And this is how it always ends: my friends blaming him and
empty tubes of chapstick, and
fingernails, half painted, chipping black flakes
into the carpet.
He is in her bed, and I am naked
on the floor of my shower
weeping for two hours straight, until the water runs cold and
I am late for work, my skin sagging like the circles under my eyes.

It doesn’t end with goodbye,
just fewer hellos, and a silent cellphone,
Relearning how to be alone.

So I will sink, and you will go swimming with her in the atlantic,
and it always ends this way: I am trying to stay away from mirrors,
trying not to hear her name
in conversation. I think of all the ways she is better than me,
and the ones who came before her. I think that I will be alone forever.

And I am afraid of being me. And I am afraid of the freedom.
And it hurts; I am disposable. Sometimes it feels so painfully cyclical.
I am a filler, a snack between meals that you eat
because you are bored.

I flake off
like nail polish. Under the covers of my bed I swear
that this is it. That I will learn to love this. That alone
my bed is a palace, and my books
are little beds themselves. That I will build a web,
outrun hell.

But in the morning, her face still stings behind my eyelids
and I am still drawing wedding rings on my finger in sharpie.
I am learning not to fear me,
I’m sorry.

—  Hell or High Water; Hannah Beth Ragland
Andy's Birth Story

Okay, I’m feeling more and more like a human these days. And I want to remember how Andy was born, as scary as it was. And two weeks have already passed. So let’s do this.

Here’s what I expected. I expected labor to be hard. I thought I could probably do it without pain medication but maybe not. When I worried about labor, I worried about things like maybe being induced, since my mom was so late having all of us. Or having a really, super exhausting experience. I packed all kinds of stuff to help me through a long slog - cucumber face wipes, tennis balls to massage my back, citrus flavored chapstick. We hired a doula. We practiced breathing exercises and went to a “comfort measures” class at our hospital. I expected my biggest battle to be against myself - fighting “giving in,” telling myself to take it one contraction, one hour at a time. 

Here’s what happened.

Two weeks ago, on a Friday afternoon, I was on the phone with Kevin panicking a little bit because the baby hadn’t moved very much all day. I couldn’t decide whether to call the OB or not. It seemed strange, but I thought maybe he was just getting so big that he didn’t have much room to kick and stretch anymore. I was in a bad place where I just couldn’t make a decision. I had just been to the doctor the day before and didn’t want to waste my afternoon going in for a check up that would show everything was fine. But I also worried something was wrong and wanted the reassurance. I left it with Kevin that I’d decide after my research lab meeting ended at 1. 

Well, while I was at lab Kevin took matters into his own hands. He called the doctor for me, told them what was up, and when I got out of my meeting I had a message from the triage nurse. She told me to come in right away when she heard the baby hadn’t responded when I’d eaten a Snickers bar. I grouched all the way to the car, all the way downtown, all the way into the doctor’s office. 

Once I was there, they did a non-stress test. They couldn’t get the baby to move much either, even after giving me orange juice. No one acted particularly concerned, but my OB (not the nurse) eventually came in and said she needed to check my amniotic fluid. That was my first sign that something semi-serious might be happening, but it still didn’t even enter my mind that they would want me to deliver because of this…at worst I was thinking bed rest. 

My fluid looked okay, but my OB explained to me that they had seen a heart rate deceleration during the non-stress test, and that meant I needed to go to the hospital to obstetrical triage to be monitored for a couple of hours. I think this is when someone said the word “induction” for the first time, but again, I thought no way. I also think Kevin started to make his way to me at this point. I walked over to Prentice, sat in the waiting room in triage for about an hour, texted our doulas to let them know what was going on, and was eventually taken back and hooked up for another, longer non-stress test. They brought me more orange juice and told me to do a kick count. 

At some point Kevin showed up. We chatted for awhile and then he went to move the car. Just about as soon as he left the room, about 20 minutes after the test started, a couple of nurses swooped in and things started to happen fast. They had seen more heart rate decelerations, they said. They were seeing signs that were “non-reassuring” and needed to move me quickly into labor and delivery for an induction. 

I remember saying okay a lot. I remember them putting me on a stretcher, on my left side, and taking off my boots for me. I must’ve called Kevin, but I don’t really remember that. He said once he heard from me he ran to move the car and get back to the hospital (he said running through the streets of Chicago to reach his laboring wife felt like the only real “dad move” he got to do during our delivery).

I remember the very nice nurse warning me that a ton of people would be waiting for me when they pushed me off the elevator. And there were. And they all looked like they were about 18 years old and they were all really nice. I remember signing a bunch of forms. I remember them asking me a bunch of questions. I remember saying I couldn’t believe this was happening. I think I was kind of excited at this point. I remember Kevin eventually came into the room. And then the on call doctor from my OB practice, Dr. Auger, came to speak with me. 

