Search This Blog

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Five Weeks.

Oliver is five weeks old today.

Josh spent the morning decorating the ceiling fan with white paper shapes on the blades and wet erase marker drawings (a bunny, a butterfly, an Eric Carle caterpillar, and a message) on the globe. I'm glad he's been creative lately...yesterday, he attempted a portrait of Oliver.

I held Oliver upright in my lap and read Eric Carle's My First Book of Shapes and Winnie-the-Pooh's 123 to him. He listens and sometimes looks at the books. I touched his fingers to the smooth pages.

The rest of the day has included a lot of feeding (I'll write about the craziness of breastfeeding eventually); planning, selecting stories, and creating exercises for my creative writing class (I'm team-teaching it, and my segment on short fiction starts next week); and reading a little of The Writing Circle (a book I bought at a closing looked like fluff, and Josh said it would be a perfect postpartum book). I also cooked for the first time since Oliver was born. I made brown rice with asparagus, cheese, and grilled chicken (boiled egg, soy bits, and hot sauce for Josh). That feels like a big day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Maternity Fairy Clothes: Teal and Purple.

While this dress was very comfortable and wonderful to have during my third trimester, I will not miss it. I like the color combination, though.

In fact, I repeated it on my eyes, using the Too Faced Enchanted Glamourland pallette. These purple flats became the only shoes I wanted to wear at the end. Josh and I would take short walks on campus during my break, and these shoes didn't hurt.

Maternity Dress: Target
Cardigan: Old Navy
Necklace: Target
Flats: Target

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Maternity Fairy Clothes: Royal Treatment.

I think this was the day of my last ultrasound and of my surprise baby shower at work. The red evidence of my respiratory problems appears around my nose. My mother gave me this gorgeous purple cardigan as a Christmas present just before I began teaching. It was one of the first pieces in my teaching wardrobe! I can't wait to start buttoning it again.

Maternity Pants: Motherhood
Top: Target
Cardigan: Ann Taylor Loft
Headband: Target
Necklace: Ann Taylor Loft
Flats: Target

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


When I was driving home today, I was thinking about some music I'd like to hear. After a few minutes, I realized that I have an iPod, and it's in my car. I had completely forgotten this. I think I'd forgotten it for almost four weeks. What else have I forgotten?

On Monday, a coworker came into my office a few hours after seeing me in the hall. She said, "Are you okay? I got scared when I saw you. You looked more than tired. You looked fragile." 

Fragile does describe how I feel. I also feel insubstantial, uncertain, and a little bit threatened. On the way home, I saw a series of huge fir trees that seemed to be missing their back halves--branches, green, roots. I felt a connection with them. I seem to have lost half my essential energy, half my securities, half my ideas about what's important, half my brain power, half my normalcy.

The electricity went out briefly today, so my alarm clock has been blinking blue, and I haven't known the time. This has made me unusually uncomfortable. Work has a strong and unfamiliar smell now...something like pickles and pepper. I smell different too.

Josh and I were trying to nap, and I whispered, "I don't feel real." He asked what I meant, and I didn't know.

How much of this is postpartum changes, and how much is what happened? To what degree have I become a different person, and how long will I take to either go back or to become comfortable with the new self?

Maternity Fairy Clothes: Royal Ruffles.

This poor tank top is straining! I hope I didn't stretch it out too much.

This cardigan was an irresistible find with its fancy pirate ruffles and that lace on the cuff but not right at the hem. This is a feel-good piece of clothing.

These earrings aren't my usual style (I go for dangling more than big and round), but I like them!

A baby is in there!

Maternity Pants: Motherhood
Tank Top: Old Navy
Cardigan: Francesca's Collection
Earrings: Target
Flats: Shoe Show

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Maternity Fairy Clothes: And Mend My Pockets for Me.

I'm glad I got another wear out of this fantastic maternity tank top!

This tiny pocket with a tiny rhinestone on the button makes me think of something Wendy would sew.

Oliver Sweet: coming soon!
Maternity Pants: Motherhood
Maternity Tank Top: Motherhood
Cardigan: Old Navy
Headband: Target
Flats: Shoe Show

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Six Years.

Josh and I have been catching up on Up All Night, an NBC show that, with the new baby and stay-at-home dad, is quite timely for us. We've been watching it on NBC's Web site, and the same two or three commercials appear constantly. One of them is a Lowe's commercial that shows two cardinals remodeling their birdhouse. I keep expecting it to stop being cute, but it hasn't yet. Anyway, the song playing along has the words "Have I paid my dues just to be with you?" That reminds me of the last six years. We've had crazy times. I think Josh wonders how his life became so dramatic.

I would think that adding a third member to our family would make it feel stronger and more stable. Instead, everything feels more fragile. I had to realize how easily I could lose my family. My own delicacy is part of this.

Yesterday, Josh and I were able to really snuggle during one of Oliver's naps. For the first time in months, I didn't have a huge stomach or various bruises and injuries keeping me at arm's length from him.

A few days after we got home from the hospital, I couldn't sleep and was up all night cleaning. When Josh came into the kitchen to try to make me go to bed (saying, "I don't want you to start whimpering like a puppy again"), I started bawling for no apparent reason (well, I guess I had general reasons). He didn't say anything but stood straight and held me firmly until I was calm. That was perfect. I don't think I've had a breakdown since (yet).

When Josh and I first met, I had long straight hair and wore Mudd jeans and glitter. He and a friend referred to me as "the goddess." Now, that's something I can always ponder when I don't feel good about myself. I saw a quiet, steady boy who never got awkward or uncomfortable, who listened intently, and who noticed the slightest details like a purple silk scarf in my hair. I found out that his hair curled when he grew it out and that he would wear glasses when his contact prescription ran out. Those are just superficial examples of the ways I've repeatedly found my dream boy in him. Since then, Josh and I have changed quite a bit, our lives have changed remarkably (several times), and he has seen my appearance evolve and my body completely transform. How much of our happiness is in who we each are, and how much of it is in how we choose to see each other every day?

And now, we've made a miracle together. The making could have dismantled us, but we are here, three of us together. Josh is outside in jeans and a white T-shirt, switching the car seat to the other car so that he can take Oliver to his pediatrician appointment tomorrow while I'm at work. I can't imagine leaving my boys, but I know I'll get through it and then rush home to them. I'll just try to never think about it too much. People will give me a hard time about going back to work so quickly, but I know what I have to do to take care of my family, to ensure that we all have health insurance and can buy groceries and live in Oliver's Love Palace. And Oliver will float safely in the center of a six-year love bubble.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hospital, Day 5

Dr. H arrived at 6. He took one look at me and said, “I'm going to let you go home today.”
Pam said, “You better call your mama right now.”
I did. Oliver came to us soon. I ate waffles and boiled eggs for breakfast. I was in the bathroom when a nurse and a nurse-in-training from my college came in to bring me stool softener. I couldn't see them, but the nurse asked me who had done my delivery.
“Dr. W.”
“Oh, she's good,” (or something like that.)
“Yeah. She was a champion.”
“This is Amy from work talking to you.”
Pause. I couldn't really tap into my life. Then, I remembered the kind nursing instructor who is pregnant with twins. “Oh, hey!” I said.
I came out and talked to her for a minute. She knew what had happened. I had Josh bring Oliver over to show her.

At ten, Josh and I went to a parenting class in the nursery. It was mandatory before discharge, and we'd been hearing about it for two days.

I put on the little jacket that went with my pajamas. In the night, a sweet CNA had said, “I like your lounge wear. It's so youthful.” She had spent time looking for gray socks to match and seemed regretful that she couldn't find any. I liked the baby blue ones she brought, though.

Josh had me push Oliver's bassinet, using it like a walker. I managed pretty well this way. Everyone who saw me exclaimed how good I looked. The door to the nursery was unremarkable, almost like the entrance to a secret clubhouse. A nurse took Oliver, and Josh and I sat down in a little room with a TV and many stuffed, black and white diaper bags (which contained diapers, wipes, and formula—excellent). We watched two DVDs. The room was fairly full, but Josh was one of only two dads. The other moms were texting, most of them wearing pajama pants under their hospital gowns. I cried during one of the DVDs when it showed a doctor handing a vernix-coated baby to a mother. I hadn't seen or experienced that. The doctor will place the baby on your chest or belly kept going through my mind.

After the DVDs, we waited in line for Oliver. The nurse said to another, “You'd better get Mr. James too.” He came out wide-eyed. I walked him back. Josh went ahead of me. Mom had arrived and completely cleaned up the room. She looked shocked when she saw me pushing the bassinet through the doorway.

Josh and I took a shower, and I didn't really need help. I put on maternity leggings and a long top that would work for nursing. I fixed my hair somewhat and then nursed Oliver. Mom asked me what outfit I'd like him to wear home. The outfits I had brought were much too big, so Mom had gone to Belk at some point and bought all the preemie boy outfits she could find (three of them—yellow with ducks, blue basketball-themed with tennis shoe feet, and brown stripe with giraffes). I picked the giraffes but said I wanted to dress him.

Dr. H had given me a prescription for iron and another for Percocet. He said he wanted me to have something stronger than Tylenol. I still needed to stay away from everything else. The hospital pharmacy filled the prescriptions for me.

LeAnna came to discharge me. She took out my IV (which also didn't really hurt) and went over a great deal of paperwork. I'd be going back to my doctor in two weeks rather than six.

Wanda came to discharge Oliver. His jaundice had gotten a bit worse but was still okay. We had made an appointment for him for the next day with his pediatrician. A CNA came to remove Oliver's security anklet.

I pulled a chair over to the bed, sat down, lay Oliver on the bed, and dressed my baby for the first time. I swaddled him as well as I could. A wheelchair was waiting in the hallway. Josh had taken most of our luggage out to the car and was pulling around to another lot. I hoped he wouldn't get lost. This was the real test: I somehow picked Oliver up, stood, walked to the wheelchair, turned around, and sat down. Oliver immediately began lifting his head to watch the ceiling go by. Several people said goodbye to us as we passed. We used that same elevator. Everyone we passed congratulated me, amazed even though they had no idea what we'd been through.

