Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
We had our "well-baby check" on Monday. Maggie continues to be in (or above) the 95 percentile for weight and height. She currently weighs 13 pounds 4 ounces -- Mama's guess was only one ounce off! She is 24 3/8 inches long, which is why she needs 6 months clothes if it is a one-piece outfit with feet. The doctor commented on how interactive she was after Magnolia spent the entire exam smiling and "talking" to her, except for when she got her immunization shot. She cried and snuggled a lot after that, but did get a cool Snoopy band-aid.
Our "conversations" are the highlights of my days. Besides becoming more talkative, she spends much of her day trying to fit her fists or fingers in her mouth, especially whenever her soother falls out. So far she hasn't rolled over, but she's close. Regularly, she will roll onto her side to get a better look at the sides of her playmat.
It seems like Magnolia is studying everything. We're learning about her too. For example, we now know that when Maggie's eyebrows turn red she is trying to poop, I can guess almost to the minute when she will want to feed next and socks make great hand warmers (her hands are always cold). Most people that see Magnolia regularly describe her as either "happy" or "laidback," which suits us just fine.
The service begins in the dark reminicent of Christ in the tomb. Then the lights of the Church come on, the bells are ringing, and Father Mel shouts "Christ is Risen!" The entire congregation shouts in reply, "Indeed, he is risen!" People throw confetti and pop poppers filled with streamers. It is one of the biggest celebrations I've ever attended. All the while, our little Maggie slept on.
Any Portlanders (Portlandians? Portlish?) wanna eat a meal with me? I'm also looking for a place to stay. I'll even do some chores for my lodging if you like. I don't know where many of you Portland folk live in relation to downtown but I'm hoping to get around by bike if I can bring it on the train.
(Is this really tacky?--asking for a place to stay on my blog?? I'm not familiar with the etiquette surrounding online, out-of-town lodging requests.)
If you're interested in seeing the show or the film festival, check out the next post for more details.
My piece, Standing in a White Room, with Clothes On, Looking, will show throughout the festival as part of a satellite video art installation show at galleryHomeland inside the Ford Building in SE Portland.
Surreal Systems glimpses at artists working within the wide field of video installation, featuring work from fourteen artists and artist teams from the USA and Europe. What creates a system? Who dictates the rules? And what occurs when the rules fail? These are a few of the questions posed by the work in Surreal Systems. This show promises Portland's heaviest annual dose of installation-based moving images under one roof!I assume that this gallery portion of the festival is free so, if you're in the area, come check it out. If you need any more info, go to PeripheralProduce.com.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Here's a picture of me, folding my umpteenth load of laundry this week. Notice anything unusual? (Besides the two dogs that are underfoot)
No? Find the answer here and here. (The second one will give you the story behind this unusual happening as well)
Tuesday, a friend at work reminded me that I was supposed to lead a workshop on the next day. Whoops! I haven't had access to my work calendar while on maturnity leave and since I have been out later than I anticipated I didn't think to reschedule it. Being that it was too late to cancel, I scrambled to get ready the rest of the day.
Unfortunately, this was Brian's last week of the semester. So he has been super busy finishing up projects and preparing for his final meeting with his professor (which was on Wednesday - the day of my workshop).
My mom, who will be our normal childcare on Wednesdays, is in Arizona with my grandparents right now.
So what do I do with Magnolia? Take her with me! She was awesome! She slept the entire morning in her carseat as I gently rocked it with my foot. She woke up during our lunch break for her lunch. The afternoon was a little harder. She played on the floor for awhile, but really wanted more attention. Luckily her Papa came to the rescue just as the fussiness was getting distracting.
I go back to work officially on Monday. I wish I could take her to work with me everyday. *Sigh*
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Weird weather! This brings new meaning to April Showers!
It's the end of April! Are we haeded for another Ice Age?
A different kind of shower
How can that be comfortable?
Pinochle Party at the Wilson's
Happy on her playmat
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Trudy and Otis attend Tails-A-Wagging, a doggie daycare, once a week. Yes, we take our dogs to daycare. When you have two 50 lb high-energy dogs and no yard, doggie daycare once a week is a must!
The staff has affectionately nicknamed Trudy and Otis "the crazies" because they seem to have an unending supply of energy and enthusiasm. Tails provides lots of playtime, training and even teeth brushing. They often receive report cards similar to the ones I've included.
As "Pets of the Month" Trudy and Otis get a free day of daycare and their bio posted on the Tails-A-Wagging website. The bio is hilarious and I encourage you to read it!
If Magnolia never makes honor roll... at least we will still have this.
Lots of people have been asking how the dogs are with Magnolia... Just take a look!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
"Snort, Snort, Sniffle, Sniffle, Gurgle, Cough, Sneeze, Sneeze, Sneeze"
-- nothing serious. Mama and Papa had to learn how to use the saline drops with the bulb syringe and rectal thermometer (Eeee!) today, much to Magnolia's chagrin. She's been a real trooper -- blessing us with her smiles, extra cuddle-time and longer sleep sessions.
Is it bad that we are kind of enjoying this cute little cold?
