Our Breastfeeding Journey

The ever-present Boppy nursing pillow, inherited from my sister, which can also be used for tummy time.

Anna Gazdowicz:
This might sound weird, but I get a lot of satisfaction when I measure out/divide up evenly my pumped milk at the end of the day

Anna Gazdowicz:
and it also continuously weirds me out that breastfeeding reminds me that I am in fact a biological formation, and a mammal that produces milk

Anna Gazdowicz:
like, that is fundamentally a weird thing to process

Anna Gazdowicz:
anyway

Jeffrey Faden:
yeah given we’ve been drinking cow’s milk our whole lives it’s really interesting to think of expressing/handling human breastmilk to be a very similar endeavor

Jeffrey Faden:
it is a bit “dehumanizing” in a more literal, less negative way

The above is a conversation that Jeffrey and I had on October 3rd (Mean Girls Day). This still weirds me out/fascinates me. I am a mammal who produces milk for my offspring.

Patrick turned 6 months old yesterday, which is milestone in many ways on its own (1/2 a year old! He can almost sit up on his own! He makes lots of cute noises, and he might be teething!). But it’s also a milestone in that we made it to 6 months of breastfeeding. And I can say, with confidence and gratitude, that breastfeeding has been pretty darn easy for me. The next goal is 1 year, and we’ll stop around that time (maybe we’ll go 1 or 2 months longer than 1 year, but that’s it).

Here’s why I’ve been an extremely fortunate breastfeeding mom:

  • From the beginning, we’ve experienced no major issues when it came to breastfeeding. Any problems we ran into can be attributed instead to the fact that taking care of a baby is challenging, which includes feeding a baby.
  • Patrick breastfed easily from the beginning, and after some persistence on our part, he also took to the bottle. Now he does a combo of both without issue. He hasn’t been finicky about bottle/nipple type or anything along those lines.
  • Now that I’m back at work, I regularly use the available lactation rooms that come with hospital-grade (i.e., powerful), multi-user breast pumps (these pumps cost upwards of $1,000). This is extra awesome because it means I don’t have to lug a pump to work every day. At home, I have a very good personal electric pump that I inherited from my sister (so I didn’t have to cough up $200+ for a decent pump). I have another pump that was provided to me for free by Kaiser as a backup (it’s a semi-decent pump, but wouldn’t cut it if I had to use it every day).
    • I want to emphasize that many women don’t have this. They might get a pump through their insurance, but it might be a not-very-good one, so they end up having to pay out-of-pocket for a good pump that will keep up with multiple pumping sessions on a daily basis. They also might not get their own room at work to pump in, and instead have to sit in a closet or a bathroom to pump their milk.

I’ve been back at work since August 1st. We have fallen into a semi-regular feeding pattern with little Patrick: On the weekdays, he breastfeeds in the mornings and in the evenings while I’m at home, and gets bottles during the day, and I pump 3x a day while at work (hopefully I can pump less once he gets a little older and starts eating more solids). If we go out in the evenings, he gets another bottle and I pump before bed. On the weekends, I’ll pump once or twice depending on if we give him bottles while out and about (we’ll breastfeed in public if need be, but it’s physically uncomfortable, so I prefer not to; plus it gives Jeffrey the opportunity to feed him). If need be, there’s a few days’ worth of pumped milk in the freezer, and we have some formula samples on hand.

The above probably isn’t all that interesting to someone who isn’t me, to be honest. But I bring it up to provide an example of what it’s like these days for some breastfeeding moms.

Before Patrick was born, I didn’t do a ton of general childcare research. We inherited a bunch of baby stuff, and we did some research as to the rest of the physical items that we might need. We took a class called “Caring for a Newborn” offered by Kaiser (which provided the fundamentals), but otherwise, I didn’t read any books or spend all that much time reading online articles. I figured that it would be better to just learn as we go along, and for the most part, this turned out to be true.

What I ended up learning a lot about beforehand, not purposefully, was breastfeeding. It seemed like any resource I did consult (such as online “gear guides” for which items we might need) also included very detailed references as to how to prepare for how difficult breastfeeding was likely to be. There were all sorts of horror stories about bad latch, cracked and bleeding nipples, engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis, tongue and lip ties – you name it. As I got closer and closer to my due date, I became more and more fearful of how breastfeeding would go.

(Side note: One of the most helpful resources I found, actually, was the two-part podcast episodes from Stuff You Should Know: Feeding Babies Part 1 and Part 2. I found both episodes to be really informative, and I definitely recommend for anyone interested in learning more.)

Patrick arrived, however, and breastfeeding proved to be relatively easy. He latched without an issue (meaning, he kept his mouth wide enough on the nipple/areola to not cause pain for me) and had a healthy appetite. In the hospital, the biggest problem was him getting impatient for the colostrum to come out – he would latch, but then would cry because there wasn’t immediately anything there. This caused some stress (and tears on my end – postpartum hormones are no joke). Thankfully, a nurse in the hospital showed me how to hand-express some colostrum onto my nipple first, so Patrick could get a taste and keep feeding from there. The rest of my milk came in, on schedule and in abundance, within a couple of days.

From there, our journey was pretty straightforward. Patrick kept gaining weight as expected, and I didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary. My biggest challenge was just not getting many breaks for the first 7 weeks or so.

In the newborn phase, babies eat often, and if you’re breastfeeding, that means lots of time with baby on the boob. However, we ran into problems with Patrick’s naps – it became really challenging to get him to sleep during the day starting around week 4 or 5. When he would finally sleep, it would only be for brief periods. The situation slightly improved in that he was able to go to sleep a lot easier, but he would still only nap for brief periods (30ish minutes). So, I didn’t get very much time sans baby, between a steady cycle of feeding him and then just trying to get him to sleep and stay asleep.

I wanted to pump more milk, so I didn’t have to feel so trapped, but I couldn’t find time to pump in the midst of the above cycle. After some time, however, I was able to figure out a decent schedule, build up my freezer stash, and we started giving Patrick one bottle every day to get him used to it. And I was able to get out of the house more as a result.

But otherwise, everything else has been fine. My supply of milk has always been relatively steady (I have to work a little harder now to keep it up now that I’m pumping more and breastfeeding less, but it’s not too bad), and Patrick continues to grow and be happy with what we’re feeding him (which now includes some solid foods).

