Part One: Birth Day, cont’d (ii of ii) — Some Minutes Later
July 8, 2013 Comments Off on Part One: Birth Day, cont’d (ii of ii) — Some Minutes Later
I can remember the day Missus and I had the conversation about foregoing the amniocentesis. It was the day before the appointment and we had something going the next day. I don’t remember what. It wasn’t a big deal, the conversation. In fact, once I had Missus recount for me exactly what the purpose of the test was, and how obtrusive it is, I was even quicker to blow it off (this happens to be my position on a lot of things). In my mind it was simple: If you know you’re not going to terminate the pregnancy then why find out? Missus reminded me that people still like to know — to prepare and educate themselves for the road ahead. But she also brought in a different perspective; the one that, in the end, solidified our decision to skip it.
Our good friends have a daughter who was born without her corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is the band of nerves in the brain that separates the two hemispheres and aids the transfer of, among other things, motor, sensory and cognitive information between the left side and right sides. Kiddos born without the corpus callosum have significant cognitive and social deficits and, while there are far worse impairments, this is a difficult path. Now, Mia is a beautiful, delightful child, four years old, with amazing parents — both of them — and a big brother and the four of them seemingly skip along this “difficult path” like it were the yellow brick road. For our conversation, though, Missus was thinking of the pregnancy, and how they’d learned early on that there were signs of trouble. The sonogram flagged multiple qualifiers that pointed to a wide variety of possible diagnoses, Down syndrome among them. And while they didn’t learn until birth about the corpus callosum, and what it would mean for Mia and to their lives, the entire pregnancy was fraught with tears and with fear of the many possible complications associated with the many possible conditions that Mia might or might not have been born with.
Whether or not our decision was the right one is an open question and one that is couple specific, subject to countless emotive variables. But we decided to take the other avenue. To remain blissfully unaware of anything that wasn’t discovered via routine examination and sonogram. In exchange for a happy pregnancy, ignorant of the unknowns, this is where you roll the dice on having the wind knocked out of you on the day of your child’s birth, which is supposed to be the apex of some euphoric journey. We were aware of risks – age-wise we were in that demographic, after all, though barely. And, like most folks with otherwise uncomplicated pregnancies, healthy kids and healthy lifestyles, I’m sure we fit ourselves squarely into the “that won’t be us” camp. But while the gamble played out how it did, I can honestly say that the pregnancy was wonderful. There are few things as kind on a man’s eyes as seeing the woman he loves beaming and swollen with his child, and for the entire six-month period we couldn’t get enough of each other. We got to go through the whole experience for what felt like the first time as true grown-ups and not burdened by absurd immaturity or college loans and we even seized the opportunity to do an addition on our house. For our growing family. Missus had the giddy pleasure of essentially designing and decorating her own dream space out of a three hundred square foot unfinished closet adjacent to our bedroom. We raised the vaulted ceiling and added natural light-giving windows and accent lighting and an in-wall ironing board. The Momcave has a custom-built storage bench that spans nearly the length of the room and another large closet for more storage. There is a light in there too, and a smaller door at the other end for easily accessing those hard-to-get-to storage bins shoved to the back. Half the area is good and proper craft space and sewing room. The other half is the nursery, done with antique white crib and furniture, oversized bookcases, (one stocked with Little Golden Books and other family favorites; the other with spools of ribbon and thread, jars filled with buttons, bottles of glue and paint). There doesn’t seem to be an inch of space not put to prudent use and both areas — sewing room and nursery, deemed separate although there is no wall — fit together better than seamlessly. The space quickly became another family room and is now part and parcel of the place we love to call our home.
In the hours after Lucy’s diagnosis Missus had bouts of discomfort in the belly region, which the nurses would come and treat either with more pain medicine or sometimes massaging. These spells were dismissed early on as the understandable after effects of a natural childbirth, but as they persisted more and more pain meds were given. Eventually the fits passed. Now it was getting on toward eight or nine o’clock and it had been a good long while since Missus had had any pain. She said she was feeling better. Sleepy. The neonatologist had allowed Lucy to remain in our room receiving blow-by oxygen – there was still the hope that her oxygenation would pick up on its own — and while Missus couldn’t hold Lucy she was able to turn her head and gaze at her as she drifted in and out of sleep.
