Saturday, December 11, 2010
Arrival, Part 1
Today is your official due date, but you have been in the world for eleven days. You are the most beautiful creature I’ve ever met, and when I feel the bones of your spine like a row of wedding beads or the delicate protrusions of your shoulder blades beneath the slight ripples of your skin or your downy hair or your delicate piano hands which open and close like muscle shells, I am in awe that we made you, that I nourished you, that you are here with us.
On Sunday and Monday, I noticed a lot of bladder activity. I felt like I had to go to the bathroom constantly, rather than just more than usual. Then on Tuesday around 2 AM, I felt contractions about every half hour or so, and I wondered if they would subside. On Monday evening, I had texted Suzanne about the bladder thing. We did the pad test, but it didn’t seem to be water breaking, so we concluded it was probably nothing. “But something is different,” I texted. I texted Stacia, “I’m having really weird early labor, or maybe it’s false labor.” I was so used to the idea of false labor. My sister had been sent home because of it, and I just had no idea what labor would be like for me, and maybe I also thought it wouldn’t—couldn’t—really happen to me. At 4 AM, when your father’s alarm went off for work, I told him I was having weird pain, and I wasn’t sure what it was, but he should call Suzanne. Then I called her and told her maybe she should come over. I told her the contractions felt like cramps, and she asked how long they were. “Well,” I said, “I can’t really tell, because I can’t tell when they are beginning or ending.” Then I thought, “Wait, did I just say that? Doesn’t that mean this is it, the real thing?”
Shortly after that, contractions took off. Or rather I perceived that they had actually taken off a while ago without my realizing, so suddenly I felt their waves, breaking but not really receeding. I told James to urge Suzanne to hurry. Then I went to the bathroom and threw up. Luckily I had only had some water, so not very much came up.
Sometime like an eternity later, Suzanne got there, and after a little while, I somehow got some clothes on, and we went to the hospital. I hoped I would be admitted and given a drug for the pain; instead, the nurse who checked me said, “She’s fully dilated,” and then everything happened fast. Admitting tried to ask me a few questions, and I tried to answer them—at least I answered them in my mind—but I was pretty sure whatever I was thinking was not actually saying. The doctor arrived, and people inserted a couple of different kinds of heart monitors. That’s when I noticed that the baby’s heart rate was down. “The baby’s heart rate is down,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” someone said. “It goes down a little during delivery.”
Then the doctor asked if I was listening and said the heart rate was actually down, and the baby was not getting enough oxygen. He told me that I needed to push the baby out in the next fifteen minutes, or he would need to do a C section. He gave me an anesthetic, broke my water and told me he would use a vacuum to pull while I pushed. He told me to tell him the beginning of each contraction, and suddenly I realized that the contractions did have a beginning and an end and I could pick them up. Everything else began to blur, and all I could say was “Ok” when a contraction started and then groan through the length of a push. People, even James, kept telling me I was doing great and that they could see the head. Whenever James told me I was doing well, I thought, “You can’t see this baby. I’m sure he’s stuck in there, and I’m getting nowhere, and everyone is lying to both of us.” Then on one of the pushes, I felt the vacuum connect with the baby, then felt the head pop free. I have no idea whether I contributed, but feeling the head come out was my first tangible sign that we were getting somewhere. It gave me the strength to get the rest of the baby out, to usher you into the world.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Arrival, Part 2
You share a birthday with Mark Twain, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Tayari Jones, as well as with Winston Churchill and some other historical figures I can no longer remember.
Your name is Langston James Simmons. You were born on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 8:17 AM. You weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces when you were born and were 20.75 inches long.
