Betty Duffy

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Never Miss a Party or a Fight

And this Christmas has been heavy on both counts. My family becomes a party machine at Christmas. We have Christmas morning with Santa, Christmas at Grandma and Grandpas, Christmas with paternal extended family and maternal extended family, and my family of origin and husband's family of origin, and by the time I have orbited the cookie counter 500 times, it is a New Year and I've hardly said hello to the New Born Child.

I don't feel attached to all of these parties that have recurred annually since the beginning of time and I don't feel easily injured when the inevitable barbed arrows come my way. I like to be present, and when I send out a barbed arrow, I expect it to roll off other people without much ado. I have taken it for granted that when you're in a family, you deal with the inconvenience of other people, and you deal with the hurt of togetherness as economically as possible. Feel the burn and move on. But you are not allowed to throw in the towel. You are not allowed to quit fighting and trying to fit the pieces together, whether you like each other or not.

Today is the Feast Day of the Holy Family. Catholics celebrate Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus by reading about the Presentation of the new born Child in the temple. Simeon sees the child and says, "Lord, now you let your servant go in peace. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people." Today is the first day in about ten that I have slowed down to pray deeply, and see the salvation which the Lord has prepared during this season, and that salvation has come in the shape of a family. This little unit of people goes out to perform the necessary obligations of parenthood and family life. And those who witness this coming and going, witness salvation.

I don't mean to imply that everyone who witnesses the seven Duffys storming their front porch will be duly edified. Far from it. It is, in fact, my husband and me who have done a little offending this year. We shot an arrow that we didn't realize was barbed until two days later when we were notified by proxy that we had committed injury. And now, I am struggling to ingratiate myself to this person and say, "I'm sorry I hurt you," when what I feel is, "If you weren't so damn easily hurt, everything would be fine."

At Mass this morning, Father Paul said that we are born into families, we die with our families, and in death we join our Heavenly family in eternity. We honor the Holy Family, because God designed the family as a means of our salvation. And salvation hurts. There are relationships in my family that seem hell-bent on humbling me in ways I never asked to be humbled.

The devil loves to see families divided. He loves it when we gossip about who's responsible for clogging the toilet, when the kitchen bitch complains about who's not pitching in, when we fight over the comfortable chair and bicker about who's going to change a diaper. I do not want to make any kind of apologies right now. I want to to say, "Your madness has made me mad." I want to fight back, now that I know I'm in a fight, and hell is happy. My husband received a bottle of "Scorned Woman" hot sauce in his stocking this year, with a picture of me on the label.

But mothers hate to see their children divided. My mom hates it when my siblings and I aren't getting along. I hate it when my children fight. And I can only imagine what the Mother of God must think when she sees us all spatting with one another. I can relate to the mothers who want peace among their children. I want to have a Holy family. I want to belong to the Holy Family. So I must be made holy by family.

In this case, feeling the burn does not mean licking my own wounds; it means licking someone else's. Yuck. But do it, and move on.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Days Are Here Again

I keep forgetting that I have depressive tendencies. I keep forgetting because when I am in a "dark" phase, it does not occur to me that it is a phase. It just feels like life stinks and there's some blinder that prevents me from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel--in fact makes me forget that there is light. There is only my bed, and the warm imprint of my body there. And then suddenly, it's over. As quickly as the darkness came on, the light replaces it, and I start wanting to do things like cook with exotic ingredients, wear make-up, invite people over to my house, etc. I look back and think, "What did I have to be so upset about? I must have been depressed."

Times in my life when I've been depressed: In college when I was about to marry the wrong guy and spent the majority of my intellectual energy trying to convince myself and those who loved me that I was in love. And all five times I have been pregnant.

I know a woman who is convinced that depression is not a medical or clinical condition, but is in fact spiritual warfare. She believes that the devil targets pregnant women because they are so vulnerable and at the same time so powerful. Considering the depression I had when I was dating the wrong guy, it would not be a stretch to think that had I married that guy I probably would have made him and any children we might have had together very unhappy (another vulnerable and powerful position).

