Saturday, October 7, 2017

Vegas Strong

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I'd never donated blood before (for various health and/or convenience reasons). But then my city was viciously attacked. I felt helpless. Useless. My feelings surrounding this tragedy are complicated: I was not harmed; my loved ones were not harmed; I don't feel anxious about my safety. But this loss feels so personal: I was just on the strip for a concert a week previous; I or my children have been admitted to three hospitals here over the years, and all three (plus others I've visited) took in victims; the gunman is from a sleepy town 45 minutes away from where I grew up; I personally know people who were there and who are in mental and spiritual anguish. When it comes to traumatic events like this, we all feel the horror of it whether we live close by or halfway around the world, but the setting of this one is the setting of my daily life. I haven't gone to the strip much in the five years I've lived here, but I see its skyline often in the distance on my drives around town. I have a perverse sort of affection for it and its blatant excesses (like, thanks to drunk tourists, I don't have to pay state income tax! But I digress...). Vegas, for better or for worse, is my home.

So on Monday morning, shaky with shock but determined, my friend and I drove around for an hour to try and find a place to donate blood. At the largest location, traffic was at a standstill as people tried to find parking and join the throng of willing donors. The line weaved around the parking lot of the blood services center, around the parking lot of an apartment complex, and down the sidewalk of the city block. We then drove to a mobile unit by the level one trauma hospital, and though there were fewer people, they turned us away. We looked almost jealously at people with telltale gauze bandages around their elbows.

But people weren't just donating blood. I saw many creative ways people reached out to help. People offered childcare so I and others could serve. While we were at the mobile blood unit, we saw large SUVs full of food and water drop off supplies. Massage therapists set up massage chairs and offered their services to people waiting; as we watched, an exhausted looking policeman gratefully accepted an offer for a massage. My facebook blew up with professionals offering free services to those affected: counselors offering therapy, lawyers offering probate services, surgeons offering hand care, airlines offering flights, hotels offering rooms, restaurants offering food. In five days, people from Vegas and across the world raised over ten million dollars for the victims. The police stations and the American Red Cross became so inundated with donations they had to stop accepting them and redirected donors to Catholic Charities and Three Square.

Telling my children what had happened was difficult, but I didn't want Kate to hear about it at school. The next day, I took her to the end of a candlelight vigil after her music class. We stood and listened to the music and watched the lighting of candles for a few minutes.

"Mom, why are we here?" she asked.

"Because when people are hurting, we show up," I said. "We do what we can to help them know that we care and that they are not alone."



A couple days ago, another friend and I bought a bunch of bagels, snacks, and drinks (partially subsidized by a faraway friend who wanted to give something) and dropped them off at a local fire station (where I got to thank a fireman who was on duty when my neighbor's house burned down), tried to drop some off at a police station but were kindly turned away because they were already overwhelmed with donations from the community, and dropped off the rest at the mobile blood donation unit across the street from University Medical Center. (We'd wanted to drop them off at UMC for the doctors and nurses working overtime, but the area was blockaded because President Trump was visiting victims in the hospital.)





I have really tried recently to serve people in the way they want to be served, not in the way that I might want to serve them, but when the need isn't clearly defined, sometimes you have to make the choice between potentially self-serving service and not serving at all.

I had tried to make an appointment to donate blood, but every location was completely booked out at least 2-3 weeks. When we dropped off supplies at the mobile donation unit, however, they said there was only about an hour wait for walk ins, and they allowed me to sign up for an appointment for later in the day. 


I was a little bit nervous, honestly, because my veins are really small, but I drank ridiculous amounts of water beforehand, and it all worked out. My flow apparently had some stops and slows at the end, but with a little babysitting of my line, we got the job done. I was once again grateful that I'm not squeamish around needles. And I know it's stupid, but I felt like a freaking superhero. I was ridiculously proud of my body for being able to bleed for others. It felt like I was actually doing something.



I feel weird about writing all this publicly. I've done other things--some probably helpful, some probably not. I just wanted to try and capture how it feels to be here, to capture the disconcerting juxtaposition of normal daily routines and a pervading sense of uneasy impotence, to capture what it's like to be so close to ground zero for a tragedy. There will still be much to do in the coming days and weeks, and I hope all of us, me included, can remember feeling this intense drive to help wherever needed.

I've heard a lot of talk about God in the aftermath of this and other tragedies. Personally, I don't see God in the event, either in who survived or in who died or was injured. I can't get behind the idea of a capricious God who spares some but not others. I have seen God, however, in the people helping others to safety, in the actions of first responders and medical personnel, and in everyone trying to help in all the spheres they can. I see God in people, and in the goodness of people, God is magnificent.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Drew: A Birth Story, Part IV

It's become a tradition for me to publish my babies' birth stories on their first birthdays. I'm an all-the-gory-details kind of writer, so feel free to skip this series if words like "placenta" aren't your jam. I've broken this into four parts, and I'll be posting them over the next few days.