But here are some real-life issues that I’ve since learned have happened to other new moms that I know:

  • Oversupply. There are two “stages” of breastmilk. The milk that initially comes out is the “foremilk,” which is thinner and more carbohydrate-rich. After the foremilk, the “hindmilk” kicks in, which is thicker and more golden-colored, and has more of the fat and other rich nutrients. When a woman has “oversupply,” she has more milk than her baby needs. Her baby then gets too much of the watery foremilk, which can result in constipation, gas, and green, foamy poops. It’s not fun, from what I hear, and not easy to fix.
  • Low/not enough supply. Some moms just don’t produce enough milk for their babies. Some are able to get hospital-grade pumps to help increase supply, and/or take fenugreek and other milk-increasing supplements, and/or supplement with formula.
  • Slow letdown. The “letdown” is the release of the milk from the breast into the baby’s mouth. For some moms, this letdown takes awhile to happen – the baby will suck for a long time and only get an ounce or so, which means it takes a really long time to get the baby adequately fed (and the baby might get frustrated in the meantime).
  • Overactive letdown. The mom’s letdown is really fast, and shoots forcefully into the baby’s mouth, causing them to sputter/cough/etc. It can also cause bad gas.
  • Baby doesn’t latch on to the breast. There’s lots of reasons for this that I’m not super clear on, but there are times that the baby just doesn’t latch, and the mom is stuck with having to pump like 12 times a day in the beginning and bottle feed the baby, or use plastic nipple shields to get the baby to latch.

And then there was the example of a poor mom experiencing a whole mess of issues all at once. A week or two before I went back to work, I was at one of Kaiser’s weekly “Baby & Me” support group sessions (which were AWESOME, by the way; I miss them now that I’m back at work), and there was a brand-new mom there with a 10-day-old baby. She described her breastfeeding journey thus far:

  • Her milk came in late;
  • Her baby had a tongue tie and had trouble latching;
  • When her milk did come in, she got plugged milk ducts and her breasts became painfully engorged;
  • Her baby lost too much weight in the meantime, so they supplemented with formula;
  • Her supply dropped;
  • Her baby didn’t want to breastfeed became he had started to prefer the bottle, and would cry (a lot) whenever she tried to have him breastfeed.

So, at the time, she was trying to breastfeed, dealing with her baby crying at the breast because he didn’t want to breastfeed, and then pumping after every feeding to get her supply back up. All while sleep-deprived and riding the postpartum hormonal wave. I don’t know what she ended up doing, i.e., if she was able to get past these hurdles, or if she chose to stop breastfeeding and instead either exclusively pump or feed her baby formula (or a combination of both).

Which brings me to my next point. I have zero patience for the “breast is best” crusaders. For one thing, formula is the most heavily researched and regulated food product on the planet, and is a totally valid and healthy option. For another thing, it’s none of your business whether a woman has chosen to feed her baby breastmilk or formula. I have actually had more than one person ask me if I was breastfeeding, and when I said “yes,” they said “good” in response. (…what?)

The only reasons we haven’t yet given Patrick any formula yet is because:

  • Breastfeeding has been easy for me;
  • Breastfeeding is cheaper and we have bills to pay;
  • We haven’t had him try any yet to see if he has a reaction (some babies do have some negative reactions to some formulas; there’s a Reply All podcast episode about breastmilk that tells a story about a mom and how her baby had a terrible reaction to all formulas, and she couldn’t breastfeed, so she had to buy breast milk from other moms);
  • Lately I’m focused on keeping my supply up, since it tends to dip if Patrick breastfeeds less and/or I pump less (I can get the supply back up, but it’s annoying).

But if we hadn’t had an easy journey, then we certainly would have switched to formula. And who knows – hooking up to that damn breast pump, while an amazing invention, as often as I do is a major chore. If it starts looking like I’m going to lose my mind as a result, then it’s time to try some formula.

Instead of guilting women into breastfeeding, more support should be provided for moms instead. Kaiser provides drop-in breastfeeding support for their patients, as well as individual appointments with lactation consultants, all included with the Kaiser insurance plan. This is huge. People pay good money (out-of-pocket) to get help from lactation consultants otherwise. And while breastfeeding was relatively easy for me, I still had questions during the first three months of Patrick’s life, and I found the drop-in support sessions to be super helpful. But what about moms who don’t have this sort of support? And moms should never, ever be pressured into breastfeeding to the point where they fear for their child’s health (e.g., not gaining enough weight), especially in those early days, when the baby’s health, the mom’s health, and the mom’s mental health are so fragile.

At the end of the day, the parents know what’s best for their babies, and for the moms’ health and well-being. Also, if the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) and the WHO (World Health Organization) are going to recommend that women exclusively breastfeed for at least 6 months, then why are women expected to go back to work after 6 weeks? And if they’re lucky, with a decent place to pump and an adequate breast pump (covered by insurance or provided by their employer)?

Anyway. That’s enough from me on the subject. Here’s some odds and ends:

  • We use the Kiinde system for pumping/feeding, and definitely recommend it (with some caveats). Here’s my Amazon review for more info. (Thanks to Tyler and Ashley for gifting it to us!)
  • My right breast is the true workhorse. It produces the most milk, has the faster letdown, and only leaks sometimes if it’s really really full. My left breast, on the other hand, produces less milk, has a slower letdown, and leaks often. It’s weird. I’m right-handed, so I wonder if that has something to do with it.
  • Breastfeeding tends to make women really hungry. It certainly does for me. So I eat a lot. No shame.
  • Jeffrey keeps us stocked in delicious lactation cookies at home. They’re just cookies with lots of lactation-friendly ingredients in them (oats, flaxseed, brewers yeast), so really, it’s just an excuse to have homemade cookies around the house all the time.

Our Birth Story

Patrick Samuel Faden, born April 17th, 2017

It’s now been more than a week since our baby Patrick was born. As mentioned in my previous post, we had an unexpected turn of events at the end of what had previously been a very healthy pregnancy.

The whole process was pretty difficult, long (we were in the hospital for almost a week), and emotional; combined with my postpartum hormones and lack of sleep, it took me awhile to fully wrap my head around everything that happened.

I still feel some residual emotion when I look back on that time – it’s little things, like listening to my “soothing” songs playlist, as it reminds me of my stalled labor, and simply wondering if we made the right decision, or what we could have done differently. But ultimately, it feels good to get it all out in the open.

Overall, I’ve realized that with most childbirth experiences, most pregnancies, most initial forays into motherhood, infertility, etc., that each woman likely has her own “cross to bear,” so to speak, and this has been my big one thus far. There’s also an important lesson in the idea that you can plan and plan for something, and life can choose to throw you a major curve ball at the last minute – and you just have to go with it, and learn from the experience.

The Unexpected Turn of Events

Starting in mid-March (a month out from my due date), I had three higher-than-previous blood pressure readings.

A pregnancy selfie I took the day on the first day of my maternity leave, and the day before I would meet with the OB who would officially recommend induction. I was feeling great.

In all three cases, the readings were a) still under what’s considered to be a more dangerous reading, and b) were normal upon second reading (i.e. the nurse would take my BP again, and it would be fine). The concern from my OB, however, was that these readings were higher than they had been throughout the rest of my pregnancy, and I was officially diagnosed with gestational hypertension. My due date was a Sunday, and the Tuesday before, it was recommended that my labor be induced.

The reason induction was recommended was because gestational hypertension can lead to preeclampsia, and preeclampsia can come on hard and fast, and is risky for both baby and mom, but especially mom.

