I almost feel normal again.
It's a new normal though, not the normal that I felt slightly more than two weeks ago, when my biggest worry was why the hell hasn't Dan's W2 from his last job come yet, when words like glioblastoma multiforme and chemotherapy and DCA weren't part of my vocabulary. But I have whole blocks of minutes where my stepfather's diagnosis of inoperable and incurable cancer isn't the primary thing on my mind.
Two weeks in, and the thing that sticks most firmly with me is this: the difference between both of your parents being healthy and fine and one of them being sick, really sick, is like night and day. You can feel as new normal as you want to, but the thing is, you know you won't ever feel like you did before again.
We went over on Saturday for a quick visit. Tom looked the same--he looked eerily sunny, even--but he had trouble getting the word celebration out. It was almost like he was translating from a language he knew well to one he didn't. "Cell...cele...celebrate? Celebration." He had trouble earlier in the day with the word vacuum cleaner, my step-sister-in-law said, and he mimed vacuumming so that they could understand what he meant. Any time he mentioned someone's name, he had to go through a list of names before he got to the one he wanted. "Max...no, Dan...no, David...no, Nathan," he finally managed to get out. Mom said that he'd called her everything from Wendy (his daughter) to Gloria (the cleaning lady) before he finally arrived at Mary. The step-sister-in-law, who's a social worker in a school for autistic kids and used to working with people who have trouble expressing themselves, made him an illustrated guide to people he knew to help him.
I think maybe the hardest thing about this is how Tom was fine one day and sick the next. And he is definitely sick. He walks with a walker. Sometimes he falls down. He takes a lot of Percoset. But our days are taken up with a lot of chatter about Duke University, and University of Michigan, and a schedule for radiation and chemo, and DCA, and trials he might qualify for now before his Karnofsky score deteriorates further.
My advice to someone whose parent is diagnosed with an illness like this: don't expect to get over it. Don't expect things to look the same again. Ever. The sooner you realize it won't, the sooner you can start to fall into your new normal.
Friday, February 26, 2010
I almost feel normal again.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Dan and I, when we lived in D.C., used to have these conversations about what do we do when something happens to our parents, when they can't be alone anymore, when we have to bring them here to live? How do we manage a critically ill parent? And our lives? And our kids? You don't think about the fact that that conversation has almost nothing to do with what actually is about to come crashing into you when it happens.
And when you're sitting in a windowless little room off the inpatient surgical waiting room in the hospital, the motherfucking hospital, man, hearing a surgeon who's just finished cutting open your father saying words like inoperable and prognosis and glioblastoma and it's not what we were hoping to find, please take my word for it when I tell you that it has nothing, abso-fucking-lutely not a single solitary thing to do with that rhetorical conversation you had halfway across the country, the questions that you asked yourself that you can't remember the answer to anymore.
Not a thing.
My stepfather has a brain tumor. He has two brain tumors, actually. But really, when you can't get rid of either one of them, who cares?
I stopped writing here because when Allison was born, back in June (and she's lovely and her birth was a wonderful experience, more than I could have ever hoped for, and I couldn't be more pleased with what a little peep she is, but I'll talk about it another time), as Kimberly said, it felt like an ending. And that was okay.
Also, two kids? The algorithm for how much more work, time, attention, energy and love they require is...it has yet to be quantified. I'm just sayin'. Life is beautiful with them, but, oh.
But now I need this outlet again. I need this space where I can put out there everything that's happening to me, my critically, probably terminally, ill father, how devastated and stunned I am, how I don't know how I will ever feel okay again, all the guilt and anger and sadness that I'm feeling is just like a bomb in my stomach waiting to go off.
I need you, Internet. You're my only hope.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Hand to God, I am often the stupidest person I know. Also, one of the most easily amused.
In re-writing the lyrics to this song, I learned several things. One is that it looks like I am probably too old to fully enjoy a Snoop Dog concert anymore, which is too bad.
