24 March 2010


Here is what I know:
  • We (Americans, westerners, "rich" people in "rich" countries) are very fortunate to have the level of medical expertise we have in our hospitals
  • Many women end up having to undergo emergency Cesareans after hours, even days of labor. I've heard this adds insult to injury, or in many cases is simply a relief
  • I am so happy to be a mother, every day. I am so grateful for and pleased with and overjoyed by Selah
  • I would go through this entire experience again in a heartbeat - both for Selah and for the sake of another child in the future, if it's in the cards
  • People who work in hospitals have very difficult and exhausting jobs, and often are not able to take care of themselves as well as they deserve to be taken care of. They see A LOT of messed up shit and that really must take its toll
  • Having a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) if your first baby was breech has a very high rate of success
  • Birth is scary for dads too
  • If medical professionals do not have children of their own, they are more available to serve their patients and have more time to spend in support of others' healing
  • My mother is the most nurturing person I have ever met
Friday: I woke early after a relatively decent sleep, and hopped out of bed with a Christmas Morning attitude, trying to feel if Selah had somehow decided to turn herself round overnight. Newp. I got in the shower, shaving all the parts I could reach and considering it an act of decadence. We assembled our belongings and Ayano dropped me at the hospital on his way to take Taina to school. I checked in and headed upstairs to Labor and Delivery, the same site of the fated Underground Ultrasound two nights before.

Luckily, Nurse Mary Gorg was there to greet me. I was very grateful that this woman was with me on this day, because she knew a little something about my mettle [the midwife? poof! disappeared and gone forever... though I thought I heard her voice one of the nights at the hospital, but she did not come to my room nor did I see her again]. For the record I am not some crunchy whiner or obstinate know-it-all (careful, peanut gallery). Nurse Mary saw me in action and knew I wasn't going to make some big stink. All I really wanted was to be left to my devices, but we all knew there was no hope of that now. So a familiar face was comforting as I stood in this gigantic hospital room alone. Without a bed. Turns out they put me in a room that was usually a lounge, which was kind of sweet because it had big ole windows on two sides with fantastic views. As in, I could see planes taking off from Logan way far in the distance. They put me in there because they said they had no other rooms open, but part of me wonders if maybe there was a little guilt involved, too. The Catholic part of me wonders that.

A bed. A johnnie. An IV ("What's going in there!?" "Just saline."). Slipper socks. My mom. My dad. My sister. Ayano. A single dose of antibiotics ("Do I really need those?" "Yes."). A little something to relax me. My last chance to pee of my own volition. My mucus plug creeping down my leg like a wacky wall walker as I loped to the operating room on my own two feet, plus the IV pole (one more glimmer of hope that maybe yes, I could have delivered her normally). Shivering because it is fa-reezing cold on the metal table in the operating room. Handing someone my mucus plug on the tip of my finger ("Ummm.... can somebody take this?"). Catheter: in (not nearly as bad as I had anticipated... still not exactly a party). A little shavey-shave of the one place I couldn't reach. Curling up into a ball and rounding my back into the more-than-a-pinch of the needle for the spinal. A jolt down my left leg as the drugs began to numb me from the chest down. Here's where it gets serious.

The anesthesiologist literally made me push my back into his needle to be sure that it penetrated into my spinal column. Still, today, I know exactly where the needle went in. I can feel that point radiate around to my ribs whenever I practice my backbends in yoga. It makes my breath short and my arms shake. I am strong enough to hold a backbend. The man put a NEEDLE into my SPINE and I encouraged it! I leaned INTO it! I never got to say "No! This isn't what I want. I don't want to be numb for the birth of my baby. I want to feel her come into the world. I want her to feel herself coming into the world." I didn't get to say that. I had to lean in.

With a spinal they take the needle out immediately after the mystery numbing medication is injected. It's not like an epidural where the needle stays in. So I lay back and up goes the curtain, vertical under my chin. By now they have brought Ayano into the room, and have sat him down in a chair next to my head. We all know that they have the chair there because if partners are standing and watching there's a relatively high likelihood that soon they'll be passed out. Passing out in the operating room is not a good look.

