Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quick Takes

It's been so long since I've written anything! There's so much to update you on, too, but very little time to do it. Alexa just went down for a nap, but she rarely naps for longer than 45 minutes, and sometimes not even that long. So rather than trying to do a series of posts, I'm just going to do a bunch of short "quick takes" in this one. So buckle up, it's going to be a quick ride!

  • My little brother is now a married man! He married his long time sweetheart in early October. It was a true family affair for us--Jeff arrived a couple of days before the wedding, as he was a groomsman. I was a bridesmaid. Alexa was a flower girl, at least in name. She wore the same dress as the older flower girls and was carried down the aisle by the mother of the groom. It was a beautiful wedding, with a fall theme, which made for gorgeous decorations. My sister sang and even managed to get through it without tears. The bride was, of course, beautiful.
  • After the wedding, our little family spent a few days visiting friends and family in other states. Everyone was completely taken with Alexa. We spent quite a bit of time in the DC area with friends, whom we convinced to go with us to the Maryland Renaissance Festival. We'd been a couple of times before we moved to Egypt and loved it, so we couldn't pass up the opportunity to go back. It was just like we remembered, with elaborate costumes, decadent food--can I just say croissant sundae?!--and all sorts of attractions, from jousting to shopping to watching the drunks to knife throwing (I think we avoided the drunks throwing knives, though). Our friend who went with us got her first henna tattoo. I've never had one, but it was interesting to watch. I documented the whole process in photos, but since this is a quick takes post, here's the one and only picture you get: the artist with his work.

  • The flights went very well, overall, and Alexa was wonderful. She slept through all of our flights, with just brief awake periods for food and diaper changes. Luckily she didn't have any dirty diapers on the planes, saving those for layovers, so it wasn't too difficult to do lap changes. Also, may I just say that United was very baby-friendly? They had no issues with us taking on the car seat once we established that Alexa had her own ticket, they offered us an infant life vest before we ever took off, and there was room (in economy plus, to which we always upgrade because of Jeff's long legs) for the person in front of Alexa to recline his seat without interfering with the car seat. Lufthansa, on the other hand ... grrr. They didn't want us to use the car seat; we had to repeat two or three times that it was airline approved. Then they refused to give us an infant life vest when we requested one--they tried telling us that we wouldn't be flying over water because there were no large bodies of water around Frankfurt. Apparently the flight attendant didn't realize that we'd be flying over the Mediterranean Sea on the way to Egypt! She finally told us that it was their policy to give it to us only if/when it was needed. So apparently it's important for every passenger and crew member to have immediate access to a life vest--every passenger except infants, that is. I guess if there's no time for a busy flight attendant to go get the life vest before the plane hits the water, parents can miraculously grow suction cups on their arms to prevent the wiggling--and at that point wet--child from slipping out of their arms. My blood pressure still goes up when I think of that one. And then, in a final blow to Lufthansa's credibility in my eyes, the person in front of Alexa put his seat back, hitting the back of her car seat and causing it to pop up into an unsafe, unusable position. Luckily, Jeff was feeding her at the time, so she wasn't in it. Needless to say, I am no longer a fan of Lufthansa. At all.
  •  Alexa has been sleeping through the night ever since we got here. She slept incredible hours on the planes, probably due to the vibrations, and has been doing it ever since. She usually goes down for the night between 10 and 11 and wakes up at 7 or 7:30. I would like her to fall asleep around 8 or 9 and stay asleep, but she currently naps for half an hour or so starting at 8 or 8:30, then wakes up for 60 to 90 minutes for one more feeding and diaper change before going down for the night. Until the last week or so, her longest naps during the day were around 45 minutes--she'd take several short naps ranging from 20 to 45 minutes, with 90 minutes of wake time in between. Lately she's been taking a long morning nap of 2 to 3 hours. I think that's because I've been laying down with her for that one, so when she starts to wake up, I soothe her back to sleep--I need a long nap, as I'm getting up between 5 and 5:30 every morning so I can pump, shower, try to get breakfast, and maybe get some laundry started before she gets up.
  • Speaking of pumping, I haven't shared the whole saga here yet. I had intended to breast feed Alexa, but that hasn't worked out. She was unable to take anything by mouth for the first two days, and after that, she had a hard time latching. Combine that with the fact that I wasn't producing enough milk in a day to get her through one meal, and well, formula supplementation via bottle was necessary. She never took to the breast, despite my best efforts and assistance from a lactation consultant. So we invested in a good pump, which I use regularly. Lately I've been able to produce enough milk that we only give her one 8-ounce bottle of formula a day. The rest of what she eats is milk. I'm not sure how long we can keep it up, but we're going to keep going with that as long as possible. Breast milk provides the best nutrition for her, so I'm committed to pumping until I can't produce milk anymore or until her first birthday, if I make it that long.
  • We're fully on cloth diapers now. I had purchased some used BumGenius 3.0's before Alexa was born. When I tried to switch from disposable to cloth diapers a month or so after her birth, I discovered that the BGs were too big in the legs. So we used prefolds and covers instead. We're still using those during the day. We were using disposables at night until shortly after we returned here, but we decided to bite the bullet and see how well cloth worked at night. We realized that the BGs didn't fit in the legs because the elastic was shot, but we found two that still had decent elastic, and we used one of them with a doubler overnight. It worked wonderfully! No leaks and, thanks to the stay-dry layer, Alexa felt dry the next morning. We've used them every night since then (other than a couple times when we needed to use diaper rash cream). We bought a couple of new BGs on sale and LOVE them. They're too expensive to justify buying for all-the-time use, though. So we'll keep going with prefolds and covers during the day and the BGs at night, at least unless/until we find someone who is able to replace the elastic on our used BGs. It almost makes me wish I knew how to sew ... but I do NOT have time right now to learn a new skill.
And now Alexa is awake, so if I forgot anything, it'll have to wait until next time.

Just in case the next time isn't for a while, let me just say to you all:

Merry Christmas!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

On Our Own

I started a post titled "The First Week" almost one week after Jeff returned to Egypt on 2 August. I haven't had time to finish it. Or, more accurately, on the few occasions when I've had uninterrupted time to finish it, I was so tired I couldn't think well enough. That post is a bit out of date now, to say the least. But the main point of it still stands: Jeff had to go back to Egypt so that he could work, and we had to stay here in order to get all of the required paperwork--medical clearances and Alexa's passport and visa. For almost two months now, it's been me, Alexa, and a good bit of help from my mom. As much help as my mom has been, though, it isn't the same. I have a newfound respect for single parents. I've been gradually adjusting to the things I've needed to do, but at first, I was completely overwhelmed.

The day that Jeff left, I readied myself and Alexa for bed. Then I just sat on the bed and held her while I cried. I missed Jeff already, and it wasn't just because I wanted to be with my husband. I also was looking forward to the night ahead of me--a night of waking up every two hours, trying to nurse Alexa, bottle feeding her when she refused the breast, trying to get her back to sleep, then pumping so that there would be some milk available to mix with the requisite formula (I couldn't pump enough) for her next feeding, then cleaning the pump kit, and finally going back to sleep. Based on how long it had been taking Jeff and me to do each task when they were shared (Jeff feeding her while I pumped, for example), I estimated that I would be up for 75 to 90 minutes each time Alexa woke up. So I could expect to sleep in 30 to 45 minute increments. I was already exhausted and overwhelmed, and I hadn't even started yet.

That night went even worse than I expected. I forget all the details now, but I remember clearly that at 3am, I had gotten less than an hour of sleep. I was rocking Alexa, trying to get her to go back to sleep, when I realized that she needed a diaper change. As I got up from the glider, it rebounded back and hit the wall--hard. My mom's room is right below mine, and the crack of wood on wall woke her up. While I was changing Alexa's diaper, she came in. There I was: standing over the changing table, crying so hard from exhaustion and stress that I couldn't even see what I was doing, trying to change the diaper of a baby who had absorbed my tension and was screaming as loudly as I wanted to be. Mom deftly shooed me out of the way, changed the diaper, and sent me to bed while she stayed up the rest of the night with the baby.

Things have gotten better since that first night. First I realized that Alexa was content to fall asleep in my arms while I pumped, if I just got her calm enough not to squirm too much first (Jeff had rigged a way for me to pump hands-free, which has been a lifesaver!). Then when she got big enough to rub up against the pump supplies and be uncomfortable, she was okay lying in my lap. When that became too precarious, I realized that if I got up when she first started squirming, rather than waiting for all-out hunger, she would take the bottle and then fall back asleep without requiring a lot of soothing after. And at some point, I decided that it just wasn't worth it to keep spending the time--and allowing her frustration and hunger levels to climb--while I tried to nurse her. We just started skipping straight to the bottle. Now, instead of 75 to 90 minutes per waking, it's more like 45 to 75. And she's sleeping longer, usually eating on a 3-1/2 hour schedule at night. I average 2-1/2 hours of sleep at a time now during the week. On weekends, Alexa goes downstairs to spend the night with her Grandma Linda, and her mama gets up at most every 4 hours to pump.

