This Blog Is Moving!

To my dear, treasured, and (hopefully) devoted readership:

Thank you for sticking with C&CS for the past year; it’s been a year of learning for me, and a year of pride as well. I went from wondering if I would EVER stick with a writing project to proudly looking back on what I think are several thousand words worth of posts. I went from self-doubt about my writing and blogging abilities to having a blog that, while not (yet) widely read, has got quite a bit of content by now, and is poifectly positioned to, ahem, take the internet by storm. If I do say so meself.

I do think that this blog has been great for me; if only because I can look back and say “see, those were the important moments of the year”. Those were the things I paid attention to, wanted to know about, and… whatnot.

So the next step of course is to customize, personalize, and… we’ll see. To take this first of all steps, we are moving to our own site (still powered by wordpress, so don’t worry about weird stuff!); the URL thereof is www.cuddlesandcommonsense.com .

From now on, all updates (‘xcept this one) will be posted there. This site will stay live for a while, mind you, and eventually I will set up a redirect to ensure that everyone gets where they’re supposed to.

So… in the hopes you’ll like my new design and my parenting/writing projects (of which you will see more of as time goes by)…  see you on the other end I hope!

After a few days of juggling 2 under 2…

…All I can say is, I love them both so very much!

When my daughter first met her little brother, she very gently caressed his soft, soft hair. Mine and my husband’s heart about burst with love, and we both thought to ourselves_ it will be all right. We love them, and they will love each other. It will be all work out.I know it sounds very obvious and rather silly. I know it sounds completely evident, obvious, and on the whole not important enough to be the subject of a post.

But the truth is, loving them, each of them separately, makes everything all right. All the little irritations, the disruptions, the imbalances, the worries and the issues essentially work themselves out when you simply, straightforwardly, factor love into the equation. I love them both so much. Therefore, I will find a way to balance things out for them, so that their relationship, decided for them and not by them at such a young age, works out.

Since that day, which took place not long ago… our plans have not stopped being upset, and we have not stopped making do. And laughing as we go. Case in point:

A few minutes after my daughter first saw my son, she also saw his discarded bottle of pumped milk. We did not think much of letting her drink it, so she did. Except of course, five minutes later he decided he was hungry again, which meant I had to nurse him. Now, I had not intended to nurse him just then; I’d been hoping the point of “we have a baby” would have well sunk in by the time she realized that “new baby brother” also means “sharing mommy’s milk”.
But no. No such luck. I had to nurse within 10 minutes of them meeting, right in the hospital’s parents’ waiting room. And I did.

The moment my daughter saw me nurse, she also wanted to nurse. So I sat there, on a strange couch, tandem nursing: the infant was on the left, the toddler was on the right. I think I had a strange expression of vague, vapid, dreamy “total motherhood” on my face. At least, it feels like what must have been on my face. I was in alt: not because it was awesome to nurse 2 kids at once, but because it was working. Because it was manageable, possible, and with the help of my husband (carefully propping the newborn up a little) it was all fine. It, quite simply, worked out.

And this has been my mantra since: as long as it works out, I don’t mind. I have two kids. I love them both. I love caring for them both. We cope. And that’s all we want_ to slowly cope better and better, until we reach cruising altitude.

Now, if there is one thing I DO mind, it is totally well-meaning, but outrageously misplaced, advice. Such as something I heard the other day: “Explain to your toddler that the milk is for baby brother, stop her nursing!” How creative. Take away her favorite source of nourishment and comfort, her foremost connection to her mommy… What a wonderful way of ensuring my daughter really grows to hate having a brother! And totally NOT going to happen, either.

Seriously, though: I completely agree that my newborn has first dibs on my milk. HOWEVER, I do NOT think this means I have to somehow short my toddler. She is entitled to the same level of care and kindness that I want her brother to have; if my milk were not important to her, if nursing weren’t that big a deal for her, I probably wouldn’t bother making any effort. But, such is not the case; it is important to my brilliant, adorable, powerful little girl; my little girl who has rights too, and whose importance to me and to our lives hasn’t changed a bit, irrespective of the fact we chose to have a second child so soon after the first. And I’m not going to stop her just because it would be more convenient than to use my brain and my milk pump, building my supply up to nursing two babies instead of one. Granted, sometimes she will have to wait; sometimes she will not be able to nurse at the same time as her brother. Sometimes she will skip nursing because of contingent factors. Sure. But that is down to the realities of nursing them both.

