Life and Death

I spent the first three days of last week helping a friend through the birth of her first baby. Since her baby was a week overdue, she was induced on Sunday, and I spent the following days with her and her boyfriend to guide them through her labor and delivery experience. It was slightly intimidating but immeasurably rewarding, and I felt even more confident in my decision to pursue a career in birth education and “doula-ing” (though I’m opting for the role of postpartum doula as opposed to that of a labor doula).

Although I have personally experienced what it’s like to go into labor and give birth, I had never witnessed someone else give birth, nor had I witnessed the induction process. Both were incredibly eye-opening, and to be relied on for information and support during one of the most physically and mentally challenging experiences a woman could have was truly life-affirming for me. I befriended both sides of this new baby’s family and put my own pregnant-woman needs aside as much as I physically could during the almost three-day induction process. Only going home to sleep, I could hardly even do that as I anxiously awaited texts and phone calls announcing any major change that would require me to hurry back to the hospital. I was so amped on the experience that my closed eyelids were literally twitching uncontrollably, and sleep was essentially impossible. The exhaustion brought on by my own pregnancy didn’t phase me, and for that I was extremely thankful.

After the baby was born (sunny-side up, which was super impressive), I spent some time with the new parents to help them get adjusted to holding their new little family member without being fearful, and to help mama start the ever-intimidating first breastfeeding journey. I left soon after that to give them time to introduce the baby to close friends and family, and for me to reunite with my own family. I had done my part and felt completely satisfied with the type of working mother I had become.

As I left the hospital, I spoke on the phone with my mother-in-law who told me that her father, who had been suffering from cancer for two years and had decided to forego further treatment after the initial chemotherapy was unsuccessful, had taken a turn for the worse and most likely had no more than two weeks left in his life. I stopped by my husband’s work to eat some lunch and discuss what we should do as far as going to visit his grandfather. The two days we could chose to visit were either the following day or this upcoming Sunday, and we decided that the three of us (Lorelei being the third) would drive to Banning (near Palm Springs, a two-and-half-hour trip) the next day to go say our goodbyes. It was very important to us that we are there for Ryan’s mom and grandmother and aunts and everyone else close to this situation. We had both seen the death of a grandparent before (we were in the room with Ryan’s fraternal grandmother when she passed three years ago) and were not at all afraid of what we would see when we arrived in Banning.

Despite our certainty, I cried the entire 30-minute drive home. I was overwhelmed with what I had just experienced (seeing the beginning of the first day of a newborn baby’s life) and by what was happening to Ryan’s grandfather, one of the kindest, funniest, sweetest men I’d ever been lucky enough to spend time with. I was overwhelmed by the idea that the beginning and end of life are such definitive moments that no one can really control, and that my babies are going to die one day and I am going to die one day and Ryan is going to die one day and that there’s a chance I might have to spend the last days/months/years of my life without Ryan. It was all way too much for me to process when I was surviving on two hours of sleep and a lot of unhealthy food while trying to grow a baby in my uterus, so I took a long nap when I got to my mom’s house, where Lorelei was staying while Ryan and I were working, and felt a lot better about everything when I woke up. That being said, I’m still somewhat haunted by the thoughts that crossed my mind on that drive home. 

Nevertheless, we left the next morning, packing only what we’d need for a one-night stay at my mother-in-law’s, and hoped for an easy trip...

“Easy” is not a word that I should even say out loud anymore, let alone think. Lorelei was desperate to get out of the car and walk around a little less than halfway through the drive, so we got off the freeway and took her to the first food place we could find: McDonald’s. When a mother becomes desperate to not have to hear a screaming toddler in the car for more than an hour, she will, without giving it a second thought, feed that toddler French fries. She’ll even go a step further and get said toddler a happy meal so she will have a new toy to play with. Luckily the toy in this happy meal was a plastic Furby with googly eyes and Lorelei was thoroughly entertained. I was also personally amused by the fact that Furbies are still a thing.

When we arrived to Ryan’s grandparents’ house, the mood was slightly tense, but only  because things with his health were changing so rapidly. One thing I love about Ryan’s family is their complete selflessness. All three of Ryan’s grandfather’s daughters were there to help him and their mother, and they were all in very positive spirits. I felt very comfortable with our decision to bring Lorelei to say goodbye alongside us because she wasn’t being exposed to any negativity whatsoever. Instead, Lorelei enhanced the environment with her obliviousness to the situation. She was running around talking about the things she saw in the living room, eating chips and asking her Grammy (Ryan’s mom) to hold her. She explored the backyard and made friends with some duck lawn ornaments. She would curiously and happily peek at her great-grandfather resting in his bed and waved goodbye to him when it was time to leave. It was truly touching to see her sweet personality shine through what is certainly a sad situation.

The next morning, we found out that Ryan’s grandfather had passed away. This was a shock to everyone because we all thought he had at least a few more days ahead of him, but we felt the timing was serendipitous. We were able to say goodbye to him just in time, and he was able to pass before his health deteriorated to a point where he was unrecognizable. Ryan and I were also happy to be at his mom’s house when she received the news. It’s important to us to support the people we love, and it meant a lot to us to be lucky enough to be so close when this important event occurred. Needless to say we decided to stay another night and enjoy a day with Ryan’s brother and his girlfriend at the beach and pool. The weather was beautiful and it was nice to take a day off from normal life to really take in all that had happened so far in the week (which was truly a lot). The only downside is that we didn’t bring enough stuff to carry us through a two-day stay, so we had to go bathing suit shopping (miserable) and wear the same clothes over and over again (annoying). We also ran out of diapers and Lorelei had to run around naked while Ryan drove to the store to buy some. We are never so unprepared when we travel, so it was a little bit frustrating. All I can really say is, thank God for Target and end of summer swimsuit sales at local surf shops.

As all of this was going on, Lorelei had become a lot fussier and I noticed a few little bumps on her face. I didn’t think much of it (I thought maybe they were brought on by the heat), but when she woke up hours earlier than she normally does on the day we were supposed to leave, the bumps had multiplied and she seemed pretty miserable. In fact, she cried for the majority of the long drive home and Ryan and I were definitely at our limit when it came to anything that involved elevated stress levels. So I made a doctor’s appointment that was to take place as soon as we got home because my momma intuition was telling me Lorelei had hand, foot and mouth disease, an annoying but somewhat harmless disease that was making the rounds where we live. After enduring an unbelievable amount of traffic, a screaming toddler and some serious lack of sleep, Ryan and I went our separate ways, him to work and me with our still-screaming daughter to the doctor.

Long story short, I was right. Lorelei has hand, foot and mouth disease and her throat was covered in blisters. So, after a week of helping someone give birth and saying goodbye to a very beloved family member, I was quarantined to my extremely messy home to take care of my poor, sick Lorelei until this viral illness ran its course. Though adults don’t usually get HFM, I did, and it was the worst illness I have ever experienced - ever. 

I feel very challenged as a human being, and also very tired and constantly hungry thanks to my pregnancy. I’m sure everything would seem much more manageable if my brain were allowed to rest a lot sooner and a lot longer than it’s usually able to, but it’s not, so now that I’ve vented to my computer while watching mindless television, I’m going to rub cocoa butter all over my expanding belly (…and butt) and mentally prepare for what tomorrow may bring. Hopefully it brings a nap and a housecleaner.