Coming Home

After slowly weaning the Monkey off medication and having him breathe warm, vaporized air for two or three days straight, the doctors said we could take him home Sunday morning — as long as he did well overnight, without his hood and vaporized air.

The Hubbs and I tried not to get too excited, to not think about it too much. But late Saturday night, just before we left, we both bent over his little bassinet and whispered our encouragement into his little ears.

We told him to be a strong little boy. That we’d be back in the morning to see him. And if he did well tonight and tomorrow morning, we could all go home together. The Hubbs added bribery: If the Monkey did really well and got to go home Sunday morning, we’d go out and buy him a new toy. Then we kissed his little cheeks, and I rubbed my nose against his little head while he sighed in his sleep, told him he was loved, and left for the night.
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Sunday morning began like the others: I woke up around 6:30 a.m. and called the ICN. I’d often have to leave a message — a lot of the babies were being fed around that time. The Monkey’s nurse would call me back around 7 or 7:30 a.m.

We got dressed quickly, and were trying not to look at the clock when the phone rang around 7:30. It was the Monkey’s nurse. I asked how he did overnight and during the early morning, then held my breath. The Hubbs sat on the edge of the bed, watching me.

He had done fine. The hospital doctor had seen him early that morning and had given us the green light to go home. All that was left was for our pediatrician to look him over and for us to fill out the paperwork. My breath came out in a gust. I managed a thank you, and turned off the phone. I turned to the Hubbs and smiled. I didn’t need to say anything.

We stood there, grinning like fools, before I launched myself into his arms for a hug. It was nearly over. He was coming HOME.
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Once at the hospital, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We were able to take our time scrubbing up, since the Monkey was asleep. We felt very self-conscious: We had brought the Monkey’s going-home outfit, a blanket, a hat, and his infant seat carrier. We were the first parents there.

Remembering how we felt, the Hubbs asked a nurse if he should stow the infant seat carrier behind the nurse’s desk in the lobby. She said no, to keep it by the Monkey’s bassinet. He was still closest to the door.

For the next two hours, we saw every parent’s eyes stop and linger on that car seat when they walked in the room. Several stopped mid-stride to stare — a blank haze on their faces — before moving on.

I felt guilty. I remembered how I felt seeing that empty bassinet just days earlier. I pulled the privacy curtain around the seat.

N’s Moms were the second to arrive. His birth mom came over first, a hopeful look on her face: “You guys going home today?” I practically squealed my “yes.” She smiled and squeezed my hands, and told us both how happy she was for us. She had gotten good news the night before, just after we left. If N did good that day, the doctors said he might go home on Monday.

“But we’ve heard that before,” she said, fingers crossed. I smiled back.

“Hopefully it’ll be the last time you have to hear it,” I said. She smiled and nodded.
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So I signed my name on a thousand forms, initialed here, here, here, and there, hopped on one foot, and sang the national anthem before we were finally done. The nurses gave us some last-minute advice, and then we woke the Monkey up by disconnecting all the wires that had been attached to him for the past week.

He was not amused. Sticky tape, I’m looking at you.

Then we got him dressed as quickly and quietly as we could while feeling the stares of the other parents in the room. When he was ready, the nurse called for a wheelchair and the Hubbs ran to the garage to get the car. I buckled the Monkey into his infant seat for the first time, sat in the wheelchair, and held him in my lap.

As the volunteer wheeled me away, N’s mom raised her hand and waved one last time. I waved back and smiled.

There were tears in her eyes.
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That ride home was the sweetest. The best. The most peaceful. It was filled with hope.
It wasn’t until we were pulling onto our street that I started to worry: What if he started having breathing issues again? What would we do?

For the time being, it didn’t matter. I was too excited. We were a family. We were finally home.

What Do You Say?

I didn’t check my e-mail until Thursday night. My inbox was overflowing with e-mails from friends, family, co-workers, and my boss. Everyone wanted to know what was going on. Most knew I was supposed to have been induced on Monday.

What to say?

To only say that yes, we had the baby, was technically true. But to not include the troubles we were going through seemed like a lie. At the same time, I wasn’t READY to talk about the ICN. To write about it. To explain it to anyone. And then to feel obligated to update everyone.