The scare presumably over, the long, dizzying day seemed to be leveling off into something that felt more normal. More like what I remembered. Family began saying goodbyes and there was talk of whom the girls would ride home with and when everyone would be back to check on us the next day. When a nurse brought the dinner tray to Missus’ bedside my own stomach awoke from a daylong nap. Earlier my father had offered to buy me dinner back at their hotel if I was up for it and I had demurred, muttering something about grabbing some cafeteria food a little later. Now all of the sudden a steak didn’t sound bad. At all. The hotel was less than a mile away. And there was cause to celebrate, after all, wasn’t there? I had seen my third daughter born that day, and she was pink and beautiful.
I asked Missus if she would mind if I snuck away for a quick bite with my dad, and then snuck right back. An hour tops. I said I absolutely would not go if she wanted me there with her. She didn’t hesitate to insist that I go and have dinner with my family. Michelle, her best friend, had just settled in to keep her company and between the meds and physical exhaustion she was quite ready to nap. She said she was feeling better now. Feeling much better. I kissed her and asked if she wanted or needed anything (of course she didn’t) and I walked out of the hospital with my sister and my daughters. I kissed and hugged them all goodnight and distinctly remember turning and walking through the long parking lot and toward my car, alone for the first time that day, and feeling very much like a changed man.
An hour and a half later I was back in the parking lot, walking the same exact trek between my car and the sliding doors as I looked down to read a text from Michelle: “Are you close? She is bleeding again.” Classic. Husband Of The Year goes off to a steak dinner thinking all’s swell, even lingers for the extra glass of good scotch, and meanwhile his wife is bleeding out on a hospital bed. Perfect. The Coronation is surely imminent. Gentleman, keep your seats.
I was about twenty seconds from the door of our delivery room as I read the message and I soon walked into what I can only remember as a bad dream. Nurses were huddled around Missus’ bed and she, they, everyone in the room had the wrong kind of look on their faces. It looked as if Missus’ color had turned and then turned again. Other nurses were still standing over Lucy, concerned that she was still only oxygenating in the low-eighties. They were going to consult with the neonatologist. No-Nonsense was being paged back. For the rest of the night I would pace back and forth the spinning room between Missus and Lucy, offering Missus my lamest “It’ll be okay/I love you” look whenever I could get an audience with her, and dialoguing with doctors and nurses in both camps as to what was happening, and what would happen next.
When she arrived, No-Nonsense went to work scooping clots of blood out of Missus’ uterus. Think of the quivering mass of cranberry dressing on the plate after it’s been coaxed out of its can and you have an idea of the largest of these. When I finally got a face-to-face with No-Nonsense she informed me that Missus’ uterus was hemorrhaging – likely, it had been all afternoon, explaining her fits of pain — and that she would need emergency surgery if other measures didn’t work to stop the bleeding. Some minutes later I was face to face with the neonatologist again and being informed that because Lucy’s oxygenation was not improving, she might need to be transferred to a hospital in Austin, possibly by helicopter. I remember clearly beginning a conversation with myself about where I would be if Missus were in surgery while my baby was on a helicopter headed to Austin and that a resolution wasn’t reached. Some minutes after that Lucy was admitted to the NICU. Minutes later I started waking up family members to let them know what was happening at the hospital. A few minutes after that I pocket-dialed a kindly older man from my church who happened to have a special needs daughter of his own and who had stood in my shoes, had in-fact walked a lifetime in them. When he called me back I explained that I had dialed him accidentally, apologized if I’d woken him, and then answered that, yes, we’d had the baby that day and, well, actually, there was some stuff going on. I explained. We spoke some. I still think about this now and I feel deeply that I couldn’t have chanced to dialed a more perfect person to speak to at that moment. Some minutes later my mother and Missus’ mother and sister arrived. Minutes later my father arrived. Minutes