Another is that nothing really rhymes with "bonbons."
Here's the original:
"Sit Around" by Molly (with assistance from Dan)
See the couch, crawl on in,
Ain't no way I'll be thin.
Eat cookies by the tin
I know it's a sin
I'll tear the whole sack up and then I'll eat the backup.
Eat the jellyroll and your colon won't act up.
Sit down, grow round, don't put that pie down.
Got a spinning feeling staring at the ceiling,
Pancakes for breakfast, eggs you can dunk,
Extra butter on rye,
I think my pants have shrunk.
Feel 'em growing, thighs that are chunking,
I eat more times than cops in a Dunkin' Donuts shop.
Sugar Pops I got, I'm eatin' my fill
Plus an onion bagel with lox.
I came to sit down, I came to sit down,
So eat up, eat up and get round.
Eat up, eat up, choke it down!
Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat! (Etc.)
I got an ass like Fats Domino,
Shrimp, grits and gravy goin' down like a ho.
Word to your moms, I'm eatin' bonbons,
I got more juice than a bucket of prawns.
And like a cheeseburger that's never been turned
The pizza delivery man he never gets burned.
'Cause I got ice cream and you ain't got none,
And if you're trying to take it I got a shotgun.
But if you do, here's some gruel, 'cause it's all I got left
Don't step to me 'cause I'm all out of breath.
I gots the skillets, come and eat your fill
'Cause you might eat to live but I eat to kill.
I came to sit down, I came to sit down,
So eat up, eat up and get round.
Eat up, eat up and choke it down!
Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat! (Etc.)
Pie a la mode, ice cream on the top,
I like the buffet 'cause buffet never stops.
Or better yet, barbecues,
It's been so long since I've seen my shoes
I'm eating the Twinkies up in twos
But I'm not going out with a coronary
Gastric bypass is for the ordinary
I'll be up up and around
My weight's gonna be going down
Cleaned out the fridge and then you wake up in the CICU
I'm comin' to get fed, I'm comin' to get fed
Eating brownies with frosting and breakfast in bed.
I came to sit down, I came to sit down,
So eat up, eat up and get round.
Eat up, eat up, choke it down!
Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat! (Etc.)
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I don't want to have a baby on June 13th.
My friend Mark died on Friday, June 13th, 1997. It was a very bad day, the capper on a very bad year. When your best friend dies at the pinnacle of what's pretty much the worst year of your life, it does something to you. It's the kind of ironic that makes people pitch a little bit of a nutty, but in my case, it had the opposite effect: it turned me around.
That's the kind of ironic that Mark would have noticed and liked about it; the fact that he died at 32, four months after becoming a father, two days before Father's Day, maybe not so much. But the irony is something he would have found meaning in, much as everyone who knew him tried to find some meaning in the fact that one day he was there and the next day he was gone. He would have made his point out of this fact, and me being who I was then, I would have probably rolled my eyes at him and said "Really?" in the most sarcastic voice I could possibly muster. And he would have rolled his eyes back at me and not said anything and known that I would get it, that everything would be illuminated when I was ready to see it.
Mark saw something in me every once in a while. When I once admitted in front of a whole bunch of people that I respected a lot that I had been wrong and stupid and stubborn about something and it had turned me into a not-very-nice person, it made him cry. Mark was one of the few people on earth who really saw me becoming who I was, from the time he first met me until the time that he died, and what he saw was forward motion, not just the running in place that it felt to me like I was doing. It made me want to be a better person.
Mark made everyone around him want to be a better person. The thing about Mark being such a good person wasn't that you felt inadequate by comparison, because he wasn't looking to be better than you. He just made you try harder. He still makes me try harder.
It wasn't that he was perfect, some kind of a saint. He was just a guy who loved his wife and his kid and wanted to be productive and do good things and help people. He was just a guy, and on a Friday afternoon in June, he died, and everyone who knew him had a hole carved in them that day.