I didn’t want the sympathy. The stilted, but heartfelt sympathy. I didn’t want to put them in the uncomfortable situation of feeling like they had to reply, to say something … consoling or supportive.

Because really, what do you say to something like that?

I was on the most horrible emotional roller coaster, and it was rocket-fueled by post-partum hormones. I’d SEE an infant at a restaurant, in another car, and I’d tear up. I didn’t want to share that. I wanted to hide. To wrap blankets around my body like a cocoon to shelter my frazzled emotions until it was over and the monkey was home.

So the Hubbs and I talked it over and decided that it was best to not tell anyone until we were ready. So we sent out an e-mail with the barest of information: The Monkey’s full name, his weight, height, and a couple of pictures. We apologized for the delay, saying that things “were crazy” just then. A massive understatement.

The only people who got “real” updates were our parents, and two of our closest friends. The Hubbs would call both sets of parents each night to update them. I’d e-mail or IM our friends, who knew I just needed to vent a little. I couldn’t handle phone conversations. Everyone understood.

There was nothing to say.

Looking Around

Although mentally painful to be discharged because we weren’t bringing the boy home at the same time, it was probably better for my mental health to not be housed in the post-partum area. The entire area was a constant reminder that things “hadn’t gone according to plan.”

I felt like the only woman not staying in her room all day, learning her baby’s cries, leaning over from my bed to pick him up to nurse in the middle of the night. Instead, I stayed in the ICN until the Hubbs forcibly pulled me away to eat/sleep or until it closed — two times a day for an hour and a half — for a staffing change. Although the hospital fed me, I was never in my room when it was delivered. I ate ice-cold food, drank cold soup and tea — without really tasting it. I started to just order sandwiches or cereal, since it didn’t matter that those items were cold.

Sleeping was the hardest. I’d have slept in a chair, on the floor, of the ICN if they had let me. Back in my room, I’d hear a symphony of babies crying at all times of the night. And I’d hear their mothers coo, or the low voices of their fathers soothe. My chest would ache and I’d swallow my sobs (or not) while my newly-lactating breasts literally gushed at the sounds, soaking through my nursing pads, bra, and hospital gown.

One of the older post-partum nurses would hug me whenever she came by. It only made me cry more.

After I was discharged, it was a relief to bypass all the happy, healthy families and babies. It was emotionally easier to walk right by, and get buzzed into the locked area where everyone’s child was attached to beeping monitors. Where everyone’s eyes were red-rimmed and weary; their hearts aching. It was a shared pain. A camaraderie. Most of us never talked. But we’d nod at one another in the halls. In the parking lots.

We were a secret club. Only none of us wanted to be in it.

But faces started becoming familiar. The little girl with her own crib and linens? At 3 months old she still was smaller than the Monkey. I overheard her mother talking one night, explaining to a nearby parent that she was the smallest of triplets. Born two months early. All three of her babies had been in the ICN. Her two boys were already at home, waiting for their sister to join them. The girl had awful reflux. The nurses would put on gowns, face masks, and extra gloves to feed her, trying to help her keep the food down, only to be doused with more than half of it when she inevitably threw up. They all loved her though. They called her the cuddle bug. The snuggler.

One boy, N, has two mothers. He was in one of the lidded tanks for jaundice and because he had a lung problem. He was there, on a respirator, when we were admitted. He was finally well enough to try nursing the same day my milk came in and was nursing the monkey. I remember because after I was done, the Hubbs helped a nurse push the comfy, overstuffed nursing chair over to their area, since N and his mom couldn’t get comfortable in one of the rocking chairs.

In fact, N’s birth mother is the only person we really talked to. She always made an attempt to smile at the parents when she walked by, and would make conversation at the faucets where we all got scrubbed up before visiting the babies. She’d always ask how the monkey was doing. She’d even come over and stroke his cheek and coo at him. She’d marvel at his fuzzy head.

Everyone in the ICN did, actually. In an area where all the kids have health issues, and many are born premature, a full head of hair was a marvel. His nurses would always stroke his little head, his cheek, and tell me that they always knew when the monkey was crying: He’d always wake up about five minutes after we had left, realize we were gone, and scream. (Which broke my heart. I wanted to believe that he slept peacefully after we left, never realizing we were gone. No such luck.)

