another birth story (six weeks early)

I’m not going to say it wasn’t hard. It was shorter than last time, if you just count from the induction start at 11:00pm on September 27 to the moment the baby came out of my body at 1:40pm on September 28. But let me back up.

One week and one day before the actual delivery, on a Thursday, September 20, I went into the hospital.

I went into my midwives’ office for my regular 33 week appointment. Right away, the nurse could tell something was wrong. I had swelled up with 17 lbs of fluid in the past two weeks since my last appointment. My blood pressure was high. There was a lot of protein in my urine. She sent me over to the labor and delivery floor in the hospital, where one of the midwives, Amy, was already checking on another mom. I called my husband, Greg, from the elevator, starting to cry because I knew something scary was happening even though I didn’t know what.

On the labor and delivery floor I was put in Exam Room 2, and given a gown to change into, and they started running some tests. Greg arrived and my blood pressure finally went down. Amy came in and told me I didn’t quite have preeclampsia yet, but I was “brewing.” They’d need to keep a close eye on me, and I had “risked out of” midwife care, so I had to be switched over to the OB office. They gave me steroid shots to help the baby’s lungs develop quicker. I’d heard of preeclampsia, knew it was a scary thing, had seen women die of it on Grey’s Anatomy. Midwife Amy spoke calmly, but also told me all the information. They hoped I would get to 37 weeks, because the baby would be considered “term” by that point, but it was very possible I would need to give birth sooner for my own safety. If I needed to deliver before 37 weeks I’d be sent to Albany Med, a larger hospital more equipped to handle preeclampsia and a NICU where my preemie would be taken care of.

The following week I came into the hospital almost every day to be checked: blood pressure, weight (went up at least a couple pounds every day in fluid retention), pulse ox, urine, blood work to check my liver and kidney functions, ultrasounds to see how the baby was doing. My new OB told me I officially had  preeclampsia, but she thought I could get to 37 weeks, getting checked a couple times a week. I burst into tears at this. I was feeling so horrible, so uncomfortable, and really like I could barely make it another day.

My sister arrived on Wednesday evening, September 26. I had called her on Sunday and asked her to come. I just knew I needed her, and she booked a ticket right away. I kept telling myself I just needed to wait until Phoebe arrived. Also, each day when I left the house, I looked at my little Mexican sunflower plant, with a bloom getting closer and closer to opening, and said to myself, when the sunflower bloom opens, that is the day I will have the baby. 

On Thursday September 27 around 11am, I was resting at home by myself. Our 2.5 year old, Giles, was with Greg’s parents, Greg was at work, Phoebe and my dad were at my dad’s house, about to be on their way over to hang out with me. I started seeing spots in front of my eyes. This was a symptom I’d been told to watch out for, so I called my doctor and she said to come in. Greg came home and we went to the hospital, Phoebe and my dad met us there. When we walked out our front door to get in the car I looked at the sunflower and the bloom had opened. I knew this was it. We hung out at the hospital for several hours while my blood pressure was repeatedly checked, along with all the other things they were checking. My OB called the high risk doctors at Albany Med who said I should be sent there right away.

I rode in the ambulance along with a nurse, while Greg, Phoebe, and my dad had to drive separately. It was my first ambulance ride. I felt uncomfortable and scared, but the Ambulance drivers and nurse were really nice. We arrived at 7:00pm, just as the nurses were changing shifts. The nurse who had just come on duty was Rosa, and she would be with me for the next twelve hours. She took my vitals– my blood pressure readings were all very high. Dr. Aziz, the resident on duty, came in to examine me. I was nervous about it hurting, and she said, “Don’t worry. I have small hands and a gentle touch.” She was right, and she was awesome. She told us that they were going to start the induction right away, that my BP was just too high.

The first step of induction was inserting a Foley balloon into my cervix to start contractions and the cervix opening. It was very uncomfortable and I cried a lot. Phoebe and Greg were on each side of me, holding my hands. My dad waited outside the room. Dr. Aziz had to start over three times, which she felt really badly about. My cervix was tilted away from her and she had trouble seeing, plus I was clenching, even though I tried hard not to. During the third try Greg read out loud to me from Outlander book 8 which helped settle me enough to relax a bit and finally the balloon was in. This was around 11:00pm.