My mom drove down to Las Vegas once she finished work for the day and took over watching the girls from Marlene and Emily. Since it was so late by the time we were ready for visitors, we had her leave the girls home and come by the hospital on her own. I tried to call several friends who'd offered help to ask if they'd watch the girls so my mom could come by, but I couldn't catch anyone on the phone. Jay finally called one of his employees, and she was kind enough to help out. 

Kate and Jayne were so excited to meet their brother the next morning. Seeing them interact with each other and with him is a family highlight I'll treasure. Jaynie reached out her little hands for the baby, but once he was in her lap, she retracted her arms and refused to touch him. Kate brought a little toy for him and tried to play with her new brother.




*

I spent two nights in the hospital when I had Kate and just 24 hours when I had Jayne. I loved that I got to come home quickly the second time since I wasn't scared to death of my new baby like I'd been the first time around. With Drew, I felt like I had the newborn thing pretty well under control and was ready to get out of there, but we had to stay in the hospital for two days because I'd tested positive for group B strep. 

Jay stayed with me for most of the day Wednesday. That night, the hospital provided a fancy celebration dinner in our room. I was freshly showered, wearing my own pajamas, and feeling pretty good, so it felt like we were on a date. 


That night, Drew would not sleep. He would nurse, doze off, and wake up screaming five minutes after I'd put him down. 

I'd promised myself that I'd be a more chill mom the third time around. That if nursing wasn't working for me, I'd switch to (or supplement with) formula. I had to put that to the test just 24 hours in. It caused me a bit of angst, but we called in the nurse and she provided us with 30 mLs of formula. Drew sucked it right down, had a good burp, and finally slept.

Jay went back to work Thursday (#businessowners), so I was alone with Drew in the hospital. My mom had taken the girls to St. George, and I was getting so antsy to get home. We were finally released from the hospital that afternoon.


*

Drew joining our family was unexpected. I did not feel ready to have another child so soon, and I especially was worried about having a son. Generally speaking, I tend to interact better with young girl children than young boy children, and I was afraid it would be hard for me to love a son like I'd loved my daughters. 

There is something about a helpless baby, though, that is impossible to resist, and Drew snuggled his way into our hearts. From the moment he was born, there was no question that he was known and loved. All of my months long denial hardened into resolve, and I have loved my boy fiercely ever since.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Drew: A Birth Story, Part III

It's become a tradition for me to publish my babies' birth stories on their first birthdays. I'm an all-the-gory-details kind of writer, so feel free to skip this series if words like "placenta" aren't your jam. I've broken this into four parts, and I'll be posting them over the next few days.



Jen, my seriously awesome nurse, pulled some strings and got me upgraded from my cramped, ugly, out-of-the-way hospital room to a seriously spacious and beautifully decorated corner suite. 

Hunger began to gnaw at my insides around 2:00, despite my sneaking occasional snacks from Jay. I finally told Jen about my deal with my doctor and asked if she would be comfortable bringing me food and a drink of water. I was already on pitocin, my contractions gaining strength and speed at 2-3 minutes apart, so I was nervous she'd say no, but she brought me snacks and water refills without complaint or censure.

"Your doctor said you can have an epidural after you're dilated to a four," she said. "You're still at a three, though your cervix is thinning out considerably. I'm going to increase the pitocin a bit, and I'll check you in a couple hours."

The contractions grew stronger, and I finally started to feel them in my back and thighs. We turned on the TV and watched Everybody Loves Raymond reruns. I'd never watched that show before, but it helped distract me a little from my growing discomfort. By 4:00, I clenched my eyes shut and focused on breathing through each contraction, releasing each breath with a series of blows.

The baby was so active the entire time I was in labor that Jen was having a hard time keeping him on the monitor. I had nurses coming in my room several times an hour to adjust the sensors on my stomach, sometimes staying and fiddling with them for 20-30 minutes as Drew performed acrobatics inside of me. 


*

At 4:30, Jen came in and checked me again. 

"You're at a four," she said. "You can have an epidural now. Do you want me to get the anesthesiologist?"

I was hesitant. I didn't want the epidural to slow me down, and the pain was still manageable. Jen understood.

"You can wait as long as you want, but the anesthesiologist has a C-section at 6:00 and won't be available again until 7:00. If you want the epidural before that, you'll need to have it done by 5:30."

I was okay with waiting the hour to see how things progressed, but at that moment, as Jen turned to talk to a nurse who had just walked into the room, the baby gave an almighty thrash. There was an audible pop and a gush, and I yelped. 

"Something just happened," I said to the startled nurses. The feeling was so intense and so weird that I couldn't immediately put words to it. 

"Your water broke?" Jen asked, then confirmed. "I think I'd better get the ball rolling on this epidural right now; what do you think?"

