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World Prematurity Day . . . and turning thirteen

On the 18th of November, I officially become the mother of a teenager.

Which seems weird because I’m only 25.

And it’s doubly weird because in some bizarre harmonic convergence, the 17th of November is officially “World Prematurity Day,” a day devoted to heightening awareness about premature birth and to help support the various institutions that work with the families and babies dealing with the difficulties that arise when a baby comes too soon.

In another odd harmonic convergence, the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding Liam’s birth mapped onto the American “hanging chad” debacle that will live in infamy. I missed most of the details of that process because I was busy being put on bedrest, then hospitalized, and then delivered of a child who came almost two months early and weighed less than two pounds.  Being delivered of a baby slightly smaller than a loaf of bread will make a gal forget about politics for a while.

Those were scary days, those early days in November, when my blissfully uncomplicated pregnancy, which had been filled with compliments about how thin I was despite being pregnant (note to lady movie stars who never really look pregnant and then regain their bodies two minutes after giving birth: you’re killing us out here in real-people land) suddenly became something that didn’t look like my life at all. Turns out that when you’re six months pregnant, you’re not supposed to be thin.

Here’s what happens when the ob-gyn does an ultrasound and announces at the end of it, “you have a crappy placenta” and puts you on bedrest:

You will be terrified; you will think to yourself that you did everything right: you ate right and you exercised right and you didn’t have coffee and you didn’t have booze except omigod that night before you knew you were pregnant you had three martinis was it the martinis omigod it was the martinis.  You will make bargains with whatever god might be listening and when people say they’re going to pray for you, you say thank you please pray, and you hope that people are slaughtering goats and chickens on your behalf because any magic, you’ll take any magic anyone wants to send your way if only everything will be okay.

You will go to bed for ten days while the country tries to figure out who will be the next President and then, when you’re admitted to the hospital after what was supposed to be a routine check on what was supposed to be all the weight gained by this little shrimp in your belly, you will lie in the hospital bed and cry.

And you will cry and cry, but because you are mostly flat on your back, the tears will pool down the sides of your face, drip into your ears and your hair. You won’t even mind the steroids they’re shooting into you, with needles that look like they were borrowed from an elephant hospital because anything, anything to make the baby be okay.  The steroids, some well-meaning but socially awkward medical resident will tell you, are for the baby’s lungs, which are “just little smears of pink jelly right now so if he was born he would probably not be able to breathe.”  And then you will cry some more because holy crap pink smears of jelly?

My tiny ferocious child, the entire 1lb, 10oz bundle, came into the world by emergency c-section, just after dawn on 18 November. The United States still didn’t have a president but I didn’t much care because the bundle was crying—weakly, it’s true, but crying. Which meant that the smears of jelly were functioning like lungs were supposed to function.

Preemies—preemies as small as Liam was—don’t really look like babies. They don’t look particularly cute or jolly or huggable. They look fragile and terrifyingly old: wizened, their skin hanging in folds around flesh that has yet to appear.

SMP-2011--00000567

Instead of being wrapped in soft blankets, they are wrapped in wires and tubes, surrounded by monitors; they are whisked away from you and tucked into an isolette (the plastic shoebox, we called it) that’s basically a small warming tank that keeps the bundle the exact temperature it would be if it were still the proverbial bun in the proverbial oven.

SMP-2011--00000558there’s a baby in there somewhere

I don’t know how we functioned, really, in the days and weeks and months of Liam being in the hospital: we lived downtown on West 4th street, and “Babies Hospital,” as it was called, is on 168th street. Sometimes it took us more than an hour each way on the subway — not that much fun, especially with sore lady bits. But we trekked back and forth every day for our sessions of “kangaroo care:” holding our bundle against our skin so he could feel our hearts beating. I hoped always that the steady sounds of our hearts would drown out the noisy pinging and whirring and beeping that defined life in the NICU.

Liam_Mom_Kanga_week2

The bundle became Liam, became a “feeder and grower” rather than anything more dire, although the NICU was filled with other babies who weren’t so lucky.  I never knew what to say on those days when I would come in and one or another isolette would be empty.  Having a preemie, I realized, is a bit like having a miscarriage: initially you think you’re the only one ever to suffer such a loss and then you realize, sadly, how many people share a version of your feelings.

And now the bundle will be thirteen. I’ve wondered if his formidable character – confident, tenacious, focused – was shaped by spending his earliest months in such inhospitable circumstances.  Or maybe character is a fluke, just like what happened to him was a fluke. No doctor could ever explain why Liam was IUGR (intra-uterine growth restriction, which I think is medical-speak for “the baby didn’t grow”) or why none of the dire predictions came true (no oxygen tanks, no developmental delays, no blindness, no physical impediments…the list went on and on).

Who really can say: maybe all the prayers and burning sage and chanting and whatever else people were doing on Liam’s behalf while he was in the hospital worked; I have no way of knowing.