I don't discredit her belief, but I tend to think that the depression I've experienced with pregnancy comes from feeling like I have the flu for three continuous months, followed by six more months of having the equivalent of a bowling ball on my spine. The fatigue of making a baby is unlike any other fatigue in the world. I've gone days without sleep. I've run half-marathons. I've competed in pie-eating contests. I've driven all night in dry contacts. Nothing compares.

But the good news is, once it's over, it's over. I have been blessed not to have issues with post-partum depression, so my dark mood lifts with the last contraction. And now, I want to celebrate. I am no longer the grouch on the couch. I want to BAKE. I want to wash my hair and brush my teeth and let my kids know that there is joy to be had in this life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This is why I have not put my face anywhere on this blog

In the weeks leading up to the birth of this baby, I had all kinds of anxiety dreams that I would forget I'd had a baby, or that my baby would be unrecognizable to me, dreams like this.

As it happened, I had nothing to fear. There is never a time in my life when I relate so completely to the animal kingdom as when I have just had a baby. I am territorial. I don't leave my house much. If someone who wears perfume holds my baby, then hands the baby back to me, and I can smell the perfume, I get weirdly angry (not so much that I would eat the baby, as I've heard some mother animals will do when a human touches their young, but it has occurred to me to rub the baby in my armpit or something to make it smell like me again--?).

I've heard it said that the most dangerous animal in the world is a mother separated from her young, and I have certainly felt that feeling. When my son had to stay in the hospital nursery for a couple extra days, I became neurotic about the thought of anyone else feeding him, or even at the thought of supplementing with milk that was not mine. So I stayed VERY close to the nursery at all times. And here's what surprised me: Other mothers do not feel how I do (as though I needed more confirmation that I'm a strange breed).

Au contraire, at all hours of the day and night, the nursery was occupied by motherless infants. Some babies had short stays while their mothers caught a couple hours of sleep. Some dropped in right after their deliveries to ensure that their vitals were stable. Some had longer stays, like the preemie in the isolette who had no sucking reflex and had to be fed intravenously. I know it is not my place to judge the mothers of these infants, and truly, I don't. I recognize that many of them were likely unable to care for their babies, either due to anesthesia or hospital policy. What I was not prepared for, was my desire to interfere with the infants, to adopt them and care for them as well as my own child. In short, I wanted to breastfeed them. Every squeak and peep from the various warmers and incubators let my milk down. Something about breastfeeding turns me into wonder woman. I honestly believe that I can save any child on earth with my powerful, plentiful breastmilk.

I’ve had that fantasy where my whole family is stranded on a desert island and I’m the only one who needs to eat. The kids bring me a running supply of fish and papaya, or peanut M&Ms, which I turn into food for the whole family. I know I could sustain them for some time on breastmilk alone. Though when I translate this fantasy to the dreaded decade when I am the mother of five teenagers (four of whom are boys), it loses some of its appeal (if it had any to begin with).

Soooo...I guess I shared this to commiserate? Anyone else want to breastfeed strange babies? Maybe I shared to warn people off: don't cry in my presence or you might find yourself with a mouthful of boob.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The More They Test … The More They Test

First of all, the baby and I are doing great. We've had a quiet week of getting to know each other, and I am settling into life with five kids.

I have been meditating, however, on the state of modern medicine these days, having recently brushed elbows with it, and here are my thoughts:

I may have mentioned that I contradict myself frequently. A couple weeks ago, I enjoyed sitting for an hour on a monitor having my baby in utero tested to be sure he was not in distress, but after a week in the hospital wanting only to be home in my own bed, I felt a little bit yanked around by tests.