Things have gotten easier during the day, too. I still rarely shower before Mom comes home for lunch at 1, unless I get up early to shower at 7 while she's still here to take care of Alexa. Yesterday was only the second day that I've showered while home alone with Alexa without being summoned from the bathroom by her cries--and I did it twice yesterday: my usual morning shower and then another one last night because I'd gotten sweaty at my niece's soccer practice. Very proud of myself for that, even though I didn't get to dry my hair last night because Alexa got hungry.

I still don't accomplish much in a typical day. I spend most of my time feeding Lexa, pumping, changing diapers, and just holding her--she hates being put down. The bouncy chair is my best daytime friend; it's where Lexa was until just a few minutes ago and therefore why I was able to start this post. And for the last few weeks, Lexa has spent all day on Wednesday with her Aunt Jeanne and her cousin Harry. That's allowed me to do some shopping, cleaning, and packing that I would not have been able to do otherwise. I'm trying to get ready for our return to Egypt, which isn't too far away now.

Lexa and I are making it on our own. Or as "on our own" as we are, with the help we receive from Lexa's nearby grandparents, aunts, and uncles. But there's a wonderful day coming soon, when Grandma will drive baby Alexa and her mama to the airport to pick up Daddy. A few busy days later, she'll drive us all back to the airport, and the three of us, rather than the two of us, will be on our own. Lexa and I will have fewer relatives around to provide childcare, cuddles, and general help, but we'll be with the one person we need most.

We miss you, Jeff, and we can't wait to be reunited with you.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Spoiled

This is a post I started on 2 July, before Alexa's surprise month-early debut. It was almost ready to post, so I've decided to go ahead and publish it. I promise I haven't abandoned this blog; I just don't have much time to write anymore. I started a post a week ago; Alexa woke up hungry about halfway through, and I haven't had time to go back to it. I'm hoping to start writing more regularly, but it's looking like blog posts will continue to be few and far between for a while. Thanks for sticking with me!

I have realized something over the last couple of weeks that I've been home. I am spoiled. Not just a little pampered, but downright spoiled rotten.

I was spoiled before I ever moved to Cairo. Having a generous and loving husband will do that to you, trust me! So will growing up in a family in which finances are something to be aware of, but not something to worry about overmuch. Actually, growing up in America at all spoils us in ways that I'd say most of us don't recognize--if you take it for granted that most public restrooms will be usably clean (even though not up to standard for your home bathroom, I'm sure) and that the toilet paper will be free, trust me: you're spoiled.

Since I've been back in the United States, however, I've recognized some unique ways that Egypt has spoiled me. To be very honest, many of them are ways that the U. S. government has spoiled me during my time in Egypt--I'm spoiled compared to most expats who live there, too. But for me, it's all been part of my experience in Egypt.

What are these ways in which I'm so dreadfully spoiled now? Let me tell you ...

I've been home for 2-1/2 weeks now. I've cleaned my bathroom once, using vinegar and baking soda because I won't use chemical cleaners that produce potentially dangerous fumes so long as I'm pregnant. I made the decision to clean the bathroom only after finally accepting the fact that I in fact did not bring my part time maid home with me. She's busy spoiling Jeff now, cleaning the bathroom he uses, ironing his clothes, cleaning the floors he walks on ... if I want something cleaned here, I have to do it myself. (To be fair, I could ask Mom; she would do it, especially if it's something I couldn't or shouldn't do because of the pregnancy, but I won't be more of a burden this summer than I can help.)

A couple of days ago, Mom and I went to the grocery store. We went to one of those discount stores where the prices are ridiculously low, but you provide your own bags and bag your own groceries. That part didn't bother me any. But then we had to take our own groceries out to our own car ... and I thought of the baggers at the commissary in Cairo. They bag your groceries, take them to your car, and load them for you. *sigh*  And then when we got home, we had to actually carry the groceries into the house. No grocery carts waiting by the parking lot (it would have had to be the driveway here) for you to use to get your groceries inside. The equivalent for expats who don't live on an embassy compound would be: no bowwab to carry your groceries for you.

When Mom and I got home from the grocery store, the power was off. I had laundry in both the washer and dryer, we had just purchased cold and frozen items, and--worst of all--the air conditioner can't work without electricity. It was only out for an hour or so, but let me tell you, I missed that great big embassy generator! My power in Egypt never goes off for more than a couple minutes, usually more like 30 seconds, because the generator kicks on automatically. (This is one of the ways in which I am totally spoiled even for an expat--most expats in Egypt don't have generators, and the power goes out frequently, sometimes for hours.)

I've been driving quite a bit since I've been home. It's no fun anymore. The challenge is gone. In Egypt, you have to be on high alert all the time--you never know when a vehicle is going to cut you off, slam on the breaks, make a left turn from the right-hand lane, come flying out of a small cross street with no warning ... anything can happen. Likewise, you can do pretty much whatever you want; you can make a one-lane road into a three-lane, refuse to stop at intersections, drive as fast as you want (the only limitations being physical obstacles such as pedestrians, other vehicles, speed bumps, and pot holes), and generally drive like a maniac. In fact, I'm convinced that the more crazily you drive, the more fun you have and the safer you actually are, because you're paying more attention. Here, there are rules. And you're expected to obey them. In America, we have these beautifully smooth, wide interstates--and the authorities expect you not to get above 70mph! And to limit it to three lanes of traffic, when there's obviously room for at least five. I haven't gotten any tickets, but that's just because I'm so aware of the fact that there actually are rules here that I'm more careful about obeying them--or at least coming close to it--than I was before I had experience driving anarchy-style. Unfortunately, though, all the rules, when combined with the good road conditions, make driving kind of boring. I try to stay focused--after all, anything can happen, and although driving here is less risky than driving in Egypt, it isn't risk-free. But after driving in Egypt, driving in America is just ... boring. Too easy. Not exciting. Not fun. *sigh*

Of course, there also are ways that I'm not spoiled in Egypt, but I'm becoming spoiled again here. Everywhere I go here, I find that the air conditioner is functional and turned on. I can drive without being concerned about hitting my head on the ceiling because of going a little too fast over the speed bumps, pot holes, or general road hazards. I can wear sleeveless shirts, and men don't harass me, nor do women hiss at me. There are parking lots everywhere--a huge deal for me since I never really got the hang of parallel parking. And of course, there are the bathrooms, which are so important for a pregnant woman! Every store has one, and they're pretty much all clean; equally important, they all have toilet paper, and they don't have an attendant that I have to pay in order to get said toilet paper. I'm also finding that I enjoy being back in a Christian culture, with a church on every corner and businesses sporting Bible verses on their signs. (Yes, I'm from the Bible belt!) And I'm absolutely loving spending time with my sister's two children, the younger of whom probably doesn't even remember that I visited last summer, but who should remember me next summer after spending this time with me now.

Yes, I am spoiled. I have a very good life, one that I love. Adjustments have to be made when big changes are made--and moving, even temporarily, back to the United States from Egypt definitely counts as a big change. Most people would expect everything to be better in the U. S., but I'm finding that there are things from Egypt that I miss--and not just my husband and my cats, although they certainly are the top three! But I am happy to be back in the States, happy to be with my extended family, happy to be receiving the best medical care in the world for myself and my baby ... happy to be being spoiled in all the ways that I missed in Egypt, just like I'll be happy later this year to go back to being spoiled Egyptian-style.

How about you? Are you spoiled? If so, I have only one thing to say: Enjoy it!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Alexa's Birth Story

It was Wednesday, 7 July 2010, 8:40 am. I was just waking up. I'd been up every one or two hours during the night, as was my routine at that point, but I was feeling pretty good overall. I didn't have any plans for the day. The day before, I'd had lunch with some friends and brought home the infant car seat that their daughter had outgrown. The next day, I had my first appointment with the midwife who is part of my OB group--I'd met with one of the doctors once, and we'd agreed that I was more of a "midwife type of person" than an "OB type of person." But I had no real plans for the day. Maybe do some laundry, try to figure out what still needed to be purchased for the baby, read the last chapter of my Hypnobabies home study course ... nothing major.

I got up and went to the bathroom--again; all those middle of the night wakenings were for bathroom breaks too. While sitting on the toilet, I felt something unexpected: mild cramps that felt a lot like menstrual cramps. I immediately became concerned. I knew that many women's contractions start out like that, and I was not ready. Alexa wasn't expected to arrive for another month; Jeff was still in Egypt; we didn't have half the supplies we would need for a new baby. But I wasn't too worried. After all, I was expecting Braxton Hicks contractions to start any day. I did say a quick prayer, though: "God please don't let that be real contractions. Just let me be constipated or something, please."

And God laughed.