after that I learned that Missus was still hemorrhaging some and that she would be going into surgery at approximately 2 a.m. to have a balloon inflated inside her uterus to apply pressure to the uterine wall which would hopefully stop the bleeding. If that didn’t work they would need to perform a hysterectomy. I thought to myself if a hysterectomy was worst-case scenario, we could certainly live with that. I’m not at all sure today that a hysterectomy truly was worst-case scenario; I’m not so certain that I was allowing myself to see or feel the possibility of a darker outcome. Minutes after that I was being told that Lucy would not be flown to Austin that night; she was doing just well enough, a senior doctor in Austin decided, that the echocardiogram could be done later. No need to add to the mother’s traumatic situation. Minutes after that I was standing in the NICU asking how it was possible that my daughter was eight hours old and had not yet been fed. Some minutes after that I was on the other side of the hospital, bent down over Missus, numb with medicine and barely conscious, kissing her and praying over her before she was taken in to the operating room. Minutes after that I was back on the other side of the hospital in the NICU feeding Lucy.
The surgery worked. No need for the hysterectomy. In the following days, while Missus was on bed rest, more than one nurse would come to her bedside and say to her in quiet tones that of all of the doctors in the group she had gotten the right obstetrician, the one that they would have wanted given the seriousness of what had happened. Post-partum bleeding still takes more lives than you think. Still, it is uncommon for women to require blood transfusions of as many as two pints. Missus had needed close to three. They told her that God had been watching over her.
Missus was brought to a recovery room at four in the morning, still not conscious. I fed Lucy another time before bedding down on the couch next to Missus’ bed. Nurses came in and out at various times of the morning but I was only vaguely aware of the lights going on and off and back on again. It felt good to be horizontal and barefoot. I had worn my good boots that day. The two-tone Lucchese’s I’d bought to wear on my wedding day, nearly fourteen years before, and that I’d worn on other special occasions, the deliveries of my other two daughters among them. I don’t spend a lot of time in cowboy boots and I had put some miles on them that day and night, pin-balling between Missus and Lucy. My feet were glad to be rid of them.
I think of that day as ending at about seven-thirty the next morning. I slept for three and a half hours and went back to the NICU to check on Lucy. Whereas all the night long I had strode effortlessly in and out of the NICU with greetings and salutations, this time I was curtly denied entry via intercom. Shift change had occurred or was in progress, a new nurse was at the helm and my face and voice were no longer recognized. I was flatly told to return in an hour. A few seconds later, when I verified, accusingly, that I was being told that I could not, then, see my daughter I was buzzed in. The Geico Doc was still there, had heard my voice over the speaker, and invited me in to meet his counterpart that was relieving him.
When Missus woke I told her about Lucy and how she was doing well. That she was down the hall with us and not in Austin. That she was still not oxygenating fully on her own, but that the doctors were pleased to see her feeding (babies with Down syndrome often struggle with feeding for a variety of reasons). That so far she was doing great and taking in plenty of milk. I spent about twenty minutes feeding her spoonfuls of ice and making trips back to the ice machine. Minutes after that the nurses were wheeling Missus down to the NICU. Some minutes later I stood in the doorway watching as Lucy, tethered to various monitors by a web of sagging tubes and wiring, was placed in Missus’ arms and for a time the persistent, incessant beeping noises inverted to background in a smallish white room where warm, Spring morning sun peered in through windows and over a soft shoulder and through brown-black hair where she, my wife, sat in her wheelchair and cotton gown looking tearfully, tranquilly down, in all her maternal majesty, at the baby girl nursing peacefully at her breast.
(Thank you for reading. Please check back next week on July 15 for the first installment of Part Two: The First Five Days. If you enjoy this, please consider donating to the NDSS via Lulu & the Lettuce Patch on the sidebar. And share prolifically.)