Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Hospital Pt. 4: The Lurking Fear

I rang Abbie’s bell. Thank god, I thought, that our landlords only live two doors down. I really don’t know what I would’ve done, in the middle of the day, with all my building-mates at work, in slippers.

Abbie came to the door after a moment. She’d been downstairs doing work, she said, and invited me in.

I apologized for disturbing her, but she was very friendly about it, and quickly found extra keys. Not wanting to keep her from her project, I took the keys and promised to have them back in a few moments.

“You can just drop them through the mail slot,” she said.

You know what? Abbie is a great landlord. She and her husband, David, have blazed one route that Randi and I imagine we could go down, eventually. They are successful business owners, but they still make time for lengthy summer vacations with their kids. Plus David is forever playing catch with his son, Henry. Not long ago I joked that the only reason they had kids was so that David, who’s kind of a jock, had someone to play with.

Abbie is more of an artist, in appearance and general demeanor, although I think she’s an architect by trade. She has glasses and fairly short hair. She’s always been very friendly and laid-back with us.

David is a school teacher, at a Quaker school, I believe, and has a high energy about him. We don’t really know them intimately, all these years later, but we do feel comfortable with them, and we’ve come to them for advice. Specifically, because we were interested in actually buying an apartment before the Great Apartment Hunt began. One night we sat down with them to discuss whether it made sense to buy, and what kind of lead time they’d need so we’d get our deposit back. They told us they needed just a few weeks lead for us to get our money back and gave us sound advice about buying. (I.E., do it!) Seriously, how many landlords would do that?

Well, anyway, Abbie had the keys. I took them, but before I could leave she stopped me.

“Hey, so what happened with the baby?”

Oh yeah, the baby! In my grogginess I had forgotten.

“Right! Sorry Abbie! Yes, she’s here, and wonderful. Her name’s Stella Rae, and she’s just over seven pounds. She’s pretty adorable, although with a name like that I think I’ve doomed her to a life as a blues guitarist.”

Abbie and I went back and forth like that until she felt reasonably caught up, and then I left. Back inside the apartment I ate a bowl of Cheerios, took a shower, put on some new clothes and went back outside, feeling like a new man. Then I carefully dropped Abbie’s set of keys in her mail slot, and drove back to the hospital. This time, I said, I would be damned if I paid for parking.

Luckily there was a free spot down the street from the hospital. As I locked the car the sun felt gloriously warm. Weeping cherry trees graced the brownstoned streets as I walked back to my wife, child and life.

Once inside the hospital, however, it was as dreary as ever. I can’t speak for other hospitals but after not very long I realized that, as far as amenities went, New York Methodist combined the worst hotel ever with the worst airplane food ever.

And here was some of that airplane food now. While I was away Randi had either ordered, or had been given, some kind of gristly meat on the bone. She’d barely touched it, favoring the flavorless vegetables and sugary fruit cocktail instead. Still hungry, despite my bowl of cereal, I gamely tackled the bone. Key word here: gamely. I felt every inch the predator, or more fittingly, the scavenger. No surprises here, it tasted pretty bad.

After that relatives started to filter in. That day we saw my mother, brother, father, my friend Eric, and Randi’s friends Alex and Don. Lots of pictures were taken, and the baby was passed around like firewater at a hobo convention.

The last to leave was my father, who drove Judy back to our apartment, so she could cat sit, while Randi and I attempted to cram ourselves onto the slightly larger than twin-sized adjustable bed. By 10:00 p.m. we were ready to sleep, and that’s when a nurse came in, and told us they were taking Stella to conduct some kind of test. Exhausted we agreed, and dozed off.

But not for long. We awoke just two hours later, realizing the baby still hadn’t returned. And yes, I admit, we panicked a little. Did they steal her? So soon?

I walked to the nurse station, asking, no DEMANDING, to see my baby, now. The nurse at the desk looked at me sympathetically—they were only trying to help us get some sleep, in reality—but soon they found the child and wheeled her out to me to take back. Man, what a sight for sore eyes our baby was.

It’s amazing how quickly I grew dependent on having Stella in my life. Seriously, it took about five minutes.

When I got back to our room Randi was wide awake. Stella was not. She slept on peacefully.

I stood there and watched her breath. Terrified of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), terrified of a nurse already taking her again, but also just to see her tiny chest heave up and down.

Soon her breaths became sharper, and emerged into, yes, cries! This is how new we were to parenting: even her cry delighted me.

“You hear that?” I asked Randi. “It sounds like ‘mama!’”

I know, all this sounds kind of dopey. Believe me, we got over the cuteness of her cries pretty quick.

At this point I did my first solo diaper change, having been instructed by Randi earlier in the day. I was terrified that if I did it wrong I would somehow do something terrible to the kid.

This is a good time to mention that this terrified feeling pretty much described my entire first week of parenthood. And although we were certainly afraid of exterior things and people—such as baby thieves—I was much more afraid of myself.

Every time I held Stella I asked Randi if I was hurting her. When I laid her down it took about eight minutes each time, so scared was I of bruising her neck, and wounding her for life. When I held her and she cried, which happened a lot, I felt like I must be cracking a baby rib, scaring her, or just possessed bad baby mojo.

Judy had given me wonderful advice the day Stella was born: “Don’t be afraid of her! No matter what you do, you are her father, and she will love you.”

But I couldn’t believe that. I once stuck a pinky in her mouth during that first week so she could suck on something without breast feeding, to give Randi a rare break. She sucked for about three minutes, spit it out, and then went on a crying rampage. I freaked out, convinced I had somehow given my daughter stomach flu. I spent that night looking out for all these symptoms and then the next 48 hours were spent on constant alert as I watched for vomiting and runny stools. Guess what? All baby stools are runny! Some have what look like Dijon mustard seeds in them, but that’s about as firm as they get. But it didn’t matter, I was losing my mind.

Anyway, so I changed that diaper, somehow, despite my fear of rending her flesh on the very mild adhesive tape provided to close the diaper. God, I couldn’t have been gentler is she had been a landmine.

After my maiden diaper change Randi tried to breast feed her. We were on the natural kick, no formula for us. It was the breast all the way. Both of us had been bottle fed from the start and felt bummed that we missed out on all those anti-bodies. There was no way we’d let our kid get screwed like we did. All those mothers that went straight for the bottle made us mad. Were they just lazy? Did they even try?

But there’s one thing they don’t tell you about breast feeding. True, it is the most natural, and healthy, way for a child to eat. True, it can save a lot of money over formula, and uses less packaging, so it’s better for the environment. True it’s so central to life that it’s one of the basic things that defines what a mammal is.

But this is also true: breast feeding kind of blows.

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