He also had the lowest-toned cry of all the babies there. The other babies had the high-pitched cries. They were sopranos, hitting high notes that made you cringe. The monkey was a contralto among them; he only hit high notes when he was REALLY ticked off, which usually involved a doctor examination.

A baby girl in the bassinet closest to the Monkey, was brought in with diabetic open sores on her head. She was taken to the ICN as soon as she was born. Her mother was wheeled in later. The first time she saw her baby was in the ICN, making me grateful for the few hours I had before we were brought in. The girl was endlessly being poked, her blood sugar tested. And ultimately, she went home before the Monkey.

It seemed like a horrible injustice. This baby had open, weeping sores on the top of her head and they were sending her home four days before we ended up going home. I cried after walking in one afternoon after lunch and seeing that empty bassinet. And not because I wished her ill. Not in the least. I was really happy for her parents.

It was just that I wanted to be that family so badly that it hurt. I wanted to be the ones walking out of there, starting our lives as a family. I wasn’t the only one. Several mothers, when walking in and doing the cursory scan of the room before heading to their children teared up after seeing that empty bassinet.

It seemed to mock us. It definitely haunted us. For me, it made the doctor’s announcement that the Monkey wouldn’t go home until at least the weekend even harder to take.

Painful Roller Coaster

Time blurs when you’re in the hospital — especially when you give birth at 12:49 in the morning and then go to sleep. When I woke up I thought it was Monday already, instead of Sunday, so my whole timeline is totally jacked, for which I apologize.

My parents didn’t know we were in the ICN when they got to the hospital — they had to call the Hubbs to clue them in. He went out into the waiting room to let them know what was going on while I stayed with the Monkey, holding his little hand. Since only two visitors are allowed at once, my dad came in next while the Hubbs stayed outside with my mom. We talked for maybe 20 minutes, but my dad was too intimidated to hold the Monkey if he wasn’t sitting. My mom came in for less than 10 minutes. She hardly looked at me the entire time. Her eyes got misty at one point, then she gave me a big hug, told me I was doing a good job, and practically ran out.

I think they both knew I was just barely holding it together and didn’t want to be the ones to unleash the crazy/hysteria I was harboring. Also, I can’t imagine its easy to see your grandbaby there.
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After 24 hours under the hood, the Monkey was starting to breathe better. He was still noisy and congested, but it LOOKED easier. His little chest wasn’t straining so hard to get the air in. He was figuring out that he could breathe through is mouth and not just his nose — a big deal for a newborn. The doctor was very optimistic. One more day on the medicine under the hood and the Monkey would likely be able to go home with us on Wednesday. Coincidentally, the same day I was to be discharged.

We would be able to go home as a family and put this whole ICN behind us as a minor blip.

On another positive note, my milk had “come in”. As in, holy torpedoes, Batman, my milk had COME IN. Someone call the dairy. I actually thought the girls might pop. I went from girl next door to porn star within hours. The ICN nurses brought me ice bags for them. If Jim Carrey were there, he would want to bounce them like Sugar Ray Leonard.

To his credit, the Monkey has ALWAYS been able to latch and has a great appetite, all good signs, all encouraging.
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Going Backward

Now that my milk had come in, I was trying to nurse the Monkey on his schedule. This meant waking up at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday for his morning feed. At 2 a.m., the phone in my hospital room rang. It was the overnight pediatrician.

They monkey had not peed all night, and she wanted to know if he had peed earlier. Because she examined him down there and COULDN’T FIND a hole. She mentioned the words “air lifting” to the nearest Children’s Hospital and “emergency surgery.”

Cue the waterworks.

So as I’m breaking down into a blubbery mess, the Hubbs reacted with anger. And he totally pulled a “With all due respect” out of his ear and asks the doctor why it wasn’t noticed before. Because that’s a kind of important thing, a kid not having a hole to pee out of. The doctor says she’s going to examine him again, and hangs up.

