Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Giraffe Club: Tootsie Is a Member

Last year our girls participated in an American Girl Doll Fashion Show.  They wore outfits from the brand, carried dolls, and attended numerous rehearsals.  They also raised funds for Isabelle's Giraffe Club.  Click on the link for Isabelle's remarkable story (and her parents' inspiring generosity and optimism), but, in a nutshell, the fashion show helps purchase isolettes for UCSD's NICU.  We've attended the show for multiple years, in part because we have some enduring American Girl Doll fans in our house, and also because my father works closely with neonates in his job as a perinatologist, and because our five-year-old nephew Jack was a preemie.  I honestly did not foresee that I, too would have a preemie baby, but along came Baby Tootsie, and she is residing in a Giraffe incubator here at Mass General Hospital. The units cost $45,000, and in my view, perform more critical functions than a luxury sedan, such as measuring the baby's core temperature and responding environmentally to help its resident regulate body temperature--one of a preemie's developmental challenges.  I'm feeling good about having contributed to this cause for several years.

Remember the Crash Test Dummies song "Coffee Spoons"?  One of my favorites:  "Someday I'll wear pajamas in the daytime...and afternoons will be measured out, measured in by coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot."  Yesterday was measured with breastmilk pumping (every three hours) with a disappointing yield (not uncommon after a promising first day, I'm told).  The aim is to stimulate my flow, without the help of a suckling newbrn.  And yesterday was measured by administration of pain meds (every four hours).  The day of surgery generally feels ok, even euphoric, especially when the yield is a new human in the form of cute infant.  Day 2 is dicey, what with the feeling that someone has driven over your midsection and the desire to reach the right dose of meds, which for me meant underestimating till about Happy Hour, when I appropriately got it right, and my outlook improved and I felt a surge of optimism and humor again, thankfully.

Against this backdrop including an exhausted husband, came the news that Tootsie did, indeed, have both an infection in her blood and spinal fluid (meningitis).  When Husband went to visit in the morning while I pumped and received another des of antibiotics, she wasn't looking so perky, and he witnessed a few drops in blood pressure and apneic episodes.  Scary.  He came back to my room, needing more sleep and with the news they were inserting a central line through her umbilicus and administering aggressive antibiotics.  She was described as a "sick baby."

The morning was not so fun, as I couldn't go see her as they were conducting the sterile procedure, and I stewed in worst case scenarios.  By the afternoon, however, we were both able to consult the resident and fellow doctors managing her care, who gave us straight-up prognoses as well as reassuring reminders:  they'd anticipated an infection and pushed antibiotics immediately, an advantage; she was still breathing room air with the aid of CPAP; and her gestational age and birth weight were in her favor as well.

By evening we learned that her brain scan was negative (for bleeds), more good news.  Apneic episodes decreased.  Her color was better and she was active (opening her eyes, stretching and wiggling). I spent a few hours with her, finger in her hand, my hand on her sweet little leg.

We need news of a negative blood culture to know that she is beating the infection.  We need fewer apneic episodes to rule out a need for intubation.  We need to get over this hurdle and back to the business of growing and strengthening.  That's what we root for tonight.

I returned to our room tonight in a lot less pain all around.

Day by Day


It's all the rage among pregnant women, teachers and school administrators, Type A personalities, and a whole host of other profiles of people averse to uncertainty and most comfortable with the Best Laid Plan.

I'm so not in control right now.  Not of my bladder (Foley catheter in), of circulation in my legs (mechanized squeezy boots on), of my sleep patterns (wide awake at 3AM), of short- and long-term prognoses (particularly mine and Tootsie's).

I knew that premature rupture of membranes meant taking each day at a time, and while maintaing positivity, recognizing that we were in position for a suddenly changing game plan.  I knew that giving birth to a preemie would be similar, even as we celebrated her healthy birth, crying and breathing on her own, and subsequently posted pictures of her, relatively wire- and tube-free for a NICU baby.

I am loath to post new ones, now that she is on CPAP and has a feeding tube.  She looks much more vulnerable than the wide-eyed, pink and plump newborn in her first photos.

In her first hours in the NICU she had several apneic episodes--moments where she "forgot" to breathe--all too common in preemies.  They watched her warily, and determined that while she did not require oxygen, she would benefit from the CPAP's rhythmic delivery of air to her lungs as she gains strength.

Her blood cultures came back positive for bacteria, confirming that she and I were likely infected, with no one the wiser than Baby Tootsie, whose elevated heartrate saved the day (and determined her birthday).  While husband and I visited her last night the docs came in to let us know the blood results, and a plan to reculture her, administer more antibiotics, and perform a spinal tap to rule out infection in the spinal fluid.  I grimaced at the latter plan, only because I've had a spinal tap--not a fun experience and a purely diagnostic procedure.  Nonetheless, we signed the consent form for a lumbar puncture and I recalled my successful epidural earlier in the day.  Hoping, and trusting in the doctors, for the best.

