31 December, 2010

The Complications Continued - The End!

Complication #11. The c-section “apron” and scar tissue.  Who knows where the moniker, the “apron,” really came from when referring what happens to the skin on the belly after a cesarean?  If you can answer this question, I’ll send you a prize.  There are some great sites out there that discuss the reality of women’s body’s after having babies, versus what we see in the popular media of movies stars having twins by c-section and magically getting back to their pre-baby bodies in six weeks.  I appreciated this woman’s and other’s courage here.  Still, I would say, I don’t have an apron; I have a fanny pack worn on the front.  Like the worst kind of computer nerd from high school.  I might as well have leaky ink pens in my front pocket and tape around my the nosepiece of my thick, black glasses. 
Since the birth, I’ve had weight loss and gain while trying to regulate my fat intake in order to be adequate enough to feed my child and also yet low enough to not experience another gallbladder attack.  My weight has fluctuated and what’s remained has all landed on the frontside of my stomach.  I still look like I did when I was six months pregnant.  And yep, I’ve had the experience many times where people asked if I was pregnant.  The first time was when I walked into the college where I taught one day, with my daughter in tow, and a colleague said, “Oh, you’re expecting another one?”  To which I patted my belly and replied, “Nope, this is just the leftover from my last one.”  I’ve now made this reply several times in the last two years.  Even my daughter, who is now becoming aware of babies in bellies, asked me one day if there was one in there, and when I replied no, she pulled out my shirt and stuck her head under and said she wanted to be in my belly, which about made me cry with cuteness and the reality that I still want her in there, too, so she can come out the other way.
I’ve had moments where I’m bummed and angry and annoyed about this extra weight and the heaviness I feel and the bulge that overhangs my belt, which others called the “muffin top,” which I thought was funny, though again the metaphor isn’t quite accurate for me – a danish, maybe.  The fact that there is such a clear delineation in flatness from my pelvic bone to above the scar is odd to me; again, a clear blockage of energy that hasn’t been released.
Lately, I’ve been the grateful guinea pig of a friend of mine who is in a healing school and needs practice clients.  One day, in her nice apartment, with a candle burning and me laying on top of soft blankets on a massage table with nice yogi music playing in the background, she laid her hands on me in various ways to check my energy and chakras and see what lurks beneath.  I was not surprised when she assessed my abdomen was murky and full of muscus-like energy she had to “clean out” just to “see” around in there.  I know the energy is stuck, I’ve written about it already, but the daily reminder via the “apron,” seems to me a bit of overkill.
The other part of the c-section apron that’s a bummer is the numbness and tingling and slight pain that still exists two years later around the scar.  I’ve written about this already, too, so all I’ll say is since the birth, I have to wear a belt with most pants, because otherwise they fall off.  The fashion world doesn’t design pants that are made with for a woman with a sideview like a fanny pack, unless, I suppose, I went back and bought more maternity pants, which would be confusing and sad.  That beltbuckle that I must wear, while it’s not a rodeo cowboy-sized buckle, presses right on my scar and hurts and numbs me out or somehow causes discomfort on my scar many days of the week, especially if my child is in a particularly cuddly mood and wants to sit all day on mama’s belly.  Again, that pain is just the reminder that she didn’t come out the way I’d hoped.
Still, I do wish society were different.  I wish, like the size of a man’s penis, the size of a woman’s stomach, or maybe, even, the size of her apron, was a badge of honor and an attribute to be envied.  I birthed a human being out of my body, for goodness sake, an adorable, smart, healthy kid who knocks me out most days with her “ideas” and the way she needs to line up her toys or the shoes at our front door with such persistence and vigor.  I wish that even I thought more often of my used-up belly not as a burden but as a beacon of womanhood and fertility and a miraculous god-given gift.  I wish that society thought the bulge and bumps of my belly, not the two by four of the typical next top model, was sexy, the way that I think hills and rolling valleys are more inspiring and interesting than flatlands; they offer more dynamic, lovely views with more mystery and intrigue.
Complication #12.  Delayed Post-Partum Depression.  I don’t know for sure what clinical depression is.  I don’t have an opinion on drugs or no drugs for depression.  But I do know “without help” sometimes “it,” whatever “it” is, is too much for me.  And to clarify, by help, I don't mean drugs, I mean help from another person, usually someone of the professional sort, but sometimes also a friend or plain old good listener.
