Friday, September 12, 2008

Momma bird

I've never been an especially patient person. I have always been OK with that because that means I am excited about fun times, reasonably nervous about things on the horizon, in motion, going places; doing things, growing and being a more successful me. As a young mother of two beautiful healthy boys it never occurred to me that anything idle could be worthwhile. The very essence of two young boys is constant motion. I was master of my high energy domain. I was content with my life as a stay at home mom, and my tight little world of 148 Dials Drive.

My third pregnancy quite honestly didn't scare me, but the prospect of adding another creature that needed food, shelter, and attention sure did. The boys were so young and only 15 months apart. How would I care for three? My husband had just been promoted and was now beginning to travel. I was on my own with them most of the time while he worked, and very overwhelmed by the idea. As the trimesters expired we learned that we were expecting a girl this time around, and I was of course very excited, as was everyone around us. I was seasoned at this pregnancy stuff and I had it relatively easy. My biggest worry was where to find poodles to decorate her walls. I laughed and smiled and planned with my girlfriends, as she was the first baby girl in a while..we were all caught up in a wave of toile and tiny pink Adidas shoes. It was one of the happiest times in my life, oozing with love and a righteous, naive happiness.

I had a history of big babies, so I was set to be induced two weeks before my due date. My prenatal visits were quiet and uneventful. I did not ask many questions, because I already knew what to expect. I checked into labor and delivery on the big day with my hair neatly styled, light makeup and pearls. It was a day of celebration because me and my husband, and my mother, and my two best girlfriends were welcoming my baby girl into the world. We talked and laughed all day as the pitocin dripped and the epidural numbed any and all contractions. I labored peacefully and watched the girls play poker. Bill read the paper. I watched TV. We joked with our labor and delivery nurse and with each other about how shy I was about anyone seeing my nether regions, still hung up on that even the third time around. When it was time to push none of us ever thought to be scared, we were all just excited to see this baby girl we had talked so much about.

I only remember a moment of the pushing, and hearing "She's almost here Melissa"....and then there was just silence. Every one's faces went gray, and no one would look at me. The doctor removed her and placed her pink little body on mine, loosely wrapped in blue medical dressing, and my hand went straight around her wet little abdomen. The nurse asked the doctor if this was anticipated...was what anticipated?.....I laid eyes on my newborn baby girl, and through my unprepared perception, half of her face was missing. She had only half a nose, and half a lip..and a hole right where the other half of her nose and lip should be. She wasn't crying, and no one would say anything. I simply began to say "no"....just "no" over and over again.

The nurse grabbed my arm firmly and expressed to me that it was only cosmetic, easily fixed by the wonders of modern plastic surgery, everything would be just fine. She still wasn't crying. My family and friends stood there in silence until she finally began to sputter and cry. I don't remember how it sounded now. I wish I had the presence of mind to have been in the moment, but I was in shock. Finally she was handed to me for a moment, and I wrapped her tiny fingers around mine. She had my grandmothers hands. I told everyone to start taking pictures, and to be happy. I certainly didn't want her to think we weren't happy to have her. We snapped a few smiling shots before she was whisked away to the NICU. Bill of course went with her. All the ladies excused themselves because the confusion and despair was unbearable. The bustle of childbirth subsided, and the room cleared of hospital personnel.

I was alone and crying for what seemed like an eternity in that hospital room. I cried for all the things Sara had taken away from her already. For the cruelty she would face for being different. For the ridiculous superficial hopes and dreams I had unfairly projected on her, and for all the lazy but sincere assumptions that she would be perfectly healthy....I cried over my body failing her despite what anyone tried to explain to me to the contrary and for her brothers that would surely be shocked and scared and upset, and for the desperate fruitless inner search for ways to protect her from all the pain that she was guaranteed in countless forms, and for the shock and awe of this first time in my adult life that I felt completely, and utterly helpless.

That feeling of helplessness continued as she struggled to feed and had to rely on a nasal feeding tube to get all of her nourishment. Then she struggled to breathe, and to digest food properly. I was discharged before she was, and those first few weeks were the toughest of my entire life. I was pumping breast milk around the clock, both the boys came down with walking pneumonia, and we were traveling to and from the hospital several times a day for feedings and visits, and updates...and rides on the daily medical roller coaster with threats of open heart surgeries, terminal illnesses and lifelong disabilities. I was taught how to place an ng-tube down her nostril and past the back of her throat all the way down into her tummy...and how to run an enteral feeding pump, and how to prime an IV style feeding bag. I was assured this was all temporary until she picked up feeding a little better. She came home with a diagnosis of cleft lip and palate and severe GERD as the reason for her feeding issues. I was instructed to pump breast milk and feed it to her via this pump..and then sit and hold her upright and perfectly still for at least an hour after each feeding. Aside from the many doctors visits and time in the bathroom pumping breast milk, I sat in a rocking chair in our living room almost 18 hours a day, holding our precious baby girl perfectly still.