We should hear this morning the latest results and how she's doing.  We haven't held her yet, besides that first bedside snuggle, and it's difficult to swallow that our little baby has yet to be placed on our chests, skin-to-skin, satisfying our instinctual desire to hold her close and protect and reassure her.  Later today, we hope.  She needed too much else yesterday.

And so we enter a phase of acceptance of the shifting horizons of preemie care.  Better to view her in terms of new realities and evolving needs versus by "setbacks" or bad or good news.

Meanwhile, my job is pumping milk to feed her and hastening my own post-surgical recovery, so we can be together more often, where we belong.

Keep us, and all the tiny babies, in the warm embrace of your encouraging thoughts.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Meet Tootsie!

Baby Tootsie's heart rate remained flat and on the high side (possible early sign of infection) so we decided today was the day for her big debut.  Once I got over the change in my Grand Master Plan to meet her on August 9th (note:  Grand Master Plans are not working out for me lately!), I was ready to accept the reality of a 32-week, four day baby, and to roll for the c-section.  With a calm, sweet and soothing nurse, a cheery anesthesiologist, a doctor with whom I was already familiar, and most importantly, my sister on our team, I knew we were in great hands.

I'll venture to say that the c-section was sort of fun.  There was a light-hearted mood in the room, and all went well.  At the point when they were pulling Tootsie out, they dropped the blue drape in front of a transparent one so I could watch her actual birth.

It was amazing.  She emerged hearty, head full of hair, and she cried!  She cried!  Sweet little squawks.  Her apgar scores were 9&9, incredibly, and she weighs 4lbs. 3oz. and is 17.5 inches long.  All remarkable for her gestational age.

I'm euphoric (I'm sure the morphine they gave me at the end of the epidural didn't hurt!) and ready to pump and try breastfeeding when I get to spend time with her this afternoon.

Husband's on his way, and we'll name our Boston Bean tonight.

A July baby!  Who knew?  Only Tootsie.

Thanks for your love and support, everyone!

Moving Upstairs

I'm writing this post at 6:30AM instead of 4ish because I "slept in," yeehaw!  I'm likely, as a result, to feel a little less lonely and sedentary than I did yesterday (a generally low energy day).

Nurse is here and I'm on the monitor, because baby's heartrate is high--previously we worried about low rates, but it turns out anything other than what she's been doing consistently for two weeks is potential cause for concern. We'll see what happens.

I read two completely different novels this week with one intriguing thread between them--babies who were taken, albeit not for sinister reasons, from their families.  I recommend both M.L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans and Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed.

I will check back in later to let you know our status.  I'm being moved up to Labor and Delivery for more monitoring.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Blind Dates and Cartwheels

I've been fairly fascinated by knowing there are other women in my circumstance--waters broken, waiting-- next door and down the hall, though until yesterday I hadn't met any of them.  This ward is shared by both antepartum and postpartum mothers, and it was also driving me crazy that I hadn't seen a baby yet.  But on our way back from a wheelchair excursion outside on Saturday, we caught a glimpse of a newborn in his bassinet in the hallway with his mom.  A perfect, beautiful, 36-weeks-gestation twin boy.  It was so gratifying to glimpse the gift on the other side of this journey.  With less than two weeks left to wait, Baby Tootsie on The Outside grows more real each day.

Meanwhile, though, I've learned most about what others do in my situation by reading online and finding forums like "pPROM Support Group," where women discuss leaking fluid, risks of infection, contractions, pasttimes, fears, milestones, and cheer one another along.  I began hinting to my nurses that maybe I should organize a happy hour for us Ladies in Waiting.  We could grab our ginger ales and amble on down to the family lounge for a social hour and swapping of stories.

It turns out that my nurse and doctor were already conspiring to set another patient and me up as we seemed to have a lot in common (both educators with two older daughters and a third on the way).  As a blind lunch date was arranged, my doc admitted to me that there was the possibility of needing to combine us in one room, too, if the population continued to grow around here.  I was game for some socializing on any level by now.

We met in the lounge and briefed each other on our backgrounds--she's only 26 weeks and hoping for two months more here--a long journey ahead and good reminder of how fortunate I am.  Like me, she had two normal full-term babies before and was quite shocked to find her easy pregnancy interrupted.  Both accustomed to being active in the Real World, we confessed to envying the runners jogging along the river whom we could see from our rooms.  Her older daughters are both under four years old; her husband and extended family have a big job covering childcare.

We talked about hospital food (I recommended she try the mashed turnips), hospital gowns (she was wearing hospital-issue pants!), reading, and the NICU.  After an hour and a half of easy conversation, we vowed to meet up again soon.

Around dinner time, my daughters returned from Maine like breaths of fresh air.  They filled me in on all their adventures from the week, snuggled me in my bed, and we played a few rounds of Heads Up (great iPhone charades app).  They were excited to confirm that my brother, uncle from the USVI and father of their beloved cousins, was indeed here to fly them down to St. Thomas for the next chapter of what might be their Best Summer Ever, besides the part of only seeing me and their dad intermittently.  We went on another wheelchair adventure (with the girls excited to push me down the halls) outside for some cartwheels and headstands in the soft grass.  It was a delightful time.  They left afterwards to go repack bags, walk my sister's puppy, and catch up on sleep before I see them today preflight to the islands.

