Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pick Up Stix

I am not a huge game player, I have always been way too competitive. I am one of those known to display behavior that ranges from flipping the board and pouting off to straight up cursing and accusations towards those I am playing with of ganging up on me. Charming, I know.

BUT, pick-up stix has always been a favorite, as it is a game of sheer skill and cunning fine motor skills. From a very young age I have enjoyed the thrill of being good at extracting the next stick without the entire pile tumbling. (I was good at operation also)

On this sunny fall morning, from my first floor view (it's actually the third story) of the park across the street and after seeing Youssef off to work, with the babies asleep, another spotted night of sleep and feeding behind us, I must say that I have the same satisfied feeling with my life as I get when I am successful at a game of pick-up sticks.

Some days, it all feels like luck and destiny and the way the world wanted things to be for me, but this morning, it feels like a choice. It feels like I was living a different life, I was a different girl that had a different job and a different address and thought different things here it would be easy to say I thought differently about love and family and marriage, but that is not true. I thought differently about two things: Youssef and myself. Separately and Together.

He was always kinda there, as a concept, a memory, my first love, the guy that I resented, but wasn't mad at. The story I loved to tell, the reason my heart got broken so bad in the first place. Youssef, the crazy, the philosopher, the muslim, the cook, the accident prone, the self absorbed, the sensitive. I never once thought, that I would be reunited with him. I did not know that I could make a choice and give him another chance and that we could love again, so profoundly. I did not expect that we would make a family and that it would be the most important thing in my life.

Now this is where the second thing that I thought differently about comes in. I did not expect any of that because I thought differently about myself also. I thought I had 'been there-done that' and evolved way past it. And it's true that I had evolved past the girl (teenager) I was then and the young 20 something he was then as well. But I hadn't evolved past Morocco. I hadn't evolved past this strong tie to family and cozy palots on the floor and not drinking alcohol for weeks and not even noticing.

The woman I had turned into before I came here, was brilliant, but maybe a bit more flashy (well she definitely wasn't wearing a leaky breast milk stained tank top).
She thought she so had her shit together and that she knew exactly what she was doing and who she was and that she was not someone that anything that she wasn't already could penetrate.

8 months later, to the day, that woman is gone, I picked her up with two sticks and laid her to the side. In her place is an even more complicatedly positioned stick. But I am not afraid of trying to get at that one because I am learning to trust myself and rely on the dumb luck of physics, the way the sticks all fall to the ground and my fierce motor skills.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How I birthed my preemie tiwns

Not at all as I expected, let's just say that straight out.

My girls decided to join me, first thing in the morning, on Monday October 12th. I had a very uncomfortable night and did not sleep at all due to a dull pain in my abdomen and constant trips to pee. When Youssef woke up, I told him 'I think something isn't right, it hurts so much, I don't know how much longer I do this, I hope I can wait till my doctor comes back from vacation (I know...right) and blah blah blah'. Youssef, by the way, was used to hearing this every morning so, we both didn't think that much of it all.

He asked me if I needed the bathroom and he entered to get ready for work. I sat down on the edge of the bed and all of a sudden felt a wet gush. I knew immediately what it was. I went into the bathroom, got Youssef out of the way and sat on the toilet and started to cry. I kept saying, "it's too early, it's too early, it's not right, it's too early, please stay in more, please stay in there, I need you to stay inside more, I'm so so sorry for complaining, I didn't mean it...". Youssef of course was already dressed, running around in circles, calling us a ride to the hospital asking me about my suitcase(s) and trying to reassure me all at the same time.

Eventually I pulled it together, got dressed (in all black, which was a fitting outfit that i ended up eventually leaving the hospital in, five days later with no babies) and went downstairs to get in the car with his sister. He and I held hands through gushing contractions and rush hour Casablanca traffic.

When we arrived at the hospital, it turns out that there had been a steady stream of pregnant women since 4am that had showed up. The place was crowded, they put me in a pre-birthing room with another woman in there.

I would have been waiting on my doctor, the infamous, the experienced, the wonderful doctor I had researched and sought out and totally trusted and felt safe around, except that he had left the country three weeks previously, without telling me, and wasn't going to show up. The doctor that replaced him, turned out, to be a trusted colleague of him and just as good of a doctor. But this is where my woes began.

I was terrified. I trusted no-one except Youssef and he and I were about to be separated against our will. I was like a harnessed birthing lion that was about to have her babies taken from her and I knew it, i felt it.

So the new doctor comes in and said, "Cesarean and now, you've got an infection, your babies are at risk , we are doing this, no discussion". "Can my husband come in the room with me?" "absolutely not"...

An argument, of course, ensued. He yelled at Youssef that it was, and I will never forget this, "a truc de couple" basic translation - a stupid couple thing. I started crying at that point and basically did not stop crying (constant crying) until 3 days later.

So Okay, It came down to my worst case scenario, me on an operating table, alone, strapped down, with two very tiny babies taken out of me and immediately rushed away. The doctor was kind enough to let me see the first one for a second. She was screaming and I kissed her head and she stopped crying (that was Sophia, I call her now my zen buddah baby). And then second one was taken away from me before I even knew she was out of me. I kept asking 'what about the other one, why wasn't she crying, why didn't you let me see her, where is my other baby, is she okay, please answer me'. Silence...

I remember the very beautiful face of the anesthesiologist assistant staring over me and smiling trying to keep me calm. Eventually I just stopped asking questions and asked her to please just hold my hand. She did, it helped a bit. I prayed, alot.

The doctor was giving me brief and rapid answers, they told me that the other one was 'fine, but small' but they wouldn't explain anything else. This was all taking place, mind you, in two other languages. All of the medical terms were being thrown around in french, they were all communicating basic things in Arabic and I was pleading with them for news in french and too doped up to understand their answers.