The first eight months of my daughter’s life, I was coping.  I did my day to day work of meeting her needs and also worked at the college teaching writing, which started nine weeks after she was born.  I was grateful for the class work, because it took my mind off of the pain in my body and on my mind.  And keeping my mind off that pain was the best I could do.  So, I was coping rather than healing.
In my previous job as a non-violence educator, when I used to teach about creating healthy relationships, I often drew this model (see below).  The model helps people understand that in our day to day lives, we will be hurt by little or big hurts, and while we don’t have much of a choice about whether or not we will be hurt in our lifetime, we do have the choice to either heal from or cope with those hurts.  Here’s the model, pretty simple, and yes, I stole it from someone, somewhere a long time ago, and I’m sorry but I don’t remember from whom:
COPE                      HEAL
You can draw your own arrows from “YOU” to the “HURT” and it’s your choice how you get there, via coping or healing. 
Coping is not a bad thing, per se, I’ve done it a lot in my life – when I was drinking, I was coping, or when I’ve over-exercised or overworked, or surfed the Internet too much or watched too much T.V.  All of these activities and many others are pretty normal coping strategies and, sometimes, for some people, they do take the edge off of certain hurts.  But for me, and for others, too much coping often leads to more hurt, as it did in the case of my drinking.  Or even in the case of too much television watching, I’d argue, I’m hurting my brain and my intelligence.  Eventually, since I’m trying to create a healthy relationship with myself, I choose to do some healing.  And for me, healing usually requires help. 
After eight months post-birth, when I hadn’t really slept more than five hours in a row at night, and when I hadn’t dealt with my sadness of the birth, I found myself crying uncontrollably for no apparent reason, after doing the dishes, say, or in moments alone.  I was irritable, frustrated and getting out of bed was hard. 
I yelled one night at my daughter at for waking up out of a dead sleep. I actually went into her room, turned on the light, slapped the wall hard with my hand and screamed “what do you want?”  I startled her, which only made her wail more.  And then I felt so terrible, so guilty.  Later that week, I realized, I couldn’t even see my baby girl.  I was looking at her, but there was a dark silk veil over my eyes and I wasn’t seeing her.  I knew I needed help and I told my husband so. 
I sought that help, via two different professional counselors over the summer when I wasn’t teaching.  The counseling helped get me back on my feet, deal with much of the real sadness of the birth, and most importantly, help sink in that the birth did happen the way it did and there was no going back.  Up until that point, I wanted to will the experience to be different, and my pushing and forcing energy was not helping me move on, nor helping me be able to mother my child.  The counseling helped me integrate the trauma of the birth with the reality of my day to day life.  I felt happiness again, and joy at seeing my daughter grow.  Also, the counseling helped me start to see another side to the story, or at least to envision writing my own end to this saga. 
People have scoffed at post-partum depression and that fact conveniently brings me back to Oprah, where a few years ago there was some hullaballo that one famous person publicly judged another famous person’s experience of post-partum depression.  My point here is, for me, post-partum depression, while delayed, was real, and I had to make a choice, heal or cope.
So, why circle around all this writing about The Complications in order to talk about Oprah?  Because one day in that post-partum depression time frame, one late in the afternoon, I’d had enough of being a good mother and playing on the floor with my child and helping her sleep and loving her for the day; I wanted a break.  So, I turned on the television, when I knew Oprah was on, to see what she was up to.  I missed much of the first half of the show, but I caught last part of the episode about the woman who, after the c-section birth of her second child, contracted the flesh-eating virus, which subsequently and quickly meant she lost part of or all of each of her limbs.  This woman, after birth, had to learn how to cope with two new prosthetics on her arms, and eventually two more for her legs; essentially she had to learn how to live in an entire new body.  I was dumbfounded at her post-birth complications and instantly, I saw how I had it so good.  This woman was amazing and you can probably see a lot more about her all over the Internet. 
And one thing I heard on the show really helped me decide to start pulling myself together and go get some help to do so.  The woman said the whole time she was in the hospital dealing with her complications, what got her through, what made her work so hard, was so she could get home and be with her children.  She had to learn an entirely new way to move in the world, but her kids were what motivated her to move at all. Watching this woman made me say, “but for the grace of God go I” and count my blessings.  Watching her also made me decide to make some phone calls in the morning, which I vowed to do.  And then, I turned off the television and got back down on the floor to play with my child.
Happy New Year to all.

