Monday, December 15, 2014

The Big Three O

A friend of mine recently celebrated a milestone birthday and took the opportunity to recollect all the defining events of her past decade. Having recently turned thirty myself, it got me thinking. Where was I ten years ago? What did I do with my twenties? A lot happened to me; maybe more so than for my teens.

Ten years ago this fall I was returning to college--skinny, muscular, and tan, and with not a few internal parasites, I'm sure. I had spent part of the summer in Banica, Dominican Republic, where a sister-parish of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington hosted me and several other students. It was supposedly a "mission trip," and while we were eager workers, we were but skill-less college students. The experience certainly benefited ourselves more than any Dominicans, unless the general spreading of goodwill counts for something.  We lived with local families, learned Spanish, built horribly rickety church pews, and poured cement for a widower's new home. We developed dysentery and a taste for goat meat.  I am almost certain I have never had as much fun as I did in the D.R.

Deacon Joseph: one badass carpenter. At least somebody knew what he was doing.

wash day in the Rio Artibonito

also in the river . . .

the local wildlife kept even nighttime outhouse trips . . . exciting

with my host family, Arturo and Maria

The power was out again in Banica.
Hitch hiking to Las Matas for cold beer and ice cream.
Stopping at our driver's goat farm. 

In the dorms that year I was a resident assistant--a pretty bad one. My intentions were good, but you know you've got a problem when you earn a reputation for being the strictest dress code enforcer on campus (in the most conservative Catholic college in all the land no less.) Hemline Gestapo I was, though personally I found the dress code too severe. Forgive me, girls. I was young, stupid, and really wanted to make things fair. It didn't seem right that some should get away with breaking the rules while others were making hard effort to comply. Call me Javert.

Anyway, there are about four things in life that I regret to the point of pain. Being that kind of R.A. is one of them.

Over Christmas break I spent time with my sisters and our good friends, the Kane sisters. Ryan spent New Year's Eve with us at a family party. I couldn't quite figure out why he stuck around. I was pretty sure he was out of my league, and surely someone as cool as he would have more exciting places to ring in the new year? While on preciously short leave, no less. In retrospect, I can only liken it to Elizabeth's bewilderment when Mr. Darcy keeps calling on her and Charlotte while she stays with the Collinses. (Sorry. I just finished reading Pride & Prejudice.)

We split paths early 2005. Ryan was deployed to Iraq.  I joined about twenty classmates in Rome for a semester abroad. It was rich, rich, rich. I had been to Rome twice before as part of a youth group, but never for more than a week or so. Having three months to live in the city was simply unparalleled.

Somewhere along the Appian Way, I think

Some of the best parts of the city are underground

Ancient latrines in . . . Ostia Antica?

I can't remember who this commemorated woman was,
but she was cradling a baby, riding horseback, and firing a pistol. What a badass.

Joannie demonstrates the proper way to launder in a bidet

St Peter's in Chains.
I'm skeptical whenever I hear of relics from the Old Testament (it's the thought that counts, right?)
but they say there are remains of the Maccabee brothers here.

It's Hanukkah time. Read that book. Those fellas were hardcore m*f*'ers.

Big sis came to visit me and we made day trips to Perugia and Siena
Twilight in Perugia

Joan was one of the best roommates ever

Trip to Florence. Stayed in a convent school. View from our window.

Cara goes for the magnum canned beer

There is a tradition of saying mass in forty of the oldest Roman churches for every day of lent. We spent many cold, dark mornings following Dr. Flippen to all the ancient station churches for early mass before returning to our boarding house for lectures. I swear there is a church on every block in Rome. Quite a few are desolate. Many are baroque ad nauseam. Others are just absolute treasures, whether in quaintness, age, or majesty. And more numerous than the churches are the saints' relics. There are graves, tombs, bodies, limbs, and severed digits everywhere. I don't want to be anywhere near the place for the Second Coming. Anyhow, it was a great way to learn the city little by little, especially the places away from the usual tourist traps.

Was this when we went to Montecassino? It was frigid.


