Archive for May, 2011

After the baby developed an abscess that had to be surgically drained, we went to a pediatric surgeon for a routine follow-up examination. But it seems whenever I have to take the baby to a new doctor, the conversation with the receptionist goes something like this:

“Prior surgeries?” the receptionist will ask.


“No, him,” the receptionist will say.

“Oh, right. No. He was just born. He hasn’t had much time,” I’ll say with a smile.

No reaction. “’Allergies?” the receptionist will say? “Allergic to any medications?”

“Well, I’m allergic to niacin, but I’m not sure if that counts. It’s not really a–”

“Not you. Him,” the receptionist will say.

“Oh, right. No. No allergies.”

I don’t like pediatric offices because they’re usually full of children who are coughing and wiping their mucous-covered little hands all over everything they pass. I try not to touch anything below the three-foot level. If I have to go to the bathroom, I wait till I get home.

But more than that, pediatric waiting rooms, not surprisingly, are filled with parents and their children, giving you a microcosm into that family’s dysfunction.

“Look at that puzzle in the corner,” one woman kept telling a young girl of about five who appeared to be her daughter. The woman had a butterfly tattoo on her right forearm and was bouncing an infant on her lap. When the young girl failed to look up, the woman said, “Look. A puzzle. Over there in the corner.”

The Puzzle

The girl continued to play with a book.

“Don’t you see that puzzle in the corner there?” the woman said. “Oh, forget it,” she said, like a pouting child.

A few minutes later, the young girl walked over to the puzzle and carried it over to a small table. The woman told her to put it down on the floor.

“You’re going to drop it on the baby,” the woman said.

The young girl put the puzzle down and walked over to the water cooler.

“Hope, no more water. Holy Toledo,” the woman said. She got up and grabbed the girl’s hand and brought her back to where they were sitting.

The nurse came out and called their name, and they disappeared into an examination room. A couple of minutes later, I heard the mother’s voice behind me as the three of them spilled back into the waiting room.

“The water is not a game, Hope,” the mother said, following behind the little girl who was carrying a cup. “Don’t spill it.” She pushed out a little seat for the child. “Sit down with the water.”

The Daughter Loved Water

They sat down in a row of chairs along the wall, and soon, the woman with the butterfly tattoo was explaining to the woman next to her how Hope was not her own daughter but rather the daughter of her 17-year-old son, who had died. When the son’s wife couldn’t handle Hope, the young girl wound up in the foster care system until the woman pulled her out and adopted her. The young baby the woman was holding belonged to her daughter, who was at work.

As the woman with the tattoo explained her situation to the woman next to her, the woman with the tattoo had the baby in her lap, and she kept bending the child’s feet toward each other until the bottoms would touch like they were clapping.

As I looked around the room, all of the parents appeared to be my age. I naturally assumed they were the mothers of these children until I heard several of the children address the adult they were with as “Grandma.”

“Jesse’s mom?” the receptionist called out.

No one got up.

“Jesse’s mom?”

There was a television in the middle of the room with the volume on high, making it difficult to hear the names being called out. A woman got up and walked over to the receptionist’s window and then turned around and sat back down. I could hear her tell the woman next to her, “I thought she said, ‘Beth’s mom.’”

“Edwin’s mom?”

I stood up and picked up Edwin and followed a nurse into an examining room. The nurse told me to unbutton enough of Edwin’s onesie so that the doctor would only have to undo the baby’s diaper to inspect the abscess that had been lanced. I followed her instructions and stood over Edwin as he lay on the examining table. But after a few minutes, the doctor hadn’t come in, so I decided to nurse him. We’d sat in the waiting room for so long, it was now past the baby’s feeding time. I grabbed the baby, sat down on a folding chair by the window, unbuttoned my shirt and stuck Edwin on my breast. Just then the doctor walked in.

“Oh, I’ll come back,” he said, looking flustered.

“No, no, that’s all right,” I said, quickly buttoning my blouse.

I placed the baby on the examining table, and as the doctor opened up Edwin’s diaper to inspect the abscess, he found a load of fresh poop.

“Why don’t you clean the child up, and I’ll come back,” the doctor said, and turned around and walked out.

My son urinated on Dr. Suess

As soon as the doctor left, Edwin began to urinate. The urine went high in the air and landed on the beautiful Dr. Seuss tissue paper that lined the examining table. I cleaned him up, changed his diaper, and wiped down the table. I moved Edwin out of the wet area and stood over him for a few minutes waiting for the doctor to return, but when he didn’t come back, I decided to nurse him again while we waited. I grabbed the baby, sat down in the chair, unbuttoned my shirt and stuck Edwin on my breast. Just then, a  female doctor walked in.

“Oh, I’ll come back,” she said, looking flustered.