29 December, 2010

The Complications Continued – Part Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten – Will They Ever End?

Complication #7.  During pregnancy I did notice a few weird skin things that happen with such great hormonal fluctuations, like skin tags or discoloration, but for the most part they went away.  However, one particularly bothersome tag remained on my upper thigh, and since I had gained weight during pregnancy, this tag rubbed a little too often on my upper thigh.  After I visited the local doctor who gave me the prescription to have an ultrasound so I could find out I had gallstones, decided to go back again and ask her to remove the tag by freezing it with liquid nitrogen, which she mentioned as a possibility.  The experience of having my legs in stirrups again while being worked on only added to the seemingly endless array of disgrace to my undersides, but, at least, I thought, the thing wouldn’t bug me anymore.  Well, apparently, I killed the queen, and the drones buzzed out with a vengeance.  After I removed the band-aid from my leg, I contracted a gross skin poxvirus called molluscum contagiosum, which looks pretty much like it sounds.  I blamed the local doctor, by the way, because a.) she should have known that this complication could occur and didn’t tell me, or b.) she gave me the disease because her clinic wasn’t clean enough.  This virus is not harmful, but it is ugly, and since during this time I was also experiencing Complication #8, my hair falling out in clumps all over the place, I wasn’t in the mood to be more uglified.  Then the worst part was, my baby daughter contracted this virus a few months later – hers lasted about four months, with us trying to treat it with various creams and teatree oils, but, mostly, hers just finally went away one day.  Mine did, too, but it took over a year before the last drone finally died.
Complication #9.  Athlete’s foot.  Seriously.  Never had athlete’s foot in my life, even though I was always an athlete, always with sweaty feet, always wearing sandals in the summer, no matter the rain or dampness on my soles, or rain boots in the winter, when my feet got too hot in neoprene or capilene.  And then, constantly, when I was pregnant, I showered in the YMCA locker room after swimming without my flips flops, with total insolence toward the petrie dish surely proliferating on the dirty tiled floor.  Plus, for sixteen years I lived with a husband who did have athlete’s foot (I’m outing my husband’s foot disorder); I shared the same shower with him, and kvetched when he sprayed the stinky foot spray in our bedroom.  So, suddenly, a few months after my daughter was born, this virus shows up on my feet, too?  With its itchiness and pink, raw skin, and hardened soles?  Now?  Why?  Because my immune system was shot full of holes during birth and all the viruses I’d fended off during my mostly healthy life were happy to be out to get me now.  Of course, I wasn’t really the victim of these viruses, but I sure felt like one, which leads me to….
Complication #10.  Sex.  The complete lack of libido and desire and energy to even have one thought about perhaps maybe even thinking about having sex with another human being and/or the issue of painful sex.  I don’t actually want to write about this subject, not because I’m bashful, but because I’m worried weirdos will Google keywords such as painful sex and find my blog, which will be, I’m sure, a major disappointment to them, although I guess I don’t care about disappointing weirdos.  Let’s just start by saying the six week rule after birth by which to have sex is crap.  Try six months at best.  Yes, yes, my poor husband, and lo, all the other poor partners (read: male partners) out there.  But with the advent of complications number seven, eight, and nine, which, by coincidence or eerie fact, all ensued at right about that six week mark, I didn’t feel particularly sexy in my lower regions or any region for that matter.  The difference for me between the sensual joy I experienced during pregnancy, where I felt creative and womanly and authentically feminine for perhaps the first time in my life, and then post-birth, where I felt sore, tired, creaky, cranky, bloated, and absolutely lust-dead, was quite a shift, for both me and my main man. 
The lack of libido is a real aftereffect of hormonal changes, especially while breastfeeding.  My life was all about coping with the challenges of new motherhood for the first several months, especially in my physically compromised state, and sex was the last thing from my mind.  But meanwhile, my boobs were out and about a lot for those around me to see.  The myth about breastfeeding edging out the husband, which reminds me of that old joke that Robin Williams did a long long, time ago about babies coming out of the womb, pointing to their mother’s big breasts, and saying “those are for me,” has, for me and my partner, pretty much been true.  However, if we’re rating priorities, feeding my daughter my milk was and will always be more of a priority to me than having sex.  My husband has been accepting of this new situation.  He knows breastfeeding is important for our daughter’s development, and he knew ahead of the fact that I’d breastfeed our child for a long time, and he while he might not have known that this period of reduced sexual activity would only allow him to get more spiritually fit via patience and understanding and virtual celibacy, he gets to learn that spiritual fitness is an unexpected outcome of marrying me.  In any case, almost all the pictures he took soon after the birth show my daughter nursing, usually with an obvious close-up of my big old boob.  And Freud thought women had penis envy.
Another aspect to consider is that, even though I had a c-section, sex was extremely painful, in fact, impossible for me, for many, many months.  Perhaps this pain is not normal or usual, since a fifty-four hour labor with eleven hours of pushing and having one’s baby’s head stuck between a pelvic bone is also not normal or usual.  We did try to have sex at that magical six week mark because I was wanting desperately for the birth not to have happened the way it did and so tried to pretend everything was normal.  But that night, it was quite apparent nothing was going inside of me.  I didn’t actually know how sore I was inside until we tried, and then probably a month later tried again, and then after another lapse of time, again.  The knowing how much it hurt me was not exactly a turn on for my husband, and after the third try, I don’t think we tried again for a long, long time.  These efforts at getting back to normal through sex, for me, only made me realize how different my new body was, and made me start facing the reality of what I’d been through. 
The final, and most important, aspect to this subject about sex is that, after having a c-section and feeling so sad about that reality, the truth was, I didn’t want anyone going inside of my vagina if my daughter couldn’t come out.  The vaginal canal, to me, now seemed a marred place, a place inside my body, once full of hope and expectation.  My whole body was split down the middle, right where my scar still bulged a little pink.  The mix of pain and soreness and emotional loss all welled inside of me and I didn’t want to deal with it at all.  I wanted only for my daughter to have come out of my body through the passage built for her, which felt swollen and painful with the absence of her not coming through.  I imagined my insides were once a small natural spring, dug into a dirty canal by third world workers, whom were never paid well or compensated for their labors, and then the channel devolved into a wasteland.  The waters, like the Chicago River perhaps, flowed the wrong way and caused crime and pollution in the city.  I realize this metaphor may be over the top, but when women say things like “vaginal birth is overrated” or try to compare the difficulties of their vaginal births to my c-sectioned one, or try to stop me from talking about this subject, I look for words and images to explain how I feel.  My energy was stuck in the place where my child was stuck.  I want more than anything to clean up the canal, to have it returned to its natural spring-like state, and while the recovery is better now than earlier on, there is still work to be done before visitors will be completely welcome and encouraged to explore. 

