24 March 2010

d-afternoon, aka a cure for pain

Instantly, I was a mom.

All of my attention shifted to this little perfect squealing creature who did not leave my breast all day. And all night. I'm not joking.

How about a little perspective on this one:

I just had major surgery. I had morphine in my system, percocet in my system, whatever was in the spinal in my system. I hadn't eaten anything in 24 hours. I hadn't drunk anything in 24 hours. I had not moved or peed on my own in a day or so now. Every hour, someone in scrubs and clogs would come in and press on my belly.

"What?" you say. "But your belly was just cut open and, Braveheart, your guts were yanked out." you say.

Indeed. But of course they need to make sure there's no hardness, no clots, no infection, no internal bleeding. It makes perfect sense and yet you know the spinal starts to wear off from the top down. So while I cannot feel the soles of my feet beyond those loud calf cuffs, I can really feel my belly. And I can really feel when Aqua Scrubs comes in to press around my incision.

"I'm going to say 'ow,' now, okay? OW! OW OW OW OW!"

Just had to give them fair warning.

The nurses are almost sad that I haven't pressed my button more, and yet I'm ahead of the pain. I don't know that I am, but I am.

Night is coming. I have been a mom for 12 hours. She has barely left my side. Or my front, as it were. Oh yes. I have been trying like a mutha to nurse this child. Turns out, because of the circumstances I noted earlier as well as some others that I hadn't even learned of yet, that I'm more of a human pacifier. Nothing is really coming out. So I just keep her there. One side, the other side. One side, the other side.

Night is here. Ayano had gone to decompress and get some sleep at home. I do wish I had asked him to stay with me. I didn't know how. I know that seems strange but between the morphine and the baby I was beyond loopy. Barely automatic. Taina was asleep in the fold out chair next to the windows. I've got my eye on the clock. At noon they had told me I could get out of bed in 12 hours so you better believe I was Cinderella when that clock struck midnight. I buzzed the nurse to tell her I was ready to make it happen. She removed my IV, took off those cuffs, and instructed me on how to roll to my left side and use my arms to press myself upright while swinging my feet towards the floor. Swinging. Ha. The rolling and the pushing and the dropping of the legs probably took ten minutes all told. It was the feet on the floor part that was interesting. You know the story of the Little Mermaid (these are Grimm's Fairy Tales, not Disney's, to be clear) who, while living on land and walking on her two feet, felt knives in every step. So the long march to the bathroom was kind of like that. Me and the nurse and the knives that shot all the way up to my ribs. It was a slow yet triumphant hobble. I was free of the catheter. I got to wear that awesome stretchy gauzey underwear that Taina had been blotting my forehead with while I was hallucinating with morphine sweats earlier in the afternoon (yup, turns out she was wiping my brow with undies). I reclaimed one part of myself, my independence. THIS was motherhood.

The rest of the hospital stay was damn hard but did improve with each day. Hospitals are not a place for people to get well, I will say that. The air is stale and the food is disgusting and largely the personnel are... professional. I had a really hard time with all of these people telling me what I should be doing and how, yet none of them had children of their own. I know because I asked. Not the midwife, not the surgeon, not most of my nurses, not the residents, not Aqua Scrubs nor Kitty Scrubs nor Floral Scrubs nor Hot Pink Scrubs. Why, Kitty Scrubs, are you telling me that I should be giving Selah a bottle? Why are you telling me that I can't have toast!? Whyyyyyy are you telling me that it will all get better when you are the one who can go home from your shift and I am just starting my lifetime shift? Do not tell me how it is! Because you really don't know. I don't care if you've seen this "case" 700 times. This "case" is going to go home with me. I am responsible for this "case's" digestion for now and the rest of her life and so I don't want to give her your junk formula, even though I do end up giving her your junk formula because no one has enough of a brain in their heads to tell me what my alternative is when my body is not making milk because it has just experienced World War I.

