Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

We are leaving town for Thanksgiving and I am filled with anxiety. What if I need to talk to the midwives? What if I need to see the doctors? What if I need my mother-baby-friendly progressive hospital?

It feels like my security blanket, having the hospital and our OB-midwife practice so close by. I feel like I have a tether, a sort of umbilicus, between there and my house. It only stretches so far.

A reminds me there are doctors and hospitals in Charleston. This doesn’t really comfort me. I think I’m thinking about last Christmas, about being out of town when we learned Joseph had died. The hospital in Asheville was good to us, but I hate it now, because of what happened there. I hope never to go back. I don’t want to be out of town again if another baby is going to die. And any time we go out of state, there is the fear of discrimination, that another hospital won’t accept A as my wife, as this baby’s mother, won’t honor our powers of attorney.

I try to comfort myself by remembering that I’m only 20 weeks, and even if there was something wrong, there is nothing they can do. Today I am pregnant, I repeat to myself over and over. We listen to the baby’s heartbeat. I lie still in bed and wait for the one kick, the one roll I sometimes am now feeling. Baby’s okay, baby’s okay, baby’s okay.

And yet there is still this crazy, pervasive, underlying anxiety. Maybe the Zoloft isn’t working anymore, maybe the dose isn’t right. (I have a follow-up next week, so this will be addressed soon.) I weigh the same on the scale. (I was just really sick, so this could make sense.) I’m not feeling increased movement yet. (I have an anterior placenta, so this makes sense.) I’m still coughing. (Pneumonia takes a long time to recover from.)

I spend the weekend being anxious about getting a refill on my asthma inhaler that I haven’t used in four years. It’s empty, or it’s not working right. Do I need a new one? Really? A and I are both a little pissed that I might be having asthma symptoms again, despite the logical connection between pneumonia and breathing restriction. Do I think it’s helping me because it’s a placebo effect? I talk to a doctor friend at church on Sunday morning. No, she assures me, it’s not the placebo effect. Using my inhaler will help get more oxygen to the baby.

Monday morning I call in to ask please if I can get a refill. Of course they have to take a message, send it back to the nurse, say a nurse will call me back. Usually, the call-backs happen after 5pm. I have therapy at 5pm, I won’t be able to answer my phone. I turn my phone on at school and keep it out next to me where I can see the screen light up, something I never do. I feel like I can’t breathe. The puff that comes out of my inhaler is puny, a half-dose at best.

The nurse calls after school to let me know my refill has been called in. But I won’t be able to go by until after 6, it’s a long day, and the therapist is so far away, there will be traffic, and it will be dark and cold and the cold air hurts my lungs, and I’m not sure I like this new therapist anyway, I have too many appointments after school, I’m always driving to some appointment, I don’t have any time…

And on and on and on.

I get home and hug A and let out a soft, high-pitched whine: eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

I do this, occasionally, imitating the anxious dog from Hyperbole and a Half (one of my favorite blogs). It’s an annoying sound, but it’s perfect. It’s exactly how I feel.

We whine, we comfort each other, we make faces, we put our hands on my belly, we wring our hands, we listen to the baby’s heartbeat, we furrow our brows, we cuddle, we talk. A cycle of anxiety and soothing that repeats over and over, many times each day.

 

© Burning Eye

bed rest with bathroom privileges

I come to the hospital to get a chest x-ray. The midwife I have just seen at the office tells me the quickest way to get it read is to come to Maternity Admissions, so I drive over in the rain, call A on the way and ask her to meet me there in an hour with dinner. I expect them to set me in a triage room, run all their tests, and tell me everything looks fine still, it’s still just a virus, and send me home. Hopefully before midnight, because I am planning to get up and go back to work in the morning after a week and a half out.

I have been sick for nine days now, low energy and running a mild fever that seems to creep back in any time I try to stop taking ibuprofen. At first this is my only symptom, that and the aches and chills and muddled brain that come with a fever. The cough creeps in, and I am sure it is just acid reflux, that it’s only the air turning dryer with the coming winter. My lungs start to hurt and I am up more in the night coughing. By Tuesday I am winded walking a few steps and struggling not to cough with each breath.

We have our anatomy scan in the morning. Count the baby’s toes, fingers, ribs. Watch it open and close its mouth and smoosh its face into the placenta. Watch its heart beating (beating!). Watch it turning and rolling and scrunching and stretching. “Baby looks beautiful,” they tell us. Everything is developing normally.

I go home to take a nap before heading in to the midwife for the third time this week. I feel better already, knowing I have an appointment. I feel silly, like suddenly I don’t really need to go in. It’s daytime, and all my middle-of-the-night fears have dissipated. But I remind myself they told me to call if new symptoms developed.

“I’m worried it could be pneumonia,” I tell the midwife. The latest in my series of 1am self-diagnoses. Listeria, toxoplasmosis, mono.

So I feel a moment of triumph at the hospital when the curly-haired nurse who attends me pops her head into the triage room open and whispers, almost cheerily, “You have lower right lung pneumonia. They’re going to admit you!”

Ha! I think. I was right!

And then, as we wait and stillness settles in, I think maybe I’ve misheard. Maybe they got my chest x-ray mixed up with some other woman’s. The nurse comes and starts an iv, eyeing my veins with a gleam in her eye. “What a juicy vein!” she chirps. We wait for the midwife to come in and confirm the pneumonia. I could be in the hospital a few days, she says.