Beginning during the pregnancy, there is a test for every abnormality. And rest assured, if any of those tests come back abnormal, the therapy will require another test and possibly a series of tests. Sugar in my urine means I need a four hour glucose test, a positive outcome of which, means I have diabetes. Now I’m testing my blood sugar four times a day. For what? So they can say they now need to perpetually test my baby in utero: Non-stress tests, Biophysical profiles, for what? So they can say he’s going to be big, and when I get around to delivering him, he’s going to require regular glucose tests starting the first minute of his life. What more, I shall deliver him early, if the tests say it’s favorable to do so, which will cause him to develop jaundice, which will require constant monitoring with blood tests and therapy under bili-lights.

The great thing about bili-lights is that they are guaranteed to work, because the bilirubin nearly always peaks around the fourth day and then goes down when Mom’s milk comes in. What is the control factor for these tests? All my kids have had jaundice. All of them peaked and contracted without lights. But it makes doctors (and mothers) feel good to prescribe something, especially if that something keeps you close enough to the hospital for regular testing. But who is testing the usefulness of all these tests? Apparently, I am, and I find them expensive. I find them inconvenient and anxiety inducing. Soon they will be testing me for mood disorders, for post-partum depression, for my suitability to motherhood because these tests are testing my sanity and I am going to flunk.

I chose a medically managed pregnancy and delivery, because I do believe that medicine, when it serves people, rather than the outcome of tests, has a valuable, life-saving function. It is good that my diabetes was detected, and that I was able to control my sugars for the good health of my unborn child. My mother worked in the labor and delivery rooms for 30 years, and saw enough sad, unnecessary outcomes to convince me that having access to medical intervention during childbirth is a good thing. But there is a line that has been crossed, perhaps even in the time that has elapsed between the birth of my first child and my fifth.

My good old boy pediatrician whom I chose precisely because he had been around long enough to have seen nearly everything and know when to say, just go home and spend some time nursing your newborn, now says, “I would have to have some pretty big cojones to ignore the outcome of that test.” I think I can safely translate those “big cojones” to “deep pockets” with the litigation climate in medicine. When I googled jaundice and dangerously high bilirubin levels, the first three listings were for attorneys conducting malpractice suits for the treatment of jaundice.

I do not blame the physicians for the attitudes I saw. I am glad firstly, that my child only had jaundice, with a known treatment and cure, rather than some congenital disease that required experimental therapies, etc. I have heard lately, several stories about mothers who have lost children due to Doctor error and have opted not to sue, in spite of the locusts that may have descended on them offering to file suit. But for every one of those cases, I’m sure there are thousands who do get rich off medical error, and turn the rest of us victims of protocol.

A highlight of my medical experience: NURSES.
Here’s a few good ones:
1. My cousin who is an OB nurse at the hospital where I delivered. We decided long ago that she would never be my nurse, as there are lines that need to be drawn when two people have grown up together. But she did arrange for me to have a very nice room, assigned me my favorite labor nurse, decorated my room with ribbons, and gave us a goody bag full of snacks, entertainment, and my husband’s favorite soft drinks.
2. My labor nurse, who has facilitated my two most memorable birth experiences. She is respectfully hands off and encouraging as I labor, letting me move around, and maybe even (God forbid) fall of the Toco monitor a little here and there. She advocated for me with the Doctor to let me hold on to my bag of waters for several hours so the baby could descend a little and avoid a prolapsed cord. Then, when her shift was over and she saw that things were going to happen quickly, she stuck around, because nothing is worse than transitioning to a new nurse when you’re in “transition.”
3. My baby nurse, who interpreted the protocols for babies of diabetics in such a way that our baby was able to stay in our room with us rather than in the nursery for his glucose tests. She also allowed me to pump and supplement with my own milk when the doc recommended supplementing with formula.
4. The lactation consultant, who encouraged me with breastfeeding my jaundiced child, because it doesn't make sense for the American Academy of Pediatrics to say that Breast is Best, and then prescribe formula for every problem a breastfeeding mother faces.