The principles at work are, and remain, simple: juggling two under two, in my opinion, implies and entails respecting each, and loving them both. Because, contrary to what the aforementioned kind lady strongly implied with her words, you cannot just define your child by his age-related needs: you need to respect him or her enough to find out what his or her wishes are, love them enough to want to make this extra effort.

And, maybe, not care so very much that your daughter thinks her pacifier should kiss her brother’s pacifier once a day.

An APGAR of 0

“How did you know that something was wrong with my son?”

I realize that this sounds like a cork-brained question, because they should have told me. But the truth is, they didn’t. After I heard a very short mewling cry, my newborn was whisked to another room before I got any sort of look at him. He was brought out _ looking more or less clean_ for 3 seconds before it was time to put him into the ambulance that would transfer him to a higher-ranking hospital. I didn’t get any feedback on this: I had no idea what it was that caused him to be instantly identified as a child that needed help.

So naturally, I tried to work it out. My first attempt was asking this question.

Well“, the midwife answered, “his APGAR score was 6, which is rather low; it didn’t rise up enough.

Now, I know what an APGAR score is. It is a simple 1-10 scale that is supposed to measure a child’s overall condition at birth; the child receives a mark out of 2 in 5 different categories (Appearance, Pusle Rate, Grimace, Activity, Respiratory Effort); he or she is marked at regular intervals (0, 5 and 10 minutes after birth). I know that most healthy babies score a 9, on account of their hands and feet being rather blueish right out of the womb, unless of course their daddy is the chief cook and bottle washer around the clinic, in which case they may score a 10 as a favour (why delay the time when we start competing for high marks after all?)

What I didn’t know, or didn’t realize until I got my grubby little dilettante hands on the (non-sealed) letter the hospital wrote for our future pediatrician’s files, is that my son’s first APGAR score, taken 1 minute after birth… was actually a 0.

Which, according to Wiki, means:
Appearance- blue or pale all over
Pulse- Absent
Grimace- no response to stimulation
Activity- none
Respiration- absent

In short, it means that one minute after his birth, my son was blue, had no pulse, was not reacting to stimulation, was not moving, and not breathing. He was alive, mind you: I know this for a fact because he let out a short mewling cry, which I heard, and my husband too. Five minutes after birth, his APGAR score was 6, which is considered good enough not to suggest long-term issues due to oxygen deprivation, but still suggestive of some kind of issue.

Anyway, I’m a little irate no one had the… guts? courage? bravery? honesty? kindness? to come up and tell me this interesting little fact in person; particularly since I ASKED. Oh sure, I got a lot of “if not for your insistence on a c-section you or your baby might have died”, but the fact that I actually had to GO DIGGING for information as simple and easy to understand as an APGAR score reaffirms something I’ve been saying for ages: as parents it is our job to know and understand the jargon and the lingo, so we can do a good job protecting and raising our children to be healthy. And to find kind, responsible medical practitioners who will take the time to explain and share their insights with the person that will actually spend their life observing the little patient.

Post Scriptum: Since writing this, I have spoken to my midwife, who informed me that the “0″ is actually… a typo. And that my son’s scores were actually 6/6/8. So count the above as erroneous_ but the conclusion as totally correct. Especially since my NOT questioning this would have left me with the wrong impression.

To: the nurse that told me not to touch my newborn. You suck.

Hi, you.

If you still remember who I am, I’m hoping that I will be very, very, very lucky and you will forget me quickly.

I’m hoping this, because it would mean that my son is never hospitalized in your care again. Or, as the rabbi in the Fiddler On The Roof said it: “May God bless and keep the czar, FAR AWAY FROM US!” ; it applies nicely to you, bitch.

I have never wanted to shake someone as badly as I have wanted to shake you.
I remember the first day we met; it was about 17h or 18h, and after several hours of torture (I do think being left to lie on a narrow bed with no way to get up and go to the toilet, and ignored by several physicians and nurses because they “had no idea” who was supposed to collect me qualifies as torture), I managed to get myself pushed to the neonatal ICU of your hospital. My son had been there for 24 hours with no parent, and I guess you’d gotten a little too happy “caring” for him.

I use quotation marks when I say “caring”, because I’m trying to suggest that many of the things you did DO NOT deserve such a lofty name. Caring. I get that you had to stop my son pulling his own IV drip, it was an important drip and he is strong, but did you really have to wrap his hand so tightly that it turned blue and the epidermis under his wrist started necrotising? An insignificant little detail that you only noticed when I _ the dilettante, the non-expert, the sobbing and worried mama_ (much too gently) pointed out that “it looks a bit tight”, prompting you to give it a second glance. And then frown. And summon a doc to look at it.