A goes home to sleep, and I spend the rest of the evening and into a sleepless night in shock. At 2am tottering to the bathroom to pee yet again, dragging my iv pole with me, I’m no longer vindicated I have a diagnosis. I’m thinking about what it means to be admitted to the hospital. Stuck in one room. Interrupted every hour or two for a check of my vitals, or medication, or, it seems, just to be interrupted. I’m not really sure of anything at all, the midwife had been so vague and brief. Why am I getting an iv? Why are my legs wrapped up in inflatable compression sleeves? What does it mean I’m on bed rest with bathroom privileges? Do I really have pneumonia? What is pneumonia anyway? Is the baby alright?

I sleep a half hour here, a half hour there. I wake up and watch the sky get lighter. The view is familiar, only 3 windows down from the recovery room where we stayed after I gave birth to Joseph. I remember being wheeled down to the hospital lobby, walking out through the glass doors with empty arms. The memory cuts deep, a sharp knife. If I had any breath, I would cry.

After the anatomy scan, I had gone home and sat in the glider and wailed. Trying not to cry so hard that I coughed too much. I felt awash with stress and anxiety, and relief. A conviction: This baby is going to be okay. Paralyzing fear: There’s nothing we can do to make sure this baby is going to be okay. And grief renewed: This baby is not Joseph, not my firstborn little boy. I’m never going to get him back.

I watch the shadows shorten outside the hospital windows. Car windows glimmer on Green Valley Way. The sides of the buildings brighten. As I wait for A to come visit, to bring me comforting things from home—a blankie, my body pillow, ultrasound photos of our new baby—I rub my belly and think, I wasn’t alone at the hospital last night. I’m not ever alone anymore. I have this living, kicking, growing companion in my belly. I start to talk to the baby. “You and me, baby, we’re going to be okay.”

© Burning Eye

under my ribs

Every few days I feel you moving

pushing just under my right ribs

the gentle pressure of your feet or knee or head

stretching.

 

Yet you aren’t there.

 

Four months pregnant,

I know it is not this baby.

This little one,

the size of the palm of my hand,

lacks your strength,

and still dwells much too low down

to brush against my ribs

or touch my heart.

 

Ten months gone

but now you are back.

A ghost nudge,

as if to say

don’t forget me.

 

© Burning Eye

Absence

I go back to prenatal yoga and Joseph’s absence is everywhere.

I already know what I am going to say. As we go around the room, the other women share how many weeks, boy or girl, first or second and how old their little girl or boy at home is. I have thought about this since the day Joseph was born. Fixated on it. Wondering how in the world I would ever talk about my son’s death. If I would even want to. What would feel like a lie, and what would feel like just enough of my story.

I say my name, that I’m 16 weeks, that this is my second.

The teacher, who is wonderful, who knows all about Joseph, moves on.

The second week I am back I tell them I think we’re going to find out if it’s a boy or girl and not tell anyone else. The room erupts in conversation as the other women tell stories of people they know who. They all imagine it will be so hard. They say things like, Oh, well, you’ll have to be careful how you decorate the nursery, and, You’ll still have to shop neutral colors. They don’t know these things don’t matter to me. They don’t know I think it will be easy to lie because I don’t want to talk about this pregnancy much anyway.

Throughout class, the women talk about what their toddlers at home will be for Halloween. I thought last Halloween was going to be our last without children, I remember, and am surprised I had forgotten.

I think about how I started going to prenatal yoga last October, at 20 weeks. How strange it was for me to be in a room full of pregnant women, bellies of all sizes sitting awkwardly in our laps.

Now, this year, it is familiar, yet strange for different reasons. I have mostly avoided pregnant women for the past ten months. I look the other way when I pass the two other pregnant teachers at my school. One of them is due a week before me. I haven’t spoken to her since I found out. I am afraid of all this talk about pregnancy, about babies coming, as if it’s a sure thing.

The yoga women talk about their first labors. I chime in sparingly, afraid they will stop and ask me a question about the baby I gave birth to. Where is he. How old is he. He would be ten months, I think. And yet, he wouldn’t have been. He would have been nine months old, if he’d lived, if he hadn’t been born early. And I wouldn’t be pregnant now, again, so soon.

How strange it is that I am pregnant twice within a year. I am careful to avoid using indicators of time when I speak.

At the beginning of every class, the teacher reads us a birth story. The women from yoga who have already given birth send them to her. As she reads, she explains things to us, educates us about the specifics of this and that. She used to be a labor and delivery nurse; she’s seen it all.

I think, after my second week back, that going to prenatal yoga is kind of like cognitive behavioral therapy. Talk of pregnancy and labor and birth in small doses in a safe space. Reminders of the hospital: fetal heart monitors, nurses, dilation,  effacement, induction. Reminders of the early signs of labor I never experienced. The hospital bag I never got to pack.

I decide this immersion therapy is good for me. Good to focus on the changes in my body. Good to be reminded to breathe. Good to strengthen my muscles and practice opening.

Good to remember that I’m carrying a baby. A baby, who is alive today, whose heartbeat I chase every few days with the Doppler and tap out with my toe, not counting, but putting the rhythm in my body where I will remember it.

My body remembers.

It remembers the way to bend forward with enough space for my growing belly. It remembers holding a squat, breathing hard, lifting my abdominals around the baby to support it. It remembers to lunge wide, to put my hands on the inside of my knee, not to arch up too far or my skin and muscles and ligaments will stretch painfully.

And it remembers the weight of Joseph, where he sat, the way I moved with him and around him.

In savasana I put my hand on my belly and try to bond with this baby, to think of it growing and wiggling in my belly where I can’t yet feel it. And all I think of is Joseph. His absence. I don’t want this baby, I want Joseph, my firstborn, my little boy.

I go home and climb in A’s lap and sob.

© Burning Eye