Giving birth was easy. As someone put it: “This pregnancy may have brought you to your knees but you crawled on your knees across the finish line.”
That’s because getting and staying pregnant was the hard part. So hard in fact, that for months I disappeared inside a shell of my former self.
I didn’t write.
I didn’t see friends.
I just waited.
And waited some more.
I lay in bed, coping with pain and sicker than I ever thought possible,
I watched the seasons pass as the green leaves on the tree outside my window unfurled, grew green and lush, then became tinged with red and gold hues.
My belly swelled, but despite the baby’s growth, I was so sick that I failed to gain much weight. Movement involved crawling up and down stairs on my hands and knees on those few occasions when I mustered up enough strength to change rooms.
My husband took on the job of caring night and day for a rambunctious toddler and sick wife.
We were both exhausted and in desperate need of relief.
There were happy moments though.
My young daughter came to see the twice weekly trips for mommy’s IV’s as my special checkup time. She loved watching cartoons on the special “wall tv” as she called it in the hospital. The hospital also meant she got to eat chicken fingers and fries from the “restaurant” while sitting in my lap.
I learned how to come up with all sorts of games to play with her that required little movement from mommy.
Hide and seek was adapted to a game of having my kiddo snuggle under the covers while I pretended not to know where she was.
We played dragon stomp with blocks stacked on the quilts.
We read. We watched cartoons. We snuggled. And we all waited for the time when mommy would feel better.
Finally, after suffering for months with severe hyperemesis gravidarum with its slow starvation which led to gestational diabetes, the doctors decided my body just couldn’t take it anymore.
My veins were so shot from the months of IVs that nurses struggled to find anything viable to administer surgery meds. And later, just before discharge, I needed a blood transfusion (the process sent my system into shock) because my system was so depleted from months of illness.
Our son was delivered via c-section at 38 weeks during a procedure that was complicated by doctors having to cut through and work around an enormous amount of internal scarring.
Oh but when I saw him it all felt worth it. He is resting on my chest as I write this. His heart, largely healed and strong, is beating. His breathing is soft. They form the most majestic symphony I’ve ever heard.
Sure, there are complicated Latin words for our unborn child’s heart defects. Doctor’s have fancy medical terms to explain an undeniable and sad fact…
Our baby has a broken heart.
And now, so do we.
We’ll know more about the baby’s prognosis in a few weeks when we return to the fetal cardiologist.
In the meantime, the nights are long as I try to shove aside feelings of sadness and worry. The days are long as I count my blessings for our healthy toddler and pray for her little sibling.
Mostly, I’m trying to have faith that, come what may, peace and blessings will surely follow.
Never wear a chunky bracelet to your umpteenth IV session…it compresses already compromised veins.
Just one of the many bits of wisdom I’ve learned during my high risk pregnancy.
I’ve learned how to best prep my veins and switch arms from week to week to avoid a collapse.
I’ve learned that for me a slower drip is always better than a fast one and, while low blood pressure is good, pressure that is too low is not.
I’ve also learned that my obsession with time management is a huge asset when trying to juggle a major illness, a high risk pregnancy, co-parenting a toddler, and a demanding job. God bless the schedule and woe to anyone who wastes my time…it ain’t pretty.
I’ve truly learned my limits. No, I can’t run a ton of errands or romp at the park with the little one on an infusion day…no matter how great I “think” I feel. And yes, offers of help from the hubby and friends have been greatly appreciated and put to good use.
Mostly, I’ve learned to truly appreciate those glorious moments of respite.
Oh how wonderful the relief, after hours of pain, that blissful moment of release.
How good it is to drink something cold, sweet, and tart when you’ve been unable to swallow more than a few sips for a day or more.
How lovely to sit outside in the glorious sunshine with my daughter blowing bubbles after weeks spent confined to bed.
Thank you, thank you Creator for such precious gifts.
Whenever we whined of teen drama that we just HAD to set right my best friend’s mama would always say to us “well baby, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip or water from a rock.”
It has taken growing into the full measure of my womanhood–with all the joy and pain that entails–to fully understand what she meant.
There are simply some things that are beyond our control.
What a humbling and comforting realization.
Infertility and a high risk pregnancy have really reminded me of the value of this lesson recently. When your biggest problems are medical, all other issues dwarf in comparison.
You see, when you don’t know from day to day whether you’ll have enough energy to eat, drink, or move, picayune things like minor office or personal dramas are fleeting annoyances. You learn to do your best, maintain your boundaries, and keep it moving.
When you worry that your toddler isn’t getting enough of your time or your unborn child enough nourishment, you ain’t got time to feed into grown folks’ childish actions.
You learn to gauge yourself by really the only standard that matters: “did I do my best?”
If you can answer yes then all is right in your world.
This is the kind of mother wit I believe we’re all born knowing. But we lose our bearings along the way as a child’s innate confidence is replaced by external gauges of what it is we should do or be.
And sometimes it takes feeling as vulnerable as a child to return to that core truth.