They'll be back when Baby Tootsie is here.  I can't wait.

Wait.  Yes, I can.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tootsie's Time

Summer was very busy before the girls and I came back East for vacation, and it promised to be busy when we returned.  I emphasized to the girls that this vacation signified time with me and my undivided attention, which they had begun clamoring for.  In the weeks before and after our trip, and around work and preparation for the school year and my new role, I also made several overdue appointments:  dental cleanings for the girls, Little Sis's 7-year-old checkup, a maternity photoshoot.  All cancelled now!

One appointment I'm so glad we fit in before we left was a 3D ultrasound of Baby Tootsie.  We made it a family field trip the day before we departed.  I knew it would be exciting to see the 3D images, and that the girls would be surprised by how realistic they looked.  But it was Husband who was arguably most moved by the experience, and we left, images and video in hand, with him feeling more bonded to our baby girl.

Big Sis was born almost ten tears ago on August 29th during another hectic start to the school year.  Our school was on the cusp of being completely renovated, and my classroom was moved into a portable trailer for the year.  My task was to unpack and prepare my classroom for my maternity-leave substitute, who would greet my students on the first day of school.  I had more than three months of lesson plans ready, and by the end of the day before Big Sis's planned c-section, I had attended a faculty meeting and finished moving and unpacking my last classroom supplies.  The week prior, I'd defended my master's thesis.  What I hadn't done was taken any deep breaths and reflected on the big life change before me.  I'd ridden a wave of to-dos and checklists, erroneously thinking that having all my ducks in a row would make me ready.

I look back now and wonder if a little more quiet time, maybe even just one day off, would have helped me manage the transition and identity change into motherhood.  I had a bout of the Baby Blues after Big Sis was born that swept me off my feet momentarily, like a rogue wave.  I often wonder if I might have quelled the effects with more reflective time before her birth.

Baby Tootsie's gestation has been marked by significant life changes as well:  moving homes, new job, a sick auntie, our cat's passing.  I was to return to work on this upcoming Monday, intending to use every day up to Tootsie's birth in service to my school, staff, and students.  I'd have six weeks to set tone, lay groundwork, hire teachers for now-vacant spots, lead professional development, greet students and families.

But Tootsie had other plans, and it's easy to joke that she, too, craved my attention and was the only one equipped to truly demand it.  Nevertheless, she has my full attention and long days' focus intently on her, as I welcome the moments I hear her heartbeat on Doppler and feel her reassuring squirms in utero.  I'm taking the opportunity, with the luxury of time attached to bedrest, to imagine her, talk about her, write about her, and draw her.  We are bonding.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

List: What I'll Miss

Good morning!

There are a few things I'm going to miss when this hospital sojourn (pre-surgery) is over:

1.  Sleeping in.  So, I'm not exactly sleeping in, doing most of my dozing between 11pm and 4am, but the idea that I could sleep in, or sleep whenever I want to, is a luxury most of us don't have.  Hence, I am appreciating it, and the fact that I am always in the ready position, in bed, lying down.

2.  Free Underwear.  They're mesh; they're disposable; they're not uncomfortable, and I don't have to do laundry.

3.  Hospital Gown as a Character Study.  Each time I shower and request a fresh gown, I wonder, will it be a blue or greenish print I sport today?  Will I have an XL-off-the-shoulder variety or a large with high neckline?  Will today's gown have old school metal snaps or the new-fangled plastic ones, and will my gown be missing some, so I sport a peekaboo shoulder style?  I've learned to jury-rig gowns missing the all-important ties at the back and side.  I suppose I could wear regular clothes..  But I feel I should really immerse myself in this experience and wear the requisite costume.

4.  Access to Crushed Ice and Water. We finally have a house with a fridge with an ice maker and dispenser, so this shouldn't be a novelty, but at home no one brings me a fresh batch, in a little pitcher with a straw, regularly at bedside.  All I have to do is offer my arm for a blood pressure and pulse check and take my temperature, and water refill is my reward.  Also, free Popsicles.

5.  Clean-Smelling Soap.  The soap in the dispenser has a distinctive, yummy-clean smell that I love.  And here's where I admit that I am so affected by my strong sense of smell, and by memories associated with smells, that when I delivered Big Sis, I found the hospital soap I was so enamored with then and ordered it online so I could use it at home.

6.  The Book and Magazine People.  Every other day or so, volunteers with a cart of donated magazines and books circulate the wards offering free readings to bored patients.  There are a disproportionate number of supermarket romances among their offerings, but I generally snag a magazine or two, and enjoy the cheery earnestness of the volunteers.

7.  Breakfast (okay, and lunch and dinner) in Bed.  I have the same thing every day:  a cup of decaf, some cranberry juice, oatmeal, yogurt, and a banana.  Sometimes I watch the news to see if anyone new is harassing someone or sending unsolicited photos.  Not a bad way to start the day.

