I sat in the middle of a mountain of clean laundry tonight.  Small, soft hills of little boy tees mixed with my husband’s gym shorts and a few of my nursing bras.  A baby onesie stained with a faded orange trail of ibuprofen.  The thin fabric of my favorite yoga pants, smooth under my fingers as I folded them and put them away.  But as I turned the wrinkled corners of Max’s astronaut t-shirt into a crisp fold, I realized that I didn’t know when he had worn it last.

It must’ve been the day that we were in the hospital with Bennie.

The day that Sean and I woke up at dawn and slipped our sleepy-eyed baby boy into his carseat.  The day that we kissed Max goodbye as the babysitter went back to sleep in our guest room.  The day that we were too nervous to eat breakfast, or hold each other’s gaze for longer than a minute, or stop to pee or breathe or drift off into thought.

I wore my yoga pants that day.  I wanted to be as comfortable as possible when I was comforting Ben.  I wanted to be able to fold myself into a chair in the family waiting room, and tuck my feet underneath me when I was nauseous with worry.  I wore a tank top, so that I could easily pump milk for him while he was in surgery.  I wore a sweater that opened in front, so that I could wrap myself up to fend off the bitter cold of a shitty morning.

I twirled the loose button on my sweater as we waited for Ben’s surgeon to come find us.  We tried to read the eyes of the receptionist as the phone rang and she announced to us that we could go wait for the doctor in the small conference room.  “His tonsils were enormous” he said, as I sat up straight in my chair.  “Much larger than we see at this age.  We tried to be conservative.  Like I said, it is very rare for a child this young to need this surgery.  But it should definitely help with the apnea, once the swelling goes down.”  A breath.  A release.  My hand found Sean’s and stayed there.

As the nurse led us up to the ICU, we heard a faint, hoarse cry drifting down the hallway.  “That’s Ben” I said to Sean, and quickened my pace.  “No, he’s up this way” the nurse reprimanded us, as she tried to usher us further along.  The sharpness in Sean’s voice startled her, as we broke away and ran to Ben. “No he’s not…that’s our son right there” he yelled over his shoulder as he rushed toward the tiny cries. Ben was sitting up in a bed that was far too large for such a little boy, a nurse by his side rubbing his back as he coughed and sputtered and cried.  When I lifted him up he was heavy with wires, and wet with sweat.  He pressed his sweet little cheek against mine and sobbed, his voice cracking and catching and choking with fear and pain.  I rocked him, sang the songs that he loves into the soft folds of his ear, and still he cried.  I put him to my breast, knowing that milk and a snuggle was the one thing that would make it ok, and he started to suck, and screamed.

“His heart rate goes down and his oxygen levels go up when you stand up and rock him” the nurse said.  “He doesn’t like it when you sit down with him in the chair”.  I shot her a look.  “These next 24 hours are going to be hard Mama” she said.  “But you can do it.”  I adjusted his wires.  I tucked his bruised arm underneath mine so that I wouldn’t bump his IV, and we stood.  And we rocked.  And we rocked.  And we rocked.  And finally, as the medication took over, I sat gently in the rocking chair and eased him toward my breast.  And he nursed.  And then it was my turn to cry.

I watched Ben’s eyelashes flutter against his cheeks.  I listened to the soft whisper of breath that had grown less labored and urgent after his surgery.  I held him in my arms like I was holding him for the very first time, transported back to the hospital where we began together, falling in love all over again.  My eyes closed.  Ben slept.  And I prayed to a God who I don’t always understand, that this would be a new beginning for Ben.  That the silent pause that had kept him company throughout each night would give way to cleansing, healing, revitalizing breaths.  For both of us.

I changed into pajamas that night, under the fluorescent lights of the hospital bathroom that the ICU families shared.  I waited until Ben was finally asleep, until the monitors were beating in a comforting rhythm.  I took everything out of his hospital crib before I dared close my eyes.  It was dangerous to leave a baby in there with blankets, you know.  Back to sleep.  Nothing that he could possibly suffocate on or choke himself with.  Except for the heart monitor wires that wound out the back of his jammies, and the little red light that connected his pulse ox monitor to his tiny toe.  “Just cut a hole in the foot of his PJ’s so the wire can come out” I told his nurse.  “I want him to be as comfortable as possible”.  It didn’t matter that he had his own nurse watching over him as he slept.  I stayed right beside him.  It didn’t matter that he was hooked up to monitors that told us that he was breathing.  I stayed awake to watch his tiny chest rise and fall.