We got outside, and Josh was there. I stood and walked to the car, holding my son. Mom helped me get him in the car seat. We had to tighten the straps as far as they would go. Oliver was patient and stared at everything. I got in the backseat beside him. Josh and I were out in the sunlight for the first time in five days. Oliver was in it for the first time. Within moments, he was asleep.

Hospital, Day 4

I slept. Dr. H came in the next morning and said that my blood was not improving. If it didn't get better in the next few hours, we'd have to consider a blood transfusion. He said I looked very pale.

Oliver arrived, and we had a great nursing session. The next time, though, I couldn't get him to nurse, and he came back from shift change with those formula bottles in his bassinet again. I felt discouraged. I was thinking about that a lot more than I was thinking about my blood. Mom, on the other hand, was ready to take me to a hospital in Charlotte.

LeAnna came to take out my catheter. I was scared this would hurt, but it didn't. My mom later said, “Out is always better than in...except with a baby.” I was worried about getting up all the time to pee because I was still drinking water madly. The first time, Mom placed Oliver in his bassinet, and she and Josh helped me to the bathroom. We laughed ruefully about having done this before. Mom threw away the ice pad and helped me with the peri bottle, and Josh sprayed the Dermoplast. We figured out how to activate another ice pad.

We got Oliver to start nursing again. Mom turned out to be quite the lactation specialist. My dad arrived at some point. The day before had been his birthday, and I felt bad that I didn't have a present and hadn't been able to do anything besides call him and explain my scary sickness to him.

Dr. H returned. He had me stick out my tongue, and it was white. My mom says this was one of the scariest images from the hospital because I clearly wasn't getting better.

Dr. H explained the risks of blood transfusions to me. I don't remember this, but Mom and Josh do. Dr. H looked at Mom and said, “We have to give her this blood.”
I know,” she answered.
Apparently, I signed the consent form.

LeAnna and another nurse named Meredith brought in the first unit of blood. They read numbers from my bracelet, read dates, and confirmed, “A positive.” My IV had survived getting wet in the shower, and I was relieved that I didn't have to get another. LeAnna and Meredith started the transfusion, and while the transfusion itself didn't bother me, I didn't like the look of the dark red tube. Then, one of the nurses nearly pulled the IV out while moving the blood pressure tower. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I yelled, and the poor nurse was mortified at her mistake. After that, I held the tube close and didn't let it near the floor or other equipment or people. Meredith and LeAnna had to sit and watch me for thirty minutes to make sure I didn't have a reaction. Apparently, heart failure was a possibility.

But I was fine, and Mom had to roll the IV tower into the bathroom so that I could pee. The transfusion took a long time, and I felt a lot of pressure in my arm. My blood pressure rose.

Then, I had a second unit of blood, and the nurses had to watch me again. Mom rolled the tower into the bathroom again. Nurses and other staff members kept coming in and saying, “You look so much better!” I'd just smile and point to the blood bag above my head. Some would nod knowingly, and others would look a bit mortified. Josh saw the pediatrician Dr. R in the cafeteria. She asked how we were doing, and he told her about the transfusion. She looked stricken. Several hours later, my transfusion was finished. The bags of blood hadn't looked very big, but I realized that it was a lot of blood.

Soon after the transfusion, I was ready to shower. The night before, Mom had gone to Food Lion. She'd bought laundry detergent and washed Josh's clothes late at night at the hotel. She'd also gotten hair barrettes, a nice razor and girly shaving cream (which Josh had used that morning to shave his face so that he could finally kiss Oliver without worrying about scratching him with his rough whiskers), chamomile and white tea face cloths (which she used to clean my face—so soothing), and kid's detangling spray.

I said, “I think I want to wear my own clothes and my own underwear and my own pads.”
Everyone looked rather amazed. The transfusion was already working.
Josh gathered everything, and we went into the bathroom (he was wearing his swim trunks again). We threw away those ridiculous mesh panties. We kicked the irritating sitz bath (which I had used once, failing to see the point of wasting my energy sitting up to use it) to the side, and I showered with my back to the water. Josh still held me, but he didn't really have to. I put on my own overnight pad, my own comfy maternity underwear, and my own gray nursing pajamas. I was so glad I'd brought all that. Back in bed, I sat up, and with the detangling spray, quickly brushed my hair and put it in barrettes. My dad held my tray while I ate dinner.

Josh's mom; sister, Sarah; and sister's boyfriend, Adam came to visit. I'm amazed so many people could fit in the room. I was, I think, cheery and energetic. But after a while (probably a few minutes), I started to get tired. The night nurse, Pam, came in to examine me. Our guests stepped into the hall. Every nurse would check my bleeding and swelling, have me squeeze her hands, check my reflexes, check my legs for blood clots, and feel for my fundus (the top of my uterus), which was getting lower and lower. Most nurses and even doctors pressed gently on my belly. Pam didn't. I cried out and then wept. She said, “I'm sorry, honey, but this is better than us having to dig out clots later.” This, of course, scared the hell out of me. Josh's family had probably heard me from the hall. Though Pam was rough, she was also serious. She said, “Honey, you have been through it.” We had no doubt that she had read my chart. My mom liked her.

I couldn't really recover after that pain, though. Josh's folks came back in, and I basically held onto my mother and cried. Susan ushered everyone out soon. They had all been so nice. Sarah and Adam had brought tiny cowboy boots.

I asked Pam about a sleeping pill, and she said, “After what you've been through, I want to see your chest rising and falling when I come in.” This seemed reasonable, and I thought that since I'd slept once, I could probably do it again. Pam instructed me to rub my belly hard in the bathroom to keep the blood flowing normally (which I did to avoid her doing it), and she told me to get up every two hours. If I didn't get up often enough, I might not realize how badly I was bleeding. She brought me my Percocet but warned me that I may not go home with anything. Since even Tylenol wasn't on my chart, though, I kept taking that Percocet.

My blood work showed a great rebound. My levels weren't optimal, but they were much closer to normal. I let Oliver go back to the nursery again; I knew I'd need my energy for him if we got to go home the next day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Maternity Fairy Clothes: Stormy.

On cold days, I tend to bundle up in dark colors. I need to make sure to incorporate plenty of brightness this fall and winter to keep my spirits up, especially as I'm away from my precious family. Still, black and gray make me feel sophisticated.

This warm cardigan has rhinestone buttons. It's too awesome. And the key necklace is always wonderful.

I'm looking a little wistful. I don't have very long to wait!

Maternity Pants: Motherhood
Tank Top: Old Navy
Cardigan: Old Navy
Necklace: Banana Republic
Headband: Target
Flats: Target

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hospital, Day 3

Sleep seemed impossible. The nightmare images and sensations continued. Horrible airplane sounds (which I later realized were the bed inflating—it was the sort that rapidly deflates to make a hard surface for CPR) kept scaring or annoying me. I looked at photos of Oliver on my phone. I thought about calling the nursery and asking to see him, but I knew Josh was too far gone to help me if I needed help. The knocks on the door and sudden floods of light startled me. CNAs checked my blood pressure and temperature, and for six hours, someone took my blood every two hours. I'll probably always remember the rattle of the big lab cart. One guy chewed his gum like it was a rubber ball, but I liked him because he got blood on the first try every time.

Dr. C came in for rounds. He no longer seemed frightening or Oz-like, and his clear-cut manner of speaking again felt reassuring.
“Has anyone told you the name of the condition you have? Wait, the condition you had. We're going to use the past tense because we're going to move past this,” he said decidedly.
“I think someone mentioned pre-eclampsia...” I said uncertainly.
“You had severe pre-eclampsia with HELLP syndrome.”
“And the major parts of that are the high blood pressure and the low platelets?”
“Right now, yes. Your blood pressure has been great, but the platelets are still too low. They take longer to get better, so we won't expect a major improvement, but they do need to turn the corner. I expect I won't see what I need to see for a couple of days.”
“Okay. The nursery nurse said I could try nursing today since I've been off the magnesium since last night...?”
“Go for it. Have you been pumping to start your milk supply?”
“No. I was pretty out of it until recently.”
“Good.” I took this to mean good, the mag was doing its job and keeping you from convulsing.

I appreciated his determination that I understand what was wrong with me. I also appreciated his letting me know that I wasn't going home soon.

This was the point when I began to understand what had happened. Mom had begun to read information to me the day before, but I had tuned her out. I was already so stressed and scared, and I couldn't process what she was telling me. She later said that at that point, not telling me seemed wrong.

I looked up the condition on my phone. According to the American Pregnancy Association, HELLP syndrome occurs in 0.2 to 0.6 percent of pregnancies. I learned that according to some studies, as many as one in four women die. Josh, impressively, had slept through Dr. C's visit, but I woke him to tell him what I was learning. We had both known that Oliver was in danger, but we had no idea how much I was in danger.

Josh went back to sleep for a while, and I was lonely. I called Melissa, who was getting ready for work. I told her everything—well, as much as I knew and understood at that point. She had had no idea until my mom sent her a text the day before. She only knew from Josh that I couldn't get an epidural. That was about all we'd known for sure, and our mothers weren't going to try to tell us in the middle of labor. I felt a little better after talking about it myself.

We ordered another bagel for my breakfast, and it took an hour to arrive. By this time, I was starting to feel rough, and I realized that I hadn't had any medication in the night. I called the nurse and asked for Motrin, but she said that wasn't in my chart anymore, so I had one Percocet.

Josh started helping the CNAs change my puppy pads and rearrange my legs and blankets. Oliver came to us soon, and I unsnapped my gown at the shoulder to try nursing him. He didn't seem interested and usually fell deeply asleep as soon as I held him close to me.

Josh changed a diaper for the first time. I gave directions from bed. Poo got on the new diaper, and I said, “That's okay; just get another.” Then, Oliver peed everywhere. Josh had to clean it off the floor when he was done. It was an eventful first experience.

My nurse for the day was named LeAnna. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a sweet voice. She had just transferred from another hospital. She showed me a couple of tricks for nursing, including rubbing his shoulder to keep him awake. I still couldn't get him to latch, and Josh had to use one of the formula bottles to make sure he ate on time.

Around the time Mom arrived, Oliver went back to the nursery for shift change. Josh had his computer out, and he helped me change some due dates for my classes and write an E-mail to my boss. I wanted her to know how serious the situation had been, but I didn't want to bombard her with unnecessary details. I felt very strange about the fact that no one seemed to know what had happened.

Everything got overwhelming. Someone was literally coming in every few minutes, checking my vitals, getting the trash, bringing stool softener, asking about how the nurses were doing.... Someone came in with a rattling scale and wanted to weigh me. The thought of getting up and balancing on that scale was pretty absurd to me. Luckily, someone else came in, and the scale disappeared and didn't return. I had been trying to keep up with asking for a new ice pad every two hours, asking for pain medicine every four hours, making sure Oliver ate every three hours, and making sure I ordered a meal an hour in advance.

My blood pressure was very high again, and mom looked alarmed. I turned onto my left side and began to cry.
“I have to do everything,” I said.
Mom answered, “No, let your subs handle it. That's what they're supposed to do.”
“I don't mean work. I mean here.” Claudia was right; I had to watch out for myself, and my mind just wasn't up to it.
“Josh and I can handle it.” She and Josh started talking about the timing of everything, using matter-of-fact tones to reassure me.
I imagined myself sinking deeper and deeper into the mattress and dark. This wasn't difficult since the mattress did deflate with most movements.

Almost two weeks after we all went home, my mom told me that, in the moments after I delivered Oliver, she thought, Josh is going to be a single dad. She'd watched my blood pressure numbers and seen how watery the blood was as it splattered on Dr. W. She thought I would give up after getting my son out, and she was thinking of how Josh and Oliver could move into the guestroom at her and Shane's house since Josh's parents have been busy with his ailing grandmother.

She asked me if I ever thought I was going to die. I did, but it wasn't in the delivery room. It was on this day as I sank into the mattress. It was a sudden realization. I stopped crying and started praying. I asked God to remember me, to keep Oliver alive so that Josh could have purpose and family, to take care of my boys, and to make sure that my family or Josh's helped them. I considered telling Mom and Josh that I loved them, but I didn't want to scare them, and I knew they knew I loved them. I felt peaceful rather than afraid. I think Oliver was in the room at that point, and I wanted Mom to hold him near me again, but I didn't speak. I breathed in and out slowly. The need to breathe that way was frightening and probably always will be because I had to breathe that way through contractions.

At the time, I didn't know why I felt sure I was going to die. But my blood, which had recovered somewhat after my platelet transfusion, was crashing. I had less than half the platelets and hemoglobin I should have had. I had twice the liver enzymes I should have had because my liver was still destroying my blood cells. I still felt that pain and movement under my ribs. Later, my mom called my grandparents to make sure they knew what was happening. She again thought I might not make it.

Something broke this thought process: probably more needles. I had a buckshot-like bruise on my thigh, possibly from my or someone else's holding my leg up during delivery. With my low platelet count, a fall, bump, or bruise could be dangerous.

I don't remember who told us about my blood; it was probably Dr. C. Once I got into a routine with my pain medicine (and stopped trying to be a hero and took the two Percocet I was allowed to have every four hours), my blood pressure got better. The doctor said I might need a transfusion the next day if I didn't improve.

A very kind and interesting pediatrician, Dr. R, came by. Oliver had had his ultrasound for his abdominal cyst, but we hadn't heard anything about it.

When I was feeling a little calmer, Mom helped me try again to nurse Oliver. She rubbed his sternum, and he would latch briefly before falling asleep. Eventually, she bent over the bed and held him to me without letting him touch much of my body. I was still lying on my side. Josh was behind me, supporting me so that I didn't fall onto my back. It finally worked! Since Oliver wasn't cuddled up to me, he wasn't falling asleep as easily. I'd actually fed him! Mom took a photo of Josh, Oliver, and I with her phone. Somehow, the light from the window made it an utterly gorgeous photo, like some narrative painting one would find in a Christian bookstore. I felt so relieved and content.

Dr. R returned later and told us that the ultrasound still didn't reveal much about the cyst. It isn't attached to anything, which means it's almost certainly benign. It's also very small. It may be a place where Oliver's intestines began to form and then formed somewhere else instead. Dr. R was working on getting us a referral to the head of pediatric surgery at the children's hospital connected to a major university a couple of hours away. This scared me at first, but she didn't mean that Oliver would have surgery. Dr. A was just the next top person to see. I was grateful that she was working to get us such a good referral.

The doctor wanted me to get up and walk, so Josh and a CNA helped me walk down the hall and back. I don't know if anyone would really call what I did walking, though. I was still bent over and picking my way. The positive side was that another CNA changed my bed linens while I was up.

Later, I was ready to take a shower again. I timed it to be about an hour after I took my pain medicine. Josh donned the swim trunks, and LeAnna wrapped my IV with gloves. I noticed that the box of gloves in my room was frequently empty. I guess I required a lot of hands-on work.

The glove wrapping didn't work out so well. Claudia had taped a bio hazard bag on my arm. But the shower itself went a little better. I still had my “purse,” which I hooked onto one of the railings in the bathroom. I had thought to go to the sink first and brush my teeth, something that hadn't occurred to me the night before until I'd used all my energy. Having a clean mouth felt rather fantastic.

I think I went full-on for a hot dog and fries that night. Oliver was nursing every three hours though it took a lot of help from his Marmee and a lot of irritating him awake. I was planning on keeping him with us that night, both so I wouldn't miss him and so we could start getting used to taking care of him for real. I was a little worried that we would have a hard time transitioning to being real parents after this strange experience.

The night nurse arrived and was short with me. She didn't know I had a catheter and obviously hadn't looked at my chart. She gave me a hard time about asking for pain medication and wouldn't discuss my blood work with Mom. Mom reared up. When the nurse came back, she told Mom that my numbers hadn't changed, and she had apparently looked at my chart. She was very sweet to me the rest of the night.

Mom left, and the night nurse told me that I could have a sleeping pill. I knew I hadn't really slept in a long time, and I was starting to lose my mind again. But I was terrified of not getting ice pads or pain medication in the night and being in awful shape the next morning. I didn't want my blood pressure to rise again. I hated feeling my body shake with every heart beat. I also had been set on keeping Oliver with us.

I had a bit of a breakdown. Josh had the nursery nurse come to get Oliver, and I cried about that. I told Josh how worried I was about everything else, and I kept crying and being incoherent.
“You've got to sleep,” he said. “You're out of your mind.”

I called the nurse and tried to explain my worry to her. Josh told me later that I made absolutely no sense, and the nurse looked rather alarmed. She said, “I think taking the sleeping pill would be a good idea.”

Josh assured me that he would keep track of everything I needed and make sure I got it. Finally, I took the pill. Josh sat next to the bed, talking to me with the kind of tone I use when I'm managing something. I think he said, “You're all right,” dozens of times. He told me later that I was whimpering like a puppy and that as I fell asleep, I started pedaling my legs the way I did in labor.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hospital, Day 2

After my D and C, I'd been so terribly cold that I kept asking for more blankets. Claudia got me some straight from the warmer and even wrapped one around my head. I wasn't the only cold one; my stepfather put on the Gap pullover I'd brought. The next day, I kept all my blankets except the headdress.

Dr. W came in early. She had quite an on-call stretch. I don't remember much of what she said. I know I asked if I had stitches, and she said I had just a few, a couple below and one or two above. I guess she must have done the stitches after the D and C. I remember that she hugged me. Later, I would think about what a difficult line she'd had to walk, making such rough decisions between helping me and helping Oliver. To my uneducated mind, she made the best possible choice at each point, and she stayed calm and soft-spoken though she was scared.

The NICU nurse brought Oliver to us early and put him right back in my arms. She had bought a blue and white knit hat for him. One of the nurses was making and selling them for United Way. She said it was a little big, and she might buy him another.

I realized how much I had missed, and I felt a little sad about it. I said to Josh, “I guess everyone has held him?”
Josh looked at me and said firmly, “No. No one has held him but you.”
That made me relax a bit. That was mine.

I wasn't allowed to nurse because I was still on mag, and Oliver didn't need any more of that. Tiny formula bottles and nipples were in his bassinet, and we had instructions to feed him every three hours. That proved to be much more difficult than we imagined. Oliver was either very sleepy or not at all interested in the bottle. When we smelled what was inside, we could hardly blame him.

My mom arrived, wearing a blue-gray, silky shawl against the coolness of the room. She was excited to see that we had Oliver. “Can I hold him?” she asked.
I paused and said, “Josh hasn't held him.” I hadn't thought about it before. Mom was surprised Josh hadn't held him. So I had Josh come take him and sit in the recliner. I was glad I was just with it enough to protect Josh's right and feelings.

Mom struggled along with Josh to try to get Oliver to take the bottle. They managed 20 or 30 milliliters, about a third to half the bottle. I kept telling Oliver that I would give him the real deal as soon as I could. As the day went on, I started getting sad that I couldn't nurse him. I didn't feel like I was being his mother at all. This feeling increased when Josh went to take a shower, and Mom asked, “When was the last time you checked his diaper?”
I was blank. I hadn't even figured out how to unwrap his swaddle enough to see anything but his face. I'd barely lifted his hat to see his hair. Luckily, I was too out of it to feel really guilty or incompetent.
Mom checked him and said he needed a change. She asked if I wanted to do it, and I looked at my encumbered and weak arms.
“I think Josh would like to do it,” I said.
Mom didn't want to wait, though, and risk a diaper rash, so I told her to go ahead. She's a very in-the-trenches grandmother. I made sure to tell Josh that I'd thought of him.

Since Mom had to figure out the complicated swaddle, I finally got to see more of my baby. He was wearing a preemie diaper and a white, long-sleeved T-shirt. His hands disappeared completely because the shirt was so big. The skin on his legs was wrinkly because he was so thin. I noticed that his right arm was stiff, and I asked Mom why.
“That's his IV board,” she said.
I tried not to think too much about this and asked her to pop off one of his socks, so I could see his foot. I expected to see Josh's fat toes but saw my long, thin, flexible ones instead. I had already seen that Oliver did inherit Josh's pretty, smirking mouth.

The nursery nurses came to get Oliver frequently, either for shift change or because we were all too incompetent to feed him well. We saw him often, though. He did come back with a new hat at one point. I asked one of the nurses to help Josh figure out how to feed him, and she offered some techniques that actually seemed to work.

I had no interest in eating, but I did have another grape Popsicle. Claudia had left, and my daytime nurse told me that I needed to start eating, so I could have pain medication. That changed my attitude, and I ordered a bagel with cream cheese. This seemed inoffensive. It arrived quickly, and Mom feed it to me bit by bit. That was the most massive and overwhelming bagel I have ever encountered. I started calling it the loaves and fishes bagel. I felt like I had never really eaten before. But I finished it, and I got a half dose of IV medication, which made me a little extra out of it. We hadn't yet figured out that the mag was the main culprit making me so senseless. We thought it was still the anesthesia. I'm sure that contributed, but the nurse later told us that I would feel so much better once I got off the mag that night.

Josh put my wooly green socks, which I call my Grinch Feet, on me and sometimes rubbed my heels with body butter. They were dry and raw from the sheets. Eventually, I started asking Josh or Mom to bend my knees a little and turn my feet inward. I could move them, but the blankets were heavy, and I was worried about the catheters.

I remember my dad and Susan coming back. I think Shane may have come back too. The day is so blurry. Yes, I think he did come back because James was there at some point. Everyone got to hold Oliver. Susan had brought flowers, balloons, and a gift bag full of junk food. I drank some Dr. Pepper. At lunchtime, I tackled an endless roast beef sandwich. The hugeness of it outweighed my excitement over being able to eat lunch meat. I accepted a full dose of the IV medication, and Mom turned down the lights in hopes that I'd sleep. I was still so anxious, though, and every though I had with my eyes closed was the beginning of a nightmare.

Then, Mom had an idea. My mostly useless arms were tucked under the blankets. She bent over the bed and held Oliver right next to me, his face near mine.
“Mamas are good medicine for babies, and babies are good medicine for mamas,” she said.
I hadn't been that close to him. I nuzzled him (mostly his hat, I think), and finally smelled him. He smelled like any recently bathed baby, but something sparked in my brain with the scent and said, This is my baby. I felt completely activated then and desperate to care for him. But I just reveled in the nearness. Mom says his breathing slowed, and we both relaxed. Josh had gone to get lunch, and he seemed struck when he came back in and saw this scene. He took a photo. I was so grateful to my mom for thinking to do this. I wouldn't have even thought to ask, but it was just what I needed, and I'm sure Oliver needed it too. The thought of his needing me is still surreal.

While Mom, Shane, James, and Dad went to get lunch, someone came to take my blood. I was already covered with bruises. I was completely out of tolerance for pain, even needle sticks. She stuck me twice before giving up and sending someone else. This second girl, who was wearing black scrubs with green Tinkerbell silhouettes, came in confident. I said, “Is that Tinkerbell?” and focused on her scrubs. She got me the first time. Still, I felt completely petrified. I couldn't bear the thought of anyone hurting me, and I was sick of hurting being synonymous with helping. I wanted my mother.

When she came back, I told her about the three sticks and held onto her. Then, the Tinkerbell girl came in again. I don't think I made any attempt to disguise the horror on my face.
“I know, you don't want to see me again,” she said.
This time, she couldn't get a vein either. She dug. Mom was getting pissed. I don't know how many tries it took.

When the IV medication really kicked in, I was loopy. Dr. C, the now-doctor on call, came in. I had seen him before and usually liked his matter-of-fact manner. But with the medication, he seemed to a appear as a harshly-lit cardboard cut-out with a booming voice and abrupt manner...something like the great and powerful Oz. He told me that I'd be off the mag around 6 as twenty-four hours is the limit, and after observation, I'd move to a regular OB room. Mom asked how long I would be staying, and he said something like, “As long as she needs to.” He then looked at Josh and said, “Having babies isn't like it is in the movies, is it?”

I did a little better with my turkey sandwich at dinner time, and I switched to Percocet. I was glad that this was one of my options because I'd had it after one of my other surgeries, and it made me feel alert rather than groggy.

I had a sponge bath, which was soothing though it mostly just spread sweat and oil around and did nothing for the massive bird's nest that was my hair. I couldn't get a full bed change since I couldn't get up, but I got new blankets and pillowcases. Because I was unconsciously having some incontinence (and not the more acceptable kind...though I'm sure I would have had both if not for the catheter), I had to roll onto my side for clean up, which was particularly unpleasant with the soreness and with two catheters trailing out and taped to my thighs.

The nurse could now empty my uterine catheter with a small cup, so the bleeding had decreased significantly. Most people hate urinary catheters, but I was grateful for mine. I could drink gallons of water without worrying about how I'd get to the bathroom. My daytime nurse had been very busy with someone in the next room most of the day, so I hadn't had as much ice as I did at night, and my swelling didn't improve very much. Claudia returned for the night shift, and she told me that Dr. C wanted her to remove my catheter, but my swelling meant I might just have to get another. She spoke to him, and he said the catheter could stay.

Claudia's next job was to remove the uterine balloon. She would first drain half the fluid from it and see how my bleeding responded. If that went okay, she would drain the rest and remove the balloon. I was so nervous about this, afraid it would hurt. But I barely felt the first draining.

By then, Claudia had stopped the mag, and we had grown used to my IV beeping frantically at intervals all day. I started feeling like I could think. My bleeding was okay, so Claudia drained the rest of the fluid from the balloon. I felt the rubber slide out, but it didn't hurt. I was so relieved.

After watching my bleeding for a while, Claudia asked if I'd like to try to take a shower. This concept was rather incredible to me.
“I can take a shower with a catheter?”
“'s like a purse.”

I wanted to be clean. I knew that a shower would either be a fantastic idea because I'd feel more human and less disgusting (since I was finally becoming a tiny bit aware of my body and appearance), or it would be a horrible idea because I'd try to hard, hurt myself, and pay for it. I decided to try.

Mom fished out my face wash and my marshmallow shampoo/body wash. I asked her to get my razor.
“Don't you think that's a bit ambitious?”
“Just for under my arms,” I said. I couldn't imagine ever shaving my legs again.

When we were packing our hospital bags, I'd asked Josh to bring his swim trunks. I'd seen this on a packing list. So Josh, with only slight mortification, put on crazy beachy swim trunks and got the water going in the shower.
“I hope this is a good idea,” I said to Claudia.
“I think it is,” she answered.

Mom held Oliver while Josh and Claudia helped me out of bed. The sitting up was okay. Claudia said, “Here's my arm. I'm not going to pull you, but you pull on me if you need to.” That seemed like one of the most supportive sentences anyone had ever spoken to me. Once I was sitting up, I rested. Then, I was able to stand. I bent forward far, and my legs didn't straighten, but I was able to hobble with Claudia and Josh on either side of me.

The bathroom was large and all shower with a toilet in the corner. I got out of my gown and socks, and Claudia handed me my catheter bag, which was a bit like an old woman's purse. She had me hang it on the shower faucet. Then, she stepped out, and Josh helped me. I stood facing the water, which I don't normally do, but I knew I wouldn't be able to lean back. Josh held me under my arms while I washed my face and hair. I didn't try to wash my body, but I did manage a bit with the razor. When I finished, I knew the shower hadn't been a great one, but I was glad I'd tried.

Claudia came back and had me sit on the toilet while she and Josh dried me and dressed me in a clean gown. She put tan hospital socks on me. We crept back into the room, and she put me in a wheelchair. My hair was ridiculous, and she asked if I had a brush. She spent the next twenty minutes brushing my hair with a little travel brush while Josh packed up the room. She told me about her twin boys and said that soon, all of this would be a distant memory, and I'd just be enjoying my son.

A nursery nurse came to get Oliver. She said I would be able to try nursing the next day since the mag would have been out of my body long enough. Claudia warned me that I would be on my own in the OB hall. I didn't understand what that meant until later.

Claudia wheeled me past the nurse's station and pressed a button. The lullaby Josh and I had heard when we got to the ER on Sunday morning (just the morning before!) began to play.
“This plays throughout the hospital to let everyone know you've had your baby. We usually play it when someone leaves since we're a little busy when the baby is actually born. We certainly were with you.”
I told her about hearing it when I arrived, and I settled into the wheelchair to listen. Whatever else had happened, I had had my baby.

The OB room was tiny. Claudia had told me the bed would be more comfortable, and it was. She and an OB nurse named Levy helped me into it. Claudia told Levy that my legs were very weak. The room was just big enough for the bed, a sink, a recliner, two wooden chairs, a table on wheels, and the door to the bathroom. This looked like a normal hospital room. Claudia had said, “Now, you'll be like all other women postpartum.” That wasn't quite true.

I grasped Claudia's hand as she left. She had been enormously kind to me.

Levy and a CNA cleaned me and changed my ice pad. I noticed that I had something like a puppy pad under me. I had seen the peri bottle by the sink. I knew what that was from reading so much online about delivery and postpartum care.

Mom left to go to her hotel. She was exhausted and said she would sleep until she woke up and then come over. Josh and I called the nursery and had Oliver over for about an hour. I still had the IV in my arm, but it wasn't attached to anything. The blood pressure cuff was gone, and the pulse/oxygen monitor was off my finger. I could hold my baby up close to me. The shower had proved to be a good idea, and the mag's effects were really fading.

After the nursery nurse came back for Oliver, Josh and I tried to sleep. Josh's narcolepsy kicked in hard, and he was completely gone. I got hungry and managed to get him to bring me the bag of junk food. I felt ridiculous, eating peanut M&Ms and potato chips and drinking Dr. Pepper in a dark hospital bed while Josh stumbled around out of his mind. Later, I got him to put my water on a chair next to the bed, so I wouldn't have to ask him for it.

Because having the ice packs again had clearly helped my swelling, I called the nurse every two hours for a new one. I had started rotating and shifting my hips in bed, a weird exercise instinct, and the nurses and CNAs were surprised by how well I could push up when they changed my ice pads. I didn't realize, though, that no one would keep track of my pain medicine for me, and I would suffer for that the next day. I should have listened to Claudia.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Maternity Fairy Clothes: Beribboned.

I like this navy and burgundy combination.

This is another of those ribbon-trimmed cardigans from Old Navy. And yes, that is Oliver ten days before his birth.

Maternity Pants: Motherhood
Top: Gap
Cardigan: Old Navy
Headband: Ann Taylor Loft
Flats: Nine West

Monday, October 10, 2011

Maternity Fairy Clothes: Poetic Princess.

I wore this on the day of Mr. Poet and luncheon at the college president's house. I had to get more use out of this great maternity dress (which I also wore when my thesis adviser visited campus in the spring). As it turned out, this was the last time I'd wear the dress. I love the long necklace and the way it curved out with my belly.

I'm wild for Cicely Mary Barker's flower fairies. My grandmother bought me this purse years ago. I think it was in Asheville, NC at a charming little gift shop near the Biltmore. This became my go-to purse when my big bags were no longer comfortable. My cell phone, keys, wallet, and lip gloss barely fit in the purse, but it's so pretty.

The end of my pregnancy was rough, but this was a great day.

Dress: Target
Necklace: Ann Taylor Loft
Headband: Target
Flats: Target
Purse: Gift from Nanna

Maternity Fairy Clothes: Plum Princess.

Posting backlogged maternity photos is a bit surreal. I didn't realize how much swelling I had. I thought I was just rather chubby, but the double chin and many other features faded too quickly to be that. Anyway, this dress was a lucky purchase. It's lovely, and it worked throughout my pregnancy. The fabric is soft and light, and the color makes me feel like royalty.

I love embellishments like this.

These earrings are fun, and I like that the metal is pewter-colored instead of bright silver.

I wish I could actually see this prettiness when I wear the cardigan!

I like how Josh's shadow appears in these photos.

Dress: Target
Cardigan: Belk
Earrings: Target
Headband: Target
Flats: Shoe Show

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Oliver's Birth.

First, I'm going to tell you what a nurse named Amanda told me: "Nothing about this delivery has been normal." My experience is extremely rare, and I don't want it to scare anyone. I do, however, need to tell the story, and I want future mothers to be aware of the signs of this condition. My boss, who has been a great friend to me, told me that in order to heal, I need to cry a lot and tell the same story over and over again, so I can begin my "second life." She's a wise woman.

Oliver's birth story began on the night of Saturday, September 24. In the last few days, I'd been scrambling to catch up my grading. I guess this was a professional equivalent of nesting. I'd succeeded pretty well and intended to continue working on Saturday, but I began to feel rough. I felt sick and just not right. Contractions really got going in the late afternoon, and they went on for five hours, eventually coming three to five minutes apart. Josh called the hospital and spoke to Dr. W, who said we should come in. She is one of the few doctors whom we hadn't yet met at the group practice.

I wrapped a throw pillow in a beach towel and placed it in the passenger's seat. This helped me handle the bumps and vibrations of the drive. I had been reluctant to go until I realized I had a low-grade fever. I didn't want to take chances with that.

I told our moms but asked them to wait until I saw the doctor--no point in they're driving out for nothing. I told Josh, "I'll still be at work on Monday." Every time my contractions got crazy, I would say in frustration, "I keep feeling like this could be it, and then, I'm back at work the next day." I love my job; it's perfectly suited to me. I've felt deep dread over every other job I've ever had except my other community college teaching job. Still, work had become so surreal because I was sick and was ready to focus on motherhood for those precious three weeks of leave. I felt so unsure of my body and what was happening.

When we arrived, the receptionist nervously moved through my registration, and a woman stepped aside quickly, insisting I get help before she. I spoke calmly to another receptionist named Buffy, who complained that we were having a boy and couldn't name him after her. I got into a wheelchair, and someone took us upstairs. The contractions were weaker, but I felt more sick. I wasn't sure what kind of sick exactly.

Josh was dismayed when the person wheeling me said he had to wait in the waiting room. I was only slightly nervous. I've forgotten the name of the nurse who helped me that night, but she kind of looked like an Emma, so I'll call her that. Emma weighed me (165, 40 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight) and took me into one of the peaceful, spacious rooms. I found the open blinds odd. She showed me a cup and a gown, and I hobbled to the bathroom. I noticed a birthing ball in the shower. Then, I got in bed. The bed was hard, but I liked the contours.

Emma said my blood pressure was high, so she had me lie on my side. She placed the two monitors (contractions and Oliver's heartbeat) on my belly. The monitor wasn't picking up my contractions. I liked listening to Oliver's heart so constantly, though. I'd been damp, but I didn't know if it were sweat. Emma said she'd have to do a dry cervix check (no lubrication), and it would be unpleasant. She was still gentle, though. The green tape didn't turn black, which meant I wasn't leaking amniotic fluid. "And you're closed," Emma said. This dismayed me not only because it meant I was going home and had done exactly what I didn't want to do--go to the hospital for no reason--but also because it meant that all those contractions I'd been having for weeks had done nothing. Emma put a new contraction monitor on me. I told her about some discomfort and symptoms I'd been having.

My blood pressure leveled out, and Dr. W came in. She said, "When your husband called, I thought we were having a baby tonight, but that's not going to happen. Your cervix is closed, and we're only picking up mild contractions. The symptoms you're experiencing are normal for late pregnancy." She was kind of soft-spoken, but I still felt ashamed. I also felt worried--if these "mild" and ineffective contractions had bothered me so much, how could I ever bear the real deal? I had no idea, though, that I would soon learn just how strong and brave I could be.

Emma sent Josh to me, and he helped me get dressed again. He didn't seem disappointed or annoyed at all. We walked out of the quiet ward, and then I had another dose of shame and frustration when we paid the massive ER copay. But I told myself that I had been able to listen to my son's heartbeat for half an hour, and that was pretty wonderful. I told Josh he would be delivering our baby at home because I would never trust myself to go to the hospital again.

I held it together until we got into the car, and then, I cried hysterically for most of the way home. I was tired of feeling sick; I hated that I'd wasted time, money, and other people's time; and I was scared that I was, in fact, a coward and weakling. I think Josh was a little scared, but he just patted me and drove in silence as if he knew I just had to get it out. Generally, I rarely cry.

Dr. W had told me to take Tylenol for my discomfort and allergy medication to help me sleep. I'd usually been reluctant to take any medicine, but I took Tylenol, Tums, and half a Cyrtec when we got home. I just wanted to sleep. I no longer cared about grading over the weekend or just bearing the heartburn or other issues.

After yet another hot shower (my main comfort), I did sleep for a while. But then, I started having contractions that were more intense. I felt them solely in my back. They were ten to twenty minutes apart, though, and I was groggy, so I had a lot of relief during the breaks and drifted in and out of sleep. They got hard enough that I started bicycling my legs in bed. I'm not sure why.

Around six, I felt a little wet. I got up to go to the bathroom, and I thought I still heard liquid coming out after I was done. That seemed odd, but of course, water breaking is rare. I then realized I was bleeding a little from Emma's exam. Seeing blood is unsettling after so long. I put on a pad and lay down again on my side. Josh had gotten up to sweep the floors. Another contraction started, and I felt fluid coming out of me in tiny pumps. "I need a towel!" I shouted to Josh. He ran in with a beach towel, and I got on top of it. I was scared that I had really started bleeding. I looked at the pad and saw only pink streaks.

Josh said, "It happens."
"I didn't pee myself," I said. "And it's not just blood. Feel it. It's heavy." The pad was drenched with something that was mostly clear.

I called my mother, but she didn't answer. I called Susan (Josh's mom) and told her that I thought my water had broken. We discussed it and agreed that we didn't know what else it could be, but I wanted to wait a bit. She said that if that was it, it wouldn't stop. I reached my mom, and she had similar thoughts. I got on the ball for a bit. I walked around the living room, and a slow trickle continued. I went back to the bedroom, stood over the beach towel, and bowed over the bed when contractions came. Josh pressed his hands to my lower back and confirmed that fluid was still coming out when I contracted. I decided to take a shower; it would feel nice, I could see if the leaking continued, and I'd be clean if we did go back to the hospital. Of course, I was in no hurry to go back! Josh got in the shower with me and held me up during contractions. Even in the water, I could feel the leaking. I went to the bathroom again while Josh showered, and the fluid saturated the toilet paper. Red, stringy mucus came out too, which was probably part of my mucus plug. "Okay," I said. "We need to go."

Josh called labor and delivery and basically said, “We're coming.” He didn't even ask to speak to the doctor. I wondered who would be on call then. We got dressed. I put on the same odd clothes I'd had on the night before--a pair of Josh's red plaid pajama pants and a turquoise tank top (which used to have Matron of Honor in white iron-on letters on the back--from Melissa's wedding) with a big gray Gap pullover (a hand-me-up from my brother) in case I got cold. The night before, I'd asked Josh to get me some socks, and he'd brought my favorite pair: wooly with purple and silver stripes. I put those back on with my old gray and blue New Balances and put on a cloth headband. Josh wore black pants, a gray T-shirt, and a blue flannel shirt with those black boots he loves. I went to the car and kept sending Josh back for phone chargers, deodorant.... Our neighbor was in his yard and waved hesitantly, probably knowing what we were doing. He must have really wondered later when we didn't come back the next day or the next day.

I called Susan, and the leaking was fast enough that I felt confident. My mom had gone to the first service of church (she's the acting children's minister), so I didn't reach her at first. Then, I dropped my phone between the seats. Great. Right then, the phone rang—probably my mom. We pulled over and got the phone, so no one would worry. I called Mom back and told her we were on the road. I again told everyone to wait.

The drive seemed much shorter this time. The contractions were hard, but I felt sort of exhilarated and peppy. The contractions were about eight minutes apart and lasted about thirty seconds. Josh could check the car clock and tell me when another was coming. I texted Susan, “Maybe Sept 26!” This was at 8:43 a.m., and I expected a long, long labor. I ate a cinnamon PopTart, knowing I wouldn't be able to eat once I got to the hospital. I didn't feel up to eating more than one.

I made a few jokes about the doctor sending us home again, but at this point, I felt justified. What could be more obvious except a massive gush and flood? A security guard at the ER entrance said, “Is it time?” with a big grin. I said I hoped so since my water had broken.

Luckily, my information, and registration was brief. I made another grim smile for the Web cam-style bracelet photo. This time, I got a wheelchair immediately. Ruptured membranes seem to be the ticket to fast service! Josh and I waited for a minute, and we heard a lullaby playing over the intercom. Someone said, “A baby was just born.” We smiled to ourselves.