And poor Hubbs, he’s trying to calm me down and comfort me and dealing with my “ohmygawd what did I do wrong in the past 9 months to cause this to happen”and JUST gets me calmed down when the phone rings again. Its the doctor. And guess what? OOPS. She found the hole. A wee bit of skin had grown over it and she just flicked it with a needle and guess what? Little guy peed up a storm. ALL OVER HER.

Crisis averted, no airlifting or emergency surgery needed. Sorry to bother you folks. And now the Hubbs has to deal with my crying again. This time, in relief.
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On Wednesday morning, the Monkey is breathing much better. So much better that the doctor is going to take him off the hood and if he’s still doing good at noon, we can go home. As a family. And be done with this hospital. We stay until 10:30 for his mid-morning feed then retreat to my hospital room for my now-ice cold breakfast and to pack our bags. We’re back before 11:30, and the Monkey is back under the hood.

His breathing is severely labored. His lips are slightly blue, and he has three doctors surrounding his little bassinet.

He didn’t go home that day.
He wasn’t discharged.
I was.

The nurses in postpartum were super sweet and let me stay in the room until 10 p.m. Which meant, my stuff stayed in the room while we were in the ICN. The Hubbs went to the car and brought it to the front of the hospital and schlepped all our bags downstairs and into the car. I sat in the wheelchair and let them escort me to the doors, heart breaking that there wasn’t a baby in my lap.

The Hubbs helped me get buckled, and got into the driver’s seat and sighed. It was a loud, wooshing sound. We didn’t talk. The car was so quiet. I kept *almost* turning my head to the backseat, with its empty baby carrier.

“Don’t look,” he mumbled. I nodded, and kept my eyes forward for about two stoplights. Then I looked back and burst into tears.

I cried all the way home.

Life In the ICN

Let me first say, that the doctors and nurses here are great. Each nurse was assigned two babies, and they were fabulous about giving us updates as the week progressed.

That being said, the ICN is a horrible place to be. It means something is wrong. It means you can’t have your baby in the room with you at the hospital. It means you might be discharged before your baby. It means you’re on an emotional roller coaster — and that’s before the post-partum hormones kick in.

First, you have to identify yourself to the receptionist, who buzzes you in. Then you have to get scrubbed in. Its like you’re a surgeon, you wash up to your elbows with an individually wrapped device that is half sponge (soaked with soap), half soft-bristled comb. You clean under your fingernails, around the nailbed, all the way up to the elbows.

Then you pass through a doorway into the baby room. Your first time there, its overwhelming. Monitors beep. People talk in hushed tones. The babies are laid along the walls in clear acrylic bassinets. They lay there, swaddled bundles in white. Some crying, some sleeping, some simply gazing ahead. Some have blindfolds on and are enclosed in huge tanks with UV lights glaring down on them. Others are in similar tanks without lights, their parents and nurses only able to touch them through armholes. One baby is different. She has nearly an entire wall to herself. She has a real crib with her own sheets: white crib, pink butterfly sheets. Her baby mobile, filled with matching butterflies and flowers, tinkles out “twinkle, twinkle little star.”

The parents look numb. Zombie-like. They look up for a moment when someone enters the room, then their eyes slide back to their children. When a doctor enters the room, everyone sits straighter, eyes glued, until the doctor walks over to a particular patient. Everyone looks away again, shoulders slumping.

My monkey is closest to the door. He’s swaddled tight in a white hospital blanket and propped up on a gel-like pillow with rolled blankets keeping him in place. Black, red, and green wires twine out of the blanket. He has tubes up his little nose, lightly puffing pure oxygen. The mini warmer hovering above his bed is on. He’s asleep, sucking on a green Soothie binkie. Behind him, a heart monitor beeps and electronic lines bump and pulse. He sighs, scrunches his little face, and goes back to sucking on the pacifier.

I hover, staring at the tubes up his nose. Why him? Why any of these babies? Why couldn’t it have been ME who had difficulties? Before the birth, when the Hubbs and I had the “what if” talk, I told him that if anything went wrong — if it was between me and the baby — that he HAD to tell the doctors to save the baby first. It was what I wanted. And now this. I felt powerless. I WAS powerless.