8.  Hospital Room Whiteboard.  It's posted on the bathroom door, with the date (saving me from scratching notches in my hospital bed), names of my nurses and doctors, a blank space for "Estimated Discharge Date," and a section called Goals for the Day.  This is my favorite part.  Mine says, "Stay pregnant.  Contractions down.  Go outside.  Rest."

I'm on it!

Meanwhile,  I know there are other women in this holding pattern I'm in, next door and down the hall, but I haven't met them. I'm thinking about organizing a Happy Hour, like, Hey!  Bring your diet ginger ale and shuffle on over to the family lounge for a meet-and-greet and swapping of stories and strategies (drink lots of water and lie still?)!  Maybe I'll add stirring up some social life as a goal for the day.  I'll begin with writing the idea on my whiteboard under "Questions for Your Care Team."

Friday, July 26, 2013


Tootsie and I are up early celebrating the 32-week mark today--and that we're halfway to the 34-week mark from where we were when we arrived.  Every single day counts in a baby's development.  I never wanted my babies to come early, having appreciated so much the sleeping and eating prowess of a full-term baby when Big Sis was born. It's interesting to watch one's perspective change with circumstances; if Baby Tootsie is born today at 32 weeks versus at 30 like when we arrived, she has a much better prognosis for breathing, maintaining body temp, breastfeeding sooner, etc.  And 34 weeks now sounds so desirable--so far along.  It's glass half full vs. six weeks early.

I'll admit, despite doing very little--seriously not doing much at all, folks--to be quite proud that I'm succeeding in my singular task of incubating this little baby.  Forces beyond my control are conspiring with me as well:  contractions have abated, I have no signs of infection, and Tootsie keeps looking good on the monitors.

I miss my girls.  I'm not sure they've been away from me an entire week before, and they'll be off on another adventure next week.  What generous gifts of time and attention they're receiving from friends and family.  With Sarah and her kids and her mother in Maine, my daughters have boogie-boarded, zip-lined, constructed fairy houses in an island forest, and most importantly, been treated as members of a family and loved accordingly.  That they are quite likely having an epic summer despite all this disruption and uncertainty is a huge comfort to me.

Husband is back home working while he can, taking care of the dog, missing us, and fighting feelings of helplessness.  We are all doing our parts on Team Tootsie.  Some jobs--lying here--are actually easier than others.

I'm receiving sweet gestures from far-away friends--flowers, a care package of treats which rendered my jaw Milk-dud glued shut for part of yesterday afternoon.  A dear former student came to visit bearing a huge mangosteen smoothie, but the best gift was her time--she stayed for hours regaling me with stories of her young adult life and work as a film producer.  We caught up on news of her classmates and the latest changes at our high school (she did grill me a bit on some transformations we've made to longstanding traditions like Powderpuff, since she graduated).  We had a fantastic afternoon.

The comical part of yesterday was when I attempted to log on to a few sites--my blog; Pinterest, which I've only this week dived into; The Huffington Post, to read another former student's column (how cool is that??)--only to find myself blocked.  I sent some pleading messages when prompted to contact my "network administrator," but remained censored until last night when freedom of information finally opened to me again. Phew.  I think this weekend may be National Get Off The Grid time, when we're meant to unplug and log off.  I'll try experiencing that another time, when going outside for a hike is an option.

Finally, I am getting to know my caregivers here, having the same doctors and nurses for multiple days and nights.  They certainly know my story, and I'm learning theirs--pregnancies, impending weddings, ailing relatives, family vacations coming up.  Everyone as a story.

One of my doctors asked my student yesterday for summer movie recommendations.  Without pause, she endorsed The Way Way Back.  Check it out.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hands...Reaching Out...Touching Me

The excitement of last night was my move upstairs to Labor and Delivery, precipitated by a deceleration in Baby Tootsie's heart rate which my nurse and I both detected on a routine Doppler (Tootsie's customary gallop sounded like a sluggish trudge).  As soon as they put us on the monitor, she perked up; perhaps she was lying on her cord.   Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, I was sent to L&D for constant monitoring. And less sleep and the possibility of a c-section on the horizon.

But it's 5AM now, and Tootsie has resumed her normal patterns, so I'm returning to my hopeful spot among the Ladies in Waiting downstairs, and the potential for more uneventful days of growth and strengthening lungs and brain.

Anyway, what I really want to tell you about is the massage I had yesterday, in the context of some other similar experiences.  Bear with me:

I'm a slacker when it comes to making haircut appointments; I don't like to plan them too far in advance, and when I feel like today's the day I want a haircut, I'm often tempted to just head to SuperCuts or the equivalent.  Getting a haircut has become more of a semiannual event for me (and in between, I take the liberty of giving myself trims, with mixed results...).

Last fall before school started, though, I wanted a reasonably good haircut.  I called a local salon and told them I had no preference for hairdresser; I was only hoping to come in that day if they could fit me in.  I met the stylist that afternoon after work, excited for a shampoo and freshly trimmed ends.