She explained what was happening and said the baby was showing signs of distress and that he needed to be delivered sooner rather than later. However, she also explained that she was willing to let me try to have a normal, vaginal birth. Since I wasn’t dilated at all, though, they would have to put in something called a CRIB (semi-graphic, medical details follow, by the way). A CRIB, as I understand it, is kind of a balloon they insert into your cervix to move you toward labor. It’s a first step before they give you drugs like PItocin to get contractions going. The CRIB, the doctor explained, would stay in for 6-12 hours, and during that time they would continue monitoring the baby to see how he was doing. She warned me that babies who are already showing signs of distress tend not to tolerate labor well, so I should be prepared for a c section, but, again, she was willing to let me try to have a normal delivery.

They wheeled me up to a labor and delivery room. Lots more people came to talk to me. They put the CRIB thing in, which was pretty terrible (they told me some people say it’s worse than the actual labor). Kevin had to hold one hand and a really nice nurse held the other. Once it was in, too, it hurt a lot, like a constant, strong cramp…almost bad enough to make me nauseous. The four hours I had it in were the only real labor experience I had. I did my yoga breathing. Kevin told me I was doing great. I watched the monitor and felt as very light, far apart contractions started. We had the doulas on the phone at several points - they decided to stay away a little longer since it looked to be a really long labor (remember, the CRIB was supposed to take 6-12 hours and THEN the real induction would start). They told Kevin to sneak me some food…I didn’t want to have any, though, because the doctors told me no and I’m too much of a rule follower. My sisters came to visit, which was a great distraction. 

About four hours in, I got up to go to the bathroom. When I came out, Sarah, the nurse, said, “Oh, Dr. Auger came in. I think she wanted to update you.” I could tell, right then, that I was going to have to have a c section because Sarah wouldn’t make eye contact. And I was right. The doctor came in a minute later, gave me a sympathetic frown, and said, “I think we’re done.” She explained that the baby’s heart rate continued to decelerate and we had to operate. Kevin asked if we had any choice, and she said no. She was really nice, really sympathetic. And at that point, I kind of didn’t care. The CRIB hurt so much I just kind of wanted it out. Also, it was exciting to think in less than an hour I’d have a baby. We (Kevin and me and the doctors in the room) wandered if his birthday would be 10/3 or 10/4, because at this point it was like 11:30 at night.

My good mood dissipated pretty quickly, though, as again a bunch of doctors swept in, as I signed more forms, and as the procedure was explained to me. The idea of someone actually cutting through my abdomen was really upsetting, and it all felt out of control all of a sudden. Kevin was really upset, too. I think the idea of surgery bothered him more than it bothered me. They gave him scrubs. They wheeled me away. I think - until Andy stopped breathing after birth - this was the worst part, being away from Kevin. The operating room looked tiny and cluttered and all of sudden what was about to happen sounded impossible. I didn’t know where to sit, I didn’t know what to do. I was cold. I didn’t want to be naked in front of strangers. I had to physically fight back the urge to tell everybody to STOP, that this was all a big mistake.

They did the thing they do where they had me lean over so they could give me the spinal anesthesia. Someone gave me a stool where I put my feet, held my hands, and told me I was doing great (again, everybody was so NICE). My legs started to feel tingly and they laid me back on the table. Brad the anesthesiologist kept poking me with something and asking me if I was numb here, and here, and here. When I would say no they would lower my head closer to the floor, I assume so the medicine would flow down toward my chest. This seemed like a very primitive way to figure out if the anesthesia was working, by the way. They laid my arms out wide on either side of me and I started, and continued, to shake throughout the procedure. 

It was all so choreographed, down to the moment when they raised the sheet up and walked Kevin in in his scrubs. I felt terrified - more terrified than I have just about ever, in my life, but, at the same time, like I was in good hands. I remember hearing Dr. Auger ask for the scalpel and being pleasantly surprised when I felt nothing. I remember how cheery everyone was, asking me if it was a boy or girl, asking me what his name was. I remember Kevin nervous, tell me I was doing great, trying to keep me from shaking. Then I remember them telling me I’d feel a lot of pressure, which I didn’t. I felt a little push, way up high on my stomach, and then someone told me, I guess, somehow, that the baby was out. They said he was really cute and that he had a big, round head.

They whisked him to the next room to be examined by pediatricians - they told me they were going to do that, it was routine. We heard him crying. And then they told Kevin he could come back and get him. I don’t remember much about what happened next. I didn’t feel alone - I think the doctors kept chatting with me, reassuring me that yes, that was him crying. A few minutes later someone came in and said, “Dad will be in with Andre in just a minute.” The doctors laughed at me because I told him we hadn’t decided for sure on a name yet - so Kevin must’ve made the executive decision once he saw him. It was 12:19 in the morning - just 8 hours after I had originally shown up at my doctor’s office.

