Monday, February 7, 2011

"Birth is the sudden opening of a window, through which you look out upon a stupendous prospect. For what has happened? A miracle. You have exchanged nothing for the possibility of everything." (William MacNeile Dixon)

I read something today that brought me to my knees. Everything came to a standstill and I fastforwarded back in time nearly a year, to the day when my son came into this world, and I felt like I very nearly left it. In theory, it was the best day of my life, for the true love of my life was born. Only I didn't realize that right away.

Like any mom-to-be, I idealized everything about my son and his entrance into the world. Even when I was told I would have to have a scheduled c-section, I still thought things would go smoothly. I remember lying on the stretcher outside the OR, trying to stay calm and worrying about, of all things, how foolish I looked in the paper shower cap-esque hat on my head. Gordon and I were exchanging nervous smiles and banter. One by one, an L&D nurse, an OR nurse, and my Obstetrician came by to greet us, check my chart, and head into the OR. Finally, the Anesthesiologist introduced himself to me, and recommended that, because of my condition (placenta previa), I seriously entertain the thought of going under general anesthesia. I just stared at him, completely flabbergasted. Go under? And miss the birth of my babe? When I was promised that I would be awake to see him come into this world? No way! The Anesthesiologist reluctantly agreed to give me a spinal under the condition that if something were to go awry, he would be knocking me out, no questions asked. My husband and I agreed. A porter showed my husband where to get changed, and I was wheeled into the delivery room.

The spinal was the oddest, most awful procedure I've had to date. I'll never forget the "thunk" feeling. I remember my right leg shooting off the table when a nerve was hit. They lay me down and proceeded to insert the catheter. I remember thinking to myself "My legs feel fuzzy, but I can still move them. I can still move my toes!" I'm not sure if I actually could, or if I just *thought* I could. Either way, when the procedure began (once my husband was in the room and I was firmly grasping his hand) I could feel it. At this point, you might be wishing to call my bluff, but my OB actually stepped away from me and said "she can feel this -- she's flinching every time I touch her [with the scalpel]" Right before he said that, the feeling was the same as when you cut through a chicken leg, right at the joint. Just before my husband entered the room, I remember the Anesthesiologist telling me that my baby would be born by 9:55am. That was in 5 minutes time. When he administered more anesthetic, it was 9:55am. At 9:58am, my baby was born. Apparently. I don't remember any of it.

What I do remember is an odd, kaleidoscope dream sequence, which in retrospect was likely caused by the huge light above the OR table. My husband tells me that my eyes rolled up into my head and I started to shake. Once my son was delivered (and held up for us, well, my husband, to see), my husband was asked to leave the OR. The next thing I remember is being wheeled from the OR to recovery. I can distinctly see, in my mind's eye, the lights in the ceiling sailing by overhead. I started to realize what had just happened. I had a baby. Or did I? Was he alive? Was he ok? I tried to talk, but couldn't. I felt like I was being smothered. The oxygen mask felt like a gloved hand over my mouth and nose, and was partially covering my eyes. And then, thank goodness, a doctor/co-worker stopped my stretcher to congratulate me. I think I said thank you. I did cry. My son was ok. The doctor wouldn't congratulate me on a dead child.

I spent 3.5 hours in recovery. I had lost a lot of blood. I remember the nurse asking me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10. I think I said "9." He palpated my stomach, and gave me morphine. This happened numerous times, and I remember thinking "Wow, it sure is easy to get morphine around here!" It took me a while to realize I had been passing out in between. I had no idea what time it was. Finally, an L&D nurse called down, and the recovery nurse who answered the phone asked me if I was "feeling up to a little visitor." Oh thank goodness -- I was about to meet my son! As soon as I saw his little face in that fuzzy oversized hat, I knew he was mine.

First Picture

He had started to cry for me and they brought him down so he could nurse. And then they took him away again. I wish I could say I felt like they were ripping off my arms when they took him, but I was so out of it, I don't really remember him leaving. I do remember telling the recovery nurse I was hungry, which he said was "a good complaint." He was hungry, too, he said. I realized outloud that it must be close to break-time (usually between 10am and 10:30am). I'll never forget his response. "My love," he gently said, "it's almost 1pm."

I remember the trip up to my room vividly, because every uneven seam in the floor, no matter how slight, caused me pain as my bed was rolled over it. I remember that an internal medicine doctor, one whom I had become close to during my time working at the hospital, was waiting for me outside my room. She looked at me, I looked at her, and I started to cry. She didn't say anything, just squeezed my hand, and left me in peace with my family and my new little boy. I don't remember my husband putting my little guy in my arms. To be honest, I don't remember much of my first two days in the hospital.

First Cuddle

I do know that I was not much of a mother those first few days. My baby spent every night in the nursery, and every day with my family as I lay in bed. When I was pregnant, I was adamant that I would room-in. I couldn't imagine leaving my helpless baby at the mercy of strangers. That all changed with my traumatic experience. One morning in particular, I went in to get him from the nursery, and he was the only baby in there out of the 7 or 8 that were on the floor. When I think back to that decision now, I get weak. I shake. I start to panic. And above all, I feel overwhelming guilt.

I distinctly remember the moment when I began the process of bonding with my son. It was my third day in the hospital. I was feeling much better and I was able to shower that morning. I had begun to feel somewhat human again. I was sitting up in bed with my son in my arms. And I cried. The tears streamed down my cheeks as I stroked his face, played with his hands and feet, and kissed his little nose. He was here, he was all mine, and he was perfect. I still sent him off to the nursery for the next two nights, and because I was so sore, I still let my family take care of him the most. Looking back, I can't believe I ever let him out of my sight. He's now 11 months old, and the thought of leaving him with someone else so I can go back to work, even a trusted family member, is enough to cause me renewed panic.

I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for Jennifer Margulis' article. Maybe one day I will forgive myself for my first few days as a mom. For now, I am content to relish in the beauty and life that is my son, and to remember to never take a single moment with him for granted.
Me & My Boy Today

NB: I would like to say that I had amazing care during my pregnancy, my delivery, and my recovery. My traumatic birth is not a reflection on my health care team. They were amazing.

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