We made small talk at the basin as she washed my hair.  With conditioner in, she began to massage my scalp.  She took her time, her strong fingers kneading my neck and moving slowly across my crown.  I sunk more deeply into my seat and sighed.  I don't think I'd ever had a scalp massage that felt so good.  My hairdresser spent a luxuriously long period of time rubbing my head, long enough that I was moved by the generosity and kindness in her touch.  Tears welled in my eyes as I thought about everyone--even those of us with loved ones who express affection everyday--deserving to feel as honored and grateful as I was by the warmth and physical comfort of a stranger's touch.

I thought about Jesus washing his disciples' feet, an act of humility, kindness, and love.  I thought about San Diego's annual Stand Down event, in which homeless veterans have an opportunity to shower, to receive medical and dental care, and have haircuts, acupuncture, and massage therapy, all provided by volunteers.

When I was in high school I was very involved in my church youth group.  Youth group and its related activities created safe spaces for me and friends to be honest, authentic, attentive, and kind to one another, and I craved that respite from what seemed like a more cynical, callous, harsh Real World.  I remember one time in particular when we were challenged to pair up and gently give our partners directed facial massages.  It was one of the most peculiar and intimate physical acts I'd engaged in as a young teen, but I remember being deeply moved by and grateful for the experience.  Exercises like that bonded our youth group members together in some of the most trusting, innocent, safe, and healthy relationships I've known.

Yesterday morning a nurse stopped by my room and shared that today was a quiet day; she specialized in childbearing massage and would I like one?  Oh yes, I responded.  Oh goodit's my passion, she smiled.  I will see you in an hour.

When she returned she set up my bed for maximum comfort, rearranging pillows and sheets.  She had me lie on my side, hips bolstered by cushions and my arms embracing another pillow.  She turned the TV to the meditation station about which the girls and I had cracked a few jokes as we surfed channels (Look!  It's a soothing bunny!  And meditative horses!).  And then my nurse gave me a wonderful neck and back rub.  I lay in that position, heavy and deeply relaxed amongst the pillows for over an hour afterward, listening to the meditation station and thinking about people who bring passion and generosity to their jobs.

This nurse used a free moment in her workday to give her patient extra focused and special care, and to share an aspect of her professional practice she finds meaningful and rewarding.  I am guessing my hairdresser that afternoon felt the same.  In my line of work, while touch is not appropriate, deep listening, time, attention, and thoughtful words often give the same sense to students that they matter a little more than regular "clients."

What gifts we can give people through our lines of work?  What are opportunities for us to move strangers into understanding they've been acknowledged, cared for, honored, loved by another human unexpectedly?

These are beautiful moments in life, I think.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Toots Stays Put

We slept through another night, Tootsie and I. Today is Wednesday, Hump Day, and the hump we're hurdling is toward Friday's 32-week mark.  Friday is also two weeks from my scheduled c-section at 34 weeks, and just about a halfway marker for my time here.  We can do this.

I've been clenching a towel when the contractions are strong and long, and mentioned to my sister that a stuffed animal might better serve that purpose.  Last night she brought me a plush pig, whose limbs have been duly squeezed!

The other seemingly decadent request I made was for her to buy me a bottle of my signature perfume (I've worn the same one, Oscar de la Renta, since high school).  It's not that I'm concerned I'm smelly (but that's quite likely--and we'll make today a shower day), but I've read that it can be important for mom to wear her usual scents when she has a baby in the NICU, so baby can use smell as a feature distinguishing mother from other caregivers in the hospital.

Boston was rainy yesterday but still bustling. It is strange to have walked around this vibrant city and now view it from above and know that there was so much fear and violence here not very long ago. Those not at the site of the bombing endured the lockdown shortly thereafter. I'm struck, of course, by the resilience of the city and her residents.

I have a lot of time to think about the efforts going into giving this baby, one of many in residence at this hospital, the very best chance she can have. Because I'm an educator, I have a keen understanding of how this investment pays off later, as many children require interventions which trace back to birth events and developmental delays related to prematurity.   But then I think of all the once healthy newborns who are young children failing to thrive in unhealthy environments in every spot on our globe and my heart hurts.  We have so much work to do to support families raising healthy children. 
Reading preemie stories will convince you at once of the fragility and durability of life.  Babies born at astonishingly early gestational ages often survive and thrive.  But it's not lost on me that I may have a baby, who, without the machines and technologies available in this hospital, would die at birth. What does it mean that my body made such a fateful move early on--ruptured membranes?  What is meant to be?  Is what is meant to be relative to one's surroundings and advantages available?  If so, this baby is more meant to be than others, because of circumstances surrounding the event that brought me to the hospital--the presence of the hospital itself, for one.
It's left to me to sit still in gratitude and do my best to promote my and my baby's health, knowing we're offered precious and heroic chances others don't have.
Hugs, friends.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To Sleep...Perchance to Dream

This update brought to you by Whole Foods, wheelchairs, Mass General Hospital, Pandora Internet Radio, and my sister.

My nurse yesterday told me I needed to Get Out of My Room.  She wrote an order for me to go outside, via wheelchair, for 45 minutes.  I told her my sister would take me when she got off work. "If she can't do it, I will," she affirmed.  "We will go have coffee."

