In Which the Husband Complains about Gestational Diabetes
Sure, Julie has to stab herself with a needle five times a day, but think about my pain.
Whatever happened to the days when we would think nothing of knocking off a whole box of pasta (cooked, thank you, with a little olive oil and parmesan) together in front of the TV? Now Julie is counting every grain of rice on her plate, and I must soldier on alone to maintain our household carb consumption. I'm not sure I can do it.
Not that I'm unwilling to try put a half dozen bagels or a pound of candied ginger on the corner of my desk and they'll be gone by morning but there's a limit to what a guy can do. Especially when I can't rely on a partner to consume the other half of the batch of sourdough rolls coming out of the oven or the bag of chocolate whatnots from the grocery store. Even the kick of feeling noble and protective as I sample the latest batch of holiday cookies eventually palls.
Worse yet, as I gird myself for yet another assault on the starch mountain, I feel a certain sense of guilt. Perhaps as I dollop the vanilla ice cream over a thick slice of freshly-baked apple pie, I should be a little less exuberant about how wonderful it's going to taste and how I'm going to enjoy every last flaky, creamy bite and savor the delicious fragrance rising from the place.
We're counting the weeks.
Bronzing the disposable jumpsuit
(picking up the story, as the one who was mostly conscious at the time)
I was already a little bit nervous (ok, a lot nervous) because Julie's idea of mild discomfort is being stabbed with red-hot icepicks. So you can imagine my disquiet as I waited patiently for the supermarket pharmacist to explain to someone that they would get a refund as soon as they brought in a legible photocopy of their father's insurance card before asking, "What's the way to the nearest hospital?"
Guess who didn't know. The pharmacist behind the counter conferred with the other pharmacist and decided the best thing for me to do was hang a left out of the parking lot, get on the highway by the Dunkin Donuts down the road, and follow the signs because the hospital was somewhere near the next exit. Of course it wasn't, it was at the exit before that.
I'm going to skip over the part about waiting an hour to see the triage nurse (Julie made the mistake of walking up to the desk to sign in, instead of snagging a wheelchair at the door) and then being told, "You're pregnant, we can't even examine you down here until you've been cleared by Labor&Delivery."
When Julie got to the part of the medical history that involved having both placentia previa (requiring a preterm c-section) and gestational diabetes (which kinda wants the baby to stay in as long as possible to finish baking) the OB on call said under her breath, "You got to be kidding me" and I started to get scared.
We stayed that way most of the afternoon and into the evening (I can't really vouch for Julie's emotions since she was mostly passed out between pain and a hit each of morphine and demerol), especially after the obvious things kept coming up negative (the littlest bit of sludge in the gallbladder on ultrasound, no fetal distress whatsoever -- the nurse had to keep adjusting the fetal monitor as batman turned cartwheels out of range). It would have been nice to have had something to do, but other than patting Julie's head there wasn't much. (We thought about calling my aunt or sister or Julie's parents, but what would you say -- "Julie is terribly sick, nobody has any idea what's wrong, and there's nothing you can do to help, just thought you should know"?)
About 930 the OB came in with the answers from the 8 o'clock blood tests: bad liver enzymes were up, platelets had fallen by half in the past six hours, in another few hours they would probably have fallen far enough for surgery to be unsafe.
Was there any time for steroid injections to mature Batman's lungs, I asked (this is called "the bargaining phase").
One nurse started Julie on her various drips and another handed me the nonwoven zippered suit along with mask, hat and booties (did I mention I have kind of a long torso so that I had to hunch over and couldn't really sit down properly?). Then everything else happened with all deliberate speed.
I patted Julie's head some more, we made small talk with the anesthesiologist -- who did a bangup job: she didn't even feel the things he said she might feel -- and at some point someone said "there's the head" and a while later we heard some infant-crying sounds. I peeked up over the drape that separated me and julie and the anesthesiologist from the interesting part of the OR and saw a little blood-spattered butt and torso with the umbilical cord still heading down into the incision, then sat down again. Half an hour, thousands of additional words of small talk, three or four countings of medical supplies and a fine running stitch with only a little dogleg at the end later, that part of things was all over.
As Julie's nephew once said, "May you please never let me do that again."
