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Sunday, September 30, 2007

forever acknowledging

A few days ago, I took Stella in for her 4-year-old check up. She was all shy smiles, and passed the little developmental tests—drawing circles and triangles, hopping on one foot, balancing with her arms out, identifying the colors on the nurse’s smock—with flying colors. She proudly held out her arm for her blood pressure to be checked, and perched carefully on the seat for her vision and hearing tests. I couldn’t have been more proud of her, partly because she was so proud of herself, and partly because it was her annual exam, and I always feel a little sentimental—and so thankful—at each of this ritual acknowledging the passing of a year.

On these visits, the years—especially the first year—of Stella’s life feel just beneath the surface. I can almost taste the dread and fear, the worry, the careful hopefulness. And as I fill my hands with the antiseptic foam in the doctor’s office, breathing in its sickly sweetness, I am back in the NICU with my 3 pound daughter, in the days and weeks following her birth.

Sometimes I wonder why I do this—go back, remember. It may seem masochistic in a way, as if I’m keeping the wounds open in order to throw salt on them. But though the painful and scary memories are there, I now have time and distance on my side, and all I feel is this immense gratitude.

I also love to see Stella’s doctor, who has been her doctor since the beginning, and has seen me at my worst. (Or almost at my worst. I suppose D. is the only one who has really seen me at my worst—and the dear man still loves me.)

But I won’t forget the day that I called Stella’s doctor, just after she was born. We had been playing phone tag for a couple of weeks because I wanted to set up a time to meet him before Stella’s birth so I could decide whether he was the right pediatrician for us. But when I finally got a hold of him, Stella was a week and a half old, lying in an isolette in the NICU. He told me he’d be down later that day to meet her, and he was. His office was in the same building, only a floor away, but his visit seemed like a big deal nonetheless. He took the time to come see her. And I fell for him immediately—his gentle smile and good humor and the way he kept saying to me and my sister, “You guys, she’s gorgeous. She’s going to be fine.”

Even now, he is always excited to see Stella, and it makes us (me) feel important, like he’s really invested, and I think he really is. I never had a doctor like this growing up, and I’m so glad that Stella does.

After our visit, I asked Stella if she wanted to see the place where she lived just after she was born, and she said yes, so we took the elevator down to the second floor, walked hand and hand down the long hallway lined with then and now photos of NICU graduates, and stopped at the reception desk between the NICU and the ICC.

“My daughter is a NICU graduate,” I proudly told the receptionist. “And I was wondering if K. was working and could come out and say hi.” K. was one of my favorite nurses in the NICU, even though she wasn’t Stella’s primary care nurse. But I would watch her from across the room, how she spoke to other parents, how she held the other preemies. And the day that timed seemed to stop, the day that Stella developed sepsis and stopped breathing, over and over again, the day she lay flopped in her isolette as if she were dead, Kris hugged me tightly with tears in her eyes and said, “I know. I know.” I will never forget this.

K. wasn’t working, but I still felt happy as Stella and I left to search for stickers at Walgreens. Over and over again that day, I hugged her close to me.

I think I will forever be acknowledging this, what feels like such luck.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

kudos and a contest

I've just started my fall Loft class, and it's so nice to be back "in it" again. I love the elated feeling, the "this is exactly what I want to do, what I love doing" feeling I have after a good class. But before I get too caught up in this term, I want to take a moment and recognize all the wonderful work the students in previous classes have done. Please check out Sara's essay "What this writing thing is all about (for me)" at Mamaphonic, Lucinda's essay "My Mother is Missing" at mamazine, Kara's essay "What Would Mary Do?" at Parent Wise Austin, and Patty's essay "Choosing My Words" at MOMbo. You can also check out short essays from Betsy, Lucinda, Sara, and Patty at Cribsheet. They rock, so check out their work.

Also, I want to let you know about a writing contest at MOMbo. You can win $100 in the MOMbo Zone Essay Contest. The essay question: “What’s the biggest SURPRISE you’ve experienced as a mom?” YOUR ESSAY MUST BE 600 WORDS OR LESS! I think the deadline has been extended to October 5th. Visit MOMbo for more details!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

mourning Deilis

I just found out that one of my god-daughters has died. She got very sick and was gone in three days, from meningitis, I think, though this may have gotten lost in translation.

I have only seen Deilis and her twin, Dailis, a few times since they were born, almost ten years ago. I flew down to Costa Rica, to San Vicente, for their baptism, and I’ve been back several times for short visits, but the last time I was there, when I took Stella down to meet Betty and Sara—my other family—and see the place I love, my god-daughters were in San José visiting their mother, my friend Migdaly.

