Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Baby, baby, baby

by Amy MacKinnon

Blood. There isn't supposed to be blood, but there it is.

My stomach flips, failing to right itself. My hands, knees, and voice tremble while talking to the obstetrician on call. His soothing words can't reassure me, but I'll repeat them to reassure those around me.

Only nine weeks into my third pregnancy and I'm on my fourth day of bed rest. I steel myself for each trip to the bathroom. But there's more blood this time. Too much.

This time the I speak to the nurse. She's become a friend, and this time the reassuring words do soothe me. She tells me her story. Her first pregnancy and three months later the spotting began. She lost that baby but somehow had conceived a second while still pregnant with the first. After being pregnant for eleven months, she gave birth to a son. Her miracle. I don't believe in miracles and we end by making an appointment for the following week.

My husband holds me saying it's probably for the best. We weren't prepared this unexpected pregnancy. He returns a few moments later, eyes full, voice thick. He's sorry. Sorry for the words he didn't mean, the baby whose life we won't share, his inability to comfort me. Yet it's the pain he shares that's the greatest comfort. We hold each other.

Our three-year-old daughter lays beside me in my bed, quiet, her head tucked under my chin as my husband and I explain the sister she longs for won't be. Our son, only eighteen months, doesn't understand all of it -- only enough to know his mother's crying. He wraps his chubby arms around my neck, kisses me a thousand times. When I smile, it's his cue to jump on the bed. The children have already begun to bounce back while I haven't begun to grieve.

Some days later, I sit in my doctor's office as if awaiting a death sentence. The morning sickness that's wracked me now resolved, my once-round stomach, already flat again. They don't keep me waiting long. The nurse embraces me. I thank her for her kind words and a short time later I leave, knowing I won't be back again until it's time for my annual physical. I won't be back every month, then every two weeks, and, finally, weekly for my maternity visits. The doctor won't measure my growing belly, chastise my increasing weight, share his own stories. I won't call him in the middle of some March night to tell him it's time.

In the parking lot, tears choke me as I try to find the ignition. Soon I can't breathe. I miss my baby. I desperately wanted that baby. I suddenly realize I'm a mother to a child whose face I'll never see, whose body I'll never hold. Though not a person of faith, I beg for my child.

Two days later the phone rings. It's the nurse calling with the results of my tests. I'm prepared for the call, she said it would be coming, I'm not prepared for the words. I'm still pregnant. My baby is still with me. My baby is alive. Words I didn't expect to hear because hope hadn't been a part of my life these past weeks.

I hang up the phone and fall to me knees. Lifting my shirt, I wrap my arms around my baby.

(My daughter is now 12 and the light of my life.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Writing the Second Book

By Amy MacKinnon

So a friend just emailed, asking for advice on writing the second book. Me. Laughable and wholly misguided considering how many times my dear friend Lynne Griffin had to talk me off the ledge. It takes a great deal of faith to write a book, a whole lot more to write the second. This is how I responded and I hope you'll share your experiences with your own writing process:

As for writing the second book, you will be filled with dread, self-competition (a word you make up because you no longer have any grasp over language), anxiety, self-loathing, thoughts of self-mutilation, your finger will constantly hover over the delete key, your first chapter will suck and suck and suck, your trusted readers (whom you now doubt and maybe despise a little) will tell you it sucks, and then, finally, it will be good enough for you to move on to the second chapter, but not yet *good*, just good enough, but not really that good at all; you'll cry -- a lot -- doubt every cell of your being, knowing you suck, your goal will be to write two pages every goddamn day, but you can hardly write two godforsaken paragraphs and they are, simply put, pitiful -- you write, revise, revise, write, write, revise until...you move on to chapter three and it will be the slowest chapter of your life -- ever -- but you push through to chapter four and it won't be so bad because you reward yourself with food, it's the only joy left, you eat chocolate! chips! wasabi peas! -- a lot -- constantly, really, until your sides overflow your pajama bottoms, but it's worth it because you're writing and someday, when you sell the book, you'll be able to afford those Spanx, then on and on you write, and at this point, when your finger hovers over that delete key it won't linger there quite so long as before, resignation will be your constant companion, until one morning an epiphany strikes you between the eyes and you dare to believe you're a freaking genius, and you write and it's hard but no longer excruciating, just hard as hell, but you're writing and you see an impending shape and that keeps you moving forward because if you don't move forward it's not as if you're going to fall backward, worse, you'll just stand still and that's when you'll fall off the grid completely, so you move forward and you fully see -- there! -- the path you're on, strewn as it is with enormous boulders you must surmount every few miles, you become familiar with the people accompanying you on this journey, your darling characters, and you start to love these people -- who exist only in your head and on your page, crazy you! -- more than most people in your real life (which doesn't feel quite so real anymore) and you care for them and your soul starts to inhabit their (paper) bodies but they're real (aren't they?), and you write them with your heart and head, you bleed for them, and then the end is only a chapter or two away and you begin to slow down, not wanting it to end, not wanting to lose the omnipotence of breathing life and loss and love into these people -- and what if you get the ending wrong and all of this is for naught?! -- but you won't because you always intended to go there, right there and a spot to the left, and finally you do write the end and you make yourself cry and are convinced, most days, it is probably, mostly, hopefully good enough, at least it's the best you can do at this point in your life, and you hit save draft, stand, stretch, walk away, rush back, and start again -- at the beginning.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Birth and Rebirth

