Hi everyone. It’s been a damn sight six months since I’ve made a true, honest-to-goodness update. Except for eulogizing my favorite-ever writer, Pat Conroy, back in March, of course.
I wanted to share the most major thing going on in my life right now, and the reason I’ve been so missing-in-action. Meet my son, Coltrane Isaac:
He was born in June, in time for Father’s Day. This was helpful, because I hadn’t gotten Greg anything.
He’s also a squishy, screamy ball of cuteness:
Now, most people of the lady persuasion manage to be perfectly productive and sometimes even overachievers during their pregnancies, but for some reason, call it hormones (I was basically a ball of stress for nine months) or the result of a difficult pregnancy (more on that in a minute), but my energy for writing nonessential things ebbed away like dirty water down a shower drain.
Here’s a writing lesson for you: This is OK. When life doesn’t just hand you lemons, but beats you with a tube sock full of frozen ones, you can take a vacation from that which is not essential to existence. And, for me, I needed to focus on being as mentally healthy as possible.
Even though this is a blog dedicated to writing and writers, it’s also MY blog, and I feel safe in this place to share some of the details.
Greg and I found out the happy news on November 1. Fortunately, I had enough banked posts for The Procrastiwriter to last me until January, so I was free to, in my off time from work, focus on growing an entirely different sort of enterprise. You know, first-trimester fatigue, and all that. Then, Thanksgiving happened.
We planned to make our announcement to close family on Thanksgiving day. It’s been hosted at my house for the past several years, mostly to give our overlarge dining room table a once-a-year workout. We told our families the happy news once everyone had gathered, during appetizers and the Lions game. Much hugging and misty eyes followed. It was grand. Just the way I’d imagined.
Three hours later, dessert pies warming in the oven, I took a bathroom break. And discovered that I was bleeding.
Leaving my shocked family in the midst of dessert (I never waste a good pie, seriously), Greg and I raced to the emergency room, where I was diagnosed with a “threatened miscarriage” and given orders of bedrest. My baby’s heart was, however, visible on the ultrasound, sounding like galloping horses. (Absurdly, I was reminded of Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar. I am, I am, I am.)
We made it through, both baby and me. I gingerly returned to work, and to exercise, drained and cautious and grateful that I’d stayed pregnant through whatever the hell had happened on Thanksgiving.
I got rounder as 2015 gave way to 2016. On February 11, Greg and I headed to our anatomy scan. This scan, for those unfamiliar, is the one where a sonographer counts the baby’s fingers and toes, ascertains that his or her internal organs are all present and accounted for, and if you’re lucky, tells you the sex of the baby.
After a few minutes in the darkened ultrasound room, all thoughts of pink or blue drained away as the high-risk obstetrician walked in.
“There are several abnormalities,” she told us, matter of factly.
“Your baby does not appear to have any forearms, or hands,” she said.
“But I saw the sonographer label fingers,” I replied, stunned.
“There may have been some mistake,” the doctor said, not unkindly.
There was no mistake. After several more scans, my new high-risk doctor confirmed that our son had ectrodactyly, a growth disorder (they skirt around the phrase birth defect these days, and defaulted to calling our baby “the condition”). We learned that our baby had no forearms, no hands, just a few fingers extending from the elbow joint of each normal-sized upper arm. His feet, thankfully, were also normal.
Three fingers and ten toes was our new reality, and, I’ll be honest, it was devastating. For a little while.
But then the quiet love from our families, my parents, Greg’s parents, went to work. Our friends who took us out for a casual diner dinner the night we got the news to make sure we ate and took care of ourselves. The compassion of the head of the high-risk Ob-Gyn practice who assured me our son would be fine, that he was already perfect. The pediatric orthopedic surgeon who gave us hope with stories of children just like ours, and far-away support in the fabulous Lucky Fin Project.
All of this put us back together again. And our baby grew, happy and otherwise typical in every way. But the challenges weren’t over.
At 34 weeks, I was diagnosed with preeclampsia. Because I’m too
lazy tired to write it all again, the following is from a Facebook post I wrote on World Preeclampsia Day:
Trust me when I tell you that of the “worst nightmare” scenarios that can happen when you’re pregnant, getting that diagnosis is one of direst of the lot – and I had the mild version, without seizures, CNS issues or liver and kidney failure.
As a result, I was induced early, landing my son in the NICU for nine long days while he learned to feed and maintain his temperature properly.
Over the hours and days we spent on the unit at Yale, I could hear things that told me a huge minority, if not the majority, of preemies in those isolettes were pre-e babies, sluggish and asleep on high doses of magnesium sulfate, which they give moms pre-birth so we don’t have seizures during delivery.
We stay on the “mag” for at least 24 hours afterward, immobilized and unable to stand upright or walk, meaning after the initial visit, we don’t get to see our new babies until we can get up and walk again, a day or two later. Those babies, often born much, much earlier than Cole was, fight to survive on ventilators and under heat lamps, with gavages through the nose to eat and heel sticks to monitor their blood glucose.
The only cure for this life-threatening condition is delivery, and our son was born at 36 weeks, only 4lbs, 9oz, but healthy.
In the End…
I can confidently say that his birthday was the best day of my life, better than any holiday, better than any book launch day I’ll ever have. He was born with both arms shaped by ectrodactyly, but no one who looks at him can say he’s anything other than fearfully and wonderfully made. And seriously cute.
To me, his arms and fingers are miracles of movement. He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
He also looks just like his dad.
Making Time for Writing with a Newborn
So maybe this heading is a little misleading, but there’s a nugget of truth in it: I am making time to write. And I have a newborn. But as far as time…I’m scraping that out of the bottom of the barrel these days.
I have my breast pump to thank for that.
You see, Cole isn’t a fan of breastfeeding in the traditional sense (thanks, NICU and heavy-duty, not-safe-for-babies antibiotics), and he also isn’t a fan of the way most formula tastes, so my life consists of carving out time to sit at a folding table next to his Pack N Play and… pump breastmilk. This means that even though I’m busier and more overwhelmed and tired than I’ve ever been in my life, I also spend significant portions of time literally tethered to a chair.
I write during these interludes, when I’m not dozing off. It’s funny how things work out; if I was breastfeeding as I intended, I would have significantly less time doing a mindless, mostly hands-free activity. Nothing I’ve ever done lends itself so well to writing-as-multitasking as pumping.
In that sense, feeding Cole this way has been something of a blessing in disguise.
For Those Wishing to Guest Post
I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to my emails. There have been many mailboxes to sort through, and clear out, and my apologies! I will respond when I can. If you’ve moved on, no hard feelings; I totally understand. I’ll be back to normal operating capacity soon!
So… Thanks for Sticking with Me
I’ll be back to posting regularly soon, as soon as I can figure out some semblance of a routine. In the meantime, make sure that you’re visiting the other excellent writing blogs the Web has to offer, such as:
- Positive Writer
- The Write Practice
- Helping Writers Become Authors
- The Write Conversation
- The Creative Penn
- Writing Excuses
and many more.