Wednesday, August 5, 2009


With my first born - nearly 10 years ago now- my well-plotted birth plan was not applicable. The plan, as recommended by my Virginia Highlands pregnancy yogis and my wizened midwife (we were her 'swan song,' the last baby of her last shift) did not address, or even hint at, the 18 hours of labor, 9 on a pitocin drip - finally giving in to the epidural on hour 9.

I went to some strange, charged place - a place where I turned pain into heat and light patterns and I steadily moaned and was vaguely aware of Cat Stevens and classical music playing in the far off near. I was inside the pain, and I was turning it into colors and sounds and Gavin kept breaking through with questions that brought pain crashing to the fore when I answered them. Mom was mopping my brow and quietly counting backward and Gavin, a coach of basketball and football and rugby, kept trying to coach - and I, through gritted teeth - I advised that coaching was maybe not what I most needed at. that. moment.

Polyhydramnios, with a 10+ pound baby inside all that fluid made for the loooong labor, with days of the prodromal stuff, and then those contractions that wouldn't grip. Bass was a huge, hale and hearty baby they swept to a table, where all sorts of ministrations were performed - passages sucked clear. He was waved past me and scooted out to the ICU.

The epidural had, by that time, settled in - I was jelly and distant pain - I was pure amorphous goo. It seemed I would never sit up again, I would never get all the bits of me contained and returned into their rightful places. I would spend my future sliding room to room, slug-like.

It was two or three or four AM and, still gooey and stretcher-bound and stitched, they wheeled me in to the baby. I touched him. Somewhat distantly. And he had electrodes, and beeping things, and was inexplicably behind plexiglass.

In the morning, I scrubbed to my elbows and returned. I tried to memorize his face. He had a lusty wail - his 10 pounds, 3 ounces dwarfing the combined weight of the triplets beside him. We were sheepish, and knew he would be fine. Knew the ICU time was a formality granted in response to numbers on a chart - not in response to this specific giant, stubborn, roaring boy.

I slipped a stuffed cow into his plastic bassinet, certain that when I looked at him next through the nursery window, once he had graduated to the next level of care, that I would have no idea which one was him.

One more day, after three in the hospital and mere hours of true, professionally-observed baby time, they set us free.

We brought him home to our loft - our open space, with painted concrete floors and a distant ceiling and exposed pipes, and a crazy cat that would perch on those pipes and watch us all. (The cat we got, two years earlier, when a dog would be "too much responsibility...")

They sent us there- the thirty-something fully adult us - with rules about wounds - belly buttons and leaky breasts and perineum stitches and hemorrhoids. They sent us there with a couple days' worth of purely practical instructions, a six-pack of pre-mixed formula, and a hospital-issued pacifier. They gave us a few impossibly tiny diapers, and we stole the great hospital changing pads and felt daring. I had my real big cup that served me ice chips. And the baby.

I looked at him, and I looked at Gavin. And I cried. Real tears. Tears that came with hitching breath - fat salty water tears to scare a giant, relatively new husband (I was four months pregnant on our first anniversary) and newer baby-bucket toting dad. I told him, and I meant it like I had never meant anything before, "I am SO glad he is a boy."

"Why? You never said you had a preference?"

"Girls...girls know... they...


.... when you fuck up."

And I cried more.

And I came brushingly close and for only moments - thank God and luck and timing and chemistry - to the darkness of post-partum depression. And it scared me.

I truly felt, at that instant and with no premeditation, that I had dodged something huge. That I was, at that moment, incapable of raising a girl. That I had been, somehow, spared.

Day three home, with my son (the giant he of the ICU and crescendo-ing sugar levels) sleeping and sleeping and being woken up with ice cubes on the soles of his perfect feet and no milk letting down- and me, so determined to breastfeed, so determined NOT to be hysterical, finally calling my midwife. And she. She of years and years of experience replied over the phone with something I heard clearly as "You. Are. Trying. To. Kill. That. Baby. Give. Him. Formula. NOW." And I collapsed and cried again. And then crawled to the tiny bottles, broke a seal, and popped on a tiny nipple.

And he suckled it in seconds, the grayish, impure, pre-mixed formula - 1/6th of the pack. And I gave him another.

And Robin. My former room mate of years, my longest pre-Gavin co-habitating relationship - sage and steady and logical and, at that time, a few years into motherhood herself - swooped over on short notice. And I was still sobbing in a hot bath, and Gavin was away at basketball camp and Robin talked me through the mechanics and tricks of nursing new, and patiently and steadily played the role of lactation consultant and - in what seemed like the third or fourth miracle in as many days - my milk came in.

Which is to say that I caught, in a couple of instances, frightening glimpses of post-partum something. And I was new, and I was Not Capable. I was scared, and I was more stubborn than smart. And I had resources and patient friends and Just Enough stores of sanity and inherited yankee sticktoitiveness and lucky chemistry and notions of Purpose to somehow get through it.

And what if I didn't?

If I were younger, and hungrier, and more alone? What if confusion were not a temporary state for me? If I were weaker and more tired and delivery had been harder or even dangerous? What if something had truly, really, deeply and profoundly, been Wrong with him? With me? With my new and newly strained marriage?

In the news, every couple of years, there is another case. And while I only saw a sliver of what they call PPD - and then only for a few hours, over a few days, a few babies ago - I did catch a glimpse. And I am ever grateful that it was only a glimpse. And I am ever inclined to pray for those mommas that get more than a glimpse, whose friends and family are far or not trusted or kept at a distance and whose demons are not so easily won over by pink toes and blue-white eyes and the smell of breast-fed breath.

When I romanticize the babies (and I do! O! How I love the babies!!) and I lament, on occasion, that I did not capture every single baby moment in boxes I could open on whim... I sometimes let myself also remember, with some clarity, that it is SO not an easy time. It is beautiful and it is perfect and it is delicious and fleeting and every day lasts a very, very long time that is gone in a second... and being another being's every single every thing is the hardest thing I have ever done.

Through those first days, I know the darker side of self-doubt. And I am so grateful for this sense that I dodged something far, far scarier than sleepless nights and college funds.


  1. Gosh, yeah. Been there--with a girl child, a c-section, "broken" boobs that yielded 2 ounces on a good day, and the dreaded formula. And then, when she was 3 months old, I sterilized that monster of a breastpump and finally gave myself leave to 1. go back on the Prozac and 2. breathe freely because other kids thrive on formula, as well, and I'm not an incapable mother just because I can't breastfeed, and no, my daughter's not better off without me.

    And I'm so, so grateful that my PCP didn't even ask to see me and simply sent that Prozac prescription right over to the pharmacy once I used the word "postpartum" in my phone call to her.

  2. I stumbled here and was happily surprised to find this writing! Wonderfully story telling.

  3. I'm pleased to have been sage and steady and logical -- and just a mile away -- when that's what you needed.
    Love to you always,

  4. I understand more than I wish I did!! I'm so glad that you and I both had people to take care of us!