Coco Chanel once said, “Fashion changes, but style endures.”
While I know the names Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, I couldn’t tell you if they are alive now or companies run by new designers or anything. I just don’t know these things. And the closest I own to a designer name in my closet is a pair of Frye boots. That probably means nothing. I don’t think that’s designer? They’re expensive. I don’t even care.
But I do have style– somewhere between lumberjack, Blade Runner, Parisian chic, equestrian and flowers. What is that? you ask. What the hell is that? To be honest, I don’t really know!
But it works. And right now I’m flailing uncharacteristically in the style department. I don’t have a lot of clothes in my hospital drawers, I’m a lot rounder than normal, and I’m always too exhausted to “put my face on” as my Nana would say, so I’ve temporarily replaced my “unique style” with white, knee-high compression socks, aqua blue slippers, ridiculous combinations of large clothing, maxi dresses, and bright, home-cut red hair. I’m essentially a nightmare to look at and I don’t really give a shit.
Today is another hot, unbearably sunny day. I walk past a young woman with a tight beige shirt and frosty highlights looking at me as if to say “lol at least I’m not pregnant” and I’m thinking back at her with a Clint Eastwood stare, “lol at least I don’t smell like rotting gardenias” and so we’re even. I could do this all day- the psychic energy exchange. But I have to focus on walking, because one misstep and I’m a bulging Botero sculpture shattering into sawdust on the floor.
On my way back into the hospital from my walk a woman looks at my belly and chirps, “good luck.” Good luck with what? She’s wearing blue scrubs. The whole hospital is in blue or teal or maroon scrubs. No flower patterns or polka dots. They’re very androgynous and boring compared to my mom’s era.
When my mom was in nursing school (in the 1960’s) the students wore white oxfords, white pantyhose, white button-down dresses, white hats shaped like boats or berets, and maybe a pinafore. Later in the Air Force, they still wore white shoes, white dresses with sleeve cuffs and aprons, and pretty smiles meant to comfort and ease.
During WWII nurses wore dark olive-drab elastic wool jackets, blue cotton crepe or dresses with long-cuffed sleeves, berets and first aid kits on their belts. Some women even wore pants with pockets or black rubber gas masks. During WWI they wore capes, belted skirts, dresses with winged collars and boleros. Red Cross nurses had the insignia with the serpent on their caps. Nurses in the 1800s had crisscross aprons, checkered dresses with collars, and puffed sleeves. Nurses in the 16th Century wore ankle-length dresses, aprons and head coverings. Nurses during the 13th Century were often nuns and wore their nun garb. And this hardly scratches the surface of nurse fashion.
Nursing uniforms are an evolution of style that has been unique, repetitive, pretty and blasé, but always inspired. And who is designing all of this hospital clothing? Certainly not Versace or Prada. Maybe Chanel?
Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel moved into a French convent orphanage when she was 12, and that’s where she first learned to sew. While she was known primarily for her baby pink perfume and for modifying womenswear into something androgynously chic and wearable for even Katharine Hepburn, she also redesigned WWI nurses’ uniforms to make them more elegant, citing it as her “war contribution”.
Today nurses have more choices- depending on their hospital or clinic. Everyone is wearing pants now. Some have pink hair and flowery shoes. There are options but they are still disappointingly limited and, like I said, rather boring.
Back in my room I’m visited by three nurse leaders in the span of an hour. They each ask the same question: “how are you doing?”
I’m living in a hospital, how do you think I’m doing? “I’m fine.”
“Did you do anything exciting this weekend?”
Honestly, are you mocking me? “Not really.”
One of the nurse leaders brings me four pairs of blue scrubs in various sizes. They look like jail uniforms. What the fuck.
“I thought you might need some more clothes. I didn’t know what would fit,” she beams, proud of her own thoughtfulness.
“Oh wow! Thank you!” The nurse leader is practically flying away with her invisible balloons of joy.
Charley sends me a picture of our dog Duke. Our puppy has grown three times larger, he tells me. He’s been taking the dogs to the canyon and waterfalls and hot springs around Taos. Now they’re more familiar with the place than I am.
“I Love you sweetheart I Miss you so much..” he texts. “I Wanna grow old with you Cloudy. I wanna get an Rv and travel with you in our old age.”
He hasn’t sent flowers and I’m pretty sure he never will but this is the next best thing. I hope I can shrink and re-style myself as soon as Dakota pops out. I’m ready to camp and explore. My summer sort of ran away from me.
Winter is coming. It makes me shiver to think about it.
I’m always in my head. How is someone like me supposed to go into labor?