Buffy was there (I asked if she was back or was just, horribly, still there. She said she was back.), and she remembered most of my information. Josh was quick to answer how long and far apart my contractions were. Buffy called up to L&D and told them my water had broken. The nurse asked if I were sure, and I said I was pretty darn sure. A sweet, older woman wheeled me up. She asked questions and was then quiet while I had contractions. Josh went quietly to the waiting room. I wondered if everyone would say, “Oh no, we don't want to see that girl again.” A young, blonde-haired, blue-eyed nurse met me at the desk. She looked me over and asked if I were wearing a pad. I don't know if she asked because I wasn't visible leaking or because she didn't want me to leak everywhere. She started me toward the scale (which reminded me of a skiing game at Jillian's...a big platform with handles) and said, “You were just here last night, right? How much did you weigh?” I told her, and she took me to a different room. The cup and gown were there, and I felt rather wise and experienced. This room had no birthing ball that I saw but did have a jet tub. Even then, though, I didn't think I'd be using the tub. I could see strange, swirling fluid in my pee cup.

I got into bed, and Debbie put the monitors on me and checked my blood pressure, which was high again. She put me on my right side, facing her. The monitor still wasn't really picking up contractions, but she said it probably wouldn't since I was on my side. She stood at the computer and asked me tons of questions—everything from my last menstrual cycle to whether or not anyone was hurting me. another nurse came in. She was brunette, friendly, and confident. She took out the green tape, barely touched me with it, and said, “It's positive.”

She checked my cervix and said, “She's in labor. She's three...maybe four centimeters. I give her four.”
“How effaced?” Debbie asked.
“80%, plus two.” Plus two, I think, referred to how far down Oliver was.

I felt both excited and relieved. Four centimeters! Whoa! I would not be going home. I wondered when Josh would come in. I had lab work, and then I got my IV. Neither were bad. I was still having good breaks between contractions. Debbie opened the doors to the baby alcove, turned on the lights around the warmer, and started laying blanket after striped blanket in the bed. She went to a cabinet (whence had come my bed pan) and showed me a tiny diaper and a tiny pink and blue striped hat, which she placed in the warmer. I felt so happy seeing those.

I thought about my mom and how long it would take her to arrive. I strained to hear Josh in the hall. Finally, I did hear him, and he came around the curtain at the door. He said hesitantly, “What's going on?”
I told him what Amanda had said and showed him my IV. “We're not going home,” I said. He had been in the waiting room for over an hour.

I had a fierce need to pee, and I asked Amanda what I should do. She looked regretful and said I'd have to use a bedpan. Since my water had broken, she didn't want me to get out of bed. I thought briefly about how I wouldn't be using the birthing ball, rocking on my hands and knees, walking, leaning on Josh, leaning over the bed, or doing any of the movements I'd imagined. I had no problem with the bedpan though; I just had to go. She set me up and told me to hit the button when I was done.

I thought I'd never be done! I don't know how I peed so much. I felt sure I was flooding the whole bed, but Josh said I wasn't. Poor Debbie was the one to answer the call. I still felt like the bed was flooded. At some point, I used the bedpan again, determined not to have any extra pressure.

He called his mom, and I tried mine. I had to try again, and I told her that I was pretty sure I was sitiing in my own piss, and I was okay with it. I told her about my dilation and effacement. She said she and Shane (my step father) were about to pick up my brother, James, and come in two cars (so Mom could stay). I called my dad and told him. He seemed surprised and excited. He said he'd be on his way. He ended up bringing James a little later, so Mom could hit the road.

Dr. W was still there! She checked me, and I was still at 4. She and Amanda placed internal monitors. That wasn't fun. One tracked my contractions (much more effectively than the belly strap!), and the other tracked Oliver's heartbeat. I tried not to think about the latter piercing my son's scalp. Instead of the heartbeat sound, we started hearing beeping to signal his heartbeat.

Amanda was then doing something to my IV, and I said, “I have GBS. I need antibiotics.” GBS is Group B Strep, a bacterial infection many women have in their reproductive tracts. It doesn't affect adults, but it can be fatal for a baby. IV antibiotics ensure that the baby doesn't get the infection during delivery.
“I know,” she said. “That's what I'm doing right now!”

Amanda had asked what I wanted to do for pain management, and I had firmly said, “Epidural.” She came in and looked a little nervous. She said my labs showed that my platelets were at 62, and they had to be at least 100 for me to get an epidural. She said, “We'll redo the labs. Everyone makes mistakes.” I stayed surprisingly calm, hoping, like her, that the results were an error or that my platelets would magically rise. I didn't think about what platelets meant beyond my ability to get an epidural. I probably didn't even know that they represented my blood's ability to clot.

I called Mom, who said she wasn't speeding right then because she was driving through Wadesboro and didn't want to end up in jail there (she had just returned from a conference in Dallas and had lost—as in misplaced—her license at the airport). I told her that I might not be able to get an epidural because of my platelets, but I was getting another lab.

She said, “It might come out okay this time, especially if they were borderline.”
I don't think they were borderline. They have to be 100.”
And what are they?”
She must have hit the accelerator then. I think that at this point, the Crytec was still helping me stay calm, and I wasn't thinking anything through very thoroughly.

I heard Amanda tell Dr. W, “I've changed it from stat to critical.” Someone came to redo the labs.

Another check, and I had maybe reached 5. Amanda said that we had to start Pitocin because my contractions were still too weak and far apart. I was enjoying those breaks, and the contractions certainly didn't feel weak. I asked to see Oliver, and Josh tucked the Oliver-on-a-seahorse Mary Engelbreit card between the rail and the mattress. I began staring at it during my contractions, telling myself about it. Here are five fish. This one is blue; this one is yellow. This dolphin looks happy. Oliver's toes are gripping the seahorse's sides....

Oliver's heart rate dropped. I'm not sure how I was really aware of it, but people rushed in. Amanda said, “I know you're having a contraction, but I have to do this.” She checked my cervix. “Sometimes, the baby's heart rate drops during sudden, fast dilation. That hasn't happened. Let's get you on your side.”

We alternated sides, and Oliver seemed to tolerate me on my right side better, so we stayed with that. Susan had come in at some point. I think she kissed my head and sat down behind Josh. I don't think she had expected so much to be going on. I'm sure she knew right away, far more than Josh and I did, that something wasn't right.

Amanda said that my labs had been correct. No epidural. She said I could get some IV medication, and that they would coach me with breathing, rub my back, and do whatever they could to help me. I thought coaching? Rubbing my back? Seriously? But I just nodded and got ready for another contraction. With the Pitocin, I wasn't getting those good breaks anymore.

Amanda told me to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. She modeled it. I held both Josh's hands and kneaded them. Sometimes, I clutched his shirt. He prompted me to breathe. Sometimes, I'd forget to or get confused about when to use my nose and when to use my mouth, and he'd remind me. I could follow directions but not much else. I kept looking at the Oliver card.

Josh sometimes looked at the monitor and told me when a bad contraction was coming down off its peak. I had started pedaling my legs again; and I was dipping my head, lifting it, and pulling it back like a seal in water with every breath. This seemed to help me somehow. I didn't squeeze Josh's hands but kept kneading them. Sometimes, I wanted to dig my nails in or bite, but I was just self-aware enough to not do it. The same was true of cursing.

I was at 6. My mom arrived. I don't remember what she said, but I saw her and Susan talking to Dr. W. I knew this should scare me, but it just annoyed me. Susan and Mom were talking close to the bedside. I couldn't understand them, but the sound and sight irritated me terribly, and I would have kicked them if I hadn't remembered that I needed the energy (to pedal and seal, of course). Seeing them walk away and text also drove me crazy, in part because part of me knew something was wrong. But Josh's voice continued, telling me what to do.

As I learned later, my mom had told Dr. W she didn't like my blood pressure numbers, and Dr. W had said, “That's because we have a serious problem.” I had severe pre-eclampsia with HELLP syndrome. Pre-eclampsia is serious high blood pressure related to pregnancy. HELLP stands for 
hemolysis (loss of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes, and low platelets. The liver enzymes are elevated because the body begins to reject and fight the placenta's hormones. This leads to breakdown of the placenta, and the liver begins to destroy the mother's blood cells along with everything else. I didn't know any of this at the time. I think Amanda did say pre-eclampsia at some point, and I remembered it as a complication I'd read about on a pregnancy Web site. Little else registered, though. I was busy.

I remember Amanda saying, “Sometimes we can be very, very sick and not know it.” Later, I would start to understand why I felt so awful during the last weeks of my pregnancy. Being strong at work every day had been such a struggle, and I usually surrendered to bed and misery as soon as I got home.

Amanda asked me if I wanted ice chips or a Popsicle. I'd been wondering if I could drink or have something wet, but I hadn't used my energy to ask. I eagerly said Popsicle and was even happier when another nurse said grape was an option. We always run out of grape at home; it's my favorite. But Dr. W said no, and Amanda said, “Ice chips.” I tried not to be too bummed about this. I got a shot of IV medication. For a moment, I felt woozy and whirly. I fell asleep between a pair of contractions. The medication seemed to cut the very top off the contractions and make the dips a little lower, but that was all.

I had a question; I don't remember what it was. I said, “Amanda?”
She turned to me in disbelief and said, “You remembered my name.” I don't know if this was because most patients didn't bother remembering or because I shouldn't have been rational at that point.

Amanda stopped the Pitocin because of Oliver's heart rate. She said I might have a C-section because he might not tolerate labor. I didn't really react to this. I had told Josh that I thought Oliver would be born early and by C-section. I didn't know, though, that a C-section was nearly impossible because of my platelet count. I could bleed out.

I felt a tube. Dr. W and Amanda put fluid back into my uterus to cushion Oliver and reduce his stress.

Susan mostly stayed near the monitors. Mom and Josh started feeding me ice chips between contractions. My throat was getting dry and sore from the hard breathing. At some point, I switched to my left side. I asked my mom to rub my back and butt, where I was still feeling all the contractions. Josh also tried, and Mom was distressed that she couldn't rub very hard. But I didn't want hard rubbing during the contractions; I didn't like the movement. So I told Mom to rub during the contractions and Josh to rub between them. This became 100% essential. Once, Mom left the bed, and a contraction started.