They said it could take around twelve hours for the balloon to do its work, so after talking for a little while, Phoebe and Pops left to go home and would come back the next day. It was around midnight now, and Greg and I settled in for the long night, he on a couch next to my hospital bed. Rosa checked me regularly, and I was hooked up to magnesium sulfate through an IV. We watched TV, some show I don’t remember and then Maid in Manhattan starring Jennifer Lopez. I started having contractions, the early ones that feel familiar to my first birth experience. Several minutes apart, and not too terrible pain-wise. I breathed through each one and felt like I could really do this thing. I hadn’t eaten since 3pm Thursday, and was very hungry, but could only have clear liquids at this point. Luckily Rosa mentioned that Jello was considered a clear liquid and brought me some. “We only have cherry,” she said, and I devoured two cups. That Jello saved me. My weakness from not eating for several hours, and not sleeping for several weeks was adding up and my body was depleted. The calories from that Jello, and even the simple act of eating something, revived my spirit. That Jello was the best thing I had ever eaten.

During this time the anesthesia guy came in to talk to us, and I told him about my previous epidural experience– how it only lasted a few hours and then I was told I couldn’t have any more. Also a NICU pediatrician came to talk to us about what would happen with the baby, and we signed some papers. Rosa was checking me regularly, tugging on the balloon, and a resident checked my dilation. Another doctor came in to do an ultrasound to check on the baby, and she told us that I had lots of fluid in my uterus (not a big surprise considering how much fluid I had everywhere in my body). Not a dangerous amount, but the high side of normal.

Around 4:00am the balloon came out. The resident on duty checked my cervix and I was 5cm dilated. This seemed to happen more quickly than anyone expected. Greg texted Pops and Phoebe to come back, because we figured things would start to move even faster at this point. Rosa started Pitocin in my IV, just a little at first. Anesthesia guy Chris came back to administer the epidural. I was sitting on the bed, Chris behind me, Greg and Rosa in front of me. I had to hold very still in a weird crouched over position. Because of all the fluid, Chris had a hard time finding the right spot for the epidural catheter and it took a really long time, maybe 45 minutes. Greg held my hand, Rosa talked to me, trying to distract me. At one point Rosa and Greg were laughing, and looking at the TV behind me. “I think it’s an infomercial for a dildo,” Greg said. “Well, she looks happy,” Rosa said. The infomercial went on the whole time Chris was administering the epidural. I was still having contractions every few minutes, and they were still manageable, but I called out loudly each time one happened so Chris would stop sticking me with the needle while I breathed through it. Finally the epidural was in and I started to feel that blissful numbness.

Pitocin kept increasing, and I had contractions but didn’t feel them. It was great. I love pain medication. Pops and Phoebe came back. Phoebe read to me from magazines, and told stories. The three of them talked and I just closed my eyes and listened. At 7:00am Rosa’s shift ended and our new nurse, Jen, came in. I was nervous– Rosa had been with us this whole time and she was so amazing. I didn’t want her to leave. But right away I saw that Jen was also amazing. She was concerned about the fluid in my lungs which made me short of breath, so she kept checking that. When the attending OB came in to check my cervix, it was very uncomfortable. He had large hands and the exam was rough and fast. As soon as he left the room my eyes teared up and I told Jen I didn’t want him to examine me again. She looked at me and asked if I had any trauma that I wanted her to know about. “No, his hands are just too big,” I said. Jen smiled and said quietly that everyone commented about that with him. She said she’d find me a woman for the next exam.

As the Pitocin increased I began to feel my contractions again. I maxed out my epidural button and was still in pain, getting worse. Around 10:30am it was pretty bad and I started crying. Jen called in anesthesia, and it was a different guy– Phoebe called him and his team of med students the “Pain Posse.” He redid my epidural, which he said was in the wrong place. He asked me questions about the pain, actually listening to me. (This was the opposite of my experience with Giles’ birth at a different hospital). The epidural replacement worked a little bit, but only for a short time, and the contractions were coming harder and faster now, with lots of pain in my back. Jen positioned me on my side with a “peanut ball” between my legs to help the baby descend faster. They were waiting for the head to be lower so they could break my water.

The pain was getting worse and worse, with so little time between contractions. I felt so incredibly weak, like I couldn’t keep this up much longer. I started to lose it a little but, crying and begging for help. Jen was so responsive. Every time she asked, “Are you in pain, or are you scared?” And when I said both, she asked, “What are you scared of? Where is the pain?” She reassured me that everything was okay, I was safe, she was monitoring me very closely. She barely ever left the room. The Pain Posse came back, and tried different drugs to help with the pain. They took the edge off for short periods of time, but the pain would always get worse again. I kept my eyes closed, so inside myself. I felt I would die from the pain, and said so. Jen assured me that I would not. I wanted a c-section. I wanted the baby out as quickly as possible, I didn’t care how they did it. I didn’t think I could do it, I had nothing left in me. Everyone (there were more people in the room at this point) said I could do it, that I was doing it. Greg and Phoebe were right by my side, I held at least one of their hands at all times. I had banished Pops to the waiting room as soon as the contractions started getting really bad. My eyes remained closed, my face too swollen to open them, and when I did open them everything was blurry. My butt started to hurt– there was an urge to push that was so strong, something I never felt in my labor with Giles. Somehow I thought that I wasn’t allowed to push yet, that if they hadn’t broken my water yet I still had a long way to go. I was on my side, holding my butt with one hand. “I’m holding it in!” I said at one point. I felt like a wild animal, thrashing and sweating and crying loudly. I went deep inside myself, to a really dark place where I didn’t care about anything or anyone except making the pain stop. I called for help. Dr. Phillips (the OB resident who had come in to do the delivery) said, “We are all here to help you, Anna, but you are driving this car.” Finally I yelled that I needed to push. They started adjusting the table for delivery, and hands moved my legs for me, trying to get me on my back. The baby must have been low enough by now, because Dr. Phillips said, “I’m breaking your water.” I felt and heard the huge splash. Someone said, “Woah!” (I think it was Phoebe?) Then I just started pushing because I absolutely had to. No one told me not to. Phoebe counted while I pushed. I heard someone say, “You’ll be done in two minutes.” I knew this was a smaller baby, so much smaller than last time, and that thought pushed me forward. I pushed, feeling the head come out, and then another push and there was the body. It only took a few minutes.

As soon as the baby was out I relaxed back and immediately felt relief. My eyes were still closed. I heard someone in the distance say, “It’s a boy!” I was so surprised. They took him to a side room to work on him. Dr. Phillips stitched me up quickly, there was not much tearing. Then they started to work on getting my placenta out. I thought to ask, “Is he okay?” (meaning the baby). A nurse asked for me phone, Phoebe gave it to her, and she took a couple pictures of him. “His name is Felix,” I said, looking at Greg. It was a name we had decided on the day before, in case the baby was a boy (though we were convinced it was a girl). They wheeled him by my bed on their way to the NICU, pausing for a moment so I could see him. I couldn’t really see much, but I called out, “I love you!” Or at least I did in my mind.

My placenta had torn and wasn’t coming out. Jen offered me morphine and I said “Yes.” Dr. Phillips was elbow deep in my uterus, getting every last bit of placenta. It took awhile and was uncomfortable to say the least, but the morphine had me in a cloud, and I knew that my part in this was over.

Everyone was telling me how great I had done, but I felt like a weak failure, a shell of a woman, someone who could not handle giving birth in the strong way that other women could. I said I wanted a pizza. Jen said I could eat, but to take it slow. She cleaned me up. All the other people left the room. Pops came back. I ate some popcorn and drank some juice and promptly threw it all up.

Once I could be moved into a wheel chair we were transferred into a recovery room. Jen called down to the NICU to check on Felix. Greg, Phoebe, and Pops went down to see him. I wasn’t allowed to because of my blood pressure being so high. I was still hooked up to the magnesium sulfate and would be for 24 hours longer. The next morning was the first time I got to see and hold Felix. I was wheeled down by a nurse, Greg was with me too. When they finally placed him in my arms and I saw his face, eyes dark and bright, hair blonde and soft, skin a ruddy color. His mouth looked like mine. It’s you, I thought. It was you this whole time. He looked so, so tiny. 4 lbs 1 oz. My eyes filled with tears.

 

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this is me, right after giving birth, eating popcorn (right before throwing it all up)

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holding Felix for the first time

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Felix Wolf Moriarty-Lev-Howard, on his first day of life, in the NICU

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dear pepper/another birthday

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I call this new baby “Pepper” while she/he is in my belly because on the day I told my sister I was pregnant she harvested the first anaheim chile peppers from her garden. It was March, which is autumn in the southern hemisphere, where she lives.

We don’t know if Pepper is a boy or a girl. I like the not knowing. I refer to “her” as a “girl” because it’s simpler than he/she all the time, or “it.” And maybe there is a little intuition there, I honestly don’t know. I don’t know what is right, just that maybe the gender of an unborn baby doesn’t matter to the baby. Maybe they are just a human: existing and growing limbs and learning to use lungs and blink their eyes and feel the differences in light.

Lately I do not sleep. This happened last time, in my pregnancy with Giles. Third trimester insomnia. Mostly it is because I am uncomfortable. So I am tired all the time. I’m existing in a state of being barely here.

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would be 60.

I hate counting the years, because they just keep going and I’ll end up counting for a really long time.

 

 

 

lovers forever

For part of my three year wedding anniversary gift to Greg, I learned and recorded this song, Leather and Lace by Stevie Nicks:

This song makes me think of our relationship, of how I knew as soon as Greg walked into my life that he was in it for good. Having my own life, but needing him to love me and stay with me. City or mountains. Lovers forever. ALSO leather is the traditional three year anniversary gift.

Three years of marriage feels like ten. Mostly because we became parents so quickly, and have lived through intense emotional times, and because I cannot even picture Greg without a beard anymore.

How do you know when a person is right for you? How do you know when to stay instead of leave? I don’t really know. This is what it is for me: when Greg and I got together it was a messy time for me, but he didn’t seem to mind at all. He said, “I’d rather have messy with you than neat with anyone else,” and that stuck somewhere in my mind or heart. He took me as I was, and continues to take me and choose me as I am each day. I feel comfortable saying “no” to him. He has always treated my art as important, as Valued Work. He loves big and true, and real. He is kind. While my mom was dying he was there for me so fully, even though we’d only been dating a few months. And at her shiva he set up the food, kept my sister, dad, and I with mugs full of scotch, kicked everyone out at seven on the dot, and helped clean up. He can pick out a dress at a thrift store and surprise me with it and it’s just right. He sat next to me while I pushed out my first postpartum shit, holding my hand as I cried, which somehow felt more intimate than even holding my hand as I gave birth to our son.

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photo by Steven Trubitt

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photo by Steven Trubitt

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photo by Steven Trubitt

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photo by LeahB Photography

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photo by LeahB Photography

a day in the life

This is an old diary comic from February. Every hour from 6am to 7pm.

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A glimpse into a day in the life of a stay-at-home mom. Even though it’s months later, our routine is fairly similar. Galactus even still gets stuck in trees. I’m just more pregnant while doing all of these things. I wonder how it’s all going to change once the new baby comes?

 

i love you, monster

This morning at breakfast Giles put his hands on my face and said, “I love you, monster.”

Later in the morning a dear friend sent me a link to this article, “Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid” by Rufi Thorpe. 

After a grueling time getting my 2-year-old son down for a nap on a 93 degree, oppressively humid day, I sat down to read the article. My brain popped and sizzled with recognition at every sentence. This is exactly what I was crying about in therapy today. What I have been crying about every night for a week.

(Read the article for yourself, and then come back to this. Or read this first and then read the article. Either way, you should definitely read it, because it’s damn good.)

I’m afraid that I am failing at the life I’ve been building since I was eighteen-years-old. As I entered adulthood, college, the world on my own, I made a decision: I will be an artist who also has a family, a life, kids, love, happiness, and I will not be an asshole.”

An ex-boyfriend once told me about how Albert Einstein’s wife took care of all the daily responsibilities of life so that he could concentrate on being a genius. This was a not-so-subtle hint, I think, at what kind of wife this ex-boyfriend wanted. He also told me about a professor he admired who worked twelve hours a day in his studio with one landline phone that only his wife had the number to, and she was only allowed to use it in case of emergency so that the professor would not be disturbed in his work. This gem of a boyfriend left trash on my kitchen floor and excused himself by saying , “I don’t notice things like that.” He once didn’t call me for three weeks and told me I couldn’t be angry with him because he just wasn’t aware of the need to call me. He was too wrapped up in his art.

I know in my heart of hearts that Einstein would have been a truer and better genius if he had done his own fucking laundry.

The “mundane” things, the daily tasks and responsibilities of life are not boring. They are the beauty, the deepest beauty in the world, and we should be making art about them! Shitty fathers and husbands who also happened to write great novels did not write great novels BECAUSE they were shitty fathers and husbands. I think they would have been even better writers if they had been better fathers and husbands.

I have this memory of something I read that Bruce Springsteen said. I can’t find it, and I’m sorry, and I wish I could quote it directly, but I’ve carried it with me in my mind for a long time. He said he used to think that the moment he had an inspiration for a song, he had to go and write it immediately– disregarding his family in order to do so. But later he learned that the opposite was true: he would notice the inspiration, then let it go, opting to be where he was with his family and not ignore them. Later, when he had time, he’d search for the inspiration and find that by letting it go for a while, it always came back to him better.

And so, I believe that I am (or will be) a better artist because I am a wife and mother. Or, I did believe that until my kid refused to nap for a whole week and did I mention I’m almost 20 weeks pregnant while caring for a 2-year-old boy? It’s really fucking hard.

I’m afraid that my “self” is slipping away. And not slowly either– but off a cliff into the void. It’s not, though. I’m trying to trust that. I am still here. I exist as a mother/artist/person simultaneously. I exist in a deeper way than before. Somehow, by putting my kids first, I am a better artist. Right?

Thorpe writes about all of these ideas with a lot more clarity and elegance than I am doing here, but I’m trying to write some kind of response that echoes what she is saying while adding my own personal thoughts. I want to echo back that we are not alone. You are not alone. You, mother of however many children and trying to be a person, are not alone. This is REALLY FUCKING HARD and we are IN IT. We have to keep climbing this mountain. Because what we are doing matters. The mothering yes, and also the art, whatever your art is.

On Friday, in a text exchange with my sister, I asked her if I am crazy to have another baby. She responded:

“Yes. But full of love.”

 

 

5 years

Wednesday April 18 marked the 5 year anniversary of my mom’s death.

I don’t know what to do with that.

Five years for anything feels like an important marker: relationships, jobs, the “cancer free” mark that means you’ll probably be okay.

Being pregnant again, another pregnancy without my mom, is carrying me further into the future. I want to ask her just as many questions as I did last time, different questions. How did she feel being pregnant while taking care of a toddler (me)? What was I like then, and how did I respond to news of the baby? When did they tell people? Did they tell anyone the name they were thinking of? How did they prepare their lives to add another child? How did she deal with the intense exhaustion that is being pregnant while caring for a toddler? Was she scared? What foods made her sick? (My dad tells me salad dressing was one, and that she just used lemon juice while pregnant.)

Other people talk about her less. Or, they only talk about her if I bring her up first.

How is it half a decade that she’s been gone? I am two babies deep in a life she will never see or be part of in an earthly way. In the back of my mind somewhere the possibility of her spending time with Giles exists, and it pops up, surprising me. A thought appears, an image of the two of them together: talking, walking, cooking, laughing. I feel a sharp twinge because this will not happen. The pain feels almost new.

I will give birth again, without her. I will touch that line between death and life, feeling for her.

There is still no map. Still no footprints to guide me, and yet I keep going.

Choose joy over fear. Live it, do it, on purpose. 

 

 

remember me

movies

This past November we took Giles to see Coco at the movie theater. He was eighteen-months-old at the time. This past Saturday Giles went to see it again, at a special screening with his Nana and Granddad. He came home talking all about it, now twenty-two-months-old. He said what sounded like, “mama me,” a bunch of times and at first I didn’t know what it meant. But then I realized he was talking about the song from the movie, “Remember Me.”

This song makes me think of my mom. Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be. 

I learned it on ukulele so I could play and sing it for Giles, and for myself. And for my mom.

Next November we have another baby due. Four wheels on the car. I’ll take her/him to the movies too.