Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On the night you were born...

Yesterday, Emmeline celebrated her 4th birthday.

It's the first year that she was really into everything...REALLY into everything. The parties, the presents, the cake and most interestingly, her birth story.

This is what I told her.

"So, the night before you were born, mommy, daddy and Auntie L spent the night in the hospital. I was all cozy in my bed (Emmeline loves the word "cozy"). Daddy was all cozy in another bed in the room. And Auntie L was all cozy in a chair. The room looked a lot like the room mommy was in the night before the brothers came. That night, we all talked about how excited we were to meet you. Then, the next morning, the doctor came and woke me up and told me that it was time for you to come out. We were so excited. So he pulled you out of my tummy and we found out that you were a girl! We were so surprised that you were a girl. Then we named you Emmeline.

That night, we were very tired. So you, mommy and daddy all slept in the same room. So many people were taking care of you because everyone loved you so much.".

The end.

I was just getting her out of the bath when I had told her the story. "Again, momma. Again.". I wish I had had a camera on me to capture her delight.

Now, this is how I typically tell the story to myself, in my own head.

"Even though I desperately needed the 5 more days to get my shit together, we were unexpectedly sent to the hospital that afternoon because my platelets were crashing and my doc was concerned for my health. Then, they forced us to go to a different, high risk hospital...that really pushed me over the edge. Once we got there, they strapped a gazillion monitors on me, making it absolutely impossible to get much sleep. The next morning, they started pitocin and my cervix refused to cooperate. By 11AM, they decided to rip the membranes of my cervix to get things moving. This involves little Miss "I'm-a-beautiful-calm-and-serene doc" sticking her fist up my who-who and scrapping her well-manicured nails (of course, covered by latex gloves) on my cervix. Yes, it was as pleasant as it sounds. Oh, about 30 minutes after that move to get things going, the same doc makes a decision and says f' it - a c-section will be better for both mom and baby. F'ing fantastic. Yada, yada, yada...In the OR, I get sliced open and after violently pushing my organs around, out comes Emmeline. My reaction to Alex saying "It's a girl!" is "Holy shit!" (We were certain the she was a he). I get a quick peak and they take her somewhere. Back to the room I go to get all the IVs back in because, oh, did I fail to mention that I'm suffering from preeclampsia which requires me to be on a devil drug called magnesium sulfate (so I won't seize, of course). About an hour or so after being back to the room, inspite not having anything to eat for the past 50 hours (thank you, magnesium sulfate), I dry heave my guts out, only to pass out for about a day afterwords. Seriously, I don't I have one memory from the time I puked my guts out until sometime the next day."

All I know is that my baby was taken care of. I guess that's the one commonality between how I often choose to remember that time and what I told Emmeline last night.

Was the story I told Emmeline a fairy tale version of what I wish it was like? No, what I told Emmeline was true. Is the story I have running through my head the nightmare version of what really happened? No, it is true also. It all got me thinking...imagine that...

I could write this same blog about many events in my life - the contrast between the version I would tell to my child or someone else and the version that I live with in my head. Yes, initially, it does feel like I'm presenting an untruth - a fairy tale version - on the outside, yet living a nightmare of the darkest variety on the inside. And, frankly, both feel off and extreme, resulting in me feeling fraudulent in some way. But the truth of the matter is, that I'm not a fraud. That the truth of a memory lies in both the light and the dark. I think with Emmeline's age and my current unskillfulness in the balance of these matters, I made the right choice in how I told her the story. But, perhaps I can start to change the scripts that play out in my mind, moving a little more towards center...to a spot the resides between nightmare and fairy tale - a spot that defines what it means to be fully human.

Happy Birthday my sweet baby! I've always known you and I can't wait to keep growing with you.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Up at 4AM, unable to sleep, I, of course, do the thing that is least conducive to sleep - read horrifying stories about the typhoon. It's a world so far removed from mine, and as I scroll down the pages I realize the limitation of my empathy. Sure, I've been a little hungry...in between my meals...that I know will be there for me to consume in a few hours. But I have never been so hungry and dehydrated that I become sick. And I have never been in a situation where food and water, the basics, were inaccessible. I have never been that close to death. I have never watched my own children struggle to get their basic needs met. On Maslow's Pyramid, my loved ones and myself have always been above that bottom row. So I read and read in a somewhat detached state, aware that my head and heart cannot come close to understanding their devastation.

And then I came across an article about a mother who gave birth to her baby girl at 32 weeks - the exact gestational age of my boys. Her daughter clings to life on a wooden bench in a hospital chapel, wrapped in plastic and blankets - the only solution in an attempt to regulate her body temperature. There aren't any incubators or electricity. Her mother lays on a similar bench, in the original clothes that she gave birth in, trying to recover herself. The article was quite descriptive about the scene, but doesn't directly state the obvious - the likely hood of that baby surviving is very,very small. The parents survived the typhoon, only to be thrown into a deeper, more cruel hell.

And there I sat with my boys, in their own private rooms, receiving some of the best care in the world. They were both intubated within minutes of being born. Yes, they would not even be laying on the bench in that chapel - their life would have ended much sooner. The first few days, my boys were protected from the world by their sophisticated and functioning incubators. I remember the joy I felt when we were told that their "tops were being popped"...that they finally reached a level of health in which they could regulate their temps. I also remember the daily joy of them taking more and more of their feeds by bottle. After starting out on feeding tubes, every bottle feed was one step closer to being able to come home. I would relish the quiet nicu moments, relaxed in the room's recliner with a naked babe (or two!) cuddled under blankets against my bare chest. Not that there wasn't stressful times, but by the second week, our nicu experience settled into a rhythm, becoming a mostly comfortable routine.

