(This Post was previously published on here under the title, “A Mother’s Day Carol”)
Ah, Mother’s Day. May the 13th. Also known as my ER-Versary. Or, the anniversary of the one time I had to go to the ER that I remember.
‘Twas the night of May 13th, and all through the house, not a creature was sleeping, cuz Drew was ten days old. I was exhausted, my mom was exhausted, Thomas was overwhelmed, Ginni was confused about what time it was, and Dad and Dan were in Lithuania.
The joy of being a new mom had not yet hit me—the joy of not being pregnant anymore was the closest I’d come, but even that was fraught with pain and peril. I was bleeding and sore and crying over everything, trying to nurse a boy who was constantly hungry and constantly needed a bedtime snack, but wouldn’t sleep long enough for me to fall asleep. Most of the time I would just start crying or whining and either Thomas or Mom would get ahold of Drew and I’d pass out somewhere.
Then came the couple of days where I was sweating all the time…and freezing all the time. I found it difficult to walk in a straight line, and I shivered in the heat of Texas in May. I remember Mom putting a hot water bottle in bed with me, but it didn’t matter. Then came the afternoon where my sister’s fiancée was over watching tv with everyone, passing Andrew between family members while I was taking a nap. I got up and came out to try and eat something, and it felt like swimming through the hallway. I was sick, I knew it. But it’s hard to tell you’re actually ill when you’ve just survived a serious medical event that involved hours of pain meds and an intravenous antibiotic. And new parents are tired all the time, so…what was going on?
The phrase “dying in childbirth” started to resonate with me. That’s how Downton Abbey got rid of Sybil, after all. People get sick having babies…people die. I’d read tons of Victorian novels where characters were dispatched in this way. So I knew it was possible (see my post “Dear Andrew- The Night Before” about how I was brave to have Drew. Once I’d had him, I became a dork again).
That night, my Mom went and got a thermometer and put it to my head. “100,” Thomas pronounced. “The print-out from the hospital says you only need to call them if it’s OVER that.” Or something like that, the details of that day are fuzzy. “Oh, shoot, I forgot to take the cap off,” he said, taking the thermometer’s hat off and putting it back against my temple. 103.
I told Drew goodbye as Thom and I set off for urgent care. I remember standing next to the pack-and-play and watching him doze under his striped blanket. “I hope I didn’t make you sick,” I said, my eyes filling up with tears for the millionth time. Mom and my aunt promised they’d take care of him and everything would be fine, so we left.
I remember the car ride to Urgent Care, and I remember the girl at the desk saying, “You had the baby ten DAYS ago?” And then she said, “No,…don’t drink that water. You’re…gonna need to go to the hospital.”
Then the ambulance showed up. The EMT’s were like twelve years old, and seemed like sweet boys. They complained that they’d been about to get dang quesadillas, but had to pick me up. I apologized while one of them took my temperature and pulse, etc. Then he started talking about how when your fever gets really high you can get brain damage. “Unless the end of this is, ‘and that isn’t gonna happen to you’, don’t tell me anymore about this,” I ordered him. Then I apologized because my brother-in-law was an EMT, and the guy told me, “you know what, I’ll just take you to the damn hospital”. Some of this might be out of order.
I do remember him asking me, “are you nervous about something?”
“Well…I’m in an ambulance and I have a ten-day-old baby at home, so…”
Mom and my aunt left Drew with my cousin and followed us to the ER. There I was, hooked up to something once again, surrounded by the same people who’d been there when Andrew was born. But this wasn’t the light and bright Labor and Delivery part of the hospital, this was the white-and-gray-and-mint green ER on a Friday night. A man was wheeled past my room on a stretcher, his eyes closed, his skin all pale and scary-looking. The lady doctor came in and looked at me, two guys gave me an X-Ray, I realized I’d known one of the nurses back in the day…the hours ticked by.
I finally asked the doctor, “What are we really worried about here?”
“Well, worst-case scenario is a blood clot, but—,”
And for some reason, the floodgates burst at those words.