Monday, April 14, 2008
Friday, April 11, 2008
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We'd like to keep her to ourselves all day but we eventually decide we ought to let Maggie's soon-to-be adoring fans come meet her after their long night. I'm not thrilled about leaving Maggie, even for a minute, so we call them on the cell phone. When they come in, their faces light up with wonder and delight, especially Nana and Grandpa as they meet their first grandchild.
Shannon's dad, Louie, has pink bubble gum cigars that we 'smoke' amid the pink roses and pink balloons they brought earlier. We also eat pink cupcakes and sing Happy Birthday (with everyone stumbling at the name part, not knowing whether to say Magnolia, Magnolia Grace, or just Maggie.)
After plenty of doting and near swooning they tear themselves away from the new little wonder and drive back to their unused hotel room, thankful for a happy ending.
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The nurses inform us that we're no longer welcome in the increasingly busy birth center and we will be relocating shortly to another wing of the hospital for the next few days.
I scan the room, noting what we will need to pack up. Our room is a disaster! I brought a lot of stuff—cameras, games, books, food, clothes—and it's everywhere. Even under the best of circumstances I'm not the neatest person in the world, so during a difficult labor when I barely had time to grab a water bottle between contractions I wasn't about to tidy our room.
I start shoving things in bags and boxes, onto carts and under Maggie's basinet. The nurses help and they're amazed every time they open a cupboard or the fridge and discover sparkling cider, computer cables, and dirty underwear.
They call in reinforcements. By the time we get out the door there are six of us: one nurse pushing a gowned and reclining Shannon, with all her tubal accoutrements; two more nurses pushing carts overflowing with flowers and bags; and me in the rear, laden with camera bags, pushing sleeping Maggie in her transparent tub of a basinet.
It's quite the walk. There are several large pink balloons attached to the cart, and as we wend our way through the corridors of the hospital they float behind this train of people, announcing the arrival of a beautiful baby girl, who is peacefully oblivious to it all.
It's a parade!
I should be throwing candy through the open hospital room doors at our unwitting parade watchers.
It gets even better. One of the balloons plays music when you press on it, so every time we walk through a doorway, the cheap little audio device inside hits the lintel and starts singing, rather obnoxiously, "Baby face! You've got the cutest little baby face…"
I do a little dance.
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I could go on. I could easily tell you about every little squeak or stretch Magnolia has done, is doing, and will ever do, but this story must end somewhere, and what better place than here at Maggie and Shannon's impromptu parade, publicly celebrating the accomplishment of birth and the life to come.
I wrote earlier that our labor room felt like a womb and that we were waiting to be born.
Well, here we are.
Newborn parents, with a whole life ahead of us. We're not quite as cute as this other newborn, but we have just as much growing to do, and we're excited and privileged to share the journey with you, our friends and family.
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After they've clamped and cut her umbilical cord, the doctor passes her to another blue clad stranger who puts her under a heat lamp and wipes her off and shoves a bulb syringe in her nose and mouth.
When a baby is born vaginally, the journey down the birth canal squeezes fluid out of baby's lungs, but without the benefit of that constricted journey Magnolia may need special attention. That's why the respiratory specialists are standing by.
They are encouraged by Magnolia's hearty bawling but it is still something between a rasp and a gurgle. Time moves very slowly while they do these initial procedures. It is a horrible thing to feel like you are not allowed to touch or hold your daughter.
Finally, they swaddle her in a warm blanket and pass her to me. I've held babies before but this is my baby. I cradle her head like you're supposed to and maneuver her close to Shannon's face. She is too drugged to hold her but at least this way she can see the wonder at the end of her longsuffering. Her eyes light up.
Shannon soon fades again, though, unable to contend with whatever drug Dr. Pfeiffer has given her to calm her shakes.
I unwrap Magnolia and put her half-naked inside my unbuttoned shirt. It was always important to us that the baby be put directly on Shannon's chest after delivery for skin-to-skin mother-baby bonding, but this will have to do. Some of these blue people usher us—me and my daughter!—out of the room; they want to take Magnolia to the nursery to do some more tests and to make sure she's crying most of the fluid out of her lungs.
I've been calling her Magnolia but it's not actually her name yet. The name was at the top of our list for most of pregnancy but we didn't settle on it in case she changed our minds when we met her. Now we've met her—barely—and I find myself having to fight to keep myself from calling her by it. But at the same time it seems strange. The name has existed in our minds for a long time and so has this baby and we even slipped a few times and called her by it in the womb but they still seem like two very separate things. There's Magnolia, the name, and then there's this little uncoordinated person who is still officially nameless.
Even when we eventually decide that it is her name it is more like something she wears.
Some people say that when they saw their baby for the first time they just knew they had to call him such and such, or that she just looked like a whats-her-face. But that's not what I'm talking about. She does look like a Magnolia Grace to us. We can't imagine any other name for her, but there is still some sense in which she and the name have not fused yet.
A nurse type person listens to her lungs and checks her heartbeat and circulation, and all I want is to be with Shannon, the three of us. She unwraps her and weighs her. She pulls her leg straight and tries to measure her. I understand the reasons for these medical procedures and precautions but it just feels so wrong to have strangers whisking a baby away from her mother during her first hour of life. She takes out a little clicker-blade, punctures Maggie's tiny heel and gathers the crimson drops on white card stock to test her blood sugar levels.
