Friday, February 6, 2009

My advice for getting through labor and the first week

I wrote this about a week after Conrad was born, to send to friends who were due not long after us. I found that the birthing classes and prenatal classes and books had given me a lot of good preparation, but there was a lot no one had ever mentioned. This is my attempt to catalog those things. I've emailed it to maybe a dozen people in the year (!) since Conrad was born and it's finally occured to me to put it on the baby blog. Der.


Bring your laptop to the hospital. You can use it to play music, watch movies, check the Internet if somebody tells you something odd, and send the birth email. As many people told me, labor is boring. You could be in the hospital for a long time waiting for things to happen, so it's nice to have a source of entertainment. And after he's born, he and mom will be sleeping a lot. That's when I sent out the first email and pictures.

Create your email announcement list well in advance and check it a few times to see if you left people off.

Bring food to the hospital, especially snacks that mom can eat. After you arrive they won't want to feed her, in case she needs a C-section at some point. That means she will go a long time without eating. Jean went more than 24 hours. Plus, once he's born, they will be bringing food to the mom, but not to you (although I found out after three days that I could have requested it). I'm sure, like Duke, that UNC has a handy cafeteria, but it's nice to have food in the room. Based on what we brought I would recommend dates and dried fruit, maybe a bit of chocolate, and hard candy if you guys like it. Don't bring cheese or salami. I thought I would have access to a fridge but it would have required getting a nurse to open and close it for me, or something.

Bring your cell phone, keep it charged and don't give anybody the room phone number. Basically what I'm saying is don't answer the phone. You will either be waiting anxiously or exhausted after the birth. So, don't give out the room phone number, because you'll be asleep when someone calls. Tell people to call your mobile, then turn the ringer off and return calls when you feel like it.

Know the complete address someone would need to send you flowers, in case one of those calls gets through. If someone does call and say they want to send flowers, ask them to send a small bouquet. In our small postpartum room the window sill was the only place we could put them and it helped that we didn't have to find room for a giant bouquet.

Lots of doctor-looking people will be asking you lots of questions, and you don't always have to answer. We had some guy doing a survey about flu shots come into the room and we politely told him to go away.

Have a birth plan, even if it's very simple, and force someone to discuss it with you. Maybe print it big and tape it to the wall. Despite everything we'd been told about how great Duke was at listening to our needs, no one ever asked us if we had one, and I never thought to bring it up. As soon as you arrive, ask everyone who comes into the room (and there will be dozens) "Who do I talk to about our birth plan?" until someone tells you. Ours was very simple, only a few items, but one was "we want to have skin to skin contact with the baby as soon as possible after he's born" and that didn't happen because it was a forceps delivery and therefore a medical procedure, but still, no one even knew we wanted to do it.

Back to all those people coming into the room: Feel free to ask "Who are you and why are you here?" Not because I think anyone unauthorized will sneak in, but because it's interesting to know, and in my experience they're pretty bad about telling you.

You will likely be in the hospital for 72 hours or more. If you're like me, you won't want to leave your wife alone for very long, and you certainly won't want to leave her and the baby. Bring a toilet kit, clothes to sleep in, slippers and maybe two changes of clothes. I brought more than I needed. Basically the 72 hours we were there felt like two long days.

Be careful not to bring too much stuff. If your postpartum room is like the one at Duke (tiny and crowded), you'll be tripping over stuff left and right.

Things we brought that we used:

  • laptop
  • playing cards
  • snacks
  • camera
  • cell phone
  • focal points (see below)
  • baby book (we had them put his footprints in it after they did it on the official form)
  • racquetball for Jean to squeeze during contractions
  • notepad and pen (this was crucial - in the minutes, hours and days after your child is born, you will think of hundreds of questions and forget them when the doctor or nurse is in the room).

We brought several books and magazines each and never even looked at them. Even though labor is boring and there are long stretches with nothing happening but contractions, reading seemed odd. We also barely watched TV. The cards were good during the long wait for dilation.

