The Care Factor, part 2

‘Ok here we go,’ I thought, as Learner Dad’s name flashed on to my phone.
I’d been waiting for this call.
“How did he go?” I asked nervously.
There was only silence.
And then a sniffle.
“Are you there? What happened?” I asked in a panic.
More silence.
Then… “I can’t do it.”
It was Lil Fatty’s first day at childcare and it seemed it wasn’t Lil Fatty who was struggling with it.
“What do you mean?” I whispered, glancing around the office and covering the phone slightly.
“He just doesn’t suspect a thing,” Learner Dad said between sniffles. “I feel so mean leaving him here.”
After weeks of debate, Lil Fatty was enrolled for one day a week of childcare.
Learner Dad didn’t like the idea one bit.
I liked it a lot.
For a start, I’d been ready to take on another day of work a week.
And secondly, Master Nine had loved childcare.
He’d learned more about sharing and hygiene than I’d ever taught him.
And it filled the arts and crafts component of parenting I had always lacked.
“Do you want me to come and walk him in with you?” I asked my husband. “I’m sure Nathan would understand.”
Nathan was my boss.
And Learner Dad’s.
There was no way he was going to let me tell Nathan he was crying in the car outside Lil Fatty’s childcare centre.
“No, no, I’ll do it,” he said.
And, to his credit, he did.
Two hours later we were called to collect an inconsolable Lil Fatty.
Both flat out at work, we picked him up and took turns looking after him at the office.
Over the following weeks, things barely improved.
Learner Dad had the ugly job of dropping Lil Fatty off.
I was the hero who picked him up.
Learner Dad would leave him waving tearfully at the window.
And I’d find him in the same place seven hours later.
Of course he didn’t spend the whole day at the window.
A large portion of it was spent on the toddler room couch, clutching a rainbow abacus and screaming at any kid who came near him.
And so, by the time I was heading off on maternity leave for Fairy Floss, I was under the assumption Lil Fatty would be taking a crèche sabbatical too.
But the tables had turned.
Learner Dad was starting to see social improvements in Lil Fatty.
He no longer cried when his daddy dropped him off.
He’d begun venturing outside to play.
And he was, of course, a big fan of the hot lunch.
“If we take him out, we’ll have to go through this all over again,” Learner Dad said, referring to my inevitable return to work.
“You shouldn’t put him through all this again,” Lil Fatty’s carers reiterated.
And so he stayed.
I doubt I’ll ever feel comfortable watching Lil Fatty and his dad roll out of the driveway on a Friday morning.
But he waves cheerfully to me now as he leaves and he no longer cries when he gets there.
And nor does Lil Fatty.

Care Factor part 1 was written prior to my return to work in 2013

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Two’s company, three’s insane

It’s 2006.
After a busy morning picking Weetbix out of the carpet, holding the shaky feet of a toddler trying to climb a small fort and rock-a-byeing a bear on repeat, Master One is finally down for his afternoon nap.
I sit down with a toasted sandwich and a cup of tea and start the fifth season of the West Wing. He’ll be down at least two hours and nobody deserves the break more than me.
I give myself a pat on the back.

Fast-forward to 2013.
It goes pretty much the same, except this time it’s Lil Fatty.
And Breaking Bad.
The now-Master Seven is at school so I have to cap Lil Fatty’s sleep at two hours to go and pick him up.
I get back home with my two boys and take a coffee break.
Nobody deserves it more than me.
I give myself a pat on the back.

