Nearly 6 Weeks: Out of the Fog

May 6, 2011

Dear Hazel,

As it turns out, parenting a newborn leaves remarkably little time for blogging.  But I wanted to take a few minutes to give future you, and everyone else, an update.  You are such a strong baby!  After your surgery, you healed at an unprecedented rate!

For the first week, you couldn’t eat, so you were hooked up to an IV. You also had a chest tube, and in the days right after surgery, were intubated.  This meant that we could not hold you until you were about a week old.  We spent 6-8 hours a day at your bedside.  I read you “Little Bear” and “Island of the Blue Dolphins.”   I sang you lullabies and made up songs for you. I put my hand on your head as you slept, and admittedly, cried every day.  Anselm spent even more time with you — fitting in extra visits while I napped and staying with you when I had to pump. I don’t think Anselm slept at all — he was taking care of both of us!

11 days after your birth, we took you home from the hospital.  The doctors and NICU social worker were amazed.  TEF occurs in one in 4000 newborns, and their only other case this year stayed in intensive care for months.  You really fought for us Hazel.  You learned how to bottle feed within a day, gained weight and were crying and cooing within days of having your tubes removed.  By the time you were released, you were the biggest, strongest baby in the unit, and we were keenly aware how many of the other parents faced open-ended stays.

We followed up with the surgeon, the amazing Dr. Shin, two weeks ago.  You will have your second surgery the last weekend in June at Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.  This operation is far less invasive.  You should only stay two nights and we will be with you the entire time (save the surgery).  Anselm and I can’t help but feel anxious about admitting you back into the hospital, but we’re optimistic that whatever comes up, the three of us can get through it.

As I type, you are strapped to me in Moby wrap, your face pressed against my heart.  We’re getting used to one another and negotiating this new relationship.  I’m feeling more confident spending time alone for you.  In fact, as we were walking around the neighborhood today, I felt again like we’re a team.  Anselm has done a fantastic job caring for you. He will strap you to him and work from home when I have a yoga client or class and he takes care of the majority of your night feedings so I can sleep.  We are a happy triad, especially now that you are sleeping for four hour stretches!

I feel so blessed to celebrate my first Mother’s Day this weekend.

Love,

Mom

PS You already met three of your four grandparents!  Uh-oh — you just woke up, so I’d better post this now!

Birth Day Update

Hazel in the NICU.

March 30, 2011

Hazel Vivian McClain was born at 3:05 this morning. She is a beautiful baby, weighing in at  6 pounds, 10 ounces, with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes.  We are in love.

Now for the less fun news. Hazel was born with TEF, a tracheoesophageal fistula.  This a fairly serious, but not uncommon, condition in infants.  In Hazel’s case, she has TEF, as well as a related abnormality in her digestive tract.  Tonight, only 14 hours after being born, she had her first surgery to reconnect her esophagus with her stomach.  She tolerated the anesthesia well and is now recovering.  If all goes well, and there are no complications, we will be able to feed her breast milk in about 5 days and take her home within two weeks. She will have another surgery when she is 2-3 months old.

As you can imagine, this is very difficult for Anselm and I.  After the hard work of labor and delivery, it was gut-wrenching to have our daughter taken from our arms after 10 short minutes.   It will be even sadder to return home tomorrow with an empty car seat in the back of our Volkswagen.   Hazel is a strong, beautiful baby and we believe that she will come through this without any longterm damage (save a battle scar).  The team here at Huntington Memorial is excellent, and we were lucky enough to get assigned one of the best pediatric surgeons in Los Angeles.

So, friends, family members and casual readers, if you have the chance, please keep Hazel in your thoughts. Light a candle, dedicate your yoga practice or say a prayer for our baby.  We will probably be a bit reclusive for the next few weeks as we integrate this experience and spend many of our waking hours in the hospital with our child.  Thank you for all the love and support you’ve provided throughout the pregnancy and any positive energy you can send our way as we battle our first great challenge as parents.

Love,

Joan and Anselm

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Your aura.

March 21, 2011

My Dear Hazel,

I suspect this will be my final letter before I meet you. I went to the doctor this afternoon and it looks like you are on your way. I’m 2cm dilated and 70% effaced and the doctor thinks you will be here within days. I don’t want to count my chickens, but I also am fairly certain you’ll be appearing soon. Anselm and I took a long walk this evening through Elysian Park. After two days of rain, the air was crisp and clear, sunny with a delightful chill. I’m a little uncomfortable, but calmly getting everything together, enjoying this first day of Spring.

You will be entering the world at a strange moment. In the past week, Japan suffered a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, there is a threat of a nuclear meltdown in Japan and the US is engaged in a military conflict in Libya. There will always be uncertainty and suffering in the world, and as scary as it is to contemplate all that can go wrong, the fact that babies keep being born fills me with hope.