There was no guarantee that preeclampsia would happen, and I was definitely in a gray area. And at this point in my pregnancy, I felt great. Like, really great. Very few aches and pains, good energy; I wanted to spend my days before the baby came going on walks, going swimming, hanging out in coffee shops, that sort of thing. As a result, I was crushed and conflicted when induction was recommended, and scheduled for just a few days before my due date.

I cried a lot; I talked it over with family and friends, and ultimately, it all came down to whether it was worth it to risk the health of both the baby and me. As a friend of mine put it (she had done some of her own research when a friend of hers had a similar diagnosis), there would be little to gain and potentially a lot to lose by not going with the recommendation to induce.

I also wrote some questions to the OB who recommended induction (my regular OB was on vacation that particular week, but she had also been leaning towards induction when I saw her the week prior), including a question about whether or not I’d be allowed to walk around and generally be mobile during the induction process. This was especially important to me, so I was relieved when she said yes, and that she thought that was a great idea.

So, we plowed forward. I ran some errands and took a few walks in those last couple of days; Jeffrey and I had a great last “day out” the day before the scheduled induction. We sat on a bench together in Duboce Park in SF, watching dogs and their owners play together, and just soaking in the feeling about everything was about to change. Anticipating a “scheduled” labor is something I didn’t think I’d ever have to experience; while we knew this day was coming, it was so odd to be able to track, minute by minute, when it would (supposedly) arrive.

The Induction Begins – Sort Of

Breakfast at Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland.

The morning of the induction, Jeffrey and I got up and got breakfast at Brown Sugar Kitchen, which was amazing (so happy we squeezed that in!). We headed back to the house and finished packing up our things. Our induction was scheduled for 12:00pm, but we were advised to call Labor & Delivery beforehand to make sure that they would have room for us when we showed up.

I called at 11:30am, and lo and behold, there was no room. I was asked to call back at 2:00. I called back at 2:00, and was asked to call back at 4:00. In the meantime, I played Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze while Jeffrey half-watched me play, and half-worked on his laptop, and then we took a walk and picked up sandwiches at Berkeley Bowl for dinner.

I called back at 4:00, and there were still no rooms available. Rather than have me keep having to call back, however, the supervising nurse decided instead to have us just show up to the hospital at 9:00pm and start the process in triage (meaning, go over the induction process, take my vitals, take care of paperwork, etc.). We may have still had to just hang out in triage for awhile, but at least we wouldn’t have to keep calling back.

Arriving to the hospital.

We arrived at 9:00 as planned, and after all that, a room became available just as we arrived. We got all settled in, and we went over the plan for induction. We would start by taking a dose of misoprostol. Then, the baby and I would be monitored for two hours to make sure that we both could tolerate the drug, and if we could, I’d take another dose (and take more if necessary). The drug would then do its thing to ripen my cervix; this could either kickstart labor all on its own, or I’d also take Pitocin (a synthetic version of oxytocin) to help the process along. Either way, it seemed pretty straightforward.

Except it didn’t work. To track the progress, I was outfitted in a hospital gown and an elastic belly band, and two monitors were placed on my belly underneath the belly band (to keep them in place). One monitor tracked the baby’s heart rate, and the other measured whether I was having any contractions. My blood pressure was also taken regularly by my assigned nurse. The OB resident on duty didn’t like the baby’s heart rate on the misoprostol (too many dips), and didn’t want to move forward with another dose (since we wouldn’t be able to un-do an oral medication if it caused additional issues).

They decided to move forward with the Pitocin anyway, to see if that would get my cervix going. At this point, my cervix was a little soft, but not at all dilated. By the way, getting your cervix examined is no picnic. It’s uncomfortable at best and painful at worst, especially when the resident/doctor really has to get their fingers in their to determine the level of dilation.

The First Stage of Pitocin, the First Attempt at a Foley Balloon, and the First Onset of Frustration, Stress, and Tears

To get the Pitocin, I had to be hooked up to an IV. It was Saturday morning at this point. We ordered breakfast through the Kaiser cafeteria (the food wasn’t too bad across the board, actually, and we could order using the TV in our room), and overall, we were still in good spirits. Jeffrey kept friends and family updated on our progress.

A first of several breakfasts from the Kaiser cafeteria. We liked their pretzel breakfast sandwiches with egg and cheese.

The senior OB resident tried inserting a foley balloon, which can help get the cervix going (up to 3-4 centimeters dilated, if successful). However, the cervix basically spat it out as soon as the resident tried inserting it, and she decided to hold off until we had more time on the Pitocin.

As the day went on, the positive energy started depleting. For one, nothing was really progressing. And for another, lying around in bed was getting really uncomfortable and annoying.

I asked if I could start moving around more instead of being bed-ridden. There was a mobile version of the monitor used for the baby’s heart rate and my contractions, so they hooked me up to that, and Jeffrey and I tried taking a walk around the hospital floor carrying the mobile monitor and wires as well as my IV stand. And then we had to stop pretty much as quickly as we began. As it turned out, the mobile monitor didn’t broadcast the signals to the nurses’ station very well, so the nurses couldn’t monitor the baby’s heart rate while I was moving around.

This still didn’t seem too bad; could I sit in our room instead and bounce on the medicine ball that we brought with us? Sure, the nurse said, that should be fine; she even gave me some tips on how to sit on the ball that might encourage labor to start.

And we found ourselves yet again at a loss. After I tried sitting and bouncing for a bit, the baby’s heart rate monitor would shift too much, so the nurse couldn’t get a good read. She came in and asked me to sit still for a minute, and she didn’t like the baby’s overall heart rate, so she asked me to go back to bed and lay down on my side.

Sigh. Back in bed I went. So much for all that wonderful ability to be mobile, a concept I had found so comforting when considering the recommendation to induce.

The day went on, and there was still no progress. At this point, I started getting a little emotional. Our nurse was very sweet and supportive; she encouraged us to talk in detail with the OB residents, and to ask the question of “why are we here?”, and to make sure we’re still doing this for all the right reasons.

The senior OB resident came to check in, and we asked her that question, and also asked her if we could simply stop the induction process and just go home, and see if labor would start on its own. My blood pressure rates had pretty much all been low since I’d checked in, and it seemed like these “forced” efforts were going nowhere.

The OB resident then brought up that the data they’d collected on the baby and me at this point (through all of the monitoring) indicated that my placenta was not performing as well as it should be. If she had to give it a grade, she would give it a C+. The placenta has an expiration date on it, and it looked like mine was perhaps coming to an end a little earlier than they would have wanted. We could have gone home; but then, how would we know if the placenta was giving the necessary support to the baby anymore? And, of course, the risk of preeclampsia was still something to consider.

The Foley Balloon, the Start (and End) of Labor, and the Botched Epidural

Since the Pitocin was a bust, the senior OB resident decided to try the foley balloon again. The upside is that she was able to insert it; the downside is that it was a super unpleasant experience to get it in there. If I never had to have that feeling again, I’d consider myself lucky. But, we got through it.

