Notes on a hospitalized pregnant woman Pt. 34

Nurses do everything by the book- or computer. Do you want Tylenol? OK then the computer says you can have one or two; do you want one or two? –I thought it said two to four? No, up to two, four times per day. -Oh. I’ll take two. Can I have my Valtrex? The computer says 10am for Valtrex. -Yes but I get meds six times a day and ten isn’t one of those times. Can we consolidate this?

The nurse today is Stephanie. She’s pretty good because she’s kind and gets me a warm cup of coffee every morning, but she’s very by the book and/or computer, which gets old, plus forgets to change the white board. Today is September 21st, Wednesday. Not Tuesday. And the nurse is Stephanie, not Jeanine. The CNA is from the University of Utah, and I’m 34.5 weeks pregnant. Come on, people, my whole world is in here.

When nurses act like they know everything (which they don’t) I want to tell them my mom was a nurse for 40 years, and a Captain in the Air Force. You have maroon scrubs? Well she had a military uniform with insignia and award badges and occupational and duty badges. But what does that have to do with me? I’m a pumpkin-sized bedbug lying in a hospital bed with compression socks and sweaty blankets complaining about a headache and dirty spoon on my meal tray.

Mom might be a retired Air Force Captain and nurse, but she also has been pregnant, of course, so I asked her to tell me more about her experience.

Did you get hemorrhoids? -Yes.

Did you get a lot of boogers in your nose? -I don’t remember.

We’re you tired all the time? -I worked 12-hour night shifts.

Well shit. Did you get stretch marks? -No I didn’t get any stretch marks.

WHAT? YOU DIDN’T GET ANY STRETCH MARKS? My body is covered in stretch marks. I have them on my stomach, the bottom of my boobs, a little beside my armpits and upper thighs. I READ THIS WAS GENETIC. WHOSE DNA GAVE ME STRETCH MARKS?

“Have you ever experienced true joy?” Marilyn asks. She’s here with Taz the therapy dog.

“I think so, but there’s different types of joy.”

“When you hold your baby for the first time…that’s joy.”

“Okay.”

“It’s actually- and I hate to say this- but it’s a chemical called oxytocin.”

“Oh yep I’ve heard of it.”

Taz is sitting up like she’s ready to go. Marilyn is worried that I look very tired today and hopes I don’t have a fever. She insists that I am tired.

“I’m not that tired.”

“You look tired.”

“Oh.”

But she insists that I’m going to be a wonderful mom because I’m very calm and patient.

“Oh I don’t know if that’s true.”

She says she loves me and I’m her favorite and she wants to meet my daughter. 

“Ahh, thank you.”

When she leaves, Tika, the Nepalese girl, comes in with her red gloves and trash bags. Tika asks how I’m doing and I say I’m tired but good. I tell her how I had heartburn all night and couldn’t sleep.

“You know if you have heartburn your baby has a lot of hair.” She rubs the top of her head. “I mean long hair here. It’s very pretty.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes a lot of heartburn, a lot of hair.”

It probably didn’t help that I was eating a donut. Maybe eating donuts would give Dakota long, pretty hair. 

This donut is amazing. It has glaze on the outside and gooey berries on the inside. I’ve transformed into this amorphous blob marinating on a hospital bed stuffing my face with sweets. This must be the preeclampsia cure and healing method my doctors intended when they helicoptered me to Utah: supreme gluttony and repose. I pick at my food like Marie Antoinette at a royal banquette.

Next up is Reiki. Diana sees my drawings and books, and asks if I’m Wiccan and suggests a book series. She’s very animated. In fact, everyone is very animated today. I don’t know if I’m resonating some maharishi energy or look extra pathetic in need of comfort, but next is my nurse and then the cafeteria lady and they all come in with questions and musings and anecdotes.

Diana’s iPod is dead and I put on a playlist of “yoga” music. The first song is flutes and nature sounds. It’s beautiful and I’m relaxed but I also notice I’m trying to control my breath. I’m self-conscious of the fact that my nose is stuffed up and I’m breathing quickly through my mouth. Dakota is completely still. Diana’s cold fingers press on my head and I almost fall asleep. 