They put this strange salon hairdryer contraption over my chest and arms, which are spread out to either side like a crucifix. Apparently this thing is meant to keep me warm. Imagine a giant bag of boil-in-bag rice spread over your upper body. Blowing hot air. So I was a little warmer right now, but they had also started morphine in my IV so I also may have thought I was in Jamaica. And while they consider me to be "numb" from the chest down, I could still feel things. It's difficult to explain. I could not move my toes, certainly, but I could feel that there was something going on. There was some poking and some shifting and some weirdness. Eventually from the other side of the curtain someone said, "Here comes a foot!" so Ayano stood up to witness the emergence of the foot and then sat back down real fast. He may have said something like "Yup that's a foot." But he didn't stand up again. More tugging. I'm being yanked from side to side and all I'm trying to do is concentrate on my breathing (notice the shift in verb tenses when I write about the scarier stuff... interesting literary psychosis). There are more excited sounds and terse commands coming from the other side of the curtain.

Then finally, at 10:37 am on Friday, March 27, 2009, Selah Vera Catone Strickland was born.

I heard her cry. They showed her to me. I said, "She looks like Taina!" I tried to cry but I couldn't because I couldn't breathe. They took her away to weigh her and do all the things they do to new babies (except for bathe her and give her a Hepatitis B shot thank you very much), and then Ayano went to be with her and then I was alone somehow again, a head behind a curtain. All I could see was the ceiling. I lay there. Arms outstretched. Straining to listen and hear her crying, hear what they were saying. And I realized I couldn't catch my breath. And I couldn't try to breathe deeper, and this monstrous ache was rising up from my belly. "My belly aches" I said to the anesthesiologist who was the only person on my side of the curtain, who was standing far enough behind my head that I couldn't see him but could only hear him. "You want me to give you something to make you sleepy?" he responded. "No. My belly. It aches. And I can't really breathe." I said. "Well," he said, "that's really all I can do. I can make you sleepy or I can make you forget."

"No thanks."

I lay there while the surgical team apparently undertook the process of packing me back up. A couple of days after we had returned from the hospital I was about to take a little stroll around our neighborhood with the baby just to be in the world and get some air. Ayano looked at me and fairly firmly told me I could only walk for ten minutes. "What the hell? I'm fine!" I protested. He sighed and paused and said, "Listen. Your guts. Were out of your body. I saw them! Your guts were out and now you're walking around and it just doesn't seem right." So that's why I couldn't breathe. I was Mel Gibson in Braveheart and I couldn't even yell "FREEDOM" while being dis- or re-emboweled as the case may have been. I just had to lay there, arms still outstretched. So this is motherhood.

At one point they brought the baby over to me to lay her on my chest. This was some kind of big deal, because apparently they don't "do" that with Cesarean births. Oh yeah? I can see why. Lay the baby on top of the boil-in-bag while my guts are out and it's creating a vacuum so I can't breathe. My arms are still out like Jesus so I can't hold the baby. And while it is breaking my heart with cuteness that she has decided to start sucking on my nose, it is breaking my heart period that I'm not able to hold her or even whisper to her how happy I am that she has chosen me to be her mom. I am completely at the mercy of the men behind the curtain.

After a while I was set to return to my penthouse suite, where my family was waiting. I was bright red in the face, I don't know if from being boiled-in-bag or from the morphine. I had the baby in my arms and we set about to teach each other how to breastfeed. Giant automatic cuffs on my calves inflated like blood pressure sleeves in order to prevent blood clots. Damn, those were loud. I had a little button to press that was attached to my morphine drip and was invited to use it liberally, to "stay ahead of the pain." I respect that attitude, especially from those who would have to deal with me in pain. I pressed that button only three times in twelve hours. Every time I pressed it, I was ready to throw up. God bless Molly Cantor for holding the trash can to my face for me to spit in. I honestly cannot imagine what kind of mess she and the rest of my family witnessed on the rest of that day, because I was hovering somewhere between Jamaica and Narnia. But it was a beautiful messterpiece because now Selah was in the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment