On the morning of September 30, 2011, I woke up before my alarm buzzed. This is not new for me as I normally have very fitful sleep the night before a big event. Before the sun was up, I heaved my lumbering pregnant self into the shower. Basking in the hot water, I shaved my legs and hummed softly, to my daughter. Emerging from the shower and wrapping my hair in a towel, I woke Hubby. "It's time to get up," I said, soft and calm. We were meeting my father and his girlfriend for “breakfast” and one last store run before the big event.
Up and around. Hubby and I got all the bags into the car and left our town as the morning came into being. I would like to tell you how I watched the sun come over the horizon as we drove, but I can’t. The morning was overcast – horizon to horizon, grey clouds hung and scattered sprinklings of rain intruded on my otherwise calm and collected demeanor.
First, to Target. I don’t even remember what I had to pick up, now, but I’m sure that (at the time) I thought these last minute items would be essential for baby and I for the following weeks. Hubby slept in the car, cranky that we were up so early.
Next, off to a breakfast cafe to kill some time. My father and his girlfriend had breakfast and Hubby continued to snooze away in the car. I had nothing to eat. As per doctor's orders, I was not allowed to have anything to eat, drink, suck on or chew for 8 hours before my upcoming surgery. It didn't bother me. The diners around me watched as I sat there, pregnant, not even sipping water.
I was upset with Hubby that morning. I remember that quite well. Here I was, getting ready to go through this huge life change and all he could do was be grumpy and sleep. I felt that I wasn’t being supported all that well and, in the middle of the diner, it dawned on me. “I get it now,” I said to my father. “It took me a minute, but I get it. Essentially, I’m all alone in this.
Sure, having a partner to help in this is going to be helpful. But, in the end, it’s just me. I'm the mama and I have to go through this door, alone.” My father looked at me quizzically while his girlfriend just smiled, dropped her shoulders and softly said, “Yes. You’re right.”
My soft calmness turned into a strong sense of determination. Today was ground zero. All the planning and all the reading and all the "to do," "to bring," and "to buy" lists were about to coalesce into this one act that no one but me could perform. As much as I wanted Ian's support, I was the one who had to birth this little girl into being. I was stalwart.
Time passed. My dad and his girlfriend tried to fill the time with conversation as best they could, but I had gone into a deeper place. I felt a kind of quiet, stoic resignation at the challenge that lay before me, but I didn’t say much. Silent in my determination, I was ready to meet my mama destiny.
Finally, it was time to head to the hospital. Out the door of the diner into the chilly grey morning. On the phone to my baby’s godparents saying that the time had come. I navigated traffic to the hospital and Ian finally woke up. I parked the car and left all the bags in the car, except my purse. I knew that Hubby and my father would bring them to me, later.
I don’t remember walking into the hospital, but I do remember the shiny silver elevator ride up to the 4th floor where the "Mother / Baby" ward was. I remember standing in silence with Huby, my father, and his girlfriend, all of us watching the yellow numbers light up.
And open doors. I stepped out of the elevator, resolutely, with my chin high and my family followed me like a parade.
At the nurse’s station, they checked my I.D., checked my appointment time and walked my little parade into the waiting prep room. Coats and purses and shoes were stashed in a waiting closet. I went into the small hospital bathroom to disrobe.
Before I put my hospital gown on, I had to remove all my piercings. Uh oh! I was in a predicament. I couldn’t get one of my intimate piercings out. I draped the hospital gown around me and opened the door. “Hubby, I need you,” I said.
The nurse was quite chipper and started to come towards me. “Do you need help getting into the gown?” she asked. “No,” I said and pointed at Hubby. “I need him.” Hubby gave me a quizzical look as he came into the bathroom and shut the door. “I need your help getting this piercing out,” I said. What a sight we must have been, but (sure enough) he removed the curved bar for me.
When Hubby left the bathroom, I heard the conversation from inside. Hubby spoke to my father. “She needed help getting one of her piercings out.” My father was confused. “Which one?” he asked. Hubby replied, “My favorite one.”
I came out of the bathroom and climbed into the waiting bed. My family and my baby’s godparents and I sat there, talking and joking. All of a sudden there were lots of medical people surrounding me. One put in an I.V., one was asking me questions about allergies, one’s sole purpose seemed to be to shine a big light in my eyes. One put some strange compression socks on me. And, just as fast as they came, they were gone.
More talking. More of my friends came to see me. Then a nurse entered the room and shooed everyone but Ian out. The time had come. Hubby sat to my left, holding my hand. I remember, finally, being very nervous. I turned to Hubby and said, “You know? Could we just maybe wait another month? I don’t think I’m ready for this yet.” Ian laughed at me. “No,” he said. “This is it.” “I know,” I replied.
Finally, the nurse came back. “Let’s get you over to surgery,” she said. She helped me out of my hospital bed, snagged my I.V. pole and I shuffled out of the room and down the hall. My body felt numb as I approached a big wooden door with the word “Surgery” written across it in red. I can’t even remember the temperature of the tile. The door to the O.R. was held open for me. I stepped over the threshold, shuffled past all the little closets and into the bright, blinding white of the Operating Room. This was it. After years (and nine months) of waiting, I was going to meet my daughter for the first time.
My body felt numb as I approached a big wooden door with the word “Surgery” written across it in red. I can’t even remember the temperature of the tile. The door to the O.R. was held open for me. I stepped over the threshold, shuffled past all the little closets that held coats and masks and into the bright, blinding white of the Operating Room. This was it. After years (and nine months) of waiting, I was going to meet my daughter for the first time.
The Operating Room was white. Blindingly so. In the middle of the room sat a long silver table, only about 16 inches wide. It gleamed in the light. As I shuffled towards it, I didn't care that my butt was hanging out of my hospital gown and anyone behind me could see the entirety of my tattoos. As I approached the table, I thought, "There is no way that my huge ass is going to be able to stay on that thing."
The nurses led me around the table, to the far side of it and told me to sit down. It was time for the spinal. I had been concerned about the needle going through my tattoos for this procedure, but there didn't seem to be any problems, at all.
The anesthesiologist introduced himself, but I can't recall his name. He swabbed my back with some topical anesthetic and set to work. "Okay," he said, sitting down on a stool behind me. "I'm going to need you to hunch down and jut your spine out for me." I tried to comply as best I could, but hunching down and thrusting your spine out when you're nine months pregnant? Not easy to do! But I always try to be a good patient, so I tried to do as he said.
My back tattoos. More work has been done since this picture,
but you get the idea.
but you get the idea.
"No, no," he said. "Push your shoulders down. Hunch. Really bend and push your spine toward me." Again, I tried to comply. I felt the needle go into my back, about halfway down. A sharp ache began in my spine and I closed my eyes and began some deep breathing. "C'mon," he said. "Really push. But you gotta relax your muscles. Really hunch that spine out." Again, I tried. More sharp ache from the needle trying to go in. "Hold on," he said.
At that point, a nurse came over. She stood in front of me and placed one hand on each of my shoulders and she began to push down as the anesthesiologist dug in with the needle, more. The thought raced through my head, "Now I know what one of those stress squeezy things feels like."
Obviously not my back, but this is what happens
More pushing. The needle dug around in my spine sending sharp pains and aches all over my back. For 20 minutes, the anesthesiologist and the nurse worked in tandem, trying to get my spine to open up enough for the needle. When it finally did go in, there was a mad rush.
"All right, quick. Swing your legs up on the table, here, and lay down." Quick? That word doesn't apply to a big ol' preggo lady. Still wanting to be a good patient, I grunted and groaned and got myself fully on the table as fast as I could. (Imagine a hippo trying to do this and you'll get a good idea of how "fast" a pregnant woman can move.)
Sure enough, I felt secure lying on the table. Apparently 16 inches wide is just enough for a procedure like this. When I was fully layed down, a bustle of movement began to happen. They put the drape up, right above my breasts so I couldn't see what was going on with the surgery. Two perpendicular supports came out from under the table. My arms were taken and my arms were strapped down at the wrists like a crucified woman. It was here that I began to get a little bit scared.
I looked to my left, toward the door, hoping to see hubby. I wanted him to come in and tell me everything was going to be okay. That I wasn't, in fact, being transported directly from here to the psych ward or some other such nonsense that a pregnancy-addled brain comes up with.
Sure enough, in walked someone in scrubs and a face mask. From the eyes, I knew instantly that it was hubby. And not only was hubby coming through the door, there was uber-awesome-bestest-ever-OB doctor. I was filled with relief.
Ex hubby's most comforting eyes
Hubby came and knelt down by my head. I was so happy he was there. From this point on, things get a little fuzzy in my memory. I don't remember anyone saying, "Ok. You're numb. Let's begin." All I really remember is hubby being next to me and my being interested in all that I could see (which wasn't much).
I do remember hearing uber-awesome-bestest-ever-OB explaining to someone how to use a certain tool. The hospital I gave birth in was a medical teaching hospital, so this didn't surprise me, at all. In fact, I remember calling the bestest-OB, "Well, I'm glad I could help you learn how to use your new toy!"
Later, I would learn that he used a particular spreader on me for the first time. He said that he was so pleased with it, that he would never do another C-Section without it.
The next thing I can remember is hearing the nurse. "It's a girl!" We'd already found out the gender, so that wasn't a surprise, but the very next sentence made me giggle. "And look at all that hair!" Sure enough, Pookie was born with a full head of blondish brown hair.
Then, panic began to set in. I couldn't hear her! She wasn't crying! She wasn't making any sound! In my head I began to plead, Breathe, baby. Breathe! Tears came to my eyes as I watched the nurses carry her over to the weighing and measuring station. Breathe baby! C'mon! Breathe!!! I my head, I prayed to every god there has ever been. Jesus, Buddha, Zeus, Inanna, Ra, White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman. I told them I would do anything they wanted. Anything! I'd even become a nun if they would just let my precious little baby breathe!
Then, I heard it. Her first cry. I can't tell you how a sound, when you hear it once, can embed itself into your permenant memory. I can't tell you how every fiber of my being, from that one sound rejoiced and latched onto the particular timber of her voice. In an instant, I was a mama and I understood every single lion who protected her cubs. I understood every bird that pretended to have a broken wing, so as to lure predators away from her nest. I comprehended the fierce and unparalleled need protect and to have this one little being be safe.
They brought her over to me. I looked at her tiny red face and I was in love. Head over heels, over the moon in love. And no other love, not even that I have for hubby, could ever match it. Then, away she went. "She needs to go the NICU," they told me. And I began to cry, again. What was wrong? What did I do? Is she okay?
Tears fell from my eyes. I looked for hubby, panicked. He had been taking the first pictures of her and he placed his hand on my forehead. "I'm going to go with her," he said. I nodded my head and he followed the medical staff out of the room.
I could do nothing. I stared at the white ceiling and tried not to sob. Tears ran from my eyes, down the sides of my head and into my ears. A nurse that I will be thankful to for the rest of my life saw me crying. "It's going to be okay," she said. "She's fine." She layed her hand on my head and she stroked my hair, but nothing would stop the tears. I was afraid that if I actually sobbed, that I would do something to mess up the doctors who were trying to stitch me up.
So, I made no sound. I squinted my eyes and I held in my sobs. At 30 years old, my world had just begun and, now, I felt like it was ending. My baby! I want my baby! is all I could think. So much time and years and not being sure if I could even have a baby. Then the miracle of find out she was on her way. All the struggle to help her grow. It couldn't be over. This couldn't be it! If she wasn't okay, I didn't know how I could live past that moment.
Again, I prayed to any god that would hear me. Anything! Anything you want! Just make her be okay!
The next thing I remember, I was in my recovery room. Family and friends surrounded me. They gave me some information about what had happened. Sweaty and shaky, I had only one thought on my brain. One driving need. Get. To. My. Baby.
As my family talked to me and made sure I was okay, I was focused on moving my feet. I was Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, hyper focused on one task.
When I was able to move my legs, I pressed the call button. A nurse came in and I said, "I'd like to see my baby, now." The nurses moved me into a wheelchair. Still sweaty and pale from the anesthetic, I made the monumental move from bed to chair. Now, it was off to the NICU. My baby awaited me. . .
Episode 3 - Perfect and Failing
The Precious Pookie, 10 seconds oldWhen I was able to move my legs, I pressed the call button. A nurse came in and I said, "I'd like to see my baby, now." The nurses moved me into a wheelchair. Still sweaty and pale from the anesthetic, I made the monumental move from bed to chair. Now, it was off to the NICU. My baby awaited me. . .
Throwing up from the anesthesia of my medically necessary C-Section, I kept insisting. "No, no. I'm fine. I'm fine *hoy* Take me to her. *blaaaargh*" as I threw up in the pink square plastic tub they'd given me. The voice in my head, my mama instincts had no concern for myself. There was only one directive in my head. "GET. TO. THE. BABY!"
As they wheeled me down the hall, I heard other babies crying. As we got closer to the NICU, one sound stuck out from all the rest. That cry! I knew that cry! That one cry above all others, I heard her!
Of all the babies on the floor that night that might have been fussing, it was her. From hearing her voice, just once, I could pick her out of a chorus of crying infants. Somewhat more high pitched, I knew the voice of my daughter and I felt it resonate deep in my bone marrow. That cry called out to me and echoed through my spirit, back to the dawn of time and our coming into being amid starstuff. I knew that cry by instinct and I couldn't get to her fast enough.
"That's her! That's her! I hear her!" I told my friends who walked beside me, overcome with excitement.
The nurse wheeled me into the perpetual twilight and quiet of the NICU. In there, it is still. Time stops. There is no outside world that exists. There is just mama, family that's with you and this tiny little miracle that has just come through you into this plane of being.
The nurse wheeled me past other infants and to the platform where my Precious Pookie lay. Tubes came and went from her. A heart monitor blipped and she lay there, slightly inclined on her back, her hair curly with dried gook. I didn't pay any of that notice, at the time. She was the most perfect thing I'd ever seen in my life.
When the nurses gently placed this precious thing into my arms for the first time, she looked up at me, her beautiful cerulean eyes looked right into my soul and they spoke to me in silence. "Oh, mama. There you are!" She let out a sigh and started to cuddle down onto me. I removed my hospital gown from my upper half and held her against the soft skin and strong bone of my chest.
I could feel her cheek against me and I knew she was listening to my heartbeat, the booming, never-ceasing rhythm that now beat just for her. I tucked her head up under my chin and I just bathed in the glowing, timeless mama-baby light that we created, together. I now understood what the hospital meant when they said, "Supporting the baby-mama dyad."
Holding Pookie for the first time
How perfectly happy I was in that moment. How absolutely blissed out I was. How could I, a messed up girl with faults and imperfections, have created such a perfect little being? Straight from Spirit and into my arms, I felt like I'd never known peace or joy until that moment.
All the years I'd run around the country, written and made art. All the friendships and relationships and burned bridges that come along with the process of living? None of them mattered, anymore. For some reason, Spirit found me worthy enough, with all my faults, to gift me with this little girl with her perfect fingers and adorable toes. With whisps of brownish-blonde hair and a smile that charmed everyone she met, she was the closest thing to heaven I could think of. . .
And, in that moment, I knew real fear. Fear of falling, fear of flying, fear of being alone, fear of being unlovable? All these fears and doubts were trivial, now. Now came real fear, gripping fear, the fear of taking this infallible little being that had been entrusted to my care . . . and fucking her up.
And I knew that it was only a matter of time. I knew me. I knew that the day would come when I would say the wrong thing or make the wrong choice or something would happen that was beyond my control and her world would no longer be perfect. Because I know that I am human and I mess up. And I know that the world isn't always softness and doesn't always treat us kindly, no matter our circumstances.
It turned out that Pookie had an air bubble between her lung and her chest wall that made it difficult for her to breathe. They couldn't tell me why it happened. She was only in the NICU 24 hours and the bubble went away on its' own. During the overnight, she tore her oxygen tube off her own face. The next time I held her, she pulled out her feeding tube and set straight to nursing.
My little one was born with a strong will. To this day, that continues. She knows what she wants and is very definite about it. She has no problem voicing her desires and is very clear about them.
Two months later, still blissed out
This week, I read some articles and it got me thinking about failing as a mama. Did I fail my baby in some way? If I'd done something different, would she not have been in the NICU? It turned out perfectly fine, in the end, but that first day was one of the scariest I've ever spent.
Amy from Pregnant Chicken Blog wrote this:
You are in the trenches when you have a baby. To the untrained eye it seems pretty straightforward and easy – you feed them, you bathe them, you pick them up when they cry – but it’s more than that. It’s perpetual motion with a generous layer of guilt and self-doubt spread on top, and that takes its toll.
Feeling like you also need to keep on top of scrapbooking, weight loss, up-cycled onesies, handprints, crock pot meals, car seat recalls, sleeping patterns, poo consistency, pro-biotic supplements, swimming lessons, electromagnetic fields in your home and television exposure, is like trying to knit on a rollercoaster – it’s f*cking hard.
Leonie Dawson also wrote this:
"I had tomes of bibles. All the ways I should be parenting. All the hard, hard lessons I needed to know. There is no test greater than this.
How does one ever prepare for the momentous task of becoming a mother? The answer? One cannot. You only go there. And then you sink and swim, sink and swim. But oh, those tomes. Those bibles. I thought it would be easy. Easy if I did it this way.
