Thursday, September 24, 2015

Our First Month

"Where is her head?" 

"In the bassinet." He says. 

I sit up like a flicked spring and begin searching the blanket for my baby. "I know her head is in the bassinet, but where is her face?" I beg. 

"Her face is with the rest of the bassinet." Scott says, grabbing my hands. 

"Stop it! Help me!" I shove him off.  

I pick through the covers with careful fingers. I am poor of sleep. He understands. This isn't the first time I've woken -or half-woken- in a panic, thinking her cries mean she's suffocating beneath me or fallen onto the floor. 

"She's in her bassinet." He says again, waiting for me to wake. 

I turn and watch our daughter wiggle in the dark before standing to take her in my arms. 

Hormones host nightly parties for my fears. There is dancing followed by feasts of violent thoughts where accidental injuries, SIDS and sickness poison this fledgling mother's mind. If she's making lots of noises, I worry. If she is silent, I check her chest for breath. During her first week of life, I hear an erratic, spontaneous soundtrack of the noise her floppy body would make if she fell from my hands to the floor. When this happens, I grip her little limbs and sit surrounded by pillows and soft furniture until the falsity fades. This baby's helpless fragile form has transformed our home's floor into a slippery, widespread wooden weapon.  

"Please promise that you'll be really careful on the stairs." I say to Scott who holds the baby in his lap at the computer late one night. I'm sniffling having just witnessed the two of them falling in my calamitous/nasty/uninvited imagination. He has her so that I might sleep, but I can't sleep, not with a flight of stairs between us. 

"I will." He tell me. "Though, I'm not the one who falls down stairs." He teases. [I fell three times last Fall before finally ordering $40 worth of sticky carpet slabs from the Internet.] Scott is strong and agile. He will not drop her, especially now that I have reminded him to be careful. I tell myself before picking up an old, never before read collection of Jane Austen novels. I bought it in Boston years before, but found the first pages too dry to be absorbed. Below in bed, I open the bulky blue binding and begin reading for boredom. Social etiquette, an old man's will, expired class structures and first born sons, I slog through two pages twice before dropping the classic paper stories to follow sleep. 

The second night we are home with baby, my breast milk arrives in bulk. Bouncing from my puckered breasts, unable to latch, she fits for hours. She must be starving. I rock her while her wails pluck dissonance into my heartstrings. 

"Scott." I whimper. 

"What's up?" He asks, sitting out of sleep. 

"Can you call the pediatrician?" It's late, but there is a nurse on call. "She hasn't eaten for hours." I tell him. "I don't know what's wrong." In the kitchen, he stands squinting in the light. The nurse suggests warm compresses to soften me. I stand over the sink, dripping milk and steaming teapot water for twenty minutes. She then successfully nurses, suckling for an hour. I lay her down and quiet falls, seemingly from the walls, as forgotten dreams, cool sheets and relief welcome me.  

When the dog comes home from the kennel, she smells the dirty diaper bag. She brings me her fur face to be pat, while I sit holding the baby who is no longer in my belly. The dog ignores the infant. When we carry Amelia toward her muzzle, she skirts away, scared. Eventually she goes to her, smelling the umbilical cord -the drying meat at her middle- and the diapered waste on her bottom. She whines the first few times and I fear she's going to hump her, but she doesn't and soon the whimpering is replaced by excessive licking, which we allow a little of.   

Birth was wild, violent and raw -a hunt in a hospital room, but now her gummy grins fill me with this fleet of microscopic endorphins that trample all remaining regret with something reminiscent of a revolutionary spirit. My body made a body and now my body feeds that body. She is real, -alive with eyes like the Atlantic, hair feather soft and a beating heart full of blood and soul. She has a little liver, lungs, light brown lashes and creased legs; pink peach skin that pimples when she sweats and miraculous mammalian instincts to root and stretch. She is a brand new person with purple veins, perfect joints and bone, vocal chords and a rounding belly. She needs me, cries and coos for me. My body made her body and for that we are more than love. We are family.   

Thursday, September 17, 2015


If I have not birthed her by Tuesday they will insert something like a catheter, a midwife explains, with a balloon on the end. The induction tool is then inflated inside my cervix. Labor follows, they hope. I don't want my female insides to swell from some mechanical intervention. I look to the old tales of wives and midwives --to jalapeno peppers, eggplant, raw pineapple; to the application of semen onto my cervix and to bumpy car rides (or pretend ones on the trampolines of neighbors).

Three days before Tuesday, I awake to find my uterus trapped between the molars of a monster. The severe gnashing slows seconds into wincing and near weeping until it releases me and withdraws through the windows of our bedroom. A slobbered sweat stays, a souvenir, until the next fit rumbles and rises from my ruptured core.

"I think it's happening." I whisper, tapping Scott awake.

It is a night of false labor, and it ends curled into the cracks of the couch. The next morning, the storm tip toes back between my pelvis bones and begins stomping, howling. A parade of marching drummers join, toiling until bloody flem falls out. [The release of the mucus plug is just as it sounds.] I go to an appointment at 10 a.m. where a nurse stretches bands across my belly and greases plastic doughnut disks with blue ultrasound gel to track the beats of my baby's heart. Her heart rate is fluctuating. This is good, I'm told.

"Maybe we'll see you again tonight." Sarah the midwife says before leaving the curtained corner.

