Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My hospital gown smelled like doughnuts.

So, we wound up in Labor and Delivery the other night.

It had been about 14.5 hours since I'd felt the baby move, and after trying several different little tricks (ranging from drinking juice/putting feet up, to prodding the stomach and clapping into my belly button like I was looking for an echo) that all failed beautifully, the OB nurse and I decided I should probably come in. The baby has been active for months, and has always recently been up for a little game of Seriously, Stop Messing With Me, wherein I push on the outside of his warm little water balloon, and he pushes immediately back. Now that he didn't want to play, the nurse was concerned and just wanted to check me out. I agreed. And so we went.

Doesn't that sound all nice and calm? Yeah, it wasn't.

Before the trip to the ER to be admitted, I took a couple of minutes to lie on our bed and beg the baby to kick, tears running down my cheeks and onto the pillow under my head. This is the absolute last thing I want to do, I kept thinking, I don't want to take precautions or run tests or make any move toward the possible answers to, 'what if the baby's dead?' I wanted to be healthy, with a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. I wanted to be like everyone else, damn it, and so I lay there and hoped that I could be. I concentrated so hard, looking for a flutter or jab, anything to tell me he was in there. When nothing came, I finally had to nut up and rally, heave my pathetic self off of the bed, and get going. Because sometimes you just have to get going, no matter how badly you don't want to be where you'll end up.

On the way out the door, The Boy (who had up until that point been very 'it's probably all fine, I'll follow your lead, you know I don't panic' about it all) asked, "What will they do? How long will we be there?" A logical question asked in a voice that sounded 20 years younger than the lips it came from. The only chink in his so brave armor. It made me see stars.

"Well," I said, "if they don't find a heartbeat, we won't be there long at all. They'll hook us up to whatever machine they have to monitor the baby, make sure there's nothing, then we'll make follow-up surgical appointments. We'll be home in around an hour, I'd guess, all told. If they do... I don't have any idea what will happen. I've never been down the 'making sure the baby's alive and oh, look, he is!' road. They might keep me, they might not."

I didn't want to be cold, but after my little pity party on the bed, I didn't have room for much else without inviting absolute hysterics. So I answered him as calmly and as matter-of-factly as I could, while staring at the ground and trying not to scream. I wanted to be able to tell him what would happen when they found out everything was fine, but I just didn't know. I had nothing to go on when it came to babies living.

But I have now.

The nurse (who looked like a meth addict when she shuffled around the corner into the waiting room. Her eyes were half-closed and she looked stoned out of her mind. I actually looked at The Boy and said, "Oh, I don't fucking think so," as he dragged me down the hall after her. Turns out, she'd been on shift for like 19 hours, so whatever. Maybe she wasn't high after all. That'll teach me to judge, but yeah, she was totally high) led us to a room, handed me a hospital gown, and insisted I change. I insisted she take the gown away, because I didn't need to change and it would just be wasted on me. Hospital gowns and the wearing thereof imply that hey, you're not going anywhere, sucker. Best be letting your ass hang out now, because we're in it for the long haul. So I bemoaned the gown. Oh, how I bemoaned.

Apparently, heavy meth use makes you pig-headed. She wouldn't relent.

Something I discovered as a result of losing our little battle of wills: Hospital gowns in L&D at our hospital smell like doughnuts. They do, for real. When I put it on, I shuffled over to the boy and made him sniff me, and he agreed. Ask him.

After leaving us in the room alone to (panic) settle in, Nurse McMethy came back and advised me that she'd be "using these white things to strap you down to the bed." To which I shrieked, "STRAPMEDOWNWHY!?" and flailed my rotund ass around, craning to see just what in the crap kind of restraints she was coming after me with. (I swear to you, I had the tiniest of flashes of shit, they finally caught me, they think I'm crazy because it runs in my family and now they're going to commit me and I'm never going to leave. They think I'm insane, and they'll take my baby and leave me here forever, those FUCKERS, where's my knife when I need it, oh wait I don't own a knife. Okay, so maybe it was a big flash.)

This obvious burst of obvious fear, at least, got more than a sloe-eyed blink from Trackmark O'Rehab, and she explained that the straps were to hold the sensors to my stomach, and the sensors were to monitor the baby. God. Duh. Well, fucking FINE THEN, strap away.