28 December, 2010

The Complications Continued – Part Three, Four, Five and Six – Can You Guess How Many There Will Be?

I showered for the first time in the hospital on Monday morning, my mother-and-father-in-law came to see their new granddaughter and my brother-and-sister-in-law too.  I couldn’t recognize my feet, they looked like an elephant’s, I had so much fluid in my body.  Also, the only way I could get out of bed was to use a lot of my arm and elbow strength and roll over to my side, because there was no way for my body to sit up on its own accord.  The shaking hands doctor took out the staples from my surgery and even I had to admit the scar looked pretty decent.  He said we could be discharged.  I was glad to be going home just three nights after giving birth (not bad for almost dying) and I was so glad our new girl slept the entire way home in the truck and I was so relieved to walk into our house, with a fire going in the woodstove and cute decorations all around thanks to my mom and sister.  Of course, by the end of that night, when the baby wouldn’t sleep again and I couldn’t sit up any longer, I cried when I had to give her to my husband to console, which he did by driving her around again in the big diesel truck, while I got a few hours of sleep.
My mother was a godsend during those two weeks and her being there for us will always be remembered – she did everything, dishes, cooking yummy meals, cleaning, laundry, walking around the kitchen with our child, the great wailer, and, also listening to me cry, too, about how sad I was about the birth.
Complication #3.  All I’ll say is just because you have a c-section doesn’t mean you can’t get hemorrhoids.  Mine weren’t the worst I’ve heard about, but still, what kind of karma is that?
Complication #4.  With hormones going crazy in my body, (and with a c-section, I argue, hormonal fluctuations are worse because the body doesn’t quite understand the baby was “born” since the natural processes didn’t occur), I got a fever blister on my lip.  The lips I wanted to kiss my new baby with every day.  I’ve had infrequent but very real fever blisters and cold sores ever since I made out with some unfortunate choice of pubescent boy my freshman year in high school.  They often accompany sickness and/or great hormonal fluctuations.  This cold sore wasn’t the most raging I’d ever had, but I certainly didn’t want my few-day-old baby to get herpes right off the bat.  Of course, once I felt the sting on my lip, I read about my concern on the Internet, and immediately found an article about a poor mother who did get a cold sore, passed the herpes onto her two-day-old baby, and the baby died!  I don’t know if that site was real, but all emotional and exhausted from the birth ordeal, I wasn’t about to take my chances.  Thus, for several days, a week maybe, I only butterfly-kissed my new baby on the top of her head.
Complication #5.  Two weeks after the baby was born, and the day before my mom was set to get on a plane and leave us, I took my mom to lunch to a favorite local spot.  I had my usual sandwich and a bag of chips, my mom the same, and we ate while everyone in the place ogled over the cuteness of my daughter.  My husband was gone that day – all day and night, actually, at meetings, which he did eventually have to attend to.  That evening, I started to feel sick, and even my mother said she felt “bilious.”  I felt more than bloated, though, I felt sharp pain in my abdomen, not unlike the kind I felt in the ICU.  I thought for sure I had food poisoning and I rocked the baby in the office chair, holding her with one hand, while moaning out a lullaby and holding my stomach with my other hand while also praying she’d fall to sleep.  My mom fretted about my condition but I assured her I’d manage, so she said goodnight, then went next door, for she needed to pack and get ready to get on a plane.  The baby did fall asleep, thank the gods.  I put her in her bassinet, and then doubled over in pain, a pain like a searing from the inside, and next thing I know, I’m throwing up, first as I ran through the hallway, then in the toilet, again.  (There in the bathroom, I learned about Complication #6, lack of bladder control, which I’ll let speak for itself, and I also learned via that particular complication, our bathroom floor is not level.)
I took off my wet sweatpants, put on one of my husband’s big hunting shirts and then barfed again, doubled over and praying to the porcelain gods.  So, there I was, a pool of pee angling away from me, and, of course, the baby woke up, wailing is her Moses basket.  This was the moment my husband came home from his meeting and I looked up enough to see him peering around the bathroom door. 
“What the hell?” he said. 
“It’s Deliverance,” I said, meaning the movie, not salvation. 
He rescued the baby.  I barfed again, then cleaned myself up again.  A few days later, worried this new complication was something going awry with the c-section, I saw the doctor.  “Nope, nothing like that,” shaky hands said with all the confidence of a, well, a doctor.  “Get an ultrasound and check for gallstones.”
Gallstones.  The unspoken complication of those Female, Forty, Fair (which I’m not), and Fertile, or more accurately, women who’ve just given birth.  When I finally got an ultrasound appointment through my local doctor, and received the diagnosis of “extensive gallstones,” I had a month left on my insurance.  The only solution, according to this round of doctors, was to blow my belly up again, ram in some laparoscopes, and suck my diseased gallbladder out.  At that point, in my physical and mental state post-partum, there was no way I could face another abdominal surgery, much less be hospitalized and not nurse my baby for even a day. I said no surgery, and I’d control the gallstone attacks with diet.  The local doctor scoffed at me for my decision and I wanted to punch her for not being sympathetic.  The insurance ran out.
I did control the attacks with diet, except that with breastfeeding and not eating any real fat other than olive oil and avocados, I lost weight too fast, which apparently also causes gallbladder attacks and attack my gallbladder did.  I can’t explain the pain of a gallbladder attack except to say I’d rather do fifty-four hours of labor all over again.  At least in labor the contractions end for a few breaths – with passing a gallstone, that little hard cholesterol ball squeezes itself through the smallest and tightest of bile duct tubing, somewhat like a marble trying to pass through a plastic coffee stirrer, except the plastic feels each excruciating millimeter of travel.  I’ve had about a dozen attacks and sometimes I fended them off by downing a huge amount of water to break up whatever fat was causing the problem.  I don’t eat fried foods and no greasy stuff and hardly any oil other than olive oil, which seems to not bother me.  I eat red beets up the wazoo, because they’re super-good for your gallbladder, raw or cooked, and I have learned how to make new recipes with beet greens, which I don’t particularly enjoy.  For several months I took giant alfalfa pills and made smoothies with soy lecithin.  Sometimes I drink apple cider vinegar tea, or if worse comes to worse, I’ll drink a hideous concoction of liquid made from boiling flax seeds, a viscous bitter “tea” that’s a lot like drinking snot.  There’s a lot to know about the gallbladder – and about the pros and cons of surgery, and I found a lot of my information here.  Also I did see a nutritionist who supported my decision not to remove one of my organs, sold me expensive beet concentrate, which I took and liked a lot, only to realize it had alcohol in at, which is a whole different kind of complication, so I just stuck to making my own beet stuff.  It's a good thing I like beets.

