Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Darkest Hours of Parenting and Really Good Cake

When we arrived at Johns Hopkins Pediatric Emergency Room, we did not have to wait. Once The Boy was able to hold her, Emerie calmed down a bit, breathing in the reverse sighs that follow hard crying.

They gave us a giant bed to sit next to. I still hadn't held her. I think I wondered if they would let me. I wasn't sure I wanted to. Several doctors looked her over and took her vitals, then conferred, deciding what to do next. The kind female attending told me I could finally nurse the baby. Typically modest, I did not care who was around as I pulled Emerie to me. I would not even consider covering her face.

"Some of your extended family is here," our male nurse said, pulling the curtain and averting his eyes. They let my mom back and she hugged me tightly, her eyes full of tears. My mother, father, all three of my siblings and my new sister-in-law waited outside. We were so supported-- so loved.

While I nursed Emerie I gently rubbed her head, out of habit, and noticed the swelling. I pointed out the growing bluish bump on her head. They had not planned to do a CT scan, cognizant of the radiation, but with this new swelling in mind, the doctors changed course. She cried when we held her still under the giant orb, so I sang my made up words to Eidelweiss: "Emerie, Emerie, every morning you greet me. Early light, sometimes night; you seem happy to meet me." She stared at me and stayed still for the test.

New friends of ours from church called, responding to my earlier, SOS text. "I think we're okay," I told Stephanie, "she is acting mostly like herself and it doesn't seem like they are going to do much."

"I think we'd still like to come," she said. She and her husband both work at the hospital and live nearby. Soon she and her husband appeared beside us with a paper bag full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was after 10 (on her husband's birthday), but there they stood with us while we learned the results of the CT Scan: a skull fracture, right parietal, and a small bleed. They decided to admit Emerie to neurosurgery for observation for the night.

Our new friend-- also a doctor-- came with me to relay the news to my parents, who arranged for Mirabella to spend the night at my brother and sister-in-law's, who would take her to day care in the morning. Another contingent brought our car to one of the hospital garages and brought The Boy's sister, who had been working hard to clean everything up at home so we wouldn't return to it, whenever we returned.

Our friends stoody by while the nurses and techs tried, for nearly an hour, to find a tiny vein for an IV and to collect blood. It took seven attempts. She screamed while I held her bruised arms down; I put my head down while I cried.

We spent the night on a ward with children far sicker than ours, with rare chromosomal abnormalities, or in traction, or worse. It kept things in perspective. It was so clinical. Emerie was hooked to several machines and an IV, and I was not allowed to feed her in case something changed and surgery would be needed.

I wasn't sure how Emerie would receive me, after all this. It sounds silly to me now, but I think I wondered if she would trust me-- whether she would forgive me. But that night, and even now, no one else could console her. I nearly fell asleep standing up, nervous that if I sat I would sleep and she would slip from my arms. A sweet nurse offered to take her so I could get a couple hours of sleep.

In the morning, a neurosurgical team determined she would be fine. "It will be, to her, as if it never happened," the neurosurgeon said. A nurse told me, "It will take 3-4 weeks for her to heal, and probably far longer for you."

She was right. The social worker they sent to talk to me said, "I have talked with the doctors and reviewed your case and the only question I have for you is if you are okay." She told me parents-- mothers in particular-- have a tendency to replay the event."

"YES," I said, teary-eyed. "I worry....that I won't ever stop seeing it. It was horrific-- the worst thing I...ever saw," I said, struggling to get the words out.

We brought Emerie home and took a nap-- all three of us. Our neighbor brought over authentic Irish brown bread and potato soup, which we ate for dinner once Mirabella came home from day care. After a trip back to the ER later that night to investigate additional swelling (it was nothing to worry about), we picked Mirabella up from our friends' house. We loaded her into the car-- in her PJs and bare feet, with sleepy eyes.

We got home and savored giant slices of Emerie's birthday cake with lumps in our throats and renewed gratitude for the blessings we've been given. We carried a large slice to our neighbors, wanting to share the celebration.

I held Emerie while I watched The Boy eating cake sitting across from Mirabella, who was overwhelmed by her good fortune. "I love you so much," he told her.

"Why your say that, Daddy? You telled me that al-ready!" She replied.

We have been overwhelmed. By God's protection of our sweet baby, His provision of new friends who acted like family without a second of hesitation, and of family who couldn't have imagined not being there. Friends and strangers prayed, and we really did feel it.

In the end, Emerie is just fine. At her neurosurgical follow-up this week, she got a clean bill of health. I can now tell the story without crying. And the rest of life, as a result, has gotten better.

But that will have to be a story for another day.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sinking Boat Meets Fateful Day

That Sunday morning our pastor talked about becoming fishers of men and how the disciples had had to drop their nets immediately if they wanted to follow Jesus. They had to be prepared to leave their livelihood behind. It hit me then that maybe by not drawing any lines, I was making a choice.

It's not fair. I have often complained to The Boy that I do not have the luxury of working late. I have never managed to communicate this to him clearly, but here's what I mean. If his day goes late, it goes late. He has to stay and does. If mine goes late, I either have to draw attention to myself because I cannot stay, or I have to make Herculean efforts in order to line up the rest of my life so that I may stay. Preferably in advance. This is just how our life is ordered.

