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.)
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Hand to God, I am often the stupidest person I know. Also, one of the most easily amused.
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.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Continued from here.
That night, and the early part of the next day, is fuzzy to me, and probably for good reason. I was on drugs. I understand the appeal to those people who get addicted: you feel sort of disconnected, and though I was summoned regularly to check my blood sugar or give myself a couple of units of insulin throughout the next 18 or so hours, I did so with a sort of detachment. One of my clearest memories is injecting insulin into my upper thigh, a spot I typically avoided because it's painful to give shots there. I couldn't feel my upper thigh at the time. It's a weird thing: when you're looking at your own hand gripping your own leg, and your hand can feel your leg, your brain doesn't necessarily get the message that your leg can't feel your hand. It felt like someone else's leg in my hand--I remember feeling surprised that it felt a little cold, but I'd complained since I arrived of how hot it was in my room, and they kept ratcheting up the air conditioning. My flesh felt a little like how I'd imagine a dead fish would feel.
They were giving me increasing amounts of pitocin, and as they'd turn up the amount I was getting, the contractions would start to hurt and I'd ask for more medication. I was relishing the feeling of being comfortable, after nine months of heartburn and backache and insomnia and various other complaints. I liked being reclined at 45 degrees, my feet slightly elevated, having ice chips brought to me. It was a little like being on vacation in a nice hotel except for the medical interventions, none of which phased me.
It was now June 21, 2005, and by noon, I'd officially been in labor for 20 hours. June 21 is the summer solstice, and believe me when I say that giving birth on that day brings new meaning to the words "longest day of the year." I kept waiting and waiting to feel different somehow, but with medication managing any pain I might have otherwise been feeling, I just didn't. I remember settling back after checking my blood sugar once with my blood sugar meter still balanced at the apex of my belly just as a contraction started, and watching the it on the monitor I was hooked to and the meter balanced on my belly, both rising exponentially as the contraction that I couldn't feel at all built and built and then falling as it receeded. I watched it with a sort of detached fascination, sort of a "Whoa, that was completely weird."
I don't like to throw up, not at all. I am one of those thoroughly perverse people who would prefer to sit miserably curled over myself for hours, sweating buckets of cold sweat, than throw up, feel better, and drive on. I was warned while I was still pregnant, that all women in labor throw up; it was a veteran L&D nurse who warned me, so I believed her. I threw up once shortly after I arrived at the hospital--just the remains of the leftover barbecue that I'd had for lunch that day, and then again in the early afternoon--that time it was just water, since all they'd let me have was ice chips.
That second throwing-up seemed to trigger an extra flurry of activity in my room. At that point, I had two nurses: a long-time L&D nurse who was training a student. "We need to check your cervix," she told me after I threw up. "You might be in transition."
They had been avoiding doing pelvic exams as much as possible. Since I'd come in with my water already broken, they wanted to avoid forcing any bacteria or anything else any closer to my cervix, and they were treating me with antibiotics, since now I'd been in labor so long. The veteran nurse gave directions to the student nurse on how to check for dilation. "You're eight centimeters, easy, maybe eight and a half," she told me. She snapped off the rubber glove and patted me on the leg. "Not long now."
It was right around this time that I began to feel a pain that was centered on my left hip that I didn't think should be there. Wasn't I supposed to be numb in that whole area? Why could I feel nothing but that one pain? Why did it coincide with every contraction I had? Why was I the only one who seemed concerned by it? And who the hell was making that awful wailing noise every time I had a contraction?
It was me, of course, who was wailing. Maybe the wailing was all in my head; I don't remember it bothering anyone else in the room, including my husband or my mother. Dan said I mentioned a pain in my hip sort of offhandedly; it was why he wasn't aware that anything had happened to me. I also remember it going on for hours and hours, when in reality, it was evidently just a few minutes. Dan tells me, still, though, that I didn't complain, although I began asking for more medication than they were willing to give me at that point. They did put more medication into my epidural line at one point, and it didn't help significantly. "This isn't working," I told them over and over again. "It only hurts in my hip." And it hurt a lot. It hurt like a knife stabbing me in the meaty part of my left hip. Apparently, though, I never complained.
"You're ready to push," the nurse told me. I felt like I'd been in terrible pain for hours, and I had no intention of pushing until I had more drugs. I was afraid pushing would make the pain worse, if that was possible; worse pain seemed inconceivable to me at this point. "What if you tried just one push?" she asked. "You're dilated to ten, this baby is coming." I hadn't felt any irresistable urge to push like I'd heard other women describe; I was focused on the pain in my hip and getting from one break between contractions to the next and just surviving the pain in between. There was beginning to be a lot more activity in the room, NICU nurses were coming in and setting up the table and scales across the room in the little nook that was reserved for the baby; other people were coming and going. Some of them looked vaguely familiar to me; most of them I'd never seen before. It seemed like a strange time and place for me to feel so exposed, although I wasn't really: I was wearing a hospital gown, and had blankets and pillows. I only felt like an obscene, crazed spectacle. I was still watching things with a sort of detached fascination; I don't know if it was an effect of all the drugs I'd taken or if I really was just much calmer than I remember feeling at the time. I had a short chat with a NICU nurse who'd seen me just after I'd gotten the first hit of narcotics; she poked a little good-natured fun at me for having not much of a head for the drugs.
The nurse finally convinced me to push. "Did you take a childbirth class?" she asked. We hadn't; everyone who I'd ever talked to said that they were a waste of time and money and they never used anything they'd learned in them. I shook my head no. "You'll want to push down with the same muscles you use to poop," she said. "When you have a contraction, you'll bring your knees up and tuck your chin into your chest and push from your middle, not from your head. Take a couple of big deep breaths, then push out the last breath."
Knees? Chin? Middle? Poop? What the hell? I was thinking. "I can't pull my knees up," I said. My legs and any muscular control I'd once had over them had left the building.