But there were many, many times that I lost perspective. I would feel self-pity. Why did I have to go through this? Why couldn't I have had one of those birth situations that you always hear about - you know, the ones where mom and babe are surrounded by unicorns vomiting rainbows. Hospital food, again? And having to trek the twenty feet back and forth between our private rooms. Didn't anyone have any forethought about multiples before they constructed this state-of-the-art multi-million dollar facility? And oh the pumping and more pumping. I remember feeling irritated when I happened to be "hungry" at pumping time.

I get it. All we have is our own perspective. For me, someone living a life raising three healthy children in a town with world renowned medical care, the above situations did most likely cause some discomfort. But as I read that article, with tears and a tight chest, I couldn't help but be consumed by something that can only be described as survivor's guilt with a big heap of helplessness.

Yeah, I can send some money. But that's the extent of it. My life isn't set up to hop on a plane and give myself to the relief efforts. And let me be honest - even in the absence of family and responsibilities, I'm not so sure I'm cut out for that anyway.

But as I think about it more, I realize that there is one more thing I can do. I can express gratitude and keep gratitude on the forefront. For to not feel overwhelmingly grateful for this charmed life is to disrespect that mother and her babe fighting their hard fight on those wood benches.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


I take Emmeline to swim lessons most Wednesday evenings. I always look forward to it for a variety of reasons. What joy it is to watch a child born out of MY body, fearless of the water. Sometimes in the space between waving and blowing kisses, I just stare at the wall and breath. Sometimes I make small talk with the other moms in between their own waving and kissing. I'll admit it - sometimes I just mindlessly surf through the emails on my phone. It is my half hour to do what I please. A precious half hour in a week of hurried chaos.

Until recently, Emmeline refused to let me blow dry her hair after swim lessons. Then one day, like the switch that is so often mysteriously flipped in the mind of a three-year old, she discovered the pure luxury in having someone slowly blow dry her hair, running their fingers through her strands while that warm goodness covers her neck. If only she knew how much this treat will cost her in her adult years. If only she knew what a luxury it is for me to spend these precious moments with her as her mom and hairdresser.

Yes, since the birth of the twins, that half hour on Wednesday evenings is some of the only time during the week that I'm not in a hurry.

This past Wednesday, as Emmeline was fancying herself at Momma's Salon after swim class, I witnessed the mother next to me talk sternly to her little girl, probably under the age of four. She was grabbing one of her arms firmly and said in an elevated voice, "I said come on. We are in a hurry! We don't have time for this!". Please - in no way am I judging. I'm sure she as her half hour at some point in her week, just not at swim class. Rather, in that moment it was as if I was presented the gift of a mirror. I know that I had exhibited her look and those mannerisms. I had used her words in that tone of voice, many, many times before. Many times that week. Many times that day. I never really thought much about my behavior except that I believed it was "necessary" now that I'm so busy with the boys and being back to work. And then the mirror was held up...

Man, it was not one of her better moments. Man, those times are not my better moments.

Having recognized this gift, I became observant of the situation as I continued to run my fingers through Emmeline's hair. The more the mother expressed her need to hurry up, the more the girl's body tensed up and became resistant. And the more the girl resisted, the more the mother tugged and raised her voice, and the more the girl resisted...Having started around the same time, the mother finally finished with everything about two minutes before Emmeline and I were done, both mother and daughter leaving with tensed bodies and strained faces.

Two minutes quicker. And that's when it really clicked. Now, as a mother of three, I am fully aware of the importance of logistics. I know that there are times, that in order to get everyone fed, bathed and basic needs met before bed it may often feel like I need to hurry. If hurrying would really change the course of events for the better, I'm all for it. I'm a sucker for efficiency. But the truth of the matter is that, to a three-year old, the difference between the "hurry" and the "non-hurry" speed of doing things is very negligible - perhaps a maximum difference of a minute or two. And that minute or two can be the difference between being all tensed up or sharing a few memorable moments at Momma's Salon.

Later in the week, I decided to indulge Emmeline in her desire to try ice skating. There's a rink near by with open skate. Within a minute of hitting the ice, Emmeline was not a fan, but we stuck it out for one complete lap around the rink. She wasn't quite ready to leave and it was around lunch, so we got a couple of hotdogs at the snack bar and snuck into the stands of the professional rink. About 40 teenage figure skaters were practicing a complicated routine and we were their sole audience, having the bleachers to ourselves. Emmeline was in awe. As she mindlessly ate cut-up hotdog, she talked about how beautiful they looked, how she wished she could twirl like they did and how she wanted to be a good skater too. This led into that important discussion about practicing, how getting really good at something takes time and patience and how those girls probably started with the little walkers and fell a lot when they were three-years old too.

Then my eyes met the big clock on the score keeping wall. We had been sitting there watching for 30 minutes. I became anxious to go. I had things to do. It was time to hurry out of there and hurry through the rest of my day. And then Emmeline looked at me with her beautiful and now inspired eyes and begged to stay "just a few more minutes, momma". In that moment, the scene from that week's swim class flashed before my eyes. We stayed, almost another hour.

Because sometimes in a minute or two, a few moments at Momma's Salon can be soaked up or sometimes a life-long dream can be born. Or sometimes a mother and daughter can just have a meaningful chat over a hot dog.