Honestly, the best thing I can say about your “care” is that we’re not in it right now.

Of course, if I am totally and absolutely honest, there is no way I could remember you with kindness; and with cause! Three ICU nurses succeeded themselves in charge of my son’s care. Nurse 2 was the one who first gave him to me, intubated as he was, and let me nurse him. And even took a few pictures. Nurse 3 is the one who smilingly waved goodbye when the doctors from the other less-advanced hospital came and took him away. You? You were the one who told me that I shouldn’t touch my newborn when I first reached him, as he lay in your ward, having gone almost 30 hours before meeting his own mother. Nevermind that touching him (as soon as your back was turned and your colleague replaced you) caused my milk to come in; nevermind that shortly after I first held him, he seemed to somehow be less tense, less frightened, and began to very swiftly stabilize.

Now, I don’t know how you justify the act of depriving a newborn of comfort and depriving a mother of her child. And to do it not because of the medical care the child requires, but because “he will be tense afterwards” no less (I remember your exact sentence: “gespannt” is, I believe, the German word you used) I suspect that, like many medical practitioners, the traumatic things you’ve seen in life have somewhat inured you and made you less receptive to human pain and suffering. And for this you have my deepest sympathies and kindest thoughts. No one should have to live like that.

But let me be clear: for your inconsiderate handling of my son? Yeah, you still suck.

 

The “companion” with the drainage tube and the small bottle of blood

Yes, yes, I do realize this is probably the weirdest title yet on my blog. But there is a reason for it.

About 24 hours after my son was born, the hospital I had him in managed to figure out which of the 3 higher-ranking hospitals (the immediately-larger one, the big-regional one, or the advanced national) he was going to stay at, and arranged for me to be transferred there to be with him.

And that is when the trauma, that I had until then managed to avoid, caught up with me.

Now, I recognize that the hospital we went to was large and had lots of important patients, as well as a great purpose in teaching young people. But to me, it was a rat-cage_ one in which I had been locked up. I felt unwelcome in the specialized ICU station, where my baby was being treated (the nurse who shall be the subject of tomorrow’s post no doubt contributed to this, right from the moment when she said to me “do not touch him_ you’ll just get him excited!”; not touch my newborn son for the first time ever after a day of longing? I’m thinking an avalanche of words, none too complimentary). But more importantly, I felt like everyone was discreetly or indiscreetly trying to inform me that my status, such as it was, was “baby’s traveling companion who somehow freeloaded on us”.

Apparently, me with my stitches, my 1-day-old c-section wound, my staggering gait and rather pallid walk had little cause to be in hospital, except as a traveling companion_ or, as the German word goes, Begleitsperson. This was something hinted at by the supervisors (one of whom loudly complained that “we take in sick babies, do we take in their mothers too now?” within my range of hearing), the nursing staff (one of whom asked me upfront “have you thought about applying to stay with your son in the parents’ house?” at 3 days post-partum and with the drainage only just out that very day) and the doctors (“ah, yes, your son is in NICU_ what is his condition like right now?” from the doc that landed by my bedside on day 3, accompanied by a gaggle of students who apparently were to learn to observe how the uterus of a post-partum woman contracts by pressing on the tummy of some guinea pig or other).

Now, don’t get me wrong: I appreciate that most countries do not have a setup that pays for 4-7 days of hospital care for women who had a c-section. I appreciate that many women are considered “recovered” by day 2. I appreciate the fact that, to those doctors, I had already had my operation and was medically pretty much uninteresting, except as a learning instrument for very junior medical students. And I completely and absolutely appreciate the fact that my case was a classic situation of falling through the cracks of a system that otherwise works. I mean, most people don’t exactly change hospitals right after a c-section, and if they do, it’s because of a personal medical necessity, not on so-called “compassionate” grounds.

I appreciate all this, and accept it. And even so, my stay in that hospital can only be rated as downright traumatic. Which probably explains why I begged the doctors to discharge me as soon as it was humanely possible to do so. Of course, I didn’t realize the impact of the trauma then. I had no idea that I would replay it in my mind and suffer from the memory of it. But I do.

In retrospect, getting myself out was the best decision possible, because my son was also downgraded back to the lower-ranking pediatric NICU that had sent him in… on the very same day. It worked out well.
Of course, I suspect that on paper the facts were a bit less poetic. I suspect the doctors who were watching my son simply said to each other “well, he’s not that severely ill, and the mother is leaving the hospital today_ she plans to drive in to visit him anyway, so why not send the kid back to those who sent him to us, we need the space for more serious patients”. And that is OK.