"We'll do it for you," she said. She grabbed one and the student nurse grabbed the other, my mother was standing down by my left foot. The end of the bed detached and rolled away; most of the parts of my anatomy I have never been eager to display publicly were now public domain in the middle of the room. There were bright lights focused on it and lots of people seemed to be gathering around it and I found myself wishing my mother would stand somewhere else, although I didn't say anything at the time because I was hoping she wouldn't notice it and I would prefer not to call attention to it. I can't fathom what I was thinking.
A contraction started and the nurse instructed Dan how to count backward from ten slowly for me, staying close to me so I'd focus on his face. He drew a chair close to the right side of my bed and put his chin on the rail of the bed, reached for my hand. One of the things I've always loved about Dan has been his ability to convey whatever he was thinking with a touch. I instantly felt better and more confident and secure; his faith in me came through as soon as I grabbed for him. I gamely followed all the directions they'd given me. "Good, good, good," the nurses were all saying. The pain in my hip was gone as soon as they'd flexed my knees back towards me and it felt exhilarating to be doing something, finally, after lying there for so long waiting for something besides the drugs wearing off to happen. I pushed maybe three times before they released my knees and put my feet in the stirrups that were at the end of the bed. "The doctor's not in here yet," the nurse told me. "I can do it without her, but I don't want to. So don't push."
Don't push? Whattayoumean, don't push? Pushing was doing something, I wanted to do something. I flicked on the television to distract myself while I waited and talked myself through the contractions. "Don't push," I hummed to myself. It felt like there was a grapefruit stuck in my butt; I wanted to push but I didn't dare.
Dr. Bushrod strode efficiently into the room wearing scrubs, shedding her white coat and exchanging it for a long-sleeved, cuffed blue cover-up sort of thing, donning gloves and a big plastic faceshield. "Do you want a mirror?" one of the nurses asked me. A mirror? I thought. Is my hair really awful? She must be thinking about pictures after...no. That's not what she was thinking of. She was thinking of a mirror so I could see what was happening. And, no. I very much didn't want a mirror. As much as I didn't want all my parts on display to the whole world, I didn't want to see them myself. Dr. Bushrod pulled up a stool, positioning it between my feet. The first thing I noticed was that the mirror would have been totally unnecessary; the plastic faceshield she was wearing was conspiring with the bright lights to become totally reflective; anything I didn't want to see I could now see as clearly as I could see Dr. Phil and his big stupid moustache still on the TV across the room. I had lost the remote control and frankly, I realized, I didn't care. I'd rather look at Dr. Phil than a reflection of my own gory genitals, especially after Dr. Bushrod picked up a tiny pair of scissors--no kidding, little scissors--and snipped an episiotomy.
A word about the episiotomy: yeah, I didn't really care. A lot of women take it as some kind of a personal affront; I just didn't care. Either I was going to tear or I wasn't, and I'd been hearing for weeks about how enormous Max's head was on ultrasound. I was picturing the Hamburgler in there; I didn't really care that much about how he came out. I guess I don't understand the women who are so horrified by their episiotomy; I picked good doctors that I was comfortable with and got educated and didn't let all of my control issues totally take over my head in the moment. I trusted them to do the right thing, and they did. It was fine.
"Here we go," said Dr. Bushrod.
It all happened fast after that. I was prepared to be pushing for hours; but all that time that I'd spent having to be coerced into pushing by the nurses seemed to have paid off. Dr. Bushrod gave good directions with each contraction: push just a tiny bit, push as hard as you can; push at 50%. I remember seeing Dan's face next to me and the wooshing of the oxygen mask they slipped over my face; I also remember my mother turning vaguely purple every time I pushed; she was pushing too.
Suddenly, I felt the baby slither free. It was a huge relief: seconds before I'd been pregnant, now I was most decidedly not. The difference was night and day and I remember heaving a huge sigh of relief. Dr. Bushrod held Max up for me to see him for a split second before passing him off to the NICU nurse who was waiting with a towel spread over her arms to receive him. He had fuzzy tufts of blondish hair that was full of bits of blood and other gore; he and I exchanged what I can only imagine was an astonished look of holy fuck! and he was whisked off to the other side of the room. I could hear him bleating noisily in protest at whatever was happening over there but I didn't mind; the activity on that side of the room was efficient, but not frantic; if he was crying he was breathing and I'd seen him; he'd been squirming and clearly a healthy newborn, even if he looked a lot like Dan's older brother in squashed-old-man form.
The doctor sewed up the episiotomy with a few quick stitches and positioned a basin under my butt to catch the placenta. I had to push more for the placenta than I had for Max. The heartburn I'd been suffering from for months finally paid off; I'd had a cough caused by reflux for weeks and finally by coughing in conjunction with the enormous pitocin contractions I was still having, the placenta dropped into the basin with a graphic-sounding squish. I never looked at it; I'm not squeamish per se, but there's some stuff I can live a long time without seeing.
They brought Max back to me, tightly swaddled in one of those ugly flannel receiving blankets with a hat squished down over his face. The first thing I did was strip all of that off of him so I could see him. He was totally normal looking: he looked just like a baby. He had giant hands and cute little feet and I thought he looked a lot like Dan. He did need to be monitored more closely in the NICU, though; low blood sugar is a major concern for babies of diabetics because they get excess insulin from the injections. He did have a couple of episodes of low blood sugar that first night, but I was, to be honest, a whole lot more concerned with what was happening to me at that point.
To be Continued...
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Continued from here.
I waddled out to the car and got into the front seat with an old beach towel wrapped around me. We weren't out of the driveway of the apartment complex before the on-call doctor, who wasn't one of mine, called on my cell phone. I had only met this doctor once, and I wasn't a big fan at that point (it was during that hospitalization back in February for gastroenteritis, during which he questioned my ability to check my own blood glucose or decide how much insulin I needed for myself, one thing that typically turns me off to a medical professional faster than anything else), but my three-doctor practice was covered every fourth night by this guy, and this, apparently, was the fourth night, so I didn't have much choice in the matter. "Come straight to registration, not the emergency room," he instructed me. "They'll be expecting you."