I drove past his office the morning he died. I'd meant to stop and talk to him, to tell him why it was that for the past year I had been so sad that I could barely stand it, but his car wasn't there. He was already dying and I didn't know until it was too late to say goodbye to him and it's by far the biggest regret of my entire life. I've spent the last 12 years trying to find a way to say goodbye in just the right way. I haven't found it yet.
The fact is, this date is sort of a high holy day for me. It's a day for me to be still, look backwards, look at the past year through the eyes of someone whose opinion meant more to me than I really could have realized at the time that I lost him forever. And as pregnant as I am and as uncomfortable as that is, as much as I'm looking forward to meeting my daughter, I don't want to have her today.
June 13th is not the birthday I want her to have. I want today to hold still in time. This day will always belong to Mark in my mind, and as eager as I am to meet The New Girl, I am afraid that if she's born today I will always spend her birthday as I have for the past twelve years: missing my friend, remembering the feeling of being hit with a baseball bat when the phone rang and it was Joy and she was crying, feeling again the carved-out feeling of knowing that I'd never get the chance to be the better person that Mark saw in me, knowing that there wasn't any comfort for me in any part of any of what was happening. I don't want the significance of this day to fade at all for me, to change.
Mark would probably say that today is a perfect day for her to be born. He would probably say that he would love for the tenor and tone of this day to change forever. Mark wouldn't like how this day has held still in time for me for the past twelve years and he'd think it was entirely appropriate for me to say goodbye to him by saying hello to my daughter. But...no.
This is a holiday for me, a day that I spend trying not to be too sad to function. I don't want her to have to share her birthday with anyone, and I know that I'm still not ready to say goodbye to Mark, after 12 years. Maybe I never will be. I've written a letter to Mark every year on June 13th, and maybe I always will. Her day should be her own.
But still, I'm thinking about Mark, and how much he'd like to see her be born today, and wondering if she will be. I'm thinking about The New Girl and how much Mark loved little kids and how much he loved his own son Jamie and how much he would have loved my kids and all of our friends' kids. I'm thinking about life as a grownup, as a mom, how I'm different than I ever thought I would be, and why I am this way. And like I say every year, I'm this way, in part, because my best friend died when I was 21 years old and I still needed him to be there and one Friday afternoon in June he was gone, and I am still just so pissed about that.
I miss Mark every day, but on June 13th, I miss him more. And this year, I miss him more than ever because I am standing on the precipice of great change again, and there is no going back. I keep thinking it'll get easier, but the fact is, I don't really want it to get easier yet. It's one of those things that shouldn't be easy, because if it were easy it just wouldn't mean as much.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
My mother doesn't know about this blog, and if you know my mother, I would greatly appreciate you not telling her. Heather Armstrong from Dooce says that the one person whom you are sure will never read your blog will someday read your blog, and until that day arrives I am counting on my mother's lack of internet savvy to keep her far from this small corner of my world. But I had to post this email message that I received from her overnight. I think it'll shed some light on how I got this way.
Remember? I was writing you an e-mail yesterday when I caught sight, out of
the corner of my eye, of a chipmunk marching boldly down the hall, like lord of
But, of course, since no one else was here to hear me, I then had to deal
with it. I brought in and set the chipmunk trap, to no avail. Later in the day,
I had occasion to visit the furnace room WHERE I discovered a dead mouse in a
trap and a dead chipmunk next to a sprung trap.
I considered calling Tom at the Red Cross Michigan Training Institute in
Grand Rapids, where he is spending the week, and demanding that he return
instantly to deal with the crisis. I then sucked it up, donned plastic
gloves and scooped the dead bodies into a plastic bag and heaved them into the
garbage can. I then investigated the mess of shreds of insulation and seeds and
nut shells in the area where the bodies were found and investigated the sleezy,
semi-falling down status of the insulation and concluded that something was
rotten in the foundations of our house. Yup.