I read all the books while I was pregnant. Before I was pregnant too. I wrapped myself in a haze of:
if I only do this perfectly and differently from how I was raised,
then my baby will be perfect
and she will never suffer
and will never ever go through any pain or discomfort
and all will be right in her world."
This week, I saw these posts and it caused me to want to write about this. My dearies, I'm a mama and a stepmama, so I'm right there "in the trenches" with you.
When I brought this sweet, this perfect, this most beautiful being into this world, I told my father that it wasn't fair, but that I finally understod. It wasn't fair because, now, my heart was out in the world, outside of my body and I had very little control of all the things that could happen to her.
I read all the books. I took all the classes. I had done everything my OB said and, now, here was my little Precious Pookie, fresh into the world, taken away from me and given a feeding and an oxygen tube. What happened ?!?
I was tormented and plagued by my own perceived failings.
Oh, my mamas out there. Leonie Dawson spoke in the post I referenced earlier of how she judged other mamas. I will never lie to you, my dear readers. I judged. And I judged hard. Before that moment of actually being with my Perfect, Precious Pookie, I had it all figured out.
I sneered at women who didn't breastfeed or didn't breastfeed as long as I thought they should have. I growled at women who told me that I should encapsulate and eat my placenta. I downright yelled at television documentaries who's message to me was that my medically necessary C-Section was going to scar both me and my baby for eternity. And that an "orgasmic" or "water birth" was the only right way.
Before that moment with my daughter, I was the perfect parent, as all people are before they actually have children. At the moment of first meeting my daughter, I knew for certain that I was the most incompetent parent in the world. And she was less than 15 minutes old.
Pookie's birth annoucement photo - 1 day old
The face of the little being that changed my life
The face of the little being that changed my life
Today, Pookie is almost 16 months old and what a long trip it's been for the both of us. Yet it seems to have flown by. Then, she was unable to stay awake for more than 1/2 hour at a time. Now, she's toddling around the kitchen, playing drums on the clothes washer and she is able to communicate her wants. From a "ba-ttle" of milk to "bites" to "Doodle," he favorite teddy bear.
Doodle used to be my bear. I bought him when I was 21, at the F.A.O. Schwartz in Chicago, the Christmas before the store closed. At that time, I named him FAOS (pronounced "Faus" as in "Faust" without the 't'). But Pookie claimed him as not only her own, but as her favorite. And she dubbed him "Doodle." At 31, now, nothing could make me happier than to give her something, anything that brings her so much joy. There is nothing of myself that I wouldn't give her, just to see her merry little soul light up with joy.
Through this time, of Pookie's first 16 months, I've learned a major lesson. As mamas, we all do the best that we can with what we know and what we have, at the time. We are human, so we will mess up, but our love for our babes is so deep, so strong, so powerful, so ingrained in us, that there is hardly any way (at all) that we can, in fact, fail as mothers. If we are truly in love with our babes and let that love be our guide, our heart will set us on the right path.
In these 16 months, I've let go of the mama I thought I should be. I didn't make Pookie's baby food from scratch. We use disposable diapers. I breastfed her until I needed to be on medications for my Lupus that turned my milk toxic. I kept my nipple rings, but took out my 10 gauge tongue bar 'cause it was chipping my teeth. Pookie has no set schedule. When she's tired, she goes down for sleep and I let her sleep as long as she wants. Her favorite food is bananas, so she gets one every single day. She's terrified of the noise shopping carts make, so she stays at home with her Papa when I need to go to the store and I don't wipe her down with hand sanitizer whenever she touches something that may have one germ on it.
My father, Pookie, and Doodle Bear
Christmas morning, 2012
Christmas morning, 2012
My point is that, now, I'm allowing myself to be the mama that I am and the one that Pookie needs me to be. I am not the mama that I or anyone else thinks I should be. The parenthood mental scorecards? They're gone. Now, I've beaten myself up less and just do the best I can for her, day by day.
I also judge other mamas way less, now, because I don't know their story or their situation. One day, I hope all women and mamas can see that we each, no matter what philosophies of parenting or ideologies or politics divide us, are trying to do the best we can for our babes.
Every birth story is empowering to us, even if it doesn't fit in with what others say we "should" be doing. Every voice of every mama deserves to be heard. We should not be ashamed of any of it. It's a trial by fire, no matter how it happens. And every child deserves a mama that may not be perfect, but is the perfect mama for them.
Until next time, my lovelies, please remember that we are all visionaries. We just have to figure out where we excel!
Love to All,
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