Around 8:50 am, I was reaching for the doorknob to leave the bathroom and go find some breakfast. Suddenly I felt warm liquid running down my legs. I stared in disbelief at the full-length mirror on the bathroom door. My pajama pants were soaked. A small, rational part of my brain informed me that my water had broken and that I needed to call the doctor's office.  A large, irrational part of my brain informed me that I had urinated on myself and that I needed to change clothes. I went to the closet to get my other pair of pajama pants. Right after I put them on, I felt another gush of warm liquid running down my legs. The small, rational part of my brain informed me that I definitely needed to call the doctor now. The large, irrational part of my brain informed me that I had just dirtied my last pair of pajama pants, so I needed to do laundry, especially if there was any chance that I was going to the hospital that day.

I didn't listen to either part of my brain. I called my husband at work in Egypt, where it was around 4 pm. No one answered the phone. I called his mobile. No answer. I called the house. No answer. I called work again--still no answer. I lost count of how many times I called various numbers at which I thought Jeff may be reached. Finally, I called my doula, Carey, here in the States. No answer. This was getting old, and I was getting stressed. The small, rational part of my brain kept insisting that I call the doctor. The large, irrational part of my brain still believed that if I didn't believe it was happening, it wasn't really happening. I'm convinced that the small, rational part of my brain was quietly processing information and making plans while simultaneously encouraging the large, irrational part of my brain to remain in a state of disbelief--if I actually started to believe what was happening before I had a fully developed course of action in place, it would not have been pretty.

Finally, I called the doctor. It was around 9:30 am. The nurse told me to have someone drive me to their office. I told her that I'd come, but it would be a while--I hadn't had a shower, and I had to have my mom go to the store to get some pads. She said that they didn't mind that I hadn't had a shower, and I needed to come as soon as possible. I said I'd come but made no promises about when--I didn't want to end up at the hospital with ruptured membranes, no contractions, and hours in which I could be offered interventions that I didn't want. After that call, I called my mom at work. My opening statement went something like this: "Mom, just listen and don't freak out. I know you've got a lot of work to do today [she'd mentioned that the night before when she told me that she'd be going in early and maybe staying late], but I need you to leave work, go to Wal-Mart, buy me some pads, and come home." She sounded much calmer than I had anticipated when she said she was on her way. But before she got the phone hung up, I heard her calling her boss's name to tell him she was leaving, and there was a definite note of urgency that bordered on panic. Oh well.

I started going around the room, methodically grabbing things and throwing them on the bed to pack. I hadn't packed my hospital bags yet--there was no need to pack them for another week or so at least, right? Mom arrived about 2 minutes later. (It should be about a 5-minute drive home from her office.) When she asked what she could do, I had her pull up my hospital bag list on my laptop (I'd planned what to bring, although I had not yet purchased about half the items on the list) and start packing. I got in the shower. I felt relatively calm and determined not to rush. After all, I wasn't even feeling real contractions yet, so I still had several hours to go at least, maybe even a day. I took my time in the shower. Then I helped Mom finish packing my bags--one labor bag and one postpartum bag, which included the things I wanted for Alexa.

At some point in that process, Mom handed me her phone so I could talk to my sister. Lisa urged me to go straight to the hospital, reminding me about her experience with her firstborn. Her water had broken, she had called the doctor, and she left for the hospital. Halfway there, her contractions had started with a vengeance. By the time they got to the hospital and found that my niece had rotated from head-down to breech, they had to hurry to get the C-section prepped (no breech vaginal births for those docs). My stubborn streak showed itself, and I continued to move quickly but unhurriedly. I did start moving a little faster around 10:30, when I noticed that the contractions were getting stronger and coming more frequently, but I tried not to let Mom see what was happening. Every few minutes, I tried to reach Jeff--still no answer.

Finally, around 11 am, we left for the doctor's office. On the way, the contractions got stronger, closer, and more regular--at the start of the drive, they were coming every 10 minutes or so; by the end, it was every 5 minutes, but they still weren't too incredibly strong. The doctor's office is 45 minutes from Mom's house, with the hospital about halfway in between. Unbeknownst to me, Mom seriously considered going there instead of to the doctor, despite my clear wishes.

Meanwhile, I continued trying to call Jeff. Finally, his boss answered the work phone and put Jeff on the line. My first words to my husband: "I've been trying to call you but no one would answer the [expletive]* phone. My water broke two hours ago." I don't remember his words, but I could hear his voice shift from concerned husband mode to I-have-a-task-to-accomplish mode as he immediately accepted that our baby was coming, he wouldn't be there for the birth, and he needed to get there as soon as possible.

I also was able to get in touch with my doula, Carey. I apprised her of the situation and told her I'd call from the doctor's office. I still had some hope that my labor was progressing slowly enough that I'd be sent home instead of to the hospital.

We arrived at my doctor's office shortly before noon. I gave the receptionist my name, and she said "Oh, you're the one they've been waiting for. Go on back." From there, things get a bit blurry, as the contractions were powerful enough and frequent enough that I wasn't much aware of anything else. I know I was taken back to see the midwife, Suzan. I don't recall if I was weighed or if my blood pressure was checked. At some point, one of the nurses started to say something to me while I was having a contraction, and another nurse shushed her. I wanted nothing more than to lie down on my left side--the very position I had loathed for the last several months, since I preferred to sleep on my back but no longer could. The midwife walked in the room and confirmed immediately that I was indeed in labor. By that point I think I was already lying on the exam table, on my side, curled up and just trying, with limited success, to relax. Suzan had me roll onto my back so she could check me. I was 6.5 cm dilated and 90% effaced. I asked if the baby was breech; last I'd known, she was transverse. But she had rotated to a head-down position, so one worry was relieved. I called Jeff and then my doula with the news.

I have vague memories of Suzan saying something about calling transport for me. Apparently she wanted me to go to the hospital by ambulance. Then I heard her telling my mom that it would take them too long to get there; I needed to leave immediately. If I started feeling the need to push on the way, Mom was to pull over and call the paramedics. I don't think I was supposed to hear that last part. I was told that I had plenty of time and that I wouldn't even be 9 cm by the time I got to the hospital.

I'm very glad not to remember much of the drive to the hospital. I know Mom drove like a madwoman, with her hazard lights on, horn blaring, weaving in and out of traffic. Her phone kept ringing. She went to answer it once. I snapped at her, telling her not to touch the phone while driving that fast and under that much stress. I think she told me to answer it. I'm not sure, but I think I talked to my sister at some point before telling her that I was having a contraction and hanging up on her. Mom started to say something during a contraction at one point. I have no idea what she wanted to say--I interrupted her with a sharp "Stop talking!" Apparently childbirth makes me rude. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Lisa.

As we got closer to the hospital, the contractions intensified. I wanted to lie down so badly I could hardly stand it. I pressed my feet against the floor, braced my hand against the roof, and stretched out. I considered reclining the seat, but that small, rational part of my brain took control and reminded me that lowering it as far as I wanted to made the seat belt ineffective, and with the way Mom was driving, the seat belt needed to be effective.

At the hospital, neither Mom nor I knew which entrance to use--I was scheduled for my hospital tour the following week. I ended up going in the wrong entrance, although it was in the right part of the hospital. As I stepped through the door, I didn't know where to go next. But it didn't matter; I couldn't walk anymore. I hit my knees, then went to all fours. Suddenly I saw feet--lots of feet. At least four pairs. People kept asking me questions. I answered the first one, which was "Did you fall?" I said "No, I'm having a baby!" The next person who asked a question while within reach of my hand received some papers shoved toward her instead of an answer--the midwife had given me papers to give to the admissions person at the hospital. Once the woman (no idea who she was; I don't think I ever saw anything but her feet) had the papers, the questions stopped and a wheelchair arrived. With the assistance of about three extra sets of hands, I got in the wheelchair. Then there was a blur of faces, walls, and elevator doors. According to the time on my admission bracelet, it was 12:48 pm.

I ended up in a room with a bed. I was out of the wheelchair and in the bed--again, lying on my left side--in what felt like milliseconds. After that I just let them do what they wanted. I ended up in a hospital gown. I saw my doula and my midwife come in; I'm not sure who came in first. Then my life became a blur of "Oh God!", "God, help me!", and "it hurts!" There were brief moments of what felt like sanity in between, but I'm not sure how sane I really was. I remember saying that I should have had a C-section--forget mere drugs, I wanted to skip straight to not pushing**--and telling my doula that I hadn't gone by the ATM to get the rest of the money I owed her. She laughed and said that was alright. But most of my "conversation," if you can call it that, consisted of curt demands: "Cold!" (translation: I want a blanket) and "Wash cloth!" (translation: I'm hot and I want that cool wash cloth on my forehead) were the main ones. Oh, and there was that great big "NO!!" when the midwife didn't hear me decline the first time and told me to give her my hand so I could feel the baby's head before she came out. I'm not sure why I was so adamant, but that simply was not happening.