There was absolutely nothing we could do but wait.
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When the neonatologist finally came in, he told us his initial assessment: That the monkey had really, really small nasal passages that were inflamed from all the suctioning done to him after birth. They were hoping that given time, and a little medicine, the inflamation would go down and we could go home in a day or two. They were starting to hook up the medication: A warm, humidified mist with something like Afrin nasal spray added in. They could only use it for a few days otherwise the condition would worsen. On top of that, to make sure the monkey got enough of the mist, they had a “hood” for him: A clear plastic bowl with a cut-out for his neck and a connection for the tube to funnel in the mist. He looked like an astronaut.

Also, for the medicine to really take hold, he had to stay under the hood almost 100% of the time. We were only allowed to hold him for 2 hours a day, 1 hour at a time — except for nursing. I spent most of that day sitting next to his bassinet, my hand on his belly. If his binky fell out, I’d lift the hood and put it back. If he managed to free an arm from the swaddle (the kid’s a mini Houdini), I’d kiss his little hand and tuck the blankets back in around him. I reveled in the brief times I was able to hold him.

Something Isn’t Right

I forgot some vitals on the Monkey: He was born at 12:49 a.m., on a Sunday. He weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces, and was 21 inches long. I was in labor for more than 17 hours with more than three hours of active pushing.

We were moved to our post-partum room at 3 a.m., and shortly after was taken for a bath (accompanied by the Hubbs) which allowed me about an hour of sleep. During that time, the Monkey seemed to stuff up, so they stuck a tube up his nose and suctioned out some more amniotic fluid. The nurses said that because forecepts were used, not as much amniotic fluid was pushed out of his lungs and that it was nothing to worry about.

After the Hubbs and Monkey returned, we all settled in for some well-deserved rest. I had the Monkey’s crib thing pulled right next to my bed so I could reach out and touch him if I needed to. He was all swaddled and snuggly and asleep. But his breathing was noisy. At first I didn’t think much of it, but as the hours ticked by — and I didn’t sleep — I started to worry. WHY was his breathing so noisy?

At one point, the Hubbs looked up from his uncomfortable hide-a-bed chair and grumped, “He’s not going to be like that every night is he?”
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Later that morning, a pediatrician from the office we chose came to the hospital to do her own check on the Monkey. Our parents were on their way to see him, and we were trying to wake up. For his exam, they took the Monkey to the nursery. The Hubbs stayed with me, so he could shower and shave.

After 30 minutes, I started getting antsy. “What’s taking so long?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he’d chide.

After an hour, I started getting scared. “What’s taking so long? Where is he?”
“Don’t worry,” he soothed, but I saw the frown.

A half hour after that, I was panicked. “Where’s my baby? I want my baby.”
“It’s OK …”
NO. It’s NOT. I want my baby. Hubbs … go find him!”

He was putting his shoes on (and probably thinking that I was completely off my rocker) when the nurse wheeled the Monkey back into the room with the pediatrician in tow. She apologized for taking so long with the exam. But his breathing worried her. She wanted to put him into the intensive care nursery (ICN) for monitoring and extra care.

Rationally, I knew that if his breathing was a concern, the ICN was the best place for him. But that meant taking him out of my room. Where I could lean over at any moment and see him or touch his cheek or hold his hand. The new mommy in me freaked WAY OUT.

My vision blurred as the tears welled up. I nodded.

“I need to take him over now,” the nurse said softly. “You’ll need to stay here for about 30 minutes while they get him set up, then you can go over and visit.”

Then, like a jailer, she stood there while I hiccuped, pulled myself together, and kissed him. I told him everything was going to be OK. That momma would be there soon and not to worry.

And I burst into tears as the nurse started to wheel him toward the door, only to have it opened by my in-laws — who were all smiles and cheer.

The Hubbs took charge, told them what was going on, and I asked the nurse for two more minutes so his grandparents could see him for the first time. They oohed and awed over him for a few minutes and then she took him away.

And then I burst into tears. Again.

A Labor Story

So there I was, contractions 3 minutes apart, in an elevator at the hospital, grasping at my husband’s hand to stay upright. Oddly, I wasn’t scared — I was excited. Relieved. I really wasn’t going to be pregnant forever! IT WAS FINALLY HAPPENING.

