Friday, December 14, 2012

At Long Last

Here she is not two months old. Here she is one half hour old.
My baby, Miss Henrietta Plum, is two months old. I can't begin to explain how every piece of that sentence blows my mind, but I'm here, finally, to try. And I have so much to say about all of this--about her, and motherhood generally, and how it's changed me specifically, and stories about how we landed ourselves in Lowell, and on and on--that I don't even really know where to start. And every day I think I want to blog, that I need to blog, that I simply must find a moment to record what's happened and what's happening and this big bursting evolving love, and then it's time to feed her or make dinner or my c-section incision randomly starts bleeding and I must away to the emergency room (true story. happened yesterday. all is well, oddly.), or I'm just so exhausted that I believe Sam when he says my only job at that moment is to sit very quietly and watch television until it's bedtime.

And so we'll start with the only place it makes any good sense to start, which is the day she was born, October 9th. A birth story, of sorts, so if you are squeamish (or bored) by such things, you have my full permission to cease reading now.

Henrietta was stubbornly breech, and all efforts to turn her were fruitless. By the end I was convinced she had managed to stay in until 39 weeks against all predictions by wedging her skull in my ribcage. That was precisely how it felt. And it was with her skull in my ribcage that I got a call from Sam on the morning of October 9th, telling me they had towed my car. We'd failed to move it for street cleaning, and he'd received a friendly email from the city saying it was gone, and because he was teaching I had to call a cab and go get it. I remember very clearly how it felt to be that big, extracting myself from the back of that cab, waddling into the towing office, and then across the street to the tow lot, which felt miles and miles away with my swollen ankles and difficulty breathing and enormous belly.

I drove home with a list of errands on my mind, thinking I'd return some library books and go get cat food, but my belly felt tight and strange, and I thought maybe I'd just better go lie down for awhile. Maybe I'd feel better soon and then go run my errands. After a few hours of lying down I thought, "You know, these feel a little like contractions." And then I thought, "You know, these contractions are happening fairly regularly." I started timing them on my phone, closing my eyes and trying not to think of them between times, and low and behold, 5 minutes ish apart. They were fairly light but not exactly comfortable, so I called the hospital and they told me to come in and once Sam got home we drove downtown. We'd gone in so many times by then that Sam didn't bother to bring a single thing and I just barely decided to bring my bags, both of us thinking we'd be back that evening. Ha.

They set me up in a bed I'd been in many times in labor and delivery and tried to find the contractions with their monitor, but nothing showed up. I was still feeling them, but less sure of myself, and convinced we were probably going home soon. They checked my cervix, and wanted me to wait a few hours to see if anything had changed, so Sam and I distractedly talked about what dinner we'd get on the way home, and which house to buy in Lowell, and when the nurse came in and out, I didn't hide how badly I wanted to leave, and that I was sure it was all nothing. Those hours passed slowly.
The doctor came in around seven to check me and I was surprised when she said I was at a 4 (I had been at 3.4) and that my bag of water felt tight. She sat up, pulled her glove off, and said I was in labor, that they'd take me back for a c-section right away. "Like, when?" I asked. "Now. A half an hour, maybe. As soon as we get the room set up." She was born at 8:06.

I think about that half an hour before they took us back. I called my parents and told them and tried to mentally prepare myself, but there was no real way to prepare. We were so used to false alarms that we didn't know what to do with a real alarm, with the real thing. Mostly during that half an hour we looked at each other, half laughing, wide-eyed, shocked. After all the waiting and months of feeling on the brink of her arrival, we were actually there, on the brink of her arrival, and it wasn't at all real. I tried to pray for help or courage or something, but I couldn't focus at all.

