed.  A friend had told me that her eyeglasses got all fogged up during her son's delivery, so I handed Gene my glasses for him to hold.  I assumed that we'd be there for some time yet as I worked to push out the baby.

Everyone was in position and the nurse then said what were arguably the most wonderful words I'd ever heard: "OK, Jenn, with the next contraction you get to push".  After having resisted pushing for at least the previous 30 minutes, I was so relieved to get her permission. 

A contraction hit me hard and I went for it.  As I pushed I could hear my own moans escalate.  I briefly recalled the screams of the woman early that morning and wondered, for a split second, who could hear me.

The contraction went on forever and I push-push-push-pushed with everything I had.  Everyone was urging me to keep pushing.  I felt like I was nearly at my rope's end and in my frustration I started to yell the mother of all swear words:


I never got to say my full swear word.

11:40 pm.
Suddenly I felt the doctor put something on my stomach.  I am tremendously nearsighted and all I could perceive was a squalling purple blob.  Seconds later my son peed all over me, confirming his presence in the world.  I had to ask Gene to return my glasses to me so I could see our son for the first time.

With that single, giant push, Gene and I became the parents of our beautiful son, Kaelen.

During the post-delivery monitoring a nurse said, "I've seen some women push out their babies with 6 pushes, and even as few as 2.  But I've never seen a woman do it in just a single push."

I'm a Virgo.  We're efficient. 

The next day
I was a mini-celebrity on the delivery floor, the One Push Wonder.  The nurse who'd been assigned to me for my induction stopped by to see us and express her shock that I'd not only returned mere hours after being discharged but had also delivered within 6 minutes of entering the delivery room.  Every nurse who checked on either Kaelen or me during our entire hospital stay knew of our fast delivery. Even the couple who'd shared our induction nurse heard of my feat.

I can't quite believe I did it without drugs, and am thankful Gene forced me to leave for the hospital when he did.  I'm convinced that had we waited another 20 minutes, we would have had a home birth (not to mention very messy sheets).

I'm also thankful that the elevators didn't get stuck when I was at the hospital.  (And yes, this happened at the hosptal where I gave birth.)

Gene crashed on the cot in my room around 3.  It was 4:00 a.m. before I finally got that elusive sleep, Kaelen sleeping next to me in his hospital cart.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to tell good eggs from bad

Our hens stopped laying in the fall when they molted.  It's so annoying to buy eggs when there's a coop full of chickens in the yard.

When one of the girls started laying again about a week ago I was pretty psyched.  Yesterday Gene brought a second egg into the kitchen and we were both happy because it meant the girls are starting to produce again. 

Eggs, of course, mean spring can't be too far off (ironically I'm writing this post in the middle of a snowstorm).

After I put the new egg with the others Gene confessed that he had found it behind the nesting box, rather than inside of it.  He had no idea how long it had been there.  It could have been laid last summer or yesterday.

There is only one good way to determine an egg's freshness without cracking it open: put it into a glass of water.

Because the membrane and shell of an egg are porous, moisture inside an egg gradually evaporates.  Bad eggs, having lost much of their liquid content, will float. Good eggs will sink, and eggs in between will stand on end of the water.

Or so conventional wisdom says.  I'd never tried this before but the rationale behind it seemed valid.

Here's the questionable egg:

And here's an egg we knew for certain had been laid that day:

We threw that egg away faster than you can say "pee-yew".

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Strawberry oatmeal bars

A post about strawberries in January has probably got you thinking, "seriously, Jenn?!? That's about as out-of-season as it gets.".

Unless you're me, in which case you freeze a ton of strawberries every summer, then were not able to eat them this year because of gestational diabetes.  Generally we use the strawberries in lieu of ice in smoothies because they add fiber, flavor, and color.  Gene makes such delicious smoothies.  I really missed them this year.
My freezer remains well stocked with frozen strawberries.  Other than smoothies and French toast topping, I've been hard-pressed to find a good use for them.  Frozen strawberries turn to mush when defrosted, making them nearly impossible to use in baked goods.  I'm not a fantastic baker and everything I've ever made with strawberries, frozen or fresh, winds up gooey and unsatisfactory

I'm inordinately stubborn, however, so crossed my fingers and hoped for  the best with this substitution.  The original version calls for frozen blueberries, which I unknowingly ran out of a few days ago.  You whir the frozen berries with cornstarch and sugar in a food processor, then layer the fruit with an oatmeal dough.  The blueberry version, which I've made many times, is like a homemade Nutrigrain bar, only way yummier.  The end result is nutritious, packed with filling fiber, and tasty.  The bars freeze well, thaw quickly, and can be eaten one-handed. 

