Friday, July 27, 2007

Live to Tell - Part Two

When you have a normal vaginal delivery, they swaddle your squawking bundle and lay him on your chest. "Hi Mommy!" they say, or something equally ridiculous that would make you cringe any other time. There is talk of bathing and breastfeeding and daddy can or can not cut the cord depending on how brave he is. I remember looking down at Chloe, who showed no visible signs of trouble, and thinking: the worst is over.

When you have a C-section under my circumstances, there are no surprises. "The baby will be taken away soon after we take him out", the nurse said. "But don't worry. He will be checked and then he will go to a special nursery."

"The NICU?" I asked. I knew of the NICU from bloggers with preemies and friends with twins. "Oh no," assured the nurse. "Just a little step-down nursery before he goes to the general nursery. It's called the CCN".

When I lie awake at night, I tend to unpack the moments of the day that I did not understand but did not have time to comprehend. Words I had not heard of, equations that were over my head. When they wheeled me into recovery I chanted "CCN" in my head until it became clear that it was not a cable channel filled with gray haired news anchors, but the Critical Care Nursery. Critical. I tried to erase the words from my brain.

As they moved me from one gurney to the next, I was reminded of obese homebound people who needed to be turned by an army of ten. "You'll feel like you will fall, but we won't let you fall", a nurse said, as I was shifted from one bed to the next. It felt like the moment you are falling asleep, when you swear that the ground has been pulled from under you. And you jerk your body in defense, calmed and embarassed once you find that you were safe all along. Safe. I craved that feeling, and it was still eluding me.

My recovery nurse was a strawberry blonde whose hair reminded me of my friend Leigh. I concentrated on things like this, familiar things, to center and calm me. The nurse seemed too lithe and young to manage the heavy load of my body and heart. She moved my legs, deadened by anesthetic. I watched my knees and feet move by, and had a grave understanding of what paralysis must feel like. "As soon as you can move your feet you can go to a room," she said, hoping to motivate me out of the makeshift recovery area that looked frighteningly like a morgue. I tried to will my toes to twitch to no avail.

The buff resident had reappeared, and was instructing the nurse on this and that, clearly pleased to have some underling to delegate to. "Dude, you freaked out in there," he said. I tried smiled at his cavalier attitude. It was the first normal thing anyone had said to me in hours, something that would have been said after a horror movie or ferris wheel ride. I listened intently as he told the nurse what medications I could and could not have -- I did not trust anyone not to make a mistake.

"What do I do with the placenta?" another nurse was asking. She was carrying a bucket that looked like it should hold paint or cement.

"We are sending it to pathology", the resident answered. His eyes met mine which must have been widened in fright. Pathology meant cancer and all things bad. "It looked healthy," he reassured. "We are just making sure." I would ask for my placenta results in the days that followed and would never hear anything in return. It would be the first of many times that I forced myself to acquire a new philosophy of "no news is good news".

I sent A away to take Chloe to her two year pediatrician appointment. Amazingly, life had to go on. I had checked in to the hospital at 4:00 AM and had died a thousand deaths and become a mom of two over the hours between then and 11:00, which was the time of Chloe's appointment. He left reluctantly and I remained in a half sleep state until my legs miraculously regained life.

I was taken to the room where I would remain for four long days. I asked to see the baby. "You are on bed rest", the nurse explained, "for 12 hours. The baby can not leave CCN for a few days. You can see him as soon as you are released from bed rest." It was shocking. We were separated by mere feet and yet unable to see one another. "I need to pump," I said, referencing my breastmilk that would appear in the form of colostrum, otherwise known as "liquid gold". I did not want him to be without it, though I did give the ok for formula to tide him over. Miraculously, I hunched my exhausted body over a breast pump for as long as I could, producing an surprisingly large amount of colostrum. Later in the CCN, a nurse would tell me that she had never seen a C section mommy produce so much so soon. "You are amazing," she would whisper in my ear. Her words would warm me like sunshine.

My mother would arrive, followed my my doctor brother and his doctor girlfriend. I would retell the story as many times as I could, trying to desensitize myself to the details. My friend Elise appeared, arms filled with ice cream which was regretfully not allowed on my clear liquid diet. She came just as I was finally allowed into the CCN to try and nurse. "I won't be back for a while," I said. "I will wait," she answered, in her trademark cheshire grin. Everyone in this lifetime should have one friend who comes even when you tell them not to, brings ice cream, and waits for you to return. I was able to hold the baby up to the window for a moment before the shades were drawn. CCN babies remain behind covered glass with rare exception, despite the fact that, as my mother noted, those are the babies that people need to see most, to be reassured that they are okay.