Mama!” I yelped.
She responded as if I were begging for comfort; I think she said something encouraging.

But I said, “You must rub it.” I had to make her understand, and she did.

Amanda started the Pitocin again. Mom and Josh had a bit of a hard time juggling this and the ice chips, but it was working. Poor Josh was leaning over the bed and me to rub my back. They were also trying to hold the Oliver card where I could see it. Kind of like a crucifix against evil, they held up that sweet little art work against my pain. Eventually, though, I couldn't focus on it anymore and told them to put it away. I was between 7 and 8.

Mom's rubbing wasn't helping anymore. I said, “I think you and Josh need to switch jobs.” My occasional sentences were very purposeful, and as far as I remember, clear though clipped. Mom got in front of me and took on my hand-kneading. I was leaning into her, pulling her. Josh got behind me and rubbed my back and hips hard, still coaching me to breathe. He didn't tire, complain, or stop. I was so grateful. Once again, just as I had scoffed at the focal point and breathing techniques, I had to accept that the back rubbing did help.

I had another shot, and Amanda told me I couldn't have anything else after that. I felt a bit of panic, but the medication hadn't done much the first time. This time, it didn't nothing. The contractions were too close. I barely had time to crunch a couple of ice chips before another contraction came. I had no rests. I tried to get the moisture from the ice chips fast, so I wouldn't inhale the chips and choke.

Soon, I felt another insertion: the sting of a catheter. At least I wouldn't have to think about bedpans.

Amanda started magnesium sulfate (or as the hospital staff usually called it, mag) in my IV, and she and another nurse rushed to pad the rails of the bed with blankets and tape.
“What are you doing?” I asked since the action was irritating me and disrupted my motions.
“This is in case you have seizures,” Amanda said simply.
I accepted this, assuming that it was a normal part of delivery, a part I just hadn't read about. I was wrong; my extremely high blood pressure put me at risk for seizures, and the mag was supposed to prevent them. I would be on the mag for the next twenty-four hours, and it would soon make me feel mostly out of my mind.

I was at nine. Susan came back. I knew that I would want to push soon. I was glad I'd read so many birth stories and repetitive articles. I was more prepared than I'd thought.

The pressure started in earnest. I could stand it, but I didn't think I could for long. I was breathing maniacally through the contractions. I couldn't speak. I stared wide-eyed at my mom, and she tried to soothe me. But I was trying to tell her something. I glared frantically at Susan, willing her to understand, and she said, “Are you feeling pressure?” I nodded crazily.

She told Dr. W., and Dr. W. or Amanda, I'm not sure which, told me that I could push when I had to, but that most first time moms push for two hours or more, and I needed to conserve my strength as long as possible. I think I got through a two or three more contractions before I was again popping my eyes out at Susan. She got Dr. W, who I think checked me again and said I could push.

Deep breath in! Push! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten! Breathe out. Breathe in. Again!”

Push like you're having a bowel movement!”

After suffering major constipation for over a year because of endometriosis, this was language I could understand. I went with it, and I knew that most women do have a bowel movement during delivery. Josh and I had discovered this during a funny moment in Scrubs, and we had read about and discussed it. I couldn't really understand why women get so upset about it. Why have anything in the way? I pushed. I heard Josh say, “Just let it out,” and I felt Amanda's quick clean up. I couldn't care less.

Josh picked up on the pattern and coached me through three pushes. Maybe I got to push through two or three contractions. Then, I heard a voice shouting numbers. Oliver's heart rate had dropped dramatically, and a nurse was counting the rise after I stopped pushing. Dr. W said I had three pushes to get him out, or I had to get a C-section. My mom asked how Dr. W could do a C-section with my platelets so low, and Dr. W said, “That's the problem.” I wasn't really aware of any of this.

Dr. W said, “You have to let this baby rest. You have to breathe through every other contraction.”

Breathe through it? Now? This sounded utterly impossible and a bit like gibberish. I was going to obey her, though. She said breathe. I pushed myself up using the handles at my hips. I imagined that I had horrible indigestion and was stuck in the car. “Don't ruin your nice Loft pants,” I told myself. I wasn't just not pushing; I was holding him in. Amanda told me to blow out the pressure when I exhaled. I blew hard. I cannot describe the utter impossibility of what I was doing. Hearing don't push was like hearing don't breathe, don't come up out of the water, don't blink, only more intense and massive and urgent. My body was going to push without me, and I had to fight it. Oliver was recovering.

Then, I had my reward and got to push. The pain of it was slightly smaller than the relief. I hoped I was pushing correctly. I tried to stay focused. I began to moan, but Amanda told me to hold my breathe and use everything for the push. Eventually, only Josh was counting. Amanda was grabbing people from the hallway. No one else was delivering. I could see girls in the baby alcove. I could hear new voices. About fifteen nurses were in the room, some for me, some for Oliver, and some for an emergency C-section.

Then, I had to breathe again. Sometimes, I had to breathe through two contractions. Everyone told me to blow hard when I exhaled to release some of the pressure. Every time a contraction mounted, I asked frantically, “What do I do?” and either Dr. W answered, or Susan asked her.

Amanda turned me on my back put my legs in stirrups—not the GYN kind, but major ones that held my calves. Most of the bed disappeared. Amanda put an oxygen mask on my face. Every time I inhaled deeply and frantically before a push, the mask collapsed around my face, and I felt that I'd suffocate.

I remember bottles squirting soapy fluid and water to clean me. I remember the vacuum and the rumbling sound and the weird pop and splash as the vacuum came off Oliver's head. It wasn't holding. I heard Dr. W's soft, calm voice and looked up. I saw her face behind a blood-spattered shield, and it was like a horror movie moment when a trustworthy person becomes frightening. I would see that image in nightmares for days. The vacuum kept popping off.

Everyone started responding to my groans and deep inhalations. They didn't seem to be watching the monitor anymore. Their voices changed.

Come on, Becky! Push him out. Get Oliver out. You can do it. You're doing great. He's coming! He's almost here!”

I wanted to know what this meant. I could feel burning, and I could feel Dr. W trying to stretch me with her fingers. She seemed to be circling Oliver's head. Was his head out? Had he crowned?

Only Josh's voice didn't change, though he was apparently counting through gritted teeth. He reminded me to breathe between pushes and between contractions.

Sometimes, I heard, “Don't cry out! Hold your breath!” Apparently, my face turned red and then purple.

Then, I heard, “We can see his hair!” I pushed past ten when I could. I don't think Dr. W was making me breathe every other time anymore. I'd been pushing for an hour and a half. He had to get out. Dr. W was using oil to grab the small visible amount of Oliver's head and then to reach in to grasp his shoulders. Suddenly, I felt a great release and quake and bumpy slide. I knew he was out. “Please God, please God, please God,” I whisper-breathed. He was born at 6:28 p.m., twelve and a half hours after my water broke and nine hours after I arrived at the hospital.

No lift-up to show us; no asking Josh to cut the cord; no slick, bloody, white-coated baby on my stomach; no cry came. The baby alcove was wild. I hadn't glimpsed my son at all. My mom had disappeared to the alcove. Josh stood steadfast beside me. “You can go,” I said. I was getting ready for the relatively easy part: delivering the placenta. My friend Melissa had told me that she wasn't even aware of delivering the placenta. This would be simple.

But it wasn't. Susan had stayed, and I think I gripped her. Dr. W was smashing my belly with her palms. Then, she was reaching. Reaching, grasping, pulling, tearing. I think she told me she was sorry, but she had to do it. The placenta was falling apart and had also adhered deeply to my uterine wall. The pain I had already experienced was massive but had nature and instinct in it. Everything about this was wrong.

Oliver was out. I didn't have to supply his oxygen or protect his cord. I couldn't. My courage and strength couldn't save him. So I cried, thrashed, and begged Dr. W to stop as her arm disappeared to the elbow inside me, as she tried desperately to remove the disintegrating placenta that was so offending my body and that would cause an infection. I felt something ripple out in her hands. Is that it? No. I didn't see it, but everyone said that instead of a massive steak, as a placenta should look, it looked like a jellyfish. The cord was a weak string inside of a thick, braided rope. I don't know how my baby survived the end of my pregnancy let alone delivery. Dr. W hand went back in. “No, please!” I stared at the doorway, thinking of the hall beyond and escape.

Mom and Josh came back, both red and wet and weeping. I became hysterical. My baby was dead. All of that, all of this, for nothing. I felt myself imploding.

He's okay!” Josh said. “I saw him moving.”
He was very gray, but he pinked up,” my mom said.

I breathed for a moment. They wouldn't lie to me. But what was happening to me was very bad. Maybe they would lie. “What is he crying?” I choked, pointing at Josh.

I'm happy!” Josh said. This hadn't even occurred to me as a possibility.
Amanda came to me and said she had seen Oliver pink up, and he was breathing. He had gone to the NICU. I knew she had no reason to volunteer a lie, so I relaxed back into weakness and returned to thrashing, crying, and begging. I don't know how much of the begging was out loud. I looked at my mom. She had lost it completely. Susan was sort of hiding behind her, rubbing her back. Only Josh locked eyes with me and said, “I'm right here with you. Keep your eyes on me.” I tried to. And in that moment, I think I loved him more than I ever have. A second piece of placenta rippled out. A third.

Dr. W said, “There's more, but I can't get it with my hand. We'll have to do a D&C.”
Will I be awake?” I said. Clearly, no horror was closed to me.
Okay.” I couldn't help my son, and I had experienced mortification and violation I couldn't have imagined. I wanted to disappear for a while. My body relaxed with this, and I didn't feel my pain.

I felt a little cowardly again and said to Amanda, “I thought this was the easy part. My friend didn't even feel the placenta coming out.”
Honey, nothing about this delivery has been normal.” Instead of frightening me, this comforted me.

She and Dr. W replaced my catheter, which they had taken out at some point. I didn't feel it. In fact, now that the active assault had ended, I didn't feel anything.

A pediatrician, Dr. P, came in. I don't really remember this, but he told us that Oliver was improving and was breathing “room air,” which meant he hadn't had to have breathing assistance. He was still in the NICU. The magnesium had made him floppy and lethargic, but he was recovering.