17 December, 2010

The Complications - Part Two - This Part is Even Messier

That bloating the Good Nurse promised happened by Saturday night.  The whole time I was in the ICU, nurses kept coming in, constantly, both the ICU people to change the six pints of blood they ended up giving me and the four bags of frozen platelets, and the maternity nurses who kept arriving to “check my fundus,” which means they were making sure my uterus was shrinking properly.  However, after the beating my stomach took during the hemorrhage, the pain in their prodding felt severe and worsened with every examination.  My stomach turned into a hot air balloon, blowing up bigger and bigger, and thus facilitating the nurses’ need to press the air in there even harder and harder to “check the fundus.”   I still hadn’t eaten anything even though it had been four days since I went into labor in the first place.  I know I hadn’t eaten because I remember my husband taking a break at some point on Saturday afternoon – he needed to just get away from The Complications, I’m sure – and he’d gone to Izzy’s or somewhere hideous like that and when he returned, at 6 p.m. on Saturday, he found me throwing up air and bile into a bedpan, uncontrollably.  All of the sudden, my body just had to purge the excess air in my abdomen and since I’d pushed for about twelve hours, the “Rectum? It nearly killed him” joke my Dad always quipped was no joke for me and nothing was leaving my building in the south part of town.  My body had to release the gas and so up the esophagus it purged, and purged and purged and purged.  I’ve never thrown up like that before, a constant dry heave over and over and my husband was holding the bed pan and I asked once “what’s happening?” and then I barfed again, bile and water.  The nurses ran around gathering more bedpans, they were surprised, too, I think, and they  let me throw up because, I guess, there wasn’t much they could do to stop me.  The whole situation was absurd, and as I was gagging and coughing and then barfing again, somewhere in there I said to my husband, “I’m like that guy in Team America,” which made us both laugh, and by now I was also crying and laughing at the same time all while throwing up.  Seriously, I only watched Team America once (once was enough), but that scene where the hero is barfing in the alley uncontrollably, with ridiculous barfing sounds and total exaggeration of spew and jerking movements was exactly what was happening there to me in the ICU, except I didn’t even have the excuse of being out- of-my-mind drunk.  If you need a visual, you can see that here, which is a crazy thing about the Internet, that I can on the spot provide you with the visual, which no one really needs to see, so don't click that link.  The only difference between me and that guy was that I didn’t have anywhere close to the volume of vomit that he did, but the convulsions and sounds are remarkably similar.
Anyhow, after this new turn of events, to top it all off, that night I met Evil Nurse, a young nurse with a sharp pointed haircut who looked snarly about the fact she had the night shift.  She decided putting a tube down my nose would be the best way to get the gas out of my stomach.  My poor nose, the only orifice of my body that hadn’t been completely violated during the past forty-eight hours besides the oxygen they gave me after the hemorrhage.  Evil Nurse came in with this nose devise, the name of which I’ve completely blocked out, sat me up and told me to breathe out through my nose and then in again really fast while she poked my nostril like a chimpanzee digging for ants with a stick.  I flinched.  I started to cry.  She shot me the evil eye like I was being a baby.  I let her try again, because I did have to relieve the gas in my abdomen.  But when she prodded again with all the grace of a gorilla and the device poked the back of my throat, I gagged while simultaneously holding myself back from punching her in the face.  Then I started to sob.  “I can’t do this,” I blubbered and she backed off, looking annoyed and not the least apologetic. 
An older nurse came to assist Evil Nurse.  I could see the older nurse had some wisdom in the lines in her face and she suggested a good old fashioned enema.  I’d already pooped full frontal in the doctor’s face while trying to push my baby out, so what was yet another indignity to my lower end?  The older nurse’s idea worked and finally I was relieved of the most hideous bloating in the history of many lives and my peristalsis started finally working on its own and the next thing you know, my lovely husband was wiping my lower end every other hour because I could barely make it to the little bedside toilet much less turn around to clean myself up.  I said to him then, “Remember in our vows when we said, ‘have faith during the difficult times’?  I think this experience is what we were talking about.” We laughed, he wiped.  The humility. 
The one good thing, yes there is one good thing, about all this chaos was that my husband got to do some serious bonding with our daughter.  He changed her first diaper, which, I have to note, he put on backwards, a fact I’ve always thought is both baffling and endearing.  And he spent many an hour holding her while she needed to be held those first days, the two of them sleeping together in the room that the Good Nurse had wrangled for us in the maternity ward, my girl curled up on her daddy like a big baby frog.
My body finally stabilized, and I was released from the ICU Saturday evening, and only thing I wanted to do was get out of the hospital.  But, I still had to wait another night for the doctor to take out the staples from the c-section.   Burned Out Nurse was back on duty and she said she could take the baby any time in the nursery if I needed.  One of the worst moments of my new motherhood was that night when I was too exhausted to deal with my new daughter’s crying – she was changed, clothed, warm, fed and totally inconsolable.  My husband was asleep and I had to let him sleep since he was exhausted, too.  I wheeled my screaming new baby in her plastic crib down the hall to Burned Out Nurse at the front desk of the nursery and I cried as I turned away to plod back to my room and get some rest myself.  My second night of being a mom and I couldn’t be there for my new little girl. 

15 December, 2010

A Side Note to Complication #1

Several years ago, geez, over six years now, a friend and mentor of mine died; one of the few people on this site I’ll ever write by name, because she was a great woman: Artis van Rassel. 
Artis was also a tall woman with henna-red frizzy hair that made her even taller.  She had both grace and strength and worked most of her adult life to bring peace to the masses in various ways.  While she was alive, I leaned on her often for advice and wisdom and she always delivered both with a smile that showed off her little crow’s feet, full of love.  There is much to write about Artis, and some day I hope to write much more.  But for now, I’ll say, the greatest gift she gave me is the knowledge to not fear death. 
When Artis was dying at her home, already on hospice care, she had three writers, of whom I was one, take notes and listen to her thoughts on death, and at her wake, we all read from the pieces we had written.  That time of my life is blurry, the sadness and grief I was experiencing overshadows my memory of all she said and I’d have to look back at those scribblings to relate more. 
But a few facts to note: the day before she died, the university where she’d been getting her Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution bestowed upon her the certificate of her completion.  When she received the degree, she asked, “does this mean I don’t have to finish my thesis now?”  Everyone laughed.  They laughed at the irony.  But a part of Artis believed she might live beyond the day of her death even though she knew that day would be soon.  The other fact is, after she was dead, her husband and good friends lay her out on her bed, with flowers all around and candles burning.  The day was sunny and I went up to say goodbye.  She was on that bed with her skin smooth and her lips parted just slightly into a Buddha-like smile.  She knew death was not scary, and she knew that her death was beautiful.
Several months later, I ran into a student of Artis’ from the university.  The woman didn’t know she had died and when I told her, she didn’t say, “oh no,” or offer any other kind of sorrow, all she said was, “Did she have a good death?”  I cocked my head at the surprise of the question, but then smiled and said, “Yes, she did.”
When I was dying on that table in the recovery room, I didn’t know I was dying the way Artis knew she was dying.  But I can see now – I can know – that with just one more pint of blood lost from my limbs, I would have died.  That line, that veil between life and death, is gossamer thin.  I could have lost consciousness and just been gone.  It’s that simple.  And while, thanks to Artis, I’m not afraid of that moment, I am glad that I stayed on my side of the line because I am joyous and honored and proud to be a part of rearing my daughter with my husband.  I don't think anyone would have said I had a good death.
In death, I don’t know if I could have been sad about missing out on my daughter’s life, but in life, I sure am glad I get to be here.  Even though so much of mothering is really one experience of loss after another – loss from the body, loss from newborn smell, loss from laying her on the bed and not having to worry about her rolling off, loss from crawling to walking, etcetera and on and on  –  all that loss is the regular kind where a child born is growing and thriving and getting on in the world without me step by step.  That’s her job.  My job is to be here and I'm grateful I am.