The ceiling of the hospital infusion center is festooned with cheery scenes of blue sky and cherry blossoms in bloom. It is a faux pastoral collage designed to take our minds off the pain.
I sit dutifully after the nurse had to try eight times to find a vein that isn’t shot to shingles so she can run my IV.
Attempt number nine is successful and I wait while the “banana bag” of saline and vitamins drips…precious fluids that will hopefully keep me and my unborn child healthy.
This is how pregnancy has been for me.
A daily and weekly balance of vital medical treatments, caring for our toddler, and trying to balance a fast paced job covering federal policy and politics.
Some days are easier than others.
Some days I feel well enough to turn several stories and then give my daughter several turns on the swings or slide after work.
Other days I am left doubled over in pain in bed, dry heaving, and dehydrated.
On those days I thank God for my stalwart husband’s efforts to care for me and our daughter while working a full time job.
I am thankful for the kind friends who see me struggling and offer to sit for our daughter.
I am thankful that we are back in our home after Hurricane Sandy and the ceilings I stare up at during bedrest are our own and freshly painted.
Today is one of the rough days and I’m feeling sick, weak, tired, and bummed. But I know I’m lucky when I look over and see the chemo patient getting his transfusion.
He too is in pain, but we manage to flash each other encouraging, genuinely cheery smiles during our treatments.
I beepity beeped halfway through DC today.
Oh, I thought I was just too poised when I sat down on the train. I mean, I got a reprieve last night and was allowed to remove my IV. And I’ve figured out how to hide the pump under my clothes so that it’s barely noticeable.
I stepped out of the house feeling almost normal.
Cute maternity dress?
iPhone communiques with the boss? Check!
Plan to nab a nausea friendly breakfast and lunch at Union Station?
Then the beeping started.
At first, I thought the sound was typical train background noise.
But it just kept going.
And Rhode Island.
People were starting to look around, check their phones and iPads.
I had a sinking feeling I knew what it was.
The friggin zofran pump gone awry.
You see, the pump is a fickle and super pricey machine that doesn’t like to be jostled, get damp, or tampered with in any non programmed way.
My cute dress with its stylish buckle wasn’t in the program. And now something had dislodged and I beeped through subway stops.
Through the crowd at Union Station.
In line at the deli.
Down the sidewalk past the homeless guy who stopped rambling long enough to stare at me as if I was crazy.
In the lobby of my job.
In the elevator with two guys who shifted uncomfortably.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
I finally made it to the restroom and checked the pump and got a digital
“check the syringe” message.
I pulled it out and reloaded.
Finally the darn thing was satisfied.
I smacked the med pump pack back on my back and finally headed to my desk.
But now I was on edge. Would it malfunction again and embarrass the crap out of me?
I jumped at the microwave beep.
Random camera equipment noise.
Somebody’s dying cellphone.
I think I have stomach pump PTSD.
And darn if that pump isn’t beeping again.
At least this beep is my brief reprieve. The syringe is empty and I usually give myself a few hours before I reload it.
Think I’ll tune out of tech tonight.
A nice quiet book sounds like just what the doctor ordered.
For the past few weeks I’ve been living with a secret…
I’m very sick.
For me, the two have always and will always go hand in hand.
Our IVF involved an arsenal of additional high tech help including huge doses of meds on an estrogen heavy protocol for poor responders, ICSI (inserting sperm into an egg), assisted hatching (cracking the eggs open a bit to help fertilization).
We got 13 eggs.
Five were mature.
Three became embryos.
Two were put back in my womb, the other arrested.
I am about to enter my third month of pregnancy.
I’ve had enough miscarriages to know that the superstition about not saying anything until a certain point is just that, superstition. I’ve lost a baby when the pregnancy was still in that hush hush phase. And I lost one during that it’s safe to tell cause you’re over the hump phase.
I also know that the joy and sorrow in our own personal parenthood narrative has been made all the more meaningful by serving as witness to others.
So, in bearing witness I’m offering a glimpse at the other side of our rainbow.
We always knew that if we got pregnant I would suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum .
And, intellectually, we were ready. We had the OB get the paperwork for a home health aide on standby so that I could get my daily IVs, the zofran pump which administers the same anti nausea meds chemo patients use, ketone checks, nutritionist.
But I was unprepared for how guilty I’d feel emotionally when my toddler asks for mommy to play and I just can’t.
Or when I had to skip her little friend’s birthday party and send her with daddy instead.
Or when I couldn’t hug her because there were too many medical cords and too much machinery in the way.
We’ve explained that mommy is ok but a little sick and needs medicine. She’s started calling my Zofran pump mommy’s “time for your check up bag”.
What we don’t let her see are the needles and daily shots.
The IV needle.
The Zofran pump needle
And the progesterone shot needle.
That last puppy requires a shot in the patoot. We slap a frozen bag of chopped spinach on my buns nightly, warm up the shot in a heating pad, and make that intramuscular jab as quick as possible.
Our kiddo is too little to understand it all. She thinks the ultrasound pictures show an owl. We’re content to leave it at that till I start to show more.
As for baby owl, it’s nesting just fine.