I did have an angel come in, though, during my third night in the hospital. By now I had the routine down: refuse hospital food, refuse all pills (I took one percocet after they stopped the morphine and after that instead took a couple of Tylenol every so often - pain medications MESS YOU UP. Once they allowed me to consume food again I drank an entire bottle of prune juice and enough water to drown a horse. No movement. Nothin. Instead I looked like I was still pregnant with bloat and had gas pains all the way up to my shoulders), tolerate the round-the-clock checking of temperatures, pressing of belly, and fussing with baby. The fact is the poor child was hungry. She was getting nothing from me. Nada. When I was finally close to the end of my tether, a woman, a new face on rounds strolled into my room. She was - get this - pregnant!! She was wearing scrubs too! She had a nametag and a stethoscope around her neck. Her name was Margie and she was the midwife on call and a lactation consultant. She looked at me, had apparently already heard "my story" and could tell from my stubborn exhaustion and the Selah's agitation that no one's needs were being met.

Within ten minutes, she had found a supplemental nursing system (a container for formula with a tiny tube that goes by your nipple so the baby gets breast milk, the benefits of nursing, and enough content to be full and nourished), taught us how to use it, corrected the baby's latch, and told me the story of how she delivered her second daughter - who was breech - naturally, in India. The woman's not Indian. She chose to go to India with her husband and oldest daughter. To live there. And then she found out she was pregnant. And then she found out the baby was breech. And then she found a birth center that would deliver a breech baby. And then she gave birth to her feet-first baby. In four hours. And was now pregnant with her third. I nearly wept with joy that this woman was here talking to me. Only nearly wept because - I failed to mention this earlier - it was physically impossible for me to laugh or cry throughout this entire experience, thus the imperative to process it a full year later. I was too doped up on morphine to cry very much anyway, but if I had tried any kind of halted breathing or even holding it in, I would feel a guillotine across my belly. Impossible. I did my best to weep with joy. After Selah had finally eaten her fill for the first time, she lay back on my legs, relaxed and satisfied (photo). A little victory. That's what redeemed my experience: teeny little victories that I could claim for myself and for Selah.

We readied ourselves to go home from the hospital the next day. At 6:00 am a physician's assistant came in and tink tink tink-ed each of the staples out of my stomach, while I continued to lay in bed with Selah and Ayano, whom I had coaxed next to me with more promises than threats. The roughest part of the way things looked down there were the giant blisters on my hips left by the surgical tape. Everything else was neat and tidy. Thank goodness for more gauze underpants.

The one time I did get a laugh in was when my sister was reading to me about some kind of breastfeeding something or other and accidentally said "nibbles" instead of "nipples." Then I was able to break my face open into a ridiculous smiley grimace and kind of wheeze like Precious, the dog in the Hanna Barbera cartoons.

It was a rough first few months, mostly because I felt like I had just moved to a foreign country and didn't speak the language, but eventually we figured each other out and are now in a still-unpredictable yet unfailingly awe-inspiring place. We both (we all) survived the first year of Selah's life, which to me is more than a small victory.

I know, because I have heard, that some of you have stories way more complicated and way more Night of the Living Dead than this one. To that I can only say to you that you have survived and likely even thrived and that I think sometimes we're chosen to be broken so that when we heal we can turn around and help. Even if your story is less complicated and full of non-stop waves of bliss, it is also just as important. Our stories are important. You, momma, are important. Do not be ashamed or afraid of the ugliness that you went through. It is legitimate and you are not alone. Sharing your experience and allowing yourself all of your feelings does not make you ungrateful or selfish. Birth is not a part of our day-to-day lives here in our clean, private, Western communities, so it is our choice whether to stand and show ourselves in a way that is true and far more unifying than any of us can really comprehend without opening up ourselves. No praise, no blame, just so.

Thanks for reading.


  1. For the first time in 1.5 years, I feel like I can embrace my own birthing story, and the fear and insecurities that followed. I am so grateful you shared this with us. Thank you.

  2. elisa, that's exactly why i wrote this: to put all my truth in the world and make it a little safer for other moms who have been through traumatic times to bring theirs to the surface. standing by you.