14 December, 2010

The Complications - Part One - This Part is Messy

Several years ago, Jonathan Franzen wrote a book called The Corrections, which was wildly popular and I read it and thought the novel was okay, but I thought mostly that he was more brilliant to accept and then reject Oprah, because that move probably did more for the press and subsequent sales of his book than just being on Oprah, which, of course, he has now been on for his new book called Freedom, which I haven’t read and might not after reading this review of the book by Alexander Nazaryan in the  New York Daily News, which I though was rather astute.  Anyhow, these series of blog posts are called The Complications and have nothing to do with Franzen, except that there’s an echo of his title in mine and, in regards to the aftermath of my particular birth experience with my daughter, this essay does have a tiny bit to do with Oprah, which I’ll get to eventually, but it might take a while.
This bit of writing about The Complications is bound to be long and arduous for you and me and yet, I have to write it and so you can read it if you want, but I mostly post this publicly, as with other posts, to help another who might have suffered similar complications.  However, I recommend if you’re reading this while pregnant, you don’t read much further because, well, I don't think reading these posts will help you relax.
Besides a birth ending in a cesarean section being a major complication to a candle-lit, dimly-lighted, bathtub-soaked “home birth,” I might have been more serene with this serious surgery if I didn’t have the major fallout afterward, starting with that massive hemorrhage, which I’ll call....
Complication #1. 
I remember the moment, my brand new daughter was at my breast – she’d already fed once already and was working on her second helping when I felt my uterus contract inside me like a clenching of a giant fist and then I felt a gush of blood, a surge roiling from my body and I sort of flinched and said to the nurse, “there’s blood coming out.” 
This nurse and I had had some tension between us, in fact, for clarity, I’ll call her the Burned-Out Nurse because she’d been a nurse for twenty-three years at that point and had a bit of the ol' surliness to her.  Before the c-section, this nurse was the one who got kicked out of the birthing room by the shaky-hands doctor who was trying to extract my daughter via a vacuum from my body because she decided there was too much pressure on the baby’s head and popped the extractor by turning off the power.  The doctor shouted with meanness in his voice to “get out” of the room, which, as I was pushing and pushing was shocking to me.  This nurse was also the nurse who, when I first was admitted to the hospital, said to me, “we should talk about a c-section,” to which I replied, “I don’t want to talk about a c-section.”  She was gunning for one the whole time. 
Anyhow, back at the recovery room, after I mentioned the blood that I could feel saturating the pad and then some, Burned-Out Nurse lifted the sheets over my legs and said, quite calmly, “That’s not normal,” and punched some sort of call button on the wall.  The next thing I knew, two young intern-looking women were at my feet, and then a bunch of people rushed in the room and my baby was taken out of my arms and left to scream with her father in the corner until some other nurse escorted him (now crying) and my newborn out of the room.  I was made horizontal and people were standing over me saying, “Can you hear me, Nancy?  We need your permission to give you universal blood, we don’t have time to get your blood, can we have your permission?” and I kept saying, “I’m just tired, why are you bugging me?” which didn’t answer their questions at all. 
Shaky-hands doctor rushed in next, a tall tree-trunk of a man, and he stood on my belly with all his weight, pumping his hand in a steady rhythm, and I heard the word “hysterectomy,” and then the next thing I know he had his other hand up my crotch and I could feel the pressure there though I don’t remember pain since I still had epidural juice in me and since I was also probably on some other drugs I don’t even know about for sure, and the other nurse, not the Burned Out one but the one I first met when I was admitted the evening before who was now on-duty again, who I’ll just call the Good Nurse, was saying to me, “stay with us, Nancy, stay with us,” while I rolled my head on my pillow and willed them to stop pounding on me as my blood pressure dropped to thirty over forty, which my nurse and doctor friends now tell me means almost dead. 
While all of these medical professionals pounded on and yelled at me, I watched them waiting for what was probably thirty seconds but seemed like several minutes for somebody special to arrive.  They kept asking, “where is she, where is she?” and when “she” arrived, I was quite surprised to see this new woman in an old-fashioned Nurse Ratchet uniform, complete with white opaque stockings and paper nurse cap bobby-pinned to her hair.  She wheeled in what I know now to be the blood transfusion machine.  But at the time I thought “this woman is who they’ve been waiting for?” forgetting the day was October 31st, Halloween. 
I also remember Good Nurse saying to me she was going to give me some drugs that would help stop the bleeding but would cause quite a bit of bloating in my intestines, but as gushes of blood coursed out of my body, who was I to say “no?”  And by the way, I didn’t know until this momentous experience that all that blood coursing around our bodies actually is just looking for a way out.  I thought blood wanted to bring oxygen and life to our limbs, but, nope, it turns out that all those red and while cells running around are just searching the labyrinth of our veins and arteries for a big hole so they can be set free.  Once that hole exists, they make a run for it, and if our body doesn’t have its clotting powers (in my case because my womb was so pooped from the extra-long labor, and because I’m old and my body doesn’t function quite as it once did), that blood is going to pour out of us like Niagara Falls. 
 Anyhow, the staff at that hospital completely saved my life and my uterus, and I’m very grateful to them all for their fast thinking and work.  Even Burned-Out Nurse did her job quite well, and I’m thankful, and I couldn’t really stay angry at her for gunning for the c-section since she was the one who pressed the button so that I could live to feed my child again.  Later she told me in all her years of being a nurse she’d never seen a bleed like that and I really “kept them on their toes,” so I guess that’s some kind of karmic payback for her wanting the c-section in the first place.  Still, the staff working on me was impressed I never did totally lose consciousness.  Afterwords friend told me I surely would have died at the birth center with that kind of hemorrhage and I know that theory to be true, which is why the universe was good in that I was transferred to a hospital, however, in truth, I believe I never would have hemorrhaged like that if I hadn’t had a c-section, but of course, we’ll never know so it's a moot and mute point. 
After I was somewhat stable, the team of nurses and doctors and the new guy on duty, called the Hopsitalist, who was, honestly, dressed in a woman’s pink candy-striper shirt and yet another Nurse Ratchet paper hat, told me I’d have to go to Intensive Care and babies weren’t allowed in there.  I did not like this idea.  I wanted only to be with my brand new baby.  I didn’t understand then how I had lost over half of my blood and they needed some time to pump more of the red stuff and a bunch of platelets into my veins.  I didn’t want to go, but as I was quite exhausted by then, who was I to argue?  And again, here I give praise to the hospital, specifically the maternity ward staff, because they wheeled my baby in her plastic tub crib into the ICU every chance they got to have her nurse at my breast, the little sweetie swaddled and tucked between IV tubes and blood pressure bands permanently attached to my arm.  They even let her fall asleep with me in the bed for little snatches. 
By the time we’d settled into the ICU, my mother and another good friend had arrived.  Outside the curtain of my “room,” the Hospitalist explained to my stunned mother, “You remember how we used to say that women ‘bled out’ after birth?  That’s what happened to your daughter.”  A phrase no mom ever wants to hear, much less from a guy dressed in a pink candy-striper shirt...
...to be continued....