At 6 PM my sister arrived with a bag of sushi, fresh rolls, and fruit salad from Whole Foods.  I tightened my pony tail, loaded into the wheelchair, and we went down and outside, into The Fresh Air.  We ate our dinner and caught up on a patio adjacent to a green lawn and gardens.  It was a lovely, mood-altering moment in time.

I returned to my room a little lighter, refreshed, ready for the specter of a long night of contractions.

But instead, I dozed between and through them.  Though strong, they never seemed to exceed three an hour.  As Patty Griffin, Deb Talan, Ingrid Michaelson, Meg Hutchinson, and the like serenaded me, I slept, and even had a dream. I didn't rouse completely till 8 AM.

Not only is last night's sleep significant in terms of my general well-being, it broke a cycle of dreading nights and wondering what might happen with contractions:  get stronger?  Become full-blown labor?  I'm feeling so hopeful that we have more days, and perhaps weeks.

I'm reading inspiring stories of healthy babies born earlier than 30 weeks.  We are fortunate to be as far along as 31 and change.  I'm accepting the strong likelihood that we won't be handed a plump, breastfeeding baby at delivery.

On today's agenda:  fill out some forms, including a birth certificate worksheet.  Maybe we'll mess around with some more permanent names than Tootsie...

Have a great day, friends!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Kate Middleton Is in Labor and I Am Not

Cheers to both of us!

It's Day 7 past my premature rupture of membranes.  Statistically, every additional day now that I remain pregnant, I am more likely to remain pregnant. Bring on the boredom!  I welcome weeks stretching before us of waiting for my non-royal birth.

Nights are anything but boring.  By now Tootsie and I are locked in a predictable pattern:  I begin contracting regularly, every 5-20 minutes, around 10 PM till 3 or 4 AM.  The contractions are painful, so I don't sleep much.  I doze and listen to music until I need to clench a towel, breathe and visualize warm waterfalls, ride out each wave of squeezy uterus.

The nurses tell me to let them know if I have more than four contractions per hour, so I do, invariably around 2AM, and baby is monitored. "She looks beautiful on the monitor," they tell me, appropriately accelerating her heart rate when she moves around.  "Her accelerations are like those of a 32-weeker," I was told last night.

Guys, she's Harvard material in accelerations.  Atta girl, Tootsie!

I asked, with reservations, for something to help me sleep last night, and they gave me a Benadryl. It made me droopy, a little more Zen about contractions.  I'm likely to repeat that request tonight.

By morning I'm exhausted but relieved to be 1) still here, and 2) relatively contraction-free.  I'm going to try and sleep, and later take a shower.  Busy day ahead, haha!

Girls are happily ensconced in Maine, where last night they dug for clams, explored tide pools,and picked wild blueberries.   Husband is headed back to San Diego, hopefully for at least a week.  He ran into one of our former students on the T this morning, and Mario helped him transfer to the silver line en route to the airport.

Yesterday I read What Happens Next, a YA novel sent by a friend about a girl who is raped and then keeps the incident and her susequent suffering secret.  I recommend it.

Have a great Monday, Royal Baby Watchers and the rest of you normal people.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Active Uterus; Inactive Fer

It's a beautiful Sunday morning in Boston, and from my climate-controlled habitat, I understand the East Coast Heat Wave may have broken after some record-breaking temperatures this week.

Yesterday evening Team Tootsie had a flurry of visitors.  My friend Sarah and her kids rolled in from Maine; she's taking my girls back with her for a week of beach-house adventures.  I am so grateful they'll be having a fantastic time no matter what happens here.

Nephew Steve, who has demonstrated his willingness to fly or drive no matter how far at the drop of a hat in the name of supporting family, came up from Connecticut last night.  Tootsie's fans went out for an Italian dinner together before coming back to kiss us good night.

This morning, my sister and brother-in-law are whipping up their famous waffles for the whole crew, and then they plan to hit the Science Museum before the Maine contingent heads north.

Last night, all night, I had fairly ouchy contractions every ten minutes or so but baby still looks good on the monitor and I report to you this morning with baby inside and no active labor for now.  My "irritable uterus" may be hinting that baby's not going to hold out, though. Taking it hour by hour, day by day.  I'm lucky Tootsie's in her 31st week.  I'm lucky I'm in the hospital with pregnancy as my condition and not something else.  I'm fortunate to have so much love and support around me.

Just need some sleep!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

At Home in the Hospital: the Latest from Team Tootsie

I am in Day 6 at Mass General Hospital in Boston, and hoping to maintain residence with Baby Tootsie safely sealed inside for another three weeks.

I have a beautiful room with a view (and I can't tell there's been a scorching heat wave out there):

I've had lots of new hospital experiences:  the bedpan, physical therapy, family dinner parties at my bedside, bonding with a cast of caring doctors and nurses.

Relative confinement to bed has its benefits, too:

1.  Baby Tootsie's unique gifts to me this pregnancy include varicose veins, which are looking and feeling good now I'm off my feet!

