Thursday, April 10, 2014

His Hair

His hair grows fast
He gets that from me
And a mean little smile
Promising sun
After thunder.
His hair grows fast
I know every strand
Both growing and shed
Their combined weight
Forming the lines 
That frame my mouth.
His hair grows faster
Than the cavity in my chest
Can fuse back together
After breaking open again and again
Unable to house what has gotten too big.
His hair grows fast
And so do I
Blanched by sun
Wisping from his heat
Shorn back from his eye
Settling about him
In dark blond rivers
Rushing through time.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

This One Time When I Had a Baby Part Five -or- the Sad Adventures of Weird New Mom and Hero Dad

A strange, free floating feeling hovered as we traveled from the hospital where we delivered Oscar to the one where he was being treated.
In a shoal of cars, we swum upstream like before. Only, we were no longer free floating. We were tethered now to the sick youngling we had created, being brought up to code in Boston.
During this time I experienced what I later dubbed biological confusion. And what, even later, I would call post partum depression.
While I wanted so much to bask affirmatively in the miracle of childbirth and the modern medicine that would repair my son's anomaly, what I began feeling instead was the unsettling, almost methodical process of emotionally shutting down and distancing from feelings of motherhood. 
Certainly, this made me a horrible person. I knew how I was supposed to feel as new mother, birth defect, or no, but something very involuntary and mechanical in me was pushing away the plate of steaming parental hell it had just been served with a polite, "No thank you." 
Not throwing the plate at the wall, mind you, but resisting certainly, saying "This isn't what I ordered."
PPD was not a far fetched concept for me. I have lengthy history with manageable, yet, influential depression. I was somewhat prepared to let the emotions of motherhood unfold for me in whatever stunted way they might need to. I knew before giving birth that the appropriate emotions would blossom in their own time if I gave them room to.
What I hadn't counted on were unforeseen medical issues that kept me from bonding with my child, in an act of self protection, out of fear that I might lose him. 
As awful as it sounds, I now understand why mothers in the wild occasionally abandon their young. Of course, I would never abandon my child. Of course, even then, I loved him. But it was a love that only a couple of days in, felt like it would completely swallow up and undo me. Parental love isn't the type of thing one eases into. It's a sudden tidal wave of devotion, obsession, and fear.
 If you are a thinking person at all, you realize that as much as you love your children, the day will come when you will part. Not to mention all the falls and scrapes along the way. It is the nature of an earthly life to suffer, and for parents, we take on our children's suffering on top of our own.
En route to Boston, I kept looking outside myself for signs from above as to how things would turn out. 
Waiting for a light outside of a small Boston park called Oscar C. Tugo Circle was a good sign. Seeing repeated bus stop ads for a new show called Revenge was a bad sign. My superstitious strain of OCD wreaked havoc on my nerves.
We finally got parked in the massive garage shared by families of Boston Children's patients and Fenway Stadium goers alike.
The extent of my blood loss became apparent when I was barely able to support my own weight after making my way from the car to the NICU floor of the hospital.
A wheel chair was procured for me while we waited for Oscar to come out of surgery. 
We met with his surgeon and his condition was more thoroughly explained to us. 
The surgery had gone well.
In certain types of EATEF, the esophagus is insufficient to meet the stomach and tissue has be harvested from inside the body and stretched over a period of months. In such cases, babes are often sent home with G Tubes and other apparati used to assist in eating.
Luckily, Oscar did not fall into this category. He would be eating through a tube for the time being, but it was thought that the tube would be removed in a matter of days as he healed.
He was finally wheeled into the NICU, unconscious still, and swollen from fluids. Still, he looked better than I expected him to. We were glad to see him. We stood, hovering over and gazing into the bassinet until the head NICU nurse said, "Mom, Dad, Please, Touch!" We hadn't  been sure we were allowed to.
We rested our hands on his face and whispered to him.
The doctors weren't able to give us a finite window of how long Oscar would be in the hospital. It was looking like weeks to months.
Until he was off the NICU floor and in his own room with a cot for one of us, it made the most sense for us to make a daily three hour drive to and from Wellfleet for the time being, to visit and deliver the milk I was avidly pumping every three hours in increasing quantities. 
I struggled to balance wanting to care for my son with my own feelings of self pity. As a new mother, I had never so much wanted to be taken care of in all my life and the ironic selfishness of that wasn't lost on me. 
Gratitude seemed like the only acceptable response to the fact that he was repaired and thriving, and I was grateful. But then, why did having my husband push me into a hospital cafeteria in a wheel chair feel like one of the lowest points of my life? Perhaps it was the overall helplessness of the whole situation coupled with hormones.
Scott was certainly the rock of the family at this point. He took care of everything. I looked to him as emotional guide of appropriate behavior. 
It was he who would think to call the NICU and check in on Oscar, as we'd been encouraged to do. When my alarm would go off at two a.m. to pump, he would take the parts from me when I was done and wash them. He cooked for us. He did most of the driving to and from the hospital. I would have been lost without him.
After our first visit to the NICU, Scott and I finally returned to the Cape for the first time since leaving to have Oscar. Awaiting were three anxious cats who a neighbor had been feeding and a refrigerator stocked with partially spoiled food to be gone through from the thirty-six hour storm blackout.
For the first time in years, we cooked a meal that included bacon (the gateway meat), in the interest of my protein levels, which we ate in our king sized bed, feeling incomplete and hopeful. We had brought home Oscar's cream knit newborn hat. It was steeped in his own brand of perfect new baby smell that had accompanied him into the world. The two of us took turns smelling it and passing it back and forth as we watched something unmemorable on tv.
For the time being it would have to be enough.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Did I Really Just Say That?