After I hung up with him, anyone I had promised to call when labor started began to call me back. I had the same conversation many times: "Oh my God! How do you feel?" "Fine." I didn't know what else to say. I felt fine. It didn't hurt. I was uncomfortable, but I'd been uncomfortable pretty much my whole life, and labor seemed to have little to do with it. My mother-in-law, who I have a hard time listening to under the best of circumstances, was describing in detail to me a salad she was eating, when I handed the phone to Dan. "You talk to her," I said. "I can't do this right now."
They were indeed waiting for me when I reached the hospital registration desk. Within five minutes, I was registered, tagged on both wrists with hospital bracelets, and in a wheelchair, being hustled back to the L&D unit. A tiny Asian woman in scrubs met me. "Whassamatta, Booboo?" she asked me. "You having contraction?"
"Um, I don't know, I don't think so," I said. "My water broke."
Suddenly, I wasn't. What if this was going to turn out to be some awkward incident that everyone (except me) would laugh about? "Um...I think?"
She asked me a few more questions, all of which I was very tentative about answering. I had never been in labor before; it only made sense to me that she would be much more effective in determining whether or not I was in labor, with all of her monitors and speculums and things, than I would be. I shrugged at her helplessly several times. All of this discomfort, I kept thinking, and I might not really be in labor?
"Okay," she said finally. "You go on into bathroom and put on gown, and we take a look." I pushed myself up out of the wheelchair, leaving behind the beach towel I'd had wrapped around me since we left home. I glanced at it: It was soaked. "Oh," said the nurse. "You in labor, Booboo."
I was, frankly, elated to hear it. I undressed and put on a gown, leaving my clothes behind in the bathroom--it was more work than I was really up to doing, at this point, to pick up after myself. I crawled up into the hospital bed. "I might need some kind of towel or something under me," I told the nurse. "My water broke, and it's leaking."
She tucked a giant waterproof pad under my butt. "There, you all set," she said. Nurses and other people were putting monitors on me, starting IV's, doing a pelvic exam. "You have a little mucous," said the little Asian nurse, who was manning the speculum. "You lose your mucous plug yet, Booboo?"
"No," I said. "Um, I was just coming from the doctor's office when it broke. They did a pelvic exam then too."
"Ohh," she said. "This not mucous. This KY Jelly!" She giggled. I did not find it nearly as funny as she did. She glanced at the monitor. "One centimeter," she said. "And you're having contractions every two minutes."
Really? Really? From nothing an hour ago to thirty contractions an hour and one centimeter dilated now? This was going to be a snap.
The doctor I didn't particularly care for came in, and he didn't seem to remember me, which was fine with me. As I always do in a medical setting, I immediately explained that I am diabetic, my control is excellent, I will be monitoring my blood sugar myself, although I'd be more than happy to check it for them anytime anyone wanted to know what it was, and I would be administering my own insulin. I do this simply because I liked to choose my own injection sites and give my own shots; the lancets that hospitals use for a blood sample for blood sugars are enormous and hurt way more than the ones I use and nurses like to give injections in the upper arm, which hurt more than the abdomen. This was something I'd written into my birth plan months before and that my own doctors had approved. "I have no problem with any of that," the OB said, surprising me a little. "Your water's broken, so you're not leaving here without having a baby," he said. "How's your pain?"
I considered. "Maybe a two out of ten." It really hurt a lot less than I thought it was going to.
"Okay," he said. "Well, let the nurse know if it gets worse."
The nursing shift was changing over, so the little Asian nurse was leaving and a younger (younger than me, I would guess) African-American nurse was coming in. One of the last things that the Asian nurse said to me was, "They're starting four C-sections down the hall in a few minutes. You want epidural, you want to do it now. Otherwise, there might not be an anesthesiologist for awhile."
Well, there was a thought that was gonna fester. How long was "awhile?" Until midnight? Sometime the next day? I might already have a baby by then. Having an unmedicated birth had been absolutely nowhere in my plans. What if the next contraction was the one where it really started to hurt? The nurses could give me pain medication by injection, but everyone who'd ever had a baby that I'd talked to said that shots didn't make the pain better, they just made them care less about it. There's nothing like the prospect of giving birth to bring out a woman's issues with control. "Okay," I said. "Let's go ahead and have the epidural then."
They sent Dan and my mother out of the room to do the epidural, leaving me alone with the young African-American nurse and the anesthesiologist. I don't remember why, but Dan said that it was a non-negotiable; they didn't give him or me a chance to argue. The nurse had me sit on the edge of the bed with my arms over her shoulders like I was hugging her. I don't like to hug strangers on my best of days; this wasn't my best of days and I was now uncomfortable in a multitude of ways. I was braced for a lot of pain when the anesthesiologist gave me the numbing shot before inserting the catheter. It didn't hurt really at all, just a quick hot jab and that was it. He was fiddling around behind me, his equipment laid out on the bed by my bare butt. "Okay," he said, "I can't get this catheter to go in. I'm going to have to flush out the space between two vertebrae with some saline solution. This is going to hurt a lot."
When a pain-management specialist warns you that something is going to hurt a lot, do yourself a favor and take him at his word. I am not a screamer and I think I have a pretty decent threshold for pain, since I'd endured a couple of unmedicated hours of pretty rapidly-progressing early labor without complaint so far, and worse pain than that before. I screamed involuntarily. A lot. There were noises coming out of me that I didn't recognize as being human; they reminded me of a night a couple of months earlier when we'd been sleeping with the window open and two wild animals--foxes, maybe--had had some kind of a death match right underneath our window. It felt like someone had plunged a red-hot knife into my spine and was twisting it. The hugging nurse rubbed my neck and said some things that I'm sure were meant to be soothing, but it was the kind of pain that would have, under circumstances when there wasn't a pointy wire dangerously close to my spinal cord, made me thrash around and kick whomever was causing it.
I almost gave up on the idea of the epidural, but he'd gotten the catheter into place and almost immediately I began to feel the effects. All of a sudden, it was as though my hips were gone. Then my thighs. Then my knees and eventually, within a few minutes, my feet were gone too. They let Dan and my mother come back into the room, and the nurse came back to put in a Foley catheter. I wasn't thrilled with the idea--for some reason, that one small indignity seemed like just a bridge too far. She did point out, logically, that the Foley was something of a must when you couldn't feel anything from the waist down, including the urge to pee, and lacked the muscle control to prevent yourself from doing it involuntarily. I tried not to think about the weird set of plastic giant-tweezer-looking things she came at me with, or the Betadine, or the rubber tubing. "Is it going to hurt?" I asked her apprehensively.
