I’ll Always Show Up For You…

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On 8-8-14 at 8:34am, my life changed forever when I heard her cry for the very first time. Welcome to the world, Aviva Zelda Shaftel….you are LOVED. I am your mommy….I will do everything in my power to take care of you, make you feel loved and create a happy, joyful, meaningful life for you…

I’ve been writing this blog for 6 weeks, in my head and in between feedings, diaper changes and occasional random moments of calm. So much has gone on this past 6 weeks that I just can’t figure out where to start or where to end. So, I just wiped the page clean and I’m going heart blazing open, honest, no BS, real talk on this blog right now. Our journey this past few weeks has been just amazing, but it has also been filled with challenges. We are not the first people to have challenges to get through after or around a birth and we won’t be the last. That said, this is my journey and I’m going to share it honestly in the hopes that it will help others.

Aviva’s Birth Story

I’m not going to tell it like the “birth stories” you read all the time…I’m going to skip to the part where the heart bursts open, rips wider than it ever could and where every single instinct that makes you a parent, kicks in like being hit by a train of love, emotion and fierce over-protectiveness like you never thought you could ever feel. Her first cry. The moment I knew our baby was out of my body and in this world with us.

We had a scheduled C-section for 8am on 8-8-14. She was born at 8:34am and that’s where this story begins. I can’t help but cry through this (already) as the emotions I felt that day are still so real and so raw inside me as if I have PTSD or can’t help but relive it every time I think about it. When I heard her cry I was so overwhelmed with joy and relief that I burst into hysterical tears (they had to give me oxygen) as I watched them run her over to my left where all I saw was a bunch of nurses and my husband huddled over her under the light. This is normal and then they’re supposed to bring her to me right away. That didn’t happen. Instead it took longer and more people crowded around her. I asked “Is she ok?” “Is everything okay?” over and over again (our OB was on the other side of the curtain stitching me up)…no one answered and I could tell something was wrong. Finally, my husband came over and brought her to me and had to tell me that she was cut during the C-section but that she was going to be okay. He was amazingly calm for me (although not at all inside). He told me the cut was on the side of her head and it was deep and hit the muscle- that he had inspected it (he’s an Oculoplastic Surgeon) and decided we needed a Pediatric Surgeon to stitch it up so were waiting on him to arrive. They took her back over to the light and away from me. Still, no one said a word to me and instead just kept stitching me up and getting us all ready to move to the recovery room. Three hours later (yes that’s right)…my husband went with the surgeon and held our daughter while her head got stitched up. Eventually, we all were back in the recovery room together.

This is a very brief and very non-emotional depiction of what happened. It was deeper, heavier, way more scary and intense than I can recount right now. Just trust me.

She got cut- should that have happened? NO! Is that common? NO! Did it get handled right with our OB? NO! I could go on. Sigh. No. Just no. (Days later after we were home, my husband reached out surgeon to surgeon, to talk to our OB about what happened and how it was handled. I also spoke with her at my 2 weeks postpartum appointment. We’ll never be okay about what happened but are trying to move past it).

After we got into recovery my blood pressure dropped super low and they had to pump me full of all sorts of stuff and like 10 lbs of fluid. All we could focus on was this little girl and getting her my Colostrum. My milk hadn’t come in yet (very common after a C-section) so my husband helped me hand express the Colostrum into a little cup and then we were syringe feeding it into her tiny little mouth. Our sweet girl was exhausted! She had that trauma to her head on her way into this world and then had to have a surgery right away. By the time she got back to us, she was out cold. It broke our hearts in two. I was laying there with my catheter in and still totally numb from the breast down from my C-Section spinal block. I was also totally wiped out but every ounce of energy I had was being put towards getting this little love fed.

My husband at this point had checked his rage and emotion about what happened to her in order to be calm for me and to just move this thing forward and make sure she was okay. In my own way I did the same thing because there wasn’t time for us to feel our feelings about what happened. We had to check that at the door and walk through into parenting solely focused on Aviva and what her needs were. No time to cry or to scream about it. No time to ride the emotional wave of “you f-cking hurt my baby…” etc. etc. No time and too selfish. This is Aviva’s story now. Check yourself at the door mom and dad. We’ll deal with you and your emotions later.

This is the beginning of the SHOWING UP. In the OR my husband showed up so big for me and then he just went into surgeon mode and made SURE that she got the proper care and insisted on it even when they wanted to just put some surgery tape over her wound. There was even a vein that ran through that gash in her head, which has subsequently reformed around the scar- amazing. Once we got back to the recovery room we both had to show up for Aviva. We did all we could to get her fed. Then we tried to breastfeed. This poor little thing was so exhausted she was just sleeping through it all. And then when it was time to latch on…she couldn’t do it. She never could, actually. So thus began part two of this story…Aviva’s weight loss after birth.

