8.27.2006

Knock, Knock

What are you still doing here? I've moved!

Don't wait another second to update your blogroll and edit your Bloglines.

I've been waiting for you.

24/7

7.27.2006

Change of Address

This pop stand is closing down shop. I would like to say I'm moving up, but I fear it's more lateral than that. I am now blogging in loose association with a newspaper local to the eastern portion of my state. It is no New York Times, ladies and gentlemen. It is no Hartford Courant. But there are some suckers out there who pay for this little rag, and, with any luck, they also pay for an Internet connection. So far I am not encouraged by the statistics StatCounter.com has compiled for me, but you never know. A photographer from the paper took a really bad headshot of me that the editors plan to run in the masthead any day now, with a teaser pointing people toward their blog page. I'm praying for Sunday. Put me in, coach! Put me in!

8 Hours and the short-lived Fourth Trimester have been good to me, as have all of you. Those blogs will always hold a special place in my heart as a symbol of the new life that began for me with the birth of my daughter. But things have changed.

I am no longer the sleep-deprived new mom who sought, and found, an outlet for her creative energies. The one who, without knowing she was even in the market for one, found a network of support.

I'm more confident now. Blogging has had no small part in helping me harnass the self-assurance to take on freelance projects at which I would have balked only one year ago. Creatively and professionally, I am at the top of my game. I haven't figured out a damn thing when it comes to this whole parenthood thing, but I'm more willing (and able) than ever to write about it.

I'm not going to get any more sappy than I already have. Instead, I will implore you all to come with me to my new digs. Luckily, a change of Internet address is not akin to a real-life move--because my letter-writing inclinations are non-existent and I hate talking on the phone. Here in cyberspace, though, I will always be easily accessible. All I ask is that you put my new calling card somewhere you can easily reach it.

See you soon.

24/7
A Woman's Work is Never Done

7.20.2006

That's All She Wrote, Finally

Note: It all starts four posts below with The Last Day. You may want to begin there, too. Watch me as I try to make up for more than a week of no posts with one ginormous ode to childbirth...

Also lost in that contraction and the ones that followed was a certain level of consciousness. The pain was so dominant that it pushed all other thoughts and feelings so far away that they were no longer even a part of me. My husband became the active participant in the hospital drama as I floated in and out of my labor fog, catching certain key words and a heavy sense of everyone else’s uneasiness.

With the baby’s heartbeat still responding well to extra fluids and oxygen, my midwife suggested that I try the narcotic Nubain. There went another birth plan bullet point: "don’t ask us if we want drugs—we’ll ask you." While my husband argued the logic of administering a drug with the stated risk of lowering my fetus’s already low heart rate, the midwife insisted that pain management was the best option. He was reason, she was empathy. Since I had come into this open to the possibility of accepting a narcotic (though adamantly opposed to an epidural) I somehow managed to leave my own private haze long enough and with sufficient strength to utter the words “I’ll take it.”

They shot the Nubain into my ass, which burned. Then more went in through the IV. Not too long after, the baby’s heart rate descended from the 120s to 110. In any other circumstance, my husband would’ve said “I told you so.” But he was scared and I was doped up. If I thought I was barely hanging onto consciousness before, I was next to comatose now. The pain thrived—oh, yes, it was having a field day in my mid-section—but my ability to react to it was non existent. I lay there on my side, immersed in misery. There were no more hee-hee-hoos as my husband shifted from conducting the breathing symphony to discussing medical interventions with the midwife, who was growing increasingly concerned. The pain came every two minutes, and the sound of the baby’s heart was a sluggish drumbeat that reverberated throughout my space.

I remember the midwife rocking in her chair, staring at the monitor with her hands resting in her lap. The baby's heart rate fell into the 90s. “It really has me worried,” she repeated. “If that heart rate gets too low, the baby won’t get enough oxygen and she’ll be fatigued by labor.” The solution (and I have no recollection of this) was to administer another narcotic to counteract the effects of the Nubain. This Norcain would block the receptors to keep them from absorbing the Nubain floating around. They gave it an hour to work. It didn’t.