Through it all, my doula was there. She placed a cool cloth on my forehead when I was hot, removed it when I tried to shake it off, put a blanket around my arms when I was cold. She reassured me that God would help me when that sincere prayer was all I could say. At one point, she asked if I could use my Hypnobabies light switch, to which I said "No, I never even read the last lesson!" She asked if I wanted to listen to one of the relaxation scripts. I informed her that they were on my iPod, which was in my labor bag, which was in the trunk of my mom's car.

It felt like I began pushing immediately. Then it felt like it took forever. Suzan kept saying that one more contraction would do it, but one more contraction came and went and the baby wasn't coming out. I found out later that Alexa's head slid partway out and then just stayed there for half an hour.

Eventually, finally, at 2:06 pm, I felt a huge, painful pressure, then a sudden release. With the release came a gush of liquid and the sensation of something solid sliding out of my body. I knew that the head had caused the pressure, and once it was out, everything else quickly followed. I did not immediately hear Alexa cry, although she cried within a few seconds. I saw her as they clamped and cut the cord--I started to protest that I wanted delayed clamping, but I subsided under the gentle pressure of my doula's hand on my arm. I knew that she was as pro-delayed clamping as you can get, so if she was silently urging me not to protest, there was something important and time-sensitive happening. Alexa was taken to the heat lamp across the room for a few minutes. Then she was in my arms for a few brief seconds before they took her away. I don't recall exactly what was said, but I knew she was being taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for observation. Everyone was very reassuring, to the point that I didn't really get worried about her. I'd seen her, I knew she was breathing, and they said they just wanted to observe her and they may not even need to admit her. I found out later that she was having difficulty breathing, and because she'd come out face first, she had some bruising that made her look blue--it was easy to mistake the bruises for evidence of insufficient oxygen.

Then the real torture began. I shook uncontrollably from the adrenaline. I felt like I was freezing, and my whole body shook like you'd see in a cartoon, not like anything I'd ever experienced. My belly was massaged to make the placenta detach. The cord was yanked on to pull the placenta out. I was given a shot of pitocin to prevent hemorrhage--quickly enough that I didn't have time to decline it if I'd wanted to (I still was disoriented enough that I probably would have consented, especially since I wasn't able to breastfeed immediately to cause the uterus to contract). My second-degree tear was stitched up--and the anesthetic cream hadn't been applied to a large enough area; one stitch went in without anesthesia. I was so exhausted and out of it that my protests consisted solely of the occasional "Ow!" I was distracted by a nurse having me sign the consent forms giving them permission to do everything they'd already done--there hadn't been time before. I also learned then that I'd done the impossible--given birth in the hospital without so much as a hep-lock. Suzan had told the nurses not to bother with it; there wasn't time.

My doula informed me that I had family in the waiting room; should she make an announcement or let them come in? I asked her to wait until I'd talked to Jeff. I called him and gave him the news, then allowed my visitors in. My mother and my father-in-law were the first; then my father-in-law left and my brother came in. I don't remember the conversation or anything. At some point I became lucid enough to ask my doula about what exactly had happened with Alexa. At the time I understood what she said. Now I don't remember most of it.

I was in the delivery room for about an hour. Then the nurses brought a wheelchair for me. I was taken to the NICU, where I was able to see Alexa, although I couldn't hold her. One of the doctors came over and explained what was going on with her. She had been brought in for observation because of difficulty breathing. She was on oxygen and a few monitors. He wanted to start her on antibiotics because it was possible that she had an infection, but the blood work wouldn't show it for 48 hours. I gave permission for the antibiotics but declined the routine Vitamin K shot he wanted to give her. I was impressed that he respected my wishes without pressuring me.

After a too-brief visit with Alexa, I was taken to my recovery room. It was a strange, disconnected feeling: I no longer had the baby belly, I was in the hospital, I had just given birth. But I had no baby, at least not one for whom I had any routine care responsibilities or who was even within my sight. I was in the maternity ward with no baby. I actually got jealous when I heard the baby next door crying.

The rest of that day and most of the next brought a flurry of activity. I was seeing visitors, submitting to exams and checks, pumping breast milk, going down to the NICU to see Alexa whenever I could. I was also trying to figure out the State Department paperwork that needed to be done to get the ball rolling on Alexa's passport and medical clearance. Jeff called from various airports to report his progress. He arrived the following day around 7:30 pm, during the shift change at the NICU when even parents aren't allowed to visit. When the NICU re-opened at 8, we went down so he could meet his daughter. I'm glad I thought to have a camera available; I have a picture of when he first saw her. After some time with her, we went back to my room to get some sleep. That's when my body fell apart--it realized that with him there, I could relax some, and the pain began. It wasn't my stitches or perineum that hurt, though; it was my back, shoulders, and neck. The nurses gave me medicine that relieved the pain and let me sleep.

I was discharged from the hospital the next day. Jeff and I checked into a nearby hotel to stay near Alexa. We spent every moment we could with her. Finally, the following Tuesday, she was released. That's when I felt like I really became a mother, when we took full responsibility for her. That's when the birth was complete.


*I usually don't curse, but in this situation, it just seemed appropriate.

**My next birth also will be all-natural, despite my mid-birth desire for a C-section. The NICU nurses told me that had I had drugs, which would have been necessary for a C-section, Alexa's breathing problems could have been much more severe. Many babies whose mothers have epidurals are born sleepy; if they're already at risk, this exhaustion can interfere with their ability to transition to breathing air.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Introducing Alexa Ruth

I know it's been even longer than usual since my last post ... most of it is due to the usual: not much to say, too much going on, etc. But now I definitely have something to say, and even though there's still too much going on, I wanted to take a few moments to share.


Meet Alexa Ruth!*




In this post, I'll just give a few key details. I'll try to post her complete birth story in a few days, but no promises ... lots going on, you know.

Birthday: Wednesday, 7 July 2010, 2:06pm (almost exactly a month early)
Amount of time from first "I hope that wasn't a contraction!" to birth: 5 hours 16 minutes
Amount of time from Mom's arrival at hospital to birth: approximately 2 hours
Amount of time from birth to getting to meet Daddy: approximately 30 hours (first available flight and all that)
Weight at birth: 6 lb 6 oz
Length at birth: 18-3/4 inches**
Number of days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU): 6
Reason for being in the NICU: difficulty breathing
Date she came home: Tuesday, 13 July 2010



*Some of you may know that Jeff and I deliberately do not put pictures of ourselves, our family, our friends, or our colleagues on the blog for privacy reasons. However, we do acknowledge two important facts: (1) many of you will want to see Alexa and won't be able to unless we post a picture here, and (2) newborns change in appearance so quickly that pictures of them won't be a privacy concern after just a short time. So we decided to post this one picture of Alexa on the blog. This isn't a change in our policy regarding pictures on the blog; this is an exception to the rule.

**Oops, I originally posted her length as 15-3/4 inches. Thanks, Mom, for pointing out the mistake!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Best and The Worst

I'm here! As I said in my last post, I'm now at my mom's house, where I'll be staying until a couple of months after the baby's birth. Things didn't go quite according to plan--when the last post posted, I was not somewhere over the Atlantic; I was still at the gate in Frankfurt--but eventually I made it. I don't think anyone is particularly interested in a play-by-play of the entire trip, so I'm just going to give you the best and the worst. I'll start with the worst so we can end on a good note.

The Worst
  • I had to leave my husband and my cats behind.
  • My 24-hour door-to-door trip turned into 31-1/2 hours.
  • We were stuck at the gate in Frankfurt for 3 hours while they fixed the cabin air conditioner and tried to find the part to fix some other problem (I forget what it was) before eventually deciding that it would be okay for us to fly with the part broken; we'd just have to go a longer route. It added about 10 minutes to our flight time.
  • I missed my connecting flight at Dulles, which was scheduled to take off at about the same time we ended up landing there. It was delayed 30 minutes, but that still wasn't enough time to clear customs and immigration and get to the gate.
  • All the later flights to my destination airport were full. So were the later flights to the airport that's the same distance from my hometown in the opposite direction. (Our town is less than an hour from one tiny and one small airport, so we usually go with whichever one is cheaper at the time. It also allows for great flexibility in situations like this, unless the flights are all full.)
  • I ended up taking a later flight to an airport that's 90 minutes from my mom's house.
  • That flight was scheduled to leave approximately 5 hours after I arrived at Dulles. Due to a mechanical issue, it was delayed an hour.
  • Throughout the entire day, a muscle in my gluteus maximus spasmed every time I put weight on it. Therefore, standing and walking was a slow and painful experience.
  • The business class lounge at the Cairo airport was closed; there wasn't time in Frankfurt; and I was no longer business class in Washington. So quite possibly my only chance to experience a business class lounge has escaped me.
  • I was still dealing with congestion, drainage, and general nastiness from my cold.
  • My ankles currently are about the size of tennis balls, maybe slightly larger. They were twice as big early Tuesday morning when I arrived here.


