*i really wanted to post pictures with this but blogger's not cooperating. ptrttpth.
Today is my daughter’s birthday. Two years ago today at eight in the morning, I was piddling around my house trying to put away baby clothes (the induction was scheduled for the next evening and I figured I had some time, so of course laundering those cute little baby clothes was high up on my list.) Two years ago today, at ten-thirty in the morning, I was standing in the doctor’s office saying, “I think my water’s breaking.”
“What makes you think so?” the nurse at the front window said.
“I dunno. Might be the puddle around my feet.”
Two years ago today, at eleven-thirty in the morning, I went from my doctor’s office straight to the hospital and got myself installed in a really nice hospital room (which I eventally started calling “the hotel room” because it was roomy and full of gorgeous flowers.) Two years ago today my husband was working with a roofing outfit, his cell phone couldn’t pick up calls, and I had to call RB at work and tell her what was happening so she could get in touch with him.
I was excited and a little disappointed. I had hoped to labor at home for the most part, walking around, rocking on my exercise ball and watching as much LOTR as I could manage before going to the hospital. I didn’t lose my composure until they came to have me fill out admission forms and put the standard IV drip in. The nurse was kind – she closed the door and said, “Yeah, I know, it’s kinda scary, huh? You’ll be fine, I promise.”
I had been drinking water nonstop to increase my fluid levels – they were pretty low, and the baby was small and not growing as quickly as most other babies do, which is why they had scheduled an induction for the next day. So there I was in the hospital room, attached to an IV drip, started on pitocin to induce labor, starting contractions, a baby lying hard on my bladder, a fetal monitor hooked to my belly, and all I wanted to do was pee – every thirty seconds, approximately. Not exactly a practical option, hooked up as I was to all that equipment. Never mind walking around – I was stuck in the bed, and after a weekend of prescribed bed rest, it about made me nuts.
I didn’t labor for long. Three or four hours into it, they checked the monitor strip and saw that Duckie’s heartbeat was slowing to about 80 bpm during the contractions – and I hadn’t really gotten going much at that point. I wasn’t dilated more than a fingertip.
They gave us a choice. Risk more fetal distress and a long labor (say 16 – 24 hours), with a possible C-section at the end of it with a doctor I really didn’t like. Or go ahead with an immediate Cesarean, performed by doctors who made me feel safe. They let us have a couple of minutes alone to decide, but there was no question that they wanted us to make the decision quickly – it was already late in the day.
Brian held my hand. I desperately needed to pee. If it hadn’t been for the godawful pressure on my bladder, I might have actually enjoyed the contractions. I had been ready for this for a while now – I’d had a feeling about two weeks earlier that Duckie would probably come before her due date of October 11th. In our childbirth class, they had devoted about half a session to Cesareans, but I slept through it – I was about 8 months by then and got tired easily. And what did I need that information for, anyway – I was going to labor 100% naturally, cut the cord myself, and go home the next day. (Yeah. Whatever.)
I’m nervous in hospitals anyway. They’re almost never good experiences, are they? My mother died in one while I was sleeping in the waiting room, a good friend spent a lot of time in one after her stroke, and they frankly scared the pee out of me. (Literally, in this case.) I hated needles, I hated being out of control of anything, and this situation felt all of a sudden like it was completely out of control. Had felt that way since I signed the admission forms.
“I’m scared,” I said to Brian. I didn’t want to be cut open. I didn’t want to have my baby like this. But I didn’t want her to be hurt, either. If she was having problems during the contractions now, it was only going to get worse, as the protective bag in which she had floated happily for the last few months was all but gone. No amount of whispering to her or deep breathing or rubbing my belly was going to change the fact that she wasn’t handling labor very well.
Brian held my hand and kissed me, put his arms around me. “I know. I am, too.”
We decided, together, to go ahead with an immediate Cesarean. I couldn’t put my expectations about the experience of childbirth – or my fear – before Duckie’s safety. That’s what it came down to, in the end.
Things happened quickly. Brian went down to the car to get the stuff he’d picked up at the house in his outrageously fast drive from Laurel Park to Edneyville, back to the hospital in Laurel Park. (I had gone straight from the doctor’s office to the hospital with no bag packed, no nothin’, except a big book – but at least I had that, even if I didn’t read it.) He got me a nightgown, a toothbrush and toothpaste, some nice-smelling soap I’d bought a couple of weeks before, and a very soft little stuffed puppy I kept at work for rough days. (Yeah, he stopped at the plant on the way, despite his own urgency to get to Pardee. Er… have I mentioned recently how much I love my husband?)