As I think I have written, I have a prejudice against male gynecologists, which was fanned by my mother’s experiences. However, I need to say my attending doctor was a male and was wonderful. I had not actually seen him as a patient before, but he had answered my question about my feet swelling up when I called the “on call” service at night. At the time, I had thought of him as rather brusque. But he was great during the delivery. During the birth itself, he was extremely efficient, verging on impatient but only because of the necessity of getting the baby out, but after the birth, he was methodical but reassuring. He talked to me as he stitched me up, explaining exactly what he was doing, and kept urging me to tell him if I felt any pain so he could apply more anesthetic. I told him that I had come in expecting to get drugs, not a baby just yet, and he said that based on the position of the baby and the urgency of getting him out, it was really a good thing I didn’t. Having gotten the sense that he had just walked onto his shift to deliver my baby, I told him he should get a cup of coffee, and he said, “No, I need a drink!” Eventually, although not right away, they gave me the baby to hold, and after that, I didn’t notice what the doctor was doing. I lay there, blitzed out, holding the baby and listening to Christmas carols on the hospital speakers. Normally I’m very annoyed about the way places everywhere play carols so early in the year. I feel like it marginalizes anyone of another religion and also trivializes the songs by using them for a whole month or two. But I was loopy on whatever mild post-birth drug the doctor put me on, so the songs felt soothingly familiar, almost as if my parents were at the labor with me. It’s worth pointing out this antedote to prejudice as I learn to love that which I sometimes fear, your maleness. That being said, I loved you from the moment you were placed in my arms while I was still being stitched, and I have never wished you to be a daughter. People told me how much they missed feeling their babies inside them once they were born, but for me, having you outside as a reality, not a speculation of movements and rhythms, completed you. You are no longer the “what if.”
Throughout my stay at the hospital, nurses asked me or members of my family if I had support taking care of the baby. Suzanne thought I should be doing everything on my own to impress them, but my mom said, “Just tell them what they want to hear, that you have lots of help. And you do.” So I tried to do both. I don’t think most of them were actually that interested in how I’d adapt things, just that I had help. The exceptions were Evelyn, the labor and delivery nurse about whom I wrote earlier who unfortunately didn’t attend my birth but who came to see me the day after the birth, and a couple of the NICU nurses, Eliza and Lisa, who asked a ton of questions. Lisa, the weekend nurse, seemed really impressed. She ended the conversation we had by saying, “What a nice baby and a great family!”
We were both released from the hospital on December 2. On December 3, you were readmitted, because your bilirubin level had gone up;, you had jaundice. The most likely reason was that the vacuum used during delivery caused a swelling on your head, and though the swelling went down, your bilirubin count kept going up. It was an intense day. We traveled from the hospital lab for your blood test to the pediatrician’s office back to the hospital’s pediatric unit and finally to the neonatal intensive care unit, the latter, because you weren’t hydrated, and the pediatric people couldn’t insert an IV. (The NICU nurse, Eliza, got it on the first try).
It sounds terrible that you were placed in the NICU, even more terrible that you were assigned an isolated room, because you had been outside, but the truth was that it was probably better you were there. The nurses were wonderful, both with your care and the explanations for us, and the isolated room meant a little more room for visitors than other parts of the NICU. My postpartum crash coincided with the hospital insanity. I cried when I worried about needing to find a bathroom on the pediatric unit, worrying about asking the nurses for help when you, not I, were the patient. I cried when you were relocated to the NICU as the nurse began (again) to put an IV into your arm. I couldn’t stay for any of your IV attempts actually. Your father stayed with you and described to me later the futile attempts of the pediatric people followed by the success of the NICU nurse. (“85% of getting the IV in is looking for the vein first,” she commented wryly to your father). Mom knows all about the NICU from my birth, and later I joked that she must have said to me as a baby, “I sure hope your kid gives you the same hell you gave me.”
Once I recovered from the hormone crash, and even though I missed you, I enjoyed sleeping in my own bed. Your father and I visited you several times a day with pumped breast milk, sometimes together and sometimes separately with friends and family members. You were in the hospital until that Monday, and then you were released. The phototherapy and extra hydration helped the bilirubin level to drop, and you are doing well now. Your days are spent eating and sleeping and pooping. Despite your brief respite on the bottle, you are nursing well and have a powerful suck. You live in the moment, and I’m learning to live there too.