Hospital Opera: A Comedy

“I’m just stopping in to…”

“I’m just stopping in to bring in your lunch. I’ll be back later for the dishes.”

“I’m just stopping in to check Mom’s vitals. Just going to press down on your belly here.”

“I’m just stopping in to change the trash bags, don’t mind me.”

“I’m just stopping in to take photos of the new parents. We work with the hospital so every new parent can have professional pictures. Do you have any special outfits you want your baby to be wearing for the pictures?”

“I’m just stopping in to see how breastfeeding is going. I’m the lactation consultant on this floor. How is the baby’s latch?”

“I’m just stopping in to change the medical waste trash bags. Don’t let me bother you.”

“I’m just stopping in to check baby’s vitals. We’ve done the hearing test already, let’s see how she’s doing.”

“I’m just stopping in to give you the paperwork for your baby’s birth certificate. I’ll leave it here on the table next to your meal tray.”

“I’m just stopping in to clean up your lunch trays from-”

“DON’T YOU DARE! I haven’t had one moment to eat!”

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The Most Extreme Sport

This is crazy; I can’t believe nearly everyone’s mother did this. This thought scrolled across my mind as I waited for the next contraction to come so I could push again.

All my co-workers were babies once. All CEOs and business people and corporate big shots who think they’re hot stuff. They were tiny babies who all mostly entered the world the same way. Crazy…

“Tuck your chin and pull your knees towards your chest when you push.” The nurse said.

I stared at the pattern on the light-green hospital gown which covered my huge pregnant belly and followed her instructions as best I could manage. Ohh, is it supposed to feel like that? This is insane. People do this?

“I don’t think I can,” came out of my mouth, though I hadn’t made a conscious decision to say that.

“You can do it,” coached the nurse. I wonder how many times she’s said that to how many mothers.

I looked at the bright red digits of the large rectangular clock, mounted so that it stuck out from the wall on my left. Maybe this was almost the time my baby would be born. The time we’d write in baby books and sew on quilts.

Puuuush.

Or, maybe not that time.

I was so thirsty. I grabbed the Styrofoam cup from the tray next to me and tried to take a tiny sip of water through the straw. Just enough to wet my dry mouth.

Then I leaned over the dull pink, hospital-supplied plastic basin and thew up again.

I hadn’t been able to keep down even a drop of water since labor had started in earnest early this morning.

(“You brought your own bucket?” The hospital staff in triage had asked when I arrived.

“Yeah,” I had said, clutching my blue three-gallon pail, “why, what do other people do?”

“Just puke on the floor, mostly.”)

At this point, I didn’t know what made me want to finish labor more, getting to see my baby or finally getting to quench my thirst.

Puuush.

Sheesh, this was an extreme sport. And there was a time when women weren’t allowed in the Olympics?

The doctor, whose name I hadn’t caught, poked his bald, brown head in the room and then left again. I could hear sounds from the room next to mine. Apparently that mom and I were racing and he didn’t know whose baby he’d have to catch first.

“I think I peed on him.” I said to my nurse apologetically. “When they broke my water.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, “happens all the time. He always has a change of clothes.”

I held my palm-sized wooden cross against the bed and waited.

This was it. This was the hour that all the excitement and exhaustion of pregnancy had led up to. And even if my baby wasn’t born in the next push, she would be soon.

As long as I had stayed in the hospital bed -with every contraction, clutching the little wooden cross that my mom had brought me from Jerusalem- labor had progressed very calmly, I had nearly slept between some of the contractions. But now, the calm period was over.

The nurse showed Miguel how to put counter pressure on my left leg, while she held my right leg.

The doctor came back and stayed.

Somewhere in the background my phone’s playlist started a fight song. Had it been playing music all this time? I couldn’t remember.

I felt the contraction building. I wanted this to be the last one. I wanted to be done and to hold my baby.

I pushed.

“Keep going!” Said the nurse.

I strained and then petered out.

“We saw her head that time!”

The waiting between contractions felt interminable. I’m ready to be done! I thought.

The pressure of a contraction started cresting again. I pushed and held it.

“Remember to breathe!” Said the nurse.

I pressed my chin to my chest and kept pushing.

Suddenly, there were several medical people near my feet.

I kept pushing.

This is impossible.

“Keep going! Almost there, almost there!”

I kept pushing.

