Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A HeartBreaking Work of Stagging Heartbreak

I don't know why I chose the particular title I did, other than I could fit the word heartbreak into it twice, the post doesn't really relate to the similarly titled book.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about specific bad events. I've sort of mentally prepared myself for the worst, as much as one can. Maybe we all have. I've thought, what would I do if--heaven forbid--one of my loved ones was seriously hurt or died well before their time? During these contemplative moments I mostly ponder the concept of forgiveness. I hope that if I ever am tasked with the need to give great forgiveness, I'll be equipped to hand it out in abundance. It's hard to know till it happens, but I feel like a) being aware that you hope for it and b) actively visualizing it, will make it more likely when, if ever, it's called for. I feel like an athlete picturing in his mind the three-point shot he'll have to make at the end of the most important game of his life. You can go through it in your mind a thousand times but you still might not hit the shot when the time comes, but hopefully you've upped your odds.

Unfortunately this sort of meditation has left me ill-prepared for an event that took place this week. Actually the event took place a few years ago but my discovery of the event was just this week.

A friend sent me a message over Facebook with a link, he asked, "Did you see this?" I opened the link and found before me a picture of a different friend, a mug shot, and the description of the list of his crimes that included words like "thirteen year old girl" and "sexual assault in the first degree."

These things I can't understand. Honestly, when I think about it for more than a couple seconds I have to fight back the urge to cry. It's such a fucking mess.

There's the obvious, likely life long, pain some little girl will get to grow old with. That's the sort of suffering I feel like I've been preparing myself for. But this is something else, instead of the boogeyman being some stranger, some random act of violence perpetrated on one of my loved ones, it's one of my friends, he has become the perpetrator and it's not a state of affairs that I've equipped myself to deal with.

For redemption to mean anything it has to mean something for this man, he who has fallen the furthest. It has to do so without belittling those he has hurt, the girl in question, her family and his own friends and family. But all I can feel is, "God damn you, Jon! God Damn You!"

And then I feel stupid for even talking or thinking about forgiveness. It's not mine to give here. It belongs to a whole other family if they ever chose to give it. And yet it feels like mine, like it should be all of ours. He's likely ruined his life with these actions. At one point I tried to imagine what it felt like at the moment he had his mug shot taken. The terrible sinking feeling captured forever in a flash that says, "It's over. You're done." His own stupid useless staggering heartbreak. And I was crushed under its imaginary weight; I'm incapable of imagining what horror it must have been. There's more than one tragedy here, but I'm left only knowing how to feel about one of them. God damn you, Jon. I hope one day I'll be able to follow that up with a plea for peace upon your soul, but that day isn't today. God damn you.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Binding Agents

For posterity, especially Wren.

On December 20th, Robyn was ten days past due and went in for her regular stress test for her and the baby's health. While there the doctors noted protein in her urine which is a symptom of preeclampsia.  They also measured her blood pressure and had her do a more thorough 24 hour urine test. Blood pressure was elevated compared to prior measurements but not considered high for a healthy pregnant woman.

The next day, the 21st, we went to the labor and delivery floor of UCSF to turn in the sample and talk to the doctors. They wouldn't have the results right away but they took Robyn's blood pressure again and monitored the baby for about an hour. All seemed well but the doctors pushed for induction because of her still elevated blood pressure, but Robyn greatly wanted to avoid induction. The official diagnosis was gestational hypertension, but they'd have the results from the 24 hour tests in a few hours and at that point they could decide to either call it preeclampsia or stick with hypertension. Either way they wanted to induce but with the preeclampsia they REALLY wanted to induce. Some major risks of preeclampsia: strokes and seizures; delivery of the baby/placenta is the only way to completely avoid the risks.

We decided to not induce at that time but would wait for the test results, hoping it was just hypertension. At midnight they called to tell us that the tests confirmed there were elevated levels of protein and that they were now extra interested in induction. We agreed to come in at 5am so that we could get some sleep prior to starting what we recalled being a very intense and tiring process with Berkeley.