It was after this that things got pretty interesting, pretty quickly. Jeffrey ran out to get dinner (mac and cheese from Homeroom), and I started having sharp back pain no matter what I did. I actually would get this type of back pain during the third trimester, but it was always linked to me having to pee; as soon as I would go to the bathroom, the pain would go away. This time, however, the pain was just there, and not really going away. The nurse seemed to think that it was the combination of the foley balloon and the position of the baby’s head possibly hitting a nerve in the wrong way.

I put on a movie, and Jeffrey came back with dinner. I tried to eat, but essentially, the pain got too intense. Not only that, but it started coming in the trademark wave-like pattern that indicated I was having contractions.

Attempting to breathe slowly and methodically through really painful contractions.

So, we kicked into “okay, we’re in labor!” mode. I started doing slow, methodical breathing when each contraction came, and Jeffrey supported me and did anything I needed. However, there was something not so typical about these contractions. They quickly got a lot stronger, and would often last about 2 minutes, and would also often be less than 5 minutes apart, and sometimes right on top of each other. These patterns indicated a woman in the later stages of labor – not a woman whose cervix was barely dilated and had just started having contractions.

The OB resident checked, and the foley balloon was in no way ready to budge, which meant my cervix hadn’t yet started to dilate any more than before. So, we could only wait and see. But at that point, I was in a lot of pain, and hadn’t had any sort of “warm-up” to the pain that most women do in labor (i.e., the early labor where contractions aren’t as intense, and there’s more time in between contractions).

Trying out nitrous oxide for pain management.

I tried nitrous oxide (a pain management solution offered by Kaiser now, which is super cool, as it can be really useful for women in labor and is not yet readily available in many US hospitals; I had been looking forward to trying it out in labor to see if it worked), but it became clear that I would have had to have started it earlier for it to be effective.

Jeffrey and I tried different tactics: I tried sitting on the medicine ball, we tried slow dancing to soft music (I had put together a “soothing” playlist before leaving for the hospital, and it did help), I tried sitting in other positions as well. But my contractions were too intense and too close together.

I was also vomiting heavily during some contractions in particular. The nurses gave me something for the nausea, which helped. It was past midnight at this point, and since this was still considered “early labor,” I knew there was no way I’d be getting any rest, and I still had a long road ahead of me, so I asked for an epidural.

The anesthesiologist arrived and placed the epidural. They told me that it could take some time to set in, so I let that time pass. However, I still wasn’t getting much relief, and I could move my legs around, which seemed strange to me. Another anesthesiologist (somewhat crankily) explained to me that this was normal, that epidurals don’t often help that much with back labor, etc., but that she’d turn mine up a bit, and that I could also hit a button the IV machine to periodically give myself a dose of more relief.

Some additional time passed, and I was actually able to get some sleep, which made me think that the epidural was doing its job. A nurse still needed to come in and help turn me over every hour, so it wasn’t a completely restful night, but it was still better than expected.

In the morning, I pretty much felt fine. I would occasionally get a light contraction wave, but that’s it (and I heard conflicting things from nurses and residents as to whether any contractions were actually being read by the contraction monitor). I wasn’t allowed to get up since the epidural was still placed, and my hips were killing me (the bed was hard, and I could only lay on one hip or the other). This all seemed weird to me — wasn’t an epidural supposed to make me at least somewhat numb from the waist down?

The midwife on duty came in to check in and talk to us, and she checked my cervix, only to find that very little progress had been made (I was maybe 1 centimeter dilated). I started crying out of frustration and exhaustion. The midwife was really great with me, and we discussed all the options, and determined that we would give the foley balloon a little more time to try and do its thing, then we would try misoprostol and Pitocin again in the evening to see how that would go. We also decided to have an anesthesiologist come in and discuss removing my epidural so I could move around a bit, with the idea that I could get another epidural placed again at a later point, if/when my contractions started again.

The anesthesiologist came in, and asked what my level of numbness was, to which I answered: “I’m not numb.” He examined the whole setup, and determined that the epidural had never actually started working. Which essentially meant that the relief I felt overnight was my labor coming to a halt on its own. Which was, once again, super frustrating, but at least I got the botched epidural removed and I could temporarily give my hips some relief.

A Stubborn Cervix, and One Last Attempt to Induce

In the evening, another OB resident came in and removed my foley balloon. This process, thankfully, was far less painful than placing the balloon. After removing, she determined that my cervix was 1.5 centimeters dilated. Still disappointing, of course, but the plan was to try another round of misoprostol, see how the baby and I would handle it, and then administer Pitocin again.

I had a brief break at this point where my assigned nurse unplugged me from everything (save for the IV in my hand) so I could take a shower. It was, quite possibly, one of the best showers I’ve ever taken. It was Sunday, and I hadn’t bathed since Friday; I was stinky, sore, and had crusted blood on my legs from the multiple cervical exams. Needless to say, I felt like a new woman when I was done.

We settled in for the night, and I was given a dose of misoprostol. It was time to wait and see.

Unfortunately, it ended up being a really awful night. The bed felt harder and harder by the minute, and I couldn’t get comfortable no matter how hard I tried (and I normally am not too picky about where I sleep; this definitely wasn’t a “princess and the pea” situation). I asked the nurse for a couple of extra blankets, which I laid down on the bed for some additional cushioning.

Even then, I was woken up frequently. First, the nurse came in and told me that the baby still wasn’t tolerating the misoprostol as well as he should have been, so they weren’t going to administer any more, but that they would still be starting me on Pitocin as planned. So, the IV went in.

I then had to resume the unfortunate pattern of having to unplug myself and drag the IV stand into the bathroom every time I had to pee, which of course was frequently given the fact that I was 40 weeks pregnant. The IV machine was temperamental, and would start beeping loudly throughout the night, and a nurse would have to come in and make an adjustment to get it to stop beeping. The nurse officially assigned to me for that particular shift wasn’t especially pleasant, and at one point turned up the volume on the baby’s monitor for no particular reason, which made it even more difficult to relax and sleep.

At one point, I got up to go to the bathroom, and when trying to plug myself back in to get into bed, got the wires tangled, and the IV machine started beeping again. I was so tired, and I just started sobbing. Jeffrey got up and helped me get untangled and get into bed, and a nurse fixed the machine; but signs were pointing to my emotional state being rather fragile.

All Attempts Have Failed; Only One Option Left

Early in the morning, a nurse came in and told me that the baby’s heart rate was dipping, and that she needed to put me on oxygen. She put on the mask, and the OB resident came in and had them take me off the Pitocin. She informed me that the baby’s heart rate had dipped too many times throughout the night, and that they didn’t want to continue on the Pitocin as a result.

Of course I started crying again; I was just so tired and so overwhelmed. The resident was super sweet, and she told me that she was going to discuss the next steps with the rest of her colleagues and that they’d get back to me ASAP.