The Best
  • I managed not to cry, although it was difficult.
  • My Tempur-pedic travel pillow went a long way toward making all the seats, in the airports and the planes, much more comfortable. Depending on the seat, I used it rolled up or flattened out behind my back every time I sat for more than just a few minutes.
  • Business class in the Lufthansa flight between Cairo and Franfurt was nice. I was able to put my feet up, although there weren't independent controls for the footrest and the back, so I couldn't get my feet as high as I wanted without reclining too far for Alexa's safety. I was able to compensate by getting onto my side--the seat wasn't quite wide enough for it to be truly comfortable, thanks to the belly, but it was a lot better than economy or than sitting there without my feet up. I slept for most of the flight, so it was comfortable enough. Service was only marginally better than it would have been in economy, although Lufthansa's economy service is much better than any other airline's that I've experienced.
  • Business class in the United flight between Frankfurt and Dulles was wonderful, even considering the extra 3 hours I spent there. The seats could recline all the way back like a bed, they could recline like a recliner, or I could adjust the back and the footrest independently. I only slept for a couple of hours, although the seat was comfortable enough to sleep longer--the sleep on the previous flight was enough that my stubborn body wasn't ready to sleep more yet. I could watch any of a few dozen movies or TV shows whenever I wanted, and I could pause, fast forward, and rewind them too. I had my choice of meals--I chose the filet mignon for the first and the turkey sandwich for the second. The first meal (the second was considered a snack) was three courses--appetizers (yes, that's plural), main course (choice of beef, chicken, or pasta), and dessert (an incredible chocolate mousse parfait-type concoction with strawberry sauce, or fruit ... guess which one I chose). The service was incredible. One of the flight attendants took one look at my belly and made me her personal project--I was never without water, I was told to use the first class lavatory rather than waiting in line for the business class one, I was given the option--repeatedly--to go to cooler areas of the plane before the air conditioner was fixed (it really wasn't even that hot), and I was generally hovered and fussed over. The other flight attendants also were incredibly attentive, but I think they provided that level of service to all the business class passengers. If anyone is traveling overseas on a United flight, the upgrade is totally worth it, if finances allow.
  • I didn't have to overnight in Frankfurt, although that option was offered to me by the gate attendant, who came down to ask how I was doing. The only time that my personal flight attendant seemed confident that I was doing just fine, thank you very much, was when the gate attendant tried to take me off the plane and away from her. Suddenly I went from practically invalid status to perfectly okay. I got the feeling she didn't trust him to take good enough care of me.
  • When the maintenance issue was discovered at Dulles, it was less than 10 minutes before they announced exactly what the problem was (I forget now, but they told us), that the plane could fly but required a longer runway on which to land, that our destination airport didn't have a functional runway long enough (the long one was being worked on), and that we therefore were swapping planes with another flight heading to an airport with a runway that the broken plane could use. No 3-hour decision-making process there!
  • I didn't have to overnight in Dulles. I was able to make it here, although it was a very long day. I think it woud have been worse if I'd had to overnight somewhere, even though it would have allowed me to sleep sooner.
  • I'm here safely.
So there you have it--the best and the worst. Since I've been here, I've pretty well been taking it easy. I'm trying to drink lots of water and keep my feet up to bring the swelling down. On the bright side, the swelling actually is about the same as it usually is for me after this trip--I expected it to be worse because of the pregnancy, but apparently it helped that I was able to have my feet up most of the time until I got to Dulles. At some point soon, I'll finish unpacking (I've unpacked my stuff but not Alexa's stuff), go through the boxes that have arrived (things we shipped and things that were shipped from our online registry), do some ironing (that I should have done in Cairo but just threw in the suitcase unironed instead), and make a list of things I need to buy. But for now, I think I'm going to sit here with my water and my mom's laptop (mine is having internet issues right now), keep my feet up, and catch up on reading the blogs I've missed in the last few days.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Going Home

If I've done the math right, I will be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean as this blog posts. I'm going home to the United States for the summer. This will be the first time that I've left Jeff for any significant amount of time since we married--three weeks for job training used to count as significant, but not anymore, not with this separation looming over us. I have mixed feelings about going.

On the one hand, it will be good to be home. It will be good to spend time with my family, to see my niece and nephews who have all changed so much over the last year, to get to know my little nephew who was born just before we left and who was too little during our visit last year to remember me. It will be good to shop at familiar American stores, to eat at my favorite restaurants, to live again in a community that is heavily influenced by Christianity. To understand the language spoken around me. It especially will be good to know that I'm in the place where, if it's needed, my daughter can receive the best medical care in the world--I realized not too long ago that if she were to be born prematurely, on that very day, in America, my daughter would have a hard fight ahead of her, but she probably would win it; if she were born even now in Egypt, she probably would die. From that day forward, I've been ready to step on a plane.

But on the other hand ... I'm going to be away from my husband for over a month before he's able to come for the birth, unless something unexpected happens. I won't see my cats--don't laugh! they're my fur babies, sweet little souls who are part of my family!--for four months. There are other aspects of life in Egypt that I'll miss, but not so much that I can't bear it. But I hate the thought that my husband won't see my belly grow or feel the increasing strength of Alexa's kicks, that my cats won't understand why I'm suddenly gone, that I won't be here to take care of my family. Even after Alexa's birth, Jeff will be with us for such a short time before he has to come back without us, while we wait for her medical clearance and all the paperwork to get her added to our orders and get her passport and visa. We're all going to miss out during this separation: Jeff, me, Alexa, Isis, and Cleo.

It doesn't help that Jeff and I both have been sick this week. Jeff has something going on with his inner ear, so he's experiencing vertigo--he has medicine that's supposed to take the edge off the symptoms, but it isn't doing much good, and the doctor says that his body basically has to deal with the problem itself. I've been fighting off a cold and finally admitted defeat last night. On the positive side, we've had more time together, since Jeff hasn't been able to work much. On the negative side, we've both wanted to do nothing but sleep. I'm not even finished preparing the freezer meals I want to leave for him--I still have a casserole, a double batch of macaroni and cheese, and a total of four batches (two singles and a double) of meatloaf to make, although I've already made the lasagna and more batches of chili than I care to think about. I still have so much to do (cooking, ironing, getting stuff together from all over the apartment, then packing on Sunday) ... and all I want to do is go back to bed.

This is turning into a downer. I've always been that way--more likely to be down when I'm tired, which is definitely the case this week. Time to look on the bright side. Everything that has to get done will get done, and the rest of it is probably not as important as I'm making it. I will be away from Jeff and the cats for way too long, but I'll have all that time with my extended family--parents, brother, sister, niece and nephews, the in-laws; I'll even get to see a grandmother, cousin, and maybe an aunt or two. I'll be able to do the needed shopping in air conditioned stores, with air conditioned transportation to and from them. My baby will be born in an environment where, even if things don't go according to the plan we have for her, things are incredibly likely to turn out well. I'll be staying with my mother for the first six to eight weeks of Alexa's life, a time when I'm sure to need and want her help more than ever. While I'm home, I'll get to attend, even be a bridesmaid in, my brother's wedding (assuming we can figure out the correct dress size and get it in time--the wedding's just two months after my guess date and I have no idea what size I'll be then). And even if I am dealing with sinus issues while I fly on Monday, at least I'll be dealing with them from the comfort of a business class seat--my first time ever in business class; thank you to my hubby for upgrading me!--rather than from a small, uncomfortable economy class seat.

As they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and when I think about it, I realize that this one really is more lining than cloud. The cloud is a doozy for someone who's philosophically and emotionally opposed to leaving her husband (and not fond of the idea of leaving her cats either!), but there is a lot of lining. Now to just focus on that ...

Monday, May 31, 2010

Pregnancy Update

It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted anything here--sorry about that. I'd like to say it's because things have been busy, but ... it isn't. It's because I've been so tired that I really haven't been doing much to write about. But there has been a little going on with the pregnancy, so I decided to update you about that anyway.

At my regular prenatal appointment a week and a half ago, my nurse asked all the standard questions, including "Have you been experiencing any pain?" The short answer to that question this time was yes, although there was nothing that I thought was unusual or problematic. However, it's always safer to report it all and let the doctor decide, so that's what I did. I was right about the hip and thigh pain that I've been experiencing for over a month now--that's normal, and it's normal for it to be worse at night than during the day. But that isn't the only pain I've experienced. I've also experienced a little bit of abdominal pain, mostly when I'm wiggling around in bed at night trying to get comfortable or when I reach for something on the top shelf in my kitchen cabinets. This pain also struck me as normal--after all, my abdominal muscles are under a lot of strain right now, so it makes sense to me that any use or stretching of them may be enough to push them over the edge into soreness or even a momentary acute pain. My nurse practitioner largely agreed with me, but she looked a little doubtful. She said that pain like that was unusual, and unusual is a little concerning, so she wanted me to go see a local OB just to make sure everything was okay.