Since my entry into mommerhood there have been a number of occasions in which I am stymied by what comes out of my mouth. 
Because I like to document things, these things have been accumulating in a special list. It recently occurred to me that after two years, the list is ripe for blogging.
Rest assured this list will get longer over time.

•Get your foot out of the trash can.

•Don't bite blankets.

•I want you to stay out of the bushes.

•Don't play soccer out the window.

•Get your foot out of the box.

•Get my shoe out of your mouth.

•Let's not eat sticks.

•Can you get off the fire pit, maybe?

•Get your finger out of that hole.

•Let me finish pooping and I'll get you some stickers.

•Your graham cracker's going to get soaking wet.

•Please be careful with your head.

•Stop trying to break the house.

•People in Maine wear socks. They just do.

•Don't wipe your hands on the couch. Wipe them on my pants.

•Don't squeeze your body into places it doesn't fit.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What's Post Processing?

I don't know if you've heard, but Instagram is coming out with a new batch of filters. I've listed their titles here. Can't wait to use these.

Friday, April 5, 2013

This One Time When I Had a Baby Part Four - or - Oscar Makes His Firey Entrance onto Planet Earth in a Blaze of Chaos

If you're following along from my previous birth story posts, you might have been waiting awhile for this one. 
Like I said, I have not been looking forward to "going there". But it's easier for me now, seeing as how life has been acceptably stable for the past year or so.
Resume scene of first time parents in hospital maternity room with new baby. 
I was dealing with the typical brand-new-mom stuff including phonebook sized maxi pads and perinatal squirty bottles, not to mention recovering from my post birth D&C. 
My first attempt at breastfeeding, Oscar had managed to latch correctly and seemed to be an avid fan of the boob. (This was after only one instance of me proclaiming to one of the maternity nurses, "Look. He's breastfeeding. It's slightly less painful than his delivery." To which she shook her head and released Oscar's latch, revealing a small purple hickey on my aureola.)
Oscar had a persistent strident sound he made while breathing and an occasional phlegmatic cough. It seemed strange for a newborn, but not necessarily alarming to me. Our first twenty-four hours with him were marked by concern and curiosity as to why this baby made these strange sounds.
I sent a mass email out to family and friends explaining that there seemed to be some issue and we were trying to get to the bottom of it, but that he seemed so healthy otherwise we were sure it must be minor.
Looking back now, I attribute my nonchalance to exhaustion and a new mother's denial. Could you blame me?
I had finally dug into the bag of snacks I'd been advised to bring to the hospital.
I was recovering from labor and surgery, hormones were surging, I was peeing and nursing out forty weeks of fluid retention, and this mama was hungry.
Scott had been accompanying Oscar and various nurses on a few minor tests they were administering to figure out his noises.
One of these women was a neonatal pediatrician brought in just for us.
I was stuffing my face with yogurt covered pretzels when she came into our room. There was a heaviness to her demeanor. She pulled up a chair to my bed and I knew enough to push the bag of pretzels aside and swallow what was in my mouth while I still could.
She looked me in the eyes and said, "Something is wrong with Oscar. He is making a lot of abnormal noise when he breathes. I've looked at his lungs and they seem normal. I tried to put a wire scope down his throat to examine his stomach and the scope would not go down all the way. I'm not sure at this point why that is. He needs to be looked at by neonatal specialists to run more tests than I'm able to do here. I've called an ambulance to come pick him up and bring him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Children's Hospital in Boston."
Something in me wanted to argue with her, but she had not left me any room to.
I asked whether she thought I had done something wrong during my pregnancy. She said no.
I buried my face in my hands and cried. Scott put his arms around me.
When she left the room Scott started crying too. We wept like that, alone together. Confused, heartbroken, and frightened.
Soon after, it was explained that, while, if we insisted, Scott could accompany Oscar in the ambulance, there would be little room for the EMTs to do their job as it was and they preferred for the parents to drive in their own vehicle.
