Maternity Leave

It’s no surprise that parental leave, like so many  other issues related to women and healthcare, in the U.S. is a disaster. Fewer than half of women who take a maternity leave in this country are paid for it, and even the beauty that is unpaid FMLA is tarnished by the list of requirements one and their employer have to meet in order to qualify. And now that we know that fewer than 40% of American families can afford a $1000 emergency, thinking about income replacement for even a six week leave leaves most families in the dirt.

This is a crime.

The policy in my workplace is very average, especially in the education field—6 weeks unpaid. I’m lucky in the sense that my primary concern was not money, but time. Even if they wouldn’t pay me, I know we can fall back on family for support. This involves a tremendous degree of privilege that I recognize is not normal—it certainly would not be in my life had I not married into a much more financially stable family than my one of origin.

My issue was time. Six weeks assumes everything goes perfectly physically, and it also leaves a tiny baby at five weeks and change before mom goes back to work. I couldn’t imagine doing that. So, I had two options: try to get a better deal, or suck it up.

I tried for a better deal and got it. Here’s my advice for having that conversation.

First: ask. You can’t know what they’ll offer you if you’re afraid to ask for it. My approach was delicate but direct—“I know what the policy is, but I’m hoping we can talk about me taking a little more time.”

Second, plan. I went into this conversation with a calendar in mind—a start date and a return date, where my paid time off would kick in and end, where federal holidays and other days off would kick in, as a way to send the message that even though I was asking for more than standard, it really doesn’t amount to all that much time once you figure in the PTO, which most employers will require you to take first, and other days off. I also came in with a gameplan for who would take over my responsibilities (in my case, a long term sub and friend with a lot of experience and great rapport with kids), a sense of what I would ask her to do while I’m gone, and how I would get her up to speed (a couple days of job shadowing, complete lesson plans for two months, etc.). Part of this, too, is arming yourself with knowing your value to the organization and being willing to speak to it.

Lastly, appreciate. Know that your boss is bound by policy as much as you are. If they go out of their way to advocate and fight for something better for you, let them know that you appreciate that advocacy, even if it doesn’t work. In my case, it did work. My original request for 11 weeks off is now 12 because of medical advice to stop earlier. I’ve made sure, probably to the point of overkill, that my boss knows how incredibly grateful I am that she was willing to make it happen for me.

In short, I can’t think that it hurts to try. The worst case scenario is being slapped down, but one might be able to mitigate that possibility by  approaching the conversation thoughtfully and confidently.

Now that mine has started, I feel super weird. More on that soon.

The 3 Hour Glucose ~Experience~

Well, it happened. I flunked the one hour test.

They had me do it at about 28 weeks. The threshold for my doctor’s office was a score of 140, and I scored a 160. I currently report from the waiting room of the medical center.

After my initial devastation/guilt/shame-induced sobbing session after finding out I flunked wore off, I decided to just do my best to watch my diet and stay resolute that all would be well as I waited out the two weeks before they could get me in for the three hour. Usually, this would be scheduled pretty quickly, but the holiday sprung up in there as well. The doctor just advised me to keep an eye on my sugar in the meantime since it is a longer wait than they usually want.

Anyway, the three hour test doubles the amount of glucose you drink from 50 to 100mLs. You go in fasting (14 hours is what my doctor wanted, but YMMV), they do a draw, have you drink the glucola, and then they’ll draw again on the hour for the next three.

I find that the internet really overdramatizes this, and my experience has been fine. Of course, I’d rather not be spending half my day on this, but it isn’t a total nightmare.

Here’s my experience:

Fasting: The worst part, no way around it. Telling a woman at 30 weeks gestation she can’t eat for upwards of 16 hours feels like a special brand of torture. Be sure to put a protein rich snack in your bag for when you’re done—I have a small bag of cashews and a granola bar that I’m waiting to bust into.

To make the draws smoother, I drank about a liter of water before I left the house this morning, and nearly a liter before bed. I’m going to get up to pee 30 billion times regardless. May as well have fresh veins.

The first draw: Totally fine. They only need 5 mL at a time, so it goes very quickly—even for me, as someone who is kicking the world’s worst needle phobia. I was told no eating, no sleeping, and only small sips of water for the rest of the morning.

The drink: I find it pretty gross, and I have a strong sweet tooth. It’s like drinking 50 melted popsicles. But they give you five minutes to choke it down and offered it to me cold or room temperature. Cold seemed like a better bet, even though it’s currently -3 degrees outside.

Hour 1: Physically, this was the toughest hour. Immediate heartburn, a bit of wooziness, and sheer exhaustion. I’m not sure if it was from the drink or coming in tired, but it didn’t feel good. Coping strategies for this hour were reading a little and doing a guided meditation. No energy for more than that. The hunger pangs were so real.

The second draw: They used to same arm as the first time. Little pinch, but not a big deal.