Come on, lady! We can weigh and measure and test her after we're back with Shannon. It makes sense that she's in no hurry since she does this every workday. For her it's not the momentous occasion it is for us. Shannon's probably still completely out of it too, but I'm just itching to be back with her.
Maggie checks out healthy and they finally let me carry this special delivery back to our labor room. Shannon is waiting, awake but still groggy. She holds her baby for the first time while the nurses check her blood pressure and settle her back in to recover from major surgery.
Kathleen helps Shannon with breastfeeding (Magnolia latches like a champ! They call her the piranha.) Then she helps me give Maggie her first 'bath' and shows me the best way to swaddle her. I feel bad every minute Magnolia's away from her Mama, but I'm also just soaking in the Papa time, adoring her tiny un-callused feet, her unblemished face, the almost invisible peach fuzz all over her body, wondering at her thin, smooth lips that don't even have creases yet.
Finally we reach the end of the newborn to-do list. All the hospital staff clear out and we get to be alone for the first time as a family of three.
We take deep breaths and marvel at the tiny person we made. Bathed and swaddled, she no longer looks like the bloody monster that came screaming out of Shannon's torso, but more like a cherub-faced burrito.
She is sleeping and she is adorable but she is so much more than Hallmark cute. Inside that tiny body is an intricate little skeleton, and pulsing blood vessels and synapses shooting tiny fireworks, creating the millions of connections that will make her who she will become.
We talk about her name. I tell Shannon I have already slipped a couple times and called her Magnolia but I wanted to wait to name her together. Shannon thinks she's a Magnolia too, but agrees it's strange to be responsible for naming this little being we don't know yet.
So with humility we affix the metaphorical nametag, the phonetic representation of this mysterious little visitor.
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On the next episode of Birth Story: A Parade!
Thursday, April 10, 2008
(And while I'm sure you all could recreate the scenario in your mind let's just savor this one out of context for a moment, shall we?)
It's scary learning to poop. -Shannon
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
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Finally, someone comes to escort me in. I can't tell you what the room looks like except that it's surprisingly cluttered, filled with carts and strange apparatuses that I wend my way through. I turn a corner and see Shannon: she looks dopey, with her eyes mostly closed and oxygen tubes in her nostrils. The doctors are talking but I don't understand anything they're saying. I fumble to find somewhere to lay my cameras amongst all the devices crowding in on me, anxious to attend to Shannon. When I sit down on the stool at Shannon's head, I hold her hand and she opens her eyes a little. She is shaking violently. I wish there were something more I could do to comfort her! She tells me how nervous she is and then falls back asleep, still shaking.
Since she is apparently no longer conscious, I stand up to peak over the curtain that separates her head and arms from her body. It really does feel separate. Her torso is mostly concealed except for an oval of exposed belly, which has been painted orange with some sort of anti-biotic and there's a spotlight on it. Somehow it all makes it easier to take.
I didn't know if I would get nauseous watching my wife get cut open and looking inside her bloody cavity. I'm not usually squeamish at gore in movies or even documentaries of surgery but I didn't know how I would fare when it was wife and unborn child under the blade. Everything is happening so fast though and the orange skin looks more like rubber than my wife.
As the surgery team pass instruments back and forth, I look down at Shannon as her heavy eyelids droop and her eyes roll back. I am torn. Do I sit on the stool where I can touch Shannon and ease her shaking? Or do I stand up and watch our baby begin its life?
I end up standing up but I keep holding her hand and talk to her whenever her eyes open.
"If you want any pictures," one of the doctors says, "you better get your camera. The baby is coming out now."
I reach for the cameras but the straps are tangled. Dr. Pfeiffer helps me and then ends up keeping the video camera to film for us, as I snap pictures whenever the closest nurse gets out of the way.
A nurse puts a giant metal shoehorn into the bloody crevasse of Shannon's stomach and pushes, stretching the skin and fat and flesh, making way for Magnolia's unceremonious red carpet entrance.
"She's got a full head of hair!"
And I see it! It looks like road-kill in the rain, but I see it, and that's my baby, and she's coming out now!
The doctor pulls surprisingly hard on the baby's neck and head, working her from side to side as far as the incision will allow. The spotlight is directly on this mangy little cone-head but I haven't seen her face yet; she's facing away from me.
My eyes are fixed on her in anticipation. I'm scarcely aware of anyone else in the room. There are just hands and my baby—Shannon's trembling hand holding mine, and the gloved hands that are working my baby into this world. The doctor starts singing, "Happy birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you…" but I'm barely aware of that either.
The only sound that exists is the positive wail that erupts from baby's tiny fluid-filled lungs. I look down at Shannon. She's awake and tears are welling in her eyes. That's her baby.
So this is the little person we have been waiting to meet. Here she is, all purple-gray, goopy and screaming, and I couldn't have imagined loving her more. My heart is thumping.
Once the head and arms are out, the rest of the body slips out and that mucousy wail gets louder. Doc lifts her by the armpits and plops her bottom down onto mom's pelvis. Her arms are spread wide, tiny fingers tensed and grasping.
She is pissed!
Newborns don't typically have wrinkles but this baby has deep anger creases on her forehead, her eyes are squinched tight, and her mouth is a screaming black hole.