What I do know? I know that my son is creative and athletic; he loves math and he loves writing; he is funny and beautiful and aggravating, all in equal measure. Liam’s preemie story ends happily; we were lucky in our doctors, our hospital, and in the baby who came into the world so tiny and so strong.

Happy birthday, teenager. The last thirteen years have been amazing; I can’t wait to see what happens next.

liam_minionThis summer Liam decided he’d learn to make stuffed toys: so he made minions. No pattern, just made ’em.

IMG_0552standing on the dividing mark between the Mara, in Kenya, and the Serengeti, in Tanzania

liam_birth_feet-thumb-450x326his feet at birth: actual size

 

Continue Reading · on November 17, 2013 in aging, birth, family, HGH, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, preemies

Monday Listicle: Tips for New Parents

It seemed like a good idea in theory, this having babies thing, right?  A dimple-cheeked bundle swathed in cuddly rompers and you getting to join the  Bugaboo-bumper car game in the grocery store.  Your partner would gaze at you (adoringly, of course) while you nursed, in a scene straight out of some Renaissance Pieta painting; and then you would push your (adorably) sleeping baby through the streets in the pram, in order to walk off that wee leftover baby poochy bit that’s still preventing your size 4s from zipping.

Or that was the theory, anyway. Welcome to the reality of Monday’s Listicle topic, hosted by Stasha and dreamed up by Cookie: tips for new moms.

1. Here’s the first tip: disregard all tips and advice. New parenthood equals survival mode. Do what works. If that means you live entirely on mac-and-cheese, go for it. If it means all you want is spicy doritos, make someone hightail it to the store and get it for you now.  There’s a reason the first three months of a newborn’s life are called the fourth trimester. You have needs and they should be met immediately. Logic and “appropriate” have absolutely nothing to do with it.

2. There is no such thing as “sleep training” a little baby and particularly not a newborn.  Other parents will (smugly) announce that their little baby was sleeping through the night from birth and shake their heads pityingly at you, who obviously gave birth to some lower life form.  Here’s a thought for those smug parents: fuck ’em.  If their kid is sleeping through the night now, fine, but you know what? That’s gonna change, because…

3 …nothing stays the same with a new baby.  You think you’ve figured out the rhythm, you think there’s a sleep pattern, a feeding pattern, a crying pattern.  And there is.  For about a week.  But then that little squiblet grows, or gets a shot, or you enter the dark of moon, and everything goes straight to hell. You’re back at the beginning again.  Try not to let this constant cycle of change make you cry, because…

4.  … new parenthood is designed to teach you an important lesson that you should carry forward into the rest of your parenting life: you may think you’re in control, you may want to be in control, but you have given birth to another person. This person will, eventually, achieve autonomy and independence and language.  All of these things are a mixed blessing.

5.  Get outside. Even if you’re in the middle of winter (or the middle of summer or it’s raining or it’s snowing or it’s that you don’t want to leave the couch), get the hell outside. Breathe some fresh air, look at the sky. Maybe even without the baby. Walk around the block, down the street, across the field, wherever the hell you live. If you have to take the baby with you, take the baby with you, but better if you can find someone who will watch the baby so that you can be vertical on your own, without being attached to this new life you’ve spawned.

6.  The new life you’ve spawned will be okay if you are not there twenty-four hours a day.  Seriously. Would you want you hovering over your face every waking minute? No. You would not. You look like hell, your hair is unwashed and because you’ve been living on mac-and-cheese and doritos, your breath is pretty atrocious too.  You can leave the baby unwatched, in a car seat, in a crib, in another room, for the length of time it takes to shower, for example. You do not need to lug the child into the bathroom while you shower; you do not need to have the child in the room when you take that first post-partum poop.  If you must, bring the baby monitor into the bathroom with you. But everyone will be happier if you can remember that the physical attachment part happened in utero, and now the cord has been cut.  Separating also means…

7. … let other people help you.  Other people can hold babies without dropping them; other people have even been known to change diapers. (Okay, not my own father, but that was a different era, so he gets a pass. Sort of. I’ve worked it out with my therapist, so it’s all good).  You are allowed to ask for help, you are allowed to cry, you are allowed to say “this sucks shit and I’m bored and tired and fat and my ass hurts.”  Being a new mom is not like being in the military: there are no gold stars for bravery; there is no oak leaf cluster for being stoic. Stoic is for the ancient Greeks. And lok what happened to them. Met any ancient Greeks recently? Exactly.

8. But by the same token, remember that, in fact, there have been other babies in the history of the world. Yours may be the most beautiful, adorable genius that’s ever puked milk down a shoulder, but that notwithstanding, other children exist in the world–and have rolled over, spat up, smiled, farted, sneezed, and been generally “amazing ohmigod let me just show you this twenty-five minute video of her sleeping and then look, wait for it, she twitches! Isn’t that just the cuuuuuuutest thing ever??” Resist the temptation to tell everyone everything that your little darling has done. Save it for your mom, or maybe for twitter, where you can’t see people roll their eyes and hit delete.