I went outside and looked beyond my beloved flowers and plants and
discovered that the boards along the ground and the boards soaring to the top of
the chimney were - lower down - thoroughly rotten, disintegrating, mushy,
full of holes and open spaces and, interestingly, littered with shreds of
insulation. Higher up, full of LARGE holes pecked by woodpeckers but big enough
to allow entry of an alarming variety of wild creatures. Even flying pigs,
I was dumbfounded. My fortress. My impregnable castle. My refuge from
the raging outside world, was rotting away, crumbling, leaving me vulnerable to
invasion from insideous outside forces and ranks of evil, coniving chipmunks. I
had a vision of the legions of chipmunks Tom has transported to the Kal-Haven
Trail gathering, perhaps at the Trailside Cafe in Gobles, and plotting this
assault on our home, the nirvana from which they had been so cruelly
The story is not over. Our beloved handyman, Elliot, came today, looked at
the damage, and started tearing away the rotted wood. New and sturdy boards are on the way tomorrow. Holes will be closed. The potential cost I will worry about tomorrow. Tom remains safe in Grand Rapids, far from the tumult. But I had a quick glimpse today of a chipmunk scurrying across the sunroom. And about an hour later, a fireplace tool in the living mysteriously tipped over.
I have this uneasy sense that I am not alone. At any moment, tiny scurrying
feet and striped bodies may come dashing out from who knows where to do who
knows what. Who has time to read a newspaper, when faced with an insurrection of this sort?
It is late and I am overwrought.
While keeping the fears of a chipmunk invasion in the back of my head, I
had Lonnie, Don, Kathy and Monica for dinner tonight and it was very, very
pleasant. I am looking forward so much to you all being here and wish you
could have been here tonight - not just to fend off the hoards of invading
What's new with you?
Thursday, June 4, 2009
There's something about the end of pregnancy. It is June 4th, and I am 35 weeks and 2 days pregnant today, and yesterday, my OB designated June 22nd as the big day: induction. Being a type I diabetic, I knew they wouldn't allow me to go to July 7th, which was my original due date. Too much can go wrong too quickly; already my blood pressure is beginning to climb (128/77 yesterday, a small increase over previous measurements, and probably having more to do with an intensely annoying nurse than anything else) and my blood sugars are becoming increasingly difficult to control. It's par for the course when dealing with diabetes, and pregnancy. There's only so much one body can take.
And believe me, mine is just about at its limit. Between insomnia, general discomfort, a precarious emotional state caused by hormones, and my totally non-pregnancy-related lack of patience with pretty much anything, I am at what could only be described as the end of my fricking rope.
This is, with luck, the last time I will be pregnant, and I would be savoring that fact if it weren't for the fact that it is almost impossible for me to savor anything right now, except the thought that my mother will be here in less than two weeks, and a week after that, I won't be pregnant anymore.
I just have so fucking much to do between then and now. I need to go through the clothes that we culled from Max's hand-me-downs one more time, figure out what we need now and what we'll need later, pack a bag, consolidate backup plans with our friends who are being kind enough to back us up with Max. I need to pick out a present from the new baby to Max, whose 4th birthday is June 21st, the day before induction. I have to do more laundry, put together lists and things for my mother, who'll be responsible for Max while I'm in the hospital, and in the middle of all of this, give Max as much love and attention as I possibly can so that he doesn't end up feeling too displaced by the little stranger who's coming to turn his world upside down.
Max seems to be doing fine. He is excited about the new baby, although I am quite sure she's not a great deal less abstract a concept to him than string theory at this point. He wants to share his toys with her, let her sleep in his bed, feed her French fries--I'm sure all of this will change as soon as she is old enough to do any of these things. The little boy who laid down on the floor of the ultrasound suite and sobbed when the tech announced that it was going to be a little sister and not a little brother is gone, and I'm not surprised. Max is a great deal like Dan. One of the things I've always loved about my husband is the fact that whatever space you put him in, he expands to fill. He is shockingly flexible when it comes to change, and that's one of the many things that makes him remarkably easy to live with. I'm not sure how to do more to prepare Max for a new baby than we've already done. One of the things we've had to do is all but abandon active potty-training--he just isn't interested enough in it to be responsible for any of it himself, and I don't see us fighting the yes-you-WILL-sit-on-the-potty-every-twenty-minutes fight with a brand-new baby in an upside-down household. It's fine. We'll just pick it up again later, when things calm down a little.