By the time he got back, they had already wheeled me down to surgery. No one I knew was with me (except Duckie, of course), but everyone was patient and understanding – I’m sure I wasn’t the first mom to be freaked out at the prospect of a spinal drip and major surgery, and they did a really good job of keeping me as calm as possible. I said, “You’ll wait ‘til Brian gets back, right? How will he know where I am?”
“They’ll tell him at the nurses station,” they said, which is what happened. (He told me later he stopped by the chapel to have a word with God on the way down to the operating room.)
Before he got there, they sat me up on the bed in the prep room and gave me a shot of local anaesthetic before the spinal drip. I was crying so hard at this point that one of the nurses came over and said, “Hang on to me, OK? You’re doing great. Just breathe nice and slow, you’re doing great.” I don’t even know what her name was, but I will be grateful to her – and the entire medical team – forever. She let me snot all over her shoulder with not a word of disgust – she was a nurse, after all, and had doubtless seen much worse.
They put the spinal drip in and started the morphine. They helped me lie down, then transferred me to the operating bed. “Wheee!” I said. “Can we do that again?” They put the catheter in (yeah, I know – ick – but at that point, I wasn’t feeling anything below the waist. Which was fine – at least I didn’t need to pee anymore.)
I was calmer now. Morphine will do that, I guess. I was even starting to get a little excited – I was about to meet my daughter, after all, the little Buddha who had lived inside me for nine months. The lil’ bit, as I called her, who liked to roll around, kick occasionally, and who had chronic hiccups (just like I do) that made me giggle when I felt them. I was finally going to see her in real life, instead of through a sonogram. Excellent.
Not so excellent when they strapped my arms down. As if I hadn’t already given up enough control. “I promise I won’t reach down, I swear to God, please don’t strap my arms down…” I was about to relinquish any last vestiges of the illusion of autonomy to complete strangers. At least the anaesthesiologist was cute.
“Are you going to wait for my husband? Can we please wait for him?”
“Yes,” they said. “He’s outside right now, getting into his scrubs.” Whew. OK, then.
They wheeled us into the operating room. There was my doctor, she of the tiny hands and practical attitude, and the other doctor I had seen once or twice, a tall man with a gentle voice and a very understanding, sympathetic demeanor. And there was Brian, covered in green scrubs, showing only his hands and the ocean-blue of his eyes, crinkly around the edges with concern and whatever else he was feeling at the time. I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to see anyone in my life. Not alone anymore.
“Just make sure I can’t feel anything before you start, OK?” I said.
“No problem,” said the anaesthesiologist. They had already started the operation. Little joke on me, there.
After a bit, the second doctor said, “OK, you might feel a little pressure in a second or two.”
I didn’t feel a thing, except unbearably excited and pretty stoned on top of it. Wheeee, indeed. She was almost here.
“How’s it going?” I asked Brian. “Can you see her yet?” The blue draping prevented seeing much of anything – probably a good thing, considering I was being cut open through several layers of skin, fat and muscle.
I heard a squealy cry, and Brian burst into tears. They held her up over the drape, and I said, “Oh my God, she’s so ugly!” (In my defense, she was covered with blood at that point and screaming like a banshee.)
“What?” I heard my doctor say.
“Oh – no, I mean, wow, she’s finally here!” Now is not the time to piss off your doctor, I thought.
“Go see her,” I said to Brian, and he was gone.
“Is she OK?” I said, as they were sewing me up. The pediatrician (still her doctor now) was checking her over to make sure she was OK. Standard procedure, but since they had estimated her weight at 4 pounds from the sonograms, they were expecting some problems.
“She’s fine,” someone called over the crying.
“Oh, she’s crying, poor baby,” I said, maternal instincts kicking in right on schedule. “Can I see her please?”
“Just a sec,” someone said. “She’s almost cleaned up.”
“Hey, honey!” I called. “How much does she weigh?”
“Five pounds, four ounces,” someone else replied. I don’t think it was Brian – he may have been trying to recover (momentarily) from the experience of becoming a father.