We made that trip last week. Long story short, everything is fine. There is no indication that anything at all is wrong, other than that I may be a little dehydrated. Both my nurse practitioner and the OB emphasized that, especially now that I've started having a few Braxton Hicks pressure waves, which can be magnified by dehydration. The OB, Dr. Nevine, also recommended that I start taking Cal-Mag, a calcium supplement, in addition to the prenatal vitamins that I was already taking. That made sense to me, as I regularly realize that I've gone all day without eating or drinking much of anything that has a lot of calcium in it--I try so hard to make sure that I drink enough water (which means that I often drink nothing but water, drink it constantly even when I'm not thirsty, and still end up with signs of dehydration) that I don't drink much milk.

Dr. Nevine also palpated my abdomen and informed me that Alexa currently is transverse. That means that she's lying across my abdomen; instead of being head up (fully breech) or head down (in the proper birthing position), her head is on one side and she's lying against my cervix. It isn't a problem at this point; most babies turn sometime between weeks 32 and 38, and I'm just now at week 31. She'll probably turn into the proper birthing position on her own, but if she doesn't, my OB in the States may be able to turn her manually later on. I actually was happy to hear that she's transverse, just because that's how I felt like she was laying. It would have been disconcerting to be told that she was up-and-down when I could have sworn that I felt her more side-to-side. But it will be nice when she gets herself into the birthing position--if she were to stay transverse until time for her birth, that would be an automatic cesarian section, which I'd much rather avoid.

In other pregnancy news, I've started doing a home study course for natural childbirth. It's a 5-week course with weekly reading and daily practice. I have not been good about doing the practice, which is why I'm not keeping to the 5-week schedule so well--I keep realizing that it's time to read another lesson but I haven't done my practicing. The course I'm using is Hypnobabies. I was very skeptical of it at first, and I'm still skeptical of some of its claims, but overall I think it will be a good method for me. I don't think of it as self-hypnosis (although it turns out that there actually is some research out there indicating that people can be trained to use self-hypnosis for effective pain relief) so much as I think of it as teaching myself not to be afraid of childbirth and to relax deeply.

The idea is that fear causes the release of adrenaline and increased muscle tension. Increased muscle tension can stall labor, as the uterine muscle fibers that have kept the cervix closed during pregnancy tense up and refuse to be drawn out of the way by the uterine muscle fibers that are trying to open the cervix for birth. Increased muscle tension causes the experience of pain as these muscles work against each other. So it's important for a woman not only to not be afraid, but to be able to relax deliberately in order to minimize muscle tension and allow her body to birth with as little resistance as possible, which should minimize the pain she experiences as well.

Some claim that using self-hypnosis effectively leads to completely pain-free birth, but I don't expect that--although the course is trying hard to get me to expect it. I am, however, working to teach myself to expect a birth that is calm and manageable--one during which I will be able to use the relaxation cues I've learned in order to help my body relax. That's what the daily practice is all about--they call it learning self-hypnosis; I call it conditioning my body to relax in the presence of certain cues. I don't do the practice as often as I should, though, because apparently my body already relaxes in the presence of those cues--I keep falling asleep! I don't expect that to be an issue during my birthing time, so I do need to teach myself to relax in the presence of those cues while not falling asleep.

Oh, and if you've noticed some oddities in my vocabulary, it isn't just you. Part of the Hypnobabies method for reducing fear involves changing the way we think about certain things by changing the words we use to describe them. "Contractions" become "pressure waves," an equally accurate descriptor without the associations with pain that most people have. "Labor" becomes "my birthing time," again because so many associate labor with pain. I forget the other vocabulary changes that I'm supposed to be making, although there is one that may or may not be a Hypnobabies thing, but I've read it from several midwives and doulas: the word "delivery" is a little demeaning to mothers as it currently is used with regard to childbirth.

"Who will deliver your baby?" That makes it sound like the doctor is doing all the work--and making all the decisions--and the mom is just along for the ride. Midwives and doulas tend to talk instead about a medical professional attending the birth or catching the baby (although sometimes, depending on parental preferences, the doctor attends and the father catches), and the mother is the one who is birthing her baby. This change in terminology linguistically gives control to the mother, rather than to the birth attendant, at least to the extent that anyone can control birth. I like this terminology better than the traditional "delivery" terminology. After all, do I really want to use the same word for childbirth that I use when the pizza shows up at my door?

I think that's it for the pregnancy updates, other than one kind of amusing story. Alexa had been kicking me fairly regularly, although not all the time by any means. Then suddenly she stopped kicking me more than a couple of times a day. I started to get worried and mentioned it to Jeff. Within an hour, Alexa was kicking me constantly--four or more times in the first 15 or 20 minutes. Now it may be that frequently sometimes, less at other times, and none at all if I'm moving around a lot (probably rocking her to sleep), but it never gets to the point anymore where I even consider worrying before she goes into a frenzy of movement. It's almost as if she understood me tell Jeff that I was worried--I know she hears everything I say now, although understanding is unlikely--and she's determined not to worry me again.

Okay, that's really it. Hopefully it won't be two weeks again before I post something, but no guarantees. Right now my time is being spent sleeping, chasing Cleo away from the speakers (she's taken to licking them), and getting ready to head back to the States before too long. Speaking of those speakers ... gotta go!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Window Into the Womb

Modern technology is truly amazing. I don't often take the time to appreciate it, but sometimes I'm hit with the realization of just how awesome modern technology is--the ability to see and hear events that are occurring on the other side of the world, or right in front of us but so small that our eyes can't discern them; the ability to record and play back images of all kinds; even the ability to cool an entire residence to a comfortable temperature when it feels like a furnace outside (an ability for which I am becoming increasingly grateful as summer approaches!).

I am in even greater awe of the intricacy and majesty of God's creations for which He did not use human minds and hands as His tools--rugged mountains, beautiful meadows, delicately balanced ecosystems.

And then there are those times when modern technology and God's creation intersect. The ingenuity of man--enabled by God--allows us to see a side of God's creation that wasn't possible a century ago, a decade ago, or in some cases, a year ago. Those times truly fill me with wonder.

The most striking examples of those times recently have occurred as I'm lying in an exam room looking at a large screen mounted on the wall opposite me--staring in awe at my daughter as she rests, squirms, and hiccups inside me.

During this pregnancy, Jeff and I have had an opportunity that I doubt we'll have with any future pregnancies--the opportunity to watch as our daughter grows and matures before her birth. Most of these ultrasounds were obtained for less than desirable reasons, as you'll read, but the result is spectacular. So join me now as I offer you a glimpse through the window into the womb ...


The picture above was taken on 12 December 2009, when I was around six weeks along (around four weeks once you realize that the first two weeks of pregnancy are before ovulation even occurs!). We had an early ultrasound because of the cramping and bleeding that I was experiencing, which raised fears of an ectopic pregnancy. The purpose of this ultrasound wasn't actually to see the baby--that was impossible at this point--but to see the gestational sac and determine where it had implanted. The gestational sac is labeled on the above image as "GS," and as you can see, it was located within the uterus, much to our relief.


This next picture was taken on 20 December 2009, at almost 8 weeks. Because of my symptoms, my medical providers wanted to see evidence that the baby was still alive before they began any routine prenatal care. During this ultrasound, we saw the baby--I think they called her an embryo at that point--and the characteristic flutter that indicates the beating of a developing heart. The baby is the light spot inside the black area, with the two plus signs indicating her length. Although this ultrasound was just over one week later than the first, that one week plus the benefits of more sensitive equipment enabled us to go from "no baby" to "baby," albeit "tiny tiny baby." And there is no way I can describe the joy and relief of seeing the rhythmic flutter that showed that our baby was alive.


This picture was taken on 24 January 2010, at almost 13 weeks. We had this ultrasound because we wanted nucal translucency screening. This early screening gives a good indication of several possible problems with the baby--we knew that we would have this child even if she had problems, but we also knew that if that were the case, we would need time to prepare ourselves for the arrival of a special needs baby. So we opted for the screening. The opportunity for another ultrasound was a bonus! It was during this ultrasound that we first heard Alexa's heart beat and saw her move. You can see in the picture above that she definitely looks more baby-like here, with a recognizable head and body. We also saw her little arms and legs waving as she maneuvered--her high activity level during this ultrasound had me comparing her to a jumping bean.


For this next one, I just had to show you two pictures. These were taken on 30 January 2010, at almost 14 weeks. We discovered after having the previous ultrasound taken that the hospital where we had been referred for that couldn't actually do the nucal translucency screening. They did the ultrasound but they didn't draw the blood or presumably have the connections to send the blood for testing. So we went to a different clinic, repeated the ultrasound, and had the blood drawn and shipped to the UK--or maybe it was Germany; I don't remember--for testing. The results eventually came back that there was little likelihood that the baby had any of the disorders that this test detects, and we were able to see our daughter in 3D for the first time. These are my two favorite pictures. The top one shows Alexa's big head, her face, and her little body, all facing left. I like how she appears to be praying. The bottom one--my all-time favorite--shows Alexa facing us. I'm not sure if the structure on the left is the placenta or what, but I love how it appears to cradle her as she rests comfortably against it.