From the vantage point of my white glider rocker with custom black gingham cushions, meant to match Sara's black poodles, I could see only a few things; the street and trees outside, the corner of my front porch and the red geranium hanging from its awning, and the fact that my life would clearly never be the same.

The show had to go on, and so our mothers had stepped up to help with the boys. Bill's mother lived with us for the entire first month. Friends sent help, came over and cleaned my house, hired babysitters, housekeepers, cooked food, ran errands....all the while I sat. It was Spring and the Bradford Pears and Peach trees were in full bloom. The leaves were fresh and new and flowers were pushing up in my flowerbeds. The world was still turning even though mine had stopped, and sitting there while others did my laundry, and mothered my boys, and sifted through my filthy refrigerator was unbearable and completely against every grain in my body.

In the geranium hanging on the front porch a momma bird had built a nest shortly before Sara was born, for the second year in a row. I thought it was kind of cool but certainly didn't pay her much attention except to acknowledge that we had a bird nest in our plant as we came and went about our business. She was back this year, and her eggs had hatched sometime around the same time Sara was hatched. I could hear the baby birds yelling at momma bird for food. When I would go and look in at her nest she would fly away and yell at me from a nearby tree branch, while her babies open and closed their shaky little beaks..croaking and crying for her to hurry up and get more food. She flew tirelessly from the nest and then back to the nest with food for her funny little starving babies all day long. I imagine now that if momma bird and I could have talked we would have joked about needing a margarita..or maybe, where is daddy bird now? But I just continued to wake up everyday and do the best I could, and so did she.

Momma bird flew into the house one day and straight into the glass of our back door...knocked herself out cold. With the front door still open I could hear her babies screaming, and I panicked over the thought of them losing her now. I picked her up in a towel and laid her limp body back into her nest with her babies. They continued to scream for food, unaffected by their lifeless mother, and I began to cry. Several minutes later Momma bird woke, shook her little head straight and flew off to find more food as if nothing had ever happened. Babies still need food whether you have a concussion or not. I don't think Mother Nature could paint a more accurate portrait of motherhood than that.

Eventually the time came for Momma bird to kick her babies out of the nest. It took her one full day to do it. She had a couple of precocious little guys that flew right out from nest to rail post, then to the ground, then back to the rail post. All the while she stood in her tree branch and chirped encouragement to the meeker ones left behind. The last little bird enjoyed a chorus of enthusiasm from his brothers and sisters..and when it finally descended shakily to the rail post they all erupted in what I like to believe were cheers and laughter. I sat with my little boys in sheer joy and watched them all practice flying in little spurts from branch to branch. It got harder by the end of the day to tell Momma Bird from her babies, and eventually they were all just gone.

I am of course out of the rocking chair now. A geneticist lead us down the winding road of tests that gave Sara a more complete diagnosis of CHARGE syndrome. We bought a computer and through it I connected with other mothers and parents of CHARGErs, and they saved my weary spirit from despair, and literally Sara's life with advice for out of town referrals and care plans. That idle time that I so detested at first, gave way to many thoughts, that then gave way to many words that I couldn't help but express somewhere, and I began to write again. Writing has given me a sense of purpose that I didn't even know I needed until Sara came along and forced me to see who I really am. I didn't have the time to plant a new geranium the next Spring, so no Momma bird set up shop on our porch again. I am still supervising and encouraging the flying skills of my own baby birds. Sara had a bumpy road there at first with many surgeries and scares, but took her first steps shortly after her third birthday. She decides her own pace, and I follow her cues. Griffin learned that year that he can switch hit in baseball, and discovered his very own entrepreneurial instincts. Grant learned that he is custom made for football and received the principals award for goodwill and leadership that year at his kindergarten graduation. I learned that it is true that God never gives us more than we can handle, and I will always somehow find a way to shake my head straight.

My sweet girl, 3 months old:


  1. wow melissa im sitting here in amazement tho ive read bout sarah many times on the lsit and spoken to u lots i never remembered her with only half her little mouth o nose again i say come meet my blog family of chargers through mine great people great stories look into there arhcives and ull see feelings that r jsut liek urs

  2. I love the image of you sitting there with Sara and watching the Momma bird. Slowing down. Being quiet and realizing all you have.