“Ha!” I crowed.
She was still crying when they brought her over to me. I don’t remember if they let me touch her at that point, but when I saw her bundled in that warm blanket, squalling in protest at being rudely removed from her first warm sanctuary, I said, “Oh, baby, it’s OK. Mommy’s right here. Everything’s gonna be OK.”
And she stopped crying and looked at me. Her slowly blinking eyes were grey-blue, just like her father’s. I know she didn’t see anything more than a blur where my face was, but she knew the sound of my voice, and that was enough for me.
They gave her to Brian, who got to carry her up to the nursery for a closer examination. I got wheeled to recovery, where I lay for an hour in an impatient, shivering fog. Soon enough, they took me back to my room where Brian and Duckie were waiting for me. Brian had a short hour with her, looking into those eyes and marveling over her small perfection, and then he gave her over to me. I can’t imagine how that must have felt for him.
It had been a hell of an amazing day. I had woken up that morning with the intention of doing a little light housework and maybe getting in a nap, and by the time I went to sleep that night there was a little blue-eyed angel in the bassinet next to me.
I remember waking up that night when Duckie cried, and I had a hard time moving. One of the nurses came in and picked her up. “Oh, she’s so sweet!” she said. “I just want to take you home with me, yes I do!”
Now, I really liked that nurse. But at that moment I would have gotten out of that bed and knocked her flat if she had even tried such a thing. So it seemed maternal bonding would not be an issue.
But Duckie was irresistibly sweet, especially when they brought her back to me after her first bath. The little hair she had was red-gold in the soft warm light over the bassinet, a fluffy halo, and she was so tiny and skinny she hardly looked human when she was naked. But her head and face were perfectly round, her nose looked a lot like mine, and she had her daddy’s ears, chin and eyes. And according to one friend, who immediately fell in love with her, she even had my eyebrow dimples.
Recovery wasn’t easy, and neither was motherhood for the first few weeks. The pitocin they’d given me to induce labor made my ankles swell up to the side of softballs – the skin was stretched so tight it actually hurt. A massive drop in pregnancy hormones, which had made me ridiculously happy the last two trimesters, drove me to tears at the drop of a hat. Nursing went horribly the first few weeks, and I had a really hard time getting mobility back. Brian had to help me sit up when it came time to feed her at night. I fell asleep in that rocking chair more times than I can count, waking up to feel stiff and sore like I’d been hit by a truck, and then I would look down and see that perfect miniature baby sleeping in my arms.
I had a lot of help. My dad and stepmother came into town a couple of days after Duckie was born. Judy cleaned the entire house in the space of two days (which earned her the affectionate, and very accurate, nickname “the White Tornado.”) They held the baby while we slept. They bought groceries. They gave us an early Christmas present of a flat-screen TV and an entertainment center to put it in. I said, “Cool, Dad – what do I get for the second baby?” It was a real hoot to watch Brian and Dad put the center together, too. This, after Dad had already given us a cherry-wood changing table that he’d made with his own two hands.
Brian’s dad came into town the day after Duckie was born, and I think he kept Brian sane through his first crazy days as a father. Brian’s mom visited a couple of weeks later to help out after the first wave of visitors had subsided. She said, “What can I do?” I said, “Two words. Take-out.” That she did, as well as planting daffodils in the front yard which bloomed the next spring.
Friends visited, bringing cake and comfort food and loving arms and appreciative comments.
It took a long time for me to come to terms with the experience. I felt like a failure in a lot of ways – my own expectations, of course, and no one to really talk to who understood. Problems with nursing, terrified I couldn’t feed my baby, feeling awful about having to feed her formula.
But here we are. Two years later. Duckie eats anything we eat now, and tells us all about it, even though we can’t understand anything past the command, “Eat!” She runs and prances and hollers and throws tantrums and gives kisses and hugs like nobody’s business. And when she falls asleep in my arms, I can see the newborn that she was, in the roundness of her cheek, the eloquent slant of her closed eyes, the sleek soft curve of her head, now covered with hair turned white by the summer sun.
I still cry when I think about that day, the details of it, the fear, the sheer intensity of the physical experience, and the experience of becoming a mother. And two years later, I can honestly say that I would do it all over again, for her.