Up until now, I have not turned down opportunities for more responsibility or to work a little extra on occasion. Part of why is because I know that when women leave the workforce, even only in part, they don't get to pick back up where they left off. I feared that if I took a step back from the role that I worked hard to create and sell that I would never have that chance again. I was hung up on this for a while. But I started to feel that morning like maybe it was time to drop that net. There are more important things.

That said, when I got phone calls and e-mails to help out early that afternoon, I still did, with the caveat that I would be offline for the rest of the day. I knew they were not pleased.

The Boy and I had argued during the week about whether to invite over our lovely Irish neighbors we are starting to befriend. I knew I may yet have work to do, despite my vow, and I was exhausted. But we had been trying to get together for months and they could finally make it, so we planned a small cookout. The Boy grilled the pork chops and potato packets I had made in advance, and I baked Emerie half a birthday cake because it was her half birthday.

We sat outside watching Mirabella splash around in her inflatable pool. At just about 7, in a dress soaked from Mirabella's little shivering, bikini-clad body, after I had set all the food out on the table, I heard Emerie cry. Still in flip-flops from being on the patio, I ran up two flights of stairs to retrieve her from her crib. I snuggled her to my chest and headed back down the stairs when my feet slipped from under me and I fell flat on my lower back. I felt the air rush out of me, and I did not drop Emerie; she flew. Out of my arms and into the air, down onto the landing on her head, where she bounced, then began to roll down the second flight of stairs. I think I screamed. I remember saying "Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod," and screeching at The Boy to catch her. He ran and caught her after a few steps and I found myself in the kitchen clinging to the counter asking my sister-in-law to call 911.

"How many steps did she fall?" Amy asked relayed, phone in hand, and I was immediately irritated. I'm not sure I answered.

Our new friend was a doctor-- this much we knew-- but we did not know until days later that he is a neurologist. He, being a new friend and a very polite Irishman, asked permission to go upstairs to check on the baby.

"OF COURSE," I probably yelled.

All the while I stood, hunched over the counter, heaving. No tears, no breath, no words. I slid to the floor in a pile, hyperventilating. The doctor's wife came to me and I pointed at my elder daughter. She must be scared, I must have thought, and I can't talk to her.

They brought the baby down and she was crying, but it sounded faint. I couldn't look at her. I just couldn't. I felt certain that this was the moment we would always look back on as the turning point-- the event that would define the rest of our daughter's life. I was terrified she would never be the same. I could never imagine forgiving myself. I could not stop seeing the horrific replay of her flying-- terrified-- from her mother's arms. "Mommies protect their babies," I always tell Mirabella. And I didn't. It felt like all I could do was watch.

A police officer arrived and asked me what happened. "How many stairs?" he had asked. Really? He asked to hold the baby. I was crying too hard to object when The Boy handed her over. "Well, she looks pretty good," he said. What do you know? You're just a Baltimore City cop, I thought.

I stood at the front door in my soaked dress, waiting for the ambulance. Our neighbor asked, in her lovely Irish brogue, "Amy, does she have another dress? Or a cardigan?" I stumbled up the stairs and threw on jeans and a tank top. I remember thinking, "Good, I have a clean cardigan," like it was important. The EMTs arrived and strapped our infant daughter-- screaming, at this point-- to a giant backboard. They asked how many stairs. Again. I tried to explain, then brought one of them into the house to show him.

We rode just a mile or so to the best hospital in the country, where, exactly six months prior, Emerie had made her stubborn arrival. The Boy held her tiny hand the whole way while I wept and texted my family to pray for our sweet girl. I was impotent. I couldn't even pray.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Falling Slowly

I don't ever remember making a choice, work over family. I'm not sure I ever did. Since I returned to work in April, the quotidian has been worse than tedious; it has been hard. Really hard. And though I wasn't crying about it most weekends anymore, as I had in the beginning, it has taken a serious toll.

"I just need to know," I would say. "If I'm supposed to just keep working, head down, I can do that. It's only through September. It will be a terrible couple months, but I can do it."

I don't think I ever knew what I would want. I remember, before kids, sitting at a baseball game with a friend whose husband is a lawyer speculating whether I'd be cut out for stay-at-home-motherhood.

"We're just lucky we get the choice," she said quietly. She has an advanced degree and, at least for now, stays home with her twin nearly two-year-olds full time. I am not sure why I thought I'd have the choice.

So far, it's been a non issue. I am blessed to have much higher earning potential than I would have guessed back then, and we need my income. It's expensive to live where we do, and we are effectively stuck with the real estate choices we made five years ago. And it's not that I'm complaining, more just explaining what brought us here.

But it would be disingenuous to pretend I hate working because I don't. Particularly over the last year, I have enjoyed the growth, the increased responsibility and recognition and the path that appeared to be opening for me. People who mattered stuck their necks out for me. I stuck my neck out for me. And I netted a job that I care about and that people count on, and that means being constantly tethered and sometimes working more than full time. So after reluctantly taking another leadership role this summer, I wrestled with knowing if and when to draw the line. I didn't feel any sort of peace about saying no. I needed something more to go on than general malaise. I mentioned this often to friends, The Boy, and family.

The week before it happened was the worst. My new sister-in-law picked up the kids so I could stay at work a couple extra hours. By the time I got them they were fed, so I spent 3o minutes with them in the car and put them to bed when we got home. Then I worked on my laptop, pumped late into the evening (I am, miraculously, still breastfeeding), and went to bed after The Boy was asleep. I was exhausted; I had nothing left. We fought. There was just no give.

Which brings us to August 1st, and the fall that changed everything.
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