“You’re due any day now aren’t ya?”
“Hopefully not? When are you due?”
“Uh… October 29 [I’m trying to present body language like I just want to pay for my sweet tea and go] but I’ll probably have her sooner.”
“Are there two?”
“[Jesus fucking Christ] no, there aren’t two.”
“I had a 10 pound baby.”
“She’ll be a big girl.”
I feel like murdering her. I grab my change and go outside. Charley won’t answer the phone and I spend the morning doing tests and talking to the Department of Education online to defer my loans again and feeling generally sleep-deprived and lethargic.
August 31st: My 30th day in a hospital, 18th day at St. Mark’s, and 1 day until I hit 32 weeks according to the estimated due date.
I guess 32 weeks is a big milestone. 98% of preemies born in this week survive. If a mom can get to 32 weeks then the baby is about 4 pounds and 16.5 inches long. She now has smooth, soft skin, mini toenails, mini fingernails and little fuzzy hairs. Her brain is developing into something useful and intelligent. She’s wriggling everywhere, taking in fat and gaining about a half pound per week. She is more than the sum of her parts. She is turning into a real, little human.
As the uterus pushes against my diaphragm I experience shortness of breath and heartburn. Every night I’m yawning excessively and it’s not because my movie choices are boring. Every night I’m either cleaning my nose of blackheads or nursing a headache or peeing every fifteen minutes or just having trouble getting in and out of bed or all of these things combined.
Another pregnant friend shook her fists at all of the celebrities modeling cute, designer maternity outfits on the cover of People Magazine, making pregnancy look like a breezy pastime experience between a trip to the manicurist and a shopping spree at Barneys.
“Blake Lively can kiss my cellulite ass,” she says.
“I don’t think that’s real. It’s a mix of Photoshop and a team of makeup artists and expensive doctors. She’ll probably have a c-section and then take a wonder drug to lose any extra weight in two weeks.
Dr. Lukenaar asks me to look into NICUs back home, and find out how young the babies can be, so I google Taos and NICUs and see that the closest in New Mexico is in Albuquerque two and a half hours away. It would require payment upfront and I don’t have Medicaid in New Mexico and can’t get it until I’m there and suddenly I have a massive headache.
Marilyn, a gray haired, bright-eyed lady in a red vest, comes in with therapy dog Taz while I’m in bed hooked up to the NST machine and stressing about Medicaid. It’s her third time here and she radiates an edgy compassion, looking deep into your eyes like an animal whisperer. It’s disconcerting but also comforting. Taz, the well groomed schnauzer also in a red vest, hops on the bed and pushes her little body against my legs. Marilyn and I talk about babies and patients and family and then we somehow get on the topic of addictions. When she quit smoking she put post-its on the refrigerator for every day she was able to refrain from a cigarette. Her husband, who smoked from when he was 11 to 77, used a medication to help but the best support was quitting together.
I also quit smoking when I got pregnant, I tell her. My motivation was the baby. But post-its, was that something maybe my husband could use for his alcoholism? It wasn’t going to be the answer but maybe it would be a peripheral aide?
Marilyn’s son had been an alcoholic. He lived in her house and had a tab at every bar in town until he was forty. That’s when her husband died and he just quit cold turkey. Did it have to be something life-changing and dramatic to help Charley quit? Probably. Is there anything I could do or say about it that would help? Honestly, no.
The NST nurse unhooks me from the machine and takes a Taz-sporting-a-gold-medal business card. Taz shows off her karate kick and they leave.
Mindi, a Medicaid social worker, comes in for a chat. “I’ll probably just stay in SLC as long as necessary, I’m not transporting a premature baby to an unknown, uninsured city 14 hours away,” I decide. Mindi agrees.
“If Dakota’s anything like you she’ll want to stay in after 40 weeks,” says mom. That would be funny after all this.
“If you lived here you’d probably be at home with regular hospital trips,” says Dr. Lukenaar.
“Don’t stress. Just keep that baby in your belly,” says Colleen the nurse leader.
“I would stay here and take it easy. I’ll find out more about the Ronald McDonald housing,” says Mindi the social worker.
“I’ve never been this busy. The animals are driving me crazy. Duke peed everywhere and is chewing on everything. Can you call the electric company?” says Charley.
“Be sure to drink lots of water. You pulled in a lot of energy. A LOT,” says the Reiki nurse Diana. She started at my head- hands slightly touching my forehead- and I struggled to control my breath. My eyebrows tingled and Dakota was kicking wildly to the tribal flute music on Diana’s miniature stereo. Then she places her hands on my stomach and I get sleepy and warm and Dakota stops kicking.
I felt like it was ten minutes but it was 30. I raise the bed and stare at the wall for a little while. I sigh. I drink LOTS of water. Dakota is being very still.
Reiki (pronounced “ray-key”) literally translates to “soul power.” It comes from to Japanese words- Rei and Ki. Rei is the Higher Intelligence guiding the creation of the universe, and a subtle wisdom that permeates material and nonmaterial things. Rei is infinite and all-knowing. Rei is God, or a higher power, whatever that means for you.
Ki (Chi in Chinese and Prana in Sanskrit) is non-physical energy that animates all life. Ki flows in plants, animals and humans. When a person’s Ki is high, they feel strong, confident, and ready take on challenges. When it’s low they feel tired, sick or depressed.
Reiki isn’t an immediate cure, and it isn’t a pharmaceutical drug with a list of side effects recited on NBC commercials between the news and Dr. Phil, but it is old (the modern practice was originated by Japanese Sensei Mikao Usui in the mid-1800s) and universally respected for its ability to help people let go of tension, anxiety, fear and negative feelings. It adjusts to the needs of the person, the baby, or even animals receiving the energy.
“Drink LOTS of water,” Diana said.
When the receiver’s vibration goes up, toxins leaving the body through the blood stream are filtered out by the liver and kidneys. If I don’t drink enough water I could have a “healing crisis,” where I feel fatigue, a headache or stomachache. Most of the time, a person will feel relaxed and uplifted by a treatment, but if I “pulled in A LOT of energy” I will need “LOTS of water.” My body is healing.
“If I want a beer at the end of the night I’ll have it and if you don’t like it you can find someone else,” says Charley. He apologizes half an hour later but still has forgotten two days ago and every other time he was miserable or angry and totally depressed and dejected from drinking. Alcoholic’s Amnesia- his AA of choice.
“Day in day out feeding, walking, shitting, cleaning up after animals working two jobs now yeah leave it up to Claudia to undermine that,” he says. In a world where people work three jobs, where nurses and doctors work 12-16 hour shifts, where graduate students stay up for a week, where people clean outhouses and toilets and underwear? A world with factory workers shaping buttons and screws, with sewer divers and marine snot collectors and crime scene cleaners and pet food tasters? Charley doesn’t have it so bad. Goddmanit Charley.
We argue over texts and then exhausted on either end we “stop it,” and I take my blood pressure medicine and go for a walk.
Charley calls. “I have to go to work but I just wanted to call and tell you I love you,” he says. I’m waddling back to my room. It’s 95 degrees outside and I feel like I ran a 10K.
“I love you too, Charley.” I love you so much.
Passing the glass-enclosed Well Babies station behind Postpartum, I see two nurses standing over a briskly wailing, red-skinned baby; to the right of him is another newborn napping, its stubby foot being doted over by a groggy-eyed dad.
In my room I curl up like a baby. I am like a baby in the womb. And my baby is a baby in a womb. And we’re all in our own wombs!
(I didn’t know yet that I’d have to move “wombs” the next day.)