For the Love of Baby Man


The picture above is from baby man’s first swim. Be still my heart. Gah! Those sunglasses… Okay. The topic today is love, kids- more specifically, what it is to love one’s child (as promised in my last post).

For most of my life I’ve wanted to have children. However, there were definitely some anti-kid, angst ridden threats I made as a teenager.

So, when I was a teenager, in classic teenager style, I didn’t get along with my mom. I was a sad kid, a goth because I’d been called a goody goody in middle school. A person who chose to identify herself in negatives. In what I was not. Probably it shouldn’t have been a big surprise that my mom and I butted heads.

“You’ll understand when you have kids,” my mom said. It’s likely this was said with a heavy sigh, a pained expression on her face. It’s likely she called it out to me as I made my way out the front door. I was always leaving.

I probably laughed in response. Then something like: “no, because I’m never having kids.” A slammed door my emphasis.

At the time I felt unfit. Well, I suppose I still do sometimes, but it’s nothing like that great yawning maw of self hatred. Its constancy. The overwhelming depression that could open secret sewers within me; dark places to fall and fall and never quite land. The suicudal thinking. I was shit- why would I bring innocent babies into the mess that was me.

In my twenties I still felt a mess, but I also began experiencing a deep desire to procreate. It was intense, physical- I’d see a baby and my stomach would ache with longing. To say my friends at the time, well, and my ex husband, were not into kids would be a laughable understatement. We had such derision for babies, for settling down (at least in public, at least for each other, in my heart I pined and pined and became irresponsible with my birth control [luckily this never resulted in pregnancy. I have to be trying in order to get pregnant, apparently]).

And I saw those feelings reflected back in popular culture, in articles on mothers’ regret (see here, here, and here). I also taught an essay in English Composition by Daniel Gilbert that gets at the same idea. It’s a chapter (“Reporting Live from Tomorrow”) from his book Stumbling on Happiness that talks about how parents are the unhappiest people in the land. It’s great though, you can read it here.

These things led me to believe that my desire for children was a biological/evolutionary hangover kind of thing. That if I ever did have kids, I’d surely regret it. I’d feel stupid and duped.

So, in my thirties, when that baby pining got ever stronger, ever more intense, I thought: Fuck it. Perhaps I’ll deeply regret this, but I can’t not try.

Happily, Westley was on board. This was no small thing as the man had envisioned his life sans kids. To do that kind of 180 requires guts, tenacity, spontaneity. And maybe most importantly, trust: in each other, in our relationship, in love.

But! The point of this post? It’s this: that thing about a baby being your heart living and breathing and walking around outside your body? Accurate. That shit about how having a baby is more work than you can even imagine? Accurate. There are moments when just looking at baby man brings me to tears. Because I love him so fucking much. Because that love is absolutely beyond language. There are moments when my back throbs from holding him, my neck strained and aching, when trying to do even one more thing, say, the dishes, makes me want to just give up. Lie down. Cry. Sleep for days. But then his face, his face, his sweet little smile. His eyes that make me love drunk.

Do I regret this?

You probably already know my answer, but I’m going to risk redundancy and tell you anyway. No. Hell to the fuck to the no I do not regret it. I the-opposite-of-regret it. I cannot imagine my life without this tiny human. I’m not saying that he is what makes my life meaningful or worthwhile, I think I was doing okay pre-baby man, but at the same time the love I feel for him in some very real ways defines who I am. That love is in everything I do and everything I am. It’s something people can tell you about, but doesn’t make sense until you’re in it- neck deep, nose a little beak gasping for breath- I’m drowning in this kid in the best way.

Drowning sounds negative, but I don’t mean it that way. Drowning in love love love love. Everything entwined in this creature.

Someone said to me something like “don’t you regret those years without a baby? Haven’t you finally become who you were meant to be? Wasn’t life before baby totally unfulfilling in comparison?” This person had the opposite thinking of the articles I’ve read, ha. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, eh?

(Am I flying too close to the sun by admitting I love my son more than life and I am not only his mother? Can we be feminist parents? I think so, but maybe we can explore that more fully another day.)

But anyway, no. As much as I love this child (hint: he is my solar system), I don’t regret the years I had to grow up. The shows I played with my bands. The mistakes I made. I’m a mother, but that isn’t all I am. And I’m a much better mother for the time I spent figuring out that I am not a piece of shit.

I’m actually much more complicated than that.

Part the Second


That’s baby man. He is the cutest, squishiest little baby bunny I’ve ever seen.