Aviva was born 6lbs 7.7 ounces and 19inches long. She wasn’t able to latch and breastfeed off of me and so we took to manually expressing my milk and then syringe/tube feeding it into her mouth. This process took at least 2 people and one very exhausted little baby girl mouth. She eventually lost 11% of her body weight. We were told on day 2.5 that unless we were able to get that percentage back to a lower amount, we’d have to stay in the hospital. So at this point we’d seen 2 lactation specialists and had been brought a breast pump. I began pumping my milk and then we’d put her on my breast and tube feed her and try to get her to latch. My husband and I were fiercely committed to getting her weight up and thus stayed up for 24 hours pumping, tube feeding, etc. we were even high five-ing at 3am like “Team Aviva! We got this!” No actually, we were just delirious. Eventually between a nurse and a lactation specialist we were urged to give her some formula just to get her over the hump. This was a very hard thing for me to do as I was so committed to breast milk only for my girl. That said that’s my thing and in order to get her to be okay…she needed this and so she got it. My husband was such a voice of reason for me and calmly helped me work through that to make the right choice for Aviva. So between the one dose of formula and all the pumping and syringe/tube feedings together as a team…we were able to get Aviva to only 7% from her 11% loss and thus on day 4, we were allowed to leave the hospital.

Part three of this story is a thank you to the people who showed up for us SO BIG that we can not even imagine having gone through what we did with out their support. My parents and my brother came into town days before Aviva was born. Once we got to see them hours after her birth (and no one told them what happened and they didn’t know we were okay for way longer than it should’ve ever taken for them to be informed-ugh!!!!) they went into super-amazing-power-support mode. They brought us water, healthy food to eat, made sure we had everything we needed (and often we did not- our hospital experience was subpar on many levels). Most important…they were there to emotionally support us. I can not begin to explain this. My emotions were crazy between my horrible pain, hormones, sadness, anger and fear and the stress that occurred around Aviva’s cut and weight loss. I know there were moments where my dad and my husband were alone and he was able to lean on my dad about his feelings dad to dad, and then when I was alone with my mom and just cried my heart out to  her and she was able to support me and comfort me in the most beautiful way. I just can not say thank them enough for those days in the hospital and what they did for us.

On a side note, this is also when my little brother saw my boobs for the first time. We tried hard to keep them out of his sight but when all you’re doing is whipping those things out to try to feed the baby and every other person that comes in is there to help assist this process..well, it’s hard to hide them. After the hospital and back at home it was just like f-it…there they are. He was such a good sport about it. I am certain when he returned to LA he went right to see a therapist and I don’t blame him. Sorry bro but thanks for looking at my eyes. You were an unreal support to us. What brother shows up for 12 days and gives 100% to help his sister and her husband through this process? Mine. This man knows how to show up in life. Proud to be on the other end of this from him and so blessed. 

Part Four of this birth story is about Aviva’s father. In the moments that followed her coming into this world, my husband began showing up for his daughter in the most beautiful way. He was the one who saw her head was bleeding and immediately jumped on it because no one was telling us what had happened. He then made sure she was taken care of because he knew better, medically and because of that- she won’t have a terrible scar on her head for life and was properly treated for what happened to her. He kept his cool the entire time and gave her calm energy and tremendous love even when he was holding her down while she was being stitched up by the Pediatric Surgeon. He then showed up for me in recover for days like a rockstar. I will never forget this moment in the wee hours of the night we stayed up all night together trying to get her fed when he turned to me and said “We will get through this. We’ll get through anything. I love you and I love her and I am committed to you both and we’ll be okay.” He had tears in his eyes while he said that to me (I was 100% crying ugly cry style) and I knew in my heart what I told him- this is what I have always known about you and why I picked you to be my partner and the father of my children.

In the days and weeks that have followed this hospital stay, my husband has done everything in his power to show up for us both. Watching the man you love go to another level of depth of love and care is a truly special experience. I am honored to be partners in life, love and now parenting with this exceptional man. Aviva is so lucky you are her daddy, Sol. As Aviva’s namesake, my Grandfather Abe used to say, “beautiful.” Yep- just like he said it and every single thing we’ve been through- there you go showing up so big, with love- it’s beautiful. Thank you.