2.  Daughters have hooked me up with sweet foot massages and facials.

3.  I have more time with my wonderful sister who lives here in Boston and who has coordinated housing for my people, airplane tickets, and provided anything I need or request.

4.  I'm on top of emails, Facebook posts, the news, Royal Baby Watch, tabloid stories, and, thankfully, more quality reading (The Fault in Our Stars, The Sun Magazine).

5.  Time with my husband and girls, along with happiness knowing they're having fun adventures out in Boston around this disruption to our regularly scheduled program.

6.  More reassuring glimpses and monitoring of Baby Tootsie via daily non-stress tests, heart-rate monitoring, and ultrasounds.

I'm having strong-ish contractions at night which keep me up, so sleep has been a little elusive.  I relax to the Patty Griffin Pandora station and visualize heaps of whipped cream, mashed potatoes, and soft sand when my tummy hardens.  I  am grateful to make it through the night without going into labor.  If I have to endure nights of contractions to make it to 34 weeks, I'm in.  Days are mellow and confidence building.

Happy Saturday, friends!  Stay cool.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Baby Tootsie Must Be a Red Sox Fan

The girls and I flew into Boston last Friday evening for a much-anticipated vacation and visit with my sister and her husband and then my college friend Sarah, who invited us to her beach house in Maine this week.

We had a charmed weekend staying in a Harvard dorm with my sister, her husband, and their Golden Doodle puppy Kiri (they live as resident tutors at the university).  The girls did cartwheels in Harvard Yard, made signs in the college printing press, and practiced piano in the dining hall.  We ferried to Spectacle Island on Saturday for an afternoon of kite-flying, lawn games atop the island's drumlin, and knee-deep wading in the Atlantic.  On Sunday my sister and I began the day with a jog along the Charles River, and later we drive out for a memorable sunset swim at Walden Pond.

Sunday was the day, too, Husband had to put our dear cat down.  And so after our day of adventures and dinner on Harvard Square, I consoled emotional daughters and they piled into bed with me for exhausted snuggles.

It was just after midnight early Monday when I was awakened by an urgent need to use the bathroom.  The events that followed led me to believe my waters had broken, ten weeks shy of my due date in September.  I made a quick call to my father for confirmation, and the next to my sister for a ride to the hospital.  Uncle P came down to watch my unsuspecting, slumbering girls.

At the hospital the docs quickly affirmed that I'd had a premature rupture of membranes.  They followed this news closely with the revelation that I would remain in Boston in the hospital until our baby's birth, which could happen soon, or in weeks, depending upon whether or not I went into labor, suffered an infection, or they detected the baby was in distress.

I moved quickly into acceptance mode. Here I was; here I would stay.  My sister made flight reservations for Husband to fly out the next day.  I was moved to Labor and Delivery, where they pumped me with magnesium sulfate and steroids to help Baby Tootsie's (womb-named by our cousin Patch) brain development and lungs.  The first milestone was making it 48 hours with no labor to allow those treatments their full effect.  I spent two sleepless, solid-foodless days on L&D hoping for the best.

On Wednesday morning I graduated to my current habitat, the ante-partum ward, where other ladies-in-waiting are hoping to keep their babies inside growing bigger, stronger.  Each day the odds are better we'll make it to 34 weeks, when they'll deliver Baby Tootsie by c-section if she hasn't made her debut already.  We'll have a "moderately" preterm baby by then, who may or may not breathe on her own.  We're taking tours of the NICU, reading about what to expect, and talking to others who've experienced similar starts with their newborns.  The doctors and nurses here at Mass General are wise, attentive, kind, inspiring, honest, and reassuring.  We are in good hands.

Husband and the girls visit each morning via the T and then head out on Boston adventures:  the aquarium, Peabody Museum, Fanueil Hall.  My sister and brother-in-law are amazing supports and their home base as I sit relatively still in my room with an incredible view of the Charles and the active sailing community below.

We are making plans, tentative, for next week and beyond, anticipating that my return with baby to San Diego won't be until at least August 16--most likely after.  There's waiting, anticipation, hope, but mostly confidence that all will ultimately be well, and that blessings will emerge--some already have.

I'm the new principal of our high school, too, who's had to inform staff I won't be there to welcome them in August...not the start I'd hoped for.  But my faith and trust in our incredible school community buoys me, and we'll all be okay.

My verb for 2013 is accept.

I'll keep you posted on our progress.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


"When I turn away from nature--human, animal, earthly, or cosmic--when I turn away, that is, from intimate livingness, it means, simply and always, that I am afraid."  --Sanfor Goodman

"A man who lives with nature is used to violence and is companionable with death.  There is more violence in an English hedgerow than in the meanest streets of a great city."  --P.D. James 

In recent years I've become more drawn to our neighborhood's canyons.  The girls and I discovered our favorite canyon haunt and I found myself coveting homes on the canyons, imagining a childhood with wild places to explore right outside, and birds, and quiet.  A retreat.  

