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Surrealistic drama? Or just the birth of a boy

October 16, 2009

the kids 8-08 026Mother Theresa and Gandhi have sauntered in from the afterlife, holding hands and poking around our house looking for any children that might need a little extra care and attention. They swoop down and gather up my babes just as I was scroogily blocking Rose from the bathroom where she was heading to waste gallons of soap and water. My parents—the people who were quick to set their own children up with babysitters and TV dinners—are visiting, thank goodness. It’s been 27 years since I peeled the foil off a floppy rectangle of Salisbury steak, and meanwhile, my parents have accumulated patience and generosity like lottery tickets and are here to cash them in.

Col and Rose know a good thing when it walks in the door bearing gifts and enough patience to repeatedly read that book about the French snail named Maurice that Dan purposely kicked under the couch. The kids have a laundry list of must-do items with their grandparents. Strangely, even before swim, children’s museum and kid’s open gym is “have yogurt with Baba and Nana” as if Dan and I routinely shut down their outrageous yogurt requests. It may have something to do with the fact that only occasionally does Dan smuggle past me something more flavorful than the plain yogurt that you can imagine was part of many Puritan breakfasts, along with boiled turnips. My parents are from California and they’re wild and their yogurt sits on a swale of sweet, sugary fruit.couch bed 007

My parents’ trips to Colorado increased 4-fold since we had kids. They were actually at Col’s birth and are so good at keeping a symbolic notecard tucked in their pocket that reads “this child’s life is a miracle.” I remember the miracle stuff mostly when I’m at some preschool performance watching Col mill around nervously on stage with his peers, scanning the audience for me and Dan and totally missing his cue to hold up his crayola-lettered sign, until some savvy girl nudges him. I get a little embarrassed but also overcome with gratitude that there he is, talking and walking and contrary to the above anecdote, so bright, when things could have gone so differently.

24 weeks pregnant

24 weeks pregnant

That my parents were at Col’s birth is a miraculous feat of timing considering Dan and I were in Denver, 350 miles from home, after being air-lifted because my water broke at 24 weeks. I certainly never planned on having my parents at the birth of my child, and the birth itself was as unplanned as the roadtrips I used to take in college, where you might as well have spun the old Honda around and gunned it wherever the grill pointed. At 24 weeks Dan and I were just starting the clichéd bantering over names. I had just signed us up for a birthing class and was immersed in the serious decisions of whether I wanted the scent of lavender or gardenias filling my laboring space. Norah Jones in the CD player or Emmy Lou Harris?

I spent six days on bedrest in Denver, gritting my teeth through contractions and lying to the nurses “Nope, no contractions here.” Not that my denial could have stopped labor; nor would they have given me the tocolytics (labor-halting drugs) I enviously watched my roommate receive through her IV. Without amniotic fluid, babies have no protection against pathogens, and often labor will start because the uterus is trying to expel the infected baby.

So, the conventional wisdom is that a sick baby is at higher risk than a small baby; therefore, the labor must go on.

baby col8On the night of a January new moon, Col was born. Six angels in green scrubs whisked this crumb of a human to their steely table, each ready to perform their part in a life-saving choreography where a single misstep would botch the whole dance. I heard Dan’s voice, ever the optimist, singing “it’s a boy, we’ve got a son!” Meanwhile, one of the residents who looked like she just celebrated her sweet sixteen was elbow deep inside of me, yanking bits of my stubborn placenta from its cozy uterine home.

“We just have to get it all out or you’ll have to have a D and C,” the prom queen hissed at me. My body bucked against the pain that was infinitely greater than the labor I had just endured without drugs. (And yes, even a 1 lb, 12 ounce baby comes down the pike with belly-splitting pain). “You want to see your baby, mom?” One of the green angels asked. They wheeled the little wisp by me and all I could register was “very, very small and very red.” Dan and my mom followed the team of angels down to the NICU, while the resident baby col 20continued the fight with my placenta, my dad staunchly by my side. Any father who stands by and holds his daughter’s hand while she’s gushing blood and expletives, is a very special man. It makes up for all the TV dinners, which I secretly loved, especially when I actually got to watch them in front of the TV.

The next morning, Col wrapped his entire hand around my mother’s thumbnail.


Fast forward, if you will, 4 ½ years; my parents are very close with both kids, who seem to approach their visits as if finally, someone has come to save them from the drudgery of life with me and Dan. Finally, someone has come with the good yogurt.ellen and ike and col with bowl009

All this grandparent-saintliness makes me look bad. When I snap at Rose for the way she tugs at my clothes like an impatient seamstress, my mom says “Rosie honey, come here and grab at my skirt. No one ever pulls on my clothes in Berkeley and I don’t mind.” When Baba and Nana read books to the kids, they let Col interrupt five million times, giving thoughtful and detailed answers to his questions (“No, Col honey, the lizard is pooped, it means he’s tired, he didn’t go poop.”) They think nothing of Rose’s propensity to want to skip back a few pages to revisit her current favorite illustration of the baby “screaming his head off.” (It sort of delights and terrifies her – “dat baby’s head coming off now?”)

And always, the most valuable dividend of my parents’ visits is how they invite me to take a brief glimpse down the long tunnel of perspective. The “long view,” we call it. When Col was 18 months and my brain dial was stuck on “how can I get this waif of a boy to eat?” my dad would laugh about how when Col was a teenager I probably wouldn’t be able to keep the fridge stocked for him. When I fretted over Col’s inability to sit still my mom would point out Col’s amazing agility, curiosity and general cheerful nature, likely because he had just climbed his home oxygen tank, fell on his head, shrugged it off and went back for more.

