Lights turn off for bedtime. The small flashlight flickers on but it’s not enough to play by, not enough to hide the scary shadows of a child’s imagination. I don’t stop to argue, don’t invite the protests, tonight. The baby is fed and warm in her daddy’s arms so I linger with the big boys, so tough and independent in the bright daytime light, all full of fears and doubts and unnamed dreads in the dark. I lie down on the bottom bunk and feel the lithe warm body of a little boy press against my back, strong and wiry and small and vulnerable in the drowsiness of just-before-sleep.
Softly, in the dark, I hear the gentle murmur of a snore, and I peek over my shoulder to see him lying there asleep, empty sippy cup tucked in against his elbow, Grandma’s handmade quilt pulled up over his belly, legs poking out the side with the knees up and the feet tucked under my hip. I sneak out of the room. I am eager to have some time with my own thoughts, to create, to be, without any demands or expectations on my time.
But there is still the food from dinner to be put away; the dishes are done but the food, too hot before, was waiting until after the bedtime rush, and as I scoop the leftovers into Tupperware, mindlessly, inefficiently, trying to read a book at the same time, I hear the baby crying, waking up for a last feed before settling into the deep sleep of nighttime.
I pick her up, lay her next to me on the bed, and she curls into me, little hands reaching for me, little feet tucking themselves into the curve of my belly, little mouth open and eager, little tear-stained eyes sleep-heavy and drooping closed. Her frantic energy lessens, breathing calmed, until at last I roll her back over to her crib. For a moment her whole body drapes across mine and I feel that soft cheek pressed up against me, the total trust and relentless love of an infant for their mother, and I’m the mother, and it hardly seems real, scarcely seems believable, like the whole crazy world is just too beautiful to be possible.
Most nights I stay here, worn out myself, caught up in the sweet beauty of the love a mother receives from sleepy children in need of snuggles and presence, unable to stop watching a baby or a toddler or a preschooler still and peaceful at long last, barely daring to breathe lest it all fall apart, amazed that such a life could be mine. But tonight I pull myself up. There are words to write, pictures to curate, cookies and milk to be eaten, and thoughts to be wrung out from ethereal unformed space to concrete actuality on the screen of my computer.
Well, it’s been a busy few weeks here. To be honest, it’s been harder since Aubade’s birth than I expected it would be, considering that this is our third baby (so we should have more confidence and experience by now) and that she is a significantly easier baby than the first two. It seems like life just keeps throwing curveballs at us…
To begin with, my physical and emotional recovery from the birth has been a bit more complicated this time around, what with the severe tear on the physical side and the postpartum depression and anxiety on the emotional side. Those baby blues I wrote about last month escalated into depression and anxiety so bad that they were making it hard for me to get out of bed and be present with the kids every day; I would get up and shower because I wanted to keep the tear clean, and force myself to get dressed in presentable clothes, because if I didn’t I would just curl up under the covers and feel horrible. My husband would get home from school and I would take Aubade up to bed with me and hide from the world, so overwhelmed from the few hours of parenting on my own. I wasn’t interested in anything at all, really, but I was devouring books just to keep my mind off of real life and to drown out the thoughts of fear and guilt that kept pouring in. And the anxiety – of being left alone with the kids, of driving, of leaving the house, of talking to people outside my family, of letting everyone down, of being “crazy”, and so on – was so strong (despite its obvious irrationality) that I would have waves of pain course through my chest.
My OB treated me with a series of progesterone shots, operating on the principle that the sudden decrease in progesterone at the end of pregnancy can throw the whole hormonal system out of sync and cause PPD/PPA. Fortunately my husband was able to take care of some of them at home so I didn’t have to set up an appointment every other day for the whole series! And they definitely took the edge off of the negative emotions. The first day it felt like I was on a high – much better than normal – and I thought maybe that’s how things would settle in… but no such luck. I’m still in a hole, but it’s not as deep as it was, and some days I feel like I might be climbing out of it.
In the middle of all of this, we started getting sick. Apparently it had been a mild winter here in the illness department, but February brought all the germs with it and everyone across the valley is catching and spreading disease. Naively I thought that Aubade would be safe from anything going around because her immune system would be bolstered by mine since she’s exclusively breastfeeding, but it didn’t work out that way. Last Thursday I took all three kids to their pediatrician and after prescribing albuterol, antibiotics, and steroids for the boys she told me to take Aubade straight to the ER at the children’s hospital by our house. I was in shock. The boys had never been sick as newborns, so I didn’t realize how differently a serious illness could present in a newborn as opposed to an older baby or toddler. But because they have fewer energy reserves to draw on, and because they don’t know how to breathe through their mouths, an upper respiratory infection that might just cause a cough and a runny nose in a toddler can accelerate a baby’s breathing rate to the point of exhaustion.
The ER took Aubade’s symptoms as seriously as our pediatrician had; we were in a room within 30 minutes, which is quite impressive for a busy urban emergency department, and within another 30 minutes a respiratory therapist had evaluated her and hooked her up to a high-flow oxygen machine. (The high-flow machine pushes air gently down the baby’s airways, so that they don’t have to work so hard to pull air in past all the congestion in their nose and lungs; the oxygen concentration was originally set twice as high as normal air but they told me it was really the pressure more than the oxygen that she needed.) May I note in passing how much I appreciated the ER nurses? Fast, competent, and caring without a hint of saccharine, they inspired confidence and relieved my anxieties without minimizing Aubade’s condition. Even before the respiratory therapist arrived, they had suctioned out her nose and lungs, and did so again a few hours later when her breathing began to worsen. The pediatric nurses we had after transferring out of the ER that evening were not so wonderful by comparison, though they weren’t bad by any means.
So… she ended up being in the hospital for the next two nights. The boys slept over at my mom’s house for one of those nights and the first night we had her back home; my husband fought off a stomach bug and tried to keep up with school and job applications and laundry; I sat in the hospital with Aubade and held her and watched movies and tried to sleep. It was rough, even though I could tell she was slowly improving the whole time we were there. RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) usually peaks around the fifth or sixth day, which is when we were in the hospital, so we were able to adequately support her breathing through the worst of it.
Rondel and Limerick caught the same virus, and both presented with coughs and ear infections, but since they are older it wasn’t as dangerous. Rondel is now on a preventative steroid inhalant, though, as every cold he gets turns into a cough – he’s been on Albuterol at least four times just this winter. I’m hoping it will help, and I’m also hoping it isn’t a sign that he’ll be officially diagnosed with asthma at some point in the future. I suppose the silver lining of all this is that my prayer life and relationship with the saints are both growing… that daily shower is a good time to maintain spiritual health as well as physical and emotional health, with a morning prayer thrown in with the shampooing and all. Better that than nothing, anyway, and I know the kids won’t distract me then.
But hopefully the rest of my maternity leave goes a bit better! We’ve still got a spring break trip up north, summer internship applications, physical therapy, and maybe a visit to a psychiatrist to fit in to these next five weeks, on top of the regular demands of school, parenting, and running a home… so if we can stay healthy (physically and mentally) it would be great 🙂