And soon they wheeled me back to the cold operating room, the same one I'd been in when they put in the cerclage. At first that was comforting--that it was the same room and basically the same procedure: step up on this stool and sit on the edge of this table, lean into the nice nurses and try not to shiver while the man pokes your back with his fingers and then his numbing needles, feel the numb spread like tingling heat all the way down to your toes and let yourself feel heavy and helpless and half absent as they lift you and pull you into position and give you an oxygen mask and arrange all the cords connected and coming out of you. And then Sam came in and stood at my head and held my hand and it didn't feel like the cerclage anymore. It was bigger than that; she was almost here; we'd almost done it, and how could that possibly be? I asked Sam, as we waited for them to get started, whether he was sure about this, about this having a kid thing. He said it was maybe a little late to ask.  

Sam wanted to watch, and they kept suggesting that he sit down for this part, but he kept standing up, fascinated. And I was there, my abdomen open to the world, a puddle of blood, he said, and he said I'd been right, that the baby really had been up in my ribcage, that it was clear when they pulled her out.

Pause here to say that a c-section is one of the strangest things in the world. Your experience is so small in that room; it's this big big thing that's happening to you, but you're only experiencing this tiny space on the other side of the curtain. There were the anesthesia men (nice nice men) at my head, monitoring my comfort and vital signs, and Sam's hand holding mine, but all I could really see was this hospital sheet, and all I could feel was a vague tugging.

And then she was out, and crying, and it was the most shocking and distinctive sound I think I've ever heard. She had a voice, this very specific voice that was already only hers, and it made me cry to hear it, especially since hearing was all I could do. They were sewing me up and Sam was with her on the other side of the room, taking her picture and trying to describe her to me, and then holding her so I could sort of see her if I craned my neck behind me, and Sam was saying my placenta looked like a giant moldy fig.

Pleased to be on planet Earth.
None of that felt real and it still doesn't feel real. I remember the little recovery room they took us to, and shaking as I recovered from the anesthesia, and taking her picture, and sipping water very very slowly, and having her placed at my breast to start breast feeding. And I remember the days after, which were sweet but intense days, and we were very ready to go home so we wouldn't have so many well-meaning doctors and students and nurses checking on us every ten minutes.

Tiny toes.
Now she's beginning to stir in her crib, so I want to say this about those early days once we got home. I want to remember that new and delicious intimacy, and that's what it's been: the most personal, intimate thing I've ever done, and the whole of it seems like an unbelievable privilege. Okay, there have been some times that don't feel much like a privilege at all, but on the whole that's exactly what it's been. I can't hardly believe that this is happening to me, that I, of all people, am the mom, that I, of all people, am her world. In the beginning when she nursed, she would get these shifty eyes before she latched on, her eyes darting back and forth before she attached like an eager fish, and it felt like that, like we were in this together and we needed to be on the lookout, somehow, that we surely must be stealing our connection from some forbidden well of joy. And after we'd nurse I'd look down at her on my chest and she'd look up at me, and we were, of course, the only beings in the whole world, the only thing that had ever really mattered, and I couldn't believe that this moment was only ours, that she wasn't anyone else's baby and I wasn't anyone else's mom, and no one else in the whole world would really know the way she looked at me and how that felt. Am I even beginning to capture it? I feel like I'm not even beginning to capture it.

Sam says hello. Watching these two together every day? One the very best parts of this. I mean, it's really really good.

One more moment, one I've been longing to record and meaning to record since it happened. We took her home on a Saturday and I took her in for her first doctor's appointment the following Monday, and I sat in the waiting room with Henrietta and my mom, talking about her name, waiting to be called back. Soon a nurse stepped out and said, "Henrietta?" And I laughed. I laughed because it was the first time someone aside from us had really said her name, and it was if that nurse made her real. It was like someone saying the name of our imaginary friend, this being that we'd conjured out of nothing, and imagined and loved theoretically for months, and suddenly she was real enough to have a name and a doctor and to have her name be called in a waiting room. I feel like that moment solidified me, too, because I stood up as her mom, The Mom of Henrietta, and it was my job--there was no one else--to take her back and place her on the scale.