Spent the week before Easter in Assisi

This little alleyway had its own street name! Love that town.
We were gifted in a particular way by being in Rome for the last days of John Paul II. I spent Easter morning in Saint Peter's Square wearing a lime green windbreaker jacket and red rubber flip flops (it was pouring rain and I didn't want to soak my shoes), and, in high Christian fashion, fighting for elbow room. That rain simply had to go somewhere, and people were packed in more closely than the expansion of their umbrellas. Everyone was jostling to avoid being in someone else's watershed.

My best friends and I visited Paris later that week. As frail as JP2 had looked for Easter mass, we were still shocked to learn of his death the following Saturday. Rome had become home for us, but there we were in France, watching television, and seeing all these other kids keep vigil outside his window in Saint Peter's Square.

Sacré-Cœur basilica in Montmatre: There is such a tangible presence here

behind Notre Dame

Picnic and the best white wine I've ever tasted

We had a wonderful stay in Paris. Despite all the hyped-animosity between the Americans and the French at that time ("They're freedom fries, dammit!"), the Parisians were lovely and gracious to us.  It was also really nice to see young families again. Rome is full of old people.

Back in Rome, we were lucky enough to see John Paul II in state, attend his funeral, and witness the coronation mass of Benedict XVI. Then it was time to go home.

Line to get in St. Peters while JPII was lying in state

To make it inside the square for the funeral, got to the street the afternoon prior

Looks like a Chik-Fil-A was opening . . .

I graduated that spring and--recognising that an undergraduate degree in philosophy wouldn't pay the bills--immediately began working on prerequisites to nursing school. I moved home to Florida and cleaned kennels for my dad in between classes. Ryan came home. I was in love with him. I knew he felt for me. It was awkward and thrilling.

The next year we started dating, if you could call it that ; ) I began an intense, accelerated bachelor's program for nursing. He was deployed again to Iraq. My dad helped me keep a little apartment in downtown Mobile. I studied and sweated for nursing school (literally, I didn't run the a.c.), survived on daily mass and caffeine, and lived for Ryan's precious phone calls from his firm base in Ramadi. I can't begin to describe the frustration I felt when I missed one of his calls. Once I was actually out of clinicals, in my apartment, and within fifteen feet of my cell phone. But the windows were open, somebody was mowing the lawn, and I didn't hear the ringer. It was awful. I was furious.

In 2007 we got him back again, and I finished nursing school . . .

{Bubba is waking up from his nap. I'm going to pause this and come later.}

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lazy Girl's Pantry Concoction

This should begin with a confession that I like my own cooking.

Also, I am not a picky eater.

Win win for me.

I have no pictures of the soup I made this evening, but I'm sure your facebook's news feed provides you with more than enough pictures of what other people are eating. Not that you would care.

{just imagine a bowl of thick golden-orange liquid garnished with green stuff}

But if you like pumpkin, Thai flavors, and something hot to sip on, you should try this soup sometime:

~ Two (standard) cans of pure pumpkin puree. Butternut squash would work too.

~ One can of coconut milk (full fat!)

~ About three cups of water (give or take)

~ About 3 teaspoons of beef broth concentrate/paste -- this is your salt; adjust to taste. You could make this vegan and use veggie broth instead. I really love the "Better than Bouillon" brand.

~ One tablespoon of Thai red curry paste

~ One or one and a half cups chopped cooked/roasted red bell pepper (I get big jars of them from Sam's Club, packed in water)

~ Lots of finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves. (Wishing later I had some thinly sliced jalapeno too : )

Combine everything in a pot and heat that stuff up. Sprinkle cilantro and ground black pepper on top and serve.

I love soup. 'Enjoyed making something a little different from my usual beans/ground meat/onions/celery scrap stews.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Birthing Bubba II

Continuing on (first half here). This was our second trip to the hospital that day.  Previously we had been sent home after my being stuck at 3cm for several hours. Lucky for me, it meant I labored mostly in the comforts of my in-laws' house.

The car ride was hard during contractions.  They're hard to sit through; I wanted to stand up.  But it was a gorgeous, gorgeous spring morning, and I specifically thought "this would be a lovely day to have a baby." Baby agreed with me.

We found a shady spot in the hospital parking lot and walked inside.  I had a contraction and had to stop, blocking traffic in the middle of the hallway.  A nice lady from the hospital gift shop asked if she could get me a wheelchair.  No thanks, it's easier to stand. "Oh I know, sweetie."

