5 Things You Learn From A Miraculous, Nightmarish Childbirth
Those of you who are terrified of having kids usually think in terms of sleepless nights, poop absolutely everywhere, and the possibility that you might accidentally parent your progeny into becoming a serial killer or Instagram influencer. But even your worst fear is based on the assumption of a relatively typical pregnancy and child.
My wife and I happened to have had an experience that is about as far from typical as you can get without turning up on the news. It has been a terrifying roller coaster of baffled doctors and horrific symptoms for both mother and child. Along the way, I have learned a bunch of lessons I would never have learned if I had gone with my original plan of staying single and selling shellacked iguanas on the beaches of Mazatlan.
It Turns Out You Can Have A Miscarriage And Still Give Birth
On a Friday, my wife had a miscarriage while she was at a concert. We had been trying to have a baby for a while, and this was our third strike. It was a sad event, as were the others, but by this time, we both knew how to deal with the emotional fallout. Right about here is where we start getting into some explicit details, because there's no way to sanitize a story like this while still telling the truth. Ready?
On the following Monday, she was prescribed a rather unpleasant medication called misoprostol, which is used for eliminating with extreme prejudice any extra tissue left over after a failed pregnancy. Then on Wednesday, she went to the gynecologist for the depressing final check to make sure everything was properly purged, whereupon something entirely unexpected was discovered: a heartbeat.
So we had a viable, in-progress baby after all. What happened, it seems, was that my wife had been gestating twins, and only one of them made the cut. I called this an emotional roller coaster earlier, but that seems insufficient, as it was more like one of those old rusty playground roundabouts that spin you until you're nauseous and then hurl you face-first into the pavement. We had a miracle baby on the way, but that wasn't the only news. My wife, they said, was bleeding.
Things Started Going Nightmarishly Wrong
It's called a subchorionic bleed (both of us would wind up learning many medical terms over the months and years), which indicates a problem with the placenta and only occurs naturally about 1 percent of the time. As the pregnancy was still in such an early stage, the prescription was simply to wait and see what happened ... which included the possibility of yet another miscarriage.
What came rolling down the pike was a laundry list of pregnancy "hopefully you don't have to deal with this shit" symptoms. This included extreme hyperemesis. I can best describe this as "morning sickness cubed" -- it got so bad that my wife's teeth were beginning to rot from all the horked-up acid, and she had to start wearing an IV pump that administered a constant drip of queasiness drugs. The needles that frequently tumbled out of her purse, making everyone else in the grocery checkout line stare at her like a smack addict, were a nice bonus.
If you've ever been in this situation, you know that uncertainty is its own form of torture. It turned out my wife also had a low-lying placenta, which meant there was a possibility of sudden bursting and death via blood loss. She also had marginal umbilical cord insertion (a common cause of stillborn babies). The range of possibilities extended from "miraculously birthing a brand-new perfect human" to "everyone dies horribly."
Eventually, we stayed strong and made it all the way through to ... the point where my wife had to be rushed into the delivery room because of preterm labor.
It's A Bad Sign When Your Medical Problem Is So Weird That It Freaks Out Hospital Staff
The birth was going to be via c-section, due to our baby almost drowning in his mother's fluids after a placental issue that could have killed both of them. By that point, we were emotionally ready for just about anything, so it actually wasn't as bad as the Cronenbergian scenario I'd been visualizing.
After a tense few moments, that issue was resolved, at which time Joey entered the world and was brought to the table where they let the less-squeamish dads snip the umbilical cord. This I accomplished while dodging a rather accurately shot stream of urine headed for my eyes.
While getting peed on as an introduction to your new offspring isn't uncommon, what was were the little white protrusions I saw in his mouth as he let loose with his first yowls. That's right, he came out with a few teeth, which was just another on the list of rarities that got the attending staff's eyebrows to raise (along with a bloody lip which came about from a violent disagreement with the doctor's forceps).
But what really got their attention was when everyone in the room got a look at my wife's placenta. Apparently, it was such an aberration that nurses, doctors, and interns from all over the labor and delivery ward came filing in to gawk at it. (Note: You never want hospital staff to find you this interesting, even if you're just there to visit.) The shock came from how it was such a grievous example of a marginal cord insertion that everyone was puzzled as to how any fetus could possibly have survived on that little nutrition.
But survive he sure as hell did. Also, you'll notice this is not the end of the article.