Speedball LeBongwater hooked said sensors to my belly and immediately clapped her hands and said, "I found the baby!" Now. She said this like I would say "Look, a Buick!" if I were digging in a sand box. Given the fact that I was pregnant and we were looking for the heart beat, her initial surprise did nothing to convince me of her sobriety OR experience in her field, because dude? Why so shocked? Is this your first time, are you THAT high, or did you expect my child to be dead? None of these is an acceptable answer, by the way.

Anyway, she turned up the machine and we listened to the heartbeat for quite a long while, while she talked about I don't know what and I cried some more, whispering "Thank you, thank you. Thank you, God, thank you."

The heartbeat started out very soft and very slow, which worried The Boy quite a bit. At this point, I was on cloud 9. I was elated that we could hear anything, and so far beyond worry that I couldn't possibly be bothered with the specifics of WHAT we were hearing. Eventually, the heart rate sped up to a respectable clip, which also worried The Boy, and the nurse attempted to pacify everyone involved by noting that of course it would fluctuate. There is a PERSON in there, duh. (Listen, Doper, you didn't seem to expect anything to be in there but some lint and a used Q-tip, so how about we don't lecture the patients about what is or isn't wherever, hmm? And really. Duh is not a professional way to answer patients that are a LITTLE ON EDGE.)

We listened to the baby thump and move -which I could eventually, finally feel- in response to The Boy's side of the conversation. I cried some more. The Boy finally smiled, the light of realization easing the stressed furrow of his brow when I said, "See. I told you he can hear you. I told you he knows your voice," and he could hear that it was true.

After about 30 minutes, Heroin Von Cokeaddiction assured us that everything was probably fine but, wait, she wasn't really QUALIFIED to say that, so don't hold her to it. She told me to get dressed while she shuffled off to find a doctor. Someone, she assured us, that would be all certified in babies 'n shit.

Yes, really.

Turns out, MY doctor was the one on call, and we caught him right before he had to perform emergency surgery on a woman that had not been as fortunate as we were. He told me to make an appointment for an ultrasound with his nurses (He stressed the HIS part of the nurses, trying not-so-subtly to stay an arms length away from our mutual friend) and told me to do kick counts three times a day, coming back in if the numbers were too low.

So here we are. Tomorrow morning is the ultrasound, and we'll find out if there's something wrong or if the kid was just feeling relaxed. Really, really, really relaxed...

Can I tell you I've been a wreck since the hospital? And I haven't been treating anyone very nicely because they're all loud and stupid and I just want to sit here and concentrate on the baby kicking and they won't just go the hell away and leave me to it? And that I'll be a wreck until my doctor looks at me and says, "It's okay. Breathe. Everything's going to be okay." because I am so, so scared? Can I admit, just here, that my head hurts so badly not from the stress itself, but because I've been scowling/squinting so hard as I listened internally to those little kicks for the last couple of days, that I'm actually injuring myself?

I'm crossing my fingers until they break. I would pray, but I don't know that God wants to hear much from me in the way of bargaining. And so I just ask for strength. I ask for the grace not to take this out on The Boy. I hope for peace. It's all I can do. It's not enough, but it's all I have.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Swing away.

Wasn't that what the dying wife in the movie Signs said? "Tell (I forget his name) to swing away"? Or whatever?

I might be making that up. There's been a serious lack of sleep in my life lately, due to strange dreams where everyone has this other alien, strange creature living inside their body in a bubble, and people have to talk to these creatures and clear everything with them, like, "Hey, Mr. Bubble, do you think we should have milk or water?" and it's all really distracting for me because while I'm dreaming these dreams I'm so put out thinking that it's all so fucking inconvenient and pointless, because what difference does it make? And then I realize (while still dreaming) that the dreams are all kind of really obviously about my pregnancy because I call my belly Mr. Bubble and being pregnant is just like having some weird creature living inside of you, so I'm kind of lamenting the entire time I'm asleep that I'm not really very deep or original and that my subconscious mind is SO. FUCKING. BORING. And anyway, it's none too restful.

So yeah. I'm tired.