When we got to the maternity area, a nurse buzzed us in and the hubbs helped me waddle to the registration desk. Where they gave me a form to fill out. A FORM. Did I look like I was capable of filling out a form?! It was a short form — it wanted my name, address, phone, doctor’s name, and insurance information — but as I was writing the first initial of my name (and thinking how stupid filling out a form was), another contraction hit.

And I’m bent at the waist, gripping the counter so hard I swear I heard it crack, and I’m hissing through my teeth with my eyes slammed shut. And bless his heart, the hubbs asks the registration nurse: “Can I fill this out? When we get to the room?”

So another nurse shows us to our room and asks me to use the bathroom, put on the hospital gown, and get into the bed. And that someone would be in shortly to check on me. So I waddle to the bathroom, not bothering to close the door, stripping as I go. And — the hubbs swears he’s telling the truth — he peeped his head in to ask if I needed any help. Apparently he didn’t even get the whole question out before my dress and undergarments were flying at his head.

When I come out, I’m between contractions — and apparently sane. The hubbs helps tie the gown and I climb into bed to wait for the nurses/doctors/circus.

Not five minutes later, Dr. A come sauntering in. Yes, sauntering. And he’s older than I thought he would be, for some reason and this strikes me as funny. As does his baseball print do-rag. And as he asks me to assume the position, he makes small talk: about the baseball season and spring training and how he and his wife love to go to Arizona, and you’re dilated to 4 so I’m just gonna break your water now, OK? Cause if he doesn’t do it now, by the time he gets back to me — apparently there’s another woman ABOUT to actually have her child — it’ll be an hour and this will just get “things moving” faster.

Um … OK. “Moving faster” sounds good.

So he tells the nurse that “I’m going to break Mrs. Monkey Momma’s bag of waters now. I need a kit.” And continues to talk baseball with the hubbs. Which entertains me during a contraction and for about two minutes after when the nurse comes back in with a plastic crochet hook in a bag. Seriously. That’s what it looks like. And Dr. A sits down, leans in and says, “A little pressure here,” and then it feels like I just peed myself but it keeps going and going and going. And while the nurse is there, mopping up the fluid with towels he flips his gloves off, tosses them in the garbage can and throws back an “I’ll check on you in an hour” as he saunters out of the room. The man should seriously have a jazz band following him or something.

Now, please note: I haven’t signed any forms yet. I haven’t even officially been admitted into the hospital yet. They haven’t set up the IV yet. And now? My contractions have gone from 3 minutes apart to what feels like ONE.LONG.CONTRACTION. And you know what? It freaking hurt. And I think the conscious part of my brain went away for awhile, because I’m honestly very fuzzy on what happened after that. Most of the details were provided to me by the hubbs after I became lucid again.

Here is what I remember: They strap the fetal monitoring equipment onto me just as another contraction hits. And the contractions just kept coming, wave after wave after wave. And its hard to breathe. The pain is so intense, I can barely breathe. And I find hubbs and I hold onto his hand, because its the only thing I know that’s REAL at that moment. And I know I was able to tell him that I was tingling. My forehead tingled. My face tingled. It felt like my hair follicles were tingling. My hands tingled and clenched so tight I couldn’t move them. My jaw was clenched and I couldn’t unclench it.

It was like being trapped in your own body. You’re pushing the buttons but nothing is happening and somewhere a little robot is screaming “Danger Will Robinson!”

I remember him telling the nurse that my face felt tingly. And by tingly, I mean the pins and needles you feel after your foot/arm fell asleep and the blood is flowing back to it. THAT kind of tingling.

And the nurse was asking me questions, but I couldn’t hear her. I could see her, but I couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t move my mouth to tell her that either. It was all I could do to breathe. It felt like I had to concentrate really hard just to do that. I was looking at hubb’s hand over mine and thinking: BREATHE. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. BREATHE.

Suddenly, the hubb’s voice cuts in: “Slow down your breathing or you’ll hyperventilate. Sweetie? Slow down.” I slow my breathing by counting to five for each inhale and exhale, still focused on our hands. And there’s silence until: “Honey? Move to your right, OK? You need to turn.” And there were his hands helping me, and his face, although it was blurry. “You need to talk to them. What’s going on?”