She took a seat down between my feet. "It probably would," she admitted cheerfully, "if you could feel anything. You can't feel anything, can you?"
"No," I admitted, feeling stupid. It's just that if anything was going to be as painful as the epidural had been, I was willing to pretty well give up on any of what might be coming next, including the part where I pushed out a baby.
Like every other L&D nurse that I encountered that day, she was efficient and pleasant while taking care of that particular task, and when she was done, offered me a little binger shot of some kind of pain reliever to give the epidural a head-start. The epidural had a pretty good head-start all by itself, but at this point, the thought of experimenting with narcotics was sounding moderately intriguing to me, so I agreed. She put a shot of something in my I.V., and within seconds, my head was so pleasingly fuzzy I could barely keep track of where I was. "I like the epidural man," I told Dan. "I think we should send him a Christmas card this year. Or maybe buy him a new station wagon." The room was swimming around me. "Maybe I'll take a nap," I told him and my mother. "This might be a long night."
To be continued...
I am officially, by the most conservative of estimates, 30 weeks pregnant today. That means that in less than 10 weeks, The New Girl will be putting in an appearance.
I am officially beginning to freak out, in several different ways. I was so totally gobsmacked to be pregnant, finally, last fall, and to be pregnant under such an unbelievable amount of financial and personal stress, that, to be honest, I had a very difficult time accepting the idea that I was pregnant at all, despite my constant morning sickness, despite my official status as a run-on sentence (translation: my missing period. Get it? God, I'm funny), despite my bone-crushing fatigue that had me asleep on the couch by 8 o'clock every night, despite the multiple pregnancy tests that came up positive.
Everything seemed to happen to me all at once--I got a new job, our car was stolen, the holidays that ended up being so thoroughly dismal, Max going back to school full-time--to a degree that I didn't feel totally able to process the fact that I was finally pregnant with the baby we'd wanted so much for so long. So I didn't. We didn't make any plans to move out of this tiny condo that would be the perfect size for one or maybe two people, but is exhaustingly cramped for two people plus a three-year-old. We didn't buy a crib. We didn't buy anything at all, really, until after we found out we were having a girl--a fact, incidentally, which only served to make the entire thing more unbelievable. Partially this was just practicality--why buy a bunch of new baby clothes for a second boy? We've already got one boy and a whole lifetime's worth of clothes, and if it's a girl, we'll need different stuff anyway. But partially, it was my reaction to being pregnant at all.
I have ten weeks to do 40 weeks worth of worrying, and have come cruising out of denial mode into full-on WTF??? mode. I'm worried about a million things this time that last time never even crossed my mind. In an effort to talk myself through the crippling anxiety I am feeling, I am currently trying anything I can think of.
It occurs to me that I have never actually written down Max's birth story, which is practically unheard-of on a Mommy blog, which, more or less, is what this is. It's one of the first things I go looking for when I'm reading some other mother's blog for the first time, reassured by the fact that none of the weird, painful, awkward, embarassing, uncomfortable, startling things that happened to me were really that weird, painful, awkward, embarassing, uncomfortable, or startling.
So, in an effort to quiet some of the worrying that I am finding myself trying to cram into ten weeks worth of pregnancy, I'm going to spend the next few whatevers telling Max's birth story in a reminder that sometimes things just happen in an average, totally expected, not at all premeditated way, which, overall, was my experience with Max.
On June 18, 2005, I was 38 weeks and 3 days pregnant with Max. A few days earlier, I had gotten a call from my OB, Dr. Bushrod (a hilarious name for an OB-GYN, I think) saying that she wanted to induce me on June 21st, as she'd be going out of town and wanted the baby to be born on her watch. While I am technically a high-risk pregnancy, due to being a type I diabetic, it was as uneventful a pregnancy as anyone could have hoped for, save for one short hospitalization at 22 weeks due to getting a gastrointestinal bug that made me as sick as I've ever been in my life, requiring several days of IV fluids and an anti-emetic that is still by far my drug of choice. I'd had no problems with high blood pressure or anything else, and the baby was responding well to the multiple tests I was having every week. I was having an ideal pregnancy, even for someone whose didn't have health issues that could turn pregnancy into a nightmare.
My parents arrived by car with, among other things, the frozen top layer of our wedding cake that afternoon. Our first wedding anniversary was July 17th, and I was looking forward to finally getting a slice of that cake. On my wedding day, I'd been too busy running around, talking to people, to ever eat more than just that one bite that Dan had fed me for photos. Their plan was for my stepfather to fly back to Kalamazoo on the 20th, leaving my mother here for the first several weeks to help out, then fly back in early July to drive home with her again, with Dan's parents arriving that afternoon for 9 days.
The night before my stepfather flew back to Kalamazoo we went out and picked up take-out barbecue, then took it home to eat it. It was punishingly hot already, and I was spending most of my time either on the couch, complaining, or in the apartment complex's swimming pool. Most of the time I was there, I complained too. My mother baked me a blueberry buckle, which is a really yummy yellow coffee cake studded with blueberries and topped with a brown sugar strusel topping, which I was eating entirely too much of, mostly because it seemed to be one of the few things that didn't require me to chase it with a handful of Tums.
The next day, June 20th, we drove Tom to Dulles, which is, inexplicably, the airport which my parents prefer to fly to and from whenever they visit, which I don't understand--it's the least convenient and farthest away from us. We'd only been there once, and I didn't know the way--nor did I particularly care. I was riding along only because I was tired of complaining inside my own apartment, and also, because Dan didn't like to be that far away from me, and he was going along.
We got lost on our way back from Dulles. It's easier to do than you'd think, especially if you need to stop for gas, and, like my mother, you manage to do so in the least likely spot on earth. I sat crankily in the back seat of the car, wishing like hell that I wasn't pregnant. Somehow, we ended up in the middle of downtown D.C., on Constitution, while my mother gazed around and remarked repeatedly about how exciting it must be to actually live here. I wanted to punch her in the face.