Hour 2: My energy picked up and the second hour was spend playing cards with my husband. Heartburn was still fairly bad, but easing up. Small sips of water did really help.

The third draw: New arm! Not so bad! By this time, I was pretty energized by being so close to being done.

Hour 3: Pretty much the same as hour two. Energy was okay, hunger pangs less pronounced, and spirits pretty high. This really was not that bad.

The fourth draw: This one hurt a little more because the last one puffed up my arm a bit more, but it was fast and easy enough.

After it all: I did immediately eat some cashews and half a granola bar on the way to lunch. This gave me some immediate fatigue that lasted through eating an actual meal, but after that meal I felt relatively normal. Which, for third trimester me, is fatigued but in good spirits.

And now I know that I passed all of them! My numbers are below:

Fasting: 73 (needs to be less than 95)

Hour 1: 135 (needs to be less than 180)

Hour 2: 123 (needs to be less than 155)

Hour 3: 115 (needs to be less than 140)

All in all, I’m super relieved that I don’t have to alter my diet or monitor my sugars or anything, and that the baby won’t be impacted by sugar issues on my part. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world by any means, but it’s one less thing on my back.

Biggest regret: laying off my favorite Christmas treats.

 

Choosing a Doula

Why we chose to have a doula: 

So many reasons.

Crunchy, but backed by data: There are so many “natural birth” trends on which the data is shaky or nonexistent, but there is actual information to support that having a doula present gives one a significantly better shot at certain birth outcomes, such as:

  • 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin
  • 28% decrease in the risk of Cesarean
  • 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
  • 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
  • 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
  • 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience

Data from Evidence Based Birth

I’m a crunchy person either way, but having the information to back it up also makes this feel like a strong decision financially and with regards to health and wellbeing.

Environment and Advocacy: Because we’re having a hospital birth, it was very important to me to feel like I would have a constant in the room along with my husband to help keep me comfortable, focused, and advocated for. I am hoping to have a birth very light on interventions–no epidural, minimal monitoring, and most importantly to me, no Pitocin. But I also know that I can be susceptible to outside influence, and if doctors and nurses are pressuring me into interventions I don’t want or need, I need someone else there to keep me focused on what I want. Nurses and doctors are going to change shifts and come and go anyway. I want the constant of my husband and my doula amid the other things that are going to be in flux.

I also want the hospital setting to feel as homey as possible, and I know a doula will be a big part of creating the environment in the room that will feel that way–keeping lights low, music, pillows, bouncy balls, showers, baths, etc.

Education: Having a doula means having someone else who can dispense wisdom, advice, knowledge, and firsthand experience on something that I have exactly no firsthand experience in.

Emotional Support: One can’t have enough of this in such a vulnerable situation. Knowing that someone else has your back in that room, and having someone to express fears and misgivings to is extremely important to me.

Husband Support: My husband is the kind of guy that isn’t going to want to leave my side at all, but this is going to be a long process, and the man’s going to need food and rest. He also needs all of the above things almost as much as I do, and he deserves to have it. A doula will also make sure that his emotional and physical needs are met.

Doula interviewing tips: 

We only talked to two, but I learned a lot in that process. Most importantly, this would be the advice I would dispense:

  • Know yourself and what you want. I know what works for me and my personality. I’m a total extrovert and genuinely like most people, so I need to take a step back after having conversations like that to really assess what I think after the conversation-high wears off. I also know that advocacy for my wants and needs was the most important thing on my list after the general personality click, so when the second doula really spoke to that, I was sold. Go into these conversations knowing what you’re looking for in that partnership.
  • Keep your partner involved. It was really important to me that my husband also like this person. After all, we’re going be spending like 20 really intense hours together.
  • Keep an open mind. I thought that I would much prefer someone my own age, but our doula has kids my age, and it ended up feeling really natural to have someone who has kind of a cool-mom vibe. I really surprised myself on this.
  • Be honest with them about the financial end. It does cost a lot, and insurance is probably not going to help you. I asked both of them over email about how they take payment, and their feedback on that also helped shape the decision.
  • Ask about their philosophy and scope of service. Does it sync up with what you want and how you’re feeling about everything? Does it align with your personal values? If there’s a disconnect or a disagreement, do you feel comfortable voicing it?

How we chose our particular doula: 

So, the decision was clear for us–we wanted a doula. And, shockingly, we had a lot of options in our area. I looked at some websites, and reviews as I could find them, and narrowed it down to two we would interview first. If we didn’t feel a vibe with either of them, we would go back to the drawing board.

For both conversations, they came to our home to talk with us and get to know us a bit. The first person we talked to was part of a doula organization. I liked her personally and the services they offered, but also felt that she seemed to still be figuring things out. The thing that was their big brag was that when you sign with them, you get two doulas that you get to know during your pregnancy, and whoever is on call when you go into labor is your person. From her perspective, this was a major win–you wouldn’t run into a situation where you just straight up didn’t have a doula. This wasn’t a win for me and my husband though, because if I were to not get the one I hoped for during go-time…I’d be a nightmare bitch to deal with. Know thyself.