At 4am we woke and had our friend Courtney come over and stay with Berkeley. We had warned Berkeley the last few nights that she might wake up one morning and find Courtney or Grandma Lynn there rather than us so we were sure she'd be fine with the change. We packed our mostly already packed bags and headed off to the hospital once Courtney arrived.

When we arrived at the hospital we called Lynn to tell her to come relieve Courtney whenever was convenient  Also there at the hospital we met our friend Jenny who was going to be with us throughout the labor as a helping and comforting hand. For our prior labor and delivery Leisel took the journey with us, and we were hoping she would be here again, but that little baby cooked too long. But we felt confident and comfortable having Jenny's loving hands and heart there with us.

The trip over to the hospital was so different from when we did it with Berkeley. The first time Robyn had already labored at home for hours and was having mighty contractions. We noticed every bump and stop (her more than me); this time it was a calm drive up the same road with little to no note of the condition of the road.

We were admitted as planned and then assigned to beautiful labor room 2 (which has the best views, maybe in the entire city, not to brag). Robyn's blood pressure had gone up some more, but was still at safe levels. She was hooked up to an IV so that pitocin could be added to her blood stream. Some blood samples were drawn and by 8:30am they started dripping small amounts of the synthetic hormone into her body.

The great difficulty for Robyn was that we had been told that the introduction of pitocin can make labor pains more intense than those that come naturally. She wanted to do the delivery without pain medication, especially no epidural, and she worried that the pitocin would make that task all the harder. The doctors and nurses assured us that they could start off the contractions slowly so to simulate the natural birth process but at the peak strength the contractions would be, and must be, very strong regardless of whether or not pitocin was used or the process was started naturally. So we hoped and prayed that the pain could be managed even with the introduction of the hormone.

At the point of induction I called Jason and let him know that we had started; he planned to join us later that morning. I felt a little out of sorts at that point. Robyn didn't seem to need any specific assistance and even when the contractions started they were pretty minor. The nurse suggested that Jenny and I go get some breakfast. It seemed like a crazy idea to me but everyone else was on board so I assumed it must not be that crazy to leave Robyn on her own at this point. Breakfast was had, and we quickly went back up stairs.

The baby's heartbeat was monitored and the familiar thump thump of the monitoring system started up. It brought a tear to Jenny's eye as she remembered her own pregnancies. I on the other hand dread that sound a little; it was a source of stress for us with Berkeley's delivery. The length of the delivery had the heart rate changing frequently and the doctors worrying about it. This time we barely took note of it. It's so very strange how different the two experiences were starting out.

The pitocin levels were increased and soon the contraction strength matched the new levels of the pitocin. Robyn opted for a spell in the bathtub. She threw-up a lot during Berkeley's delivery and was feeling nauseated this time too. She really didn't want to go through the constant vomiting again. But more of a concern to the doctors was her blood pressure. Recent readings had reached levels too high. So they gave her some meds to try to bring it down. This worked a little but she remained right below the "too high" level for most of the rest of her delivery. Because preeclampsia causes seizures they wanted to put her on magnesium sulfate to help prevent them. It's a very rare symptom but they wanted to be precautious. There didn't appear to be any major side effects to the magnesium sulfate so we consented to it.

The contractions in the tub started being super strong, strong like I remembered seeing with Berkeley. Finally I felt I had something to do besides sit around and stare at my hands or out the window. Jenny seemed much better prepared and equipped for those quiet hours before the labor got really intense. She knew immediately to take a beeping medical device out of the room to avoid bothering Robyn (I just stupidly messed with it trying to figure out how to make it shut up). The muscle memory of lending Robyn my strength through words and body contact came back and I think I did a swell job of coaching her through some very difficult contractions. We did a lot of breathing. A lot of remembering the utility of the pain. And a lot of encouraging.