I cried for a bit more on Jeffrey’s shoulder, and then just tried to relax. We discussed the concept of the C-section, which we assumed was going to end up being the recommendation at this point, given that nothing else had worked – and if they were still concerned about the state of my placenta, then sending me home didn’t seem to be an option either. We essentially agreed that we were okay with it. It wasn’t what either of us wanted, but we also knew that there didn’t seem to be any better alternatives.

And we were right. The senior OB resident came in to give me an update, and she said that there were two options. One was to break my waters manually, which was considered a last resort, and likely wouldn’t do anything since my cervix wasn’t far enough along (and would increase the risk of bacteria getting to the baby in the meantime). If it did work, it would mean that I would have to start labor over from the beginning, which likely meant a long and arduous process. The other was to move forward with a C-section.

We opted for the the C-section. I knew I was too exhausted to go through the entirety of labor (and that would only be if breaking my waters was actually successful); my body and mind felt wrecked, and I had been bed-ridden for more than 2 days.

The anesthesiologist explaining how the numbing process would work.

So, the C-section was scheduled for the end of the day. The anesthesiologist who would be present for the procedure came in and explained the options for getting me nice and numb (we decided to go with a spinal as opposed to another epidural). My assigned nurse (who had been assigned to me previously, and was super sweet and supportive) gave me the lowdown of how things would go.

The nurse covering up my IV so I could take a shower.

She then helped get me unplugged again so that I could take a shower. We also agreed that I would only have to plug into the fetal monitor once an hour for 20 minutes, so I could be mobile for the rest of the time. This made a huge difference – I was able to take some walks around the hallways, walk around my room, sit in a chair or the medicine ball instead of the bed, etc.

Overall, it felt like a major fog had been lifted. While I didn’t set out to choose a C-section, just knowing that there was an end in sight, and that we were in good hands, was a huge relief.

The C-Section, and the Magic of Disney Songs

Trying to relax before the procedure.

One of the biggest thing that I worried about with a C-section (besides the post-procedure recovery and other surgery-related risks) was the fact that while I would be completely numb from the breast down, I would still feel a fair amount of tugging and/or pressure. I didn’t look forward to this feeling, and if it would make me anxious/panicky in the moment. Jeffrey and I discussed ways to help me relax, and we decided it might be fun to sing Disney songs together.

Jeffrey in his OR outfit.

When it was time, we were led down the hall, and Jeffrey waited behind while I was prepped. I met the whole team, who were really awesome and friendly and did everything they could to make me feel comfortable. One woman in particular just sat and talked with me while we waited for the anesthesiologist.

The OB resident and supervising OB asked if I had any requests for music to be played during the procedure, and we discussed some options, but I also mentioned the plan that Jeffrey and I had to sing Disney songs to each other, so they put on a Disney Pandora station, which was really cute.

It was pretty strange to be completely numb from the breast down. For a minute or two while the numbness was fully setting in, I kept having the urge to move my legs, but I couldn’t. I also had to make sure to focus on my breathing, as it was easy to feel like I wasn’t breathing (the anesthesiologist warned me about this particular feeling). It was easy to get used to, however.

All numbed up and behind the curtain, ready for the procedure.

And then, I was all set. Jeffrey came in, and I can’t quite describe the emotions I was feeling – I was basically all over the map. Jeffrey was wonderful; he held my hand and started singing along to “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” which was what was playing on the Pandora station.

And then, before we could even fully process what has happening, and before the song was even over, I felt one big tug (I said, “I feel like I can’t breathe!”), and then the surgical team said “He’s out!” And he was! It was so fast! Jeffrey was brought over the warming table to be with the baby while the baby nurse did her thing (the Apgar score, etc.).

Baby Patrick.

The anesthesiologist was really great with me – he talked to me gently while the baby was being evaluated, explaining what they were looking for, that sort of thing. And then, they brought Patrick over to do some skin-to-skin on my chest. It was a little more awkward than I imagine it would have been for a vaginal birth – my head and chest were at a bit of a downward slope behind the big drape, so I couldn’t see him super well while he was on my chest, but regardless, it was that magical moment that everyone talks about.

In fact, for me, the magical moment really did start as soon as they got him out and said “he’s out!”. I immediately felt myself get choked up, and this overwhelming feeling of love just washed over me. I think it did for Jeffrey too – he was so excited to see him, and he got some great initial photos and videos of Patrick and me, post-procedure.

Our new family.

We were then wheeled down to another room for an hour and a half or so of recovery. A couple of nurses took good care of me (taking my vitals, giving me fluids, etc.) as well as the baby. Patrick was able to do the initial breastfeed – he actually latched on right away, which was very encouraging.

The Aftermath and Recovery

The next few days were spent in the maternity wing of the hospital, on the same floor as Labor & Delivery. It became apparent early on that my recovery was going to be faster than usual – I was able to initially get out of bed quite easily (without having dizziness or other surgery-related difficulties when trying to move), I urinated quickly and easily after the catheter was removed, I was able to sit up in bed with little assistance, etc. This was super encouraging, as I had been dreading a long and difficult recovery following such major surgery.

All swaddled up.

Myself and the baby were monitored during this time to make sure everything was okay, and all was well. We also got a nice little crash course in caring for a newborn (something we’re still learning, of course). The silver lining of us having to spend extra days in the hospital is that we got more time with the nursing staff at Kaiser. All of the staff work with babies all day, and many of them have kids of their own, so they were all happy to give their own tips on breastfeeding, getting the baby to rest, etc.

Celebrating with chocolate cigars. (Patrick was given a real one.)

In general, while this whole process wasn’t what we wanted or planned for, I can’t say enough good things about the staff at Kaiser, and how we were treated. Almost every single nurse, doctor, staff person, etc. that we encountered was so nice and supportive, and I’m grateful that we had such a solid support system throughout the process.

Now we’re at home, and Patrick is 11 days old as of this post. We still have a lot to learn, and this is a tough period all on its own (No sleep! All he does is eat! So many diapers! My poor nipples!), but overall, we’re doing pretty well – just adjusting to our new life. The days feel both long and short at the same time; but of course, everyone keeps saying how fast it will go by, so there’s that.

I hardly feel any pain or discomfort anymore from the surgery, and I try to go on walks every day, so that’s felt great. I’m looking forward to when I can work out again, when I can take longer/faster walks, etc.

All in all, I can’t say that I don’t somewhat regret the decision to induce. However, this isn’t an “active” sense of regret – instead, it’s more of a feeling of “if I could do this again, maybe I would have done something different.” But this is what happened, and we can’t take it back, and most importantly, both Patrick and I are healthy and happy. In this case, it wasn’t about the journey, but the destination.

My Pregnancy Experience

The day before the scheduled induction (although the baby wouldn’t officially arrive until days later). Jeffrey and I had a “last day out” of sorts, where we went into San Francisco to do some walking/eating/exploring. This photo is from the living roof at the Academy of Sciences. It was an awesome and special day!

As I type this, we are at home with our new baby! We had an unexpected turn of events at the end of this pregnancy that lead to an (unsuccessful) induction that eventually led to a c-section. Everything’s okay (it wasn’t an emergency; it was one of those “this is best for mom and baby” decisions made between the Kaiser staff and us) – it just was not what we expected, obviously, but really, what is?