Remember that clenched jaw? Yeah. Couldn’t unclench it. Couldn’t talk. I just shook my head, mouthing “I can’t talk.” (Or at least, I THOUGHT that was what I was doing.) And I notice some woman fluttering around my sides for the first time, but woman? I’m trying to BREATHE here. Little room?

And then the contraction’s over. There’s a pause at least. Although the tingling is still going on. And suddenly, its a riot of noise in the room. And I look down at my hands and both of them are covered with small trails of blood. There’s a guy leaning over my left hand putting in an IV. Apparently, two nurses were going after my veins and couldn’t get them. (The hubbs will angrily tell me later that they used my hands as a pincushion 8 times before they called for backup.) They had to call in the anesthesiologist to do it. He gets it on the first try, then tells me to lean against this cushioned thing so he can set up my epidural. (And oh yes I wanted one.) And he taps me on the shoulder and says to stay very still and to let him know if a contraction starts.

And as he’s cleaning the area and after he numbs it, a contraction starts. And all I can do is hiss out this fact before counting my breaths again. But the needle is already in my back. “Stay still!” I hear the hubbs say. “Stay still! Don’t move!” Its the hardest thing EVER not to move. All I want to do is squirm around and flop on the floor like a fish out of water. But I hold still, and suddenly … there’s warmness. A languid warmness slowly radiates all over. And where the warm goes, the tingling stops. And my ears stop ringing. (When had they started?) And I can hear people talking. The hubbs is murmuring comforting words and patting my hand and the nurse is telling me I did a good job, and the anesthesiologist is taping the wire in place and then helping me lean back in the bed.

And I can breathe without willing it to happen, and I look down at my hands again and there’s tiny rivulets of dried blood. And although I KNOW I saw this already, it surprises me. I tell the anesthesiologist he’s an angel and deserves his own parade and to just let me know when he wants it, cause I’ll bring the balloons. And the hubbs? He looks as white as a sheet.

I tell him that I tried to talk to him before, but that I couldn’t, and apologized if I scared him. He tells me that I wasn’t listening to the nurses, but he noticed that after he parroted what they said, I did it. So he became a parrot, repeating what the nurses said so I would do what was needed. I told him I didn’t hear the nurses, that I didn’t even remember seeing any until after the epidural took effect. Apparently they had also done a couple of “checks” down there while I was out of my mind focused on breathing, and we were now dilated to 6. The hubbs said three checks had been done, two by the nurses and one by a midget in a cowboy getup.

Yes, you read that right. Apparently a three-ring circus came in too, but the dancing bear was annoyed that I had ignored him and so they left. (Really, he said these things.)

I’m dilated to 6. We have to get to 10. And I look at the clock and its 4:30 p.m., the hubbs is still white as a sheet and I realize he never ate lunch. A nurse is checking my monitors as I tell him to go get something to eat and to take care of himself. He looks at me like I’ve sprouted a third eye, but the nurse laughs. “If she’s telling you to go eat, she’s OK.” I nod at him.

“Really, I’m OK now. Go and get something to eat, we’ll be here awhile. I’ll be OK.” And the hubbs nods and takes off for the cafeteria.

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The next couple of hours are actually kinda boring. We watch TV, we talk, the hubbs goes downstairs and gets himself dinner. A million people come into the room, identify themselves, slap on a glove, and stick their hands inside me. Dr. A saunters in every couple of hours to see how I’m progressing. At one point, my labor slowed down, so they gave me pitocin. I now feel slight pressure during contractions, but if I’m concentrating on something else, I really don’t feel them.

Essentially, nothing happens until 10:15 p.m., when Dr. A says we’re dilated to 10 and can start pushing. Wahoo! Pushing! This means its REALLY on! Baby in no time!

Riiiight. Idiot, party of one?
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So, pushing means to push like you’re going No.2. Every try to do that when your butt’s asleep? Cause that’s kinda how it is with the epidural. You can’t FEEL anything, so you’re not quite sure you’re doing it right, which sounds funny, but its true. And after an hour — yes AN HOUR of pushing, the nurse can finally see the Sea Monkey’s head. And guess what? He’s got a fuzzy head. Just like his sibling, THE CYST. Apparently, I make fuzzy things. Anyhoo. ANOTHER hour goes by and the Sea Monkey is at ‘2’ and we still need to get to ‘0’. All these numbers!