HospitalSleep

I will never forget the sounds in the PICU that night.  The hushed, grieving voices of the young couple huddled next to the crib on the other side of the curtain.  The gentle shush of the volunteer who ran her fingers through a little boy’s hair as he drifted in and out.  The spanish language soap operas that came from the TV at 3 am, so the little girl whose parents had left didn’t feel so alone.  The urgency in our nurse’s voice as she rushed over to us and threw on the light, when Ben’s apnea made itself known over and over and over again, and the numbers on the monitor took a sharp dive.  The silent pause of brief peace in the PICU, being replaced by a wailing alarm as Ben’s breathing fell into it’s own silent pause.  And then another child paused.  And then another.  Back and forth, throughout the night, each sigh of relief being replaced by another deep, urgent breath.

And as my baby drifted fitfully in and out of sleep, to the white noise of alarms and cries and footsteps and machines, I knew that we would leave the next day.  That our silent pause had a finite beginning, marked with the surprise announcement by the ENT doctor that “this is so rare that we only do a surgery like this on a child under 2 once a year”.  And a finite end.  24 hours in the PICU to watch for complications.  24 hours to make sure that he tolerated the three different procedures well.  24 hours of listening to the monitors alarm and hum, as the nurses looped from bed to bed.  “We heard about the video” they whispered, as I padded to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  “Who’s your pediatrician?” they smiled.  “This was a good catch.  We don’t usually see this in little guys”.  We had been blindsided.  But after countless doctors visits, it all made sense.  The sudden lack of weight gain, the long silent pauses as he slept, the constant colds that he couldn’t seem to shake.  “Maybe you can take a video of him sleeping, if you’re concerned” our pediatrician said.  “And it wouldn’t hurt to see if Max’s ENT could take a look at Ben when he has his next appointment.” she offered.  We had no idea it would turn into this, but suddenly the pieces of the puzzle created a startling picture.  “He’s pausing…right there…right there do you see that?” the Resident said to the Attending as the video played.  “He wasn’t breathing that whole time!”  This was apparently fascinating in a medical resident sort of way, while terrifying in an exhausted parent sort of way.  And so it began, that an office visit turned into a surgery, and a surgery turned into a PICU stay, and a PICU stay turned into two weeks of drawing the blinds and circling the wagons, and focusing on what is most important as our littlest one recovers.

I ran my fingers over Ben’s stained onesie tonight, and folded it in a tiny pile next to the jammies with the hole in the toe.  We had washed off the layer of fear that clung to us that night.  But so many families were still there, under the fluorescent lights, rocking their babies and pleading with the numbers on the monitors to fall into safer rhythms.  Praying that they would escape the silent pause.  Dancing with their little ones cheek-to-cheek, showing God and all that is holy that they refuse to be separated.   “Things can change for any one of us in an instant” the nurse said, as I walked the quiet halls with Ben nestled into the Ergo that night.  “We have to be thankful for what we have”.  Thankful, and humbled.  Humbled by the grace, the courage, and the fight.  Humbled by the kindness of volunteers bringing snacks, friends offering support, doctors checking in.  Humbled by the length of the journey that other children are on.  Angry that mama friends and their sweet boys have had to endure this, for far too long.

And I am, for once, at a loss for what to say.  My dear friends have had to allow every inch of hospital life to invade their families, to alter their life journey, to shake them to their core.  Our 24 hours was nothing, in the face of their courage.  In the face of their indescribable fear.  We went home.  We are home.  I am folding astronaut t-shirts and exhaling into the moonlight, as other families sit and wait.  And worry.  Stuck in the silent pause of uncertainty.

So if you’re wondering where we’ve been the last few weeks, here we are.  Ben is recovering slowly.  It’s been a harder road than we expected, and we’re being extra cautious because of his age.  We are hibernating.  We are holding each other.  We are thankful, and humbled, and terrified, and exhausted.  We are ashamed that we have felt this so deeply, when others are suffering so greatly.  We are medicated.  We are hopeful.  We are listening to Ben breathe, and thanking God that it is easier now.  When I rock Ben to sleep at night, there is no longer a pause.  The darkness is filled with the sound of him nursing, the sweet relief of suck, swallow, suck, swallow.  No gasp.  No familiar pause.  He breathes softly, and gently, and settles in to my arms with a whispered sigh.  And we rock.  And we rock.  And we rock.