Except when people (like us) are bugging him or three or four other babies in the NICU are bawling simultaneously, Charlie is pretty peaceful. He doesn't like the snorkel when it goes in, but not having to breathe so hard quiets him down in a few minutes. This morning, his nurse told us, he decided to conduct his own trial of going without CPAP, but that didn't work so well, so we had a talk with him about practising medicine before going to nursery school. I'm sure he listened carefully, as he has to our little discussions about not bending his arm so as to pinch off his IV.
For company, he also has a picture of a dog and a cat taped on the access doors of his isolette -- which is more than we have in the way of pets these days.
You read sometimes about parents going into their kids' rooms at night, just to watch them breathe. It's a little different when your kid is in an isolette and the reason you're watching him breathe is so that every couple of minutes or so, when he decides to stop, you can wiggle his hands and feet or rub his belly to wake him up so that he remembers to start up again.
Charlie had something of a fit (as opposed to a snit) late yesterday afternoon while his vitals were being checked, and after five or ten minutes solid of yelling at the top of his tiny lungs, once he did settle down, he settled right down to complete inactivity, including the non-optional breathing part. As soon as anyone woke him up he breathed fine, but there was an uncertain path to tread between bugging him enough to keep him breathing, but not enough to to set off another snit.
He was kinda sick and cranky and hungry, so you can't blame him too much. And after a couple of hours — that would be 7000 individual seconds, more or less — and an IV hit of caffeine he got the breathing knack back and started resting comfortably. This morning he sucked down almost an ounce of milk straight from the bottle, mostly without opening his eyes, and digested it like a champ. So much more fun to watch than the other way.
During my first drive home and back, I had recurring visions of being stopped for speeding and explaining that my wife (!) and baby (!!) were in a hospital in Connecticut and I had to get back to them as soon as I could. How much better an excuse than that could I have, after all, to drive almost as fast as the wieners from New York and Massachusetts who always whiz by in the left lane?
This time, in my imagination -- especially on that stretch of I-91 where all the cars that look like they have radar detectors suddenly merge right -- the officer was going to ask why I thought I had to go so allfired fast, and I was going to have to explain that I was carrying 10 days worth of frozen breast milk in a collapsible ice chest, and had to get home before it thawed. "You don't really want to know," the conversation was going to begin, and then it was going to get worse.
Nothing of the sort, of course. One of the NICU nurses gave me three bags of ice to add to the coldpacks, I turned the heat in the car as low as my toes could stand, and every bottle was solider than a sub-zero Dove Bar at the other end. (And that's after stopping for about 15 minutes after I got home to gaze in awe at the two face cords of UPS boxes in the garage. my gratitude has no words, only sniffles)
After a short shopping trip, Charlie now has diapers, wipes and baby-wash at home. Tomorrow I figure out how to strap the co-sleeper to our bed, launder all of his clothes that I can find, and sit down for a long heart-to-heart with the cats about "prey" and "not-prey".
It's a good thing he's not going to remember any of this
Imagine: you're sitting there quietly sipping your drink, and a hand the size of your torso comes out of nowhere, snatches it out of your mouth and grabs you by the jaw. You're pulled forward into a sort of bent-over squatting position, and another hand, also the size of your torso, starts thumping you rhythmically on the back, shaking your internal organs.
This happens a couple dozen times a day.
Or you wake up hungry, start casting around for food, and somebody shoves a hunk of rubber the size of your fist and covered in stale saliva into your mouth. When you do eat, it's with the heedless desperation of the truly starving.
And just when you're settled, those same hands pick you up and strip you half-naked. They take liberties with your private parts and a cloth doused in cold water, and then dress you again in a bulky, ill-fitting undergarment.
Whoever depicts infancy as a peaceful time filled with happy gurgling and quiet warmth has to be crazy.
Some days (not today, thank goodness) you just can't win. Charlie starts crying, so you pick him up and he starts crying louder. Offer him a pacifier, he screams. Offer him a bottle, and he screams while arching his back into a semicircle while whipping his head from side to side like the lead in some devil-baby slasher flick.
Swaddle him, rock him, sling him, shush him and all you get is more evidence that his lungs have recovered from RDS just fine. And why did you spend all that money on the NICU when you were just going to murder him anyway, he asks in tones that might well reach downtown.
So rather than throwing him across the room or tearing him limb from limb like he says you're doing, you put him down and step into the next room just to get away from the screaming.
You step back in, very softly, and there he is lying on the changing table or the couch, gurgling quietly and looking up at ceiling. Waving his arms and legs a little. In that mood the books call "quietly alert". What he really wanted wasn't food or a return to the white-noise confines of the womb or "non-nutritive sucking", it was for you to stop goddam bugging him.