It’s odd and horrible when someone who lives far away dies. It’s as if they don’t really die because you never see them anyway. I forget sometimes that a childhood friend of mine drowned in Bolivia four years ago. I only saw her when she would come back to Minnesota for visits, and even a year after her death I would catch myself thinking about her in the present tense, almost wondering what she was up to. I did the same thing with Gerardo, another friend from San Vicente, after he had been killed in a car accident. When he died, I had already returned home, and I imagine him there still, laughing in the sunlight or sitting on Betty’s front porch, drinking coffee. I know I’ll do the same with Deilis. But I don’t even know how to imagine her. I don’t know what she and her sister look like. I haven’t seen them in over six years.

How do you mourn someone you hardly knew? I need to be there, to see her family, to cry with them.

If I weren’t having these problems with the pregnancy, I would fly down, for the final day of prayers. I would stand in the crowded room of Doña Clara’s house, hypnotized by the low hum of voices, praying Santa Maria madre de Dios, ruega por ella y por nosotros los pecadores ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerta. Santa Maria madre de Dios, ruega por ella y por nosotros los pecadores ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerta. There would be too much food and it would be too hot, the humidity of Guanacaste in September low and thick in the valley. Pictures of Deilis would be on a table with a doily, surrounded by burning candles. Everyone would be crying. Everyone in San Vicente, said Betty, is crying. She was only a girl, not yet ten, one of my two god-daughters, gone.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

poetry and concentration

I haven’t been able to focus on much of anything during the last week. I had a good report from my doctor: baby is okay, take it easy, no exercise, nap every day. The good part, of course, is that the baby is fine. The difficult parts, for me, are taking it easy and not exercising.

Exercising is what clears my head, what makes it possible for me to not perseverate on my list of daily worries. Running, which I hadn’t been doing anyway, is the most successful way to clear my head, but walking works, as well, and now that I can’t do that, the tension has settled in my shoulders and neck. All this tension, coupled with the fact that I don’t feel quite right, makes it hard for me to focus.

I can’t focus on a movie (my usual evening indulgence) and I certainly can’t focus on a novel or memoir. I just can’t do sustained narrative right now. The only other time that this happened to me was after Stella was born. For months I couldn’t read or write (or even think clearly). The one thing I found that I could do was read a poem. It’s so different than picking up a novel; I don’t have to commit to 250 pages. I can just read one poem.

This week I inadvertently read two books of poetry, both new to me. One was Beth Ann Fennelly’s Tender Hooks, which Sheri at mamazine recommended. The other was Marie Howe’s What the Living Do, which another friend recommended. I didn’t set out to read either of the collections; I thought I would just skim through them and see if I could find poems for my fall class. But in both cases, I read the whole collection.

I love the accessibility of Fennelly’s poems, the way they lure me in with an image familiar to me: chasing a toddler who is clutching something stolen from my purse or trying to pin down my daughter and beg her to prefer me over her daddy, for just one day. Fennelly lured me in, and then I stayed, struck by her skill, her passion, and some dark history. You can read some of her poems and an interview with Fennelly at mamazine, but there are some lines from one of my favorite poems:


People look at my baby and wonder whom she favors. Because
she doesn’t look like me, they decide she looks like her father. I
nod. I nod and nod. But really she favors the great dead one.
My own bad Dad. She favors him, the same brown eyes, the
same scooped out philtrum, that valley leading from nose to
mouth, as if the warm fingers that formed her stroked a perfect
pinkie tip there to sculpt it......See, I love her,
so even from the grave he spites me. Look at him, winning
again, crying in the bassinet. Here I come on quick feet
unbuttoning my blouse.

And Marie Howe absolutely wowed me. I felt the same way reading her poems as I did the first time I read Sharon Olds, just after Stella was born. They are raw and heartbreaking and sometimes so lonely. You can read some of Howe’s poems here and here, but this is one I love:


Just yesterday,
three days after my forty-fifth birthday,
a mild October afternoon,
somewhere around five o’clock,
and maybe the seventh or eighth time
I’d gone to check—

Now that it’s happened, it seems it had to happen.

Still the house had built itself a corridor I’d been hurrying through
towards the sleeping child,

thinking of Sarah’s angel, hearing Sarah’s laugh.

The white curtains billowed slightly in the mild, October wind
—but there was no baby, and hadn’t been.