HospitalSleepMom

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Dear Mike Francesca, Boomer Esiason, and Craig Carton,

I have no idea who you are.

Really, I don’t.  Sorry.  I had to look up how to spell your names for this article.

But I heard what you said the other day about New York Mets player Daniel Murphy, and my husband knows who you are, so I thought it might be important to share a few things with you.  Since Daniel Murphy’s wife is still recovering from using all of her energy, courage, strength, and sheer determination to deliver an actual human being onto this earth, I figured I’d help a sister out.  In case you were wondering, here are 8 reasons why it’s actually helpful for women to have their partners present when they birth a baby, and in the days and weeks that follow.

1.  The last time I checked, my husband was involved in getting me pregnant.  Daniel Murphy might be a ball player, but I’m guessing he was responsible for getting his wife pregnant as well.  In an era of irresponsible, self-absorbed athletes who routinely embarrass themselves in public, I think it’s pretty wonderful that an athlete would put his family first.  As he should. He was 50% of the decision to have a baby.  I mean, at least I think that’s how it works.

2.  The woman carries the baby for 9 months.  Now granted, I’m sure that’s not as hard as running drills, batting practice, pitching, catching, spitting, traveling to different cities, and whatever else y’all do.  But let’s say it’s a close second in difficulty level.  I’m guessing that Mrs Murphy goes to most of Daniel’s ball games.  Perhaps she even travels to random cities so that she can be close to him when he plays.  Support goes both ways.  And when you’re in the hospital, sprawled out and in pain, terrified out of your mind, it’s always nice to have a friendly face around.  I mean, it’s not as hard as being booed or being on the bench I guess, but let’s call it a close second.

3.  When you said that Mrs Murphy should have scheduled a c-section, for convenience sake, women everywhere felt their stitches pull just a little bit.  You could clearly school me about how to hit a home-run and how to throw a no-hitter, but I have a curve-ball for you.  A c-section involves cutting your stomach open and removing your guts so that the baby can come out.  And then putting your guts back in.  While you’re awake.  I know, because I’ve had two.  It involves stapling your stomach back together, having a catheter in your ho0-ha, and being in the hospital for close to a week so that you can learn to walk, poop, and laugh again.  It’s a little more difficult then being hit by an errant pitch.  But just a little.

4.  Numerous studies show that women who have supportive partners are more likely to have success with breastfeeding.  When you said “There’s nothing you (Murphy) can do.  You’re not breastfeeding the kid”, you told women everywhere that the way a family chooses to feed a child is a solo endeavor.  I’m not sure if you know this, because you might have chosen to show up to work instead of showing up for your kid when they were first born, but the days and weeks after having a baby are absolutely critical for the long-term health and wellness of your family.  This might not be a popular thing to say in the locker room, but boobs are for babies.  Boobs provide nourishment, comfort, and important immunities to babies in their first few weeks (and far beyond!), and the best way to insure that your wife has success with breastfeeding (if that’s what she chooses) is to be there to help her figure it out.  It truly takes more than two hands to nurse a baby in the beginning.  And if your family chooses formula, your wife will need your two hands too.  Do you know how often babies eat?  Whether you’re helping to wash bottles or grabbing your wife a snack so that she can in turn nourish your child, you’re the pinch hitter.  She doesn’t want someone brought up from the minors, she wants you.

5.  You know what will help Daniel Murphy to play better ball?  Knowing that his biggest fan is healthy, safe, and able to care for his child.  You know how that happens?  Having a supportive, attentive, aware partner makes an enormous difference in identifying and treating postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.  Daniel Murphy has a responsibility to his home team, his wife and child.  When women are isolated from their partners in the postpartum period, they are stripped of their biggest support system.  Would you expect baseball players to play well without a coach?  Without fans?  Then why would you ask Mrs Murphy to play the biggest game of her career by herself?

6.  Dads deserve to have healthy attachments with their children.  This relationship doesn’t just begin when they can have a catch in the backyard.  It begins the moment a daddy first rocks a tiny baby to sleep.  It begins when a daddy holds his wife in his arms, and lets her cry tears of frustration.  It begins at 3 am, when he changes a diaper so mom can have an extra 3 minutes of sleep before nursing.  That is how babies learn to trust their fathers, and rely on them.  A child that wants to have a catch after dinner is a child that grew up knowing that Daddy would be around for all of the little moments in between.