I’d ridden in the back of the ambulance and watched the light fade over the highway, thinking, very calmly, that if this was the night I died I was going to be brave. I remember praying, “Lord, if this is it…if this is when we meet…make me brave.” I didn’t REALLY think that I would die. But in the tiny room in the ER, all of a sudden, I knew what dying would mean now. And as soon as the doctor was gone, I started shaking and crying. I remember looking up and saying, “Mom?”
She rushed right over to me. I don’t remember her face but I remember her hugging me as I sobbed and said, “Mom…he won’t REMEMBER me.”
And she told me something I’ll never forget. It was one sentence. But I can’t tell you what it was.
I’ll tell you that it made everything make sense all of a sudden—why she’d reacted the way she had when I’d stayed out too late or said something hateful to her or been really insensitive and bratty. And it made me regret all the times I’d forgotten about or ignored her. I think about it a lot, honestly. But I can’t say it because it’s too powerful. For all my jokes and stupid comments, Motherhood is something great and terrible, and you know what? It never stops.
Because all this stuff had taken place at my Mom’s house. We came home from the hospital and went to my old room, where she’d made my bed. She took Andrew in the middle of the night so many times and laid him on her shoulder and fell asleep—I’d wake up to see both of them peacefully slumbering, his tiny brown head on her shoulder. She sat there while I tried nursing, talking about all the hours she’d spent with me all alone in an apartment in Boston, and she’d snuggle Drew and say, “this reminds me of MY baby…when it was just you and me…” She gave him his first bath—we’d tried and it just made him mad, so she picked him up, in her clothes, and held him while Thomas poured a cup of water over his lower half. She got completely drenched and never said a word about it. One night I came in crying because I’d given Drew some Mylicon drops, but we weren’t supposed to…I started crying and he started crying, and Mom picked him up and then laid my head on her shoulder, and stood there in the middle of her room, holding both of us up. I remember thinking, “she is way too old to be doing this.”
On that night in the ER, they found a little bit of pneumonia and they pumped me full of fluid. The chipper nurse sent me to the bathroom with a cup and my sister helped me walk down the hall, making jokes about stuff I don’t remember. Thomas sat there and read, I think—my aunt and uncle sat in the waiting room and my cousin sat with Andrew, watching Undercover Boss until we got home around midnight…until we got back to my Mom’s house, the first home Andrew knew.
We stayed there for six weeks, until Thomas insisted it was time to start sleep-training and I got back on my Lexapro. That was Mom’s idea, too—she said it would be okay if I quit nursing, and said I’d done a great job keeping up with it for six weeks. And she told me that I was depressed, not tired, and that I’d feel better when I started taking my medicine again. And she told me that this wasn’t all about me. And she told me that mothers were strong and she hadn’t raised some wimp. And that I was a great mother. All separate occasions.
This is a Mother’s Day story, but it isn’t my story. She was right, it isn’t all about me. And I was wrong—you’re never too old to hold your children up. I don’t know if she remembers what she said to me that night in the ER. But I know why she said it—her kid was crying, and she raced right to her. I don’t remember all the things I say when Drew starts crying and I rush to him and pick him up. If you’re a Mom, you know what I mean. It almost doesn’t matter WHAT you say.
So get your mothers gifts, everyone. Thomas once said that getting his mom her traditional Mother’s Day gift—a mug—was starting to feel shallow. “It’s like, ‘thanks for raising me, here’s a mug.’” It’s true, there’s no reciprocity here. And many depictions of motherly love are designed to sell you things; marketers know you’re desperate to find something for your mom because you CAN’T repay her for who she is. I’m beginning to discover all the things my mom did for me, but I know I won’t ever REMEMBER all of them. And the same with her and her mother. But we’re here, and if they’re here too, we owe them the thanks that we’re able to give. This is a Mother’s Day story, but it isn’t about me. It’s about a woman who brought her firstborn home from the hospital at one in the morning, exhausted but relieved that at least we were all here and alive.
I WILL tell you what she said when we got in the car— “You scared me to death, you stupid.”
Happy Mother’s Day, team.