The next one we interviewed was an instant win. She’s warm, extremely experienced, easy to talk to, and had a lot to say about advocacy in the birth room, taking back your birth, and prioritizing the things you want while staying open to the process. I appreciated her straightforwardness and how comfortable she was talking about her work–she wasn’t trying to impress us, she was just telling us like it is. You could just tell she is someone who supremely knows what she’s doing and wants genuinely to get to know and help you. We ended up knowing some of the same people, which was fun and gave some common ground, and also ended up, somehow, on some pretty personal topics related to family and things like that. The fact that we had that instant comfort level and connection was the selling point for me. Her knowledge was obvious, but what really did it was the personal connection. I could tell she would be someone who would have solutions or ideas for issues during labor, not someone who was going to need to consult a guidebook to figure it out. She also only takes two clients a month and has never missed a birth. That track record was a winner. I feel 100% confident in the choice that we made and am legit excited to go into labor.

Demystifying the Anatomy Scan

I see a lot of confusion about this on the internet–anxieties about what it’ll be like, what to expect, and disappointment that what a lot of people see as their big Gender Reveal scan is sometimes a little…scientific. This is my experience with it, which hopefully can dispel some of those worries.

What is it? 

The anatomy scan, sometimes called a WellBaby scan or a Level 2 ultrasound, and popularly thought of as the Gender Reveal scan, is your big mid-pregnancy ultrasound. For some people, this may be the first scan they get. I had a lot of problems early in pregnancy, so I’d already had a handful of scans, but this was certainly the longest and most thorough. Generally thought of as your 20 week scan, the anatomy scan usually takes place anywhere from 18-22 weeks depending on your practitioner and schedule of appointments. Mine happened at 18w2d.

What to expect: 

This will be coupled with the usual routine you’re probably used to be now–weight, blood pressure, and pee-in-a-cup check. Depending on the practice, your practitioner might be in there with the tech or may be called in later to check on everything. If you had earlier transvaginal ultrasounds, you’re in luck–this one will stay happily on the outside.

Your ultrasound tech will ask you to bare your belly and will generously apply ultrasound gel. Mine used SO MUCH, because it evaporates relatively quickly and this one is little long.

My tech started with measurements of the circumference of the head and brain, which was rad as hell. 

Here’s the thing about this scan: be patient. While getting the sex of your baby may be super important to you today, this is not your healthcare provider’s primary concern–the health of your fetus is. Mine worked from the literal top down, so we didn’t get the big reveal until more than halfway through. Personally, I was transfixed by the nitty gritty of what she could see because it all looked pretty blobby to me without her guidance on what everything was.

Your tech will check the face for issues like a cleft palette and will work down to looking at the formation of the spine, lungs, stomach, arms and legs, and kidney and bladder function. Mine was thoughtful enough to show us a little black dot of pee in her bladder, which reassured her that all was working well. Likely, they will spend the most time looking at the heart–they want to see the four chambers and they will likely want to watch it beat several times to verify its function. Finally, they’ll check your placenta for placement and size.

The tech will also check the genitals to make sure that’s looking good, and if you want to know, will tell you what they think they’re looking at sex-wise. My tech has been doing ultrasounds for longer than I’ve been alive and is a PRO, but even she said that she could be wrong. They’ll most likely be correct, but know that there is some margin of error, especially if you go in on the earlier end of the 18-22 weeks, like I did.

All The Feels 

If I had to provide any other piece of advice other than patience, it would be to prepare yourself for this to be pretty emotional. You might have some worries that everything will look good, and you might be flooded with a lot of overwhelming feelings of joy and anticipation at what you’re seeing on the screen. Try to stay open to it–don’t be embarrassed about having reactions to what you’re seeing, and don’t be afraid to cry if it happens to move you that way. Your tech and practitioner have seen the gamut of human emotions, and you won’t surprise or unnerve them with yours. Likewise, encourage the same from your partner (PS–this is an appointment not to miss if they can help it). It was such a bonding experience to see all of it with my husband, and also made me feel so in community with my tech and OB.

Pictures

Certainly, you’ll walk away with some print outs of your scan. My tech goes a little ham on these, and I have a 3.5 foot scroll of these on my fridge now. Here are some highlights:

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This is what a fetus-face looks like from straight on in a 2D ultrasound. I think the tech thought we were a little weird for joking that she looks like a ninja turtle.

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Little foot. These are the best.

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This is a butt. It also somehow communicated that she’s a she to the tech–again, I’m endlessly impressed by their abilities.

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I believe this one was a shot of her bladder functioning. The little black dot in the center right is pee.

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My favorite, actually: fully articulated spine. There’s something really poetic and beautiful about carrying two spines.