A tiny slimy bundle was thrown onto my chest. She cried loudly. I breathed heavily into her dark, wet hair. “I love you. I love you. I love you.” I whispered. Tears slid down my cheeks.

My feet rested on the bed. I watched my knees move as my legs shook uncontrollably. I had done it.

“Do you want to cut the cord?” someone asked Miguel.

“Not really.” He looked very pale. He hadn’t had any coffee today.

“I’ll clamp on either side, you can just make the cut.”

“I love you. I love you. I love you.” I breathed at this tiny person. My daughter.

The doctor by my feet made quiet conversation with the doctor next to him as he started with stitches. Ow, this hurt worse than labor.

“I must be getting old,” he said, “my back is sore from deliveries.” The man looked like Gandhi, there was no telling how old he was.

“No, you aren’t old, my back hurts too,” the young, pretty doctor replied, with a twitch of her neck that rustled her long, dark ponytail.

“Well,” I said, raising my voice over the wet-sounding cries and looking up from my baby’s head for the first time, “you both have a very labor-intensive job.”

“Should”

I cried at my desk.

It wasn’t one thing, it was several little things that made me feel like I was messing up and disappointing everyone. I should be able to handle things better by now.

In addition, I had stayed up unwisely late and the baby had been up several times after that.

I looked around my new temporary cube in vain for a tissue. I settled on tearing off part of a few paper towels I had gotten to clean up the dusty desk.

I wiped my nose and vented over IM to my work friend.

“So if I had had more information I could have acted differently…
I just had a different expectation.”

I sighed and thought about the process of my daily routine. Some people listen to music to calm down, I plan schedules.

“And I guess I should figure out bottle management better somehow.” I typed. “Because I need four empty ones a day for work, but all of them are always full of milk in the fridge because I make more than she eats in a day.

So I have to transfer milk between half full bottles to get one empty one or pour milk into freezer storage bags daily (which is a process). And if I’m prepared, this happens the night before and if not, it happens in the morning.

“But it’s not even, “I didn’t pack a lunch but I have to go! Guess I’ll buy something for lunch. Since I haven’t seen a Medela brand milk bottle distributor hanging out in the cafeteria…”

I was rambling.

“Sorry, you get to hear all my external processing.” I typed. “I’m trying to think through a better process, not just complain.”

We’re at work, I thought, my ranting is probably distracting my friend. I should be able to hold myself together for the eight hours a day I get paid to do work.

An email notification popped up on my screen, a 1×1 meeting with my new manager for this rotation. Irrational panic coursed through me. He must know I was chatting on IM, I’ve only been in this group for two days, but he’d tell me he didn’t realize how inefficient of a worker I was and he’d be sending me back to my previous team. Or maybe I was fired.

I thought all this, despite the fact that this very friendly manager had said repeatedly that he was glad of my volunteering to help his busy group and that he’d be setting up a meeting with me soon to review what I might be working on for the next three months.

Emotions make you crazy.

I accepted the meeting with trembling hands and wiped my nose again.

I saw an IM from my friend.

“No problem. You are an external processor, and it’s interesting to me to glimpse into another’s mind.”

My stuck-on-crazy-settings brain mentally clung to the no problem on the screen. Well, at least one person didn’t hate me and think I was massively disappointing.

He shared some past life stresses that had led him to seek advice from leaders at his church and a therapist. He said it led to making changes in his thinking.

“One of the key changes was the way I thought about things. I kind of removed ‘should’ from my vocabulary. (I say it sometimes now, but often in my mind, I will quickly re-edit it in my consciousness).

Anyway, the therapist and I talked at some length about how my own (and anyone’s) value is not dependent upon anything they do. Our value comes from the fact that we are children of a loving Heavenly Father. And even if I do bad things, that fact is still true.”

The fast building storm of crazy in my brain started to calm. The winds and the waves stilled.

I heard my mom’s comforting voice come from my childhood to say the oft-repeated chorus of, “Your mommy loves you, your daddy loves you, your siblings love you, God loves you.” Always followed in my head by her post-bad-grade-on-a-test, “Look how many you got right!”

I took a deep, shaky breath.

Thank you, God, I thought, for this perspective right now.

“At any rate,” he kept typing, “one of the things I do a lot is, instead of, ‘It would have been better if I had been to work on time,’ I rephrase it in my mind (and often in my speech) ‘I would have been better off had I been to work on time.’