Shower and use the bathroom whenever you have the chance. There will come a time when you can no longer leave your wife's side to see to your own ablutions, so prepare for that moment.

This will sound odd, but think of things you want to say to her during labor. I found myself saying "Good job" so often that I began to feel ridiculous. Also, all the nurses during labor were saying "You're doing really good" and I would say "You're doing really well," and found myself worrying that they thought I was correcting them.

Bring some "focal points" for mom to stare at during labor. Jean, who I didn't think would care about that kind of thing, really did. It was very helpful for her to have objects in the middle distance (on top of the TV cabinet) to fixate on during contractions. I brought a hat with ears that we bought for the baby that she thought was very cute, and a little stuffed bunny that a friend's daughter gave us.

Buy your wife a gift that you can give to her in the hospital after the baby is born. I gave Jean a pair of earrings. They aren't as expensive as I would have liked, but they will always be the earrings I gave her in the hospital.

If you are able to take leave - paternity or otherwise - I suggest two weeks is the minimum. I get two weeks and I had a number of people suggest I take just one week at home and then something like a month of Fridays. I decided to take all two weeks together and I can't imagine what it would be like if I was back at work this week. I can't imagine what it will be like to go back on Monday. Plus, your wife will be overwhelmed, tired, sore and emotional and will need you to do most everything for her. The baby will be nursing roughly every three hours, and it takes about an hour at a time, so as you've figured out, your wife will not be sleeping more than two hours at a time.

When you get home, you will have lots of people offering to help. Have a list of things for people to do, and don't be afraid to ask them to do things like clean the fridge or do laundry. Most people would rather spend the entire four hours swaddling and holding the baby, so you need to give them direction.

Also, when people want to come over, tell them to bring food. This is the one time you can get away with it. We ate a lot of chicken pot pies from Whole Foods as they were tasty and easy to heat up. Casseroles are good, too. The less you have to worry about, the better.

Also, don't bother trying to "stock up" on sleep. I don't think it works that way. One thing I will say is start eating well now: eat a balanced diet, get some exercise if you can, hydrate, stay away from junk food. Once you go into labor you will be running for a long time, and the cleaner the fuel you have inside you, the better you will feel. I did a 21-day fruit and veg cleansing diet in mid-January and it was the best thing I could have done to get ready.


Catherine said...

All I can say is: Jean, you have one heckuva husband! May many more new fathers take his words to heart.

opa said...

How to get through labor on November 18th, 1965: Get your wife to the hospital around 7:30 in the morning. Sit in the waiting room for a while. (Go in the room??!!) When the OB comes along and tells you to go home because it'll be some time yet, believe him. David Buchanan Thomas arrives at 4:30 p.m. You have been lying on the couch listening to Jobim singing "The Girl From Ipanema." From then on, whenever you hear the song, you'll think of DBT's birthday.

Jenny said...

that is some oddly appropriate comment spam.

I think you sent this to us! Very, very helpful information. And it seems so long ago that we had to use it.

Dave said...

Yeah, I deleted the comment spam to which you referred.

I didn't just send it to you, I wrote it for you. The original was the email I sent to you guys in anticipation of your Blessed Event.

Marsosudiro said...

Good job! Er, I mean: very nice.

Smart people should write these guides for other predictable but infrequent important occasions like weddings, funerals, going to court, etc. Actually, I know that people have written those guides -- they're just not always as good or as available. Not nearly as available as those ubiquitous "worst case scenario" books, which I doubt anyone (except the flight staff) on the Hudson River flight read or remembered or had with them.

BTW -- would an airplane neck pillow have been useful, given that you might be sleeping in a chair instead of a bed?

Jenny said...

It definitely helped, Dave. I don't remember much from that period of time, but we followed many of your suggestions. We also didn't let anyone take the baby away at 3am, that was very good advice.

aisha said...

opa is the bomb! I love that song! Good advice Dave, I am copying it and forwarding it with a little attribution (my friend's husband says..) as you read this.