Unscheduled events

So according to the medical terminology used by my hospital, I had a “scheduled” c-section in the middle of the month of May.

Hmph. Scheduled in that they tortured me for 24 hours first and had time to reserve an operating time and room to suit my doctor’s plan for his day. Essentially UN-scheduled in that my baby wasn’t due for another three weeks and I certainly wasn’t planning on having him that day.

Such are the indignities of pre-eclampsia. My vision of a natural childbirth fled before me once my blood pressure started spiking and my kidneys started to do Very Bad Things.

Magnesium is Not Fun, and I had to be on it for four hours before my delivery and then twenty-four hours afterwards. And since I was on mag, I was also confined to bedrest, stuck with a catheter and little pressurized air boots, and continuously monitored for blood pressure and oxygen levels. Did I mention that I’m allergic to medical devices? My catheter, my IV, the little boots, all the tape and every place a plastic/silicone device rubbed my skin, all of them were swollen messes. I can assure you, being allergic to a catheter is no joking matter. Benadryl and Vistaril only helped somewhat.

And my precious boy, my ultimate son, my skinny little under-cooked 37 week baby, ended up in the NICU within 12 hours of birth, struggling to get enough oxygen into his blood thanks to pulmonary hypertension. He spent the next six days in there, and I didn’t get to hold him until day 3 after his birth. I didn’t even get to touch him, actually, because my spinal anesthesia knocked my arms out entirely for about 6 hours during/after my surgery. Not being able to touch your baby is pure hell. I feel extreme sympathy for all NICU moms– it’s awful.

But we’re both alive.

This is good. We had a close call, both of us. And he continues to struggle, having already battled off a horrible cold that threatened to turn into pneumonia, sleep apnea, and epic diaper rash from the antibiotics we used to fight the infection. Plus he’s been on steroids for swelling in his throat. And he’s apparently allergic to something in the house and has chronic congestion problems.

Sigh.

I am helpless in the face of all this. This is not how I envisioned the first two months of my youngest and (presumably) last child’s life. I had cozy images of a nice breastfeeding relationship and quiet peacefulness and an uncomplicated delivery. But I didn’t get those things, due to circumstances mostly beyond my control. The baby turned out to be a slow feeder who much preferred the bottles he’d begun getting in the NICU to the squishy realities of momma’s appendages. And my middle-aged post-surgical body decided that milk production was superfluous when I was still so sick myself and shut off production. Life’s been crazy around the house with lots of chaos and un-planned-for events. And my doctor freaked out when confronted with my history of 2 shoulder dystocia events, three sonograms showing a kid large for dates, and pre-eclampsia. So there went the entire vision of simple and natural.

But I’m alive and he’s alive, so it’s okay.

But it shot my plans all to hell. And woke me up to reality. Memento mori, valar morghulis, whatever you like to call it– we’re all going to die. And I’m not exempt.

Bleh.

So, yes, I’m going to die, and I don’t get to dictate the terms of THAT, either.

I’d better get serious about this business of living, then, huh?

Yeah.

Let’s get to it.

 

Promises

When I was a newly-minted nurse, stuck on the graveyard shift and alone except for my tech and infrequent med nurse, I made myself a promise. It wasn’t a hasty promise as much as a hopeful one: I promised myself that, by 40, I would read the 100 Best Novels list by The Modern Library.

I still have the leather journal that I bought to document this process– the list is pasted in the front and the first half dozen or so novels are laboriously commented-upon in my uncertain handwriting. As the years went by, I had varying success with keeping to the promise. Some months would go by without my reading anything, followed by torrid reading fests where I gulped down the classics as fast as I could. I made some progress. Right now, two months shy of my 40th birthday, I’ve read 63 of the novels. That leaves 37 to go, impossible even if a) I read a book a day except on weekends and b) the “novels” consisted of only a single book each. Many of the selections are actually for multiple-book series– Parade’s End, The USA Trilogy, and the Studs Lonigan Trilogy among them.

So I’m not going to make it. The promise will remain unfulfilled.

Except . . . .

When I made this ambitious reading plan for myself, I really had no vision of myself at forty. My mother died at thirty-six, and like many adults who were orphaned early, I was unable to move myself past that age. Something would surely strike me down before I passed her by, some tragedy would lay me low before I dared to outlive her.