I feel my contractions and my belly feels like an alien. Sometimes when the little girl kicks I feel like she’s my soul sister and I already want to do everything for her. I guess that’s what it is to be a mom.
Gabby the CNA (certified nurse’s assistant) comes in to check my vitals at 11pm. Oh no, is this going to be another night where I’m woken up six times so that the nurse and the CNA can pay me separate visits? I don’t think so.
“Jeanine’s going to be in at midnight for medicine and vitals, do you really have to do that right now?”
“Jeanine’s not going to do them, I’m going to do them,” says Gabby with the half bleached hair and valley girl face.
“No she prefers to do them herself.”
“I’ll have to ask.”
“Thanks. I need some alone time.” I give her the Clint Eastwood stare. She shuffles away. I win. I never see her again.
The next morning Dr. Lukenaar predicts 37 weeks to be my ultimate end goal. If I can make it to 37 weeks she’ll induce me. She leaves a pile of DVDs including the first season of “The Knick”, which is a brilliant show about Knickerbocker hospital, set in early 1900’s New York. Then when she leaves.
I am sweating from anxiety: is 37 weeks enough? Is that not like kicking someone out of a ship before they get to shore? I mean, maybe I won’t even make it that far but if I’m still healthy…will Charley be there? What after that?
I’m the worst when it comes to worrying about things I don’t know about. When I worry about money and student loans it’s the same process: my mind meanders with hazy conclusions and conspiracies void of details. It’s like sewing a dress out of invisible fabric. Seeing as I’m not an Emperor seeking new clothes, I’m not interested in mentally indulging groundless conspiracies. After an episode of googling, I remind myself that I have a really very good doctor and I need to chill.
And look where I am: 33 weeks and 4 days. My baby is past the emergency zone. My baby is growing at a southern baby rate. Like myself (I came out a short, fat Texan, on schedule at 9 pounds, 3 ounces) Dakota is a little under five pounds (at least a half pound larger than her estimated due date weight). She’s building up her immune system, skeletal system and lungs. She’s probably the most intricate thing I have ever or will ever create. Then again-
“I want to get you pregnant.”
“Charley, you’re not going to believe this, but I am pregnant.”
“I’m going to knock you up when you get back.”
“Like hell you are. I need at least a year to recover. I’m not doing this hospital vacation again.” And by this hospital vacation I mean lounging in a hospital getting rounder and fuzzy-headed and sleepy. Next time I do this I want to be how Blake Lively looks in her Lindsey Thornburg floral maternity dress in Harper’s Bazaar.
Cami comes in with the noon Labetalol. Cami’s 31 1/2 weeks pregnant.
“You make me feel lazy, Cami.”
“Oh noooooo, don’t feel that way. You’re supposed to rest. This is good for you.”
“You just heated up my slippers….”
She laughs. I mean it sounds ridiculous. Cami is working her ass off 12 hours at a time, refilling my ice water and heating up my aromatherapy slippers. Meanwhile I’m watching “The Knick” and eating a donut. I’m not saying I want to start running around until all my symptoms are back and my feet swell up like cantaloupe, but I can’t help but feel a little lazy.
“I can’t help but feel a little lazy. You are amazing.”
Cami smiles uncomfortably. She’s just a normal healthy woman with a baby in her belly.
“I just want a natural birth.”
“You know my friend Jamie had PIH during her first pregnancy, and was on bed rest. She had a C-section but was still able to have natural births with her next three pregnancies.”
“Really? I didn’t think you could do that.”
“A lot of doctors refuse but her doctor did it. It’s called a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and she didn’t have any high blood pressures or complications so it worked out for her.” Cami puts my heated slippers on my feet and leaves.
Stephanie enters. Stephanie is the massage therapist for the whole hospital. She still has a cold and is wearing a mask with a smiley face.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Dr. Lukenaar knows what she’s doing. I would trust my life in her hands,” Stephanie says.
She has just returned from California for her mother’s wedding. Her mom found out three weeks before the wedding that she has lymphomic cancer. Her 30-year old “punk doc” came in to her room at the ER and said: “I’m sorry. You have cancer. This is the end.” And then he walked out.
Her mom was mortified. This is the end? The end of what? The end of the line? My life? My hair?
No, at least my doctor wasn’t a 30-year old punk. She was a mom, a liberal, a redhead, a transgender surgery expert, a Hollander and an obstetrics something something. She was very smart and cool, and she had style. I would google “good early October birthdays” and prepare myself for the inevitable miracle materializing on my mental calendar.