The Passing of the Baby Years


Alex, April 2005

It crept up on me, this wistfulness. A  feeling that these days are slipping away like pearls through my fingers. The way he looks at me and the wiggles settle into stillness. The way his whole face lights up when he smiles, just because I looked at him and said hello. Moments that make my heart hiccup.

It was the end of a long, very busy and chaotic day. Both sets of grandparents in the house, and Next Littlest Brother bouncing off the walls from birthday cake (in the middle of Lent) and presents. By 7:30,  Michael vibrated like a coiled spring, his little muscles taut, his head batting from side to side.

Julianna, March 17, 2007 in the PICU

My mother, with the slow gentleness she only exhibits toward grandbabies, settled him against her chest and took him upstairs. I followed, a moth drawn to a flame. She laid him down on the carpet in

the hallway, speaking softly to him as the shrieking glee continued downstairs. “It’s time to get you settled down, little boy,” she said, and his face nearly split with joy, legs and arms kicking wildly. “Does your mama have something more comfortable to put you in?”

I retrieved his sleeper, and we continued to sit there, two grown women reduced to helpless adoration by a fourteen-pound child. And a deep pang spread outward from the center of my chest, crushing breath for a moment. Because this stage is passing away and if, as I expect, we have to call it at four, I’m experiencing it for the last time.

“I don’t remember this stage with the others,” I said softly. “I’m trying to really live in the moment…but I don’t remember it with the others. I keep hoping once it’s all past, from a distance I’ll be able to pull it out, I’ll be able to look back and remember. Really remember. But I’m afraid it’s just going to be gone.”

Nicholas, March 2009

My mother’s hand brushed over his body. “It’s going to be gone,” she said, the voice of experience. “And grandchildren are different.”

I bent down and pressed myself against the tiny body, willing my nerves to capture the sensation and hold it, knowing they aren’t capable. And I wondered: am I really ready to move on? For a moment, weakened uterine walls and early deliveries and NICU stays and the sheer chaos of daily life with four children, one of whom has special needs–all of it disappeared into petty nothingness against the emptiness of life After Babies.

Because let’s face it, I’m a baby person. Two years from now I’ll be pulling my hair out over Michael, who will be saying “no” and breaking things and wanting me to play with him (blech!). Right now, his desires and mine are in nearly perfect unison. I want to touch him and talk to him and hold him, and he wants to be touched and talked to and held. Not that there aren’t frustrations–there are–and of course, not having to wash diapers every 48 hours, and being able to sleep at night, are big pluses to the later stages. Still, Babyhood is the part I love most about small childhood. Holding someone else’s baby just isn’t the same, at least not for me. There isn’t that visceral reaction, that gut-deep connection between me and this particular child, who is mine to care for, for whom I am the center of the world.

Michael, Dec. 1, 2011

Michael is on my lap now, tired and refusing to nurse, as has been his pattern of late, and reminding me that babyhood isn’t all transcendent moments. We really are stretched to our limit now. The kids we have need us, and there already isn’t enough to go around (how long has it been since I practiced my flute, for instance?). But I understand now how a woman can enjoy a “change-of-life baby” in a way she hasn’t been able to enjoy earlier babies. The kids go off to school, and it’s just Mommy and Baby again, like it was with the first one…only then, she was too freaked out to enjoy it properly.

Will we go that route? Honestly, it’s hard to imagine. My body really is pretty beat up from surgeries, and with three rambunctious boys, Christian sees college bills and car insurance premiums barreling down on us, to say nothing of the big unknown that is Julianna’s future. We have to be responsible.

But it makes me sad.


The Scent of Heaven


“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke 2:19, NAB

When I went into the hospital on November 30th, I gave myself permission to take it easy for a while. I was supposed to have a whole lot more done before that happened–a proposed table of contents for a new book, a couple of columns, some music. The early delivery rearranged my plans; the NICU stay gave me time to get done more than I thought. But when I came home, I gave myself until the first of the year to rest, to recover, to adjust…in short, simply to be.