In photographs she will look like a little monster. Wrenched from her bloody cocoon, she will look like she means to terrify whoever dared pry her from her warm safe reality into one that is cold, bright and—can she know it?—more than a little messed up.
It will look like that in pictures but if you only heard this cry, your heart would break. That's my daughter.
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On the next episode of Birth Story: Meeting Magnolia
Monday, April 7, 2008
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We both go to sleep. I am barely aware when our student nurse, Renu, wakes Shannon to insert a catheter, with shaking hands, into her unfeeling body. Over the next four hours, with only a few nurse interruptions, we both sleep deeply allowing the contractions to do their work undetected.
Unfortunately, they aren't doing enough work. One of our doctors—there are two because it is so busy—informs us, regretfully, that there has been a little bit of dilation but not nearly as much as he would have liked for four hours' worth.
Also, "the head is molding." He puts his fingertips together in a cone shape. "It's getting stuck quite high in the pelvis. Now, it could be that your pelvis might loosen up eventually and she might fit out just fine but it also could be that you push and push and she still doesn't fit."
"The baby is still really healthy so we're okay with it if you decide to keep laboring but if you want my honest opinion, it could be hours before you get to that point and even then I don't think she's gonna fit."
The decision is hard only in the sense that a Caesarean is so opposite of what we wanted for our child's birth. However, we know that it is the right decision. Even without the doctor's "honest opinion" I think we would come to the same conclusion. Shannon wears her weariness heavily. I remember with a shudder that women sometimes die in childbirth. Then I quickly force myself not to think about it. But it is true. I'm certainly not saying we are at the point of life and death yet, but that possibility has started feeling a lot more real to me. There is no doubt that a C-section is the right decision.
+ + + + +
They said we had 45 minutes to rest and prepare ourselves for the operation but now, five minutes later, Dr. Kaepernick tells us there's been a change. They're opening a second room for us and the operation will begin in five minutes.
The Circus intermission is over and I didn't get to go to the bathroom yet!
In comes Dr. P-f-f-feiffer and an entourage of other scrub-clad busy bodies. Some introduce themselves as this or that part of our surgery team, others just go about their business. I head for the toilet but someone cuts me off. They hand me a stylish blue jump suit and smurf-like shower cap to put over my clothes. I take a step toward the bathroom again and Dr. Pfeiffer summons me to help with the anesthetics. Then the doctor wants to brief me on my role in the operating room and a nurse swaps out my face mask for a larger one that will accommodate my large beard. Someone else reminds me to grab my camera if I want it. I grab everything. Someone else shoves a clipboard into my hands and tells me to sign this form, this form and this form. (I hope I didn't just give my baby up for adoption…) When I finally get to the bathroom, they are wheeling Shannon out of the room, and I am trying to keep my camera and video camera straps from falling off my shoulders into the toilet.
I walk briskly to catch up and hold Shannon's hand down the fluorescent-lit hallway.
We reach a set of double doors where a nurse holds up her hand stopping me. "You have to wait out here while we do the prep. It won't be long." I watch, powerless, as all these strangers in blue cart my wife into a room full of strange equipment.
I sit on a chair outside and try to smile at the occasional passerby. I'm not scared or even nervous, just anxious to be with Shannon. It seems to be taking a long time. I stand and pace. I take some photos of myself. I check the batteries on all my equipment and free up some memory on the digital audio recorder. I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to operate a still camera, a video camera, and an audio recorder all while comforting my wife and holding a newborn but I don't want to miss anything.
Tick tick tick. Maybe what makes this waiting so hard is that for the first time the crrmp crrmp of baby's heartbeat is not filling the space and marking the time.
I begin to suspect they've forgotten I'm out here. Maybe my little girl is already being yanked out of Shannon's belly.
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On the next episode of Birth Story: Birth!
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Shift change must be around 7 or 7:30 because at 7:40 we awaken to a flurry of activity.
Bam! Overhead lights blind my puffy eyes. Let the circus begin!
"Hi, I'm your new nurse Kathleen. This is Renu. She's a student and she'll be shadowing me."
But who are all these other people?? A stream of people is flowing into the once dark room, pushing carts, moving furniture, and generally throwing our fragile sense of balance into upheaval.
Amid the frenzy, enters a tall, brawny man with what looks like a fake tan. He's dressed in the typical blue-green hospital scrubs, but squeezed on his head is a scrub cap covered with bright yellow happy faces.
They look a little too happy to be worn by a man who wields large needles for a living and I start to feel like I'm in a scene from Pee Wee's Big Adventure. It is a nightmare sequence. Pee Wee is envisioning maniacally happy clown surgeons carrying very large sharp instruments, taking obvious pleasure in their sinister intentions, which, in the movie, entail some monstrous disfiguration of his beloved bike.
Except in my scene it's my wife.
Then, the anesthesiologist speaks.
"Hi, I'm Doctor Pf-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-feiffer. I'll be your anaes-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s," he tilts his head to get it out, "s-s-s-thesiologist."
I nearly burst out laughing and crying all at once. It is all I can do to bite my lip at the absurdity of it. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not poking fun. But at this moment of sleep deprivation and fraught nerves it is so unexpected and ridiculous I nearly lose it.