So, since it seems that reading poetry is all I can do right now, does anyone have recommendations for me?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

a gorgeous placenta

I never thought I would be so excited and relieved to hear that I have a gorgeous placenta. TFG. Baby is alive with a healthy heartbeat, and the clot has diminished to a few very small clots. Apparently, "I bled in the right direction." (Who knew this was even possible?) The big fear was that the blood would pool between the placenta and the uterine wall, which would have been very bad. But it didn't. Most of it drained out of me, and the rest will hopefully reabsorb.

I can't thank you all enough for your thoughts and good wishes.

I still have to take it easy, especially for the next two weeks. I can't lift Stella, much to her chagrin, or carry anything over 15 pounds. But the baby is alive and my placenta is fully attached, and for now, all I feel is relief. I will work a little from home, but try to stay out of the office and not worry about anything except eating and resting.

I'll see my doctor tomorrow and have a ultrasound in two weeks and another one in five weeks. (So much for trying to limit ultrasound exposure. Eh whatever, bring them on.) And now I'm back to my original hope--that I will carry this baby to term, that it will be born healthy and weighing 7 pounds (or even 6).

It is amazing how quickly crisis puts the rest of life--work and stress and daily worries--into perspective. I wish it weren't so hard for me to put things in their proper places without this kind of trauma. But I have a little perspective now, and I'll hang onto it as tightly as I can.

Thank you, again, for all your kind words.

Monday, September 10, 2007

september, pregnancy and me

They just don’t mix. It was this very week four years ago, while I was pregnant with Stella, that my body began to shut down. The level of protein in my urine indicated kidney malfunction. I had gained over ten pounds in two weeks, all fluid. Soon I was lying in the hospital, vomiting and claustrophobic from the magnesium sulfate, my blood pressure suddenly 170/110.

But last week, I was actually feeling good. I was too busy, stressed with work and a freelance article and wondering how I would pull together my Loft syllabus and get a grant proposal written, but other than that, I felt good. I even had a moment of thinking, oh, this is what it’s like for all those other women. I barely gave a thought to preeclampsia, determined to try what my doctor suggested: not worry for twenty whole weeks.

One of my friends who has had more than her share of pregnancy tragedies recently said to me, “You never know exactly what to be afraid of. You worry about one thing and then all of the sudden this other horrible thing happens, and you realize that you never can know what to be afraid of.”

As you know, I have a vivid and neurotic imagination, and I am afraid of many things. But what I wasn’t worried about, what didn’t even cross my mind, was this: waking up at 4:30 on a Sunday morning, my pajamas covered in blood. What I didn’t think to worry about was a blood clot behind my placenta. Which could mean what? Placenta previa? Placental abruption? Just a clot that might reabsorb?

I don’t know yet, but now preeclampsia seems like a ball. Get me to 32 weeks and I’ll swell as much as you want. Get me to 32 weeks and I’ll lie in a hospital bed with magnesium sulfate pumping through my veins for weeks, and I won’t even complain. I swear.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to believe that a 32-week preemie could be my best-case scenario, that it could be something I would shoot for, after all we’ve been through. But here I am, hoping for it.

I go in tomorrow morning for another ultrasound, a stronger one. The big gun. Maybe they’ll be able to tell me more—I hope so. And I hope the little bugger is still there, heart pumping. I want this baby, goddammit. Can’t we get a break?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

the great minnesota get together

On Sunday afternoon, D., Stella, my dad, and I hopped on the bus and headed for the State Fair. The Sunday of Labor Day weekend is not the best day to go to the fair if you hate crowds and heat and are pregnant, but it was the only time that worked for our hectic schedules, so there we went.

Stella loves to ride the city bus, which sadly, we only do when we’re going to the fair. Her excitement at being unbelted in a moving vehicle would have made a quick trip to hell and back worth it. She went from knees to tush to knees to tush, staring out the window as if we didn’t live in the Twin Cities. Who knew?

I had two things on my personal fair agenda. The first was corn on the cob, which is crazy. It’s not as if I never eat the stuff. I live in Minnesota. We have tons of corn here. So why is it so appealing to spend $3 on a butter-drenched ear at the fair? I have no idea, but I kept trying to plan out where we should go first so that we’d end up at the corn booth just when I reached peak hunger. (I do realize that since it feels as if I’m in a perpetual state of peak-hunger, I shouldn’t have been concerned.)

The corn was worth it. Maybe it tasted so good because I was surrounded by thousands of other people grubbing their $3 ears at the same time. (I guess crowds are good for something…)

The second thing I had on my agenda was the simulated tornado. I heard about this on Minnesota Public Radio and I thought, that’s just what I need, to be buffeted by 70 mile an hour winds on a very hot September day.