As a new parent I have a fresh appreciation of the importance of this last item.  I can't tell you how many recent meals I've wolfed down without chewing, hoping to get some sustenance before Kaelen starts screwing up his angry, feed-me-Seymour face.  Feeding time has been complicated due to my low milk supply (yes, I'm seeing a lactation consultant) and subsequent requirement to supplement.  I feed Kaelen for 30 minutes, give him a bottle for 10, pump for 10 if I have the energy, and then start the process over again in an hour.  Sometimes less, sometimes more.

Good thing he's so cute.

Since Gene doesn't love blueberries the way I do, I'd been thinking of making a version with strawberries for a while.  The strawberries set up perfectly and the end result is, if I may say so myself, delectable.  I'm betting that this can be made with any type of frozen berry with similar results.  Perhaps even frozen peaches...??

BERRY OAT BARS (from Spring 2010 "Real Food" magazine distributed by Metropolitan Market)
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
6 tbsp very cold butter (frozen is fine)
3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 cups frozen berries

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Oil 9x13 baking dish.

2. In a large bowl, combine oats through brown sugar.  Using large holes of a cheese grater, shred butter into mixture and work in until the size of grains of rice. 
(As an aside, this is my new favorite way to incorporate butter into a dough when not using the food processor. Use your hands to make quick work of mixing in the butter.)

3. In another container (I use the measuring cup), combine the milk, lemon juice, and vanilla, then stir into the oat mixture.  Press a little more than half of the dough into the bottom of the prepared dish.

4. In a food processor, combine the sugar and cornstarch, then add the berries and process until the mix looks grainy nad well minced.  (If using blueberries, reserve half of the berries and combine with the processed berries at this point.)  Dollop the remaining batter evenly over the fruit.  Bake for 50-55 minutes (40-45 in convection oven) until the top layer is deep golden and the fruit is bubbling.

5. Remove the bars from the oven and allow to cool in the baking dish on a rack.  When cool, cut into 18 3x6" bars. 

You can wrap them individually in plastic and store in a zip-top bag in the freezer for an easy breakfast or snack that will thaw on the counter in about an hour.  Thirty seconds in the microwave will also do the trick.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rick Steves & me

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity at work to host an event featuring Rick Steves.  He had just debuted his show about Iran, so was available to do public showings and talks about his experiences.

Of course, it being a college audience, there were quite a few questions about Rick's stance on pot.

I found Rick to be rather stand-offish.  I suppose that, as a celebrity, he gets annoying people pulling on his shirt-sleeves all the time.  Or maybe he's just shy.  He's a bit of an odd duck, that's for certain.

After the event several people and I helped him carry the boxes of books he was selling back to his car.  He had parked in an underground parking garage and couldn't remember which floor his car was on.  After walking around three floors, my arms stretched to their limit, I finally turned to him & joked, "I hope you're better finding your way around with a map than you are in a parking garage".

Except I was was only half-joking.  Seriously, man, I'm carrying a massive box of BOOKS!

I think of that encounter any time I hear Rick on NPR, as I did yesterday.  He was chatting with a caller, a housewife from Oklahoma, about not being able to travel as much in adulthood as had been possible during the woman's youth.  The woman mentioned her website and I was intrigued:

She - Sasha - is making a dish from every country in the world each week.  195 countries, 195 meals, 195 weeks.  It's a brilliant idea, and one I will try myself.  I travelled quite a bit in my 20s, even living in France for a year, and miss globetrotting immensely.  What a fantastic way to incorporate new cultures and new cuisine into our everyday lives.  I love it!

Gene and I have talked a lot about how we want to influence Kaelen's attitudes toward food.  I went to lunch with a friend a while back and she bemoaned the fact that the restaurant "didn't have any kid food, like chicken nuggets".  Why is processed chicken-type meat considered "kid food"?  We want - perhaps naively - for Kaelen to grow up eating the same foods we eat.  I won't be a short-order chef, cooking different things for different members of our family, nor will we use drive-throughs as a regular means of getting sustenance.

OK, I will cop to a weakness for Wendy's, to which I succombed more than once during my pregnancy (pre-gestational diabetes diagnosis).  Damn those fries!

If you're interested in introducing your kid to new cuisine, read the book "Hungry Monkey".  A friend recommended it to me and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It's funny, contains interesting recipes, and, for those local to Seattle, mentions many places locals will recognize. 

We look forward to introducing Kaelen to farming and teaching him how food grows.  He'll grow up with a backyard flock of chickens and a yard full of edibles.  I can't wait to see him chase a chicken around to catch it, as our neighbors' kid does.

How do you introduce your kids to new cuisines?  What advice do you have?