While they waited, my husband decided that it was time to eat. It was 3 o'clock, and he hadn't eaten since he grabbed a muffin early that morning. Unaware of his decision to stuff his face, I turned toward him in a brief moment of cognizance and was shocked to see him munching away on one of the sandwiches he makes each night before bed to eat the next day at work. I looked at the wheat bread and the bright green romaine and I was certain that I had never been so mad in my life. How dare he eat while I alone endure this cluster fuck of a birth experience! Who did he think he was? I stared at him while the anger seethed inside me, feeding on the agony of another contraction. But the Nubain was still doing its thing and the receptors that had absorbed it told me that there was no point in wasting energy yelling at him. So I stared some more, and I seethed again. And my husband later said he had no idea that I had even been irked by the sandwich episode.

In yet another blow to the birth plan, my midwife decided that an internal monitor was necessary. The midwife and the nurse prodded me to get on all fours as they inserted the wires through my cervix and onto the baby’s head while blood squirted everywhere. I have vague recollections of the discomfort, but none of the blood. That detail was later recounted by my husband. He also told me that the first attempt failed, and that the midwife had to try a second time to get a reading from the internal monitor. More discomfort. More blood. If I had been in the mood for irony, I would have picked up the birth plan and ripped it into shreds, throwing them up into the air so that they could fall down on us like a freak July snowstorm.

But the internal monitor finally picked up a heart beat that matched the dire predictions of the external version, and a doctor was dispatched. The midwife was out of her league. It took a half hour for the obstetrician to arrive, but when she did, she took one look at the long paper feeding out of the monitor machine and said “This baby has to come out NOW.”

If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, Why am I in the Pit?

The fluids and oxygen seemed to help as the baby’s heart rate rose from the low hundreds to the 120s. The midwife was encouraged enough to deal another blow to my birth plan. “Since you aren’t really progressing on your own, I think we’ll start you on Pitocin to see if the baby’s heart rate can tolerate contractions,” she said. I sunk deep into the bed to which I was confined by needles, clips and tubes. My husband patted my hand. He knew my first love was the written word so he voiced his sympathy by picking up where he had left off in his reading of Eleven on Top.

The nurse hooked me up to a bag of Pitocin and upped the dosage several times before it had any effect. When the contractions began they came strong and close. The first two were less than five minutes apart. Each contraction was a long tightening with a distinct center that was almost separate from what built up to it and what came after. That center was excruciating but short lived. From the very beginning I wasn’t able to speak through the hard hills indicated on the monitor, cringing at first, then moaning. The contractions felt huge, but the jagged rise and fall looked so small on-screen. I knew it wasn’t going to get better, and I wondered how bad worse would feel.

The tension was in my shoulders and, strangely, in my ankles as I stretched out my legs and flapped my feet up and down as if trying to kick out the strain. I was further aggravated by the finger-clip that kept falling off and the tubes that made any movement more laborious and less rewarding. Despite the impediments, I took the midwife’s advice to shift from one side to the other and then to move to the chair beside the bed. My husband sat in front of me, taking my two hands in his. Occasionally he would massage my head or back, but it was never long till I would grunt my displeasure and he would have to try something different. We were two very talkative people with the sudden inclination to stay silent. The constant beat of the baby’s slow heart filled the room and made my head pound.

I didn’t necessarily want my husband to do or say anything, but I was fierce in my desire to have him there. When he got up to go to the bathroom for what seemed like the millionth time, I was the one who was pissed. “How many freaking times are you going to go to the bathroom?” I demanded. “Would you just stay here?” Though the bathroom was part of the labor room we were confined to, and was only about three feet from my bed, I couldn’t bear to have him behind closed doors. If he had a typically wise-ass response to my irrationality, it was lost in the wave of the next contraction.