Dan managed to get us back to 295 southbound, which took us through several not-great neighborhoods and along a rather heavily potholed route. In the back of my mother's Jeep, I kept picturing the contents of my uterus bouncing off my cervix every time she hit a bump. "Sorry!" she kept calling out merrily. "Doing okay back there?" I grunted at her, picturing the flat spot on my kid's head, that I was sure would result from his skull being bounced off my pelvis for two hours.
We went to my last doctor's appointment, where I shed my pants and gave my OB one final look at my cervix. "Still closed," she said. "Maybe a little shorter than earlier this week. No contractions or anything?" she asked.
"How would I know?" I asked. I'd never had a contraction, not so much as a Braxton-Hicks contraction, that I'd been aware of.
She laughed. "You'd know," she said darkly. "We'll see you tomorrow night at the hospital for induction." I felt like I was joining the army. I put my enormous maternity pants back on and waddled back to the waiting room.
We'd been waiting for the crib that we wanted to be in stock at Sears Essentials in Clinton, Maryland, for several weeks. On the way home from the doctor's, which was in the professional building next to the hospital, I asked Mom to stop at Sears so that we could pick it up.
Dan and I made arrangements for the boxed crib to be brought from the back of the store to the front, which required several walking trips through the store. Mom lost interest and wandered off to look at baby clothes. Finally, we were walking from the back of the store to the front one last time, me waddling several steps behind Dan, who'd never really learned to adjust his walking speed (typically, I walk much faster than him, because my legs are longer) to accommodate my pregnancy. Dan was talking, not really aware that I'd fallen behind him by several steps, as is his wont, and I was not really listening to him, thinking to myself, God, I'm just so effing uncomfortable, I'm so tired of feeling so totally uncomfortable, and what is this thing that's happening now, this is fucking miserable, I just wish it would stop--when all of a sudden, it did stop. Instantly. At the same instant that it stopped, I felt what can only be described as a hot, wet bomb going off in my crotch. It didn't hurt--in fact, it relieved some of the intense pressure I was feeling, so it actually felt pretty good--but an instant later, I felt something warm and wet running down the inside of both legs.
I stopped instantly where I was, and just about that time, Dan realized I wasn't walking with him. "Dan," I said. "My water broke."
Dan looked at my feet, then at me. "Are you sure?" He was looking for the puddle that he assumed I would instantly be standing in. But all I could really feel was a trickle--like I'd had to pee really badly, and I'd sneezed, or laughed hysterically.
"Yes," I said. I'd never been so sure of anything. It wasn't a feeling you could mistake for any other feeling in the world. I could feel my underwear and pants becoming increasingly wet.
Dan and I stood there for a couple of seconds, staring at each other. "What should I do?" I said. I was afraid to move.
"I don't know," he said. "Where's your mother?"
Just then, she stuck her head out from one of the aisles. "What's going on?" she asked.
"My water broke," I said.
"Oh," she said. "Oh! I'll buy a beach towel."
It was good thinking on her part. We were only a couple of miles from the hospital at that point, and the logical thing would have been for us to just get in the car and drive back. Logic, however, was not my strong suit at this point. My pants were wet, I had a bag packed at home, waiting to go to the hospital, I wanted my own pillows and things, and I thought it would be silly to go to the hospital with a crib in the back of the car. "Take me home," I ordered. "I want my stuff."
Dan and Mom didn't try that hard to argue with me. Instead, they shuffled me into the front seat of the car and drove me home, where I was beginning to feel increasingly uncomfortable. I called my doctor's office, which had closed in the twenty minutes since we left, and I left a message with the answering service, as the recording instructed me to do. "I'm one of their patients," I explained. "My water just broke." It felt like a huge relief to say so: even though I was anxious about when things would start to hurt, or I would start throwing up (which I hate to do), or things would otherwise increase in unpleasantness, I was relieved to think that there was a light at the end of the endless tunnel of pregnancy, one that hadn't even appeared when they'd given me a date for induction. The answering service said that the doctor would call me back. I felt remarkably calm and collected at this point, feeling mostly just that sense of relief that it was all almost over.
I went into the bathroom to change my pants, which was beginning to seem like more trouble than it had been worth. The pair I'd been wearing were soaked, of course, and they were the only pair of maternity shorts I owned. I'd also been wearing my most comfortable pair of underwear. I somehow managed to peel both of these off, despite the fact that I was increasingly uncomfortable, although not really in pain, and drag on another pair of jeans. The amniotic fluid wasn't a steady stream--just an occasional gush when I changed positionts or the baby moved. I found a heavy-duty maxi pad under the sink and pasted it into my maternity underwear and hoped it would suffice for the trip back to the hospital, managed to stand up and drag my pants up past my hips.
As I did, there was another gush of amniotic fluid and it was clear that any precautions I'd taken against having to go out in wet pants were going to be fruitless. I absolutely did not have it in me to change my pants again. I threw the bathroom door open. "Fuck this," I said to my mother and Dan. "Get me a towel to wrap around my waist and let's just go."
To be continued...
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
No, I don't have any pictures to show you. The lighting in my kitchen is appallingly bad and my camera is not a good enough one that it can make up for the bad lighting.
If you are just landing here, here is the recipe.
King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour--I just happened to grab that before I found the all-purpose flour. I doubt that it makes a difference in this case.
Yeast: I used a very generous 1/4 teaspoon. Heaping, almost. I didn't have instant yeast, as called for in the recipe, so I made a couple of adjustments: that little extra bit of rapid rise, for example, and also adding about 1/8 teaspoon of sugar.
One of the blogs I saw (I think it may have been Smitten Kitchen, actually) suggests that 1/3 teaspoon of rapid rise yeast is the way to go. I may try that next time.
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
Water: 1 5/8 cups of warm water.
I whisked the yeast, sugar, and water together in a big bowl this morning around 9. That's not a step that's called for in the recipe, but because the recipe also doesn't call for sugar and I wasn't using instant yeast, I wanted to give it a little head start.