What feels like 15 minutes is almost an hour. I picture Charley back in Taos feeding our three dogs. I picture water and a forest and the autumn golds and reds sprinkled on Mount Olympus.

“What did you feel from me?” I ask.

“Your energy was very calm, but powerful. It was very peaceful but strong.” I just feel tired. After eating a tuna sandwich I fall asleep and wake an hour later in a puddle of sweat. 

It’s true I didn’t feel my usual anxiety. I haven’t been as anxious (or active) lately. Lately I’ve been less reactive and depressed. Maybe it’s the lack of excitement? Maybe it’s the consistency and stability of this place? Growing up with a mom as a nurse, I was used to Sprite and Popsicles to calm my mood. The slightest ailment guaranteed medical attention, even if it was just a saltine cracker. It feels good to be in a similar setting again.

“You’re a lucky baby,” I say, patting my belly. I got a little sick and you in turn get to be waited on hand and foot. Think about all those mothers working hard until the very end, like Cami. And here I’m getting Reiki and eating sweets in bed and watching movies. You are obviously going to be a little princess. You will be Her Royal Highness Princess Dakota of … Taos. I guess. Princess Dakota Raine of Jackson? Princess Dakota of the Rockies? Anyway, you are a princess, and you have already made sure to be treated accordingly.

I get on Facebook and comment on a neoliberal rant about Hillary and a headline that’s supposed to share NASA’s opinion that regardless of math “astrology isn’t science” but the headline says “astronomy isn’t science” and it’s all one hilariously irritating and deliciously ironic mess.

Who cares. What do the royals do when they’re pregnant? That’s what I want to know. 

I find an article on Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton but it’s mostly about her clothes and her doting husband. Next.

Chris Brown named his daughter Royalty. That’s almost as unfortunate as Michael Phelps naming his son Boomer. Next.

Okay another article on Kate Middleton. The duchess relaxed the last month of pregnancy, with no social engagements. She nested (I bought clothes and a carseat off Amazon), she swam (I take long showers), and then the rest of the article is rubbish about pregnancy glows (mostly a myth) and fashion (it’s too expensive to be fashionable, Kate). 

Pregnancy isn’t covered much in royal history books. Often a royal pregnant mama would hide away in a tower and be doted upon for several months. I suspect reports on their conditions were kept to the bare minimum while their husbands hunted and frolicked about with their favorite friends and mistresses. 

Mary I, (aka. Mary Tudor, who lived from 1516 – 1558), kept busy during her “pregnancy” by burning Protestant heretics at the stake. After months hiding away to stay relaxed and fit for a delivery, the pregnancy ended up being a phantom. It was caused either from an ovarian tumor, cyst or mental instability. She was likely peri-menopausal, at age 38, and paranoid of her much younger Spanish husband’s philandering.

Her father, King Henry VIII, may have been the main reason most of his children didn’t survive labor or childhood. Henry’s health problems- skin ulcers, boils, mental disturbances, probably type 2 diabetes and syphilis- had an affect on his wives’ abilities to secure an heir in a time of minimal prenatal care. Even for the early 16th century, the number of stillbirths, miscarriages, and infant deaths from Catherine and Henry’s union was extremely high. A postmortem performed on Catherine revealed an abnormality of the heart described as “black and hideous with a black excrescence which clung closely to the outside.” It’s possible that this heart irregularity was a saccular syphilitic aneurysm low in the aorta. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), today 40% of births to syphilitic mothers are stillborn, and 40-70% of the survivors will be infected. Now, compare these figures to Catherine (Mary Tudor’s mother) time: 50% of babies were stillborn, 33% died as infants, and 17% (like Mary) survived. But then, of course Mary, with congenital syphilis, ended up having her own troubles. 

That’s enough about syphilis. I’m starting to get paranoid about everything else. I google, “sperm quality baby” and find a Yahoo message board: “Does poor sperm quality affect a baby’s future health?”