“I think the power of language greatly affects the way we think. And when we modify how we speak, we change the way we think. Parenthetically, I think that is why the Lord asks us to control our language (not say Raca, etc), because he knows it is a way to change our minds.”

In my moment of feeling overwhelmed by little stresses, God had reached out through my friend to give me exactly the unchanging truth I needed. You are valuable, you are loved.

“Anyway, I don’t know that any of that really helps. But on a stressful morning, I try to re-cast things so I realize that this is a passing moment that doesn’t affect my eternal worth.”

I took off my glasses and used the heel of my hand to wipe my eyes.

Fuzzy movement came from the part of the computer screen with the IM window. I put my glasses back on.

“Anyway, I’m confident in your abilities to manage life. :)”

Man, where was a tissue when I needed one? I really should bring in a box of tissues myself.

I stopped myself there. No “shoulds.”

…Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

My nearly five month old daughter is a kicker.

In the night, she rotates in her crib, kicks her leg through the crib bars, gets it stuck, and cries.

I went online to try to buy crib bumpers several times, only to back away time after time after reading yet another article on why crib bumpers are death and should be banned. I weighed that getting stuck was better than dying, I guess. And the night “stuck leg” screaming continued.

Sometimes “stuck leg” seemed to be the only cause of crying in the night and I wondered if she’d sleep through until morning if only she’d quit getting stuck.

Then Amazon, lovely Amazon, gave me a notification that an item I was interested in was back in stock. Thin mesh crib bumpers. Breathable mesh, so even a baby determined to eat it could breathe through the fabric, and thin, so even an older baby couldn’t use it to stand on and fall out of the crib. The notification was shining like the Holy Grail on my phone. I imagined that the white mesh was embroidered with gold lettering that read, “Sleep.” I pressed “Buy Now.”

Two days later, thank you Amazon Prime, I held the package in one hand and the baby in the other and marched up to her tiny bedroom.

I set her in her crib so she could watch mommy problem solve like a boss.

I shook the envelope to see if these crib bumpers came with instructions.

Our crib, which we got for a steal on Craigslist from a family who was moving, was dark wood with a thick decorative lip along the edge. And the little ties that came on the bumper were too short to fit around the lip.

My baby giggled at me.

I gave up trying to stretch the ties vertically and tied them horizontally against the bars of the crib. I tucked the bottom part of the crib bumper in-between the mattress and the crib bars. Then I stood back and surveyed the work. It seemed to stay up. We would try that.

That night I was up again for the “stuck leg” cry. She had rotated and kicked the crib bumper until it slid down. Then she kicked her leg through the bars, got it stuck, and cried.

The next day, I added vertical ties of white yarn to the mesh crib bumper, so it was now secured at the top and side.

That night, “stuck leg” cry. She had rotated and kicked the crib bumper until she lifted the bottom edge from being tucked under the mattress. Then she kicked her leg through the bars, got it stuck, and cried.

There weren’t loops or any immediately obvious ways to easily attach yarn to the bottom of the bumper to tie it down on that side. Plus, I had put the yarn away in our unfinished basement and would have to fish it back out from The Well of Lost Craft Supplies down there.

So that night, I retucked the bumper against the mattress and laid her down with her feet angled away from the bumper-covered bars.

That night, crying.

I should preface this next bit by saying that my glasses prescription is very strong. When I’m not wearing my glasses, especially at night, everything more than one foot in front of my nose becomes fuzzy colored blobs. Two objects near each other of similar colors just blend into a larger fuzzy blob to me.

I make historical costumes for 1812 reenactments and do Live Action Role Play in a medieval fantasy setting (which is another story), but my daydreams of actually living in another era are always dashed when I remember that they wouldn’t have contacts or glasses strong enough for me. The Fuzzy Blobs of 1812 don’t sound particularly enjoyable to see.

So when I get up in the night to feed my baby, I don’t bother to put on my glasses. I navigate through our open bedroom door and down the short nightlight-lit hallway by memory and turn into our daughter’s room. I can judge where the baby’s darker round head part is against her white crib sheets and I pick her up by what seems to be the middle bit.

So this night, I wake up to her crying, but it’s normal crying, not panicked “stuck leg” crying. I walk down the hallway and then stand, looking down into the crib.

There’s no round head part.