It’s coming up on five years since that new moon night in Denver, which now feels like a surrealist play, where all these separate lives–green angels, a prom queen, cheerleading grandparents, a very, very small new person–collided for a short time.  Strings of days pass now where I don’t think about the 3 1/2 months Col was in the NICU, nor the following 18 months he was on oxygen, nor the medications, the specialists, or the fears that I kept tucked in my pocket at all times. These days I mostly see a vibrant boy riding his bike in the late afternoon sun.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Peggy permalink
    October 16, 2009 1:08 pm

    Wow….now THAT was a great one! I’m still trying to manage a full breath – apparently I was holding my breath while reading. Even though I know Col’s birth story, and have read some other postings you have put out there about it – it still takes my breath away. And I welled up when you described your dad with you right after you had him….wow. Just wow. You guys have been through a lot, and I’m happy to know that you have reached a point of “normalcy” (really, what is that anyway?) after all of this. Children truly are a blessing – even if they DO drive me crazy every once in a while! Thanks Rachel – be well and send some hugs and kisses to your fam!

  2. Rebecca permalink
    October 16, 2009 3:18 pm

    So beautifully expressed, Rachel-every word! Thank you for sharing with us, and thank you God for the miracle of Col. I’m in tears and have to go love on my babies now!

  3. Anonymous permalink
    October 16, 2009 6:32 pm

    It’s so great to be able to keep up with you and your family! I love reading your stories and seeing the pics of Col and how he is thriving these days. What a blessing to have such a healthy boy given his unsure start. I can’t believe he will be 5! Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Kami (one of Col’s biggest fans back from his NICU days)

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      October 17, 2009 2:40 pm

      Night nurse Kami! Great to hear from *you!* Thanks for being such a compassionate hero in Col’s early life. We are ever grateful.

  4. Julie permalink
    October 17, 2009 9:30 am

    Pure beauty at its best. You are so blessed. And yes, I can relate to feeling inadequate with the grandparents around but again feel so much gratitude that my children have others that love them as much as I do and have more patience because my life is always in a whirlspin.

  5. October 17, 2009 1:31 pm

    I’ve missed your writing. Always looked forward to the latest issue of the Telegraph when I knew your creative pen would be in there somewhere. Thanks for the invitation to your blog. Love Col so much….from way out here in Mancos, there’s a big heart pounding for you and your family.

    Can’t wait to read more.

  6. Ike permalink
    October 18, 2009 12:39 pm

    Beautiful writing Rachel. Whenever l think about Col it is most always with great gratitude for how well is he is doing. Expeiencing the way he made his way into this world has made me more sensitive to the miraculous nature of all births, both easy and difficult ones.

  7. Kathy permalink
    October 18, 2009 2:08 pm

    Hi Rachel, what a miraculous birth Col had! I had no idea! Your family must feel very blessed indeed.
    I have been meaning to let you know for months just how much I enjoy your writing in the Herald. Today I barely passed the first page and there was a notice that you have a blog! I so enjoy reading your “adventures” with the kids, I am now one of “those” Grandparents and loving every minute of it. But, I do like to be reminded of all the great, and not so great, times I had with my own kids. Your happy family is well worth reading about! Kathy L

  8. October 18, 2009 11:28 pm

    Hi Rachel,
    What wonderful parents you have!…and what a very amazing birth story that is! A one pound baby is truly a miracle!
    Love to you,

  9. October 19, 2009 6:10 pm

    How is it that after five years, your vivid replay of this miraculous story still makes me cry? What a beautiful reminder about embracing the gift of life as well as recognizing and being thankful for love and support. Thank you so much for sharing!

  10. Ruby permalink
    October 19, 2009 6:28 pm

    I really enjoy reading your blog Rachel. Col reminds me very much of my own son. I love your writing and couldn’t be more pleased to know of another preemie mom whose sense of humor carried her through all the scary times.

  11. Stacy permalink
    October 20, 2009 10:38 pm

    I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since amazing Col has arrived! Time goes so fast. I can relate to your thoughts about grandparents. The amount of patience and love they have is amazing. We’re thankful for each visit we get here. Your blog is awesome. Keep up the good work and tell the great GPOCs hi! :) love, Stacy

  12. Chris permalink
    October 22, 2009 8:52 pm

    I can’t believe Col will be 5 which makes me contemplate that Carolyn, who is just 10 days older, will be 5 as well. How can this be? I am in denial. Weren’t these babies just born all too soon under the (nearly) same moon? I say it all the time: They have come so, so far.

    Oh I can relate to your parents’ being the saviors and how time has mellowed them. I always say Carolyn likes my parents more than me! She even calls my mother “mama” or “mommy” by mistake sometimes! I have to remind my mother and Carolyn about my role in giving birth. They seem to forget.

    Great post Rachel, as always. Love seeing pics, too.

  13. Chris G. permalink
    November 10, 2009 11:31 am

    As a young parent of one who was impatient but loving; often bored and longing for solitude, but extremely close to my daughter; trying to be perfect but always falling short … and now, as that daughter is 25 and thinking of having her own children that I giddily anticipate, I really, really enjoyed your depiction of your parents as grandparents. Because that will be me. And it’s refreshing to read your perspective because I’ve been there too. Hopefully I will remember both – and this blog – when the time comes for me to cup my palm over the head of my daughter’s baby — and have her look as lovingly into my face as you do your own mother’s in the photograph above. My eyes are still full.

  14. November 16, 2009 5:22 pm

    This has to be one of the best preemie stories I have ever read. Oh how I wish I had grandparents like that! I love your writing.

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