Dr. Pfeiffer sets up his supply cart next to Shannon's bed and the nurse sits me in a chair on the other side facing Shannon who is sitting on the edge. She sculpts us into position with Shannon arching her spine forward to allow for the needle, and me leaning forward with my forehead against Shannon's. Her breath is hot on my face.
This position is supposed to comfort the patient and keep her in the proper position but I think it's actually a precautionary measure: if the husband can't see the giant needle going into his wife's spine, he's less likely to go postal.
As we huddle there, Trene—you know, the nurse I'm not bitter at—rattles our privacy curtain one last time, tells us her shift is over, then leans in real close and delivers a final inspirational speech. Like we weren't weepy enough already.
"You know what you two?," her breath smells of coffee, "I'm very, very proud of you. The way you've worked together here in this room tonight is something special. You don't see that very often. And I know everything didn't go exactly how you wanted it to, but honestly it's not gonna matter. In eighteen years, when your little girl is standing up there graduating from high school, it's not gonna matter that you had an epidural. What matters is how you parent. And it's obvious to me from what I've seen here tonight that you're gonna be excellent parents."
The injection goes smoothly and in a few minutes the circus clears out of our room and Shannon starts losing feeling in her legs. The contractions don't hurt any more.
Thank God the contractions don't hurt anymore.
If the last attempt at a nap got me a little teary eyed, this knowledge that Shannon is no longer suffering, combined with the sudden quiet after the swift exodus of the freakshow ruptures my water main. I have never been so emotional in my life. It is our first chance—at least as a couple—to step back from the pain and urgency of the ordeal and really appreciate what it was we just went through. It is the first time we get to tell each other the story that we are still in.
I weep and ask forgiveness for being so selfish when I tried to sleep while she was still in pain. I finally get to tell her how hard it was to let her experience the pain and not ask them to fix it, right away, with medication. We laugh and hug and high-five.
With the pain gone, it feels a little like the process is over, like we have been tested, and whether or not we have passed the test, it is over now.
+ + + + +
Baby reminds me that she's still in there, just waiting to permanently and completely alter the course of our lives.
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The medical staff intermittently monitors the epidural and all Shannon's other vitals but she finally gets some rest.
Shannon's family has been in the waiting room all night, waiting to throw a birthday party. They are making the best of their time and have even become the unofficial hosts of the waiting room, greeting newcomers, getting to know other expectant grandparents, watching movies on their laptops, and doing whatever it takes to cope with the extreme anticipation of not knowing what is happening behind the security doors. They haven't heard any news since the Pitocin started.
Whenever our nurse wanders into their domain they ask her for an update but the nurses, for legal reasons, aren't allowed to disclose such information. And frustratingly, instead of telling the Graceys about this communicational hurdle, Trene, or whoever, merely says they will check on us, and then barges into our room in the middle of some incredibly intense contraction and tells us that "the parents" want an update.
Well, as hard as I'm sure it was for Louie and Teresa (and Alli and Taylor) to wait for the news, I wasn't about to leave my wife in agony. But now, finally, with Shannon really resting, I meet Teresa in the hallway and tell her that Shannon and baby are both still safe and healthy, that Shannon has had an epidural, that we've re-introduced Pitocin and we're still hoping for a vaginal birth.
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On the next episode of Birth Story: Goodbye Vaginal Birth
Saturday, April 5, 2008
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Pitocin, since it is regulated artificially by a nurse and an IV drip instead of the natural feedback mechanism of your body, can do strange things. Contractions double peak and Shannon's uterus is wrenched like a boa constrictor.
Why did we want a baby, again?
The Pitocin started at 9:00 pm. It's 4:30 am now. The doctor walks in and pulls on her non-latex gloves. She reaches in to Shannon as I hope desperately for news of major progress in there.
"Her cervix is four centimeters dilated. Maybe four and a half."
After seven and a half hours of Pitocin-intensified labor—not to mention the 16 hours of natural labor—that's all?! That's the size of a ping-pong ball. We need a Bocce ball.
The news is devastating. Working on 2 hours of sleep and a slice of toast, Shannon is pale and absolutely defeated. My coaching mantras for the last few hours have been met with helpless sobs of "I can't do this" or "I just want it to end." The broadcast heartbeat that sustained us earlier has been drowned out by moans and desperate pleas.
We finally agree to a low dose of intravenous Fentanyl, an analgesic that will hopefully take enough of the edge off the contractions so Shannon can get some rest.
Trene helps her back into the electronically adjustable bed because she now has to remain reclined as a precaution against potential side effects, which include 'dizziness' and 'difficulty walking.'
I slump into my own hospital bed and am asleep and dreaming immediately. It feels so good.
I wake three minutes later to sounds of distress as Shannon writhes in bed, apparently unaffected by the pain medication, except that now she is stuck supine, in her least comfortable laboring position. I stay in bed and try to talk her through the contraction from across the room. I want so badly for the medication to work so I can have a nap. I want her to get rest too, but the prospect of having a nap is so alluring that for a few minutes I try to convince myself that me getting rest is more important than anything else because, if her dilation is any indication, this labor is nowhere close to being over and she is going to need me alert during the pushing stage.