By Amy MacKinnon

Nine days after giving birth to my first child, I died.

That morning my husband woke to the sound of my teeth chattering and whole shuddering. Don’t worry, I said, it’s just my body finding its way back. Moments later, while I lay in bed nursing our daughter, a rag between my teeth to ease those first excruciating moments as she latched on, my husband called the Boston hospital we’d left only a week before. Never mind the ER, a nurse said, bring her back to the maternity ward.

But we were deep in a February frost with layers of snow and ice covering everything. There was the wind chill factor to consider and our baby’s tender skin. I refused to take her out into New England’s unforgiving winter. My husband wouldn’t listen. He dressed her while I protested, buckled her into the infant seat while I cursed him, he took her to the car, knowing I’d follow. I’d follow her anywhere.

At the hospital, a nurse banded my wrist and my baby’s; brought in a bassinet for her and settled me in a bed; she took my temperature and blood pressure, and averted her gaze when I complained about my husband’s ridiculous anxiety. Everything appears fine, she said, heading for the door, a doctor will be in soon to examine you. I glared at him to emphasize her point.

We waited mostly in silence as the hours passed one into the next, until my daughter needed to be fed again and my husband welcomed the chance to escape for lunch. He kissed us both goodbye. I don’t recall returning the kiss; I’d like to say I did. Once he was gone, I slipped my nipple into my baby’s mouth, overcome by the flush that ran along her plump cheek, the smell of her neck, the potency of my milk flowing from me into her. I loved her.

She fell asleep in my arms. Though I rarely used the cradle at home, this time, this one time, I placed her in the bassinet the nurse brought earlier. Moments after I settled myself back in the hospital bed, a terrific heat overcame me. It started at my core and rushed to my head. A doctor, a woman, walked in reading my chart. She was all business standing beside me like that. What brings you here today?

I became aware of the river then, inky blackness that swelled from beneath and rushed to swallow me. It roared in my ears and blocked my peripheral vision. I arched my neck to keep my face above the surface, reaching my hand out of the murk to grab hold of the doctor’s wrist. Save me.

For I moment, I floated underwater, lingering there. In the distance, above the surface, came the sound of muffled voices, the doctor’s among them: I need help in here! The last I felt of my body, it was convulsing wildly, a fever raging within it, rolling one seizure into the next. And then I was whisked downstream and away.

While doctors told my husband that it didn’t look good, that if I survived, I may be left brain damaged, I floated in the river, bathed in luxurious waters. Nothing had ever felt so good.

As my husband phoned my parents, choking when he told them I lay in a drug induced coma, that a machine now breathed for me, I tried to make sense of the familiar voices that swirled about– was that my Nana? I was perfectly content.

Everything was calm, everything was right. Almost. I thought of my daughter, a person I’d met just days before. How had this little person, someone I barely knew, but knew better than any other, how had she become everything? I couldn’t leave her. I wouldn’t. She needed me, but I needed her more.

I raised my arms and pushed back against the current. The woman who’d been with me, the one I’ve come to think was my grandmother, became euphoric. I felt her cup my head and then take it away again. She left me as I struggled to swim back. Alone, I kicked my legs and swept my arms in ever widening arcs. The effort was enormous.

Nearing the surface, I became aware of pain again and the need to breathe. I gulped and gulped for air, but none came. Finally, I opened my eyes and a nurse was instantly by my side. Eleven days after my daughter’s birth, I was reborn. My arms and legs were tethered to the bed and a tube snaked down my throat. Soon all were removed and my family was called.

When my husband came, carrying our daughter, I kissed him this time. Passionately, gratefully. He then placed my baby in my arms and I pressed her to me. There are no words.

I knew then and forevermore I would follow her to the ends of the earth and back again. I also knew that even in death, love prevails.