7.  When my husband and I got married, our vows included “for better or for worse”.  I consider looking into the eyes of a human being that we created “for better”, and having my insides stitched back together “for worse”.  At no point in our vows did we tell our friends and family that work would come first.  That love and marriage and creating little human beings was going to be awesome, but not as great as our careers would be.  In the game of life, it’s the moments where we meet the people who speak to our souls that matter.  And there’s no seventh inning stretch when you’re a parent.

8.  Money talks, until it doesn’t.  My husband might not play baseball (to his chagrin), but he works in a demanding field that requires him to show up every day and be in charge.  I have the pleasure of being the stay-at-home parent, because my husband works long hours to make enough money for all of us.  Truth?  We still need him to show up at home.   Cars, universities, family vacations, and a pretty new house mean nothing if we aren’t together.  My kids don’t care about their new toys if Daddy isn’t home at night to play with them.  When they get dropped off at preschool, it doesn’t matter that it’s the most expensive one in town.  What matters is that they got to show Daddy their art project when he dropped them off.  The only way to raise kids who will make it to the best university that money can buy, is to give them the gift of your time as they grow.  Or not.  And then they might grow into entitled, self-absorbed, politically incorrect assholes who think that baseball is the most important thing in life.

The first few weeks of parenting a newborn are like the World Series.  Everyone is watching.  The stakes are high.  You realize that your biggest dreams are coming true.  And you wonder if you’re good enough to make it.  Just like the World Series, there are no second chances.  Well, until next season, but you know what I mean.  And for most folks, the opportunity to play in this game, comes once in a lifetime.  Parenting may not bring in the big bucks, but there are many of us who believe it to be the great American past-time.  I might not know much about baseball, but I could teach you a thing or two about how life-changing it can be for a mother and child to have their Daddy around.  As you well know, you only get three strikes before you’re out.  And Daniel Murphy’s little boy is sure to be his biggest fan.  So play ball!  And stick to what you know best.  I think Daniel Murphy has this parenting thing down just fine.

Now could someone please pass the cracker jacks?

Sincerely,

A fan in the bleachers

I brought my baby home from the hospital when he was five days old.

Even though it was only ten months ago, I can’t quite remember what day of the week it was.  In my heart, it was a Monday.

Mondays are for new beginnings.  Mondays are for starting over.  Mondays are for reinvention, and renewal.  Mondays are about redemption.

We took a family photo as we walked through the front door that day.  The newly minted big brother, the proud but exhausted Daddy, and me.  Me, with a relieved half-smile.  Me, with a still bulging belly.  Me, with one hand on my sweet, almost four year old, and one hand gripping the car seat that Ben was tucked into.  This wasn’t our first dance.  No one survives the first four years of parenting without figuring out a few tricks.  But it was a Monday.  And there were too many new beginnings whistling their cat-call from just beyond the front door.  I had known all along that I would need to outrun them, but I thought I’d be better rested this time.  From where I was standing, on the warm bricks of my front porch, I could see the shadow of postpartum depression hiding behind the nursery door.  I knew that just down the hall, breastfeeding was waiting for me, ready to prove that I wasn’t strong enough, or good enough, or healthy enough to succeed this time.

Until you arrived.

I’ll never know what Sean said to you when he let you in that day, but you knew where to find me.  Nestled into the depths of our old brown rocking chair.  Nursing pillow, spit rag, wet ponytail, maternity yoga pants, nursing tank top.  I was a hot mess.  I was holding a mewing Ben.  My fresh-faced, soft-cheeked, days old newborn was swaddled tight in a crisp receiving blanket.  As you walked in, his tiny lips found my breast and latched.  Then unlatched.  Then half-latched.  Then missed my breast all together.  

You moved towards me as my tears spilled over and my eyes grew wide.  You whispered that I was doing a great job.  You rearranged my pillows, brought my water cup to my lips, gently pushed my shoulders back and brought a stool over for my feet.  You smiled.  You smiled and hugged me.  When I thought that I was failing, you told me that I was incredible.

You taught me how to breastfeed.