I stay in my bed listlessly reciting relaxation prompts until a few minutes later Shannon settles the matter by stating unequivocally, "I need you to touch me."
I get up. My caresses do help her relax a little more but she is still in great pain.
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Two hours pass and the doctor checks Shannon's cervix again and reports that there is little to no change in dilation. She tells us to consider an epidural because, at the current rate, by the time we reach second stage labor Shannon may be physically incapable of pushing. And if a C-section becomes necessary—they have started hinting that it is a likely possibility—Shannon's exhaustion will make the surgery more dangerous and her recovery more tedious.
As the morning sun filters through the Venetian blinds, we reformulate our plan, in subdued tones:
"What do you think, love?"
"I think we need to do it. You'll be too exhausted if this lasts another 10 hours."
Our doctors are wonderful about leaving the choice to us. There is some concern about the risk of infection in Shannon's uterus since her water broke over 24 hours ago, and they gently make their opinions known, but, since Shannon doesn't have a fever (her temperature did go up for a while but quickly came back down with increased fluids) and since all signs continue to point to a healthy and vigorous baby, they are willing to let us labor how we want.
After notifying the doctor of our decision, they discontinue the Pitocin while we wait 40 minutes for the anesthesiologist to arrive. The contractions subside quite quickly and the relentless intensity of that dark night finally starts fading in the muffled morning light. We both lie down and rest.
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In times of crisis, once your emotions know they don't have to be strong anymore, they unravel. Tears pool in my eyes as I begin hearing again that crrmp crrmp crrmp. They are tears full of meaning. Tears for the pain of my wife. Tears of relief that it is diminishing. Tears of remembering what we are doing all of this for. Tears of exhaustion.
Despite my exhaustion, my mind is still racing and I want to soak it in. I grab my laptop and check for comments on our blog. I read them to Shannon and I get choked up with every one, amazed and grateful for all the amazing people that care for us. We both doze off, heartened.
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Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9
Thursday, April 3, 2008
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Shannon is naked now. Pain has crowded out modesty and embarrassment. After wincing through a contraction on the toilet we quickly readjust to a standing position, Shannon's full weight and forehead pressing on my shoulder like preparing for a plane crash.
I have stopped reciting our relaxation scripts. The room is dark and still and all I can hear is Shannon's breathing and that ever-present crrmp crrmp of our child's heartbeat. That is when I realize it is the same sound I heard that night on the beach, the steady footsteps of our togetherness. Our child, this mysterious manifestation of our love for one another, the as yet unknown fruit of our intimacy, beats out the tempo of our togetherness. It is the metronome of our love.
Shannon is not having these poetic thoughts. Shannon is doing her best to not scream or hyperventilate. And neither are the thoughts quite so well formed for me in that moment. It is more like a feeling, an intuited revelation. It is an assurance of our abiding bond. A gift that will sustain us on the next leg of our journey.
While they surely don't inspire poetic musings for Shannon, these quiet moments do seem to minister to her needs. She kneels down and drapes her chest over the birthing ball and dangles her arms. She breathes out her mouth, pushing her lips out as she exhales, but there is no fear or desperation any more, even during contractions. There is just a calm resolve, a quiet acceptance of this excruciating process. I swell with love and I hope with all my might that this newfound resolve will last. I am beyond tired now. I can't imagine how Shannon feels.
+ + + + +
Our nurse, Trene, who has already proven unable to insert herself into delicate situations with anything resembling subtlety or grace, pushes the entryway curtain aside and surprises me with unprecedented sensitivity. She sees Shannon on the ball relaxing through a contraction with perfect composure and, instead of interrupting, she silently watches. When it is over, Trene, in a hushed tone that betrays bad news, asks, "You're really comfortable in that position aren't you?"
She had been monitoring the baby's heart rate from the nurse's station and came to tell us that whatever we were doing needed to change because baby's heart rate was dropping.
Looking back, it makes perfect sense that Magnolia's heartrate would drop. Her mother—a.k.a. her environment—had just changed from hurricane warning to partly cloudy with showers. I even heard our next nurse, in a teaching moment with a student, questioning some of Trene's heart rate related decisions. But I need to let go. As special as it was, that moment of relief that was, for me, accompanied by an acute awareness of our emotional and relational solidarity, had to come to an end sometime. Like the mundane conversations after the nourishing silence that night on the beach.
That's the thing about life. Moments of great significance are always followed by let-downs. Profound connective silence on the beach gave way to the smell of wet dogs and spoken trivialities. And what was for me a defining moment in my life with Shannon, in that dark labor room, ends with a woman we barely know barging into our intimacy and telling us to stop.
Do I sound bitter? I'm not really—or at least I'm trying not to be. I wish that dark, quiet moment could have lasted but even with the unpleasant and abrupt end it will remain for me the central moment of Magnolia's birth story.
After I reluctantly help Shannon off the birthing ball we re-try some of our previous positions. Sitting on the ball leaning back into my belly, head lolled to one side, resting on my forearm. Embracing like dance partners. Nothing works. The pain and fear rush back.
+ + + + +
Having planned a natural birth, it was always understood that in the inevitable moments of seemingly unbearable pain and self-doubt it would be my responsibility to reassure Shannon that she was doing wonderfully and was more than capable of a natural childbirth. It would also be my responsibility to advocate for her pre-expressed wishes to the doctors and medical staff, to keep them from pushing pain medications or unnecessary interventions on her in a state of weakness.