But the tornado was difficult to find. The first information-booth woman directed us to the education building. That was all wrong. Nothing but college representatives. The second information-booth person suggested I try Kansas (as in Dorothy and Toto). I just stared at him, but what I wanted to say was: Um, I’m hot and you’re not funny. The third person didn’t have any idea what I was talking about, and I began to lose faith. Was MPR wrong? Didn’t I hear about his? Finally, the fourth person I asked said it was in the Channel 5 Building. Aha! I knew I wasn’t crazy! I herded our little group to Channel 5 and there it was: Tornado Alley. We stood in line and shuffled through the area that contained facts about tornados and footage of tornados destroying stretches of the rural Midwest. And then finally, we made it to the simulator, which was a circular room with a bunch of fans blowing in at us. I think Stella was impressed—her eyes were wide—but frankly, I was a little disappointed. I suppose this was bound to happen. I had been thinking about it for days. There were droplets of rain spattering us, which was a bonus I hadn’t anticipated, but the wind wasn’t forceful enough. (This is also something I should have expected. It’s not as if they could usher people into real level 5—or however they are classified—tornado force winds.) Still, I was glad I persevered, found Tornado Alley, and experienced a little cool wind. It was a break from the unbearable heat.

The thing that turned out to be the highlight of the fair is something I never expected. It was a Fair-Do. I don’t ever remember seeing these before, but this year, there were tons of kids—mostly little girls—walking around with crazy spray-painted, sparkly hair. Stella was beside herself. She needed her hair done. She is turning out to be a very girly-girl. She’s tough in some ways—she’s fearless at the park, and I hope that someday this fearlessness will transform her into a brilliant central midfielder on the soccer field (no pressure)--but she loves dresses and barrettes and really, everything girly. So D. and I agreed to a Fair-Do.

My dad, who (I have to remind myself) is eighty and has a pace-maker and probably doesn’t need to be dragged around the fair when it’s 95 degrees, decided to take the bus home early, and D. and Stella and I proceeded to the Kidway, where we were found the Fair-Do booth. We paid the $12 and then had to wait for one hour. In the meantime D. and Stella took some kind of home safety tour while I went searching for fried cheese curds. Seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever tried a fried cheese curd before, but this felt like the year to take the plunge, and I was right. Other than the unquenchable thirst they inspired, they were fabulous. Such salty goodness.

An hour later, when Stella’s number was called, she decided she didn’t want her hair done. She began to cry. But after a little cajoling and walking her around to see the other kids inhaling the toxic paint fumes, she agreed to give it a try, and she proceeded to stare at herself in the mirror with a shy smile as the stylist ratted and styled and sprayed and sprayed and sprayed her hair. Seriously, the woman emptied a whole can of hair spray onto my child. (Why bother with all the organic food?) Then she began with the paint: blue and pink stripes. (This is on a beehive, mind you, and Stella has a lot of hair.) The whole ensemble was topped off with purple sparkles. It was amazing, like Marge Simpson on acid.

Stella literally sparkled in the sunlight. She beamed. Then everyone stopped to comment, which unnerved her a little. (“I don’t like all these people looking at me.” To which I responded, “You have blue and pink hair. They can’t help it.”)

All the way home, on the bus, down the street to my dad’s house, people exclaimed, “You’ve been at the fair!” and “What awesome hair!”) She would smile shyly and say, so softly they couldn’t hear her, “Thank you.”

What was interesting to me about all of this (aside from the fact that I never imagined letting my child be done up like this and never imagined enjoying it so much) was that it made us talk to people with whom we never would have interacted. There are all walks of life at the State Fair: short people, tall people, Harley Davidson people, old people, young people, disabled people, people of all colors and nationalities. There are plenty of people at the fair with mullets. And this is one of the only times each year when I am surrounded by so many people outside of my friend and work and neighborhood circles. And ordinarily, I wouldn’t talk to them and they wouldn’t talk to me. (This is not in a rude way, but just because everyone there is doing their own thing.) But because of Stella’s crazy hair, we spoke with dozens of people, all of them kind, who wanted to say something nice to our daughter. It reminded me of how insular we (I) are, how tied up in our own lives, and how easy it can be to be put off by someone who seems different from us.

So, I have to encourage everyone to visit their state or county fair. This fair really IS the great Minnesota get together, and I’m thankful for it and for the reminder to always be open and willing to talk to another person.