Some of it has been stressful, some of it sublime. I’ve handled it with grace, and without. But at all times, I’ve tried to stop and really be present to the moment–to feel it in my body, not just in some compartmentalized corner of my brain, or with my eyes through the screen of a digital camera. In the past month, I have sat in my nursing corner in the darkness and watched Orion trek across the night sky. I have sat there on bright mornings, with the newborn sun aglow on the walls while my other children play on my bed, reducing each other to helpless, jelly-kneed giggles while they wait their turn to hold Baby Brother. I have gotten back under the covers with my family, three, four, five people lined up across two pillows, and run my hands over each one, glorying in the distinct progression against my palms as I touch arms and faces: adulthood, age six, almost- five, almost-three, and infancy.

I have watched yet another baby work his magic on everyone around him.  I have tiptoed around an umbilical cord stump that refused to fall off, tried to soothe him through very cold baths on a towel on the bathroom floor. Changed diapers that smell cheesy and yeasty, and didn’t hold my nose, admitting softly to myself that I actually kind of like that breastmilk-diaper smell.

I have slept in, napped in the sunny (and not-so-sunny) afternoons, watched movies, done very little housework, occasionally overdone it and paid the price in my incisions. I have gone to way too many medical appointments and never bothered to take work with me, choosing instead to hold a baby and be still instead of productive while I waited in overheated waiting rooms. The last two days, I have lounged back to enjoy the solid, warm soft weight of a child against my chest, pressing my nose to his head to breathe in that scent of Heaven, the smell of chrism, while my lips press against silky eyebrows and satin skin.

And now it is January third, and time is up. The baptism and extended holiday visits from family members have gifted me with some extra days, but now reality begins to settle back in, bit by bit: cooking, cleaning, laundry, lessons, deadlines. But the experience has taught me that I need a new balance for a new year–one that achieves fewer words or notes on a page and more moments. One that involves being present when my children are filling my soul instead of keeping my brain busy in the background working on some problem to be solved at naptime.

Today is bath day, and I think when I put Michael in the tub for the first time (his recalcitrant cord finally gave up the ghost on the last night of the old year), I won’t wash his hair. Maybe not the next time, either. The smell of chrism won’t last forever–the scent of Heaven will fade along with the inner hum of stillness found this past month, as normal life settles in once more. But while it lasts, I can use it to anchor myself in the resolve for this new year.

Just Write

A Half-Month In Pictures


I already wrote Michael’s birth story, but since I did it from the hospital on an iPad, I couldn’t put any pictures with it. Today is picture day: a half-month (almost) of my life, and all of Michael’s:

November 30, 2011

Christian killing time as we wait for the walk to the OR, around 8:15 p.m. The nurse accompanying us looks wide-eyed at me as I round the corners and walk like I know where I’m going…because by the fourth time, I do. 🙂

A quick glimpse, and then Michael disappears into the NICU.

December 1, 2011: Under the hood. Michael, in the NICU, under a heater and suffering from “tachypnia” (rapid breathing) and low oxygen saturations. He has an IV, a temperature probe (the heart), heart leads, and a pulsox. Soon to be added: NG tube for feeding.

On Friday, I take no pictures. Pretty much I cry all day. Just as well that nobody tries to visit. Bad enough falling to pieces in front of doctors and nurses, bad enough having complete strangers trying to hug you and make you feel better…doing it in front of family would be even worse. Because nobody can do anything to alleviate the suffering. Oh yes, and my milk starts coming in.

December 3: visit from the kids

In the morning, the staff decides that Michael has a “pneumothorax,” a partially collapsed lung. They put him on his tummy under the hood again and start pumping 100% oxygen in. It’s RSV season, so no kids are allowed in the NICU. No adults except parents and grandparents, for that matter. They wouldn’t even let great-Grandma in. Hence, almost all our visitors come to the window and view Michael through soundproof plexiglass.

Alex has control of the video camera. His finger is on the button when the curtain swishes open, and he gasps, “Oh! He’s so cute!” But of course, he doesn’t turn the camera on first.