BUT during this hour, the nurse lets the hubbs get a peek at the Sea Monkey’s fuzzy head. He confirms that yes, it IS fuzzy. Also? During this time, the Sea Monkey is KICKING like crazy. Probably wanting to know WTF is going on and WHY HASN’T ANYONE FED ME ALL DAY?! I urge him to help me out by pushing off a rib or something.

Dr. A saunters in again and estimates I’ve got another HOUR of pushing before we’ll be ready for him to play catch. (ahem) Deliver the baby. Remember waaay back when? When he broke my water to “get things going”? As in, “this will go quicker if we do this”? I want to know what that man’s definition of “quick” is.
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The nurse finally lets this slip: The reason this whole pushing thing is taking so long (as in three hours)? The Sea Monkey’s head is turned ‘just so’ that he can’t squeeze all the way out. Basically, he needs help. So in saunters Dr. A, jazz band in tow, and he slaps some gloves on, takes a look, and decides its go time.

Suddenly there are all these extra people in the room and — oh look, there IS a three-ring circus. There’s Dr. A, the nurse, the nurse’s assistant, the lady who does all the baby measuring, some guy who I can’t remember what he does, but apparently its important, and another nurse who wheels over the covered table of very scary things.

And then, like a magician’s assistant, she unveils it. And it is a table of very scary, shiny things. There are stainless steel bowls, salad tongs, probe-looking things, things that look like they belong in a dentist’s office, NOT within reach of someone sitting between my legs like a linebacker. And one of the nurses is pouring iodine over the salad tongs (forecepts) and my main nurse sees my quasi-panicked look and comes up to my head and whispers, “Don’t worry, Dr. A is the best person in this hospital with forecepts. He knows what he’s doing.”

I nod, and am slightly comforted. Until he picks up a PAIR OF SCISSORS and places it within easy reach. This could seriously be a room in the Tower of London. Holy bejeezuz, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I push the button on the epidural. You know, just in case. And I look at the Hubbs as if to say “Seriously? Can we talk about this for a sec?” And he smiles and squeezes my hand and says “We’re almost there. You can do it.”

Not like I have much choice at this point.

So Dr. A half-stands from his stool and says, “OK, with the next contraction, when I tell you to, you’re going to push and I’m going to pull.” And I nod and then gasp when VERY FREAKING COLD metal salad tongs are put up there and secured around the Sea Monkey’s head. And then he gives me the signal to push, and I can FEEL him pulling and … THERE ISN’T ENOUGH ROOM. I can tell. And just as I’m about to gasp this, he picks up the scissors. And just as I’m about to scream at him to get the eff away from me with those, there are three pinches accompanied by the sound of three snips. And the hubbs, who is WATCHING, stiffens, and then the Sea Monkey slips out of me and into Dr. A’s hands.

And the hubbs looks back at me, all doe-eyed with wonder and excitement, and whispers “Honey, you did it! He’s out!” Believe me, I know. There’s suddenly a languor over me. The pressure’s gone.

And there’s silence. I’m just looking at the Sea Monkey — now Monkey — thinking “Breathe. Breathe. Why aren’t you breathing?!” And the dude that I don’t know what he does? He’s sucking fluid out of the Monkey’s mouth and suddenly there’s his cry and I can relax. And the hubbs is over watching them clean him off and measure and weigh him, and Dr. A now has a needle and is sewing me up.

And THAT is when the drugs wear off. I push the button, but its no good. I’m gasping and clenching my toes with every stitch. By the time he’s done and “packs the area” with gauze, the nurses are done with the Monkey and they bring him over to me.

And there he is. My little Monkey. And he’s all baby soft and fuzzy and warm. I’m all gushy and smiles and relief. And tearful. Because he’s here and I’m just so grateful.
And even then, still bleeding and tingling from the stitches and that whole labor thing, I understood why people keep doing this. Why women keep doing this. Its magical, and special, and something I’m so very glad I did.
Because you know what? It was SO worth it.