Okay! I think I got that out of my system. Now, where were we? Ah yes. I had just gotten the epidural and life was, as they say, good.

Westley had indeed brought his guitar. He played and we sang together and the nurses laughed at us. Except for the misery, it was actually a pretty great time. I was hooked up to fetal monitors, so we had constant reassurance that baby man was okay. That’s something I’m truly grateful for- the baby was never in distress. His blood sugar was a bit low when he was born, but that’s the extent of his issues. Me, on the other hand… Ugh.

The OB practice I go to has several doctors. They take turns at the hospital for deliveries. So far I hadn’t seen my actual OB. As luck would have it, she’s the one who ended up delivering baby man. She’s the best.

So, it was finally time for my doctor’s turn on duty. She checked on me and I was only something like four centimeters dialated- this after nearly 12 hours on Pitocin and my water breaking on its own. She told me I might end up with a c-section. It was 8:00pmish.

After that, pain began returning to me, but only on my left side. The anesthesiologist came back and gave me a bolus of whatever-the-hell is in an epidural. Heaven heaven heaven heaven.

Then it started wearing off again. The doctor came to check me- I was progressing! She thought maybe I’d get to have the baby vaginally after all. I was excited, tired, scared, queasy, delirious, hungry, and in pain, but mostly excited, ha. The anesthesiologist came back for another bolus. The relief was like plunging into warmest water. It was immediate, immense.

And short lived. Around midnight I was eight centimeters dialated and in so much pain. Weird dreams kept taking over me and I’d succumb just to be out of that room, away.

We talk about pain, but what is it, really? At the time it was an altered state. A fantastic world of whorling sensation. My left thigh on fire. Belly clenched. Aching. Everything in me compressed, reconfigured. Made into a Picasso painting.

Actually? I can barely remember except that it hurt. Pain cut everything down to the smallest denominator. There was only the sound of baby man’s heartbeat on the monitor and my enduring agony. 

Around 2:00am my OB came back to check on me. No progression. I was stalled at eight. At this point I’d been strapped to my bed for, oh, 40 hours or so. She decided I needed a c-section. That we’d waited long enough. That even if, after however long, I finally fully dialated, I’d be too exhausted to push.

I joked with my (absolutely incredible) nurse that this felt like a zombie movie (you know, the whole being ripped apart thing) and she laughed, but said I shouldn’t talk about my sweet OB that way. Sweet or not, she was about to tear into me. I was petrified. This was not what I’d planned. Oh, yes, mice and men and all that, but I was somehow truly shocked this was happening to me. It had been in my mind that I was supposed to be some natural, healthy, earth mother type, but there I was, the opposite: the sliced open fruit. The passive vessel.

The anesthesiologist came back again. Because the epidural had worn off, I needed a spinal tap. My OB told me to slouch forward, hugging her, as the needle was (carefully, carefully) inserted into my spine. Again. I may have been crying. At least this time I wasn’t admonished. 

The c-section itself was surreal. I could feel the doctor tugging at me, but had no pain. Westley was very good at trying to keep me distracted with silly stories and jokes, but when the spinal made me vomit nothing (no food for a million hours, remember?) into a tiny stupid pink plastic bowl thing, I felt maybe the lowest I’ve ever been because I was so scared, so trapped, so numb, so very awake in a nightmare.

It was very difficult to not get to see my baby right away, but I did hear him cry and the doctor saying he was a nine on the Apgar. Westley got to see the baby first, he got to cut the cord. He also saw all my organs and I still don’t know how to feel about that.

Except grateful that we were both okay. Yes, there’s that for sure. Westley said that when I called out something like “is he okay?” Baby man turned his ridiculous newborn head toward the sound of my voice. 

The one birth plan thing I had was to do skin to skin if at all possible. Thirty years  (or, um, probably more like three minutes, but it felt like an eternity) after he was plucked from me, baby man was placed on my chest and my little rock star army crawled his way to my breast and began nursing.

He’s a champion.

After that I don’t remember much. I had to stay on the Magnesium for another 24 hours. That was hell. I definitely started hallucinating the hospital room was a hellscape complete with fire and demons and walls of dark red blood. Everything shimmered like a void. My nurse insisted I take the pain pills and send the baby to the nursery to sleep. Hell was gone when I awoke, replaced with a disturbingly normal hospital room. How had so much happened in such a place?

Over the next few days my blood pressure rose again to dangerous levels. I ended up on blood pressure meds for several weeks. And although I don’t truly believe this, I felt like a failure. Like I should’ve held out just a bit longer for a vaginal birth. Then Westley reminds me I did all I could. That what matters is that we both survived.