Fast-forward to 2015.
My morning is spent being dragged around by one child, while trying not to drop another.
That’s after I’ve taken the third to school.
I pick Weetbix out of the carpet, wipe pureed fruit off the lino and scrub poo off the couch.
I hold the shaky feet of a toddler trying to get on to the trampoline while a baby tries desperately to sleep in my arms.
Baby sucks furiously on my boob while I hold the potty under the bum of toddler.
I bath baby and make my bed, only to have toddler wee on baby – on my bed.
Toddler rolls out of towel while I try to put a nappy on baby.
Baby rolls out of nappy while I try to re wrap blue-lipped toddler.
I do the Hot Potato, mashing potato.
Mashed Banana, peeling bananas.
And desperately eat what’s left of their Cold Spaghetti for lunch.
Before a visitor arrives, I clean the toilet.
Then find a half-filled potty under the coffee table after they’ve left.
I put one child down for a nap only to hear the other wake up.
Right on cue.
Every day.
I was standing at the back door talking to my 70-year-old neighbour recently.
With Fairy Floss dribbling down my arm and Lil Fatty holding my free hand (and, with his free hand, his doodle), I moaned as I described the giant leap from two to three children.
But she already knew.
She had three herself.
“And I had to have the house clean, dinner cooked, and the kids bathed and ready for bed by the time my husband came home.”
That’s how it was done in her day.
I get one out of three.
Learner Dad invariably comes home to a hot dinner.
He also comes home to wet towels on the floor.
To kids that smell like poo, or wee, or spew, or all three.
To a bench strewn with carrot peel, blobs of ice-cream, stripped corn cobs.
His wife may or may not have washed her hair that day.
Whichever the case, it’s in a ‘mun’ (mum-bun).
And she’s most certainly wearing the same track pants her baby vomited on three days ago.
It’s not that mums of today are less capable than our predecessors.
It’s that the emphasis has been tipped from ‘good wife’ to ‘good mother’.
Instead of ironing hubby’s shirts, we watch our kids play on the trampoline.
We fuss over cupcakes rather than rump steaks.
And we make Lego cities that render vacuuming simply impossible.
If our husbands dare complain, they are quickly put in their place.
Which, in Learner Dad’s case, is eating his rapidly cooling dinner while balancing one child on his lap and reading a story between mouthfuls to another.
While mummy sits down to anything not on ABC4Kids.
And gives herself a well-deserved pat on the back.

Womb to move

Obviously, I wasn’t convinced I was going to die.
I just wasn’t convinced I wasn’t going to.
It all began around week 18…

“You have a low-lying placenta,” my obstetrician said, wiping the gel off my belly. “Probably nothing. We’ll get a better look at your big scan.”
That was two weeks away.
It turned out to be the last two weeks of pregnancy I’d ever get to enjoy.
I settled on to the bed at Women’s Imaging for what would turn out to be the most unsettling ultrasound I’d had.
And I wasn’t a stranger to pregnancy drama.
Early bleeds, gestational diabetes, super huge heads.
I’d worried over everything.
I’d worried over nothing.
And my boys were both fine.
“You have complete placenta previa,” the sonographer said. “C-section for you I’m afraid my dear.”
Ugh.
Master Nine’s birth had been less than perfect.
Induction, gas, epidural, ventouse, retained placenta, surgery.
Undeterred, I took pregnancy yoga ahead of Lil Fatty’s big entrance, even convincing myself I could actually ‘laugh’ my way through it.
But he very quickly became an emergency caesarean.
I’d barely begun to experience the disappointment of another c-section when another word popped into the discussion – ‘accreta’.
“I’m not going to Google it,” I declared to Learner Dad on the way home.
But alarm bells had been ringing in my head from the moment I’d heard it.
Accreta.
I knew that word.
And I knew it wasn’t good.
That night, I Googled it.
‘High risk’, ‘heavy bleeding’, ‘haemmhorage’, ‘hysterectomy’, ‘life-threatening’, ‘transfusion’, ‘rupture’, ‘catastrophic’, ‘maternal morbidity’, ‘maternal mortality…’
Maternal mortality maternalmortality maternalmortalitymaternalmortality…
‘Accreta’ is diagnosed when the placenta is too attached to the wall of the uterus.
There were two more serious varieties – ‘Increta’, where it actually penetrates the uterine wall, and ‘Percreta’, where the placenta eats right through the uterus, often invading other organs, such as the bladder and bowel.
Rates of all three have been increasing in conjunction with the rise in c-sections.
My scan had been on the Thursday.
I wasn’t seeing my obstetrician until the following Wednesday.
On Friday I rang his rooms in a panic.
“Ok, let’s see,” the midwife said in a calm, almost patronising tone. “Don’t get all worked up now. I’ll just scan through your report. Here we go. Placenta previa, suspected percreta…”
Her voice faded away.
She knew she’d told me more than she should have.
“Don’t panic. And don’t get on the internet. The doctor can talk you through the results. In the meantime, you must come straight in if you have any bleeding whatsoever…”
But I wasn’t really listening.
‘I’ve got the worst one, I’ve got the worst one,’ was all I could think.
The percreta was, at this stage, only a possibility.
One thing that was still certain was I had placenta previa.
Previa means the placenta is covering the cervix, giving baby no access to the main door.
This condition also put me at risk – of sudden and heavy bleeding.
I researched both conditions exhaustedly.
I joined Facebook support groups dedicated to them.
Overwhelmingly the women with percreta had had hysterectomies.
Women with previa had occasionally lost babies to premature delivery.
Some talked of months on hospital bed rest and then months in neonatal intensive care units.
They wrote about bleeds so big they’d left the bathroom a crime scene, of late night panicked emergency calls, of being flown from rural towns to big city hospitals by helicopter.
But, despite all the near-death drama, I was a little encouraged.
These were all stories of survival.
Although I had a lot of support around me, only these women knew exactly what I was going through.
Like me, they’d pulled down their pants fearfully every time they went to the toilet.
Or dashed in panic to a toilet every time they thought they felt wet.
They’d had insomnia. And steroids.
They’d faced countless ultrasounds and MRI’s and many a grave face.
They’d sat up late in bed writing goodbye letters to their children (yes I really did this) – just in case.
And they’d tried to contemplate their kids’ lives without them in it.
Everyone’s biggest fear – and I was no exception – was of being put to sleep and not waking up.
The mortality rate (which most of us had frantically searched for at some point) seemed to range from 2 to 5 to 7 to 10 per cent.
A lot of the data was dated.
My obstetrician said much of it emanated from the 1970s, when accreta was largely undiagnosed.
When women did often die.
The fact I was diagnosed and being closely monitored put me in great stead.
But I still felt bleak.
I counted the weeks away with relief.
24 weeks – we called it V Day (for viability).
28 weeks, 30 weeks, 32 weeks, 34.
Sometimes, late at night, I wished I’d just have a bleed and be done with it.
It would force my doctor’s hand and the whole damn thing would be over with.
But I made it to my scheduled delivery date of 35 weeks and four days.
Not one bleed.
My baby girl was born at a healthy six-and-a-half pounds.
Along with her, they extracted my poor spent uterus.
The placenta had eaten its way through, coming to rest alongside my bladder.
I’d be making no more babies.
At age 37 and with two boys and a girl that didn’t seem a huge sacrifice.
Regardless, it was no longer my choice.
These days I look back on my pregnancy and Floss’ birth and wonder if I was being dramatic.
Then I read the posts of my poor diagnosed friends on Facebook and I remember.
When you’re the extremely hormonal home to a human life and the walls are starting to crack, nothing is unreasonable or irrational.