Jason arrived near the end of the bath. Though I didn't see him in that moment I knew he was there and a certain amount of relief filled my own body.

Once the magnesium sulfate was ready Robyn had to depart the bath. They didn't want her having seizures in the water. We took the long, long trip from the bathtub to the bed. Though the distance was mere tens of feet, the journey felt much longer and was great and trying.

I asked the nurse if Robyn could be checked for progress, she hadn't been checked since we came in that morning but the prior day she had already been at 4 centimeters. They hadn't checked earlier because she hadn't had any contractions between that time and when the induction started.

She laid down on the bed and one of the doctors came in to check her out. Eight centimeters was the determination. Robyn was laboring very strong at that point, I think in her mind she had to already be a ten and nothing less than a nine was going to ease her mind.

Things happened fast from there. Mostly I remember words.

Robyn: "NO NO NO NO NO."
Robyn: "I can't, it can't be only eight."
Robyn: "I can't do it."
Nurse: "The next two will go so fast."
Me: "You can do it. You are doing it."
Nurse: "Doctor don't leave. She's grunting. It will happen soon."

Suddenly someone picked up a phone and then the room was filled with nurses and doctors. They asked Robyn to rollover (there was some cord maneuvering that needed to happen) but she was somewhere else, somewhere primal where words and requests cease to mean what they mean to you and me in our regular waking hours. She arched her back. She howled. She wailed. She reasserted over and over that she didn't know what to do. Did she speak to me or the doctors or the baby or God? I can't say, but oh my heart.

One doctor told me I needed to make Robyn do what they were asking. As if I had super powers or something. As if I was the one who bent rivers and moved mountains. We did eventually get her to make the requested movements and no more than five minutes after she was checked, the baby's head made its first appearance. Nine had come and gone. Ten was here. It was time to push.

When Berkeley was born Robyn pushed for three hours while protected by an epidural. It was a long tiring process, like raising an army. But this baby was nothing like that. In the full throws of her motherly pains she pushed and wailed, exclaimed she did not know what she was doing or what she was suppose to do, when suddenly, at 11:38am, a new life entered the room, the youngest person on the planet for a second or two. I missed the actual exit it happened so fast. But there she was our new little family member. We were fortunate this time to not have any meconium in the delivery so our new baby was placed directly on Robyn's chest and she got to realize the double prize of her struggles (baby and pain relief). And we got to experience again the good and Godly tears of an enlarging family.

One thing that should not be overlooked is the admiration I have for Robyn. She was so strong and determined, and even when she thought she couldn't complete the task she set before herself, she did, and did it amazingly. I'm so proud of her and to be her husband; and so glad to have her be the guiding star for my two little girls to look up to.

Unfortunately our journey was not yet done. Robyn had internal hemorrhaging that the doctors were not able to stop there in the delivery room. After some deliberation we decided to send Robyn to the OR where she could receive some more powerful drugs and they could clear her uterus of blood clots and use a balloon type device to apply internal pressure to stop the bleeding. Robyn consented because her goal was only to deliver the baby without meds but she was more than willing to take as many as necessary once the baby was safely in our arms.

I went with the new baby to the nursery for her initial checkup while Robyn went to the OR. I thought Jason was going to go with her but the doctors wouldn't let anyone accompany her and it broke my heart to find out when I returned from the nursery that she had gone in there all alone. It was a mixed bag of joy for a successful delivery and the stress of having the love of your life go through more pain and I presumed danger. Luckily, for me, Jason was there with me; talking with him distracted my mind somewhat.