But as I was saying, there's something about the end of pregnancy. I used to have a variety of nightmares as a child, all different, but with one theme: something or someone is coming for me and I cannot do anything to prevent them from doing so. I have that same nightmare sense of foreboding now. Part of it is that I just don't feel like I'm prepared. There's just so much to do, and it's complicated by the fact that while we are doing all of the baby-preparation things, we are also cleaning and packing and getting ready to move halfway across the country, a situation which I haven't addressed here because, OH MY GAWD, I don't want to do it on so many levels, and on other levels, am really looking forward to, and can you say CONFLICTED EMOTIONAL STATE? I CANNOT TAKE IT. I am really looking forward to meeting this little girl, finally being able to tell people her name, see Dan like this again.
But the end of pregnancy--it has a flavor all its own. Nothing else feels like this, this sense of things flying at you, knowing that a collision is inevitable. The first weeks (months? Years?) of parenthood are really, really hard, there's no way around it, and it feels so weird to feel so conflicted.
Is it awful that I feel this conflicted, or that I'm admitting it? I can't wait to meet The New Girl, but at the same time, our life is what it's become, and it's all going to change when she crashes into us.
It's been pretty much all-baby-all-the-time here, I know, and it's because I haven't been doing much else besides being pregnant and doing all the things that have to be done in order for that to be true. I promise that I will eventually be interesting again.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Part Three is here.
One of the first things they do after the birth is over and the sewing up and the general painfulness is over is turn off your epidural. An epidural is, in essence, safe, but I can't imagine that an open door into your spinal column is something that they want to remain open for that long. That's what they did with me, while Max was having his first bath and being checked out in the NICU and his blood glucose was being monitored and we tried nursing a little, and slowly the numbness began to fade away, starting at the tips of my toes and working its way up.
Except. Except that the numbness was fading away from my right toes, but not my left. I could feel my right foot, flex it and point it. I could point my left foot, sort of, but I couldn't flex it at all. It was as if those muscles had totally forgotten what they were ever there to do, had gone missing.
"This doesn't feel right," I kept telling people. "I should be able to feel both of my feet by now, shouldn't I?" The nurses were changing shifts and the nurse who'd been there for my epidural the day before was back. I was hungry and it was dinnertime; why the hell wasn't my foot working yet?
A NICU nurse came down to tell me that Max was hypoglycemic: it's a common side effect for new babies of diabetic mothers in the few hours after birth. Would I prefer that he receive a bottle or an IV? To be honest, I didn't care really, just as long as the problem was solved (it's not serious, but it can be if it's not handled.) They checked with me, though, because they knew I was planning to nurse, which I appreciated. "Whatever's quickest," I told the nurse. "Just fix it."
The nurse took out my Foley catheter and wanted me to get up and go to the bathroom. I felt pressured. "I don't know if I can," I admitted. "I still can't feel my foot."
"You really should by now," she said disapprovingly. Did she think this was my fault for some reason? She practically dragged me out of bed and to the bathroom, and I felt tentative and anxious about dealing with the realities of any of the aftermath of birth: stitches, blood, pee, or any of the other, ahem, scariness. I was presented with a whole bunch of unexpected equipment: a spray bottle of warm water instead of toilet paper, an adult-diaper-sized maxi pad, a pair of giant-sized mesh underpants with a pocket in the crotch for an icepack. Talk about things that nobody tells you, I told myself. I knew there'd be blood; I didn't know it'd look like a mass murder scene. I felt like I was floundering around like an idiot and I could barely stand up off the toilet and get the whole arrangement of giant underwear and pad and icepack pulled up, let alone walk across the room on my still-numb (Still numb!) foot. My hospital gown was spattered with gore and blood. The nurse handed me a new one. "I still can't feel my foot," I told her. "I think there's something wrong."