08 December, 2010

Fake Mommy

One of the worst things about being a mother is how, on many days, I don’t feel like a mother at all.  I can hardly comprehend that a child, my child, sleeps in a room just down the hall.  I hear about mothers who say “the umbilical cord is never cut,” (my own mother being the prime reciter of that quote) and they describe such strong feelings of attachment that they spend every non-mothering moment still thinking about their kid.  But for me, some days, I really don’t feel like a mother at all.
Sometimes my daughter seems to me a puppet and I’m just a puppeteer, not only in the ways I am a control freak, having to put the toys away every night and searching for hours to find the last piece of the puzzle, but a puppeteer who is detached, like she’s a marionette and I’m just a handler, not a mother.  I’m sad on these days, when I have the “I’m faking it” feeling, when I don’t feel gushing love in my heart at every turn, when I am so damn annoyed and grumpy that she woke up again a 5:30 a.m., even though she slept “through the night,” from about ten p.m. the night before and even though the sleeping thing is so much better than earlier in her life.  But, as a mother and a nut who knows she shouldn’t compare kids, I compare my daughter to the neighbor kid behind us who sleeps twelve straight hours, consistently, since her sixth month of life.  My baby still thinks her job is to test, every day, my flexibility in the face of not knowing what comes next.  And then, I feel sad that I want my daughter to sleep and not interact with me, that I just want to be alone.
Most of my detachment disorder comes from my ambition disorder – the fact that I am a writer and want to be a paid writer.  Really, I’m a poor teacher who makes a meager, meager pay, and now that I am also mother, any free time to write is sucked up by taking care of this precious, sweet, so much lovelier than anything I’ve ever written, little person.  But sometimes, I need hours and hours of time alone to just feel myself again, to feel in my body, to gain some sort of conscious contact with a higher power or at least my higher self that doesn’t want to clobber my young daughter for yet again getting into the CD case and throwing every damn one of them like a Frisbee across the room.  Certainly, my need for time alone to just feel okay in the world is some kind personality defect, that I need to sit for hours in front of a blank screen or piece of paper just to feel human again. 
Most days, as a mother, I can forget my need to write, my need to play around in the world of words.  And some days I don’t feel ambition nagging at me like a puppy.  And some days, I don’t care at all that I don’t get any exercise besides hoisting my daughter around, let alone breathe in fresh air or eat a healthy meal.  Most days, I am quite present with my daughter, hugging and kissing and laughing with her, playing with her, inventing new games, like “sculpture making,” with all of her already old toys, even though some are just a few weeks old from her birthday.  But then, some days, like today – is it the rain or the 5:30 a.m. wake up call or the fact that I’m alone again in this mother thing, with no other mommies nor my partner nearby? – finds me crawling in my skin, and wanting a stiff drink at 11:06 in the morning, and wanting to run out of my house screaming in the rain, leaving my poor daughter to fend for herself. 
Last night, the part-time neighbors came over for a nice dinner.  I had whipped up an elk stew, they brought a salad.   Their daughter ate the squash I had cooked, mine wouldn’t eat one bite.  Later when the girls were playing, their daughter was mad because mine was holding one of the eight hundred toys she wanted to play with and so their girl started crying a fussy little whine.  “Fake crying,” the neighbor-mother said.  The girl was communicating she wasn’t happy, was discontent.  Those feelings were real.  But perhaps the mom was right, the crying part was fake.  Yet, I could relate to that little two year old.  I want to fake cry so many days, when I feel like Fake Mommy.  Or when I have thoughts like this:  “I’m just a wannabe writer whose fate is to learn to be an ordinary good mother, good wife, good woman,” or “my life will never amount to anything other than this mundane simple life.”  Yet, on my sober, clear, happy days, I know that life to be the only life that matters. 
The problem is that this Fake Mommy feeling is fed by Ambitious Writer.  I tell my daughter often, “you can be whatever you want to be,” but how could I say that and yet not reach for my own dreams?  This world is not here to hand us a living, and while my own writing career has had a few tiny breaks, nothing earth shattering or big enough to even realistically tell people, as I do, “I’m a writer,” as in someone who really gets paid for writing.  But I have to keep striving in order to show my daughter that striving is how dreams happen, not usually by luck or faith, but by work and focus, and doing whatever we have to do in the face of Fake Mommy days or rain or cold or insanity of whatever sort.  I’m grateful for getting to write at all today.  I pray for my daughter’s spirit, to feel authentic in her own skin, to feel alive and true and whole on almost every day of the week. 

01 December, 2010


Created Tuesday, February 24th, my Fortieth Birthday, 2009.

