Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Marlinee Iverson

When I think of writing my son's birth story, I don't think about his birth as much as I think about everything else that happened to and around me in the summer of 2003. I recall one catastrophe after another taking me by surprise. I think about how my son wasn't breathing when he was born, about how the doctor broke his arm to get him out, about how my body wouldn't stop bleeding, about how I ended up in intensive care with a blood transfusion. I think about the storm that destroyed my house while I was trapped inside with my two children, leaving my family homeless while burglars repeatedly broke in and sifted through the remains. I felt unlucky for the first time in my life. And it seemed as though my luckless state affected people around me too. My best friend miscarried, my parents and my brother went through a personal crisis of their own, my father-in-law's prostate cancer reared its ugly head again, and my dear, sweet dog of 10 years died all alone in a dog kennel. How could all this have happened in just one summer when I can't even recall anything very memorable about any other summer I've ever lived through?

I want to remember the summer of 2003 as a happy, carefree summer when my little boy was born. But I already know that I'm going to remember it as the summer my life fell apart. Whenever I have a moment of rest, it's easy to be negative, but I'm learning to reject the negativity and focus on being a survivor. Surviving takes courage. Courage is something I want my son to learn about, and the best way to teach him is to have it. I'm not talking about the juvenile belief that nothing bad will happen to you. I'm talking about the courage it takes to see things inexplicably broken, be it your life, your friend, your family, your home, or your dog, and to have a voice inside you tell you to pick up those broken pieces and move on. Just move on.

I didn't know whether I had that kind of courage. I had confidence--confidence that things would go my way--but not courage. Another best friend once gave me a quote by Edward Abbey that said, "Without courage, all other virtues are useless." If I didn't believe it before, I believe it now.

Augustine was still in the back of my mind the day he was born—he was still something that was over a month away. The event of his birth started with an infection that I contracted sometime when the weather started getting warmer in May. Such a small thing it seems, but now, looking back, it reminds me of chaos theory, the story about how a small butterfly can beat its wings, causing huge, rippling effects across the earth. I noticed the infection but decided not to do anything about it for awhile, deluding myself that my second pregnancy was going to be a cinch. I finally decided to see a doctor about it on a Friday during the first week of June. I received a pelvic exam and some medicine.

The medicine said that cramping was a side effect. The whole weekend, I felt mild cramps. On Sunday night, my husband, Eric, said, "How do you know it's not something besides the medicine?" I was sure the cramps weren't labor pains because I went the full nine months with my daughter. I thought, "Why would I have this one six weeks early?" The cramps lasted throughout the night, and I slept until about 4:00 in the morning, when I decided to call my doctor. He told me to call him back in one hour, no matter what, and tell him how I was feeling. I got off the phone and ten minutes later, I knew I was in labor. I thought, "I have time to take a quick shower because the last time I was in labor, it lasted over thirty hours." I got in the shower and had to prop my body against the wall and bend over from the excruciating pain. I said to myself over and over again, "Okay okay okay, it's alright. It's gonna be okay." I yelled at Eric to get the car ready, to get someone over to the house to stay with Apiranee, and to call the doctor and tell him to meet me at the hospital.

During the drive to the hospital, I begged Eric to help me. I said repeatedly, "Please, oh please, help me, will you please give me some pain medicine or something, anything?" He finally told me in a stern voice, "Listen, I don't have anything. You have GOT to stop asking me for it." (I forgave him for this because I could see how scared he was).

When we made it to the emergency entrance, the hospital staff just did not think I was as far along as I claimed (screamed) that I was, but they checked me and determined that I was fully dilated and ready to push. They rushed me into a critical area, and one nurse (the mean one) kept saying in a mother-to-child way, "You cannot push, you need to breath." Another nurse (the nice one) got in my face and told me to look her in the eyes and breath with her. I remember that they did a quick sonogram and determined that Augustine was in a breech position. Suddenly, everyone was rushing around preparing me for an emergency c-section. I told Eric I loved him and went rolling away into a room of white lights and voices and then silence and nothing.

When I woke up, Eric and a nurse told me that Augustine was fine and in the neonatal intensive care unit. They said they would wheel me up there before taking me to my room. I remember how they rolled me up next to his tiny little plastic box and how he was lying there, plastic hood around his head and little purple heart stickers stuck on his body where six wires were attached. Then they took me away from him. No breastfeeding for us. He was too small and too low on energy to do anything else but breath. They told me I should keep pumping and pumping and that they would give him whatever I had to give. I didn’t have anything. Eric and I convinced ourselves that I was producing a tiny, tiny, drop of milk or something in the pump bottles, and he proudly walked the bottles up to the NICU for them to keep for Augustine. Maybe they had a nice chuckle over those bottles filled with nothing.

Then I got sick. Fevery, shaky, achy sick. It was a blood infection. I couldn't pump anymore because I didn't have the energy. My doctor decided to give me a blood transfusion—he decided he had waited long enough and that my condition was getting worse. They took me to the ICU, and I spent the night there without Eric, sad and cold and lonely and worried and scared and hurting. The worst part was having to pee constantly due to some kind of medicine I was taking for bloating. I had to get up and sit on a portable toilet every time, and it was tedious and painful. My fever broke early in the morning, and after that, a no-nonsense Filipino nurse came in and said, "I am going to change your sheets." With a finesse that made me think about how wonderful nurses are, she managed to peel layers of sweaty sheets from my body, give me a sponge bath, douse me with a little talcum powder, and remake the bed with fresh linens.

Feeling better a day or so later, I was able to visit Augustine and start pumping more regularly. They found out that his right arm was broken from when the doctor pulled him out of me. He had a little blue cast on his arm, and he looked both cute and pitiful. All I could think about was getting him out of there and going back home where we could all be a family together. Apiranee came to visit and she was amazingly understanding about my condition even though she was all of 20 months old. She sat next to me in my bed and we watched a "Wiggles" video.

Meanwhile, Eric was stressed and smoking up a storm whenever he went on an errand. He drove around smoking and listening to country music. He told me about how he heard a Shania Twain song called "Forever and For Always" and about how it reminded him of Augustine. Now, it makes me think about Augustine too.

The doctor finally released me from the hospital, but they kept Augustine for four more days. I remember saying to one of his doctors, "If he's ready, I really want to take him home because we're working on breastfeeding and the best way to do that is if we're together." The doctor said, "Things look good," and he returned with Augustine's discharge papers. When we walked out of there into the sunlight, I thought, "Thank God. Together at last."

In hindsight, if someone had told me there was still so much more for me and my family to go through in the summer of 2003, I may have asked to stay. For example, we could have used a safe space when we lost our home. However, I would not have chosen to have him born the way he was, and life simply seems unfair because we had and are having to live through everything else this year, each event even further overshadowing the momentous event of Augustine’s birth.

Right now, my father-in-law is dying. This last event in 2003 is like a summer storm's triumphant finale before fading into winter. I can't seem to grasp how Augustine will never know him, will never see how he has his grandpa's big hands. I didn't walk away from my daughter's birth thinking about how I needed to teach her to be courageous, but I have an aching need to teach Augustine this one thing beyond all else. Perhaps the source of that need is the undeniable knowledge that terrible things can happen in succession and without explanation and that as a mother, I need courage just as much as he does.

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