Those became the two sentences I repeated more often over the next 72 hours than any other, and to almost no effect. The L&D unit was at capacity and they wanted me shifted to post-partum post-haste, and off I went, to one of the few private rooms in the unit. Can you imagine a post-partum unit without private rooms? I couldn't. The thought of having a roommate was absolutely awful, so bad I had trouble wrapping my head around it, and I was relieved I didn't have one. I told the post-partum unit nurse that I still couldn't feel my foot and she seemed less concerned with that than with my dinner order.
My dinner order didn't arrive. It was after 8 and I was starved. Dan hadn't eaten in hours either. Nobody seemed particularly receptive to my complaints, and eventually someone located a couple of dried-out turkey sandwiches, leftover from the previous day's lunch, by the look of things, but then nobody seemed to know how much insulin I should take with it. My insulin needs had grown exponentially over the last few weeks of pregnancy and I knew I wouldn't need that much anymore, but should I take half as much? A third? "Where's your endocrinologist?" the nurse demanded. "I'm quite sure he doesn't know he's supposed to be here," I told her, not particularly appreciating her tone. "I've been a little busy. If you've got a question for him, go ahead and give him a call."
At this point, it had been a couple hours since I'd seen Max or received any kind of an update on his condition, and Dan called the NICU, asked for him to be brought to my room. Two nurses showed up without a baby. "He's sleeping," one of them told me. "We were told you wanted to rest and didn't want him down here."
I was dumbstruck by the lack of professionalism. "Bring my son in here now," I told her, "or get me the name and number of your supervisor."
"Why don't you go ahead and do both?" Dan suggested. He was at least as upset as I was. The two nurses eyed each other apprehensively and disappeared. The NICU supervisor appeared a few minutes later, still without Max. "His blood glucose is still being monitored," she said. "I don't know who told them that you wanted to sleep and didn't want him in your room. I'll check it out though."
It was one fiasco after another for the next three days. Nobody seemed to know who my doctor was or why I hadn't been checked on by an actual physician until 48 hours after I gave birth, when Dr. Kane finally showed up, sheepishly apologetic. Because I'd come in while Dr. Hassan was the on-call doc for the practice, he explained, I'd been listed as his patient, not Dr. Kane's or Dr. Bushrod, the doctor who'd actually delivered Max. Was I ready to go home?
No, I wasn't, I said. I'd been complaining for for the past two days that I still couldn't feel my left foot, and people seemed more concerned with the elaborate and humiliating ritual of checking my episiotomy stitches than with the fact that I couldn't make it to the bathroom and back without the assistance of my husband. Was someone going to do something about that? And would someone please, please address the fact that I could not get a meal menu, let alone any food delivered to my room? For the past two days, I'd been getting whatever was leftover on the meal trays for three meals a day, several hours after anyone else was fed. It usually meant oatmeal in the morning (which I loathe and never eat), some kind of dried-out sandwich at lunch, and an inedible entree of some kind at dinner, cold and long-forgotten and consisting of mostly simple carbs--not an ideal diet for a diabetic or someone who was still waiting to poop for the first time after giving birth. My mother and Dan had been bringing me sandwiches and salads from the hospital cafeteria and the deli from the local Safeway, so I wasn't going hungry, but I also wasn't exactly amenable to the fact that the hospital was going to be charging my insurance company for meals that I wasn't getting.
The doctor agreed that, based on the condition of my still-numb foot, that I certainly wasn't ready to be discharged. "Let me call a neurologist I know," he said. "We'll get to the bottom of this." He patted my foot. I couldn't feel it.