I agreed, knowing how much more painful and accelerated labor would soon become.


*

The anesthesiologist had me lie on my side while he did his work. He was kind and talked me through it all. I hate getting epidurals--to me, it's the worst part of the labor process. The painful discomfort of it feels wrong somehow; the heavy pressure on the nerves in my lower half as the anesthetic is injected is unnatural. 

I'd told him that my last epidural hadn't been strong enough, but I wish I hadn't because he gave me a high enough dose that after 15 minutes, I couldn't feel anything below my chest.

Jen checked me again as the epidural began to take hold. "You're at an 8," she said. "I'm going to call your doctor and tell him to get over here."


*

It was an eerie feeling, knowing that my body was laboring but being so detached from it. With both of my previous epidurals, I'd still felt the hard contracting in my abdomen enough to know when to push. 

I was at a 10 as my doctor came in and gowned up. "I know you can't feel anything," he said. "Let's try a couple practice pushes, and then we can wait until some of the numbness wears off."

Jay and the new nurse (Jen had just left) held my legs. They may as well have been someone else's legs for all I could feel. My previous deliveries, I'd been able to wiggle my feet and even move my legs, but not this time. 



"You're having a contraction," the doctor said. "Go ahead and push."


And I tried, but I felt nothing: no tightening of my abdominal wall, no clenching of my diaphragm. "Am I even doing it?" I asked. 

"Yes," he said. "Keep going."

In the middle of the third contraction, he told me to stop pushing. "Do you want to feel your baby's head?" he asked.

I was surprised--I hadn't realized I was almost done. I'd refused the offer in my previous deliveries: with Kate it was too weird, and with Jayne I'd been in too much pain. This time, I reached down and felt, to my shock, not the tip of the baby's crowning scalp, but his whole head. It was surreal.

One more contraction and push, and Drew was born. They plopped him on my chest, Jay cut the cord, and my baby started squalling. He calmed after he warmed up, his skin pressed against mine.

The doctor delivered the placenta ("I think this is one of the biggest I've ever seen! It's enormous!") and showed it to me and Jay. I got one stitch--my first ever--and watched as Drew weighed in at nine pounds even.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Drew: A Birth Story, Part II

It's become a tradition for me to publish my babies' birth stories on their first birthdays. I'm an all-the-gory-details kind of writer, so feel free to skip this series if words like "placenta" aren't your jam. I've broken this into four parts, and I'll be posting them over the next few days.


*

Jay's awesome aunt and cousin offered to stay with our girls for the day until my mom could get there that evening, so after eating one last meal and packing a bag, I drove myself to the hospital around 10:30.

I checked into Labor and Delivery at Mountainview Hospital. My nurse, Jen, led me to what has to be the redheaded stepchild of delivery rooms--it was small and cramped. I changed into an ugly hospital gown (there's no such thing as a "cute" hospital gown, but these garishly pink tent-like monstrosities with awkward cutouts for breastfeeding deserve the qualifier "ugly." For any of you entrepreneurial types out there, consider designing a line of, if not cute, at least inoffensive maternity gowns), filled out a bunch of paperwork, and then lay back uncomfortably as Jen checked me to see if this was the real deal or not.



"I'm keeping you!" she said. "There's fluid pooling, so your waters definitely ruptured. You're dilated to a three, but your baby is high and you're not very effaced. Your contractions are six minutes apart. If they don't start picking up soon, we'll start you on pitocin."

I'm convinced shock is a denial hangover. I was suddenly glad I'd packed my hospital bags, though I'd left everything in the car.

Jen got my IV started (one of my least favorite parts of this whole process--that catheter hurts like hell the whole time it's in) and began the antibiotic drip. At one point, she increased the dosage concentration, and my whole arm seized up in pain. It was agonizing for a couple minutes until she adjusted the dosage again.

The hospital's laborist came in to do a quick ultrasound to make sure the baby was head-down since he was so high up Jen couldn't tell. The quirky doctor confirmed the baby was in position. "Do you have an estimate of how big he is?" I asked. I hadn't had a late-term ultrasound this time, so I wasn't sure what to expect.



The doctor placed his hands on my abdomen and kneaded around the baby. "Nine or ten pounds," he said, and I couldn't tell if he was joking. 

"You really think so?" I asked.

"Ten percent chance he's over ten pounds," he said as he backed out of the room with the ultrasound machine. "One percent chance he's less than nine." 

"So..." said Jen, "Do you have anyone coming to be with you?"

I told her Jay would arrive around noon, and he did, snacks in hand. 

*




I wrote out a birth plan before this delivery, the first time I've done so. I reviewed it with my doctor at my last appointment, and he was on board with all of my requests except for my desire to eat and drink during labor, at least until I received an epidural.

"I'll give you ice chips and IV fluids with electrolytes," he said. 