After they leave for home, I return to the NICU and document some details: blood pressure cuff on a thigh…

…the hand recovering from a lost IV earlier that afternoon (the purple tube is the extension of the NG tube, through which he gets all his feedings by “gavage.”

…and the top of the “hood,” with the blue oxygen piping air into it.

December 5, 2011

Sunday, at last, I prevail in my pushing for nursing time. The pneumothorax has resolved, they’re weaning him off oxygen, although we’re stuck at 30% and can’t get off the last 9%. They put him on a cannula and we start nursing…some. Not all the time, though. Look at my poor baby’s heel. He’s black and blue with blood gas, blood sugar, and bilirubin sticks. I’m officially discharged from the hospital Sunday night at 11:20 p.m., and I continue on a day by day basis as a “house guest.” Hoping that sooner or later, I’ll get to nurse him around the clock.

December 7-9, 2011

Just when we think we’re on track to be going home Thursday, he drops his sats and we’re three steps back. Another crying day. But the last one. Slowly, he begins to improve, and around midday on the 9th, he’s finally wearing clothes, lying in an open crib, and un-oxygen-supported:

Now we only have to wrangle four delicate cords when nursing–the pulsox and the heart leads. After one false start, he passes his “car seat test, gets his hepatitis shot (finally). Saturday the 10th is Discharge Day. It begins with a formal permission to leave, pending circumcision…at 10 days old. I don’t remember it being so traumatic for the other two boys. Poor baby! My parents arrive late afternoon, and we make good our escape. Back at home, the kids arrive home from a show at the university and are wild with excitement. I can’t believe how big they all seem. But Michael’s asleep, so we send them to bed and they have to wait for morning for the big moment:

So there you go. That’s the story of a half-month, a half-Advent, and the beginning of life as a family of six. The drama’s not over, but at least it’s shifted to me and my health instead of his!

Transition #4


I think I’ve been pretty clear that I am not a great housekeeper. Christian’s actually much better at it than I am. For the last ten days while I have languished in the land of pulsox, heart monitors and fluorescent lighting, he was home with the kids, along with people who came to help during the day: my mom, my sister, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends coming in and cleaning like crazy people. I felt a bit guilty, but also a bit smug, knowing that my house was going to be clean when I got home, without any input from me to make it so.

Christian & the kids were at a concert on Saturday night when I walked into my kitchen and stopped dead, staring at the piles of papers waiting to be filed, gifts and school projects no one had had time to sort and put away, and toys—the toys that are supposed to stay in the basement—on every level of the house.
“Oh…my…gosh,” I said.

My mother went upstairs to start folding more laundry. My dad pulled Michael out of his car seat and started goo-goo-eyeing him. I hung up my coat and tore into the mess. It didn’t really look any better when I had to cease and desist for the night, in part because of the extra clutter my homecoming had brought into the house, but I did as much as I could.

What a difference six days can make. Every previous baby homecoming has involved a two-hour drive on a very sore abdomen, every bump causing me to wince and hold my incision. It’s involved the panicky not-feeling-good of engorgement. This time? This time I lit into the household tasks with an energy that amazed even me. All I could think was I had to do as much as I could before the kids came home and I needed to minister to the people in my household instead of the household itself.

I am way more interested in nesting now than I was in the last two weeks of my pregnancy.

Transition is tough every time. Thirty-six hours in, I’m already almost wild; Nicholas looks hurt when I shush him—because he never, ever, EVER shuts up. He just keeps repeating the same things over and over, right in my face while I’m trying to concentrate on making sure Michael is actually nursing and not simply tearing my breasts to shreds without getting anything out of them. Why is it that every baby is a stellar nurser in the hospital and then decides to be a fit-and-start-er upon arrival home? Julianna wants to breathe her runny nose and phlegmy cough on him, and everybody wants to hold him all the time. And ten days of hospital stress and nursing in a cramped corner beneath a vitals monitor that was beeping every minute and a half finally took their toll; I woke yesterday with the crick in my neck to end all cricks. Splitting headache, agonizing pain in my back.