She’s still crying with a normal hungry cry, so clearly she’s fine, but I’m not sure how to pick her up. I stand there, confused for a moment, wondering in a dazed tiredness where she put her head. I am reminded of a Disney Villains computer game I played as a kid, where Alice in Wonderland’s head talked to you at the start of a hedge maze trying to guide you to find her body at the center.

Eventually, I picked up what I judged to be the middle bit of my seemingly-headless ventriloquist baby, and a crying head popped out of what, to me, seemed thin air.

She had once again pulled up the white crib bumper and this time had gotten her head underneath it. The bumper had completely blended into her sheet in my vision.

As I sat in the rocking chair and nursed her, the surrealness of the moment lingered.

I patted her downy head and said out loud, “That was weird.”

Everybody look left…

“One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well…”

-Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare

In the very limited time I’ve been in mom groups on social media, I’ve come to three conclusions:

1. Someone, somewhere will always judge whatever you are doing is completely wrong.

(I’m not even going to attempt a list, whatever you’re doing right now, including looking at a screen, is so wrong that you’ll probably destroy the fabric of humanity. [Though, one wonders how they write these comments without looking at a screen themselves…])

2. There will always be someone doing something so well, that you may want to hide under a mess of covers and probably-clean laundry rather than look for one more second at their seemingly unachievable excellence.

(For real, photos from some Montessori moms of their immaculate, perfectly arranged, organized-low-shelving-filled rooms make you wonder if anyone at all lives in their house, let alone a child.)

3. Neither #1 or #2 matter.

“Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he have mercy upon us.” -Psalm 123:2

In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training, one of the main overarching themes is the importance of observation. Never act without first having observed.

Phoebe Child (former Head of the Montessori Trust in London), paraphrasing Dr. Maria Montessori, said, “we must be prepared to wait patiently like a servant, to watch carefully like a scientist, and to understand through love and wonder like a saint.”

In the year-long training for certified Montessori teachers, one of the first lessons is for the future-teachers to observe a lime for 30 minutes and take notes. A lime. Seriously.

Later they move up to observing plants, and then animals, and then eventually children. Hundreds of hours of observation of children are required.

This careful practice of observation helps the Montessori teacher to understand exactly what the child really needs from them.

What does the Child Jesus really need from me right now?

Does He need me to tell people on the internet how wrong they are?

Does He need me to compare to other people in a way that fuels despair and sloth and pride? (Because “I’m so terrible, I shouldn’t even try,” can be prideful too.)

Or does He ask me to watch for one hour with Him? To wait on Him like a servant, and watch Him like a scientist, and understand Him through love and wonder like a saint?

How often is my focus off in the shadows to the left, leading me to miss the beauty God has set right before me?

I need to turn away more often from the immediate to watch the important. Even if sometimes God asks me to be humble and patient enough to do something that seems crazy. Like persistent prayer amidst a busy life. Or watching a lime.

Ora et labora

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) is a Catholic religious education environment for children using the Montessori method.

Prepping for CGS has been a joy to me. And also makes me crazy.

CGS co-founder Gianna Gobbi said:

“It is important that, as much as possible, the catechist makes his or her own catechetical materials.

Making the materials by hand is an essential way of entering more deeply into the theme we will present to the children. It helps us to slow down and to pace ourselves more to the rhythm of the child, as well as to be more attentive to the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, material-making is an invaluable opportunity for us as adults to experience the integration of hand, mind and heart.”

I read somewhere that the requirement to make the materials yourself, is meant to “frustrate the adult desire for efficiency.”

My initial thoughts when I heard this:

But, but, but… Grrrr.

I love efficiency. One of my dad’s favorite phrases was, “part of the plan is moving faster than the plan.” Checklists and schedules are my comfort objects. I’m an engineer, I think in spreadsheets, my spreadsheets have spreadsheets!

Also there are 50 (five-zero, wrap your head around that) CGS presentations that mostly all have required materials to be made and we’re starting this program this fall! Gaaaah!

And you want me to “slow down”?!?!?!

I’ve been collecting furniture steadily from church garage sales since May, when I’d pack up my two month old baby into my mom’s big SUV and get excited for a trip away from my “couch island” where I spent most of my maternity leave.

We made so many trips across town from our house to the church with a car Tetris-ed full of furniture that my mother jokingly wondered out loud about whether someone was siphoning gas out of her car.

I kept an inventory of everything we purchased from garage sales -sorted by labels like “wood,” “glass,” and “silver”- referenced against every item we needed from the ten page material manual list.