“No, no, that’s all right,” I said, quickly buttoning my blouse, but she was gone.

I sat there for a moment waiting for her to come back, but after a couple of minutes, Edwin began to cry. I unbuttoned my shirt again and stuck Edwin on my breast. Just then the doctor walked in.

“Oh, I’ll come back,” he said.

“No!” I said, buttoning my blouse.

I placed Edwin on the examining table, and the doctor undid his diaper. He peeled back Edwin’s butt cheeks and pulled away the gauze we were told to place over the wound for a few days.

“Everything looks great,” he said, and re-fastened the baby’s diaper. And then without prompting, he said, “There’s nothing you did that caused this.”

Everyone has staph on their skin, he said. Sometimes, and it’s not always clear why, it can breach the surface and develop into a boil or abscess. But it wasn’t the result of anything we did, he said.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “We’ve been using washcloths and warm water instead of those disposable wipes, and my pediatrician said–

“There’s nothing you did that caused this,” he said.

And with that, he turned around and walked out, and for one sweet moment, I felt vindication.

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So sometimes I’m wrong. I don’t even know why I had such an aversion to diaper wipes. It was a combination of my thinking they were made with alcohol that would sting the baby’s bum and give him diaper rash, and my general distrust of large corporations and how they don’t have our best interests at heart. Instead of using diaper wipes, I had us cleaning the baby’s derriere with washcloths and warm water.

Indeed, he rarely got diaper rash. He had one brief bout that lasted just a few days, which we quickly cured with Balmex. Since then, he’s had a nice pristine bottom. Until yesterday, when between his little baby butt cheeks, he developed a big pus-filled boil.

“You don’t think it was the washcloths, do you?” I asked the pediatrician.

“Probably,” she said.

Damn. And I had been very dictatorial about it. It reminded me of the first week the baby was home, and I forbade my mother from picking the baby up every time he cried.

My mother stayed with us early on

“You’re reinforcing that behavior,” I said with authority. “And it’s going to fuck us at four in the morning when he cries for attention.”

But as we listened to the baby cry, and our hearts broke, I pulled three baby books out of the bookcase and handed one to Bruce and one to my mother and we all read from chapters on, “When the Baby Cries,” and they explicitly stated you should not ignore your baby’s cries. He’s not doing it to be manipulative, they said. Infants don’t have such machinations yet. I felt like a heel –though it didn’t temper my dictatorial nature.

Our pediatrician prescribed antibiotics for the boil, to be given both orally and topically. When I returned to her office the next day, as instructed, she said the boil looked larger. When she originally looked at it, it looked like a pea. Now, it looks like a grape, she said.

She instructed me to go to the pediatric emergency room to have the abscess lanced and drained and told me a doctor would be waiting for us. Of course he was not. I called Bruce, who met me there. On the way, I felt like I was going to fall asleep at the wheel. Apparently, my response to stress and fear is narcolepsy. I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts and grabbed a coffee. I ran into the emergency room with the baby, leaving my untouched coffee in the car.

the baby awaiting surgery

When they finally called us, they brought us into the main emergency room, but when I mentioned ‘staph infection,’ they took us into an enclosed room in the back. They then put an IV line into the baby’s tiny hand, which was so small, the port looked like a large torpedo on it that threatened to weigh it down. The nurse attached syringes to the port and drew three vials of blood. Eddie was screaming the whole time and tears were streaming down my face as I kept rubbing his leg and foot.

“When did you first notice it?” the admitting nurse asked.

“Two days ago,” I said.

“Three days ago,” Bruce said.

The nurse looked up at me.

“He saw it first,” I said.

“Three days ago,” he said.

I felt like an imposter. She had been directing much of the conversation to me, referring to me as “the mother,” as in, “Mommy, does the baby have any allergies to anything?” “Does the mother want to come over here and hold the baby’s hand?” “If the mother wants to feed the baby, she can.” “Don’t worry, mommy. This isn’t going to hurt him.” And yet Bruce was the one who noticed the abscess. I hadn’t seen it because Bruce is the one who changes most of the baby’s diapers on weekends. I get so tired caring for the baby all day during the week, breast-feeding him for hours and hours, sometimes, because he rarely reaches the point of satiation. On weekends, Bruce steps in, and I don’t stop him. In fact I didn’t even notice the abscess until Bruce pointed it out to me.

The surgeon came in and said he would nick the abscess with a small razor and then drain it. He would swab the area with a cream that would numb it, but he didn’t recommend administering a local anesthetic because he said it would hurt as much as the razor. Better to just nick the baby once. It would be over in no time.