On day four we got to take her home and that’s when the real journey began. Supported for over a week by my folks and my brother with us and all the love from family and friends, we felt blessed. My family bought groceries, cooked meals- most of the time mine needed to be hand fed to me while I was working on breast feeding or trying to syringe/tube feed her or pump my milk for her. They did laundry, cleaned up the house, ran errands (my husband had to go back to work right away) and they gifted us a night time Doula who helped from 11pm-7am so that I could try to sleep and heal in between the 2-3 hours I’d be woken up to feed/pump. They went above and beyond for us all day long and into the night for days and days. Showing up with so much love and emotional support. I am certain Aviva felt their energy and love all along the way too. A beautiful thing. She also got LOTS of snuggles, kisses and holding sessions by her Grandparents while they were here and her uncle Jack serenaded her on the guitar too. Once they all left, it was time for my husband and I to “learn our dance” as my mom put it (so spot on). We had only begun the emotional roller coaster that was the first few weeks of Aviva’s life. There’s so much that went on I’d love to write about but for now, I’m going to focus on one piece of it…

Breastfeeding. Or lack there of:

It didn’t matter how many breast feeding books I read. It didn’t matter how in my mind I knew our breast feeding journey would be so beautiful and important. It didn’t matter how much I was committed to breast feeding Aviva before she was born. Once she was born, and didn’t latch on to my breast- none of that mattered. From day one I was committed to doing all I could to get her to breastfeed.  In the last 6 weeks, we have seen a total of 6 lactation consultants between the 4 in the hospital and the 2 we’ve worked with at home. Totaling 6 opinions of what we should try and do. All of which, we have open-heartedly tried. We’ve tried nipple shields and different holding styles and techniques, different pillows for support, pre-pumping, you name it- we’ve probably tried it. In the beginning, I would pump and we’d syringe, tube feed her while attempting breast feeding as well.

Eventually, she lost weight again and wasn’t in a good zone. We ended up needing to rent a scale for the house. We saw her doctor and where put on a plan which we did 100% and it still didn’t get her weight up enough. So then we had to start bottle feeding. It was the only way to get her weight up to a safe place. So then we tried like 4 different bottle systems until we finally found one that didn’t give her gas, that she didn’t gag on and that worked. All the while, still continuing to try to get her on my breast.

Now let me say this to my own credit and I’m going to emotionally pat myself on the back for a moment here…I was recovering from a C-Section which yes, is a major f-cking surgery folks and painful and rough those first 2 weeks-wow, I was emotionally still reeling from her head being sliced open when I was, I was now watching her head wound and caring for that too, I was upset by how poorly my OB handled the entire situation, I was overly exhausted, my hormones were crashing and crazy,the 10 lbs of fluid they pumped into me at the hospital when my blood pressure dropped were still in my body which felt just awful and looked even scarier, I was feeling a million emotions about her not being able to breast feed, worried about her weight and yet STILL…every single time I put her to my breast…I got totally zen-ed out. I KNOW she feels me. I KNOW she feeds off my energy (maybe not my breast but definitely my energy). So I made sure no matter what- if it was morning, noon or 4am, this baby was put on my body with loving, calmness and nothing else. Every single time. I showed up for her. I checked all the above and put it aside and made sure that when she’s on me, or in my arms- she feels peace and love and me showing up for her. I did it in the hospital and I’m still doing it now.

For moms who are experiencing these problems- pat yourself (yeah right now) on the back. This is SO HARD. You feel like a failure. Our society is has made breast feeding seem like the end-all and if you don’t or can’t do it- yeah- you suck as a mom. Or yeah, you’ve failed your child. Okay- first of all, that is NOT true. If you TRY you have succeeded. If your baby can’t latch, that’s not on you! If you can’t pump milk because you don’t have any AND your baby can’t latch…that’s not on you! I’m lucky in that I have a great milk supply and so I am able to be 100% attached to my breast pump day/night in order to feed my baby through a bottle, breast milk…with love. I will do this as long as I can for the time I feel is right and if things change then we’ll roll with that too. I have learned through my own process with breast feeding that there’s so much pressure to be able to do it and if anything we’re a society obsessed with it. It’s not fair to us moms and it’s by the way not cool to judge people about doing it or not- you do not know their journey so you should not judge it.