Waiting

Upon waking for another round of fetal monitoring around 5 or 6 AM, my husband began reading to me from Eleven On Top, the latest comedy-crime novel by one of my favorite authors. He had purchased the book, per my suggestion, as a little token of his appreciation for the work I’d be doing on our daughter’s inaugural birthday. That day dawned slow and hopeful as the hospital, too, came awake, carrying a chorus of nurse’s voices, along with the smell of slightly burnt bread in the toaster.

Exploiting all available forms of media, we took a break from the book to listen to a CD of Lewis Black’s comedy and flip through the television channels as we waited for the arrival of the midwife-on-call. The TV beamed over photos of a second round of bomb attempts, this time undetonated, that were wreaking confusion all over London. All around us, the world turned, but my husband and I watched each other awkwardly in a sterile pink room that stood still.

The fetal monitor, to which they hooked me up once per hour, indicated a low heart rate, but that didn’t come as a surprise. A week earlier, I had been sent by my midwife to the hospital for a non-stress test that showed the same thing. The midwife on duty that day was not concerned, saying that the baby must just have a low baseline by nature. Nobody seemed too concerned now, either; or, if they were, they weren’t letting on. So we waited, and the mood was early-morning quiet and anxiously reserved.

The midwife’s first order of business when she arrived around 8 AM was to approve breakfast. My little feast arrived in the form of gelatinous egg and cheese on a croissant. Chris took out the video camera and recorded for posterity my ruminations on whether or not the greasy slab would actually stay down when the contractions came on. I had every hope for an unmedicated birth, but the reality of the pain and each twisted turn of events was only naïve speculation at that point.

Our “birth plan,” was shot to hell almost the moment the midwife walked in and saw the results of the fetal monitoring for the first time. “This heart rate really has me worried,” she said as she rocked slowly and contemplatively in the wooden chair across from my hospital bed, watching the low line creep across the computer screen. “I think we’re going to have to put you on an IV and give you some oxygen. We’ll see if that helps the baby out. We’re going to have to keep you on the monitor from now on. You’d better put on a hospital gown.”

I looked down at my comfortable black nightgown and mentally crossed “No IV” and “Intermittent fetal monitoring only” off my birth plan. My husband asked if I could just drink a lot of water instead of receiving fluids through the IV, but that, apparently, was not an option. A cumbersome clip was attached to my finger to record my own heart rate as the IV went in and the plastic-y smelling oxygen mask went over my nose and mouth. This, I thought, sucks. The midwife’s internal exam put me at 2 centimeters’ dilation, which is roughly where I had been for the past couple of weeks.

The Last Day

A year ago tonight, and into tomorrow...

Unbeknownst to me, my water broke on July 20th sometime between lunch and dinner, somewhere between the Connecticut shoreline and my home in the northeast corner. I spent my last full day as a mommy-motel (womb with no view) taking my dog for a field trip. We went to a pond where she could swim and, hopefully, not ingest so much water that she would be peeing all the way home. I was nine days overdue at this point and the next night’s moon was going to be a full one, so there was something definitive in the air as I waited expectantly for my life to change.

This breaking of the water was an unnoticeable trickle for awhile, becoming more pronounced but still not tell-tale as the day wore on. Don’t ask me what I thought it was or why I didn’t make the connection, but it wasn’t till ten at night that I mentioned it to my husband. He had more faith than myself that I didn’t just suddenly go incontinent and was relatively certain that my old amniotic dam must certainly have burst.

I phoned the doctor on call, who directed me to come into the hospital so the staff could assess the situation. Once the water breaks, he said, contractions usually begin within 12-24 hours. At the time, I was still contraction-less and feeling fine. My conscious self was a bit paranoid that maybe I could not properly recognize the difference between lax Kegel muscles and an actual rupture of the amniotic membrane; but, at a subconscious level, I knew very well that the baby train was barreling down the track and I was powerless to stop it.