I’ll tell you a secret.  Dozens of months ago, Sean and I were wide awake at midnight, talking about having another baby.  Or rather, I was talking about having another baby, and Sean was talking about what a bad idea it was.  We barely survived the first year with Max.  And when we finally came up for air, we knew that our curious, active, kind, funny little boy was the greatest child that had ever been born.  How would we ever love another baby as much as we loved Max?  How would we ever make it through another first year?  Would we fight?  Would it eat away at the foundation that we were just now starting to rebuild?  What if I couldn’t breastfeed again, and the weight of that sent me back into a spiral of depression? We whispered together that night.  We made promises to each other.  We allowed ourselves to dream.  And we said yes.  But only if we accepted help.  So as Sean slept, I Googled.  I researched.  I emailed.  I remembered a conversation that we had on the porch of an East Coast summer home with a dear friend.  And I decided we would find a doula.  A full year before Ben was even a poppyseed growing in my belly, I knew that I would need you.

What I didn’t know, as I lay awake that night, lying under a blanket of hope and fear, was how much I would love you.

When I found you, I knew.  I knew that I didn’t have to be a crunchy, natural birth mama for you to support me.  You helped me put my birth plan into words.  You told me about the power that I had in my body.  You reassured me that I could do it, that I had the right to try, and that you wouldn’t leave my side.  I wanted a VBAC, and you helped me advocate for one until I absolutely had to have a c-section.  I knew that I didn’t have to be strong, or know all of the answers.  You met me in the recovery room, and eased right in to the role of making introductions between Ben and I, even though his entrance didn’t happen as I had planned.  You put him on my chest.  You put him to my breast.  You sat behind me, and gave me the birth experience that I thought was out of reach.

And you kept coming back.  Even though you didn’t have to.  Even when the avalanche of breastfeeding catastrophes hit.  Even as you had new clients who needed you.  You came back.  You came back to Ben’s nursery.  You found me in the old worn rocking chair.  You changed diapers so I could feel what it was like to sit without a baby in my arms for 3 minutes.  You brought tickles for Max and magic healing potions for me.  You reheated plates of my mom’s casserole and brought a fork to my lips, because you knew that I hadn’t been eating.  You helped me to brave first baths and dried up belly button stubs and midnight hormonal fevers.  You brought articles about tongue tie and thrush and plugged ducts, and you sat next to me on the floor as we read them together.  Our knees touched as we talked about depression.  You asked me the questions that everyone else was afraid to.  You made it ok.  You rescued me from all of my self-doubt.  You made me feel like I mattered.  Like I was visible, even though I hadn’t slept or showered or had a meal that lasted longer than 3 uninterrupted minutes.  You helped me to find my way back.

I needed a village, and you created one.  I needed a guide, and you became one.  I needed to know that I could do it, that I was capable, and courageous, and you promised me that I was.  That day in the rocking chair?  That was my breaking point.  I was sure that I was failing.  I was sure that I didn’t have any milk to give my baby.  That my body would fail me, and that I would sink back into the chair and get swallowed by the shadows of my past.  Not good enough.  Not strong enough.  Not healthy enough.  And then you arrived.  And my breaking point became my turning point.

Jessica, Melissa, and Cindy, you gave me back to my little boys.  You gave them their Mom back.  You helped me to be a healthy, happy, capable partner to a husband who was terrified that we would start to drown again.  You created a calm, healing, hopeful space where Sean could exhale, and tell me that bringing Ben into our lives was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.  You sat with me on a Monday, and you helped me to find redemption.  You honored my desire for a second chance.  You knew how badly I needed to begin again, and how steep my learning curve would be.  You were by my side as I fell madly, deeply, head over heels in love with the beautiful little boy who completed our family.  You supported me as my first sweet son curled up behind me in the rocking chair.  You told me that we would all start healing together.  Here we are, ten months and many Mondays in to this journey, and I still think of you when I am nursing Ben to sleep at night.  You helped me to heal.  Not just from a bad latch, but from the pain of my self-doubt.  You weren’t just our doulas, you made doula a verb.  Love is an action word.  The sharing of strength is an action.  Teaching is an action.  Holding someone up, weaving a family together, answering the phone in the middle of the night to be awakened by the symphony of fear and excitement that accompanies a rush of contractions….your love, your commitment, your kindness, your wisdom…those are actions, that I am eternally grateful for.

You have shaped my motherhood.  Happy World Doula Week, my sweet doula friends.  My boys and I love you, we honor you, and we appreciate you.

Thank you for being my Monday. 

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