9. If your baby is seriously ill, god forbid, or has to spend time in the NICU, god double forbid, find some comfort in the fact that the bond between parent and child can–and has–moved mountains. You will be able to withstand just about any amount of pain if it means getting your child well.

10. Don’t be surprised by how much you love that little blob of human flesh. All the books, all your friends with kids, will say “everything changes” once you have kids, and you probably nodded and said “yeah, yeah, sure, it changes, I can’t go out drinking until all hours any more, whatever.”  What they don’t say is that when you look at this baby, your entire world view shifts from somewhere in the front of your brain, where intellect resides, into somewhere deep in the reptilian brain, where instinct lives.  Suddenly you–your shoe collection, your thoughts about a new car, a new iphone, a promotion–don’t matter. Your happiness will now be directly correlated to the happiness of that mewling blob. As a parent you will now be always wrong and always right, frequently simultaneously (I read that somewhere on Mom-101, can’t remember exactly where, but I can’t take credit for those words of wisdom).  This contradiction is just another manifestation of the dizziness you’ll feel the first time you look into the eyes of this… .being… and feel your world shift on its axis. The dizziness doesn’t every fully leave you, either. You’ll be going along just fine and one day, when the baby is a little older, maybe ten or eight or something, you’ll look at the kid out of the corner of your eye and whammo, the love you feel will almost flatten you.  That whammo? That’s parenthood.

 

Double-dipping again today because when it’s List Day followed by Lovelinks Day, well, one column will have to serve for both!  So click over to The Good Life for other tips for new moms and click over here for lovelinks #28 (for virgins!)

Continue Reading · on October 24, 2011 in birth, Children, family, Monday Listicle, Parenting

MsDiagnosis, or, what’s in a name?

rx-prescription-padistock-prv.jpgK’s sister was rushed to the hospital last week because in her twenty-first week of pregnancy, there’d been some complications that, as it turns out, are going to result in bed-rest for the duration of her pregnancy. While she was in the hospital, she’d had to stay in bed with her heels higher than her head for forty-eight hours, and she’d had a stitch put into her cervix (cerclage) in order to prevent her cervix from dilating further.

Scary stuff, absolutely–and as many of us are all too aware, while bed-rest might initially seem like a dream come true, it very quickly (like overnight) becomes a nightmare, all too reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (the heroine in that story, you remember, ends up crawling along the floorboards of her attic, over the body of her unconscious husband, peeling off the wallpaper as she crawls).

But I’m not actually going to write about scary pregnancy stories, or about women slowly being driven insane by the medical establishment. Instead, I am going to write about the diagnosis given to K’s sister: she has an “incompetent cervix.”

Seriously.  That’s the medical definition given to this condition–a diagnosis that throws us right back into the 19th century, when women were, in fact, deemed incompetent, fit only to have babies, and when to be female meant that you were always on the brink of hysteria, a word that originates from hyster, the Greek word for “womb.” 

K., in telling me about her sister, posed a key question: why is it that her sister’s cervix is “incompetent,” but a man who can’t get it up is deemed to have “erectile dysfunction” or to be “impotent”?  True, impotence means a loss of power, but to be incompetent, according to the first definition in the dictionary, is to be “not legally qualified.”  And if you’re not legally qualified, you have no standing in the eyes of the law – you’re a non-person.

Do you think Viagra would be such a best-selling drug if it were sold as a treatment for an “incompetent penis”? What man would cop to such a diagnosis?  And–further–could there really be only one pill to cure that condition? Especially when there are so very many ways for a penis to be incompetent (not the least of which is its inability to aim a stream of urine accurately into a toilet bowl).  Fixing an incompetent penis would necessitate an entire cocktail of drugs, I think, and several months of sensitivity training for the body attached to said incompetent organ.

But I digress. K’s sister’s diagnosis makes me wonder if, on some level, the days of The Yellow Wallpaper aren’t so far away after all.

(Let’s not even get started on the whole Stupak thing, yet another attempt to keep women from being legally qualified to govern their own bodies, and which in turn raises the question of how it is that the Right can, on one hand insist that the government stay out of individual lives and, on the other hand, insist that government get right inside the most intimate act a body can perform. Hmm).  

Oh dear, that was another digression. I seem to be getting all hysterical about who has access to my hyster…

Seriously, though, what if we re-diagnosed K’s sister’s condition? What if we said she had a “flexible cervix,” or a “forgiving cervix,” or–perhaps most appropriate–a “tired cervix”?

Yes. That’s it.  A “tired cervix.” Because you know what? Doing something as personal and as powerful as growing a baby? It’s exhausting.

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Continue Reading · on November 25, 2009 in birth, Feminism

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