Until then, I was averse to using a pacifier because everything I’d read about breastfeeding said pacifiers were verboten. They could hinder the breastfeeding process, and I’d worked so hard to make what little strides I’d made. But seeing how upset the baby was getting, we put a pacifier in his mouth, and he seemed to suffer the nick fairly well. Me, I almost threw up and was glad I couldn’t see until afterward the amount of blood that was on the gauze pads they left strewn all over the hospital bed after slicing him.

the baby’s blood got on his onesie

We had to wait another 45 minutes for the doctor to come and remove the IV port from Eddie’s hand. I went out to the nurses’ area three times looking for someone to come back and take out the port. I kept being told they were waiting for our discharge papers, and I was sent back into the room to wait.

After the doctor finally came, Bruce and I walked out to the parking lot. Since he met me there, we had to drive home separately, but he carried the baby in his car seat to my car. As we reached my car, I walked around to the passenger side and opened the door and then flipped the front seat forward so that Bruce could reach in and snap the baby’s car seat into its attachment in the back seat. But instead of coming around to the side of the car, Bruce opened up my hatchback and started pushing the baby into the car through the back door.

As I stood by the side door watching, I thought how Bruce never follows my lead. We’ve worked together on countless home improvement projects, from installing a new wall to putting up a pergola in the backyard, and he never follows my suggestions. Most of the time, he doesn’t’ even hear them. One time, we were trying to plug a hole in a copper water supply line, and as he tried to jerry-rig it with a rubber clamp, I sat next to him trying to figure out how to use the copper pipe cutter we’d bought but had tossed aside because we didn’t understand how it worked. After about 10 minutes, I said, “I got it!” and tried to show Bruce how it worked, so that we could fix the pipe properly rather than using a temporary fix. But Bruce wouldn’t turn around. “I said, ‘I got it!’ “ I said again, but I couldn’t get Bruce’s attention. It wasn’t until I threw the pipe down and stormed out of the house that Bruce looked up and said, “What?”

Given our history with home improvement projects, I wondered when I got pregnant how we’d fair with a baby, our biggest home improvement project to date.

“You can’t follow my lead on anything,” I said, as I stood waiting by the passenger door for naught.

“I was already opening the hatchback when you opened that door,” Bruce said.

“No, you weren’t,” I said. “I got to the car first.”

He ignored me and reaching through the back of the car, snapped the baby’s car seat into place. I walked around the front of my car and got into the driver’s seat.

I rolled down the window and stuck my head out.

“Why didn’t you just say, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m going to put him in the car through the hatchback,’ instead of just leaving me standing there?”

Bruce said nothing and just walked away to his car, which was parked a few spots over. I jumped out of my car and followed him.

“You can’t answer me?” I barked.

He kept walking.

“You’re an asshole,” I said and got back into my car. I turned to the baby and said, “Your father’s an asshole. You know that?” I thought of all the bitter, divorced women before me who have trash-talked their ex-husbands to their children.

We both pulled out of the parking lot and got onto the ocean road to drive home, and at the first traffic light, Bruce pulled next to me and rolled down his window.

I kept looking straight ahead, ignoring him but I soon felt silly. I turned to look at him and as I did, he turned his head away from me, pretending he was now ignoring me.

I laughed, and when he turned and looked at me, I gave him the finger. The light turned green and we drove home, exhausted from our first trip to the emergency room.

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If there is a God, he seems fond of the phrase, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about,” because after complaining for months about my difficulties with breastfeeding, I found a pea-sized lump on my left breast. I hoped it was just a clogged milk duct, so I began massaging it, and it went away. But the next day, it was back. I mentioned it to my OB-GYN at my next appointment.

“I can feel it,” she said as she examined my breast. “I’m going to send you for an ultrasound. It’s probably nothing, but let’s find that out.”

I try to prepare for the worst, always thinking I’m ill so I won’t be surprised when I really am. A common cold is really strep throat that will go to my heart and kill me. A rash is a fatal infection. A clogged milk duct? Breast cancer.

“You don’t seem very concerned,” I said to Bruce when he got home that night.

“I don’t think you’re sick,” he said. “Do you really think you have cancer?”

“No, but that’s the way cancer is. You never think you have it, and then you’re shocked when you get the diagnosis,” I said.

I almost wished I had it, just to show him.

I made the ultrasound appointment for the following morning and tried to get Bruce to go with me, but he’d accompanied me to a doctor appointment earlier that week, and it had taken longer than expected, which made him late for work again. He’d come with me to most of the baby’s doctor appointments. I couldn’t expect him to come to all of mine as well. I wanted him there because I feared the baby would have a meltdown as the technician did my ultrasound.  I tried to get a friend to go with me, but she had a physical therapy appointment that morning, so I went alone.