Another one hit right outside the Labor & Delivery unit before they unlocked the doors for us.  Once inside, I announced to the nursing desk. "Hi, I was here this morning. Barb told me to come back when I couldn't walk or talk through the contractions anymore . . . and I think my water may have broken."  Oh okay.  No big deal.  They sent us to the exact same room and we did the same rigamarole as before.

Somebody did a swab test of the fluid and confirmed it was amniotic.  A nurse named Rachel came in and checked me.  "Girl, you're at 8cm!"  Oh thank God.  I was not going to tolerate another car ride.  I was pretty sure if they hadn't kept me I would have camped out in the waiting room until they did.  Or hang (hung? hanged?) out in the cafeteria and made a scene.

Things got busy.  They rushed through a lot of admission paperwork and started an iv.  I really didn't want one, cause I wasn't planning on having any drugs.  Rachel wanted one though, and I felt like I was talking to myself.  "It's policy. We can do a little one. Just in case of an emergency," she said.  Look, needles don't bother me.  Infection risks do.  I've got ropes for veins.  Any nurse worth her salt can get an easy iv on me in a pinch.  And I also knew that "it's policy" doesn't mean squat if a conscientious patient refuses something.  But I felt for her.  I know the anxiety of not having venous access on someone and let her put a #20 in my upper bicep.  I didn't want it in the way of washing my hands.  It stayed a saline lock until after delivery.

Ryan left briefly to get our bags from the car.  But when he came back, I didn't care about changing the linens anymore (yes. My own sheets came with me).  My only request was disposable chucks.  I'd seen what happens on the hospital cloth ones. Gross.  Under my bottom -- never.

Another nurse named Jaynie was working with Rachel and introduced herself.  She was orienting to the unit; she had previous nursing experience and was a Lamaze instructor.  Perfect!  She and Rachel were my new best friends.

It was about 1030 or so.  I stayed in bed because of all the monitoring equipment, namely the two discs that were strapped across my abdomen.  One monitored fetal heart rate and the other the strength of contractions.  During contractions I moved all around the bed, backwards and forwards and on all fours.  I think one of the nurses got me a second gown and helped me don it backwards because I had my bare butt up in the air at some point.

I was also making some kind of sing-song moan/humming.  Ina May wrote that opening your mouth helped open your cervix, and it did help distract me during contractions.  Or "power surges," mind you.  I was trying to follow directions.  The birth hypnosis book had really encouraged positive thinking and calm mental imagery.  Like, don't think of contractions as such.  Think of them as waves of strength; they're indicators of how strong your body is.  You're also supposed to visualize a flower bud gradually opening into a bloom, and your birth canal should follow suit.

It wasn't hard to be positive (I was so happy the baby was coming without an induction).  It was hard to focus on those damn flowers.  Ryan was texting family updates on his cell.  Jayne was massaging my back and telling me I was doing a good job.

I don't remember the specifics.  I would have to look back at Ryan's text history to trace a timeline.  I think we got to 10cm around noontime, and my doctor asked me if I wanted to push.  I did not.  I had zero urge to push.  Also, all the hippie-crunchy birthing stories had given me the impression that the contractions would eventually expel the baby on their own (yeah, yeah stop laughing.) and that pushing would stress the perineum and make you tear (often true).  Besides, in all those home water births on YouTube, the baby just slips out.

My baby was not slipping out.  Some time passed.  I was still moving all around the bed, bracing for contractions and trying to rest in between them.  Rachel kept moving the fetal monitor disc lower and lower on my abdomen as my son migrated south.  My doctor offered me some pitocin to help move things along.  My nurse immediately answered for me, "no, she wants to do this naturally."  I appreciated her backing me up.  At some other time we were also offered a "kiwi:" a vacuum device to help pull the infant out, and a local nerve block.  We passed on both.

At some point either Rachel or my ob told me that the baby was blocked by some anatomical landmark, and I would have to push his way past it.  The pubic symphysis?  Iliac crest?  I don't remember.  But pushing was weird and hard.  For months I had avoided exerting my stretched out abs, and now I had to call them back from recess and practically do crunches.  I never felt a desire to push, only a hard heavy pressure right below my tailbone.