I just had to show you two from this one as well. These sonograms were taken on 17 March 2010, around 20 weeks. This is the ultrasound that most people get, in which they find out the baby's gender. Our daughter was being modest that day. The doctor told us that he was "almost certain" that she was a girl, but his voice and body language was a little less confident than I would have found assuring. She wouldn't show us "the goods" that day, but she did let us get a couple of pictures of her face. In the top picture, you can make out her eyes, nose, and mouth as she lies on her back. You also can see her arms and legs, but she has a leg or foot strategically placed. The bottom picture had Jeff making cracks about Skeletor for a while. I admit it--I didn't get offended and even joined in the Skeletor comments some; it's an apt description of how her face appears in that picture!


Okay, I admit it--this picture also was taken on 17 March. We had our last ultrasound on 5 May 2010, just last week, at around 27 weeks. There was no medical reason for this ultrasound. We wanted confirmation on the gender, and when the doctor suggested another ultrasound, we saw no reason to decline. We also were hoping for a nice view of Alexa's face, since it should have a little more fat on it now and look more like a baby than a skeleton. However, she absolutely did not cooperate with that. The picture above shows a side view of the position that she stayed in pretty much the whole time. Her legs are up, in a pike position, so that her legs and feet cover her face. We can't even get a side view of her face because her arms were blocking it. During this most recent ultrasound, we didn't even get this view. We got the view that showed us her backside and the backs of her legs, hiding her face. I don't feel comfortable posting that picture online, because her backside is clearly discernible, and even though she is still in the womb, a lady is entitled to her modesty. She did shift position just enough for the doctor to say that she is definitely a girl--either that or he's "imagining things," in his words. He seemed confident enough this time to reassure me that all of our cute baby girl clothes will be put to good use. (Although I did wake up two mornings later from a dream in which our little girl turned out to be a boy who had to go nameless for several days because we hadn't picked out a boy's name.)

So there you have it--a sampling of the glimpses we've been given of Alexa's development so far. I don't think we'll have any more ultrasounds, unless something unexpected happens, so these will be the last pictures of her until her birth. It looks like the curtains have closed on the window, to take the analogy too far :) But I always will be grateful that during this, our first pregnancy, we were able to watch as our baby developed from a tiny bean-shaped embryo into a full-fledged baby.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Surprise!!

Last Thursday evening, Jeff and I attended an end-of-the-year potluck supper for our life group. We knew it would be fun--life group get-togethers always are--but we had no idea just how fun it would turn out to be.

It started out pretty much as expected. We arrived, we chatted, we laughed, and once everyone had arrived, we ate. While we ate, we chatted and laughed some more. After dinner, I was not surprised that those who finished first took their own dishes to the kitchen and then returned for the dishes of those who finished later. As one of the last to finish (I was talking too much), I was mildly surprised that two different people almost took my plate before I had finished. Strange, but I chalked it up to overeagerness to be helpful. It turns out that I should have chalked it up to a determination to keep me out of the kitchen!

Jeff finished even later than I did (he had seconds) and made it to the kitchen without being intercepted. I found out later that after he was already in the kitchen, across the room from the door, placing his dishes by the sink, he noticed that the two or three ladies who were in there at the time were looking at him in horror. At the same time, he noticed the cakes on the counter. He quickly whipped his head around in the other direction and said something along the lines of, "I didn't see anything!" He said later that he was surprised that he didn't turn from the sink to see the ladies lined up in front of the counter; they said later that they were frozen in shock and couldn't think quickly enough what to do.

Not too long after that, our hostess stood up to make a short speech. In it, she revealed that our life group had been talking about us behind our backs--planning a surprise baby shower! Then the games began. First up was a "descrambling" game. The group was divided into two teams, each of which was shown a scrambled word at the same time. The first team to descramble the word got a point. The words all were pregnancy- or baby-related, like "high chair" or "diapers." My team won by a huge margin.

Then there were races. For one, a couple from each team had to put a cloth diaper on a baby doll--using only one hand each. They were judged both on time and on how well the diaper was on. Other than banging the doll's head against the table--which both teams did at some point--both teams did well. There also was the "Who can drink a bottle of juice fastest?" race (we forgot to specify that it was against the rules to untwist the cap and guzzle it, so that's what the winner eventually did) and the hanging baby clothes race, in which a representative of each team had to multitask by simultaneously holding the baby, hanging baby clothes on a clothes line, and telling a story into a mobile phone. That one was funny because of the stories people came up with and the poor little baby doll who ended up with her face in a man's armpit while he held her in a basket.

After that, it was time for gifts. Wow, what a haul!


I don't know if you can see everything clearly in the picture, so let me tell you what's in there: We have three stuffed animals, massage oil (a gift for Jeff that I'm going to appreciate greatly!), a onesie/skirt set, a short set, a hooded winter suit with cool foldover arms and legs, and more assorted onesies and sleepers. We also have a wonderful variety of bibs, diaper covers, wash/burp cloths, a navel protector, and onesies that were embroidered just for us by one of our friends. And the circle pattern that you see peeping through in the middle is a tiny bit of the nursing cover that will be so incredibly useful as I learn to nurse modestly in public (think 14+ hours in airplanes and airports on the trip to Cairo). Oh, and I know you probably can't see this in the picture: there's also a bouncy seat. It's up at the top, at the corner of the "Drool is Cool" bib and the nursing cover. Okay, so it's just a picture in the picture, but the APO mail system has been slow lately, so the real thing didn't quite make it here in time for the shower. But from the picture, I think Alexa is going to enjoy it. And I like the looks of it--it has safari-type animals on it, sort of an unofficial, accidental theme in the bedding and such that we've picked out. (We didn't pick a whole matching set, just some separate sheets, blankets, and a mobile, but it definitely is turning out to be a safari theme.)

We have great friends, don't we?

After the gifts, we had a time of prayer. Our group prayed for us, for Alexa, and for the two couples in our group who will be leaving Cairo permanently this summer. That part was bittersweet--life as an expat has many more good-byes than life back in the States had. But at the same time, we would never have met all these wonderful people had we stayed at home, and the joy of the relationships definitely outweighs the sadness of the good-byes. It's even possible that we'll see one of the couples again.

After this more serious time, we got back to the lighthearted bits--it was time for cake. Two of them, to be precise. And they both tasted as wonderful as they look. You can't really tell from the pictures how large they were--we ended up taking home half of the chocolate one, at the insistence of the person who brought it. Only about 25% of the white one was eaten that night--it was huge--and the rest was divvied up among all the guests. We took home a paper-plateful of it, too. Both remained tasty over the next several days.


After cake, everyone started winding down. It was getting late; I wasn't the only one whose eyelids started drifting downward. After the other guests had left, our host and hostess kindly walked with Jeff and me back to our place--we live maybe 2 blocks from them--to help us carry our cake, presents, and dishes.

It was a good night. The potluck part was fun; the shower was hilarious. And most importantly, it was a time of great fellowship with great friends.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sharm el Sheikh


Toward the end of February, Jeff and I took a mini-vacation and spent a long weekend in Sharm el Sheikh. (I know, I've taken my sweet time writing about it, but what else is new?) Some friends were spending a week there to dive, and we decided to join them for the last part of their vacation. We arrived on a Wednesday evening and flew back to Cairo that Saturday.

Because our friends were diving, we knew that they were both getting up and going to bed early. When we arrived Wednesday night, they very well may have been asleep already. So we checked in, unpacked a little, then went in search of the restaurant we had chosen for dinner: El Kababgy, the Oriental restaurant on the resort. (Here in Egypt, what we would call "Middle Eastern" is labeled "Oriental," in accordance with the way the word was used before Europeans became aware of the Far East. So an Oriental restaurant is not Chinese or Japanese, but local, often serving Lebanese and/or Egyptian food.) We got a little lost on the way, but that was due to the darkness and our own exhaustion more than anything else, I think. It was worth the effort to find the place--the hummus, shish tawook, and kofta all were delicious.

After dinner, we headed back to our room for some sleep. On the way, though, I stopped to take a couple of photographs. The lights of Sharm across the bay from our resort were beautiful, although I couldn't get any pictures of that to turn out well. I also was fascinated by the traditional lamps that were used to provide the (sparse) lighting on the stairs and walkways.


The next morning, Jeff and I slept late. Then we found our way to the main restaurant (I forget the name) where the breakfast buffet was held. There we found an omelet station, a fruit bar, a bread bar, an Oriental corner (which boasted fuul and some other local breakfast dishes), and a variety of egg and sausage dishes (not pork sausage; that's very unusual in Egypt). Most importantly to me, there also were the usual fresh, delicious juices--orange, apple, and hibiscus. After enjoying a leisurely breakfast, Jeff and I took a walk around the resort to see what was available. Then we headed to the pool, where we spent most of the day relaxing and reading.