I know all of these nurses faced scrutiny for daring to live up to the motto of “patient centered care” that the hospital boasts of, so sadly, they will remain anonymous.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Still...and Forever...Waiting (it is Advent, after all)

“By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies.”
(Is 30:15b)

“You’re trying to play God,” my husband told me the night before we went in to the hospital for the induction of this baby. “It doesn’t feel right,” he said, “choosing a birthday, not letting things happen naturally.” I was 38 weeks on the nose, and because of my diabetes and history of large babies, my doctor was mentioning C-section, if things didn’t move a little earlier than the normal 40 weeks. I don’t want to say that pregnant women are irrational, since I have, more often than not, been pregnant in the last eight years, but they are/ I am highly suggestible to anything that sounds like a terminus to pregnancy once I hit about 37 weeks. If the doctor says, "Let's induce," I say "OK." What's more, if it were safe for the baby and I could be un-pregnant on a Monday, then being pregnant through Wednesday or Thursday sounds like cruel and unusual punishment to my pregnant mind.

So the induction went as planned, and wouldn’t you know, it went perfectly. All the prayers for a peaceful labor and delivery paid off, and even without epidural, I had, for the first time, a totally manageable pain experience in labor. As it happens, I do have an opinion on natural birth vs. birth with epidural. My opinion changes just about every other labor, and lands on whatever I have most recently managed to accomplish. This time, it worked out to have my baby without epidural, and I’m glad. I can see what might have been, the potential problems of not being able to move around during labor, the inadequacy of my pushing when my stomach has been paralyzed. I heard the sounds of alarm as the woman in the room next to me failed to progress, her baby became distressed, and she was rushed off to the operating room for an emergency C-section.

My baby, a projected 11 pounder, only weighed 8.5 lbs since he was somewhat early, and I dilated from 5 to 10 in about a half hour, and pushed twice for Duffy #5 to burst onto the scene.

He’s every bit a Duffy—looks just like his siblings, and Hubby and I enjoyed our baby-moon for the first three nights after he was born, until his jaundice shot up to an unacceptable range and he was readmitted to the nursery for 48 hours of treatment under the bili-lights. And so it happened that in spite of my desire to dispense with waiting another day for this baby (on the first day of Advent, no less), I was served another sentence of waiting.

I was able to stay at the hospital with him and nurse him exclusively (even though the docs were quick to prescribe formula supplements). But every time someone mentioned that jaundice is related to pre-maturity, I felt a twinge of remorse, and when my husband said it, I just started crying. Of course, his comment was perfectly timed to coincide with my fourth sleepless night, and the onset of the weepies that I always get about four days after birth, but I cried loud and passionately for an embarrassing amount of time (that will teach him to speak his mind).

“It becomes especially clear during a time of illness that man is always waiting. Every day we are waiting for a sign of improvement and in the end a complete cure…When time itself is not filled with a present that is meaningful, that is not there now—if, in other words, we have nothing here and now and the present is completely empty, every second of our life seems too long. When, on the other hand, time itself is meaningful and every moment contains something especially valuable, our joyful anticipation of the greater experience that is still to come makes what we have in the present even more precious and we are carried by an invisible power beyond the present moment.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Seeking God’s Face pp 77-78)

It was sitting under the bili-lights with my sunglasses on, nursing my four day old son, that I realized how I have let myself yet again lose sight of what this life, mine and my children’s, is about. All of my hope during the past nine months has been aimed at holding this child in my arms, and also, in no small part, being relieved of his imposition on my body. I wrote in a poem about childbirth several years ago how “The vocation to waiting ends in a day.” But the statement is wrong. The vocation to waiting DOES NOT END. Waiting is the state of human life whether I like it or not: waiting for my husband to come home each evening, waiting for my kids to pass each milestone, waiting for a baby to be born, waiting to be with God in eternity. “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies.”

Why am I so opposed to waiting? Because it means that I have to admit that the outcome of most things is completely out of my hands. It means I have to trust God to do his work—and the bringing forth of life into this world, in spite of all the medical knowledge we have at hand, is God’s work. Even (and especially) when we try to control it, we cannot control it.