I labeled and color coded and added tabs to my spreadsheets (working with these spreadsheets on my phone was my favorite side activity while nursing my baby, maybe the calm that I get from organizing my thoughts does mean that I was meant to be an engineer). And I found that CGS prep, like so many large undertakings, was a Zeno’s paradox- with every step got you halfway closer, but it was technically impossible to get to the finish line.

And the more I work on CGS, the more I’m okay with that.

I told a friend, CGS isn’t a program, it’s a lifestyle.

Writing Scripture booklet pages out by hand in cursive was pleasant and prayerful. It forced me to make time for reading the Bible and reflecting on it.

After drawing every item that is used on the altar, watching the priest during the Liturgy of the Eucharist caught my attention afresh, breaking me out of the rut of familiarity.

Cutting tablecloths and little model vestments in the four main Liturgical colors made me say -with complete seriousness- the phrase, “I can’t wait for Advent!”

I thought I was being sneakily efficient about checking off materials on my “to make” list, but instead I was tricked into spending time with God and growing in my Catholic faith.

And I suppose that’s worth slowing down for.

Messy Adventures

“Gaah!” I messaged an especially patient friend and co-worker. “I have twenty minutes until my next meeting and I don’t know if I can walk to the nursing room, pump, and get back in time for it.”

I sighed.

“I guess I’ll just hold out until after the meeting.”

I had had a longer meeting during my usual morning breastmilk pumping time and I had not been wise enough to pump before it. Now it was almost 1pm and I felt ready to explode.

I survived the meeting, which was blessedly short, and nearly ran to the department fridge to grab my bag of pumping machine parts. I hurried along the hallway past the cafeteria, down a flight of stairs, and down another long hallway to the far end of the building.

Once in the locked nurse’s office and all hooked up to my pump, I let out a sigh of relief over the sounds of the pump’s rhythmic suction. This was the latest I’d ever done my first session of the day.

I pulled my ziplock bag of art supplies towards me across the little white-topped metal table. I had been using the 12-15 minutes of hands-free pumping time to create materials for a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) Program I was helping start up at my church. The trainers for this program had highly encouraged that everything for the program be hand-written, hand-drawn, or hand-made.

I had a list of art projects to complete that was as long as my arm, but I was trying to keep the material making process as prayerful and calm as possible. Sometimes I pulled up Gregorian chant on my phone and jokingly referred to the nurse’s office as my monastic cell.

Today, I was addressing envelopes to the families of 34 children we were inviting to our CGS Atrium Open House. I had written half the stack the night before and was enjoying seeing how beautifully the names stood out in the smooth black ink. I relaxed into a rhythm as my calligraphy pen scratched and slid across the white envelopes.

My phone timer beeped that my twelve minutes were up, but I had only a few addresses left to write, so I silenced it without stopping the pump. It could run for another minute or two while I finished.

Before I could add a zip code to the last envelope, I felt a splash of droplets across my lap. One of the bottles was so full that it was overflowing. I gave a tiny shriek and dropped the calligraphy pen, which splattered black ink across the white surface of the table. Milk continued to sputter out of the bottle.

I disconnected the tubes from the bottles and dropped them so that they now sprawled across the table, ineffectively sucking air in and out.

In my temporary panic, the spilled ink on the table seemed the most critical issue. I stood up, still ridiculously wearing two very full bottles, to grab paper towels. I ran the paper towels under water in the sink for a moment, then pushed all my art supplies out of the way.

The ink wiped up easily. I removed the bottles and screwed each cap on. This was the most milk I’d ever produced in a pumping session by far.

I cleaned up and made sure there were no visible splotches of milk or ink on my clothes. I had to get back to my desk and back to work.

Settling in comfortably to my desk, my very full milk bottles safe in a lunchbox in the fridge (marked “baby food” in deference to any co-workers who might be weirded out by a more descriptive label next to their lunches), I started opening unread work emails.

Without looking away from the screen, I grabbed my travel mug of now quite cold tea and lifted it for a drink. It had been a crazy morning.

My shirt and lap were suddenly soaked. Tea spilled out from beneath a not-fully-screwed-on lid.

I yelped.

Then I had to laugh. No one ever said working motherhood wasn’t a messy business.

“Note to self,” I messaged my co-worker. “Make sure the lid is on the mug *before* drinking tea.”