And, man, did we hold out.
But, man, was it hard.
I can't speak for Shannon and I don't pretend that my job as coach was anywhere near as difficult as her ordeal, but navigating the balance between upholding Shannon's wishes and easing her pain was the most emotionally difficult thing I've ever had to do.
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Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
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We have just surpassed the average labor duration of 12-14 hours for a first child and the little girl we have been so eagerly waiting to meet is nowhere near ready to come out. While the contractions have gotten more painful, they are still irregular enough to let us hope for an afternoon nap. Tightly wrapped in the fetal position, I begin to doze when: there's that pulse again. It sounds a little different from this side of the room. I try to place it: horse hooves on a castle drawbridge? The gentle drum beats of some quiet ritual?
Nine minutes later I wake to the quiet moan that means Shannon is having a contraction. I remind her to "breathe deeply and relax, let the contraction do its work." Over 30 hours are riddled with this sort of entreaty.
We have chosen to have a drug-free, intervention-free, natural childbirth, but this means that Shannon's ability to cope with extreme pain and discomfort will be very dependent on my ability to help her relax.
We have been practicing for months the techniques, exercises and visualizations that are to be our alternative to the usual pain medication or epidural.
"When you inhale deeply I want you to imagine a warm golden energy filling you and flowing all the way to your toes…"
"And when you exhale, that energy is going to ooze out your pores carrying away any tension from your muscles…"
"You're doing a really great job, love."
+ + + + +
It is 9:00 pm now and it is clear that this is going to last well over 24 hours. We are both getting quite tired and concerned. So we agree to modify our birth plan and accept Pitocin—a synthetic version of oxytocin--to augment the body's natural contraction-inducing hormone.
Within an hour, the clear drips from her IV bag have increased the frequency and intensity of the contractions.
This is when my job, as labor coach and relaxation specialist, gets especially challenging.
Toward the end of her pregnancy, the pre-packaged scripts, combined with soothing touches or massage, could turn Shannon to spaghetti pretty quickly.
But now, nearing hour 24, with no end in sight, the words start sounding hollow. "Good job" and all such encouraging phrases have long ago passed the benign ignorability of cliché and have now become meaningless irritations. I stroke her disheveled hair to soothe her but that too has gotten irritating; she pushes my hand away.
Contractions are nearly unbearable now and there is little more than a minute between the end of one and the start of another. It is just enough time to waddle from bed or birthing ball to toilet, with me carefully pushing the rolling IV coat-rack behind her.
We decide to try the bathtub. Many women swear by water births and Shannon loves baths. The problem is Shannon has so much technology hanging off her body that we're not sure if hydrotherapy is such a good idea. Trene, our new nurse, doesn't know either: "the IV drip will be fine; we can just roll it over there. But I don't know about those things." She points to the diodes bulging beneath her gown.
Finally, more than two hours later, the doctor visits and tells us that a bath will be fine. She gets in, gown and all, and the warm water melts her. If the contractions weren't coming so hard and fast I'm sure she'd be asleep in seconds.
But the relief does little for the pain when her uterus, stretched taut around our unseen baby, decides to clench with all its might. Even still, however brief, the short respite between contractions is a much-needed visit to heaven between the predominant hell of labor pain. Heaven. HHHEEEEEELLLLLLLL. Heaven. HHHEEEELLL.
Trene, who is wearing pink crocs and gold hoop earrings, enters the bathroom with a perky "hey you" and then just stands there, watching. She sneezes and enthusiastically excuses herself.
My relationship with the nurses is a love-hate relationship. Well, actually, mostly hate. When you stay at the hospital your room is the only privacy you've got. In some ways it is even more private and intimate than your own bedroom—or at least it ought to be. My wife is in agony in the bathtub. We are weathering one of the extremes of human experience, possibly the most special moment of our lives and there's just this strange lady standing there. Shannon tells me it doesn't really bother her, and I know the nurses mean well and are looking after our needs, but I hate that Trene just met us and acts like it's no big deal to sneeze in our bathroom.
Unfortunately, I can't really ask her to leave. This is her workplace. She spends a heck of a lot more time here than I do and knows a lot more about labor and delivery than I do. So I shouldn't be affronted when she reminds Shannon to keep breathing deeply, but I am. I know it's good advice but I feel like Trene is trying to steal my role.
"You're not the coach, Trene!" That's what I want to yell at her. "Take your sneezes and your pudgy self somewhere else!"
These are the kinds of nasty things the laboring woman is supposed to scream during the throes of travail, not the husband. I hold it in though. I'm pretty sure hostile verbal attacks won't exactly contribute to the kind of environment Shannon needs right now.
Eventually Trene informs us that the doctor needs to do an exam to see if Shan's progressing at all. That means getting out of the bathtub.
I can handle the nonchalant loitering in our bathroom and the presumably unintentional job stealing. But removing Shannon from her watery tranquility?! Again I bite my tongue.
Because Shannon is still wearing her gown and is attached to an IV drip, getting out of the bathtub proves surprisingly difficult. We try sliding the gown off along the IV tube but it won't go over the rack and it pulls too much on the insertion point, so we end up cutting it off.