I was not able yet to leave the hospital due to my surgery, so if Scott followed, he would be going alone, and I would be left alone. We were told that there wouldn't be much he could do for Oscar during his first night in the NICU anyway. We were strongly encouraged to wait until I was discharged the next morning and go up together, when I would be more on the mend.
Oscar's ambulance arrived and it was decided he should be placed on an IV for the ride, due to concern over his breathing.
Scott and I stood on the side of a small room while three adults attempted with much difficulty to place an IV in our newborn.
He cried. He writhed. I felt sick and asked for a chair. 
One of the nurses dipped her finger into a small plastic container and then into his mouth. He calmed a bit. I asked her what it was. It was a soother that hospitals use for newborns called Sweet-Ease. Basically, it's sugar gel, and it calms them down.
Though I was glad to see him calmer, I wondered what the ingredients were. This was the first of many times I was forced to relinquish control and watch strangers care for my child in ways that were unfamiliar to me. 
The realization of my powerlessness began to sink in with the feeling that this was going to be a much different parenting experience than I had planned.
I asked to hold him one more time before they took him. I am remembering that for the first time as I write this. I don't remember what I did or said or what he looked like in that moment. I only remember the sensation of claws dragging through my heart as we were separated.
I walked back to our room and stood there crying into my hands. One of our nurses hugged me while Scott stood against the wall crying by himself. I apologized, saying that I just hadn't been prepared to watch him go. The nurse told me that no one could have been prepared for that.
Once Oscar was gone, all the attention we'd been putting on him was now put on his food, my (his) milk. 
Thus began my lengthy affair with the breast pump.
Breast pumps are amazing inventions of modern technology. They're also totally gross and if you enjoy using one in any way, you might be a domesticated farm animal. They make an awful mechanical wheezing sound as they suck your once delicate nipples aggressively in and out of a transparent tube. Tiny streams of milk come sputting out in ten different directions, splattering along the inside of two funnels you hold against your breasts, joining into solitary rivulets which drip down into measured, BPA-free, sterile plastic bottles screwed onto the ends. After a pumping session the two bottles are married, labeled with the date and time, and refrigerated (or served). Any woman who has pumped knows the feeling of your worth being measured in milligrams of milk you've siphoned from your body. It is a weird and special distinction, something I would repeat if needed, yet would never like to revisit.
The maternity ward only had one breast pump and it was prehistoric, or as my husband recently said, steampunk. It reminded me of one of those metal switchboards the old fashioned operator gals used to sit at popping their gum. The switchboard was wheeled in and I was hooked up to it. As it started up, the violating pressure of the suction was just too much for me and I asked the nurse to turn it down. She said it was on the lowest setting. I felt that I just couldn't do anything else to my body that hurt and turned off the pump. I waited ten minutes and gave it another shot. I'm so glad I did. The same nurse got on the phone with my insurance company and demanded they send me a double electric breast pump. When they countered with a single manual pump she didn't back down, and she got her way. I'm so glad she did.
At this point in our ordeal I was definitely ready to throw in the breastmilk towel. Thank goodness for nurses who are lactation savvy and educated in the importance of colostrum in the healing process of newborns. Thank goodness for nurses who know how to pull all the stops and get a nursing mom off to the right start, because lord knows I needed some major stop-pulling at that point. My son would need all those white blood cells to heal up after his surgery. And I would need something, anything, to focus on and make me feel like a good mom, even if we were apart.
Scott spent an agonizing evening wavering between driving to Boston to be with Oscar, or staying in Wareham with me and leaving the next day. I didn't push him either way.
In the end, he decided to wait for me to be discharged.