That evening, we met up with our friends for dinner. Their dive team had told them about a good steak restaurant in Na'ama Bay, an area not too far from the resort, and we were up for anything. We took a couple of the hotel taxis to the area where they'd been told to go, but we had issues finding the exact restaurant that had been mentioned. We were able, however, to find another steak place that was very good. The best part about the restaurant was the atmosphere--it looked like a jungle in there. There seemed to be trees growing inside the restaurant. The lighting was dim, mostly candlelight. The music was unfortunately loud, but it didn't detract too much. After a very nice dinner, we rolled ourselves out of our seats and began heading back.

I must say, it was interesting watching our friends--who are living outside of the U.S. but not in Egypt--negotiate a taxi fare. There was quite a bit of discussion about exactly which taxi we would be getting into, as it wasn't the drivers who were negotiating. There was a long line at the taxi stand, and those drivers at the front of the line wanted outrageous prices because they had had to wait so long to get to the front of the line. It was set up so that once a driver was in the line, they couldn't pull out, so the order in which they received passengers was fixed. Passengers who didn't want to pay the large prices could negotiate with representatives of other drivers, who may be parked across the divided highway, a long walk down the road, or who may not be parked at all--they may just cruise by and illegally stop to pick us up. I'm not sure how many taxis were rejected for fear of crossing the busy road. It was a new situation even for Jeff and me, since nothing is that organized in Cairo; we just flag down a taxi and negotiate right there on the street, no matter how many horns are honking behind us.

The next day, the group all met for breakfast. Our friends weren't diving that day, as they were flying the next and needed a day between diving and flying for safety reasons. We decided to spend the morning relaxing by the pool. While the others headed there, I grabbed my camera and made another round of the resort. There were just too many beautiful sights that I hadn't captured yet. After my detour, I rejoined the others and spent the morning reading and relaxing.

Around noon, we decided to leave the resort for lunch. Our friends confessed that every day as they traveled to and from the dock, they had been eying the McDonald's down the road with longing--it's funny the things you start to yearn for when you live in a country where they aren't available. We were going to take a taxi there, but the hotel taxis were inflexible in their pricing, and they were going to charge us as much for a 2-minute drive as it would have been for a 15-minute drive, so we decided to walk. It really wasn't that far, and we thought of it as a preemptive strike on the calories we were about to consume. So we walked to McDonald's and thoroughly enjoyed the absolute glee with which our friends attacked their burgers. Afterward, a few of us walked two doors down to Starbucks (mmm, Frappuccino!), while a couple more went to the nearby convenience store to stock up on snacks for the next day's plane ride. Unfortunately, one of our number started feeling badly--I think she's allergic to wheat and unknowingly had consumed some in her yogurt--so we postponed the shopping we were going to do and headed back to the resort instead. We all agreed that we were ready for our afternoon naps anyway :-)

A couple of hours later, four of us went out to do our shopping. We went back to Na'ama Bay and allowed the shopkeepers to lure us in, although we disappointed most of them. We did a lot of looking and very little buying. Our friends were looking for t-shirts to commemorate one of the dives they had taken--Thistlegorm, I think, a wreck site that's a really big deal to divers, and justifiably so, from the pictures they took. They also wanted some cartouches, but Jeff and I cautioned them against anyone who would be able to customize them in the time they had left--tourists have been known to discover that the characters were glued on. It also seemed that the vendors were offering lower quality for higher prices than what we've seen, so we offered to simply order the cartouches from our favorite jeweler and ship them. (We still haven't done that, but we plan to do it this weekend, promise!) Then we started looking for "typical Egyptian" souvenirs, and I admit that I had a hard time coming up with something that is typical Egyptian other than cartouches, papyrus, alabaster, and distinctive lamps or mashrabeyya (there's a picture of what I mean here), the last two of which are common throughout the Middle East. We did eventually find a shop that had a variety of authentic--rather than touristy--Egyptian items, some of which even had tags from one of my favorite charity vendors here in Cairo. Better yet, they even had clearly labeled prices, which were reasonable, considering that it was located in a very touristy area. And, when I spoke with the shopkeeper in Arabic and he was curious as to why I was able to do so, I told him that Jeff and I live in Cairo. He shook his head, said "I wish you hadn't told me that," and dropped the prices on the items we purchased by about 10%.

After making our purchases, we headed back to the resort (more fun with taxis!). Later that evening, we met at El Kobabgy for dinner. Jeff and I were the first ones there, so we waited outside for the others. While we waited, we watched a woman baking bread in the traditional oven located just outside the restaurant. She saw us watching and gave us a sample of flatbread fresh from the oven--so delicious! Eventually the others showed up and we all went in to enjoy our last evening in Sharm.

The next day, we all left at different times, some very early, others not until late afternoon. Jeff and I enjoyed a late breakfast, then checked out of the hotel. We got back to Cairo in the early afternoon and had some time to get settled back in at home. I quickly discovered, while catching up on Facebook and with friends' blogs, that we had missed the event of a decade in Cairo--a genuine hail and rain storm, a true deluge! I'm glad that we didn't have to put up with the headaches that our friends here reported--such as stranded metro riders, parking lot roads, and water up to the 12-inch curbs--but I couldn't help but be a little miffed that Cairo finally got real rain, and we missed it. Oh, well, maybe next year ... but probably not.

(Side note for anyone who may want to visit Sharm: we stayed at the Sofitel resort in Na'ama Bay. It was beautiful--all of the pictures throughout this post were taken on the grounds; this last one is of a pattern that was on the ceiling of the reception area. The rooms were clean and mostly comfortable. Our air conditioner didn't seem to be functioning as well as we would prefer; it got hot during the day, even when we left it on all day, but it cooled off quickly in the evening when we opened the main door and the door to our balcony to let a breeze come through. The service and food at all three restaurants that we tried was very good--El Kababgy, the main one, and another outdoor cafe where we had lunch on Thursday. Overall, I would recommend it as a great place to go for a weekend getaway. I don't think I'd want to stay longer than a weekend unless I was diving or had other activities planned, though. Oh, and a word of warning for American prudes like me--there were guests from all over the world, so pool-side attire ranged all the way from niqab to topless bikinis.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cute Little Things

Not too long ago, Jeff spent two weeks back in the Washington, DC, area for work. His hotel was in the same area where we lived before we moved to Egypt--in fact, it was the same hotel in which we stayed for a few days after the movers took our stuff and before our scheduled departure. Jeff, therefore, was able to spend evenings and 3 weekend days (he arrived on a Saturday and left two Fridays later) with friends; he even attended our home church for the first time in almost two years. And even better (from my perspective, though not from his), he was able to spend a full weekend visiting Babies'R'Us, Target, and other brick-and-mortar stores to actually lay eyes--and hands!--on some of the things we've been looking at online and considering for Alexa. Thanks to his trip, we were able to decide on the glider we want for the nursery, and he was able to give me guidelines within which I can pick out any crib, changing table, and dresser I want once I go back this summer. He also made a decision about the baby carrier that we'll purchase for his use (I had already chosen mine--turns out he'll get the same kind, or we may even share) and the new digital camera we'll use to record those cute little moments of Alexa's life. It was a good, productive time, in addition to fun for him--watching March Madness live, eating at his favorite restaurants, seeing friends, and in particular, spending lots of time with his "bestest buddy" from college (who again earned his "bestest buddy" status by accompanying Jeff on the baby shopping expedition).

But Jeff did not content himself with doing the bare minimum that I had requested for Alexa. He dragged his buddy not only to the furniture department, but to the clothing department. Unbeknownst to me, he was on a mission to show me in a tangible way that he's excited about our coming daughter and that he wants to be involved in her life and in the decisions that we have yet to make before her arrival. This is what he came back with:


I'm not sure if you can read it or not, but the onesie says "Daddy loves me." I think that says it all, doesn't it?

Jeff wasn't the only one thinking of our little Alexa while he was home. Another good friend--friends, actually, a husband and wife couple--sent a gift back with Jeff. When we opened it after his return home, we found these adorable little items:


Again, I'm not sure how well the details will show up in the picture. The onesie in the middle (which does have sleeves; they're just folded back so you can see the other onesies too) has a teddy bear and a duck on it, and the one on the right has a giraffe. The left one has a pattern of teddy bears, giraffes, ducks, and sheep. And of course, the sleeper has frogs :)

I've also purchased just a couple of things for Alexa here in Egypt. At a charity bazaar, I bought a hooded towel and a board book that I remember fondly from my own childhood:


And then there are all the wonderful gifts that we received at a surprise baby shower a couple of nights ago--but I think I'll hold off on sharing those. I may write a post about the shower itself, so if I do, I'll share pictures then.

I think it may be a good thing that I'm not in the States right now. Baby items are just such cute little things--in the States, it's entirely too easy to go to the mall or to Target or to [insert your favorite store] and spend entirely too much money on them. Here, I'm sure that there are stores that have the same cute little things, but I've had no reason to find them before now, and I'm doing remarkably well at resisting the impulse. It's allowing us to save the money we'll need for the larger baby purchases I'll make this summer ... and maybe have enough left over to buy some more cute little things too :)