What I was starting to say was that I intend to do like the dying lady said and swing away from the seriousness that's been going on around here lately, but instead of Light and Jovial, I seem to have wandered into Strange and Confused. Which, yeah. I'm comfortable there. Hell, I've got a summer home there. I spend every freakin' weekend there. I just kind of didn't mean to bring you with me.


Anyway, what I meant to convey was that I don't mean to be so down and dreary, ruminating about my past and my childhood and my family issues. They've just been on my mind a lot lately, as I'm about to shape a childhood of my own and speaking of which! I just remembered my original point when I sat down to post this but then thought it was maybe a titch too heavy. I'm obviously throwing that out the window now, though, so here goes.

I saw a question posed today on a blog I read. Someone said that they were going to give their children the best of everything; the most love, attention, adoration, security, etc, because their childhood had been so bad and they had never had those things themselves. The response from a commenter was that the author had made him wonder whether happy childhoods had to come from an unhappy childhood before them. Meaning, did my childhood have to suck in order for me to want so badly to make my kid's life easier than mine was?

At first, I agreed with that. I thought, hey, that's pretty deep. Now I think it's not deep, but rather ridiculous. I'm sure there are plenty of people that had perfectly balanced, 'normal' developmental periods in their lives and went on to use those years as a foundation on which to build a happy childhood for their own offspring. I don't think you need to have been warped in some way in order to piece something happy together for your kids, not at all.

It was an interesting question, none the less. What do you think? Do happy children have to come from parents who had something missing, so they know what's important? Or can people who've had a less obviously traumatic time of things go on to give the same steady, peaceful childhood to their children because it is all they know?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Caterpillar: Who are YOU?
Alice: This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. I -- I hardly know, sir, just at present -- at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.

I used to be much more high strung. I used to be much more scared. Terrified, even, if we're being honest, which we are. Terrified of everything but unable to show it at all. I used to worry much more. I would become preoccupied with details and how they would affect my world. One such preoccupation stands out in my mind, and I always go back to it, poking at the thing as I wonder at the why of it.

My sister and I lived with our dad and our uncle, his brother, in a small blue house when we were very young. Our mother had given up custody of us when she'd found that working 4 jobs and raising three girls alone was to her brain like an axe would be to a cantaloupe... She had to give us to him, or she didn't know what would happen. She didn't know what she might do. So my older sister and I were taken away by our dad (my sister's dad. We weren't acknowledging then, when I was hardly more than a toddler, that we didn't know who mine was,) and our mother disappeared for close to a year. We didn't hear from her then at all. She needed to be free from us completely, and so she was.

She would not want us back for almost nine years, at which time we would go happily. Little did any of us know how well that would turn out...

There was rust-colored shag carpet in the living room of my uncle's house, and roach clips in the ashtrays on the coffee table. Our (her) dad did the best he could, and our uncle tried hard to help. Still, there were unreasonable expectations (answering the phone, "Hello, Ournamehere residence, how may I help you?" at four years old) because two single men had no idea what to expect from two small girls. We all did our best. It turned out okay for the most part. We were okay.

I remember that at some point in those years, I developed the habit of sitting on the cement stoop out front of the house for hours, the concrete cool through my shorts, staring up at the hunter green leaves of the beautiful old tree that dominated the yard. The tree we couldn't touch. It was infested with red ants and they would sting you, so we could not have a swing or a tree house, or any of the things that good-natured old giant would have been so well suited to. We could not so much as brush against it, let alone climb its gnarled old branches, lest we come away with stinging welts and nothing but a grumbled I told you so for our troubles.

I don't remember when I started counting the leaves, but I do remember very specifically never being able to get beyond 77. It wasn't that I couldn't count higher - of course, I could - it was just that I would get so far and become positive that I'd missed one. You see, the leaves all had to touch each other. I had to move from one to the next by way of them caressing each other above my head. And so I would sit there with my arms around my legs, counting, following tenuous lines of contact between each part of this tree that had become my friend, and suddenly find myself convinced that I had missed one leaf. So I would start over.

This went on for hours.

I just didn't want any of them to be left out. I wanted them all to know they mattered, that I saw them.

I think I was 5 or 6 years old when this started. It eventually morphed into a habit of counting in my head when I would find myself under stress - which was often. I would count by multiples of three, five or seven. I also started keeping very close track of my conversations -- when it was my turn to talk, I would count the words that I spoke, then count the letters in the words. I would divide the letters by the words and that is how many times I would blink the next time my conversation partner was speaking.