Three months ago, Suzanne Mazzola gave birth to her fourth child.
Like me, she had placenta percreta.
Like me, she made it to her scheduled delivery date of 35 weeks.
Like me, she had a healthy baby.
Unlike me, she never woke up.

Final Delivery

I wasn’t ready to part with the pants.
I’d taken off my top, my bra, shoes and socks, even my jewellery.
But pulling off my black trackies seemed too final.
Like taking off the last part of me.
I had the hospital gown on over them.
To stand naked under it would be to feel like a patient.
Or worse, a corpse.
So I stayed in those trackies as long as I could.
I stayed in them when they came and asked Learner Dad to go upstairs ‘just for a minute’ (were they secretly asking him if I was an organ donor?)
I stayed in them when he came back and silently, wordlessly, enveloped me in a big hug.
It was the wordless part that made it different.
He always had words.
I stayed in them – well sort of – when I went and sat on the toilet and tried to process the enormity of what I was about to do.
But eventually I was told to take them off.
So I did.
I was all theirs now.
It was time.
After months of anxiety and weeks of fear, I felt surprisingly calm.
I slowly got up on the bed.
Was that the last time my feet would touch the floor?
I’d tried to appreciate those precious hours between getting out of bed at home early that morning and on to this one.
Not just appreciate life, but pregnancy.
This was my last one.
I’d soaped my exhausted stretched belly in the shower one final time.
Then stared at it in the mirror as the steam lifted.
There was no final cup of tea.
I was fasting.
I watched our tidy white weatherboard home zoom out as we reversed up the driveway.
And I took a long hard look at the outdoors before entering the hospital.
(But Argyle Street at 6am on a Monday really wasn’t very inspiring.)
Now they were shaving me.
Having been told I was having a vertical incision, I hadn’t bothered.
But apparently it was still necessary.
One of those big burly trolley guys came to wheel me to surgery.
The kind who might have a second job as a nightclub bouncer.
I felt silly being pushed along.
I was perfectly capable of walking.
As we turned a corner I saw the humidicrib being wheeled along behind me.
It was like a punch in my bulging guts.
That’s where my little amigo would go.
Straight from my hot squishy belly into that clinical sauna.
From the dark into the oh-so-bright.
Would he or she need all that stuff, I wondered, staring fearfully at the tiny oxygen masks and tubes.
The image of that tiny trolley being wheeled along behind me is the only thing that still brings tears to my eyes today.
I met my midwife and her student at the lift and we made small talk on the way up.
“Two boys huh? So you’d be hoping for a girl then?”
‘Just to wake up actually,’ was my only hope.
My anaesthetist was first to greet me.
“He’ll be there two hours early,” my obstetrician had joked about him. “He’s always on time.”
I’d met him a few days earlier – an awkward appointment where he either sat staring silently at me or spoke of the potential for things to ‘get hairy’.
‘I’ll give you hairy,’ I thought, staring at his giant moustache.
But he was cheery this morning.
Then I met the urologist.
Also chipper for a Monday morning.
He’d be in an operating theatre next door, he said, and would only be called in if I had a damaged bladder.
I was wheeled into the operating room.
And suddenly people were everywhere.
My obstetrician, who’d spent the latter part of my pregnancy also looking quite frayed, breezed in with a quick hello.
He’d surgically removed a wayward IUD for me a year or two before and had actually spent more time patting my arm on that day than this.
He asked the nurses if the second obstetrician had arrived yet.
I never got to meet that guy, but I’m told he did turn up.
I was introduced to the paediatrician, a pleasant man who was apparently quite the heartbreaker in his day.
While all of this was going on, Learner Dad sat in the corner, his eyes bright with tears.
My rock was liquefying.
He’d been stoic throughout my pregnancy, calming me with cuddles, shouldering and then shrugging away my fears.
But today he actually looked worried and, for the first time, I comforted him.
“It’ll be ok,” I mouthed.
He nodded.
The anaesthetist put a canula in my hand, the nurses hot blankets over my body.
“Ok, come and give your wife a kiss and tell her you love her,” a nurse instructed Learner Dad, like he was about to say goodbye to his mummy at kindy.
(And yes, I was wrong, the moment that followed brings tears to my eyes too.)
“We’re going to put you to sleep now,” a voice behind me said.
The last thing I saw was the worried look on the paediatrician’s face.
And then I was gone.