1:27 p.m.: the first contraction I pen into my red bound notebook
1:39 p.m.: the second

Sunday night, I want sleep to swallow me, but my bed keeps spitting me out. I pace the sidewalk with our black bicycle flashlight lit within the pocket of my blue bathrobe. I have never been more human and yet I probably look like a ghost.

2:17 a.m.: the second to last contraction I record before our departure for the hospital
2:21 a.m.: the last time I write

We drive twenty miles to the sterile sanctuary of western medicine, where the smartest of students save us common folk. I return to the triage room with the cotton curtains, hospital beds and medical machines. Scott helps me strip out of my sweats and pull onto the folded blue johnny.

In another corner, we hear a woman cry, "Please! Help me, please!" Yes, she's driven herself. Yes, she has other children. No, she doesn't know her weight. No, she doesn't know her due date.

"I need some help in here!" A nurse calls out --a shuffling of rubber soled shoes and cotton scrubs. "The membrane has ruptured." She tells the others. The laboring lady cries out. Then we hear a baby cry. Scott and I stare at one another. Shock settles into my soul like a smoke. I submit then to sobbing.

"On a scale of one to ten," Sarah the midwife asks me, "ten being the amputation of a limb, how would you rate your pain?"

I want to say nine. "Eight."

I am 5 centimeters dilated.

"I am not going to ask or bother you about an epidural. If you want one, you need to say it." Sarah tells me. She knows I didn't originally plan to have one, but that I am open to the possibility.

Upstairs in my birthing bed, my toes pitch the sheet into taller and taller tents. The contractions become tidal. I close my eyes to breathe. In the nose. Out the mouth. In nose. Out mouth. In out in out in out...

"I want an epidural." I hear myself say.

I don't like the next minutes. My body betrays me, succumbing to spinal numbness. My mother won't admit it, but there are risks with epidurals. There is an increased chance one will need a vacuum birth, Pitocin and possibly even a Cesarean Section. I know this and yet pain interjects, pleading for relief by a seemingly medicinal miracle. It is a complicated application that requires an I.V., which my inexperienced nurse attempts to jab into my left wrist bone -during a contraction- before giving up and calling a more capable colleague. My punishment, I tell myself.

The anesthesiologist arrives. I sit on the side of the bed.
Have I ever had my wisdom teeth out?


Any complications?


He goes to the other side, to where my spine rises like a miniature mountain range. He won't do anything during a contraction, he assures me. And when it's time, he needs me to try really hard to not move. It's too late now, I resign. He is inserting the needle. With an immediacy akin to a hot shower soaking chilled skin, the medicine soothes me into stillness. I lay down. The world seems to quiet. Sarah recommends I rest. She will monitor me from the nurses' station and prepare the midwife who is coming in at 7 a.m. It is just after 6 a.m now. Very soon after she leaves, however, a contraction grips me. She returns, staying to coach me through the contractions that follow. Just before 7a.m., the nurse and my midwife are having me roll onto my left side, no, right, no, left. The machines can't consistently catch the baby's heart rate, I'm told. Sarah decides then that she needs to go in and get the baby's heart rate with something like a tiny cork screw that attaches to the top of the baby's head. It's called Internal Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring. She is calm and so I do not panic, but regret is here now, an enemy as real as dirt. I hate myself, but blindfold my fear and self-loathing with a mask of grit.

"OK, on this next contraction, I need you to bear down and push." Sarah tells me.

I feel trapped by time. There is nowhere to go but through this moment. And so I face it, but tear streaked and scared.

"It's happening." I warn them. I pull on the backs of my thighs and begin to push against the brick wall that is birth.

Sarah calls a code. The baby's heart rate is dipping too much. We have to get the baby out. Suddenly doctors and more nurses stand at the foot of the bed. My eyes are mostly closed, listening to this scene is frightening enough. They have me go on my left side, no, try the right, no onto my knees. The machine cords are tangling and all I can think is, if only I hadn't numbed my legs, I could be standing. A young female doctor is going to perform a vacuum extraction while I push. They can only use the tool three times. After that, well, they don't actually tell me. Sarah is behind the doctors. When I look for her she comes to my side, rubs my leg and offers me her encouragement. The vacuum is attached. I hate this. I really hate this. I hold my husband's hand, but fear I am breaking his slender bones. On the next contraction I need to push, I'm told. The nurse presses the oxygen mask to my mouth. I inhale fast and deep. Get to the baby, breath, get to the baby.

"I'm getting the next contraction." I tell them.

I push then with all of myself. I don't know if anything is happening. Among the doctor discussion, I hear the words, "emergency c-section."

"I'm getting the next contraction." I say then. I am nearly hyperventilating. I might pass out, I tell them, but push anyway. No one tries to stops me. I must push her out. I push. I breathe. I push. I breathe. Push. Push. Push. I feel her head drop from me. Inhale. Push. Her body slides out. Seconds later, she is on on my belly and breathing by herself. She is perfect. She has purple hands and toes and this little coo of a cry. Most of the doctors who helped me birth my baby leave. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the c-section surgeons leave too when they see her. The placenta is pushed out. Scott calls it an octopus. Sarah shows me this organ my body built to house my fetal marvel and then stitches me up.

Amelia May's eyes are swollen and there is a ring where the vacuum clamped onto her little head. Chubby cheeks. Wet brown hair. Fuzzy ears. My body made her. The relief I feel makes me weightless, despite my weariness. I'll revisit regret later. For now, joy prevails.