Then I dumped in the flour, and, on top of the flour, the salt. Salt retards the action of yeast, which is why I dumped it on top. I have no idea if that made a difference at all.
I stirred it all together with a wooden spoon. The dough looked rough and shaggy, like the recipe says it should. I didn't find a picture of the what the dough should look like until later tonight, but when I did, it looked just like what I had made. So, I'm happy.
I let the dough rise without disturbing it for 12 hours. That seems to be the minimum rise time described by nearly every account on every website I looked at. At 9 tonight, the dough looked swollen, bubbly, and by all accounts, a great deal like it was supposed to. I was comfortable with punching it down at this point.
A small aside: I didn't actually punch it down. I dumped it out onto a very clean, well-floured countertop, and with wet hands (the flour/water ratio seems to be important here) I gave it a couple of turns, then tucked the ends under to make a (basically) smooth ball of dough.
I did the 15-minute rest that the Bittman recipe recommends. Not every website mentions this rest. I didn't know if it was important or not, but I did err on the side of caution in this case. Usually I prefer to err on the side of error. We'll see how this all plays out. Anyway--rested on the counter, lightly covered with plastic wrap.
I put the bread down for the second rise on a clean, well-floured cotton flour sack towel. They cost about $6 for five of them, and we bought a bunch of them when Max was a baby. He had reflux and a regular burp cloth was more like something for him to projectile-vomit past than an effective parenting tool. I covered it with another well-floured towel. As it turned out, flouring this towel wasn't really necessary, as the bowl I used was deep and the dough never rose that high. I did worry a little about the dough drying out and getting that funky skin on it as it rose, but it didn't.
I let it rise for a full 2 hours. At the 1 hour mark, I had Dan wash the Dutch oven. As I mentioned before, ours is used so often that it's rarely clean. At the half-hour mark, I cranked the oven to 450, wrapped the plastic handle on the lid in several layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil (the manufacturer says it's safe without it; again, erring on the side of caution) and slid the pot and lid into the oven to preheat.
Half an hour later, my kitchen smells odd. I should clean the oven more often.
I slide the pot out of the oven (using potholders! Big, thick ones. I think it's almost as important to have faith in your potholders as your spouse, and to not have that faith betrayed. You'll never again trust either a cheating spouse or a half-assed potholder; ask anyone who's had either) and take off the lid. The pot, which went into the oven dry, releases a puff of slightly odd-smelling steam. Okaaay.
This dough is extremely sticky. Following one blogger's advice, I put a big square of parchment paper over the mouth of the pot, then go to dump the bread onto the parchment, where, it is my hope, that it will all collapse into the pot. Not so: the dough is firmly stuck to the bottom towel, the one I had faithfully floured so thoroughly. I coax/peel/squish the dough off the towel and onto the parchment, carefully not burning myself on the extremely hot pot. Lid on, and into the oven.
"Is everything okay in there?" Dan asks as I shut the oven door. "Those are some...interesting smells." I love the smell of napalm in the morning. I set the timer for 30 minutes, and after some consideration (our oven does run a little hot) I back the temperature down to 425 and contemplate how to get all of the stuck-on dough off the towel without it destroying our washing machine. It's a question for another day.
The funky smell has faded from the kitchen by the time the timer goes off. I take the lid off the pot for the first time, not sure what I'll find. This part is embarassing to me. When I see what's in the pot, I actually utter the following phrase out loud:
Lightly golden brown all over, slightly craggy and rustic-looking, yet expertly rounded, the half-baked loaf of bread is like something out of a very good, very expensive bakery. This is the appearance I had in mind when I got it into my head to bake bread: something that would impress the shit out of people. The last time I got this feeling was the first time I held Max after he was born: I can't believe I did this. It's what passes for cautious optimism around here. For the first time since changing my major from photojournalism to print journalism at the end of my freshman year of college, I regret not being a more skilled photographer.
At the 14-minute mark, I go back to the kitchen, take out a wire cooling rack, and set it on the counter. I open the oven door and make a noise I don't quite recognize--probably because I don't watch a lot of porn. The bread is...it's everything I hoped it would be. The crust is crackling and deeply golden.
My only regret, so far, besides not flouring the towel sufficiently, is that I have to wait until tomorrow morning to cut into this thing.
This morning, I walk into the kitchen and lift the towel I've draped over the loaf--it offers no protection whatsoever, but it makes me feel better for some reason. The crust has retained every ounce of its crisp character. It looks...just like bread should look when it's exactly right. It's a thing of beauty. I use a serrated knife to pierce the crust, and before I've even sliced a piece off, I can feel that the crumb is light, tender, airy, and yet substantial. Again, what it should look like when it's exactly right. Into the toaster it goes.
And I eat the toast with butter. It's the best loaf of bread I've ever made, by a long shot. It is not a perfect loaf of bread. It is just a tiny bit salty. While I'd never describe the inside as "gummy," like a few people have, the interior does have a certain...dampness, but not in an unpleasant way. I'm not sure how to describe it. Flavorwise, it's incredibly deep, developed, intensely yeasty. The flavor that long slow rise imparts is like seeing color TV for the first time. It changes how I feel about bread.
As far as what I'd compare it to: maybe a good ciabatta bread. Wonderbread it ain't. I think it would make an incredible sandwich, maybe one with cold leftover roast pork loin sliced thin, a little caramelized onion relish, grainy mustard; or smoked deli turkey, very thinly sliced granny smith apple, sharp cheddar, butter lettuce, and mayonnaise. I'm telling you, I could start a sandwich revolution. I also think it would make some seriously special garlic bread.
So, next time (which will probably be today, because I am just this kind of person), I will step the yeast up to 1/3 of a teaspoon and leave out the sugar. I will dial the salt back to 1 1/8 tsp. I will do the second rise on parchment. I will probably do 1/2 bread flour and 1/2 all purpose, just to see what the difference is.
At some point in the future, I'd like to acquire an oval dutch oven (mine is round) in a 3 1/2 quart or 4 quart size, to make more loaf-shaped loaves. I am very fond the one I have, but a smaller, more narrow one might make sense. I'd also like to try some add-ins: maybe kalamata olives and fresh rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, fresh thyme and grated romano cheese.