The half hour ride to the hospital at 2 a.m. was black, peaceful and portentous. I was becoming more aware by the second that I was taking a one-way trip out of my old life. I was attuned to every shadow, every curve of the road, every shard of moonlight that lead the way. The Dixie Chicks sung “Landslide” on the radio and I was overwhelmed. Then the hospital was on my right, and I looked at the elongated glass façade of the state-of-the-art facility that I had driven by so many times, never knowing when I’d end up inside, but always aware that I would not come out the same.

We walked in the emergency entrance as directed by the on-call doctor and signed in. A Women and Infants nurse was dispatched as our escort. On our way to the labor and delivery wing, we wound through an emergency ward of moaners, pukers and passed-out invalids presumably drawn in by the pull of that full moon. “This is much worse than usual,” said the nurse. “I’m glad you’re not having contractions so we can just get through here fast.”

We did, and soon I was in my own room, in my own hospital gown, joined by a nurse, a midnight midwife and a medical intern of the Doogie Howser persuasion. The midwife did an internal, inserting a long cotton-tipped swab that turned blue in indication that my water had truly broken. She reminded me that contractions should begin within 12-24 hours of point of rupture (which I arbitrarily assigned a time of 7 p.m., though I was pretty sure the leak started earlier than that).

The midwife who would take charge of my active labor was scheduled to come on at 8 a.m. Her name was Sue and she should not be confused with the midwife I had been seeing faithfully for the past nine months--who, of course, was on vacation. That’s life, I thought, and settled into bed per the nurse’s suggestion that I try to get some sleep. Soon the fat moon was replaced by a fat sun visible through frosted windowpanes.

7.12.2006

Happy Anniversary to Me

There were 318 turns in 11 miles on the Tail of the Dragon as my husband and I hugged the tightest curves and blew through the gentler ones in a 30 minute drive that seemed more like five. Chris’s only regret was that steering problems in his ’83 Porsche 944 forced him into the driver’s seat of my automatic sedan as we sliced through the mangled souls of motorcyclists hanging over the Smoky Mountain pass. Me, I felt no such nostalgia for German engineering as the skin of my preoccupied fingers stretched tight over the Oh, Shit bar. I leaned in and out of each curve in hopeful defiance of centrifugal force.

On this trip to Tennessee in celebration of our second anniversary, I realized our marriage is like the path dug out by the dragon’s tail. It’s all twists, slow rises and views that fall steep. At its most harrowing, I wonder why we do it. Other times, I’m just glad to be along for the ride. Then there are the moments when exhilaration defies danger and I know, however briefly, that this is what it’s all about.

We talked later that night about what we could do to make our third year better than the last. Chris suggested that I not get pregnant. But because leaving it at that would put all our happiness in my hands, he wisely volunteered to find a job that pays more. I nodded over my glass of Chardonnay.

“What now?” I took a sip.

“I think we should go back to the hotel. I gotta drop a deuce.”

I took a gulp.

As they say in the Smokies: If that don’t light your fire, your wood’s wet.

7.05.2006

Penicillin For the Soul

The proof of my changed life is in the salad dressing. It's the same Thousand Island Lite I've been dropping in a single, neat tablespoonful onto a bed of romaine for over a year now. It's the bottled mayonnaise product that my husband wouldn't dream of eating, not after growing up on oil and vinegar that falls fresh from separate glass containers into the same salad bowl, repellant for the first time.

It's the dressing that I glanced at last night, only to realize it had expired in September 2005.

Before Tolby, a year was a very long time. Food that was old, seemed old. The digital reading on the bottom right hand corner of my office computer went so slowly from 9:06 to 9:07 that it seemed not to change at all. One season of the Sopranos was separated from the next by eternity. The idea of shopping July sales for gifts to give at Christmas was absurd.

At least I knew I wouldn't live forever, even then. But I didn't care. The fifty years that separated me from my average-life-expectancy were a comfortable buffer. I was safe.