The last 1.5 weeks have been really tough, and I’ve been going back and forth as to whether I regret making the decision to induce based on Kaiser’s suggestion, since it caused such an abrupt and stressful end to my pregnancy. Rather than focus on negativity, however, I thought I’d reflect back on these nine months of pregnancy, and what my overall experience was like. It’s actually not too terribly exciting; I had a “normal” and healthy pregnancy, at least up until the very end. But that’s what’s interesting, and positive, when I look back – while the very end of this pregnancy wasn’t ideal, at least the months leading up to it were straightforward and, at times, were even pretty fun.

Look Ma, I’m Pregnant

Our Facebook announcement photo.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we tried for about 8 months before we successful. It was just starting to get frustrated; not because I was overwhelmed with a desire to start a family ASAP (although that was obviously the goal), but because you get yourself into this mindset that you’re ready, and then when it doesn’t just “happen,” it becomes a bit of thing that sticks itself in the front of your mind more often than not.

Then, one week in July 2016, a week before my period was scheduled to arrive, I started feeling PMS-y symptoms, but they weren’t necessarily the symptoms that I had been typically getting. I had certainly experienced them before in my life, but not all that closely to this point. Specifically, I had some nausea, and I was pretty tired, despite sleeping well and the like. But I didn’t want to think much of it, because it could have just as easily been PMS. There were also a few little things, like getting out of breath a little easier than I normally would. For example, I worked out one evening, and then Jeffrey and I went for a walk, and I got pretty out of breath after going up a hill, which normally wouldn’t have affected me as much.

My period app predicted I’d get my period on a Monday, and the Friday before, I went ahead and took a pregnancy test (one of the tests that supposedly can do “early detection”), and it was negative. And I was pretty crushed. I had a good crying fit while working from home, and then when Jeffrey got home, I cried on his shoulder some more. I felt emotionally drained for the rest of the evening, but we went out to dinner and got drinks with friends, and I felt better.

Then Monday rolled around, and there was no period. No big deal; I’ve been a day late before. Then Tuesday, then Wednesday – still nothing. Not even spotting. I have never missed a period in my life, nor have I even deviated much from my standard monthly schedule. So I took another pregnancy test, and lo and behold, it was positive.

Looking back, the fit of crying the Friday before was likely due to a surge in hormones, because as mentioned, while the experience of trying to get pregnant had been a little frustrating, a somewhat-extreme reaction like the one I had didn’t seem quite right.

It would be a few weeks before we could get the results confirmed by my OB, but all signs pointed to yes. In the meantime, we tried to wrap our heads around this major life development, while also keeping the news under wraps, at least for the time being.

The results were then confirmed (my OB used a “vaginal probe” to check, which was something I did not know existed before that point). We opted to tell our immediate family over Labor Day weekend, even though it was a bit before the official 12-week mark (when people normally wait to share the news, due to the risk of miscarriage). Then we announced via Facebook, of course, and the rest is history.

The First Trimester, a.k.a. Nausea Can Bite Me

A photo from the wedding we attended in Boston early in the first trimester, before we were telling anyone. It was weird to not be able to drink alcohol at a wedding.

The first trimester was tough. I had a lot of fatigue, and a lot of nausea. No throwing up, thankfully, but the whole “morning sickness” thing is a misnomer. I felt sick most of the day. I really had to get the timing right when it came to eating, as the emptier my stomach became, the sicker I would feel, and then I would be less likely to want to eat, and then the cycle would continue.

Jeffrey and I went to Boston in August for a wedding, and we visited a famous spot in the North End to get their famous (and expensive) lobster rolls. We were willing to cough up the dough, since it seemed like one of those “when in Rome” experiences. And the lobster rolls were pretty epic; but of course, I felt sick the whole time.

And the fatigue – ugh, what a drag. The urge to just plop my head down on my desk every day at work and sleep was overwhelming. Usually, if I’m fatigued, I can blame it on something – not enough sleep and/or exercise, not eating very well, etc. But in this case, I was sleeping well and eating as best I could with the nausea, but I was still so tired. And when I tried to exercise, I would often feel sicker.

The extra-annoying part of all of this is that I couldn’t talk to anyone about it except for Jeffrey, since we weren’t at a stage where we were telling people yet.

The Second Trimester, a.k.a. Wow, I Feel Great!

The halfway mark.

When I hit the second trimester, it was like someone flipped a switch. Almost instantly, my first trimester symptoms were gone, and I had all sorts of energy again. This was definitely a unique time. I got to be active again! No more nausea! The only negative symptom was the heartburn, which was pretty much daily, but often a few Tums would fix the issue.

I started focusing on activity in particular, and it felt really good. I was able to keep running (albeit slowly) for a good amount of time – but I eventually stopped once I started feeling too much of my belly bouncing around. I found that sustained, low-impact activity felt great, so I started walking everywhere. I was walking a fair amount before the pregnancy as well, but I started focusing on it as a particular priority. I also kept going to spin classes for a spell, and did prenatal yoga at home when I could.

The time when I started to “show” was kinda cool too. Pants stopped fitting properly – I managed to use a hair-tie to keep my jeans closed for a period before I had to switch to official maternity clothes (and thankfully, my sister had a bunch of her old maternity clothes left over, so I ended up only having to buy a few additional pieces). It was neat to just look down and see the belly change shape.

I also started feeling a lot of movement, right around when all the books/apps said I would. Definite little flutters and kicks – it was pretty cool. In the meantime, we started making more changes and plans – we inherited some baby stuff from friends and very slowly started putting together the nursery, we talked about how much time I’d take off work, what sort of child care we’d set up once I returned to work, etc.

The only other negative part of the second trimester was a couple of occasional hormonal days, where I would just be really emotional for no particular reason. But overall, compared to what I would hear from other women, this wasn’t too bad.

The Third Trimester, a.k.a., Wow I Look Pregnant Now

Beginning of the third trimester.

There was a neat transitional period into the third trimester where I tried to just bask in the idea of “being pregnant.” I was showing enough that it was actually evident that I was pregnant, but it was still early enough that the aches and pains hadn’t quite set in yet. I was able to fit some pretty active days (e.g., walk 3 miles and go to Zumba class, walk 3 miles and do yoga and fit in more walking on top of that) and just feel really healthy overall.

I started getting smiles from strangers when I’d walk down the street. Jeffrey and I could walk together and just talk about our future. We planned the baby shower with my mom. All fun things.

Our amazing baby shower.

Not too far into the third trimester, however, and I started to feel the shift. My body would ache quite a bit more, and I’d generally just feel more wiped at the end of the day (even it it wasn’t a particularly active or long day). I’d get sharp hip pain sometimes when sitting down for too long; Jeffrey and I went to a comedy show at one point, and I couldn’t sit in the chair for more than half of each comedian’s set before I had to go stand in the back.

A hike in Tilden Park the day after our baby shower.