My sister said, after she birthed her firstborn, that her ballet training helped her through delivery, that she knew her body could go where it did not want to go, and do more than she "felt" she could do. I'm far from athletic, but Martha made me recall those days when I used to be so. What she said reminded me that there had been times I thought I would pass out and die but didn't--like the 100 yard butterfly or the 400 IM.  Swim practices and drills that left you breathless and limp as linguine.

I'm pretty sure the 100 fly is harder than childbirth.  Just not as drawn out.  Fortunately contractions come hard but then cut you a break for a few minutes.

I pushed whenever contractions came, on and off for maybe 90 minutes?  Eventually Rachel said she could see my baby's head.  Things got busy.  She called in the nursery/pediatric nurse, she wheeled in the delivery cart which sort of looked like our code carts.  She got some lube and manually tried to stretch the perineum.  That hurt a lot, but I knew that midwives did it to help prevent tearing and I was thankful she took the initiative.  I mean, how would I have asked her?  "Excuse me, ma'am. Would you be so kind to massage my perineum please?"

They also brought in a big mirror so I could see the birth canal.  That was really encouraging; eventually I could see the top of my baby's head myself and knew the end was near.  Rachel and Jayne kept coaching me through the pushes.  I was pushing so hard I really thought the nurses were going to deliver the baby themselves, and I was quite okay with that.

I don't think Rachel called the doctor in until the last minute.  I don't remember that minute very well. I just recall closing my eyes and pushing with some karate chop shout and there was a big relief of pressure. And he was here : )

He was wet and bloody and purple.  The doc let Ryan cut the cord and they passed him to me to hold.  I remember kissing his slimy head.  He felt vigorous and had tone.  But he wasn't pink.  I tried rubbing his back to stimulate him, and then the pediatric nurse asked if she could work with him.  She took him to a table across from my bed, suctioned him out, and did some kind of baby bipap with him for a few minutes.  He pinked up, and I think Ryan held him after that.

Oh yeah.  "It" was a boy, all seven and a half pounds of him.  I don't remember being surprised because I had always felt he was a boy.  I always referred to him as "him."  I can't chalk it up to maternal intuition either.  During a really brief ultrasound our doctor once said he could tell what we were having.  I reckoned it was a boy since the sex was so readily apparent. (Not that that inclination stayed the purchase of many girl outfits from Baby Gap, just in case ; )

Meanwhile, the placenta came out pretty easily, like a floppy fish. I asked to look at it before it got tossed in the bio-haz bin.  "I promise I'm not taking it home or anything."  Pretty cool.  Very large and vascular.  It had been my baby's lifeline for the last 40 weeks.

I had a "little" second degree tear that my ob was stitching up, and my uterus was kind of boggy and still bleeding.  I thought I'd be helpful and do the single thing I remembered from my obstetrics nursing class: massage my fundus.  I also decided my drug-free experiment had run its course.  Hello, lidocaine!  I didn't feel any of the stitching.  They also gave me a whole bag of pitocin.  I looked up and saw the iv tubing cassette dangling from the pole.  "Uh, is that supposed to be on a pump?"  Apparently not; Rachel said it was supposed to be wide open.  Alrighty then.

Afterwards we made our first attempt at breastfeeding, and I ate the second most delicious meal of my life.  It was a cafeteria-grade turkey sandwich, tomato soup, and pudding, and I can't ever recall enjoying eating as much as I did then.

My little boy, on the other hand, was not as interested in food.  The nurses helped us latch on, but he just wanted to sleep and passed out after a minute or two.  Oh the irony.  Nobody knew we had a future non-stop suckler on our hands. 

Later I got out of bed, and Rachel helped me clean up in the bathroom.  "Don't look down," she said. "It's gonna look like someone was murdered in the toilet."  And she wiped the bloody baby slime off my face from where I first kissed him.

Anyhow.  That's our story.  I was really not comfortable with the idea of a hospital birth to begin with (I'm a germ-a-phobe all the way), but if we were to do it over again, I wouldn't change a thing.  The nurses were great.  We really felt more comfortable having the professional support, especially for clearing the baby's airway and getting us started in breastfeeding.  We were not yet in our new house and still living with my in-laws.  So it was nice to have 48 hours to ourselves--just the three of us--even if in a hospital ward.

Oh, and I did put my own sheets on later ; )