I’m forty years old with a four month old daughter, the harried birth of whom brought on a case of “extensive gallstones,” which periodically causes bowling-over pain in my abdomen where I pant like a dog and moan a lot.  The whole situation is ridiculous.
To top that all off, last week, the whole family contracted a cold, and since then, my husband has been sleeping in our guest quarters, happily snoring and snorting away.  Meanwhile, since I’m the one with the boobs, I’m on duty.  Last night, my daughter woke for a feeding between ten-thirty and eleven (she goes to bed around seven).  Then, she woke for another feeding at two a.m., and then woke again at four twenty, at which point I tried for thirty minutes while standing in a tee shirt and my underwear to pat her back to dreamland without lifting her up, but her crying finally did me in.  I took her to my bed, put her at my breast and she fell right to sleep. 
For the few weeks before the colds came on, I thought maybe we were getting somewhere as far as a sleep pattern went; she was only waking up once at night and then again at about six a.m., which seemed reasonable.  But with her first cold, she woke herself up far more often, all snotty and coughing.  So I fed her, believing the extra antibodies from the milk would heal her infirmity quicker.  Now, even though her cold is mostly gone, she’s become accustomed to the extra boob-time, squirming in her crib for my nipple like a tenacious rooting piglet.  I watch her for a while, hoping for a miracle that will strike sleep back into her little body, but it doesn’t happen and so, I take her from the crib and put her at my breast.  She suckles for a few minutes, then falls right to sleep; me I’m up for another half-hour counting on my fingers how much sleep I can piece together for the rest of the night if she doesn’t wake up again.  Four months into motherhood, and I’m coming undone.  Against my nature, I’m forced by my daughter to learn to be flexible.
Before my daughter was even a fancy in my mind, for several years, I went to a specialized kind of therapy called Core Energetics.  The reasons for the therapy are not important to this essay but if you must know, they include all the run-of-the-mill reasons for entering therapy; dysfunctional familial life, marital problems, low self image, and career dissatisfaction.  Also, at the time I started therapy, I had a job where I provided educational support groups to abused and “at-risk” teen girls, so I went to therapy as a form of professional supervision in order to be responsible to my own clients.  And besides all that, because I had a “normal job,” I actually had health insurance which paid for at least part of my sessions. 
Anyhow, Core Enegetics, as therapies go, is eclectic and varies widely from provider to provider; but generally speaking, each therapist will stew up a mix of Freudian-based talk psychotherapy, body/somatic work and spiritual practice.  The basic idea of Core Energetics is that, depending on our life histories (and perhaps, even, our past life histories if your therapist is rather high on the woo-woo continuum) we’ll store energy in our bodies in five possible ways, called “character structures,” in order to protect ourselves from hurt or recurring pain.  Once the energy gets stored, the character structure creates blocks and cuts us off from certain aspects of ourselves, so much so that we eventually enter therapy to figure out why we’re so unfulfilled and cut off.  None of the five possible character structures sound appealing, mind you, with names like “schizoid,” “aggressive,” “rigid,” “masochistic,” and, the least frightening-sounding of the five, “oral,” is no picnic either.
Turns out my character structure is mostly a mix of aggressive and rigid.  When I walked into my first day of Core Energetics, my therapist noted the tight balls around my shoulders and the fact that my hips had all the flexibility of two-by-fours.  
“How do you feel inside?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
He raised his eyebrows as if to challenge me.  “You don’t know?”  
I glowered at him.  “Well, fine.  I guess I feel a bit angry sometimes.  As if the world is out to get me.”
“Ah, the archetypal victim,” he said, stretching his arms and then intertwining his fingers at back of his head.  At that moment, I didn’t understand what he meant, though I did notice a feeling inside me that very much wanted to kick him in the shins.
Nevertheless, I continued with this therapist, about every other week or so.  After only a few months, I was surprised to learn, nay feel, how much my life traumas were indeed stored inside of me and how much they were causing dissatisfaction in my day to day present.  I thought a lot about my life traumas because, compared to the girls I worked with who’d witnessed knife fights in their own homes or had been raped at eight years old by an uncle in the bathroom, my issues were absurdly minor: a kid named Toby pushed me down the PlaySkool slide, I had heart surgery at sixteen, which turned out to be a great thing for my health, and my parents divorced when I was thirty-four yet I still had good relationships with both.  “No matter the level of trauma,” my therapist kept telling me, “hurt still gets stored in our bodies and can therefore keep us stuck.”  So, with hard work and searching through these bi-monthly sessions, the tensions of my life began to dissolve and heal.  I became less aggressive and less rigid.
In fact, I became so soft and flexible that I discovered, at thirty-six years old, yes, I did want to have a baby, even though for the last dozen years of my relationship with my husband, I’d been saying I didn’t want one.  But after only two years of therapy all I kept thinking about was a baby and how I could be a mother and how I had the love to give and how I wanted to have a baby with my husband because I loved him too.  My husband and I talked a lot about it, and after few years of adjustment for both my him and me to this new fancy now in both of our minds, we decided one frisky morning we’d try.  Our baby, who’d been waiting all those years for us to get on it, was conceived then and there.
I stopped going to therapy just before my daughter’s conception.  That may have been a big mistake.  But, at the time, stopping therapy seemed a reasonable decision; I’d quit my difficult job as a support group provider and now was happily a full time (though poor and uninsured) writer and part time teacher; my relationship with my husband had forged new roads in honesty and openness; and I had come to terms with having to let my parents grow up on their own.  Plus, my therapist was far away, an hour and a half commute where I lived and gas prices were headed through the roof.  I thought the therapy had done its work and I felt I’d be fine without my sessions.
During my pregnancy, everyone said, “The baby will change your life.”  And during my pregnancy, for me, a wonderful nine-month stretch of hormonal-induced euphoria, during which I experienced great creativity and sensual pleasure, I believed the arrival of the baby would be a continuance on the path of glorious illumination and that was how my life would be changed.  Ah, the hormones; they also induced delusion.  Now I understand what people really meant was, “The baby will change your life by giving you many opportunities for personal growth.” 
Since her birth, my aggressiveness and rigidity have raised their snarling heads like old myths, hideous examples not of change, but of the same old, same old.  As I write this, I can feel balls as big and tight as Darwin, Minnesota’s largest ball of twine wrapped inside my shoulders, and my hips, stiff and permanently postpartum sore, creak like warped wood boards every morning when I plod to her crib.  When my daughter fusses all day or fights going to sleep, which is just about every nap-time and every single night-night, or when my gallstones act up and I find myself throwing up in the toilet while simultaneously losing bladder control from my incredibly weakened insides, I default pretty darn quickly to that archetypal victim.  I pull my hair while crying on the pity-pot.  Nope, my old character structure is no pretty picture, but this time, I’m not alone. 
My daughter, who is quite alert and aware for her tender age has big eyes that shift eerily from brown to green to hazel like mood rings.  With these eyes, she stares at me, locking on to the tension and frustration seething from my back and neck, studying my jerky movements when I try to stand up and my hips won’t bend.  She sees all this aggression and rigidity and she absorbs it.  Sometimes she even starts to cry, a sad, sad cry, which in turn, makes me think I’m a horrible mother who’s causing her to end up with some horrid mix of all the possible character structures that will lead to a lifetime of therapy.  But, to paraphrase Freud, there’s no way for a parent to meet every single need of a child, for they are little need machines.  So, someday I hope she goes to therapy to feel her feelings and work out her own aggressions and rigidity.  Is it wrong that my goal as a mother is to have my child be healthy enough to go to therapy as an adult?