Friday, April 11, 2008

Birth Story, Part 9: Meeting and Naming

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

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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!


auntie mel said...

I know exactly what you mean about 'attaching a name' to a new baby. a weird weird feeling. do they grow into the name, or does the name grow into them?

Anonymous said...

Magnolia Grace..."It's perfect. It sounds beautiful but shortens well. It's not too common and not too weird. It looks pretty on paper and feels good to write. It's versatile. It has a suitable manifestation for whatever life pursuit little *BEEP* pursues. Etc. Etc." You chose well!

Thank you for making me such a delicious grand-daughter who just keeps getting sweeter by the minute!

I love and will miss all three of you but I'll see you as soon as I get home again!

Mom G aka:Nana

therachel said...

thanks again for trusting the virtual community of folks who reads the blog with this beautiful story. it is an honour to be given such a provocative look at the birthing process.

ps - I keep tearing up.