One of my biggest anxieties about delivery is not being allowed to eat or drink if I'm hungry or thirsty. I know that seems like a trivial thing to get worked up about, but how on earth am I supposed to summon the energy to birth a baby if I'm shaking from hunger or dry mouthed with thirst? I explained this to my doctor and acknowledged that I doubted it would even be an issue since I was planning on laboring at home as long as I could and expected a relatively short labor, but I still needed to know I had the option to eat if needed.

He finally said that he couldn't give me permission to eat or drink for liability reasons, but that if I was willing to assume the risks, he wouldn't stop me. 


I happily assumed all risks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Drew: A Birth Story, Part I

It's become a tradition for me to publish my babies' birth stories on their first birthdays. I'm an all-the-gory-details kind of writer, so feel free to skip this series if words like "placenta" aren't your jam. I've broken this into four parts, and I'll be posting them over the next few days.


Kate's birth story
Jayne's birth story


When we told my parents way back in January that we were expecting a baby and the due date was August 26, my mom said, "I know exactly when you're going to have that baby: August 23, because that's when classes start and the one day I can't come."

*


In my previous pregnancies, no matter how anxious or unprepared I felt in the lead-up to birth, I hit a point around 38 weeks where "better in than out" became "anything is better than this--better out than in!" 


I never hit that psychological wall this time around. Every week brought a level-up of pain and discomfort, but I still didn't feel ready. I was anxious about birth--anxious about having a newborn--anxious about not having everything ready.


When my OB checked me for the first time at my last appointment--one day shy of 39 weeks--he sounded almost disappointed that I was only dilated one centimeter and not effaced at all. "I can't even feel the baby's head," he said. "He's way high up in there." 


So we talked about potential induction dates "just in case" and agreed on Wednesday, August 31st--five days past my due date. 


*




My only real goal with my delivery date was to not have this baby on Jayne's birthday--I didn't want them to have to share. When her August 19th birthday came and went with no baby, I felt a sense of relief.


*


Monday, August 22, was rough. I felt out of sorts and uncomfortable and anxious. We went to Costco that night, and as we walked, I had strong contractions. Not labor contractions, but intense abdominal clenchings that were difficult to walk through.


As we stood in the checkout line, a woman went out of her way to approach me.


"You're totally having twins," she said. "Aren't you." It wasn't a question. Certainty was written on her face.


"Uh," I said, and I adopted my cheerful honesty voice, the one I use every time someone puts their foot in their mouth when they comment on my body, "Nope. Just one."


The woman looked a bit shocked--she had been so sure--and tried to backpedal. "Oh! It's just that I looked exactly like that when I was pregnant with my twins."


I gave her a half-smile. "I was even bigger with my last one."


She clearly had no idea how to respond and slowly backed away.




*



I slept fitfully that night. Every positional shift brought short, gasping breaths as I tried to manage both my bulk and my pain. I woke up at 2:30 in the morning to the sensation of small, wet gushes. The feeling and the volume was pretty much identical to what happened when I went into labor with Jayne. I was group B strep positive this time, so I knew if my water broke I needed to go to the hospital relatively soon so I could get started on antibiotics, but I was hesitant because when I'd gone in with Jayne, they'd sent me home and said my water hadn't actually broken.

I went back to bed with some mild nausea and a strong sense of denial.

*


"Denial" is the word that best sums up this pregnancy:

I dealt with flu-like symptoms for over two weeks before I even considered I could be pregnant. 

I couldn't believe we were having a boy.

I didn't think the day would come when I'd ever actually give birth, or that if it did, I'd at least feel ready.

And in the wee morning hours on August 23, still three days before my due date, I knew I couldn't possibly be in labor. I was certain I'd have more time.

Denial.

*



I lay in bed with Jay and insomnia, my other frequent nighttime companion, for about an hour before drifting back to sleep. I got up again around 4:00 with another bathroom urge and a tiny bit more fluid.

"Do you think you're in labor?" Jay asked. 

"No," I said. "I don't think so." And both of us slept just a little bit more before we got up around 6:00.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked. "Should I cancel my patients?"

"I don't know," I said. "I don't feel like I'm in labor, but clearly something is happening: I can't sleep, I'm losing small quantities of fluid, and I feel restless and strange. My contractions aren't super regular, and I don't feel them in my back or my thighs like I normally do when I'm in labor."



We'd had this same conversation at least four times since 4:00. We'd have it at least another three before Jay left for work. 


I couldn't tell him to cancel his patients for a baby that may or may not arrive that day. It was a lot of pressure, and I didn't feel like I could make that call without knowing for sure that I was in labor. So Jay left for work at 7:15, and I timed my contractions and took a shower and finally called my doctor's office at 8:30. The nurse urged me to go to the hospital to be checked, just in case. I finally told Jay to cancel his afternoon.