It was a lot to keep track of for someone so young, but it was my way of distracting myself.

From what, I still don't know.

My sister and I were not abused, though I recognize this sort of obsessive compulsive behavior as similar to the way someone who has suffered in some way would cope with the trauma. There is a similar parallel between my sister's sweet and childlike nature and the mannerisms of a person unable to mature due to some kind of deeply rooted infliction. The only trauma I can see is being separated from our mother, who was obviously in distress and unable to deal with the pressure of being a parent.

And so, I cannot see why I developed this habit of counting so obsessively. I cannot see what it helped me cope with. I do know that I was only able to force myself to stop doing it a few years ago, and now I don't do it at all. I also know that for most of my life I lived in constant fear of everything, unable to show it lest I disappoint or let someone down. In those days in the light blue house, I had my sister to look after, the both of us to raise. If I made our father unhappy by being weak, maybe he wouldn't love us and he'd give us up, and then where would we go? Childish, yes, but... It was the logic.

Perhaps that's where it all came from, where it started. Not that it matters now, I just find myself musing lately about things that happened so long ago. I can't help but marvel at how my life has turned, morphing into something entirely different than my early years would have lead me to believe possible. Just when it seemed I would careen down the same terrible path, winding up broken and breaking at the bottom in the same way my mother did, I find myself instead on level ground, looking around in surprise with new eyes. And I wonder at the luck that got me here.

Alice: But I don't want to go among mad people.
The Cat: Oh, you can't help that. We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.
Alice: How do you know I'm mad?
The Cat: You must be. Or you wouldn't have come here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

We had it rough.

My mother and I had it rough.

I think I was so hard for her because I was sort of a pre-death reincarnation of herself. Also, the subject of my birth and origins was a touchy one -- who do I come from, why won't you tell me, what would people say if I told them my husband wasn't your father? and I think it was a source of some embarrassment for her, to say the least. Not to mention constant aggravation once I realized the truth and started routinely begging for confirmation from her, which was always denied. She was too proud, and the truth hurt too much. I understood that and respected it. It was one of her many boundaries, and I could not force her into allowing me to cross it.

But man, I loved that woman. I loved her so much, it still aches inside of me. There's this place that was hollowed out, carved raw and left pulsing when she died. It takes my breath away sometimes, remembering out of nowhere that she's dead. (Not gone. Dead.) She was all I had, in a way. I don't know who my birth father is, and realized that at a very young age- so she was the well, the source, the only beginning, the entire history. I had so much - too much? - invested in her and our relationship, that it probably became difficult for her to live up to any of my expectations.

It was hard for my mother to live up to expectations in general. She had various and sundry medical conditions bouncing around inside her skull, some diagnosed, some not, but all adding just a pinch of disorder to situations that were commonplace for others. This included relations with the people around her - it's obviously going to be difficult for a very paranoid person to carry on a 'normal' relationship with someone, you understand. Or for someone with mild schizophrenia to view or handle routine circumstances with any degree of predictability.

Aside from her specific mental issues, her personality made it hard for her to sustain meaningful relationships. She hated birthdays, LOATHED Christmas. Any time someone expected something of her, she felt suffocated and resentful, like she had to arch and buck away from whatever she felt was binding her... be it social constructs or obligations, or her children...

See, there's not much difference between a friend wanting you to do something for them and a child expecting or needing a certain action. Not to someone like my mother. All of it boiled down to the same things: Constraint, obligation, expectations. Need. Demand. Want. All of it was often too much. It strained her.

And so, we had it rough. My older (younger?) sister has always been far more demanding emotionally than I am, far more needy than me. This was allowed and encouraged because there was something different and beautiful about her, something special and specific and queer. Something she could love without resentment. I observed this at a very young age - 3? 4? - and knew that while it was all I wanted in the world, to be adored the way my sister was by our mother, it would not be tolerated from me or anyone else. My mother needed me to be independent, needed me to stand alone. And so I did, because I loved her so much.