But it didn’t. I struggled mightily the year I was 36, and very nearly did die at 35, but somehow I made it through. The years have slipped past, each one bringing a little more gray to my temples and a dubious amount of wisdom to my mind. In another month and a half, I’ll hit the magical 4-0 and be, finally, something very like middle-aged.

I am still trying to resign myself to this process– just becoming older than my mother did not necessarily accustom me to the indignities of ageing. Miss Clairol is my boon companion. Creams and lotions of all sorts have started filling my shopping basket. I am not yet old– indeed, I’m due with another child in early June– but I can feel the pendulum swinging. Things are beginning to break down, and if I live to be 80 this is indeed the midpoint of my life.

But I can see 80 from here. When I resolved to read all those presumably mind-improving books, forty was an un-knowable quantity. I couldn’t imagine it, couldn’t put myself in the picture. Who I would be was a joke, for I didn’t expect to “be” at all.

So, in a way, I am not the person that made that promise. I have grown, stretched, changed– and not simply in the creases at the corners of my eyes or the sudden in-elasticity of the skin on the backs of my hands. I’ve learned that, sometimes, promises aren’t worth keeping. There are important promises– ones to love and honor, ones to serve– and there are the rash promises we make when we’re really wishing for something else. For certainty, perhaps, or for hope. They’re not true to who we are, and were never really meant at all.

The trick is, I think, not to make many of those second types. They’ll break you as you try to keep them and you’ll end up breaking them.

I’ve broken most promises I’ve ever made.

This will not be the last.

I wish I could promise to only make good promises in the future. To vow that I will always be sensible and constant, faithful and thoughtful, loving and mature. But we all know better than that. I will swear off Coca Cola and end up desperately gulping one down in a McDonalds parking lot. I will vow to never swear and end up taking the name of God in vain right in His church. I will be stupid and unfathomably idiotic in many many ways.

But life is too short to keep bad promises made in bad faith– or in none. I had no faith that I would ever be this person– this woman on the cusp of 40. I never intended to fail, but I never really intended to win, either.

And life is much too short to read things you hate simply because someone put them on a list.

So, I will promise you this: I will learn something from this experience, even if it is just that James Joyce was the world’s biggest con artist. And I will put that knowledge to good use and probably never read “Ulysses.”

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll think twice before promising myself something stupid in the future.

Enduring

So, I’ve been thinking and thinking about what it means to endure.

To live is, in some ways, to suffer. To live through suffering . . . to endure. . . is simply what’s required of us. If we can’t hack it, if we quit, then it’s lights out, game over, the end of the road. To live is to endure. The alternative isn’t too pleasant.

So I’ve been enduring, been living. But that isn’t quite enough for us prissy middle-class American types. Nah, we want to thrive, to be blissed-out, to have perfection and harmony and a really nice camera to record it all with.

But is that what I want?

Sure, I want to have happiness and goodness and joy. But lately I have come to realize that I am more interested in the inner self than I’ve been in a long while. I want to be good, to do good, to live well . . . and not in the “living well means a new SUV and a perfect house and great food” kind of way. (Although any of those things would be nice.) I want to carve all the hate and fear and selfishness and anger and misery out of myself . . . to cut down close to the bone and remove the dead flesh until there’s nothing left but the essentials. Which, I hope, would be good things.

I have never been a good person. Oh, sure, I did a good imitation for a while and had the external trappings, but in my heart I was awful. And I am old enough, and broken enough by time and sufferings, to know that those selfish ways and hateful thoughts hurt me before they hurt anyone else.

So, if I cannot endure forever, I must search out what I value in the little time that I have. And I value love and gentleness and peace and family. Those things endure through time, past my brief life and on into the future, echoing through the generations to come. If I can give those things to my children, perhaps they can pass them on. And in some small way, I will endure.

There is a sad lament written about the Native American experience that moved me. And proves that something of us does live on, even if it is just a few words spoken at the right time. Here it is:

The Earth Only
composed by Used-As-A-Shield, translated 1918

Wica’hcala kin
heya’pelo’
maka’ kin
lece’la
tehan yunke’lo
eha’ pelo’
ehan’kecon
wica’ yaka pelo’
The old men
say
the earth
only
endures
You spoke
truly
You are right.

It is enough.