… very post partum!
The girls will be nine months old next week and I find it interesting how frequently I think back on my pregnancy, the delivery and the weeks following. I suppose the fact that my dear friend VIcky is going through some pregnancy concerns may have triggered some of these thoughts (if you pray, please pray for her and sweet baby Bubbles and her husband Tim and their little boy Caleb). But anyway, in no particular order, the things I think about are:
How strangely calming it was to be on hospital bed rest. Perhaps that’s where the phrase “peace that passes human understanding” comes from. And while I’m sure I was not always peaceful about it, the way that I remember it was that I didn’t have much anxiety about the situation most of the time. I remember being alone in my room a lot, looking out the window at the office of my childhood pediatrician. The memories of my childhood pediatrician are pleasant, although most memories involve being home from school sick.
Aside from actually being sick, I usually liked being home from school sick because it afforded a sneak peek into a world I didn’t usually get to enjoy. It put the world into a new context for me – a glimpse into what adults did while I was at school. Often I would look at the clock and think of what I should be doing in class and compare it to what was going on in the world around me – the mailman delivering mail, neighbors out walking, adults going to the store and so on. I would hear my bus stopping near my house, dropping off all of the other students who had gone to class and I wondered what it would be like if I had been at school that day and was disembarking the bus at that moment, instead of tucked away in my bed.
And really, that’s what it was like on hospital bed rest. The world was going on around me and I was watching it happen from my adjustable hospital bed. I tried not to think too much about work, although I checked in frequently to make sure that everything was OK. It was as though if I could just make it another day and just stay pregnant a little bit longer, it would be so much better for our girls. I made it ten days.
I also think a lot about the labor and delivery. I remember it like I was watching things happen to me and not actively doing something about the situation. As a matter of fact, I spent much of my mental energy trying to stop the freight train of labor so that Frank could be there for the delivery.
I was apprehensive about delivery because I felt like there was a big question mark hanging over the outcome. I wondered, somewhat fearfully, what my children would look like. I wondered if they would look like real babies and if the image of alien-looking babies would follow me for my entire life. It made me sad to think that their birth wouldn’t be “normal” – that a trip to the NICU was a certainty.
I remember the doctor announcing I was “complete” (ready to deliver), but was only measuring 9 cm (normally you measure 10 cm before you push). Then I realized that the reason I was “complete” was because they were expecting me to deliver very, very small babies. I was filled with dread.
When they wheeled me into the operating room to deliver and told me to start pushing, I was suddenly confused and unsure of how to do it. I had thought about this moment over and over in my head, but I found myself afraid to push. Not because I was afraid of pain, but I was afraid I’d push too hard and hurt the babies. Silly, right?
I pushed anyway. The girls were born within 20 minutes. I remember wondering, as I was pushing, whether they would cry when they were born. When Ellie was born, I found myself holding my breath, waiting for her to take her first breath. Oh, and when she cried, it was the sweetest sound I’d ever heard.
And when just three minutes later, Carrie was born, screaming and all angry, I was flooded with relief.
Yes, they were small, but OH! they looked like real life babies! I was so relieved.
I did get to hold Ellie in the operating room for a few seconds – long enough to snap a picture. I think about that moment a lot – how surreal it felt. How different that moment felt than I had ever imagined.
I also think pretty frequently about getting to go see my girls in the NICU after I spent time in recovery. My entire pregnancy, the thing I couldn’t wait for was hearing the lullaby played over the intercom system at the hospital. But all the times I had imagined it, I was holding my babies with my husband. Instead, the first strains of the song rang out as I was being wheeled to the NICU through a long, winding hallway. The doors of the NICU ward opened and directly ahead of me painted on the wall was an excerpt from the poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
And oh, how those words chilled me. I remember seeing those words when we toured the hospital two months earlier. I remember seeing those words on our tour and saying a quiet prayer in my head that I wouldn’t see them again.
There I was, facing those words and hearing the song playing over intercom and my heart was so sad. “This is not how I imagined it!” I wanted to say. But there were no words.
As they wheeled me into Ellie’s room, the second lullaby started playing for Carrie. They wheeled me up to her incubator, a glass box, and there was my very small, but very beautiful, baby girl. She was hooked up to monitors and an IV and wearing only a diaper.
They placed her in my arms and I think about that moment, too. I was so sorry. I felt like she was hooked up to monitors and IV’s and I didn’t do everything possible to stop it. I came up short and she had only been alive for a few hours.
Carrie hadn’t been cleaned up yet or fully observed, so I didn’t get to hold her. I looked at her through the glass, marveling at her tiny, perfect features.
I think a lot about going back to my hospital room on the Mother & Baby floor. All of those rooms, in my mind, were full of babies and their mommies. And I was going back empty and alone.
I think about swallowing all of those feelings and thoughts when I saw my little girls. They needed me to be strong. They needed me to be happy when I saw them and to cover them in love. This whole thing wasn’t about me any more.
I think about the next day when they explained to us that the girls would need feeding tubes. While we were sitting in Carrie’s room, they ran her feeding tube through her nose and into her tummy. She screamed these fragile, tiny baby cries that broke our hearts.
I remember the sound of the breath leaving Frank as he watched them run the feeding tube. The “oomph” was like he had been punched in the gut.
I think a lot about the nights when we first had them at home. The nights sort of blurred together. On the morning that Prince William and Catherine Middleton married, Carrie woke up at 3 a.m. Frank and I wound up watching the entire wedding, thanks to Carrie.
I turn these moments over in my head, over and over. I think about what they mean, how they changed me, and wonder what would’ve happened if things went differently.
But what happened is what happened, as un-profound as that is. Months and months later, the girls are doing great. They are healthy, vibrant, active little girls. They laugh and squeal and chatter. It’s hard to imagine that they were born a minute before they were meant to.
The more I talk to people and hear their stories, the more I realize that life rarely turns out as expected or planned. Perhaps that’s what John Lennon meant when he said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Life is fragile and delicate and rough and sharp and beautiful.