Over the years it became my responsibility to protect my older (younger. I always want to say younger. But she's not, she's 13 months older. Older, older, older,) sister, because her sweet nature left her needing protection and because it was what I could do for them both. Act as a buffer between my lovely (I say that without an ounce of sarcasm- she is everything good in the world, and I adore her completely) sister and the world around her, thus keeping the one thing my mother treasured above all else safe. It was what I did. It is what I do still. It is what I love and resent, this role I was obliged to take but now wouldn't know how to abandon.

By the time I was old enough to look my mother in the eye flat-foot, I started hearing you're too hard, you're too much work to love, I love you because I have to, because I'm your mother and I'm supposed to... by that time she had come around to brutal honesty because my personality and our likeness frustrated and often infuriated her, leaving her without any other weapon to wound me with. So she told me frequently and in great, imaginative detail how she hated what she had made me into.

It didn't matter, not really. I mean, at the time I could have killed her and never been sorry, just to stop the noise. But I didn't kill her, or even so much as raise a hand to her, because I loved her so fiercely that it was all I could to hate myself for not ever, ever being what she needed.

I only ever wanted to help her and never could have REALLY fathomed acting out against her, nor she against me. On my end this restraint was born of love and difference, the desire to keep her safe and happy.

My mother's restraint was a little bit different. By the time her Daily Rundown of Shit I Did Wrong (To Include Breathing and Blinking Occasionally) started, I was taller than she was by several inches, not that size tempered her fury much as it broke like waves against me. What kept her always raging at arm's length was that I could (did not frequently, but could) look at her without expression or reaction to the things she was doing or saying. I would watch her closely - you could never be certain she wasn't going to reach for a knife, although she only did once - and the more attention I paid, the more brightly her rage burned. She hated that I did not turn away from her. She longed to make everyone turn away so that she could be left alone with her self-loathing, without external expectations. She wanted badly to push us all away, occasionally desired to cause an emotional pain that could not be recovered from so that we would only hate her and leave her to hate herself.

But I could not turn away from her. How could I? Even in her fits, her frustration, her terrible anger at me that was brought on by nothing other than that we'd had the misfortune of my being born to her, she was beautiful. She was captivating to me. She was all I had, and I could no more leave her there to commit emotional suicide than I could slit her wrists myself. I knew even when she was tearing me apart at the seams that she loved me... She just didn't know what to do with it. And because I did not and could not turn my back on her, she could never summon the courage to strike me with any real determination. Having been terribly abused and tortured by her first husband, she could not wound the one that looked at her with only concern, love, and confusion in her eyes.

And so we had it rough. Me, constantly trying to keep her in check. Her, forever trying to thrust me away by any means necessary so that she could just be left the fuck alone already. My anger, frustration, FURY would occasionally rise to meet hers, but mostly I could not match the passion with which she threw herself into destroying me.

It was an odd thing. I know my mother loved me intensely. I know she was proud of me because she would say so occasionally, after I got older and moved out from under her feet. When we could breathe without the taste of each other's exhaled breath in our mouths, we found that we liked one another quite a lot. I was shocked at how easily I could surprise her into laughing with me, absolutely blown apart and rebuilt the first time I saw in her face a love that was untempered by frustration or anger. I can still see that expression in my mind, the surprise in her beautiful eyes at realizing that we were the same and it was okay. I can clearly remember the relief, thinking Dear God, finally.

By the time she died, we were quite close. Very close. My older (younger) sister was still the favorite. Our oldest sister was a close second. Then there was me, pulling up the rear, but at least I was on the list...

My mother had issues. Big ones. Serious ones. We all do, and if someone tells you they don't, they're a dirty liar and you should get away from them before the Earth cracks beneath their feet. (Because liars, if no one else, go to hell.) But I loved her intensely. Still do. She was perfect in the way that we all are. She taught me to see people, not disorders, and understand that everyone has motives and reasons behind everything they do and say- no matter how obscure or hard to understand. She showed me how to hate the deed, not the doer, how to love unconditionally and hang on 'till it hurts and after. How to push aside the iron curtain around someone you love and reach them underneath.

I was just thinking about that. Feeling the baby kick, wishing she was here. She would have been so happy to have herself another grandson. I would have been so happy to give her one.

I am the fighter that she made me into. I am the hard one, the difficult one. I am the one that does the things the others will not do. I am her daughter, and I am so proud of that. She was my everything once, and it will always be enough that I was part of hers, too.