The doctor comes in to tell us she won't be doing the vaginal exam on Shannon because she has an emergency C-section to do, so Trene will do it.
It may be the most uninformative exam ever. After sticking her goopy, gloved fingers up there she says, "Somethin's goin' on there girl…"
And it doesn't get much more specific than that. She thinks there might have been some progress.
But not much.
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Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
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It is a few days before Magnolia Grace is born that I really feel the fullness of that unfettered love. Among the mundane tedium of everyday life and the agonizing waiting game of a loooong overdue baby, I savor the growing maturity of our love.
We are at the dog park on the lake. It is getting dark and there are no other dogs to play with, but Trudy and Otis need the exercise and Shannon is eager to walk since walking is supposed to jiggle baby closer to the hatch and kick start labor.
We unleash the dogs, who chase each other into the deepening twilight, and we begin our walk, back and forth along the quarter mile stretch of gravel beach. At first we talk. Mostly about "when is this baby gonna come?"—our topic of conversation and commiseration for days. But as dusk quietly, imperceptibly settles into night, we too settle into silence. The yellow lights on the hill across the water silently multiply on the glassy black lake top.
With the dogs playing out of sight and earshot, the only sound, aside from a passing car now and then, is our footfall. Step, step, step step, step, step. Sometimes the gentle crunches of gravel sound in unison. Sometimes our steps fall out of rhythm, but they never stop.
It is soothing and hypnotic like the dance and crackle of campfire flame but there is no heat tonight, only the cool, fresh night air and the footsteps of my lover. Crrmp, crrmp, crrmp, crrmp. It wouldn't matter if we walked into the frigid depths of the lake right now. There is nothing to say. Not because all has been said but because right now the silent togetherness is what needs saying.
Eventually we will break the silence and swim back up to the shallows of mundane conversation. But that is okay. The darkness and silence have had their way with me and I know that the crrmp, crrmp… continues even when our feet are still and I forget to listen.
To an onlooker we would look like nothing more than a couple walking their dogs at twilight, but this dark, silent, palpable togetherness ministers to my soul tonight and I will never forget it.
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When I imagined Shannon's water breaking I always thought it would be accompanied by contractions or some kind of drama. But that's not the way it happens at all. It has been several days since that night on the beach. I am working on the laptop upstairs and Shannon is downstairs, reading in bed.
"Briii?," her voice is just loud enough that I can hear it upstairs. It's a mixture of questioning, subdued excitement, and guarded optimism. "I think my water just broke..."
"Whhaaat?" My voice does the same thing. Is this really happening?
Wait. What do we do? Everything we learned in our 12-week birth class is temporarily inaccessible to both of our dumbfounded brains. We call the OB, who tells us that contractions will likely start soon and that we should try to get a good night's sleep and then call her in the morning.
This is really happening. Shannon tries to sleep and I finish packing our mostly pre-packed bags and put them in the car. Then I sit down with our birth class binder and cram for the biggest final exam of my life.
When we finally check in to the childbirth center in the morning the nurse lets us settle into our room and has Shannon change into a hospital gown. (Actually it is two hospital gowns, to avoid any involuntary mooning. It looks awesome. Kind of like a muumuu with a built in cape!) When she comes back, nurse Jane squirts some cold clear gel on Shannon's belly and affixes a couple of diodes. One of these mini hockey pucks gathers information about contractions and the other monitors the baby's heart rate. It sends the information to R2D2's rectangular cousin who stands next to the bed and is apparently trained in obstetrics instead of space combat.
Our robot friend, when Jane finally locates the pulse, amplifies what sounds like someone rhythmically puffing or scratching on a microphone. It's our baby's heartbeat and it will be the soundtrack to the next twenty-four hours of our lives.
It has a strange effect on me hearing that heartbeat on the outside. It is like being inside a womb ourselves, waiting for contractions to push us out into a new world.
The labor is not very intense yet and we are enjoying each other's company between contractions that are sometimes two minutes apart, sometimes twelve. The waiting is not as hard as it was that night on the beach because baby's arrival seems so close. The process has started and we have the constant reminder of her amplified heartbeat. As we wait and talk and read, that heartbeat is always pumping. I constantly return to the sound of it, trying to describe it in my mind.
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Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9
I hope you find at least a little humor in our little trick. We thought it was hilarious. :)
Our friend Aimee thought my new blog was called Brian's Brian Farts and her husband Jono confessed he was a little embarassed for me. Jodi was similarly not thrilled about having the word "farts" on her blogroll.
I am an absolute stickler for good grammar so over the past year or so I have proofread and edited every one of Shannon's posts, and while Shannon often appreciates the end results in hindsight, the process isn't usually very fun. More times than not, it ends in tears.
So, prompted by some recent posts and after a lot of discussion, we have decided to go our separate blogging ways. Rushcapades is finished. Shannon will continue posting all the Magnolia news on her new blog called Maggie's Mama's Musings and I will be free to write about nonsense and whatever else I want at Brain's Brain Farts.
Thanks for reading Rushcapades. I hope you'll continue to be our readers.
PS - I promised that I'd post part two of Magnolia's birth story, and I will. It'll just be on my new blog.