Let’s just say it’s not conducive to house cleaning.

Transition, I whisper to myself. Just keep your cool. This, too, shall pass.

Besides, there’s this to counterbalance it. I just have to discipline my attitude.

I Filled The Diaper Drawer. Then I Freaked Out.


They’re so small.

You’d think that a mother approaching the birth of her fourth child in seven years (well, 7 ½) wouldn’t be floored by the sheer tininess. But as I pulled out our trusty cloth diapers, counted them, stacked them in the drawer, I couldn’t believe it. Every single baby diaper fit in one drawer. After close-on four years of double diapering, it just blew my mind.

I have to admit, I’m kind of freaking out here. People get out of the habit of having babies around, and then they feel a tug in the heart to have another, but they think back on the intensity of the experience, and they get scared off. When we started trying for #4, we were still in full-on Baby mode. But it took us six months to conceive. A lot can change in six months. And a lot more in the nine months that follow. We are no longer a baby household. We are a nighttime-and-nap-time-diapers family. A my-youngest-child-is-talking family. An everyone-has-chores (although they don’t always do them) family.

But seven weeks from now…

Well, let just say it’s making me think about how many more things than diaper drawers are going to change.

Some nights, I already get up seven times in six hours. How in the name of all that is holy am I going to comfort Julianna after a nightmare, the drama king when he has a runny nose, AND nurse a baby during the night?

How am I going to exercise? And post a blog? It’s already a delicate balance to do those two things and still get Alex off to school.

How am I going to chase down the munchkins when they run in opposite directions and I have a baby attached to the breast? (Is it possible to run and nurse simultaneously?)

I’m well aware that the writing is going to have to simmer down for a while. A good long while. But, um, I can’t even get the house clean now. How can I add the time commitment of a newborn on to the kid commitments I already have? The last time I had a baby, Alex was in preschool for a whopping two mornings a week. I freaked out when he had eight weeks of baseball once a week. And now it’s all-day school and piano lessons and homework, and Julianna on the bus, and Julianna’s speech homework, and…

Folks, I’m a little intimidated by what my life’s about to become.

Don’t get me wrong. It’ll all be worth it. The back shot, the surgery, the two weeks without driving and six weeks without lifting, the sleepless nights. It’ll already be worth it a week in—a day in. But there were plenty of times in Nicholas’s first six months when I lost all semblance of cool. And as I begin to contemplate the change to come, I’m kind of scared.

Pour some loving on me, folks.

Just Write

Just Before You Start


“The scariest moment is always just before you start.
After that, things can only get better.”
Stephen King

You know what already worries me about my upcoming C-section? I’m terrified of the back shot.

You’d think repetition would inure me to the experience. But I’m so ticklish. What if I jump at the wrong moment and end up paralyzed? And the side effects! Hot flashes, nausea, inability to swallow—I’ve had it all.

These were the fears that kept me awake the night before my third child was born. While Christian slept, I tossed and turned. Past midnight, I couldn’t have water. Misery. Sometime close to 1a.m., I finally drifted off.

Moments later, I woke to piteous moans. I found Christian rolling around on the bathroom floor, clutching his stomach. I thought he was dying, four hours before I had to deliver a baby.

I called 911. The ambulance whisked him to the ER; I followed. The night attendants said blankly, “Wait a minute. You’re having a baby, and he came in the ambulance?”

3 1/2 hours later, Christian lay sleeping on a bed of two vinyl chairs while I tossed and turned on a hospital bed. Three months of nausea that intensified on insufficient sleep. You can’t get much more insufficient than zero…and now it was time for a spinal?

The door opened, and a gentle-faced man came in. “I’m the nurse anesthetist,” he said. “Can you tell me what your experience of a spinal is like?”

I started crying. He patted my leg and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you. Just tell me whatever you’re feeling, and we’ll take care of it.”

An hour later, beneath bright lights and gentle hands, I said, “Are you ready to put it in?”

“It’s done,” he said, and I felt the familiar warmth flooding my legs.

And I knew then I was going to be okay.