Right after my daughter was born, the nurse asked if I’d like to do skin-to-skin. I was surprised – when my son was born by c-section three years earlier, I hadn’t been able to hold him until my surgery was completed. Jon’s arms had welcomed him first; I had to content myself with stroking his soft cheek and letting his hand curl around my finger for the 20 minutes or so until I could hold him close.
So when they asked me this time, I said yes immediately, thrilled that I would be the first to hold my baby after nine long months of waiting. They snuggled her on my chest, and Jon and I gazed at her in wonder. But as the haze of those first few moments began to clear, I realized how uncomfortable I was. More than uncomfortable, really – my blood pressure had bottomed out right after the spinal, causing intense nausea and dizziness. They had lowered my head to position it below my body to help some with the dizziness, but I still felt lightheaded. As I lay there, struggling to stay focused on the miracle of the moment, Ellie’s weight began to feel as though it was crushing my chest. I closed my eyes and focused on trying to breathe, silently willing the surgeons to work faster. It seemed to be taking forever, and I was struggling to catch my breath. I knew that if I just spoke up, someone would help me – Jon or a nurse would lift Ellie off of me, and I’d be able to breathe freely again. But I didn’t want that. I wanted her there, on me. Sure, she was suffocating me, but I’m a mom – HER mom. I could deal.
Until I couldn’t, and I blurted out, “I can’t breathe!”
No one took her away. The anesthesiologist positioned next to my head simply reached down and ever so slightly adjusted the way she was positioned, shifting her weight so the burden felt lighter. “Better?” he asked. “Much, thank you,” I said gratefully, breathing in deeply once more.
A few weeks later, it was a Friday morning. Ellie wanted to nurse every 45 minutes and was refusing all my attempts to get her to sleep. Nathan was desperate for my attention, asking for me to sit with him, play with him, color with him. My anxiety levels were rising, the tears started falling. Is this what it was going to be like, life with two kids? I couldn’t do it, couldn’t manage it. I can’t breathe, I thought, casting my eyes around wildly for something, anything that would help me.
And then I caught sight of my keys. I buckled the kids into their carseats, gave Nathan the iPad and his headphones and drove. I drove and drove, until Ellie was sleeping soundly. I parked in a lot overlooking the lake and studied my children in the rearview mirror. Nathan, intent on watching the WonderPets, oblivious to my tears. Ellie, fast asleep, her fists curled against her cheeks. I stared out across the water in silence and felt the weight of the morning dissipate into the muggy August air. Just then, Nathan’s head lifted; he caught my eye and smiled. “This is fun Mom, thanks!” My sweet, oblivious, forgiving boy. And just like that, I could breathe again.
Tonight, it was nothing and it was everything. It was a grouchy, teething baby; a wound-up chatterbox of a four year old; a frustrating work experience; family drama. Nothing overwhelming on its own … or even in combination on a good day. But today was a bad one; today I was vulnerable. By the time my husband got home, he knew with one look into my eyes; I can’t breathe, they said.
“Why don’t you get out and go somewhere for awhile?” he suggested. And once one kid was in bed, I did just that. And before I even left the driveway, I could feel it. Shoulders loosening, relaxing.
I won’t stay away long. A cup of coffee, a visit with an old friend. Just long enough to catch my breath.