That evening we ate a bit. We tried to watch tv. Every show seemed to be about babies or lost babies or sick babies. It was like a cruel joke. Scott asked me to turn off the tv.
I sent out another email to family and friends, explaining what we knew so far.
Late that night we got a call from Boston. After running tests on Oscar, they had been able to diagnose him.
Oscar had a birth defect called Esophageal Atresia/Tracheal Esophageal Fistula, or EATEF. I now can explain this birth defect to others. At the time, I did not have the capacity to have it even explained to me.
The easiest way to think of EATEF is that it is a defect of the food pipe and the air pipe. Basically, in the various forms of EATEF, these two pipes form incompletely, inappropriately, connecting where they're not supposed to and disconnecting where they're not supposed to.
In Oscar's case (Type C), his esophagus simply stopped growing before it reached his stomach, ending in a blind pouch. The food he ate literally had nowhere to go, and thus came back up. This is the atresia part.
Additionally, his airway, or trachea (which, luckily, did lead to his lungs), also connected to the part of the esophagus that was there, so that some of his food was slipping over to that side, causing his rattly breathing.
There are five variations of EATEF. Oscar had one of the easiest types to repair.
EATEF occurs in about one in four thousand pregnancies. It occurs in roughly the third week of pregnancy, before most women could possibly know that they're pregnant, while cells are still dividing. It is not caused by any activity during pregnancy. It is not yet linked to any activity or exposure before pregnancy. Parents who have a child with EATEF are no more likely to have subsequent EATEF children than any other parent. 
EATEF is often accompanied by other birth defects, all of which can occur during the crucial formation of the third week of pregnancy. This group of defects is called VACTERL syndrome, and involve specific parts of the body between the esophagus to the anus. I think of them as defect chakras. 
VACTERL stands for Vertebrae anomalies, Anal perforation (closed at the end), Cardiovascular anomalies, TracheoEsophageal fistula (ding ding!), Renal (kidney) anomalies, and limb defects.
Luckily, Oscar only had the one defect. We know this because during his first year of life we had to rule out the remaining defects by repeated visits to Boston for medical tests. (More on that later.)
So there's your crash course on EATEF.
All this was much less than we understood that evening. All we knew was that Oscar's food and airway were somehow miswired, and Oscar was not getting any food in his stomach. This was tolerable in the womb, where babies get most of their nutrition through their umbilical cord and only "practice eat" by ingesting their amniotic fluid.
But now that he was on his own, Oscar would require prompt surgery in order to eat, and it was scheduled for the next morning.
Of course I had heard of birth defects before and I suppose that I knew that sometimes newborns required surgery, but I don't think I had ever actually thought about it. The thought of a newborn, specifically my newborn, undergoing general anesthesia and surgery, terrified me. How well do newborn babies handle surgery? The decrepit masochist in me was betting on him not coming out alive. That is what I was preparing myself for. The worst. I couldn't seem to latch on to anything else.
The next morning we prepared to leave for Boston. We ate horrible rubbery scrambled eggs and permissible blueberry pancakes. I took my first postpartum shower and washed my hair with a bar of soap. I threw the dirty laundry into my gym bag and wondered if the best way to sanitize a duffel bag was to burn it. Then I wondered how I would sanitize my laptop. But I digress.
On our way out of the hospital, empty car seat in hand, not one, but three hospital employees asked us jovially where our baby was. As disturbing as it was at the time, I accredit modern medicine with the fact that not one of these people considered the possibility that our baby had had complications (let alone the possibility that we had lost him).
It was so awkward that we were literally struck speechless the first two times. When the receptionist asked us where our baby was as we walked out the door, I found it in myself to reply, 
Her face fell.
He's in surgery in Boston.
Her sympathy was immediate and I vaguely reciprocated her Oh, Honey! as my new family of three, minus one, stumbled sadly out of one hospital and determinedly onto our mission to another.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