Our local doctor once commented that ICSI babies tend to be developmentally delayed, because their parents never put them down. If that were really anywhere near true, it would be a wonder that any survive...
Passing the Torch
Back when Julie and I were first thinking about leaving Manhattan, we helped install plumbing in the house a couple of ex-urbanite friends were building for themselves in the backwoods of Maine. Along with us came the propane torch that had been sitting in my mother's basement for 20 years.
I was watching over Julie's shoulder as she sweated a joint somewhere in the half-built attic when the torch's main seal sprang a leak and flames started spitting from the junction between torch and propane tank. Without a second's hesitation, she handed the potential bomb to me, I blew the fire out, and we took the torch down to the front yard to fizz its way peacefully into oblivion.
Handing Charlie off sometimes seems a lot like that (maybe with a little less shrapnel risk). One of us will hand the other a compact shrieking bundle of fury: "Here. You deal with this." I feel bad when I do that to Julie. When she does it to me, I feel a little terrified but mostly useful.
When else should we hand him off? In Baby Utopia, one of us could put him down to sleep and the other one could pick him up when he wakes again happy and ready to eat. Or drop him in the baby gym for takeover when he's bored with his rattles and squeakers and music stars. And a pony.
But c'mon, who would want to stop hanging out with Charlie when he's being sweet instead of pissy? Or dare to move him when he's just started to go to sleep after a half hour's vocal exercises? Or in the middle of a bottle that he's slurping down without arching and yelling his fool head off?
We don't mean to pass him back and forth like a ticking bomb or a hot potato. That's just the way it tends to work out for now. And a good thing he won't remember.
Leading with his chin
I've been carrying Charlie around a lot in the past few weeks, either in the sling or in my arms across my chest (if his mouth is jammed up against my armpit the pacifier doesn't come out so often). The good news is that he's gotten so used to being jounced into relative calm by my clumping around the upstairs -- eight laps with detours into every other room is a quarter mile -- that sometimes he stops screaming and heaves a big sigh of relaxation as soon as I pick him up crosswise.
The bad news is that his head sticks out. Our house was custom-built for a small man, we're told, and the doors are not very wide. The hallway is narrow and has sharp corners. Every time I go through a door, carrying Charlie point foremost, I'm half sure that this is the time I'm going to thwack his little skull. No matter how I angle my arms, Charlie is in the lead. It doesn't help that I've rammed my own shoulder or hip into a doorframe more times than I can count when I wasn't carrying the boy.
Thus far I've avoided disaster by fixing my eyes in terror on the clearance between Charlie and every bit of molding or sheetrock that threatens to clobber him as we walk. Gives an extra hitch to my steps that no doubt helps keep him disoriented and docile. As long as I never gain any confidence in my ability to keep him out of harm's way he should be fine. At least until he starts running into walls and doorframes under his own power.
In my head, Charlie's life is full of clocks: a clock starts ticking when he finishes his meal, so I'll have an idea when he might be hungry again, when he goes to sleep -- count every second gratefully -- or when he fills his diaper, so that I have some idea when he might be angry and straining again. Even when he's in his gym kicking at the toys, or watching his mobile, there's a little timer in the back of my mind ticking off the minutes till he starts getting those overstimulated shakes.
I try to think more in terms of chess clocks than of the blinking LEDs that grace every made-for-TV bomb ever created. You know, the bombs with all the booby traps so that they'll go off the moment you try to move or disarm them.
Which brings me to the longest half hour in Charlie's day: the time between when he gets a dropper full of Prevacid to control his reflux and when he can start sucking down his next bottle. (It took us a few days of complaining that his new medicine wasn't working worth a damn to read the warnings not to give milk less than 60 minutes before or 30 minutes after a dose.) But if you're Charlie waking up hungry and swallowing a nice gulp of what tastes like yummy food, only to be told the next gulp is in forever, package inserts are slim comfort.
How long is 30 minutes? Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi is a minute, and don't think he's not potentially alert and ready to blow for every one of them. We change him, we make him stare at his mobile, we give him a bath, today I slung him and took him for a nice sedative walk in the park. Tomorrow, who knows?
Perhaps I shall get him a watch and just explain calmly and reasonably that he can't eat until the requisite time has gone by. Do you think I should get him a digital watch or analog?