Anything that results in my son getting the care he needs at the hands of ever more gentle staff is totally fine with his mother.

To: the guy in the bright yellow-and-red coat who I thought had been cruel

Hi.

The first time we met, I thought you were cruel.
You remember the instance better than I do, though, since you actually reminded me it happened.

It was in the antechamber of the hospital’s operation theatre, between the entrance hall that would lead to the emergency vehicle and the room where my little son had just been born. And obviously, I was just lying there, busy trying to process what was going on around me while also trying to process the fumes of the anesthetic that had been injected into me for the c-section.

You stopped by the bed holding my son, let me have a glimpse of his face. You brought him closer and let me give him three kisses on the face and chest_ before you swept the squirming, screaming little bundle away. To the emergency vehicle that would take him to the other, bigger hospital, where he’d be looked after and diagnosed.

I don’t actually know how I can remember that it was you; you could have been a little green man from Mars, and all I would have registered was the fact that I should’ve been the one to hold him, instead. But somehow I seem to have registered who you were, because when we met again and you told me “we’ve met before, although I expect you were probably a little out of it”, I was able to remember you. And to feel more than a little… humble.

You see, when you took my son from me, I thought you were a paramedic who was just impatient to leave and too… inured against human pain… to care much the need of a newborn to touch his mother (and, admitedly, vice versa). I had absolutely positively NO idea that you were the pediatric cardiologist and head doctor of neonatal ICU at a larger hospital than the one I gave birth in_ and that you personally rode the ambulance to examine a newborn at a tiny hospital near your own, that you are the one who diagnosed his problem as “more than a fluke” and who made sure he was given the care he needed.

For this mistake on my part, I ask for your pardon with a whole, honest heart. Thanks, doctor. Your kindness to my child is appreciated… and so is the way you run your ICU.

Trust your instincts, I tell you…

“If you hadn’t gotten a c-section, we might have lost either you or the baby”.

Chilling words, no? And yet I heard those words spoken, not once, not twice, but thrice, in the wake of the operation that brought my second child, my son, into the world. I’m still chilled by them. And I wonder it will take me longer to recover from those, than to recover from the operation.

Against the wishes of the hospital OB and midwives, I demanded (and got) a c-section. Nobody seemed to quite believe me when I said something was off, until… something turned out to be off. My baby was born at the 100th percentile for both weight and height. He was also born with a small congenital heart defect. On the whole, the conjunction of these factors and the fact that my last c-section was only 17 months ago means that, had I attempted a VBAC, there is a very high chance that (a) my uterus would have ruptured or (b) my baby would have been stuck. Either of those could have resulted in the death of either or both of us.

We are lucky. Lucky to be alive. Lucky that all we are working around is a little bit of trauma and a small heart defect. We are lucky. Very lucky.

Notice how I repeat it as a mantra? It’s because while I objectively know it to be true, the further reaches of my conscious mind is screeching loudly; even as I feel lucky, I feel cheated. Even though I am proud of myself, I am sad for myself; the emotions are chewing me up and spitting out the core.
You see, I am a woman who went through the trauma of giving birth to a child that she did not see for around 30 hours. I am a woman who went through the pure torture of being told by a nurse “do NOT touch him, he will get excited and we don’t want that!”. I am a woman who had to watch her infant son in-tubed in a variety of new, creative ways, who almost literally crawled to be by his side, and who cannot spend more than a few hours a day admiring his tiny face. I am a woman who has to suffer the indignity of indignities_ letting well-meaning strangers, but still strangers, look after her newborn for her.

The last few days are a maelstorm in my head, full of thoughts too recent and painful to well and truly be exorcised at the present time. Will they go away when we have the baby home? I doubt it. When we’ve had the baby home for 6 months? Maybe. A year? Possibly. I am convinced that the best thing for me to do is accept those thoughts and try to talk about them as much as I can_ exorcise them with a bit of “chimney sweeping”, as a certain Anna O. called the exercise. I need to talk, I need to talk myself stupid, and I need time… time to digest all this. Giving myself time isn’t sometime I particularly want to, or enjoy. If truth be told, all I want is to get over it NOW, immediately, and return to a sunnier “season”. But I know better than to pretend everything is peachy, because, as it is, I don’t want to be lugging these feelings around for the next 30-odd years.

So… I hope you therefore do NOT mind if I devote the next few posts to discussing and dissecting my labour and post-partum experience, because, like I just said… I kinda need that.