An anesthesiologist and a her nurse came in and told me that they would try to put me under twilight anesthesia. If that didn't work, they'd use general anesthesia.
“What is the difference?” I asked.
“To you, nothing.”

Amanda brought me a gift bag with a beautiful teal blanket she had knit. She gave me a hug and told me I had been so brave. I thanked her for helping me. She had been honest without frightening me, and she had helped Josh coach with her quick commands while she wasn't running around grabbing nurses and preparing emergency transfusions.

Everyone found it comical (as much as they could) that I was reminding Josh to move the car and bring in the bags while I was in surgery.

Two male surgical nurses appeared, and they looked terribly nervous. Since Labor and Delivery had its own operating room for C-sections, they had never come to get a woman from the ward and take her down to the main OR. I just couldn't stop being horribly unique. They kept telling me that they had plenty of women working downstairs as if this would comfort me.

I glided through the hallway I had entered twice in a wheelchair. I couldn't see Josh, Mom, or Susan as they were behind me. I heard Mom saying that she would go to the OR waiting room to wait for me. This surprised me a little; I thought she would wait to see Oliver. I'd be unconscious anyway. I didn't realize (nor did Josh) how very dangerous this surgery would be with my platelet levels.

The automatic doors opened, and like something in a movie, the men in my family had stepped out of the waiting room and were lining the hall: my dad; my stepdad, Shane; my brother, James; and my father-in-law, Greg. They grinned and touched my hands as I passed. I could see from their faces that they had no idea what had happened. At the elevator, I gestured to Josh and kissed him. Mom and Shane got into the elevator with us.

I don't remember anything until the two nurses and I were next to the surgical nurses' station. They were pointing out various women to me and said, “See? You don't need to be scared.”
I paused for a moment and said, “I think you are the ones who are scared.”
They laughed uncomfortably.

The OR seemed small, bright, and reflective. Several people were there. They told me to get off the bed and onto the table. Amazingly, I did it. They then moved me to a better position. Someone put an oxygen tube across my nose. It was much less claustrophobia-inducing than the mask.

Slings came down from the ceiling, and two nurses placed my ankles in them. My legs were far apart and almost straight up. I started to get nervous. I'd had two surgeries, a laparoscopy for endometriosis and a D and C for the miscarriage of my twins, and I'd never been awake this long. Maybe they'd lied. Maybe I would be awake. Maybe I'd be awake and just wouldn't remember it later. Everyone was busy; I had no one to ask. I began looking around for my IV bags as if I would see the anesthesia.

Then, I was looking at a clock. I always look for a clock when I awaken from surgery, trying to understand the lost time. The hour was 11, which meant I had been gone for about three hours. The nurse gave me morphine.

My mother had been going crazy. One would have to know how stoic and pragmatic my mother normally is to realize how serious this was. She became hysterical when someone called a code over the intercom. She calmed down when she heard ER.

The twilight anesthesia hadn't worked. My uterus was too clenched to relinquish the placenta. So I had general anesthesia for the first time. I had a transfusion of platelets. After the D and C, Dr. W waited for an ultrasound machine to make certain that she'd removed everything. Then, she placed a rubber, fluid-filled balloon inside my uterus to put pressure on the blood vessels and slow the bleeding. The balloon had an attached catheter to manage the blood flow.

Dr. W came out to the waiting room to explain all this to my mom, and she said, “I feel compelled to tell you that I haven't seen that kind of heart and courage in a long time.” When my mom told me this, I asked Josh to write it down in his journal.

I was horribly thirsty. My throat felt raw. I thought this was from hard breathing and crying out, but most of it was probably from having an oxygen tube down my throat during surgery. I don't remember much besides the thirst. I don't think I was aware or brave enough to wonder about my baby.

But I must have asked the nurse if I could see him. She said that he was in the NICU, and I was going to Critical Care. Neither of us could leave to see the other. We were separated until one of us stepped down and could move through the hospital.

The Critical Care room looked like the delivery room. It was large and had hardwood floors and chairs and couches. Greg and Susan had gone home. I don't know if Josh, my dad, my mom, James and Shane were already there or if they came in later. They told me again that Oliver was breathing “room air.” Josh had been in the NICU the whole time. Oliver was the only baby in the NICU, and he had a nurse to himself. Two people were allowed to visit at a time. I was pleased with Josh's assertiveness: he said he would stay, and one person at a time could join him.

Dad had taken photos of Oliver. He showed me a long but skinny baby with light brown hair and sad eyes. I reminded myself that the antibiotic eye drops were making him look sad. He was covered with monitors, tubes, and gauze. I had expected a small baby, perhaps 7 pounds. Oliver was 19 inches long and weighed 5 pounds and 8.5 ounces.

Dad showed me a video of Oliver crying while the nurse took his footprints. His cries sounded like the bleating of a lamb. But Josh was there, touching his arm, in the video. My baby. Everyone had seen him and touched him before I had. Everyone on Facebook had seen him before I'd even seen a photo. I'd tried so hard to bring him out safely, and was he even mine?

The thirst was still a pressing matter, and I asked for Sprite. I sucked down two tiny cans of Diet Sierra Mist, ate some of the ice, and then began drinking water from a huge travel mug. My thirst would be sudden, powerful, and nearly constant for the rest of my hospital stay. The nurse told me I could have a regular diet and gave me a menu from which to order, but I wasn't interested in food. I was, however, interested in that grape Popsicle. Josh fed one to me, and it was excellent.

A nurse put an ice pad against me and drained my two catheter bags. Mom was disturbed to see the nurse empty the blood into the bucket for measuring urine. This continued through part of the night.

The mag was keeping me groggy and confused. Shane took James home. My mom went to her hotel nearby. Before she left, I asked, “When are you coming tomorrow?”
She said she didn't know and asked when I wanted her to come. I said it didn't matter as long as I knew when she was coming. I could see the clock from my bed, and I needed to know what to expect. She said she would come around 8.

Dad had gone to move the car and get the bags. I thought about Oliver in the NICU, not hearing or feeling or smelling me, wondering where all those familiar sounds and sensations had gone. I had an idea. I asked Dad if his iPhone could do good sound recording. He said it could, and I had him help me record a message for Oliver. I don't know what I said. I tried to be sweet, cheerful, and comforting.

“Are you allowed to go back to him?” I asked Josh.
He said he was, and I told him to take the iPhone and play the message for Oliver. I told my Dad to stay and help me drink my water. Even after everything I'd endured and even on magnesium and residual anesthesia and morphine, I was managing the situation.

Josh came back quickly and said that Oliver had gazed at the iPhone in clear recognition. This made me feel calm enough to bear everything, and I was quite proud of myself for my idea. I wouldn't understand why my brilliant plan made everyone weepy the next day. I guess it was pitiful, but I still think it was a good idea. It comforted us both a little.

Josh had brought back another photo. In this one, Oliver had had a bath, his hair was fluffy, he was wearing a little hospital T-shirt, and he was smiling. The transformation was amazing.

My dad left to go back to Charlotte but said he'd be back the next day. I became more aware of a nurse named Claudia. Another young nurse who had been in the delivery room appeared a few times and told me how amazing the birth had been. Claudia came every hour to check my vitals, change my ice pad, and empty my catheter bags. Once, she said to Josh, “Have you seen her swelling?” He said he hadn't, and she said, “Come here and look.” After that, he was able to tell me if it was getting better. I had no interest in looking.

Josh pulled the recliner close to my bed, and we tried to sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw terrible images and felt horrible sensations. This is just PTSD, I told myself. But when I did fall asleep briefly, I would wake up certain that it wasn't over or that I had to do it again.

In the last weeks of my pregnancy, I'd regularly felt pain and bulging under my right rib. I rubbed the bulge, thinking it was Oliver's foot. But this continued in Critical Care, and for the first time as an adult, I was too scared to tell anyone about a medical issue for fear of what it meant. This contributed to my fear of having to do it all again and my odd sense that perhaps another baby was waiting. I told myself that I'd had a D and C, and if anything else was there, Dr. W would have found it. I later found out that the rib pain and bulging were from my enlarged liver, which had begun to destroy my blood cells.

I asked Josh to remind me, whenever I woke, that I had done it and all was well. He didn't always remember. I had brought Mandy, a sweet book about an orphan who finds a secret cottage, in my bag. I asked Josh to read some of it to me to help me calm down. I think I slept a little.

Near 2:30, neither of us could sleep, and we were talking. I heard the door open and thought it was Claudia, coming to check my vitals. But a clear plastic cart appeared in the doorway.
“Here's Oliver,” Josh said.
He says I moaned and lifted my arms weakly toward the door. I had a pulsing IV in my right arm and a tightening blood pressure cuff around my left elbow.

A cheerful nurse from the NICU pushed my son into the room. She lifted his tightly swaddled body out of the plastic bassinet and placed him in my arms. I recognized the little hat. I spoke to him, and he searched my face with his liquid blue eyes. His irises were so dark that I could barely see his pupils. He blinked slowly and wonderingly. But he had a little smirk on his face as if he had always known everything would be all right and couldn't quite see why I'd been so worried. Thin as he was, he had a little sweet chub in his cheeks. I didn't cry; I just stared and talked to him. I wasn't strong or free enough to hold him close or kiss him, but I stroked his body through the swaddle. That reminded me of having him in my belly because I didn't know what the various lumps and squirming parts were. He was so very gorgeous. Josh took photos with my cell phone, and I later sent them to my parents even though it was the middle of the night. I thought they might feel better knowing I'd finally seen him, eight hours after his birth.

The NICU nurse returned, and I asked, “Does this mean he's not in the NICU anymore? I didn't think he could come to me.”
“It sort of does,” she said. “But I'm keeping him with me.” 

She was clearly in love with him. I'm still not sure if he was actually out of the NICU technically or if she was breaking the rules. My recorded message had affected her, and she'd told Josh that she would try to bring Oliver to us around 2:30 a.m. She'd told Josh not to tell me, though, in case she couldn't do it. 

She told us she had work to do at the nurse's station, and we'd just have to wait. I reveled in a few more minutes with my wonder. Claudia came in and said I needed pain medicine, but she would wait until Oliver left, so I wouldn't be drowsy.

I don't remember the nurse taking him back to the NICU, but I was at peace. My son was clearly fine and happy. Maybe he was stronger than I.