And then they walked in. He looked like a little burrito all swaddled up - so tiny. And his hair looked blondish/red which was a huge shock. I got to kind of say hi and kiss him, but I started to feel nauseous at this point so I couldn’t really turn my head to the side anymore. I don’t remember what we talked about, what was said. It all seemed to happen so, so fast. And before I knew it they did a fancy little move that reminded me of a cheerleading stunt to get me from the surgical table to the stretcher and then we were wheeled back into the recovery room and they handed him to me.

This is the part that gets hard for me to write, so I’m not going to go into many details I don’t think. I held him for about an hour and a half. I threw up. I felt dazed and out of it. The doulas came, shocked that things had happened so quickly, and checked on me and met him. And then he stopped breathing. For just a few seconds. The nurse noticed and grabbed him, and a swarm of doctors rushed in, and a second later he was pink and screaming again. But they told us that when a baby stops breathing, it’s an automatic ticket to the NICU. They took him away. I felt strangely calm - and felt really guilty about that for a long time, until on the phone the other day the doula told me that when he stopped breathing they had just started my narcotics to manage the post surgery pain. It really helped to know that - that my weirdly zen mood didn’t happen because I’m a bad, negligent mom but because I was on drugs. At the same time, knowing that, I can’t help but feel like a 1960s “twilighted” mom - me drugged and my baby taken away.

They wheeled me down to see where he was. Sarah handed me a box of kleenex. He was hooked up to so many wires. They told me I could touch him, but I could only reach his feet. That, right there, was one of the worst moments of my life. They talked about possible oxygen deprivation to the brain, about seizures. I couldn’t tell how serious things were. Seeing your baby hooked up to oxygen and a feeding tube and an IV has got to be one of the worst things a person can go through. Later that night I woke up for some reason, and I must’ve called Kevin over to help me with something, and I ended up crying harder than I have since I was a kid. My incision hurt. Pumping hurt. All of those feel-good drugs had worn off. I was confused and scared. My son was in the NICU. A low, low moment. It’s kind of comical now - I remember Kevin sleepily trying to dab the tears from my face and the washcloth just falling out of his hand and sitting there, me not doing anything about it, because I was so upset. 

Andy ended up staying in the NICU for seven days. His breathing regulated quickly. His brain is fine. He doesn’t have seizures. He likely would’ve gone home with us much earlier, except that they found some worrying evidence that he might have an infection, so they wanted to keep him for a full seven-day course of antibiotics. That, though, didn’t pan out either. They did a pathology report on the placenta and found that all of the worrying signs probably occurred because I had a condition called chronic villitis. Apparently women with high blood pressure during pregnancy can get it (I did not have high blood pressure, so we’re not sure where this came from). It means the placenta is small, inflamed, and matures too early, so the baby stops getting the nutrition it needs toward the end of the pregnancy. So thank goodness I paid attention to the decreased movement. Thank goodness Kevin called the OB. Thank goodness I was at one of the best hospitals in the country with incredible doctors and nurses who delivered him safely. 

It was a really hard experience and a rough week. Recovering from a c section, physically, is no joke. I’m really sad I didn’t and may never get to deliver a baby the “normal” way. That was an experience I really wanted to have in my life. I miss being pregnant - I feel like this amazing time in my life ended too quickly and violently. I didn’t get a chance to take one last belly shot or have one last snuggle with Molly or one last meal at home. Our stay in the NICU was so hard and so sad and is not the ideal way to start life with a new baby. Our experience has, understandably I think, made an already nervous person and extra nervous new mom. It’s hard, when your baby stops breathing once, not to worry it will happen again. And the chronic villitis diagnosis, along with one other, boring (to everybody else) medical detail about his birth has implications for future pregnancies (we don’t know how serious those might be yet - we need to talk to my OB).

I will say, though, that I’m starting to see little glimmers of how I’ll eventually be okay with this. I have this beautiful little boy. I feel proud that Kevin and I followed our intuition and got him checked out when we did. I’m proud of us for making sure we were being taken care of by the best possible doctors. I’m proud of how Kevin and I supported each other. I’m proud of how I handled the day of his birth. I didn’t need to be strong in the physical way I expected to have to be - instead I had to be emotionally tough and flexible and do what was right for this baby in that moment. And I’ve felt so, so loved by my family and friends over the past couple of weeks. 

I’ll end this post with a picture of our sweet boy from our newborn photo shoot. It’s a cliche, but a healthy baby at the end of all of this makes it all worth it. Thank you all for your love and support over the past few weeks - it really, really means a lot to me and has gotten me through some hard patches. 

<3

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Justin Williams, 33
Right Wing, Los Angeles Kings

How do you protect your skin from the cold?
I use Chapstick, for sure.

How do you treat black eyes or scrapes?
Just leave it. Scars are distinguished. I have a few. I have one right here [points to lip] from a couple of weeks ago. A puck to the face. Oh, and Vitamin E oil for scars.

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