To be continued…

Fatty’s False Start

“Lil Fatty’s gone!”
I looked over at my panicked bridesmaid, then at the slightly ajar door where my toddler no longer stood.
“But the music hasn’t even started,” I cried.
The music started.
“Shit,” I muttered, not a word I’d expected to use on my wedding day. “Just stick to the plan. Send in page boy number two.”
I looked down at my three-year-old nephew.
For weeks he’d been told his ‘very important job’ at his Aunty Ali’s wedding was to hold Lil Fatty’s hand while walking down the aisle.
Now he looked at his father, confused and slightly terrified.
Unperturbed, my brother shoved his son through the door, then hurried off out the back so he could slip into the hall and see him arrive from the other end.
I took a deep breath.
Ok so that had happened.
Move on.
It was our turn.
“Um Ali, the door’s locked!”
One of my bridesmaids was desperately pulling at the door through which my nephew had gone.
It had locked behind him.
I looked at my bridesmaids.
Four pairs of beautifully made-up eyes stared back at me.
They had nothin’.
Wasn’t the purpose of bridesmaids to solve problems like this?
I looked at my dad, standing next to me.
He looked back at me anxiously, as if to say ‘Are we up now Ali Cat?’
I’d been to that many weddings and seen the visions in white hovering in distant doorways, ready to make their appearance.
Was this what it was actually like?
Panic and confusion?
I didn’t have my problem-solving hat on.
Just my veil.
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The photographer’s assistant came to my rescue.
“I’ll go around and get them to unlock the door,” she said.
“Please,” I answered, starting to focus. “And let’s bring the boys back and re-start the music.”
‘We’ll just start again,’ I thought to myself.
My son and nephew reappeared, the former screaming, the latter still confused.
“Sssshhhh,” I whispered desperately, for I could hear the faint strains of our song.
It was in full swing.
We’d missed our cues.
We waited an eternity for it to stop – again.
Our guests had heard it twice now.
My nearly hubby knew the song, he knew the cues.
He’s sprung tears when Lil Fatty had made his first appearance but now they’d dried up.
With no bride in sight, Learner Dad had begun to panic.
But we eventually got it right and, by the time my turn came, it was all but forgotten (until we hit Waikiki for our honeymoon and heard the song playing in every second tourist shop we entered).
So that was my wedding day.
Learner Dad did find tears for me.
He also sang me a song.
Master Nine danced solo to Gangnam Style – all five minutes of it – surrounded by dozens of gorgeous women in short floral dresses (a fact I’m sure he’ll appreciate even more watching the video back in later years).
As for Lil Fatty, his premature stroll down the aisle was his unraveling.
The second trip ruined him, left him screaming the Town Hall down until my poor nominated brother-in-law carted his indignant butt right out of there.
But his protests fell on deaf ears.
Because his mum and dad got married anyway.
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