The nurse-supervisor showed up the next morning in response to the litany of complaints Dan and I were waging. Several minutes after she left, I got a phone call from the head of the nutritional services department, who apologized for the fact that I hadn't been fed in several days. I was not feeling particularly gracious at this point. She read off a menu to me and took my order for lunch personally. It never arrived.
The nurse-supervisor came back to my room with "some concerns" to address with me. One of the nursing aides had complained that she'd seen me doing "something inappropriate" with my husband that morning. I was stunned and uncomfortable and overwhelmed and full of loathing for this awful, stupid bitch, not to mention the fact that I had no idea what she was talking about and broke down in tears, unable to even respond to her accusations. "Your aide," Dan fumed at her, "saw me helping her out of bed to go to the bathroom. She's needed help every single time she's gone and she can't get any from your nurses, no matter how many times she's asked. In fact, any time she's asked for anything, any time either of us has, the only response we've gotten is, 'We'll get to it when we get to it.' She can't see a lactation specialist, she can't get ibuprofen for a headache, she can't get her goddamn breakfast! I've spent the last three days trying to make sure she gets to eat and take the medication she needs to keep her alive and the medical care that she needs. I'm about to start billing your stupid-ass, shitty hospital for my time, because I already have a job and I'm sick of doing yours!"
In my entire life, I've never been more proud of Dan.
I wanted to get the hell out. I wanted to take my baby and go the fuck home and forget this place ever existed. I was grateful, beyond grateful, to the L&D department and the NICU and all of the people who'd gotten us there, but I was at my limit of degradation. "Check me out of this place," I wept furiously to Dan after the nurse withdrew. "I just want to go the fuck home."
It took a little time and I still had to see the neurologist about my foot, but finally we got some action. Max was discharged that afternoon and I was finally discharged at about 9 that night. There was a long, dull session during which a nurse came to our room to make sure I knew how to take care of his umbilical stump, not to take him out of the car seat in a moving car, even if he cried (duh.), and under what circumstances I should bring him or myself back to the emergency room. One of the last things that they did was dress him in the clothes I had brought for him to go home in (a little red sleeper with bumblebees on it, the smallest piece of newborn clothing I had and the one that came the closest to fitting him; I'd never have guessed he would be so tiny) and at that point, the strangest thing happened.
He became mine. Up until that point he'd just been a little stranger who I was sort of partially responsible for caring for, when he wasn't in the NICU or having a hearing test or doing something else that took him out of my room, where I was confined by the fact that I couldn't walk without quite a bit of assistance. One night they'd brought him down to my room at around 1 a.m., where I was suffering from insomnia (and the fact that I hadn't had dinner) and watching a Discovery Channel marathon of some show or another. He was crying. "He's waking all the other babies up," the nurse told me. "Can he stay here with you for awhile?"
Of course he could. I tried everything I could think of to get him to stop crying, but he seemed miserably unhappy. I felt terrible and Dan and I couldn't think of anything that we could do to make him happy. Finally I turned off the TV, turned the lights down, and just cuddled him, and he drifted off to sleep in about thirty seconds. At that point, I felt more like a parent than I ever had before, but he still didn't feel like mine, despite the fact that he looked absurdly like a little-old-man version of Dan. It felt like Mom Boot Camp.
But as they wheeled me out of the maternity ward, Dan and my mother behind me with the assortment of stuff that we'd arrived with and were being sent home with, me with a semi-awake, squeaking baby in my arms, as people who passed by cooed at us, where we were left in front of the hospital to deal with the proper snapping-in of the car seat and the fact that I wasn't ready to sit in the passenger seat of my mother's car while my son sat in the back, the next six sleep-deprived and blurry weeks looming in front of us, for the first time, I remember looking down at him and thinking, I think this is how it's supposed to feel. I can walk away--or limp away--from this awful place and be this person's mother.