As I sat with a spoonful of invisible mold sitting surprisingly tasty on my tongue, I realized that this never would've happened in my old life. The bottle would've been tossed, 2/3 full, into the garbage can the day August flapped open to September. There was organization, inasmuch as I could ever be considered organized. There was waste, for sure. And there was boredom, as I stared into the cold cubicle, tossed out a few old yogurts and rummaged behind the pickles, looking for something fun to eat.

They say--I say--it goes by so fast. We ask: Is it that time already? Yes. And yes. And if you eat some mold because you were too busy enjoying your dinner company to stop and check the expiration date, so be it. It's penicillin for the soul.

6.29.2006

Where I'm From

Found this writing exercise via Buffy. You should try it sometime.


I am from Cookie Monster sweatshirts, shrugged on past bedtime. I'm from Dairy Queen and a station wagon.

I am from the chain-linked smell of gasoline and grass clippings. I am from dandelion seeds, yellow weeds and petals of "he loves me not." I'm from lilacs for mom on the kitchen table.

I am from Marlboro Reds by the carton, by the day; I'm from them living while I sleep.

I'm from Faith, Hope and Wisdom, Russian sisters in translation. I'm from pampered grudges with skin soft from attention. I'm from funereal reunions.

I'm from shhhhhh and daddy's sleeping.

I'm from crimson carpets and Sabbath inattention. I'm from kneeling in a straight line.

I'm from the USA. Hot dogs and pierogies.

I'm from the #6 Combination Platter at Hong Kong Kitchen, from tiny fingers on a teacup with no handle, and an empty space in the booth.

I am from Great Aunt Sonia's head, where all our cramped secrets will die because nobody wants them.

6.27.2006

Mom At Work

I recently started a non-fiction freelance writing project that will have me writing 20,000 words over the course of 4 weeks. Since 2,000 is about as high as I've gone in any freelance pursuit thus far, I am in for a world of hurt. But it's not just the word count that makes my left eye twitch--there's also the whole "non-fiction" thing. In such genres, facts are checkable. There are events that unfold in a certain way, and there are finite ways of reporting them. As I work with a reality that is not my own, I must find ways to give dimension to things I've only heard about. I know it's true that the fifth sense is heightened when the other four are taken away, but does it stand to reason that I can write an entire book (albeit a short one) based on less than ten hours of interviews? I'm still wading through the recorded files, but as each transcribed line elicits a whole slew of questions that I know I won't have time to get answered, I start to prejudge my ability to get this thing done.

Assisting me in this endeavor is a high school aged mother's helper who started this week. She keeps the baby occupied four days a week, three hours a day. She looks like Britney when Britney was illegal and hot, but that's where the similarities end. I prefer to reserve judgement on Britney's parenting skills, but I will say that outward appearances indicate my mother's helper has more positive maternal qualities than me and Ms. Spears put together. You see, I have so much sympathy for the bum rap Britney has received because I know how easy it is to make mistakes as a parent. If the papparazzi was following me the day Tolby's carrier fell out of the shopping cart and bounced three times on the asphalt, DCS would've descended on me like protective locusts. Alas, it seems that nobody cares about poor, defenseless Tolby except me.

Hearing my daughter giggle with her nubile babysitter outside my home office is encouraging but also just a tiny bit off-putting. Like, does Tolby have to laugh quite so much? I want her to be well cared for and entertained, but I'm not sure it's necessary for her to chortle. And, later, when I walk through the living room on a casual jaunt to the bathroom, why does Tolby have to be nestled in the crook of this babysitter's arm, placidly chewing on the remote control? For me to place Tolby on the couch beside me would be akin to committing infanticide, what with her BASE jumping proclivities. But put her under the calming spell of this relative stranger and she just sits there.

Yet, it's all very good. I'm getting paid to do what I love. I have three hours a day to pass in a makeshift cloister devoted to the writing life. Color me satisfied. And just a little bit nervous about the next 20,000 words.