More on how the love I feel for baby man is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before on a later post. I just want to leave you with this: baby man’s birth was awful. It was painful and scary and shattering. Yet I’m wishing on each and every single burning sun in far flung galaxies to do it again. Hopefully with less theatrics, but I don’t even care, really. 

Like I said in the first half of this, I’m addicted. 

My So-Called Delivery, part I

image

I’ve been wanting to write about my experience with labor, and not just to freak you out- promise.

Let’s just get the length of it out of the way right at the start, okay? Maybe you remember from my last post, but if not? 41 hours. It took 41 hours from when I was admitted to when Baby man made his appearance.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of what you’re in for. Also, let it be stated for the record that I would drive myself to the hospital and do it all again exactly the same way like five minutes ago if I had to. I’m addicted to this kid.

But, okay. I had a fun, easy pregnancy until about about week 26 when I had the GTT (glucose tolerance test); it turns out I had a pretty bitching (read: intense. I failed with a 350. You need under 140 to pass) case of gestational diabetes. I needed two kinds of insulin twice a day to control my blood sugar. Then at about 30 weeks I was sent to the hospital with high blood pressure. I ended up being admitted twice that weekend and then put on bed rest.

The bed rest really helped. My blood pressure came down, and Westley and I went back to hoping we could wait until I was 39 weeks to deliver. Each week I saw the perinatologist (high risk doctor) for ultrasounds and non-stress tests. The non-stress tests were, perhaps surprisingly, stressful; at my perinatologist’s office, there was a special, separate room where up to four pregnant women could recline, hooked up to monitors that tracked baby movement and any contractions. Usually we played on our phones, the sound of several fetal heartbeats (along with the occasional fetal gymnastics- their movement like bursts of thunder) our weird soundtrack.

It was always awkward to catch another woman’s eye. We’d smile, maybe murmur “is this your first?”

Non-stress tests and ultrasounds are to make sure the fetus is okay, even though mom is having whatever trouble – gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, twins… Baby man always was, except when he was asleep (he’s still a great sleeper), so the perinatologist would place a little blow horn (scout’s honor) to my belly and blow it to wake him up. This resulted in dramatic fetal movement that sounded something like a a series of firecrackers going off in a tin mailbox. Poor kid- I’ve been freaking him out since before he was born.

Anyway! So we were at the perinatologist’s and it seemed he was going to let me stay pregnant. My gestational diabetes was well controlled with insulin, I was feeling great (haha! Rather, as great as a 37 week and four days pregnant person can feel [if you don’t know how that feels, imagine you’ve swallowed several 20 pound bags of cement and it’s hardened inside you. It hurts to stand. It hurts to sit down. People stare at your swollen cement belly]), but no! Nope! He took my blood pressure right before we were to leave and it was scary high. I don’t quite remember, but maybe 190/95. Something dangerous.

So, just like that, I was sent to the hospital to be induced. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, do not eat breakfast even though you’ve been waiting to eat at the doctor’s office for over two hours and you are pregnant and starving and on insulin.

And of course, once at the hospital I was not allowed to eat. They gave me ice chips, those most empty of calorie brittle little respites. My blood sugar crashed three times. It didn’t get super low, maybe into the 60’s? But being trapped in my bed made it all the worse.

Not exaggerating the trapped thing. When I got to the hospital, they started an IV (successfully, finally, on the fifth or sixth try) with saline and magnesium sulfate so that I wouldn’t have a seizure. This also meant I got a catheter, which the nurse inserted too far (I know this because when my ob adjusted it over 30 hours later because it was still bothering me even after the epidural, she told me as much). So, stuck. Trapped. I was strapped to that bed for days.

The first day they gave me Cervidil to soften my cervix. I was having contractions, but they weren’t too bad. That night I asked for pain meds so I could sleep. They gave me Stadol, which transformed the delivery room into a strange and eerie place. Kind of like a funhouse/slaughterhouse, so scary, but also cool in a terrifying way. 

Every few hours I had blood drawn to make sure the magnesium wasn’t poisoning me. It certainly felt that way- it makes one queasy, disoriented, and tired. It also gave me double vision eventually. Days later when all was finished, my arms were covered in bruises from these checks.

The next morning they started me on Pitocin. It was okay- I’d been worried about it because I’d heard that it makes contractions much more painful. It did suck, but you know what really made things breathtakingly painful? My water breaking. There’s an odd experience. It’s like magnificently pissing yourself. Times fifteen. Or fifty. 

