“Of course, since she’s pre-term, we’ll take your baby to the NICU for 24 to 48 hours after she’s born,” said the nurse.
“No. You will not,” I said.
“Well, she could have breathing problems, and I’m sure you want the best for your baby,” he continued.
“Yes, I want the best for my baby. She’ll be staying with me or we’ll go to a different hospital,” I said, but did not shout.
“But you see, when babies are born early, there are all sorts of problems that can happen,” he insisted, clearly insulted and flustered.
“That’s fine. If she’s not well, I want you to take her and care for her. If she is well, she’s staying with me. This is not up for discussion.”
“But, we have to monitor her.”
“You’ll monitor her while she’s with me.”
“But she’ll have to be in the NICU.”
“She can go to the NICU if she’s not well, otherwise, she’ll be with me.”
“Your husband can be with her.”
“My husband can’t nurse her. She needs to be with me if she’s fine.”
“I’m going to go talk to someone.”
So began the ridiculous several hour argument with… I lost count… hospital staff members. Hospital protocol. Fine, if she’s got problems. But she might have problems. Fine, take care of her if she has problems. But she’s going to be 4 weeks early, she might need assistance. Fine, give her all the assistance she needs, but only if she needs it. Otherwise, she’s staying with me.
Hours and hours. At least 5 different people, doctors and nurses. I’m pretty sure it was more.
Earlier that morning, at 9:45am on Wednesday April 8 I was waking from a nap. There was a POP feeling in my vagina, a bit of a shock or sting feeling, and some liquid trickling out of me. I thought, how weird! That’s just like it was with Maya (with Maya I had a dream that her feet switched position and POP went the bag o’). I stood up, and, yes, indeed was flooded by warm water. I touched it, smelled it, not stinky like I’m told you’d find with pee. Waddled to the bathroom, leaking all the way, checked the toilet paper, clear. Amniotic fluid for sure. Waddled back to the bedroom. Flooding. Grabbed a pair of sweat pants to be my diaper. Waddled into the hall, told feverish Maya “my water broke.” She said, “what does that mean?” (She knows what it means, but I’m sure she didn’t at that moment.) I said, “Althea’s coming today. She’s coming now.” Maya squealed. We went, me waddling, to Josh’s office. He was clearly on a work call, but I still interrupted. “My water broke.” I waited for this to sink in. He interrupted his work call, explained he had to go, apologized again and again, and hung up.
We had nothing packed. We had no plan. The night before I had decided, finally, to give up with trying to get her to turn and just schedule a c-section. That evening (Tuesday) I actually thought I might be in labor (see comments I’ve made on Facebook and emails). But, having never been in labor before I assumed it was a bad case of intestinal troubles. I was thinking it was labor enough that I timed the experience (about 4 minutes at 10:35 and again at 11:40ish). We called the midwives, called my parents to come for Maya, planned on meeting at Maine Medical Center (best choice for early babies).
All was going well until the idiot nurse decided to try and tell me they were going to take my baby from me for 24-48 hours. What a time for me to have to go into hard ass mode. I do it fine when it’s something I care about, but, it was exhausting. Knowing when to kiss someone’s ass, knowing when to be so firm it’s scary to some people, knowing when to say “I need to talk to your supervisor,” etc. Knowing the staff out there will be talking about the drama, the difficult patient, etc. It’s very, very exhausting. I just wanted to meet my new daughter.
Well? Guess what? In all of those hours, through all of those people, it turns out no one — not ONE person — thought to mention that as soon as I was well enough to move around (wheelchair or whatever) I could go be with her in the NICU. That I’d be able to hold her and nurse her. No one mentioned that. No one thought it important to say that while Josh could be with her every second, I could, too, as soon as I was able.
What the freaking fucking holy hell stupid ass miscommunication. Our room full of people (Josh, Maya, Brenda (midwife), Maureen (midwife), my parents) all heard it the same way I did. Not one of us ever got the sense that they were saying anything but, “The baby will go to the NICU no matter what and you will not see her until she’s out.” It sounded crazy at the time, but the staff were so dreadfully committed to hospital protocol the idea that anything about this was reasonable didn’t seem possible.
Before I went in for the surgery we had it agreed that the NICU nurse who was responsible for deciding how well Althea was after she was born would not *assume* she’d go to the NICU, but instead would evaluate her and consider a lower level of monitoring for this late-pre-term baby. We all knew it was likely she’d find something that would require the NICU stay, but there was something reassuring in knowing that she understood how important it was that she make the decision based on the case, not on protocol. I’m sorry to say the hospital visit was full of frustrations involving miscommunications or staff obsessed with protocol despite our particular circumstances.
The surgery was easy enough. I didn’t puke from the anesthesia which was nice. They also actually showed her to me as soon as she was out which they didn’t for Maya. I was hit with my love for her on that first look. She was covered in blood and goo, and I loved her. Of course, it takes a few days for the love to sink in, but this was a nice surprise.
When Althea was born, at 5lbs 15oz (why does everyone always ask about and report a baby’s weight?), she did have some troubles. Josh was with her for every second of the evaluation and beyond. I don’t remember what the troubles were, but they involved not breathing right and something else. They brought her to me and I held her, though I didn’t try to nurse her (my decision, I wanted her to be tended to).
Josh went with her to the NICU where they attached her to heart, oxygen, and breathing monitors and put her in an isolette (I think that’s what they are called). After they finished with me (placenta out, given to the midwives, though I’m still not sure what of several options I’ll be doing with it), they took me to the room to recover. It’s a bit hazy. But, when they were going to transfer me to the “Mother and Baby” floor, the nurse who was helping me into the wheelchair told me we’d be going to the NICU immediately. Yay!
Flash forward to Friday evening and she was with us in our room at the hospital. Once she was with us, my milk really came in. Her nursing strength quadrupled. She gained back weight she’d lost since birth (even though it’s typical for babies to lose weight in the first few days after they’re born). And, mostly, we started to get to know her. When she was attached to all those tubes and wires, it was hard to bond with her. The nurses often made it awkward to be with her as much as we wanted, too. More on that later, though.
Maya has surprised us with the fascination she clearly feels for her baby sister. Always wants to hold her, admire her, be near her. In fact, as I write this, Althea is sleeping in my lap and Maya’s arm is flung across my thigh acting as a sort of pillow for Althea’s snorting little face. I am so proud of Maya — we’d never been away from each other for so long, she and I. Of course she visited during the days, but nothing is the same as being together at night.
We’ve got pictures of Althea, of course… she’s tiny… she was about 4 weeks early, but now on day 5 of life (that’s how they say it in the hospital), she’s a nursing fiend. She sleeps most of the time, wakes to nurse, and has a few alert and awake sessions each day. She’s also a pooping fiend. Every diaper and then some. Some day I’ll detail the rest of the experience in the hospital, but, for now, I wanted to give friends and family an account of the highlights of her birth. Our whole family is resting comfortably. Happy but still a bit in shock, I think, from what we’ve just been through. This week (with a lot of my parents’ continued help) will be able finding our centers again, getting grounded. All those things we need to do to have a strong foundation. Above all else, though, we are all so grateful that Althea has joined our family. She just squeaked in her sleep her agreement she’s glad she’s here. Eeep!
“Of course, since she’s pre-term, we’ll take your baby to the NICU for 24 to 48 hours after she’s born,” said the nurse.
The late-night drive-through attendant passed me two cheeseburgers without judgment. Her emotionless (empathetic?) gaze was better than therapy. Finding myself camped out in the middle of the king-sized bed, computer on my lap, remote in one hand, 3 Musketeers in the other–it took two hours of dazed terror before I realized I’d been there before.
This time, I was in a hotel without my husband or daughter. That time, over ten years ago, I was alone heading toward the worst of my drunk and stoned life. This time, life was mostly full of joy, balance, and serenity. That time, chaos and loneliness led me in endless dark mazes.
I had no idea being away from my daughter overnight for the first time would be so brutal. It kicked my ass for those two hours. When I recognized where I had arrived (desperation, lack of clarity, obscured reality) it was an easy shift into pleasure. Ah ha! Look what’s happened! And, immediately: a bubble bath; guilty-pleasure television with the volume up; doing what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. And, most of all, sleeping harder and deeper than I had in years.
It’s as if life is a continuous set of spirals, lines flowing up and around, higher and higher until the coil is too tight. With each forward movement–it’s always moving forward–the next unspringing is more gentle. Ten years ago every lesson devastated me, as I believed in perfection and an impossible ideal. These days, I usually recognize the signs of an impending challenge or lesson and I just hold on and breathe.