The bread is a very-nearly-unqualified success.
A Non-Exhaustive List of Stuff I Want to Cook Before The New Girl Comes and it's All I Can Do to Just Stand Upright
I recently discovered Smitten Kitchen and have added it to my ever-expanding repetoire of food blogs that I read. Go there, right now, and browse through her recipes. They're amazing, really, and so are her photos.
I love to read about food and cooking. It's sort of like porn--there's a lot of descriptions and pictures of things that may or may not turn me on and serve as inspiration, but are probably not literally appropriate or good for me, and that I'll never even attempt to do.
That's not what I'm putting on this list. I'm putting things on this list that I am actually going to do. In a frighteningly short amount of time, my life is going to become increasingly more complicated and I won't have time or space or wherewithall to do a lot of them.
The first item on the list is Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread. It has gotten quite a lot of exposure on the internet and lots of foodies have been making it with some great results. I love making bread, it makes me feel productive and frugal and also, I love bread. I've also made some disasterous bread, the latest of which should be idiot-proof but is no match for me: America's Test Kitchen's Rustic Country Bread. This bread bakes up big and flat and heavy every single time I make it. It's not inedible, but it's not what I have in mind, and no amount of fiddling that I do fixes it. So I have the no-knead bread beginning its long, slow rise this morning in my pantry in the hopes of making a basic yet delicious loaf of bread that's not leaden and dull, or full of fat like this one (to be fair, that last link is to some really incredibly delicious bread, but it's also far more complicated than I think a loaf of white sandwich bread should be to make yourself, and also requires things like a lot of whole milk and melted, cooled butter.)
If you'd like to make bread too, try the no-knead recipe with me. You need a big, heavy, cast-iron pot with a lid. I have one similar to this one. I bought it at Target, but it's no longer available. This seems to be the closest thing to it. If you don't own this pot, or a similar one to it, and you're balking at the price, let me just reassure you that you will use this pot a lot. Ours is rarely clean because we use it so often. You can also spend a whole lot more on a similar pot from Le Crueset or other expensive sources, if you really want to, but the differences are pretty minimal. If you want some other kind of bread to make, try this one instead. It's delicious, although it's a bird of a whole different color.
The next thing I want to make is Smitten Kitchen's 44-clove garlic soup. I know what you're thinking: Casa Nonhipster must have a vampire infestation. Really, though, one of the greatest things about garlic is that it has multiple personalities. It can be punchy and edgy or sweet and mellow, and in either incarnation, it speaks to me. Right now is the perfect time for comfort food like this soup. The weather's in the 50's; it's sorta like spring here, but not really. Spring is the perfect time for garlic. Well, really, anytime's a good time for garlic. Except, maybe, for a date. Or a job interview.
Want some more garlic-flavored inspiration? Start with Ree's garlic cheese bread. Incidentally, if you're not reading The Pioneer Woman Cooks, you're missing some of the best food writing on the internet, not to mention some of the most unrepentantly silly. Another reason to like her: she does a great job of illustrating her recipes, so you get to learn great, smart, basic techniques like the easiest way to chop an onion (seriously! So easy!) and see how things look in progress. Also, this is one of my favorite dishes ever. Do yourself a favor and buy yourself some really great extra virgin olive oil. I recommend Lucini, which is a brand that's available in a lot of grocery stores. There is a lot of terrible olive oil out there, and so a lot of people don't really understand what a life-changing experience the right olive oil can be. Don't cook with it--it degrades the oil and all that amazing flavor is wasted. Dip your bread in it, use it in salad dressings, drizzle it over hot pasta. Better yet, look for a specialty food store that holds tastings of olive oils.
If some other kind of soup sounds more to your liking, one of my favorite things ever is French onion soup. This is the little black dress of food, in my mind: simple, classic, timeless, always appropriate, elegant and flawless. America's Test Kitchen does this really well; this is their updated recipe via Cookography. I won't bother with a recipe beside this one; none I've ever seen is as good as this one, but I will say that when the onions are in the oven, I would stir them a little more often than the recipe recommends, maybe every half-hour or so. This time frame beats the pants off the hours and hours of standing over the stove, stirring pounds of sliced onions, in my mind.
Third on my list: Chicken-fried steak. Larry McMurtry, one of my mother's favorite authors, once said "Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken-fried steak." I'm thinking that only a rank degenerate would go through this entire pregnancy without eating a chicken-fried steak, and I am just a regular degenerate, not the other kind. I have made chicken-fried steak before. It's not for the faint of heart. It's hard work, messy, with a lot of steps, and it's the kind of thing that makes you feel totally satisfied and yet bad about yourself afterwards. It's so easy to do badly, and yet when you put your back into it, it's almost equally easy to do well. We're not talking about rocket science here: it's a cheap cut of beef, tenderized with a meat pounder, dredged through seasoned breading, fried, and served with cream gravy and mashed potatoes. It is a thing of beauty, a very basic and yet totally irresistable thing of beauty.
I'm don't remember which recipe I've used in the past, or if I used one at all. This time around, I might try Homesick Texan's recipe. I really wish there was a recipe for chicken-fried steak on Pioneer Woman Cooks; this is cowboy food and who knows better how to feed a cowboy than a cowboy's wife? Sadly, there isn't one. America's Test Kitchen, which serves as the Holy Grail of food in my house, may have a recipe. I'm not going to get up and go look right now though, because I am currently sitting in one of the few comfortable positions that this pregnancy affords me. But before this baby comes, I will have homemade chicken fried steak, cream gravy, homemade mashed potatoes, and glazed carrots with brown sugar, pecans, and bacon. And a salad. Because, as I'm sure you can tell, I am all about the healthy eating.