This One Time When I Had A Baby Part Three

This part of my birth story is somewhat horrifying. I don't really recommend it to anyone.
Unless of course you ain't skeert, as my husband would say, in which case, venture on. Though, if you do get scared, please keep in mind that this phenomena almost never happens.

If you're continuing from Parts One and Two then you're up to speed on the birth story thus far, and believe it or not, those first parts of the story are the most pleasant.
What followed were two things that were not expected or common in any way. In fact, I had not even heard of either of them before, despite the research I had done on childbirth.
When I gave that final push and squeezed out the head of my seven pound one ounce Oscar, thinking to myself, "Oh yes, that most definitely feels like a head," I fully expected that the hard part was over. I was wrong.
As Oscar lay on my body and we got acquainted, I was continually distracted by the midwife and nurses fussing over what was going on down below. Namely, awaiting the delivery of Oscar's placenta. Some minutes had gone by and the placenta still hadn't come.
The midwife was "manipulating" my uterus to encourage its release. In this case, manipulating means she was kneading my already tender abdomen with her fingers. In pain, I tried to push her hands away, and she reminded me to focus on my baby, ever increasingly difficult as it was. In all of the commotion, Oscar was eventually removed from me and given to my husband to hold.
I was trying to enjoy the relief of having just delivered my first baby, and couldn't figure out why all this medical personnel was badgering me.
The nurses tried to kickstart the breastfeeding process, hoping the nipple stimulation would increase the flow of oxytocin, thereby inducing uterine cramps to help release the placenta.
Much ado was being made and I was quite sure that the placenta would come in its own good time and that all I really needed was for all of these people to go away and leave us alone.
I asked the midwife what all the fuss was and how long after a baby it usually took for the placenta to be "born". She said ten, fifteen minutes. Surely it hadn't been much longer than that. I asked her how much time had passed since I'd delivered Oscar. She said almost an hour.
By this point, I was hooked up to that IV I had managed to evade throughout my natural delivery and it was pumping me full of pitocin to try and get those cramps working and doing their job. The midwife had called in an obstetrical surgeon to assist in removing the placenta.
After the initial "manipulation" from the outside, I was told that the surgeon was going to try and do the job from the inside, basically using his hands and brute strength.
At this point I was given the option of adding stadol to the IV, which decreases pain and coherence, but doesn't completely eliminate either. Since I was already hooked up and had been through enough pain for the day, I conceded.
The midwife and surgeon went about trying to literally rip out the placenta while I basically writhed on the table, stadol and all. This seemed to go on for a ridiculous amount of time. My husband stood nearby in the corner, holding our new baby, and watching me bleed out as I begged them to stop in a stadol indued stupor. He later told me that the surgeon was up to his forearm in my vagina.
This method turned out to be futile. Oscar's placenta, for reasons that remain unknown, was completely fused to my uterus. I would need to go into surgery.
The surgeon spoke to me in a loud, clear voice, explaining that he needed me to sign a waiver, which if he could not remove the placenta surgically, would allow him to give me a hysterectomy.
The word hysterectomy shocked me out of my drug state. I could not believe what was happening. This, again, was not the birth experience I had signed up for.
I stared at the ceiling, my reflexes too slow to turn and look the doctor in the face.
He went on, "Sarah, trust me, there's nothing I want more than for you to go on to have five more children after this..."
I don't remember what he said after that. I just remember thinking, 'I don't want five more children. I'm just not quite ready to part with my uterus.'
I signed the waiver, weighing the pros and cons of a hysterectomy.
"That would mean no more periods." My husband gave me the 'not bad' face, trying to keep on the light side of things.
As they began to wheel me off to surgery my midwife made everyone stop and said that first my husband and I needed to kiss.
While we rolled down the hall I swam through the blur of fluorescent ceiling lights overhead as they flashed by with my control over my own fate. This could be it. It was possible I might not come out. Not likely, but possible. I was already in danger of bleeding to death and now I was going under general anesthesia. When I woke up from this I would not even know my reproductive status.