Four and a half years ago our daughter came into our lives through a gash in my abdomen. She wanted to come out feet first. There was no convincing her to turn. On that first night, she lay among my IV tubes of antibiotics for the post-op infection and Pitocin to stop the hemorrhaging. She nursed enthusiastically. She slept with us then and has ever since.
Sleeping in our grand king-sized bed is full of reconnecting, snuggling, giggling, and love. Sure, she’ll sleep in her own room someday but, for now, we all love our arrangement.
So, for all of her sweet little life, any time she’s needed me at night, I’ve been there. I am breathing with her, laying with her, and always within reach.
As we work on less dependence on me and more acceptance of comfort from her Daddy, we realized the best thing for us was me spending a night away. I was desperate for a good night’s sleep (being needed throughout the night had finally caught up to me), and we were both desperate for Josh’s chance to be “the one” she needed. My physical presence, because of the patterns and habits we’ve set over the years, was problematic. Maya didn’t believe she would be okay without me. What a terrible lesson to teach a child: you’ll fall apart if I’m not there. So, it was with some anxiety but mostly excitement and confidence that I packed my bag for this overnight.
A massive burlap sack filled with wet sand smashing me across the room was how I felt when I first left our house. I actually thought I might vomit because I was “leaving Maya.” My perception of my importance, and ultimately Josh’s ability as a father, was skewed. Twisted. Distorted. Reality was again obscured.
Thankfully, it just took that bit of time for me to recognize just how fucked up it all was. As if Maya would fall apart without me. Intellectually, I was sure I didn’t believe that. But those two desperate hours were close cousins to the last few months of my darkest drugging and boozing. This time, I had solutions at my disposal. Easy tools to use to fix this mess. I simply said, “Oh, hey, god? Shit, I’m totally fucked up again. I think I’m way too important and I think I’m a piece of shit. Would you fix all this?” And POP up I sprang from the bed to run the bubble bath.
It’s all so simple if I don’t make it complicated. And, holy crap, did I sleep well that night.
She climbed into my lap, assumed the nursing position and asked quietly, “nah-nah.” Without thinking about it, I lifted my shirt and unsnapped my bra. After her sucking began I was suddenly self-conscious. We were at the library story hour; a room full of mothers with their small children and babies. I believe I should never have to tell my daughter we can’t nurse because other people don’t like it. The thing is, as she gets older I’m uncovering levels of discomfort and ignorance that make my insides ache. Why should I have to tell my little girl some people don’t understand that nursing is a beautiful thing? Why should I have to say, we can’t nurse in the doctor’s office because I’m worried the person sitting next to me might get uncomfortable?
When I’m in line in the supermarket – the example even the most passionate “lactivists” use as a place where they might not nurse their toddlers – I want to shout, would you be uncomfortable if I gave her a bottle? Would you be uncomfortable if I gave her a favorite teddy bear or hugged her? Why should she have to give up this perfect source of comfort because our culture seems to think a plastic pacifier is more civilized and that breasts are just for sex?
Yesterday I was in a small hotel suite with my in-laws and Maya was painfully over-tired, obviously fighting a cold, and meeting new grandparents for just about the first time. She wanted to nurse. I had on a sling, so I found it easy to let her nurse even in such close quarters – I was surprised when my father-in-law bounded off of the couch we were all sitting on and burst into the other room, apparently finding a sudden desperate need to wash his hands. When he came back, he sat in the chair on the opposite side of the room and his eyes looked everywhere but at me and my beautiful two year old, who was snuggled inside the colorful fabric of her favorite “tsing.”
Today in the same little hotel room, I told her she’d have to wait – she grew more persistent, since she’s not used to me saying no to nah-nah for what must have seemed like no reason.
I began to tell her that some people don’t understand how special nursing is. Then I stopped myself.
The world can be such a hard place.
She has a lifetime to learn about pain and disappointment – I’m not going to force those lessons on her. Frankly, I think the people who don’t understand the power of the nursing bond are missing out on one of life’s greatest miracles. Until she wants it to be different, we’re going to have nah-nah whenever and wherever she wants it.
In fact, I’ve got to go now. Maya’s asking for some nah-nah.