If you feel like frying things, I am coming over to your house. Just kidding. No I'm not. Yes I am. But no I'm not. Anyway, if you feel like frying things, one of my very favorite food bloggers, Kim from The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet recently made fried calamari. She also made these chicken fingers. I am also very partial to this firecracker fried chicken from Cook's Country, although it's really pretty complicated and messy. What's neither complicated nor messy: fried artichoke hearts, something I don't have a recipe for except for this: drain a can of artichoke hearts thoroughly. Season about a cup of all-purpose flour with a teaspoon of salt, a half-teaspoon of black pepper, and a little cayenne, and toss the artichoke hearts in the flour until well-coated. Heat a generous half-cup of vegetable oil in whatever pan you typically use for frying--I like a deep cast-iron skillet because it holds the heat well and you can fit a lot of food in it--over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering. Carefully drop in about eight artichoke hearts, and use tongs to move them around until they are golden-brown on all sides. Remove from the oil and let drain on a plate lined with paper for a few minutes. Sprinkle with kosher salt and, if you like, finely grated parmesan cheese. These are pure wonderful. See if you can actually make it out of the kitchen with these, or if you just stand there at the counter and eat the whole batch yourself. Don't worry. I won't tell.
The next thing on my list is a potato galette. I'll probably use the recipe from Fine Cooking.com. I love how this is almost like a potato gratin, but more constructed, and almost like pommes Anna, but less fussy and with the added elements of shallots, rosemary, and cheese. I don't own a tart pan, because I don't bake a whole lot, but I do own a nice non-stick 9-inch cake pan that I'll probably employ for this use. When I was in college, my friend Ryan invited me to his home in Western New York for fall break one year, and his mother made this amazing dish that they referred to as "yummy potatoes," and indeed, they were incredibly yummy. This galette reminds me a little of that, only less rich and creamy and over-the-top.
If you've now got potatoes on the brain, let me steer you back to Ree's place (Ha!! Steer! Ree, who lives on a cattle ranch! Get it? Steer?!! Oh...forget it.) and these twice-baked potatoes. Also at Pioneer Woman Cooks: these roasted potatoes from her friend Kay.
Like the title says, this list in no way represents every single thing I want to cook between now and the end of June, when The New Girl will put in an expected appearance. But creating a new human being seems to have stoked my creative fires a little, and I'm wanting to stretch my culinary muscles a little, make and consume things that I don't get a lot of. Maybe this is how my nesting instinct is manifesting itself this time around. At any rate, I promise to update you on what I make, how it turns out, and in general, what happens around here. I may not have a lot of money, time, or patience, but I do have a lot of fun.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I like sandwiches.
I have no idea when in my life I determined that a sandwich was a thing of beauty, but I have loved sandwiches from way back. Seriously, what is better than a sandwich? When it's done right, it's an amalgamation of textures and a marriage of tastes that are so much greater than the sum of their parts.
One of the first meals I fed my husband that really sealed the deal for him was a meatball sub. The process of making these subs was involved--hollowing out individual French loaves, then toasting and grinding the bread from the hollowing-out into fresh bread crumbs. Mixing the bread crumbs with ground beef, eggs, parmesan cheese, garlic, fresh herbs, salt and pepper, then forming and baking enormous (think nearly-baseball-sized) meatballs on racks in the oven. Simmering the meatballs in homemade tomato sauce, then nestling them lovingly in the hollowed-out bread with sauce, smoked provelone cheese, and then broiling them to create sandwiches, perfect, golden, toasty sandwiches. You may think this sounds like a lot of fuss to go through for a guy who I hadn't dated for more than a few weeks; in my opinion, a great sandwich is never too much effort. Also, I was 27 at the time; I was starting to feel the pressure to go ahead and land myself a husband. Anyway, as you can tell, it was worth it.
I've met very few sandwiches I haven't liked. When I was younger, my mother used to make sandwiches from sliced, salted radishes with cream cheese on wheat bread. Delicious. One of my favorite scenes from a movie, any movie, is the movie "Spanglish," when Adam Sandler, who plays a chef, comes home from work late at night and makes himself a sandwich in his own kitchen: a decadent and slightly over-the-top concoction created by Thomas Keller, chef of Napa Valley's restaurant French Laundry for the movie's creator, consisting of toasted rustic country bread, mayonnaise, thick-cut bacon, butter lettuce, tomatoes, Monterey Jack cheese, and a fried egg. Watching the single-minded dedication that his character puts into it is inspirational, especially when you consider that after a night in a restaurant kitchen, the reward of getting to sit down and eat that sandwich made it all worthwhile. One of the best things about moving home to Kalamazoo, Michigan, will be being close to Main Street Pub, the restaurant where Dan proposed to me, where they make an open-faced sandwich--its name escapes me at the moment--of toasted rye bread, ham, turkey, tomato slices, cheddar, and homemade blue cheese dressing, all broiled together. A friend of ours used to manage the Pub, and he told us once he had invented that sandwich as a hangover cure for the restaurant staff.
I've written about sandwiches before--plenty. Mostly here; also here (that Thomas Keller thing), and here. I want to know about your favorite sandwich. My favorite sandwich is hummus, very thinly sliced red onions, cucumbers, chopped kalamata olives, diced very ripe tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese and sliced avocado on a good-quality flour tortilla, wrapped up like a burrito, and sliced in half. When the tomatoes are really good, like in about August, I like a BLT too, with a few leaves of basil and some sliced fresh mozzerella, on good toasted bread with mayonnaise.
What's your perfect sandwich? It can be anything; use your imagination. A sandwich is way more than just a couple of slices of deli meat slapped between bread; the only way to screw up a sandwich, in my opinion, is to fall down on the job and assume that a sandwich is boring. Leave me your favorite sandwich in the comments.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Scholiast: “n. a commentator on ancient or classical literature”
Um, who are the Morans? I think my parents' next-door neighbors last name is Moran, but I'm pretty sure one of them is a retired teacher and the other is a research scientist.
Oh well, whatever. Yeah, Morans! Get a brain! And Go!Thing three: For the record, "teabagging" means something else. And I'm pretty sure that Republicans don't do it. Unless you're Senator Larry Craig. But I couldn't find a picture of that. Also, this is a family establishment, you sicko.
Y'know what? I'm starting to think the Republican party doesn't even need an opposition party. They're doing just fine on their own. Also, they're practically writing the jokes for me.