Things went pretty quickly. They didn't wait around. A mask was placed on my face and I believe I was asked to count and I was out.
I came to and my midwife was still right there waiting. I asked if it was over and she said yes. I asked if they had done a hysterectomy and with a smile she said no.
We were waiting for clearance to move into the maternity ward to be reunited with Scott and my new son.
At this point, I felt very good from the anesthesia and the high of the worst being behind me (little did I know). I took it upon myself to make drunken chit chat with my midwife.
I asked her how many kids she had (five) and responded with the appropriate exclamations. For some reason, I felt the need to apologize for a comment I had made earlier when talking about my husband having been raised a Jehovah's Witness. I don't remember how this had made it into any conversation, or if I had hallucinated its mention altogether, but I was sure I had cast an unfavorable light on Scott's experience with the religion and somehow had gotten it into my head that my midwife could have possibly been one and I was afraid I had offended her.
She said that, Oh no, she wasn't a Jehovah's Witness and that all she wanted was for all religions to get along, but that that would be up to man.
When she mentioned man, meaning mankind, what I heard was The Man, as in, The Powers That Be, as in The Guy In Charge.
Trying to follow along in this very worldly conversation, I responded, "You mean Obama?"
'Yes,' I thought to myself, 'It will be up to Obama.'
"No, I mean man as in humans."
I tried to seem cerebral and enlightened there, in my johnny, on my back, with my uterus still in tact, "Oh, right. Right. I get you."
Just for the record, if you have red hair, general anesthesia may not adequately prevent embarrassment from social awkwardness.
Happily, the awkward silence was broken when we were given clearance to leave obstetrics for the maternity ward.
I was wheeled triumphantly into a room where my husband waited, already bonded for life with our Oscar, and made a small celebratory sound at the sight of me.
I was set up with my IV and we were left alone for a minute.
I looked at my love, my hero, my Scott, holding the baby that up till now had only lived in my body. Scott was looking at him. He looked like a different person than the one I had known for eight or so years prior. He looked up at me and said, "It's amazing how much you love your own kid."
And I knew indeed that he was a different person and that our lives were forever changed.
That night as Oscar slept soundly in the crook of my arm while I recuperated in the hospital bed, I stared into his new little face. The tiny rivet leading from his nose to the heart of his top lip was deep and a diminutive, peaceful smile rested on his mouth. He looked like a small lion, bundled in the flannel blanket in his little cream colored hat.
I couldn't sleep that night. The nurse told me that my hormones wouldn't let me. I spent a lot of time gazing at my little lion.
In the morning the surgeon came by our room and informed me that I had suffered from what is known as a Retained Placenta. He said that of all of the complications suffered by new mothers, this was the one he dreaded the most because it was the only time he'd ever had to tell a new father that he would be a single parent. He also had a half-cocked, unsupported theory about my having been an ovo-lacto vegetarian during the first half of my pregnancy, but other medical people I've run it by have shot that theory down.
He described the updated state of my uterus with a metaphor of what remains after having torn old wallpaper off a wall. He literally said, "You don't even want to know what I had to do to get that thing out of there."
Um, considering I may need to use my uterus again, maybe I should? Or maybe just write it down, put it in an envelope, and when the PTSD has subsided, I'll look at it.
I was warned that I had lost a significant amount of blood and that eating red meat again was advisable, especially if I planned to continue breastfeeding. I was pumped full of antibiotics and monitored closely for signs of infection. Every few hours a nurse came in pressed on my abdomen to make sure my uterus was still shrinking.
Hearing the details of what had actually occurred was unsettling in the way that information can be when it causes a sort of emotional hangover and you actually wish you could go back to before you'd ever heard it.
I counted my lucky stars that everything had gone okay, and that the three of us would be going home together, exhausted, in love, and on the mend.
But of course, I was wrong about that too.
Oh yes, there's a Part Four, which I'm not looking forward to writing.
But for the time being, a new family was born.