Worry: A Birth Story

Worry is a parent’s natural condition. especially a new mother. Even if you’ve been through it many times, the circumstances are never identical.

Worry began for me in an hour-long discussion last Wednesday, in which we weighed the risks of a C section at 37 weeks: the possibility of a not-quite-“done” baby vs. the risk of an “irritable” uterus whose “give” point is no longer the cervix. “If your uterus ruptures at home,” the doctor said, “even ten minutes to the hospital is too long.”

Most babies born at 37 weeks do just fine, and in any case, the doctor didn’t want me going home. Our options, therefore, were early baby or two weeks of hospital bed rest.

The odds were in our favor. But as I signed the consent form I began to feel a bit of vertigo–vertigo that escalated sharply as I perched on the edge of the surgical table, whispering “Don’t move–don’t react–stay still” while a needle thrust deep between my vertebrae. I had to clamp down on a screech that went something like, “HOLD IT, EVERYBODY STOP! WE NEVER HAVE BABIES WITHOUT DRAMA! THERE IS NO WAY THIS BABY’S GOING TO FOLLOW THE ODDS AND DO JUST FINE!”

I talked myself off the ledge; warmth flooded my legs, and I let them lay me down on the table.

So many things you forget. A C-section is a truly miserable experience: the horrible burning in my upper arms, as if I’d been holding my arms out for three hours. The way my right side perched on a hard sandbag to keep the pressure off the uterine artery, making an already-uncomfortable back-lying position downright awful. The fact that you don’t actually ever lose sensation, only pain.

And then, the totally new: something like scissors, snipping one stitch at a time across my abdomen. That one didn’t feel familiar. “Scar tissue,” Dr. Dixon called over the blue sheet.

Fortunately, the worst of it eases as surgery progresses. The arm pain, the positional discomfort, everything. One of the anesthesia team members poked a head over the sheet. “I see dark hair–lots of dark hair.” Christian and I exchanged wry smiles. We’ve heard those words every single C-section; at this point we’d be worried if we didn’t! And then, “Dad, do you want to tell us what we have?”

Somewhat reluctantly, Christian stood to look over the sheet. “It’s a boy,” he said.

No time for self-analysis; I was far too worried about his health to worry about gender. They took Michael over to the side and worked and worked. I took deep breaths and held my tongue, watching for any indication. His scalp was whitish with vernix. He cried and cried. I tried to send Christian over to comfort him, but the nurses wanted more crying. He’d swallowed some amniotic fluid, and they couldn’t get him clear. He was marginal. They waffled forever, while my neck cramped, straining to see the verdict: had we done the right thing by operating so early?

“NICU,” they finally decided. They laid him on my collarbone for twenty seconds, his face so close to mine that moving my mouth to whisper his name, I brushed his silky cheek. And then…he was gone.

The first night of Michael’s life, they told me not to bother pumping, that it wouldn’t matter this early. Just rest, they said. It was already midnight, so I didn’t argue. Rest sounded good.

Right. I lay awake almost the entire night.

But in one way, it was kind of nice. I’m so used to spending nightly wakefulness organizing the next day: prioritizing writing projects, organizing household jobs and who has to be where when–the juggling act that is my life. stressful as it is, life in the hospital is streamlined. For three days I had no interest in the half-dozen writing projects I’d brought to fill my heavenly solo time–and anyone who’s been in the hospital knows that three hospital days is more like a week in the real world. ****

And so I find myself sleeping better, because there are fewer things to worry about. But I still have the same amount of worry–it’s just all concentrated into a few subjects. Oxygen saturation and its companion, oxygen support. The all-important number TWENTY-ONE, room air. (Holy cow, 21 again? Seriously, 21 is our number!) Bilirubin. Engorgement and latching. All my worries converge on Michael’s and my mutual health. So occasionally I flip out and say extremely snarky things to the neonatologist–things for which I must immediately apologize. (I *think* snarky things all the time, but usually I have the self-control to keep them to myself.) And for five days, I spent all day every day crying.

Worry will never go away. It’ll ease, diffuse itself in more directions, but it’ll always be there. And that is as it should be. I have been given a great responsibility, and it’s not something to be treated cavalierly.

Besides, it’s nice to have the simplified existence…for a while. But I thrive on the chaos, the juggling act. And although I’m sure I’ll come to curse it, I’m really looking forward to heading home to it again.