I would be remiss to not mention a thought that stayed with me throughout the day, before the day even, and still wanders through my brain now and maybe forever. We are so fortunate, so blessed and so fortunate. A friend of mine a few weeks prior, her little sister's husband had a heart infection that required surgery. After his surgery, maybe the day after, his wife delivered their first baby. He was there for that, he saw his little baby for ten minutes then complained of a headache, passed out and never awoke. Ten minutes. Those two words and so much weighty meaning have been with me since, and were especially there in the delivery room. I'd spent some days watching the clock, wondering what happens in ten minutes? When our baby was born I couldn't help but glance at the clock. Ten minutes went by so fast. The tears I shed that day weren't just for my family, and they weren't just for joy. On that day some sadness traveled with me as well. Those tears were for Baby Logan, his passed father Josh and his grieving mother Erica. What little help it may impart I don't know, but I hope they can one day know that their sorrows are spread far and wide, and maybe that net of humanity will somehow help hold up the weight they feel all around.

Those ten minutes passed so fast. I can't imagine. All I know is we've been unfathomably and unfairly blessed.

Robyn returned from the OR drugged up but in better repair. We waited for some of the fuzz to clear and then had Berkeley and Lynn come meet their new sister and granddaughter. It was a joyous meeting. Berkeley came in with the greatest smile, clearly eager to see us and her sister. She had written a note with the help of grandma telling us that she loved us. She wanted to hold the baby and she knew when the baby cried to rock her. It was a heart softening experience to see her little body bounce up and down in an attempt to soothe an even smaller body.

That night I went home with Berkeley and we played a little before she went to bed. Then exhaustion and stress and adrenaline and the after affects of a great emotional upheaval took their toll on me. I sat in front of the toilet for an hour, waiting for what my stomach told me was inevitable. But it never came, so instead I grabbed a bowl and curled up in a ball in my bed and let stomach pains do battle with an exhausted mind. Eventually the latter won out and I was a sleeping father of two.

The next morning I took a shower. And there something really sunk in that hadn't occur to me explicitly after Berkeley's birth. These little children and these big experiences of labor and delivery, they are great in and of themselves, but they are also mighty binding agents. It's hard to think of moments when I've felt closer to Robyn than during the birth of our two children. Because of that day and because of many days before us, these two little girls will draw Robyn and I so much closer. It's an honor and a privilege and I hope I can always do right by the three of them.

After the shower I had a new experience, so fast upon me, of having the competing interest of a child at home and a recovering wife and new baby at the hospital. I did't expect to have to cope with that point quite so soon. On the morning of the 23rd, I sat at home with Berkeley playing Legos. And there I had to manage what felt like gravity from some great star holding me at Berkeley's side while an infinite desire pulled at my heart to rejoin my wife and new one at the hospital. These shall be interesting and trying times no doubt.

The hospital stay beyond that wasn't too exciting. Robyn ended up staying two nights and had a blood transfusion before we left to get her red blood cell count up, but otherwise it was a good stay and we were ready to go home after the two days.

The hour before leaving the hospital we decided upon the name Frankie Wren Kessler. Robyn has always wanted to name a little girl Wren. We had another name that was up for serious contention that we would have loved to use too (Clementine J.). Robyn still isn't convinced she made the right choice. Frankie is in honor of her Uncle Frank, who we're sure will love her greatly, as he does Berkeley. We'll be calling her Wren when she's young and it will be interesting to see when she decides to discard her middle name in favor of her first name, if ever. Frankie Wren was preferred to Wren Frankie because of the way it rolls off the tongue.

Tonight I was struck by the microcosm of life that labor can represent. In such a compact little space you have necessary pain followed by an explosion of joy. So many other animals seem to produce less painful birth experiences. Somewhere in here, in our suffering, is humanity, perhaps. It too, the labor, in its own way, is a binding agent. To each other, there in the moment, and hopefully way beyond. Somewhere in all that is what it means to be human and to see the face of God.

And lastly, I reviewed my prior rememberance of Berkeley's birth and it's interesting to note how singular that event was. How I had nothing to compare it to. But this one, I can't even talk about it properly without comparing it to the first. They're too entwined. They always will be. Not just the event, but the girls. Somewhere in that is the essence of having a sibling. I hope it's a great experience for both of them.