As our time ends as “one” I want to thank you. You have given me such a gift these past nine months. My heart has opened, my soul has softened and I feel more alive than ever.  We have been a harmonious team from inside out. Despite my impatience and discomfort, I am a little sad that we’ll be separate from now on. But it’s time for you to start your journey.

Last week my friend Claire came over and took photos of us in the back garden. She caught a blue aura surrounding you in one shot — you are already so vibrant and present and I know that you have an equally vibrant life ahead of you.

I can’t wait to see you. It is impossible to explain to you how completely I love you, but one day, when you have spent nearly a year growing your own child, you’ll find out.

Love,

Mom

PS I promise to stay in touch …

Week 35-37: Ready or Not

Big cheeks coming our way ...

March 10, 2011

Dear Hazel,

I just took a walk up to the coffee shop.  On my way back, the ten-minute walk took approximately 20 minutes.  My entire belly is pulsing and cramping, so my usual quick stride was reduced to a labored waddle.  As a first time mom, it’s frustrating to not know what labor will feel like.  No matter how many books I read or classes I take, I just don’t know what contractions will feel like for me. Are these Braxton-Hicks?  A reaction to today’s chiropractic adjustment?  The result of walking up a fairly steep hill?

You had your final ultrasound yesterday.  You are six pounds, head down and have very chubby cheeks.  Anselm and I can’t wait to meet you, but we have non-refundable hotel reservations in Santa Barbara this weekend, so if you could wait at least till next week, that would be great.

But, just in case, you are really getting ready to appear, I’m going to go re-pack my hospital bag and straighten up the house.

Love,

Mom

Week 34: The Incubator and the Incubated

Incubate, then hatch.

February 25, 2011

Dear Hazel,

This week’s letter may be a bit brief.  I have had next to no energy the past few days.  I can sleep for 14 hours straight and do little else except go to my doctor’s appointments and eat.  On a good day, I can work a couple hours, finishing up my remaining projects. I still feel pretty good physically, better than I ever thought I would this far along.  The most uncomfortable I’ve been was last weekend.  We were at a restaurant with my grandparents and I had Braxton-Hicks contractions as soon as we sat down.  Anselm discreetly ran out and got some Tylenol, which, along with a ton of water, made me feel better.

As for you, you seem annoyed that you are running out of space.  You have grown too big for your acrobatics. Luckily, you are already in the head down position, waiting for your big exit.  Are you scared?  I am.  A little.  Anselm and I have gone from being impatient to anxious about all the unknowns that will arrive with you.  As the OB said this morning, you are “baked.” My friend just delivered her baby boy two weeks early.  If you want to make an early exit, I will completely support your decision! Until then, my job is to keep you warm – I am a human incubator.

Your twice-weekly stress tests have gone well so far. I, who once dreaded doctor’s appointments, have now made my peace with them.  I bring a magazine and don’t schedule anything else within two hours of my appointment.  The once surly office staff is very nice, even compassionate. (Okay, maybe I was the surly one.) No matter what time of day I go in, you always seem to be sleeping.  When you’re not moving around enough I drink half a gallon of cold water to wake you.  Is that annoying? It’s soothing to hear your heartbeat amplified for 20 minutes at a time — to feel you move and hear your movements simultaneously.  You are so close . . . I have already packed my labor bag and nervously wait for you to hatch.

Love,

Mom

Week 33: Revisions

Home is where the sunshine is.

February 15-18, 2011

Dear Hazel,

Every week I feel like my perspective drastically change and I decided it was time to revise some opinions expressed in prior entries.

In a few of these letters I mentioned wanting to leave Los Angeles, citing my dissatisfactions with its culture and environment.  Seeing as we have recently decided to live here another year, I thought I should outline what I like about the City of Angels.  After a few trips back east this autumn and winter, Anselm and I are increasingly grateful for Southern California’s idyllic November-June weather.  The cost of living is high, but we can still afford a much nicer, larger and more private home than we could in NY.  I complain that LA is shallow and that it’s difficult to make friends, but the longer I stay here, the more I find ways to connect with people and become more invested in the community.  Oddly, the more open I am to friendship, the easier it is to make friends! Besides, we finally filled the house with comfortable furniture, so we may as well enjoy it for a while and not worry about changing location in your infancy!