Once The "Miracle" Birth Was Out Of The Way, The Real Fun Began
Movies teach you that crises get more and more dire until, through courage and determination, you finally emerge on the other side, stronger and better. Real life is more like a slasher movie franchise, where they have to keep finding excuses to plunge the heroes back into the nightmare, over and over.
First, Joe manifested symptoms of an epic case of colic -- sudden, inexplicable, ear-piercing shrieking at random times. Colic is a controversial subject, with pharmacies happily willing to sell you all manner of mysterious witch's-cauldron-sounding concoctions with names like "gripe water" to cure it. But at least this was a relatively normal phenomenon, and the passage of time eventually ended the constant howling.
In the next few years, though, Joey would be diagnosed with ADHD and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder -- you can guess the symptoms from the name). Those two things in combination lead to a child who is extremely hard to teach and discipline without exacerbating the problem. So did these diagnoses have anything to do with the gauntlet of near-fatal disasters he faced in the womb? Was it some as yet undiscovered side effect of surviving a misoprostol murder attempt? Nobody knew. The problem with being a rare medical case is that there isn't much data to go by.
Then neurological issues started to appear. As Joe exited the toddler stage, he began to have severe headaches -- ones so bad that doctors began to suspect they were the actual source of the ADHD/ODD issues. Luckily, we were close to one of the best hospitals in the world, and spent some quality time with electrodes attached to Joey's head in a high-tech tower built with sheikh money. After a week of that unpleasantness, they were able to determine ... nothing.
Suspicions of things like frontal lobe seizures didn't pan out after the batteries of EEGs, MRIs, and CT scans, leading one of the doctors to suggest, "Hmm, maybe this is all just behavioral." Which seemed dubious, considering the headaches were making Joe's eyes wander in different directions like a lizard and causing him to become unresponsive. There's uncertainty about whether your kid will get better, and then there's the unique uncertainty of the best minds in the field saying, "Beats me, maybe he's just like this?"
Stress Like This Is Brutal On Your Body, And Marriage
Joey is five now. We've spent the last few years trying different cocktails of pain relief and psychiatric drugs and seeing which gets him to as close to normal as possible. We're actually at a pretty good place at the moment, having eliminated the combination that led to him channeling the voice of Satan and threatening to take our lives with a hammer. As for how his parents are holding up ...
Do you want to guarantee that you'll have loud arguments with your partner, complete with all the dire ultimatums, threats, and everything-you-ever-did-wrong-for-the-last-decade marital performance reviews? Introduce a "problem kid," and then discover you have fundamental disagreements about how to deal with the behavior. Then throw in relatives chiming in with the always-popular "My kids would never have gotten away with that!" routine.
This is the kind of stress that can murder you. Heart disease might kill the most people on a yearly basis, but living in a perpetual state of anxious tension is often what puts them in that sorry state. It's helped along by alcoholism and other forms of chemical dependency, so failing to address the issue is pretty much a guarantee that you'll be fist-bumping the Reaper while everyone you know comments on how you seemed to be too young to be found both lifeless and pantless on the bathroom floor.
I already had a fondness for hooch going in, which steadily got worse until I finally hit my bottom. At some point I decided I didn't want to be the shirtless guy on an episode of Cops, sitting and weeping on the curb while waiting to be stuffed into a police cruiser before I pissed myself. Both of us had to find a way to deal.
Contrary to my every instinct (and against the unwritten code of a couple of my former modes of employment), we both agreed to get help. I never saw myself as the sort of person to take a pill for generalized anxiety disorder, but Lexapro has been doing wonders, as has the regular counseling sessions. We learned ways of opening lines of communications and emotional management tactics which I would never have come up with if left to my own stubborn, stoic devices. Admittedly, it does become easier after being driven to a point where you couldn't give a yodeling shit what anyone thinks anymore.
My wife and I both have had our share of late-night freakouts and meltdowns, but have so far been able to lean on each other and avoid appearing on the local news for running naked down I-95 and humping the mile markers. I found that not wanting the be that guy (not the freeway streaker, but the useless drunken patriarch) was enough. Whether Joe's enigmatic brain situation improves or becomes terrifyingly worse, it's better to be mentally equipped than to wallow in booze-fueled self-pity and help exactly no one.
I surely wasn't put on Earth to preach to anyone, but if I pass anything on to him, it will be ... I dunno ... make lemonade or some shit. And if you have the chance to at least try to be a good dad, then jump at it.
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