But these aches and pains generally subsided as I got closer and closer to my due date – likely because most of my growth had slowed at that point, so my body had been able to adjust. I slowed down overall, walking a bit slower and taking it a bit easier, but in general I was able to keep walking on a daily basis. I also started swimming more, which felt awesome. I was so weightless, and I would feel my hips open up as I did my laps.

It was also neat to just experience how people interact with and look at the very pregnant lady. I was fortunate in that I didn’t experience any negative encounters – I’ve heard a lot of women share stories about inappropriate remarks and/or belly touching from strangers/colleagues/friends, but I never experienced this. Instead, I got lots of that look of recognition in people’s eyes, lots of people opening doors for me, that sort of thing. I got to sit in the special seats on BART.

A very round belly. We went to dinner the night this photo was taken, and the waiter guessed we were having a boy based on the shape of my belly.

Really, the only thing that started making me long to get my body back (i.e., to no longer have to share my body) was the whole sleep thing. At that size, I could really only sleep on one hip or the other, and that got pretty old pretty fast. I still managed to sleep pretty well (aside from occasional insomnia and the frequent trips to the restroom), but I often looked forward to being able to sleep on my stomach again (which I’m still unable to due for awhile due to the c-section, but hey, at least my bladder is back to its normal capacity!).

In general, I enjoyed just holding my belly; looking at its size and shape, feeling the baby’s consistent movements, looking ahead to the future.

Looking Back

8 months pregnant.

At the time, my pregnancy felt like it took the appropriate amount of time, but now, looking back, it feels like it went by too quickly. But I think that’s most things in life, honestly.

While the end of my pregnancy was tough, it feels really nice to reflect back on the overall process with fondness. I think/hope that this is what I’ll remember the most when time moves on and I think back to this period of my life.

Coming April 2017!

It’s probably not a huge surprise that Jeffrey and I would want to round out our current family of 2 to something more. We got married 3 years ago, and have since moved out of our lil’ apartment in SF to a full-fledged house in Berkeley. We live near a lovely little park, in a neighborhood full of families. Berkeley is wonderful city, and has great public schools.

I think we’ve both always wanted to have a family; it was just a matter of when. And that time, as it turns out, is now!

We officially started “trying” at the beginning of the New Year, which means it took us about 8 months to conceive. It’s such a funny thing – as a woman, you spend your whole life being told that if you even look the wrong way at the opposite sex, you could get pregnant, etc. etc. But then when you actually WANT to get pregnant, sometimes it doesn’t just magically happen. In fact, as I learned, it can take many couples up to a year or longer.

I was just starting to get to the point of frustration, honestly. I worried that maybe we’d waited too long; or what if we just couldn’t have children? The whole “biological clock” thing kicked in more than I thought it would. What if we made this huge life decision to buy a house (not a small, or cheap, feat in the Bay Area) based on something that wasn’t going to happen?

Of course, I knew deep down that we would be fine either way. If we couldn’t have a family, that would be okay – more than okay, in fact! Our happiness together is not dependent on whether we have a child, and knowing this brought me immense comfort.

But then August rolled around. I started to feel a little nauseated and tired. And then, I missed my first period. Ever. I’ve literally never missed a period in my entire life of menstruation. I didn’t even have any spotting. The at-home pregnancy test said yes; a doctor officially confirmed a few weeks later.

I’m at 13 weeks now, and all is looking good. The baby is growing strong, and I’m happy to leave the first 12 weeks behind. The first trimester was a slog: a steady stream of nausea and fatigue, which was such a bummer. I couldn’t really exercise (besides walking), and it was all could do to not fall asleep at my desk every single day.

But the past two weeks, my energy levels have been up (I’ve been able to go running again!  . . . albeit a little slower than usual), and as long as I avoid particularly rich foods, my stomach troubles have mostly subsided.

Otherwise, we’ll be starting to make more plans – how much time I’ll take off work, how to prepare the house, how much help we’ll need, and so on so forth. Either way, we’re excited/scared/happy/all of the above!

That’s all, folks

View from Lincoln Park Zoo

And that wraps up our epic road trip adventures! We are currently relaxing at Jeffrey’s uncle Rob’s house (thanks again to Rob and Maureen for hosting the party and letting us stay here!).

We’ll be leaving in a bit to take a wonderfully short one hour drive into Manhattan, where will we return our bug-covered rental car (seriously, so many dead bugs – I hope there is a bug heaven) and then settle in to our Airbnb apartment in Brooklyn.

The end of this road trip feels pretty surreal. The time just flew by. Here are some helpful statistics!

General:

Food and drink:

  • Best unplanned meal: Sandwiches at Stoken Donuts and Deli in Mojave
  • Best fancy meal: Blackbird in Chicago
  • Best not-fancy meal: Bogart’s Smokehouse in St. Louis
  • Best snack: Brown butter pretzels with chipotle cheese dipping sauce at Sanctuaria in St. Louis.
    • Honorary mention: Tomato soup at Pizzology in Carmel, Indiana
  • Best breakfast: Bouchon Bistro in Las Vegas
  • Best adult beverage: Blood orange margarita at The Shed in Santa Fe
  • Best excuse to take an elevator up 96 floors: Cocktails at the Signature Lounge in Chicago
  • Best dessert: Bittersweet chocolate pudding at Blackbird in Chicago
  • Best burger served on an english muffin: Diablo Burger in Flagstaff
  • Best pizza in suburbia: Pizzology in Carmel, Indiana
  • Best pizza in not-suburbia: Lou Malnati’s in Chicago
  • Best side dish: TIE – Street corn from the Atomic Cowboy in St. Louis, mac and cheese from Cattlemen’s in Oklahoma City
  • Biggest gut bomb: Grilled cheese sandwiches at Melt in Columbus

Day 9: Drive ’til you’re done

We drove for 10 hours today! Not much else to report! Just kidding, today was great.

Not kidding about the 10 hours part, though. We woke up at Amber’s place at 7:30 and hit the road. Skipped lunch on account of last night’s ridiculous dinner.

Pennsylvania was dang pretty! All was well until we hit the PA/NY border on I-87 and were stuck in traffic for an hour. Why, Waze?! Why!?!

Finally, we arrived in North Salem at my uncle Rob’s house and greeted a good chunk of my family who had come up to enjoy a day of barbeque and swimmin’! I took a dip with my future nephew and we threw pool toys at each other for a bit. An excellent payoff for an otherwise monotonous (but beautiful) day.

Hours driven: 10

Audio:

  • Anna’s road trip playlist on Rdio
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything

Day 8: Nice to mead you

We visited Floriole for a nice little breakfast before hitting the road to Columbus. I had an almond croissant (which I can never resist, although I’m surprised that I didn’t select the rhubarb tart), and Jeffrey had a savory scone.

Breakfast at Floriole

Then, it was time to bid adieu to Chicago, knowing that we must return (what an amazing city!). The drive to Columbus was easy and lovely (we debated whether we saw more cornfields in Illinois or Ohio).