“Recent studies have shown that poor sperm quality such as in the case of a man who drinks, smokes or uses drugs (even Rx) excessively increase the chances of a child having future issues such as ADD, ADHD as well as Heart and Thyroid issues, so yes sperm quality does effect the health of the unborn. Studies also show paternal age, the older a father is also affects the health of a child.”

Great. Charley is only 27, but he also is a heavy drinker and mild smoker. He used to drugs and, let’s be honest, I wasn’t exactly the poster child for Women’s Health Magazine up to my pregnancy. In fact, I’m pretty certain Dakota was conceived in Vegas after a night of steak, wine, beer, fireball, cigarillos, cigarettes and gambling. I just hope that my subsequent sobriety, meditation and quality healthcare has helped shape this little fetus into something with a lot of grit and resilience, like her ancestors. I may not be British royalty, but I believe there is a castle somewhere in Ireland with my blood in it. At least that’s what my uncle, obsessed with Ancestry.com, says. Maybe Dakota will be one of the X-Men.

Ahh, to be royal. Most royal births aren’t that different today from ordinary human births. They’re usually in a hospital, with an epidural and a doctor. Possibly a midwife. They’re generally handled by the most excellent medical staff in London or whichever city the royal mom-to-be is located near, but they are usually quite normal. 

For hundreds of years, however, royal women had to give birth in front of a crowd of spectators. This was especially popular in France in order to prove that child was indeed royal. Marie Antoinette was nearly crushed to death by a flood of people pouring into her bedchamber when the doctor shouted the baby was coming.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that births started to take place at hospitals. Before that, they were performed at homes or palatial estates. In the 1940’s, one in three UK women gave birth at home. In 1970, Lord Nicholas Windsor, son of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, was the first royal baby born in a hospital, at the University College London. Today, less than 3 percent of British mom’s give birth at home, and they don’t include the royals. In the U.S., only 1% of babies are born outside of the hospital.

Painkillers have been used for centuries in childbirth. In the 1500’s women were occasionally burned at the stake for seeking pain relief during labor, but the practice of allowing anesthetics has become more common since the 19th century. 

In 1853, during the birth of her 8th child, Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria asked her physician, Dr. John Snow, for a “bit of the good stuff”. The good stuff was chloroform. After that, doctors started throwing all sorts of anesthetics at delivering moms: chloroform, nitrous oxide, quinine, cocaine, opium. And then there was the “twilight sleep” I described before, a wildly questionable blend of isolation, restraints, forceps, morphine and scopolamine cocktails for those who could afford it. In November 1948, Charles Philip Arthur George (aka. Prince Charles) was born. Queen Elizabeth was at home for the birth but under the “twilight sleep” amnesia. 

Breastfeeding is a relatively new practice for Royal mamas. Before Queen Elizabeth II was born, they usually turned their nose up at the “hands-on” approach to parenting, finding it inconvenient, distasteful and harmful. Instead babies were often handed over to a wet nurse from an upper class family, of “good character” and “healthy appearance”. Wet nurses were given herbs and bland foods in place of spices and alcohol to calm their temperaments, which were suspected to influence the baby through the breastmilk.

Historically, labor was a dangerous, unpredictable and painful mess. No wonder people waited with baited breath to find out the outcome of every royal child. And some women were relatively more curse than others, in pregnancy as well as labor. Queen Anne (1665 – 1714) was pregnant 17 times, with not one child surviving to adulthood. There were several miscarriages, six still-born infants, two babies dead within hours of birth, two daughters who died as toddlers, and a son who survived to only 11. It turns out, childbirthing was often a depressing affair for the royals and non-royals alike. No wonder everyone started courting and marrying at 14, they were old grandmothers at 33 (my age).

Today, infant mortality rates differ a great deal from just 50 years ago, and fans of royal families are holding their breath less often during labors, waiting to find out if a baby will survive to be an heir to the throne. Kate Middleton has already easily produced an heir and a spare, and she looked pretty glamorous throughout the entire process.

On an unrelated but connected note: why does everyone in the royal family have big teeth?

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