I have been critical, or at least wary of, prenatal care. In my first trimester blood panel, my PAPP-A levels were on the “low side of normal,” as the perinatalogist  put it.  Neither he nor my OB seemed terribly concerned, so we didn’t even bother to look up the condition.   Because of that test, I recently started fetal stress monitoring.  I go into my OB’s twice weekly and sit with two monitors strapped to my belly and then the doctor performs an ultrasound to check amniotic fluid levels.  I had my first monitoring yesterday and you received a perfect score, which is good for three days.  When I finally got around to Googling PAPP-A levels I was shocked by what I found.  Low PAPP-A levels have a correlation with miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term labor and low birth weight.  Of the accounts I read online, it seems that the 20-week mark is the most vulnerable for developing fetuses.  I previously wrote that I found prenatal care excessive and profit-seeking.  Anselm and I resented the time, money and inconvenience of these extra appointments.  I now realize that I would much rather have cautious doctors that vigilantly screen your well-being.  I appreciate that my doctors downplayed these possibile outcomes, probably because the only thing they could do was “keep an eye on it” and “hope for the best.”  I’m gaining an appreciation for the finesse with which prenatal care providers disseminate information. Had I realized how serious the test results were, I doubt that I would have slept at all for the past several months!

Finally, I want to comment on an entry I wrote examining the dynamic between women with children and those without.  I want to make it clear that I completely respect the choice not to have children.  In fact, I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted a child until roughly eight months ago!  At the time I wrote that letter I was having a difficult time adjusting to my changing identity and I projected negativity where there was none.  Throughout my pregnancy all my friends have been supportive and loving. Inevitably I’m spending more time with my friends that do have children, but I still value those without.  In fact, I look forward to hiring a babysitter, having cocktails and enjoying a baby-free conversation that our kid-free friends can offer.

I see only positive in taking in new information and experiences and letting them broaden my point of view.  Over the past few years, I’ve worked on my ability to alter my point-of-view and admit when I’m wrong.  But no, you can’t date that older guy with the car, and I  will not change my mind about that.

Love,

Mom

Week 32: You are Not a Cat

You are not a cat.

February 7, 2011

Dear Hazel,

Anselm and I have gotten into a bad habit of comparing our cats to children.  When people talk about sibling rivalry, we give each other a knowing look, like “yep, the only solution to that is another food bowl.”  Seven years ago, when Darby was a kitten, I accompanied Anselm to a work picnic.  One of his coworker’s had a baby and I was talking to the wife about teething.  She was recounting the child’s pain and fussiness.  I actually said, devoid of irony, “I don’t have that problem because my cat was born with fangs.” Silence, followed by a polite excuse, and she was on her way in search of a non-feline centered conversation.

Tonight I was up doing work till after midnight.  Before I got into bed the cats reminded me to refill their feeding area.  I was grumbling in my head about how often I feed them and how relentless they are if I forget.  I scooped out a mound of kitty crackers and poured them in their bowl with an exaggerated, put upon sigh, as if that 20 seconds defined my life as one of obligation and drudgery.  I then had a sudden flash of late night feedings, diaper changes, tantrums, and all the demands that you will place on us, far greater than even the bossiest Siamese cat.

In our defense, I don’t think that it’s completely unreasonable for us to evaluate our pets for clues as to how to raise you.  For example, we have no boundaries with the cats.  They know how to open every door in the house, insist on sleeping on our bed, and have the uncanny ability to wake us up with intermittent chirping that resembles those alarm clocks you can’t turn off.  Anselm gave up trying to prevent them from drinking his bedside water, so now he keeps a closed Nalgene for himself and fills a glass up for them.  The big cat has a nasty habit of jumping on visitors from behind. A friend that was staying alone at our place in NY thought she was being attacked by an intruder and still hasn’t gotten over the fright. We know it’s awful behavior, but also think it’s hilarious and endearing, mainly because we can’t figure out how to stop it. We joke that the cats, over-indulged and hopelessly spoiled, have absorbed all the parenting mistakes we would have made had we had children when we first got married.

Anselm has been away for the past week on business.  My mom came to stay with me for six days and it felt really amazing to be taken care of.  Now I’m alone for a few days, which means that I’m eating minimal effort food and living in my pajamas.  I made a valiant effort to do the dishes today and the faucet broke, unleashing leaping arcs of water.  I have indulged in not being domestic for several years now and am realizing that I will need to get it together when you arrive.  These last two months of pregnancy I’m like a kid relishing the last days of summer vacation.  Come April, I’ll be a 24/7 caretaker, yet will still have to do the dishes and feed those cats.

As I finish this letter, it dawns on me . . . My anxiety  isn’t about  the new level of duty, but rather an underlying anxiety that there won’t be enough love to go around.  I think Anselm and I both worry that the exclusive nature of our love will change.  I even worry about giving the cats the same amount of attention they’re used to.  And then I remember a metaphor a spiritual teacher used to explain love:  It’s like you’re holding a flame and each candle you light is a person you love, but with every flame you light, your source flame remains just as bright. Point being that love isn’t a pie to be divided, but an endless source.  I have to trust that I’ll always know how to access it and disperse it generously.

Love,

Mom

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