Sunday, November 6, 2016

Breathing ...

It was every new mother’s nightmare.  The nurses were holding my newborn baby girl just outside of my field of vision. 

I was lying on the operating table with a large blue drape separating me from all of the baby delivering activities.  On my side of the drape it was just me and the anesthesiologist in a quiet pool of fentanyl, chatting to pass the time.

“Just in case you were worried about it, let me reassure you that you are breathing.  Sometimes people feel like they’re not breathing because they can’t feel their chest rising and falling, and they start to panic.  But as long as you can talk you’re breathing.  And you’re talking, so obviously you’re breathing.  Just in case you were worried about that.”

The odd thing is, I never doubted that I was breathing.  I guess because I wasn’t passing out.  But once the anesthesiologist told me that other people tend to panic, I felt weird for not panicking

Which, as fate would have it, was just the moment when the nurse approached me - holding Audrey just so I couldn’t see her - and said, “Before we let you look at your baby I should tell you that…”

It probably took a half second before she finished her sentence, but in that instant my mind flashed through several worst-case scenarios.

“Your baby was born dead.”

“Your baby doesn’t have eyes.”

“Your baby is a fish.”

So when the nurse actually finally completed her sentence, I was completely relieved.

“I should tell you that your baby has a little cut on her lip.  It must have happened when the doctor pulled her out.”

“Oh!  Can it be fixed?” I asked.

“Yes, she’ll probably just need a stitch.  We’ll have a plastic surgeon look at it later this afternoon.”

And then they brought her to my face and I saw my baby girl for the first time.  She was beautiful.  Even with the tiny cut on her lower lip.

Later that afternoon the phone rang in my room.  “Ms. Gao, this is Nurse Carrie from the nursery.  The plastic surgeon is here and we need to know if you want your baby to have anesthesia before he stitches up her lip.”

“Of course I want her to have anesthesia!” I said.  My poor baby.  Why were we even talking about this?  We can’t ask her to have her lip stitched up without anesthesia!

“Well, think about it,” said the nurse.  “She needs one stitch, so that’s one poke with a needle.  If we give her anesthesia that will also be one poke with a needle.”

One poke with a needle either way.  And if she has anesthesia that will be chemicals in her tiny little body…  If we stitch her up without anesthesia then we can spare her the chemicals…  Buddy wasn’t there and they needed a decision right away. 

Suddenly motherhood seemed so hard.  So many hard decisions to be made.  And no crystal balls anywhere to be found. 

“Alright then, please go ahead and do it without the anesthesia.”  I cried and hoped my baby would forgive me.  Partly for letting her experience so much pain on her first day on earth, and partly for bringing a baby into the world without having first secured a crystal ball.

Today, sixteen years later, Audrey is quite proud of her lip scar.  It’s her only scar – whereas her brother is held together by more stitches than we can count.  On our last trip to the ER in August we tried to count, but lost track somewhere around 15 and the time a friend pushed Grant into a chair that had a screw protruding out of it. 

Audrey’s scar is the way I know she’s mine.  She was most definitely not switched at birth because I saw her in the first few seconds, in the delivery room, and she had that cut.  And now I can see the scar from where that cut was stitched up.  She is mine.  Her scar tells me so.

I got my first stitches on Audrey’s  birthday too.  Mine go across my abdomen, along the C-section incision.  The scar curves upward at the ends like a soft smile, as if my abdomen is forever sighing and smiling and saying, “Yeah, I did that…” 

That eventful day in the fall of 2000 was more than just the day Audrey was born.

It was the day I learned that motherhood is really really hard.

And it was the day I learned that 
even if everyone else panics about something, 
it's okay if I don't.

It was the day I learned to yearn for a crystal ball, 
and the day I realized that even when you need it the most 
it will not materialize.

It was the day I discovered the power of anesthesia.  
And the day I learned that sometimes it’s better to face your pain without it.

It day was the day I learned that Audrey is mine.
And that I am hers.
We have the matching scars to prove it.

But most importantly, it’s the day I learned that 
if you’re talking, you’re breathing.  
If you ever doubt it, just say a few words, 
to yourself if you must, 
and know that you are breathing.  

And that you are okay.