I arrived at the breast center with a diaper bag on one shoulder, my pocketbook with a small laptop in it on the other, and I was carrying Edwin in his car seat like a kettle bell. I was immediately impressed with the facility. There was a coffee machine that had cappuccino, mocha hot chocolate and tea. There was a container of half and half in a refrigerator, and they had a bowl filled with chocolate kisses. On a table near the television, there was a vase with pink roses. Each was wrapped in cellophane and had a sticker on it that said, “Thank you.” For what, I wasn’t sure.

I poured a cup of coffee and just as I stirred in the cream, the technician called my name.  I picked up the pocketbook and diaper bag and slung one over each shoulder and then picked up Edwin and waddled down the hallway.

“It’s no wonder mothers wind up with bad backs,” she said.

The test was short and painless. Eddie’s car seat was perched on a countertop right next to the examining table. He slept through the whole thing. I imagined him growing up without a mother and thought how painful that would be. I thought of Debra Winger in “Terms of Endearment,” and the way her little boys said goodbye to her. One was in tears. The other put on a brave face, which was more heartbreaking because you could feel the depth of his pain even if he wasn’t showing it.

When the test was over, I was sent back out o the waiting room to wait for my results. The television was on, and Kathleen Turner was a guest star on one of the morning talk shows.

The Joker

“She didn’t age well,” said a woman sitting a few seats down from me.

“She’s obviously had work done to her face,” I said.

I’m usually not comfortable talking to people in waiting rooms, but having conquered my fear of going unaccompanied to a doctor’s office with Edwin seemed to have emboldened me.

“She must have had some kind of surgery around her mouth because it looks funny,” I said. “It’s weird because she obviously doesn’t care about her weight, but she has her face done. She looks like the Joker.”

I laughed. No one said anything. I thought I must have talked too much or said something stupid. There’s a fine line between being friendly and being overly friendly. I wasn’t sure where that line was, but I felt like I’d crossed it.

After about 15 minutes, the technician called my name and asked me to come out into the hallway.

“The doctor took a look and said everything looks fine,” she said. “He wants you to come in for a mammogram once you’ve stopped breastfeeding, but just for a routine check.”

“So it was nothing?”

“He didn’t see anything suspicious,” she said.

I let out a cathartic little whimper and thanked her.

“Take a rose,” the technician said.

“I already did,” I said.


As I drove home, I thought about the women I’d left behind in the waiting room who were still awaiting their test results. One of them was bound to get a bad prognosis. I suddenly felt bad about taking a rose. I should have left it for someone who really needed it.

When I got home, I unloaded my bags from the car and then went back for Edwin. As I unlatched his car seat, I noticed I’d left the pink rose sitting on the front passenger seat. As I lifted it off the seat, the flower head fell off, and I was left holding a stem wrapped in cellophane.

I unclipped Edwin’s car seat and carried him into the house, and as I placed him on the floor, I noticed the baby carrier my cousin had bought me. It was an apparatus that you strapped onto your back with a pouch in front to carry the baby. When I first opened it, I was intimidated by all the straps and buckles and clips. The directions seemed too complicated. But after lugging Edwin to and from the car in that heavy car seat, I decided to give it a try. I slipped my arms through the straps and fastened the cushiony pouch onto my chest, leaving it halfway open, as the directions instructed. I then slipped Edwin into the pouch, facing me, and fastened it shut, and I put my arms around his back to make sure he was secure. It felt good to have him there. It was like we were dancing. I picked up his little arm and closed my hand around his hand and began to do the box step, shuffling across the dining room floor as I began to hum “Lara’s Theme,” from the movie, “Dr. Zhivago.

Me and My Dance Partner

I remembered when my father, Edwin, was dying of cancer, I stumbled upon a song by the Icelandic singer, Bjork, called ”Venus as a Boy.” Everything in my life at that time felt unhinged, surreal, and this magical, ethereal song fit my mood. I’d listen to it over and over again and envision my father and I wearing white gowns, holding hands and running across the clouds in heaven like lovers running across a wheat field in the movies. After my father died, I listened to the song a couple more times, and I would dance with myself, one arm up in the air as if I was waltzing with him. I rarely listen to the words of songs. I mostly just hear the sounds. So I never took on board what Bjork’s song was about, not even its title, until a few months after my father’s death. I realized it was about the Roman goddess of love and beauty, if she were a boy. The song was even quite erotic. In fact when I first heard the title, I forgot Venus was a woman and thought, “Venus as a Boy,” was about when Venus was just a little boy, and I’d see my father as a boy and that I was trying to comfort him in what would have been a scary time for him.

I thought about all that as I danced in my living room with my son, Edwin, who is named after my father. I then walked over to the CD player and put in REM’s “Shiny Happy People,” and grabbed Edwin’s hands and raised them up and down in the air to the beat of the music, and we spun around and around like dervishes until we were dizzy.

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