The baby was smaller than Chloe, with long legs that held slackened skin. Where Chloe had been robust and plump, he was pale, a bit wan looking, with longer limbs which promised that he would likely outpace his already tall sister. Unlike Chloe, who had emerged from my body somewhat bruised and battered, this baby's head was a perfect round orb, his skin unblemished, his eyes a deep blue. His nose was smaller and more sculpted. He looked like a china doll, minus the plump and rosy cheeks. He was covered in wires, that I learned were called "leads", monitoring vital signs. He also received an IV of antibiotics, just like the one that I dragged along side of me. He could only be unhooked for the hour that I tried to feed him, and then he was returned to a warmer (CCN babies can't be swaddled because of all of the wires). You would think that I would have been heartbroken to return him, but truth be told, I was freaking exhausted. I was thrilled that someone more lucid and qualified than I was would be in charge for a few days.

As I write this, I am remembering that as I nursed him in my wheelchair, I had a catheter in. It is amazing how easily my memory dismissed a bag of urine that I dragged along with me for days, shrouded by my recall of the smallest details of my baby's skin.

In the days that would follow, it was hurry up and wait. Hurry up to get out of bed, get walking and wait around to fart (of all things) which would release me (pun intended) from my clear diet. Wait, wait for the baby's blood to grow a culture to rule out infection. Unlike me, he stayed stable. I would spike a fever for days thereafter around 7 PM that would abate quickly but left me drenched in sweat. It terrified me to think that something sinister remained lurking in my body, threatening to wreak havoc and put an end to my slow but consistent recovery.

While I had longed for a private room and actually tried to get one after my fever left me somewhat delirious, I actually lucked out with my roommate. She was a Muslim woman from Morocco in her forties, who had just birthed her fifth son, first C-Section. She was gently maternal and totally non intrusive, soothing me from behind our curtained partition. She handed me a farenheit thermometer when no one could tell me how to convert my celsius fever reading, and she demonstrated a better nursing position by thrusting her huge brown breasts in front of me. Her sons were lovely and all walked in a straight line to see her, muted without the usual scrapings and screamings of brotherhood. Ultimately, while I recoiled from the activity in the room from her family and cursed the lights she left on at night, I was grateful for the kind company. She talked about me to my mother, telling her that I am quick to upset but I let it go quickly. A pretty astute assessment from someone who regarded me me mainly from behind a hanging cloth.

By my third day in the hospital, I was itching to leave. While I enjoyed the care and the relaxation, something happens to the psyche when you spend your days in a gown that opens in the back. You start to take on the persona of the ill and infirm, when walks are relegated to the toilet and you are listlessly dragging an IV of fluids behind you. I changed into regular PJs and deep conditioned my hair yet I still felt crippled and I desperately missed home, and Chloe (who, by the way, thrived in my absence but thats a whole 'nother story). By this point, the baby had been released from CCN and was allowed in my room for night feedings and spent days in the general nursery. He received all that could be given with regards to a clean bill of health. I, on the other hand, had an OB who left my room crossing his fat fingers in a sign for, "still hoping for the best." Thankfully, my fevers disappered, my incision was healing and slowly I let myself dream of good old messy life outside the sterile world of my hospital room.

Before I left, we had to fill out the birth certificate. We were still on the fence about a name, and a pretty blonde nurse asked me what I was thinking. I told her, and watched her face my son, all young and tall with perky boobs, tiny ass and low slung scrubs. "Hi Dylan!" she cooed, and I imagined him hulking and strong, flirting with the blondes, years away from this vulnerable scary start. Instantly I loved the name, sounding bold and sultry coming from her mouth. I penned it in to the certificate, a lasting proof that he was here, to stay, without the fear of what such an arrogantly permanent move might mean.

As I exited the hospital, the warm sun on my pale skin, redemption was immediate. I felt so good to be walking away, with my son and my uterus in tact, with a story that while huge to me is actually quite small in terms of what could have been, what others have endured. I am home now, and my back aches from changing diapers, My breasts are on fire, and I am long overdue a shampoo. Yet somehow, despite mind blowing fatigue and the heavy chains of change, I have never felt so free, so alive, so goddamned lucky.

Thanks for listening.


At 1:33 PM PDT, Blogger Janya said...

Amen, sister. What a beautiful woman, mama, writer, and story-teller you are...and so friggin' brave!

Thinking of you with nipples-a-blazin' right along with you :)

At 6:09 PM PDT, Anonymous gila said...

i'm so proud of you. xxoo

At 5:34 PM PDT, Blogger beri said...

harrison - you, and now dylan, are the best. i just envelop every word you write. i cant believe what you went through and am so happy you are both healthy.
ps. i love that amidst recounting this scary time in your life you still are able to write about shampooing and deep conditioning. yet another reason why i love amy harrison so much.

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