After that, the pain got very, very intense. I realized that I had never, actually, experienced pain before. I had had no idea what pain could be. I imagined myself in a bubble, traveling through the air and then underwater. The pain was iridescent colors and sounds. It was who I was.

Then I got an epidural. It was 3:00pmish. I’d been in the hospital for 28 hours.

And the pain vanished, like the anesthesiologist hit an off switch. I think I started floating gently three inches from the bed (kept from rising to the ceiling by the IV, the catheter, my own delirium), but getting the epidural was a frightening experience. The anesthesiologist warned me of the potential dire side effects. I weighed the possibility of spinal injury against the pain. Pain won. 

Also? When he had the needle pressing into my spine he said “don’t move like that again. You must be absolutely still,” I had two reactions. 1) WTF does he mean I moved AGAIN? 2) What if I jumped up and started dancing? 

Neither reaction was particularly helpful.

I’ll pick up from here next week. This has been exhausting for us all, yeah? I have to tell you how it ended (spoiler alert: c-section) and what songs Westley played on his guitar to distract me from my misery. Yeah- he brought his guitar and made the whole thing about ten hundred thousand times better. At least.

But he’s cool like that.

 

Anxiety (postpartum and otherwise)

courtneys pic

The picture above is of me when I was, oh, four months pregnant. Westley and I played a dear friend’s birthday show and it was more fun than a pregnant lady is supposed to have (I should know – so many people told me so many things I should do or not do while pregnant).

I love this picture. It was taken before all the scary pregnancy stuff happened – before the gestational diabetes and mild preeclampsia, the early contractions, the bed rest, the insulin injections, hospitalizations, blood pressure checks, and then, of course, before 41 hours of labor.

It was a truly fun show. And I loved playing it, being pregnant, looking forward to all that was to be.

And then the scary stuff started. I’m in a much better place now, with baby man and Westley and myself, even, but I still have moments where I feel like I can’t breathe. The other day at a routine checkup my blood pressure was high. My blood pressure issues are supposed to be resolved, gone with the placenta. Friday my blood sugar was high after dinner. Then again on Sunday night, again Monday morning.

These numbers have so much power. They freeze my blood, pang through me like metal on metal on ice on metal. They invade me, rend me apart.

I’ve always been anxious. In fifth grade I waited every day for the fire alarm to go off. Head kind of bowed at my desk, fingernails digging into my arm. If I saw someone toss a cigarette butt out of their car window in the line to school, I’d say to myself something like: well, at least when the alarm goes off you’ll know why.

Eventually I get to the worst thoughts, the ones that will not stop. The ones that niggle at me like a mosquito in my ear or a torn cuticle or a blister on the back of my heel: who will take care of the baby if I die? Worse, what if the baby dies?

That last one is intolerable. It turns my blood to sound. I have to distract myself, focus on the moment. You know the thing, right? I think it’s: find five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can touch, two you can smell, one you can taste. It helps.

It really does, but anxiety is powerful. It circles back around. Comes in through another door. What happens if I die?

Well, of course Westley will take care of the baby. He’s a great father. I mean, I knew he’d be good at it, but he surprises me every day with his love for our little monster (and, actually, that’s a post for another day. The tentative title is “In Defense of Daddy”). So, fine. Westley would take care of the baby. And I’ve told him that he should re-marry, or at least re-date. Baby man needs as many caretakers as he can get (I’m greedy that way).

Where was I going with this? Do you ever feel it in your heart? That sinking feeling that everything you’re doing, everything you’ve done, it’s all for nothing because it’s all over now – that death is a shadow you’re about to slip into, a hidden missing tile in the floor. You will fall in an instant, as to sleep, and be erased.

Because a five month old can’t remember any of this, you know? And why do I do this to myself? When I was little, I’d stay awake nights, imagining what would happen when the time bomb went off. It was buried in the backyard, nailed beneath the floorboards. It was always about to go off.

Of course, it never did, and maybe that should tell me something, but if I’ve learned anything it’s only this: you never ever learn something for keeps. It’s not permanent. We’re in a constant state of learning and relearning and re-relearning and so on and so forth, amen.

Which brings me to the best thing about anxiety: its impermanence. Just like everything else in the world, it cannot last.

And I’m not anxious all or even most of the time, but it’s true-  anxiety has given me an abiding appreciation for every kiss, every touch, even every moment of despondency (how privileged we are that we can despair).

Breathe in. Every immaculate thing is in that breath. Breathe out. As is every horror. We don’t know anything, really. How exceedingly rare it is to be alive. How miraculous.