It's four years later, and I've watched him go from that little stranger, the little 7-1/2-pound meatloaf who doesn't do anything to the person who's driving me crazy this morning jumping on the couch while I just want to sit here, the person who wants to sing "You are my Sunshine" to my pregnant belly every night before he goes to bed, the person who wants a peanut-butter-and-lettuce sandwich for lunch today. The strangest thing has happened in four years: he's gone from being Max, the abstract concept to being Max, the person with opinions, who knows how to spell purple and rectangle and boom, but who, for some reason, spells the word orange O-R-A-N-G-L-E, the totally-potty-training-proof little boy who convinced Dan to shave his head last weekend so that he could have "none hair, like Daddy." I know him forward and backwards. I know when he's trying to manipulate me. I know when he's fake-crying and when he's really upset. I know when a kid at the playground is really getting on his nerves and when he can let something roll off his back. He says things that astound me. He uses Brickle Blocks to build a camera to take pictures of me. His imagination is humongous. He likes to play ice cream store. Sometimes he comes walking up to me and says, "Mom? I want something," and I'm supposed to know what it is, and I almost never do, mostly because he almost never does either.
He's mine, in ways that no other kid could possibly be, and being Max's mother has been an honor and a privilege I couldn't have ever imagined before becoming his mother. I am having a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea that soon I will be The New Girl's mother too, that she will go from being the annoyingly-active, kicking, flipping fetus who is still, at 34 weeks and 2 days gestation, still not head-down, to being a real person. She feels as unreal to me right now as Max ever did, despite my freakishly large belly, despite my myriad discomforts, despite the fact that earlier today she had the hiccups until I thought I was going to go out of my mind.
This last chapter of Max's birth story has been a long time coming, and it's because I'm not sure how it ends. It didn't end when they handed him to me and sent me home from the hospital. It didn't end in the L&D unit that they were in such a hurry to rush me out of. I feel like I'm still living his birth story, like every day is just an extension of it, how he's still becoming who he is. People ask me what his birth was like and I'm never sure what to tell and what to leave out: the part where my water broke in the middle of Sears? How absurd so much of the experience still seems to me? How awful the post-partum unit was and how much I hated being there?
It all ends up being okay. Now, with the possibility of a C-section looming in front of me, with the still constant threat that pregnancy poses to my health and my health poses to that of my daughter, with the daily discomforts, I keep reminding myself that it all ends up being okay. I've been listening to Rob Thomas singing "Little Wonders" a lot in the last few weeks, especially the part where he says "The hardest part is over." I'm not so dumb as to try to convince myself that the hardest part is over--I'm quite sure that I haven't imagined the hardest part yet, let alone survived it--but I find it incredibly reassuring to hear him say that In the end, We will only just remember how it feels.
Epilogue: the numbness in my left foot was a sciatic nerve injury. When I was having that awful pain in my left hip during the Transition stage of labor, the nerve was being compressed under my tailbone. By the time I went home from the hospital, I could flex my foot very slightly, half an inch maybe. It spent the next six months improving to about 95%, which is where it still is. I have numb spots in the back of my left leg and the sole of my foot, and my toes feel a little like they have rubber bands wrapped around my toes. I've found I can live with 95%.
Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton, the hospital where I gave birth to Max, lost its accreditation as a teaching facility.
I never received an answer as to why the nurses thought I wanted Max kept away from me that first night, why I couldn't get a meal the entire time I was in the hospital, or the nature of the total breakdown in communication or professionalism that waged a completely merciless war on my entire birth experience. I would never be that woman who gave birth in a kiddie pool in my own living room, even if my health allowed for it, but I am still appalled by how truly awful the post-partum unit of Southern Maryland Hospital Center really was, and understand completely why women choose to have babies every day in birthing centers and in their own homes.
The New Girl will be born at Holy Cross in Silver Spring, where more babies are born every day than any other hospital in the D.C. area. I am cautiously optimistic.