We stopped for lunch at Pizzology in Carmel, a suburban town about 30 minutes outside of Indianapolis, and my goodness, that was a tasty lunch. We started with bowls of tomato soup (some of the best tomato soup I’ve ever had), and then shared a pizza rossa topped with house-made porchetta, paired with local Indiana beers.

Pizza at Pizzology

Upon arriving in Columbus, we met up with Jeffrey’s friend Amber and her boyfriend Josh. Amber very generously showed us around Columbus and let us stay at her place and hang out with her adorable corgi named Rufus.

Rufus the adorable corgi

We had fantastic time! We walked around the city, got ice cream at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (yum), drank many meads at Brothers Drake Meadery (who knew there were so many meads?!?), ate ridiculously gigantic grilled cheese sandwiches at Melt, then watched an episode of Community before succumbing to sleep.

Mead at Brothers Drake Meadery

DJ Wizard Face nametag at Melt

Thanks so so much to Amber and Josh for the amazing visit! Columbus is an awesome city.

Hours driven: 6

Audio: Jeffrey’s 3-5 Star Playlist

Day 7: Walk, don’t drive

We were all over Chicago on Day 7! We might not have been on the road, but we possibly spent as much time traveling in one form or another.

We started off taking a bus to the Chicago River, where we took the Chicago Architecture boat tour, learning quite a bit about the buildings that line the river. It made us realize we’re possibly learning more about a city we’re visiting than the city we live in (suggestions for San Francisco tours welcome).

Architectural boat tour

Afterward, Lou Malnati’s, a Chicago deep-dish staple, was just up the street. We beat the lunch rush and had some killer personal pies.

Deep dish pizza

The next point of order was a walk to the John Hancock building, where we elevated to the 96th floor and had ourselves some drinks at the Signature Lounge, against a ridiculous view. It helped that it was a beautiful day and we were high enough to make out the curvature of the earth.

Drinks at the Signature Loungs

View from Signature Lounge

A walk along Lake Michigan seemed to suggest that half the city was out on the beach in their swimwear, playing some beach volleyball or throwing a barbeque. It was safe to assume that this would be an all-day affair for most beach-goers, as it would provide a front-row seat for the evening fireworks.

Beach at Lake Michigan

We continued onward into the entirely free Lincoln Park Zoo. Gorillas, chimpanzees, and other smaller assorted monkeys were out and about, as well as a helping of reptilian creatures, and cats of all sizes. Ever seen a sand cat? Ever seen one finish dead mice in two large bites? We can cross that off our list.

Lincoln Park

Gorilla lounging in a hammock at the Lincoln Park Zoo

View from Lincoln Park Zoo

Our next stop was Molly’s Cupcakes. Anna had a strawberry one and I got a peanut butter Nutella. We enjoyed them immensely as we enjoyed a game or two of Connect 4.

Molly's Cupcakes

After a short break in the hotel room (catching up on some of these blog posts), we boarded another bus to Blackbird, where another excellent meal (asparagus and burrata, corned beef tongue, strip loin, roast chicken breast) awaited us.

Had we finished dinner a bit earlier, we probably could have walked even further back to Navy Pier to watch the fireworks, but we grabbed a taxi instead to watch the tail end of the show, and walked back to the hostel, continuously being taken by surprise as a bunch of smaller fireworks shows erupted around us.

Distance traveled: 25,000 steps (according to Anna’s Fitbit)

Day 6: Don’t wear a skirt to the City Museum

We checked out of our St. Louis room, said our goodbyes to the Macs and the hosts and the dog, and then attempted to squeeze in as much more St. Louis as was possible.

We were dressed pretty nice that day for our dinner reservations, but that didn’t stop us from climbing up stairs and barreling down slides at the City Museum, which is more of a 10-story play place than a museum. An amazing location, nevertheless, and we were lucky enough to have the run of the place until buses full of appropriately aged kids showed up and ruined a perfectly good thing. For kids. But that’s not the point.

St. Louis City Museum

Turtles at St. Louis City Museum

Jeffrey climbing at the St. Louis City Museum

We took another risk on our fancy clothes and got ourselves some barbeque at Bogart’s Smokehouse right when it opened, scoring some excellent brisket, pulled ribs, pork skins and beans.

Bogart's Smokehouse

Soulard neighborhood in St. Louis

Off we went toward Chicago. Waze happily rerouted us a few times due to oncoming rush-hour traffic until we found ourselves back on Interstate 80, the freeway that starts around the corner from our house in San Francisco.

Highway 80

It was then that Waze – for our first time ever, mind you – got us into some pretty ridiculous traffic while passing by Grant Park. It couldn’t have known, though, as every opportunity for a right turn was being blocked off exactly before we crossed each intersection, due to the upcoming July 4th festivities.

We finally arrived at the Chicago Getaway Hostel and checked into our private room (shared bathrooms – we don’t need to be THAT fancy).

To get the most out of the city, we decided that we’d try to walk as much as possible. Our first stop was an early dinner at Balena, a wonderful Italian place that served up delicious pasta and seafood.

Our next stop was the Second City, where we saw the Depraved New World revue. It was a series of short pieces, constructed as humorous commentary on modern society/relationships, featuring an ensemble of six performers. The revue was super funny, and was capped off by a set of improv. It was great to visit Second City regardless, as the walls are covered with old photos of famous alumni performing at the program/venue (Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Rachael Dratch, etc.), and the fact that the show was also really entertaining was just icing on the cake.

Hours driven: 5

Spotted along the way: Lots and lots of corn.

Music:

  • Fez soundtrack
  • Disasterpeace – ‘Level’
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything

Day 5: One Springfield down, two to go

We got an early start with the usual continental breakfast at our Oklahoma City hotel, and hit the road.

When lunch rolled around, we found ourselves in Springfield, Missouri, a humble town that just so happened to have some excellent cajun food at the Big Easy Grill. Anna had jambalaya, I had a fried shrimp po’boy. What followed was a spirited discussion about fountain drinks and how much Missourians seem to love them.

The Big Easy Grill

Finding that we had some time to kill on the road to St. Louis, we decided to go for a little detour along a route that promised some river views, but the route was too far from the river to view it. Harumph. At least we know that Missouri’s countryside is gorgeous.

We arrived at our first Airbnb room in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis, and, in addition to the hosts, were greeted by a substantial collection of Macs, and an adorable shih tzu who seemed to be a seasoned champion at staring contests.

Audrey the dog

With some guidance from our hosts, we walked the Delmar Loop and marveled at its walk of fame, had some unique Mexican-inspired food (like a cheeseburger burrito) at Atomic Cowboy, and had a few drinks along with the best pretzel bites ever down the street at Sanctuaria.

We topped off the night with a bit too much frozen custard at Ted Drewes (so creamy!), and hit the hay.

Frozen custard

Hours driven: 8

Audio:

  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • Mike Birbiglia: Sleepwalk with Me
  • The usual 3-5 Star stuff