We found our canyon home in April, and left our busy street for a cul-de-sac, fewer neighbors, a view of the park across the ravine, and more space.   The canyon part still needs work--our deck juts out over a steep grade and access to the flatter area below remains by rickety, rotting steps.  We have plans for switchbacks and fairy-attracting plantings and a landing at the bottom for pow-wows, forts, possibly a hammock.

The wildness surrounding our new abode was made apparent our second night at home when a large, bold raccoon sauntered the length of our deck and nosed around our driveway, undeterred by Husband:  when he opened the door to "scare" the critter away, our new friend ambled on over.  

About twenty minutes later we smelled skunk.  That evening was a reminder we needed to change our laissez-faire pet habits of open doors to back gardens and a dog and indoor cat free to explore safe, smaller, protected spaces.  Not that we hadn't seen coyotes and the evidence of raccoons--and skunks, of course!--at our old home on the busier street.  But we knew this was different.  The risks were tangible. 

Nevertheless, my habit became to open the door to the deck in the morning to let the dog out as I got my morning coffee and prepared for work, cat eating her food on the counter.  

On the Saturday in question a week and a half ago now, though, it was a lazy weekend day.  Koshka must have slipped outside for a peek off the deck after breakfast.  I'd left the the door open too long.  

By evening we knew something was wrong with our kitty, panting on all fours and hiding in the closet. A trip to the emergency vet confirmed my fear:  she'd been attacked by an animal in the canyon, scratched on both flanks and bitten on the back.  Miraculously, our 15-year-old small "micro-cat," my dad called her, escaped.  Last week was spent nursing her, loving her, and returning her to the vet for hydrations and signs of hope.  But by Sunday Husband knew her body was shutting down and made the difficult decision to let her go.  

I've been grappling ever since with my feelings of responsibility and emotions about our new home and its darker wild side, paired with acknowledgments of the instincts inherent in cats to explore and the need to accept what simply is, now.  

Our feisty cat might have lived years more; I was convinced she would.  Instead we celebrate her life that was.

My sister and brother adopted her from the local vet when I moved back to our hometown and into my own first apartment.  She'd been found abandoned or lost, too young to be without her mother and was dropper-fed by the vigilant veterinary staff before she was ready to come home with me.  

Her personality, aloof to strangers, choosy about her affections toward me and other family members, established itself early.  Never tolerant of other cats--I tried once to adopt the cat of a desperate friend but Koshie proved too mean--she welcomed our puppy six months later and the two of them grew up together with daily moments of cozy affection, fond friends.  

She loved to lurk around corners and swipe at unsuspecting ankles, a practice that encouraged Little Sis's wary distance.  

Big Sis, on the other hand, developed an extremely close relationship with our cat over the past few years, snuggling with her and her books in our bedroom, and seeking her daily affectionate head butt from her buddy.  She and Koshka held conversations.  

We couldn't crack an ice cream container without that cat coming from far reaches at the mere sound or whiff of cream.  She'd creep along the back of the couch to poke her nose in a bowl of late-night treat without fail.  She also nibbled on plastic bags, a mystifying habit she indulged in late at night or in the mornings.  But her most distinguishing feature was her squeak in lieu of meow.  We could initiate dialogue with her by greeting her with a facsimile of her peculiar sound.  

We loved our cat.  We want to believe we didn't let her down, just as I am explaining to our thoughtful, mourning, wise eldest daughter that our kitty didn't give up in the end, but succumbed to her time.  And, how we appreciate the time she gave us.  

Sweet dreams, sweet Koshie Cat.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela

I developed an avid interest in Africa and in South Africa and apartheid, specifically, during high school in the 80s.  My high school hosted the International Baccalaureate Program, and one of the perks for those of us who pursued the IB Diploma was an exchange trip to the Armand Hammer World College in New Mexico, where we had the opportunity to meet students from across the globe and then host international peers in our own homes.  It was through this opportunity that I befriended two South African young men whose stories fascinated and horrified me--one of them had witnessed his activist father's shooting death at a checkpoint near Durban.  I wrote one of my college essays on the inspiration provided by my relationship with these fellow students, and my plans to continue learning about Africa.  I devoured such books as Cry, the Beloved Country and The Power of One.

The summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I attended a pre-college program at Barnard in New York City.  There I discovered gay artist Keith Haring, whose simple graphics depicted powerful political images.  I frequented his Pop Shop and came home with a nearly wall-sized anti-apartheid poster. 

As I applied to college and planned to enroll at Yale, I knew there had been a student movement to demand Yale's divestment from South Africa.  Apartheid, to us in America, was at once unthinkable and arcane, and yet South Africa continued its tradition of oppression and Mandela remained imprisoned.  I look back now and recognize that my college years marked the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid, and the rise of awareness of AIDS.  Mandela distinguishes himself as a hero of my generation. 

Today Nelson Mandela is in hospital in critical condition.  Last week the United States Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, paving the way for gay marriage across our country.  It seems possible that the arcane and unthinkable, as represented in law, grows increasingly rare. 

There's hope.  The kind of hope embodied in a man who spent 27 years of his life in prison for the cause of his people, and people everywhere.

Thank you, Mr. Mandela.