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02/15/2005

Next time I'm sticking with 160-Pound Tumor

The problem with TiVo is that it makes it impossible to claim, "I was just flipping past, and I happened to see..." No, I explicitly requested the Discovery Health program, Babies: Special Delivery, the episode slugged, "Crisis Mode: Pre-eclampsia at 31 weeks." (It is irrelevant but interesting to note that the same channel offers such edifying fare as 160-Pound Tumor and 14 Kids and Pregnant Again! — exclamation point theirs, not mine.)

A pregnant woman with chronic hypertension is admitted to the hospital when her blood pressure spikes and she begins to spill protein into her urine. Her condition is worsening, so the delivery cannot be postponed, and in short order she gives birth to a baby boy weighing 3 pounds 14 ounces at 31 weeks. The baby shows immediate signs of respiratory distress syndrome. He does not respond well to the first course of surfactant.

Now, um, why did I think it was a good idea to watch this?

I watched it as I cradled Charlie against my chest, rubbing my cheek against his fuzzy head while he slept. I kept thinking, I could have lost you. I could have lost you. That's when I wasn't thinking, Good Christ, she's bloated.

...

I got e-mail a couple of weeks ago from a woman who also had HELLP syndrome. She wrote,

I'm having a really hard time coming to grips with what happened, and what COULD have happened.  I could have lost my baby.  I could have lost my life.  I could have lost my life AND my baby's life.  I could have left my older child without a mother, and my husband without a wife. My older child probably would never have remembered me.  I think about that a lot.

I've had three doctors tell me now that I shouldn't have any more children.  It's hard to hear that I can't have more children if I wished to try again.

I'm wondering how you dealt with your HELLP. Did you have a hard time coming to terms with it and has it gotten better as time has gone on?

I'm astonished to say this, but I hardly think about it at all.

When I was discharged from the hospital, leaving Charlie behind for the night as we'd do for the next forty days, it was almost impossible to believe it had happened. I couldn't grasp the enormity of it at the time — the fact that I'd gone in pregnant, come out not, not far from death but now quite well, a scant fast four days later.

I had a lot of time to think about it over the next six weeks, especially as Charlie's condition changed from day to day. And yet I rarely did. I thought about him, of course, all the time, and I occasionally resented the slow pace of my recuperation from surgery as I regained my stamina, but I didn't dwell on the danger I'd been in myself.

When Paul and I talked about those first few frightening days — and we did, a lot, at my obsessive insistence — I learned that he'd been scared for me. Strange; I never was. When my abdominal pain was at its most severe, I knew I was ill but was sure that it couldn't be serious. And when the obstetrician on call told me they needed to deliver the baby, I was certain it was on Charlie's behalf; it didn't occur to me at the time that it was necessary for my safety.

Behold the awesome power of denial.

I can't really account for any of this because, hey, I'm as self-absorbed as the next person. (Okay, I'm as self-absorbed as the next ten people.) All I can conclude is that my mind was full of Charlie. I had to think of someone else. I had to keep moving.

Even now that things have settled down and Charlie and I are perfectly well, I can't really accept it, can't honestly confront how sick I was. Did I have a hard time coming to terms with having had HELLP, with having been so desperately ill? You tell me.

Is it hard to hear that I shouldn't have more children? If I'd been asked this while Charlie was still in intensive care, I'd have said no — in fact, I did. Now my answer's different. Now I have a newborn, and I feel a pleasure close to intoxication as I watch him change from day to day, on the cusp of new awareness with every single blink. I can say now with conviction that I want another baby, and I'm sorry I won't be having one.

...

It could be much worse. I'm here and well and so is Charlie, and that should truly be enough. Beyond that, I could have been the patient I mentioned before, the one on the show who delivered at 31 weeks; her son was on a ventilator for 20 days. I could have been another patient on the same show who extruded a second set of spontaneous twins through her artfully pixellated vagina. (Tertia, take note: two sets of twins at home. Two. You piker.) Or I could have been still another patient, one who had a severely abscessed tooth, requiring delivery before she went septic — the camera zoomed in on her mouth, and as God is my witness I swear to you I'd rather be barren than have a luminescent throbbing oral pus-pocket like hers.

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