I’ve had people talk to me who had the easiest time breast feeding and suggested I go read a book…um, I’ve read that book- there’s nothing I am doing or not doing at this point that will change whether she latches or not. She’s too tiny or her jaw is too tight or whatever it is. That doesn’t help me and it doesn’t feel good. I’ve had people suggest I am stressed and that must be the problem. Again- no. I have only showed up 100% calm and loving while breastfeeding this baby who just, simply can’t latch right.  I wish I could tell everyone to ease up on moms. It’s hard enough one thing to deal with, but several and with all this pressure? It’s not fair and it’s not okay. I wish this could change I really do. I’m sharing this to try to do my part to shift things a little. If you’re going through this stuff- honey hold on to your heart…you can only do so much and then you just have to do what YOU feel as the mom, is best for your baby. If it’s pumping your milk and you have milk to pump- do it! If it’s formula and bottles- do that! The baby will thrive if it’s fed and if it’s receiving LOVE. End. Of. Story.

What goes on with pumping and trying to breast feed at the same time:

– ripped up nipples

-clogged milk ducts

-severe breast pain

-severe nipple pain

-your life is no longer your own…it belongs to the pumping schedule, for so long as you choose to pump

-needing to upgrade to a better pump

-investing in every single size of pump accessories as every few days things change or stop working

-trying a million different nipple creams, heat, ice, cabbage on your breasts, massaging your breasts, nipple protectors, nipple shields, nipple pads…

There’s more but these are just a few things. And you know what- ALL WORTH IT! I’m happy as a clam that I am lucky enough to have milk and to be able to pump it and feed our baby. She’s also latching now at times and I continue to work to try to get her on the breast but if it doesn’t happen I’m totally okay with it because I know I tried and she tried and at the end of the day, she’s gaining weight beautifully now and totally thriving!!! As a mom, what more can you ask for?!

Side note: MIND-BODY CONNECTION: The night my milk went away…

The day after my parents left and we were still very much in the thick of the very stressful pumping/tube feeding our baby who had lost weight zone…all of a sudden, a totally sleep deprived, stressed out, pain-ridden me stopped being able to pump out any milk. This went on for hours. In the middle of the night my husband (once again showing up for me) checked to see how much was in the fridge and realized only about an ounce. Instead of telling me this, he came in to the nursery and told me that in the morning (he’d taken off from work that day to be with us- times were TOUGH that week and thank God he was there as I wasn’t even allowed to drive at that time post surgery) if I couldn’t pump milk then we’d go rent the same pump the hospital had (which our Doula had assured us was the best pump if you’re exclusively pumping) and we’d try that and if that didn’t work then we’d get formula and told me over and over again that no matter what he’s there with me and that she’s going to be okay.

This calmed me and I was able to meditate myself to sleep (I meditate all the time and I highly recommend it). In the morning she had that one ounce but my milk wasn’t happening. Off we went the three of us to rent the pump, stop by her doctor to pick up formula samples in case we needed to use them and all sorts of milk supply stuff that our lactation consultant suggested. The love and calm from my husband and from that storage space inside me where I had to go get some from, plus the sleep I finally got, plus the new awesome pump…and poof! We got milk! And not only did we get milk…we got lot’s of it. Only goes to show that your mind and body are SO connected. The moment I calmed inside and believed she’d be okay no matter what…baby got milk. She’s still getting it and we have a whole freezer of extra milk just in case!

Yes this is the longest blog ever and yet I haven’t even scratched the surface of all I wanted to share! I’ll save some of it for another time. For now I just want to say, in all of this the message was clear…life is all about showing up. Love is about showing up. Showing up physically for people, or emotionally, spiritually. Just show up! It serves your heart and the person on the other end.

To the love of my life, Aviva Zelda….I will ALWAYS show up for you. You forever have my all and your daddy’s too. To the people who showed up for us in all the ways you did- there are so many of you, we both want to say thank you. It meant the world to us and always will. Now I have to go show up for Aviva and pump and feed her, change her, rock her and look into those baby blues and tell her mommy loves her. I know she can feel it….

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About her name:

Aviva: She’s named after my dad’s father Abe (Abraham/Avraham). Her name is Hebrew and means springtime, renewal, new life. I had a very special connection with him and when he passed away, years ago, vowed to name my first child after him. Thankfully, my husband also found this beautiful and so we did just that.

Zelda: This was my dad’s mother, Selma’s Hebrew name. Grandma Selma passed away this year while I was pregnant with Aviva. She was so over-joyed and excited about Aviva before she passed at 96. She called all the time to talk about my pregnancy and when she found out it was a girl, was beside herself. That coupled with my grandma’s lifelong commitment to Hadassah it seemed fitting to use her Hebrew name, Zelda, which means happiness.

Aviva is our renewal. She is our springtime, our new life and our happiness.