Eventually I got out of the operating room. Youssef was waiting just outside for me and I was being wheeled around. I started asking for my babies, 'please let me see them, please let me see them, they need me, they need me to touch them, I have to hold them, please'.

Youssef had seen them when they brought them out of the room and followed the doctor into the room where he was 'reanimating' them. He assured me they were very little but both were okay and they were in NICU. He arranged to have me wheeled in to see them before I got to my room.

The next 24 hours were a blur. I did not sleep even one wink. I had perfumes rubbed all over my body and hair and a stream of visitors bringing money and flowers and food and dates from the mecca. I had people sitting by my bed trying to console me as I teetered back and forth between tears and delirium. I had a small room and I felt like I couldn't breath, and there were dogs that howled outside my window all night.

Eventually I had the visit I was waiting for. The pediatrician that was responsible for NICU and therefor my babies. He came and started trying to talk to me about them when there were like 7 other people in the room. I, naturally, threw everyone out of the room (blaring dismissal of standard protocol #1) except for one of Youssef's sisters (not the oldest, blaring dismissal of standard protocol #2) and proceeded to grill this guy about the state of my kids (blaring dismissal of standard protocol #3, this job normally belongs to the family, not the hysterical woman that just gave birth). I wanted every shred of information possible, I did not, could not have, even slightly anticipated the repercussions for these actions on my relationship with my husband and his family in the following days.

He (begrudgingly) answered my questions, he promised me I could give them my colostrum, that he would not give them any formula and that i could see them and try to feed them the next day, when I was strong enough to make it to the NICU. He said I could hold them and touch them and that everything would be fine...
He also mentioned that there was no way possible I would have enough milk supply to feed both of my babies. I told him that when he says things like that to me, it makes me question his professionalism and psychic powers. He took it back, literally, he said, "I take it back, I'm sorry".

Now this is where it gets interesting. He then walked out of the room and told the entire rest of the family that he is not responsible for any harm I do to the children and that I am basically whacked in the head. I didn't find this out, of course, until the middle of a midnight screaming argument between Youssef and I about those exact points, milk and touch.

The anger I feel in my heart for him (the doctor) would be all consuming if I didn't have two beautiful babies to hold and love right now. I don't have the energy or desire to hate that guy more than I already do, so I've just let it go.

Okay, so no sleep that night, at all, no sleep the night before that and then no sleep the next night either. You can imagine what I looked and felt like after abdominal surgery, three sleepless nights and very limited access to the children I had been carrying inside me for 8 months.

I was a mess. I felt that I had been plundered, body and soul. I trusted no-one, no-one. I felt completely alone and savagely protective of my babies. The day after the birth, I waited until the first sign of a cleared room, the first second I had alone I got myself up, limped to the bathroom, with my IV in toe, dressed my self, stuck my head out of the door and asked the nurse for a wheel chair. She, of course, ran and got my mother in law. 'Oh no, the crazy American woman that won't stop crying is on the move'.

My poor sweet mother in law did not know what to do with me. She said ok, she would go with me but please not to move too much because I had just had a surgery. She cried alot in those days after. I told her I hated Morocco and I hated my doctor and I hated the hospital room and I made the biggest mistake of my life having children there. Still, she comes to my home everyday and tells me the same thing, "don't move too much, don't do too much, don't sleep with your husband, don't pick up heavy things, don't walk around too much. 40 days, it is in the Koran, take care of yourself, if you don't it will hurt you later in life." She is wonderful and understanding.

So,Youssef showed up on his lunch break and talked me into waiting on him to eat and then us going together. He had already been filled in, mind you, on the apparent danger I posed to the children by holding them (just google preemie twin touch, I dare you). He was scared and he didn't understand, I can see that now. As strongly as I felt I had to do it, he felt equally as strong that it was not right. The good news is that they have two parents that love them that much and are willing to stand up for them, even if it means against one another, to protect them.

All of this I need to hold them, I need to touch them, they need my milk was coming from a place deep inside of me. It was not anything I had read about, it was just an instinct, so things were confusing for me too but I trusted my instincts.

I got my way, I held one, and a very ugly scene ensued between Youssef and I. That is the point where I would say my depressed desperation turned into depressed hysteria. Youssef left the NICU to return to work and I stayed and held my other baby as well, with two nurses standing over me gossiping in Arabic. I asked them to GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME, and they wouldn't, of course, they thought I was crazy.

I then returned to my room to find more visitors. Nieces and people's husbands and more sisters. This is the point at which I stopped trying to stay composed, the point at which I felt I no longer had the support of my husband and therefore had nothing else to loose by acting like I gave a shit about it all. I flipped out. In front of everyone. I mean full on, sobbing, inconsolable howling, unrecognizable angry sobs and desperate tears flying from my face in all directions. My mother called in the middle of it and was put up to my ear, it didn't help. Some of the women in the room started crying with me, because they understood, because they knew what it felt like also. That made me feel a little more normal.

And thus we proceeded. The director of the hospital eventually got tipped off to the fact that there was a serious problem with me. She arranged to have me changed to a different room, and she visited me herself the next morning in my new beautiful room, and talked to me about how I am feeling psychologically. She gave me pamphlets on breast feeding and told me to go and see my babies whenever I am ready.

I went down to the NICU and all of a sudden it was a different world. The nurses were nice and encouraging me to breast feed the bigger twin. They set up a feeding schedule for me to come down every three hours and feed or pump for them. Things were friendly and professional and I was able to breath.

I heaved more crys when I left the NICU because I felt like somebody somewhere finally realized I was right, or looked it up or got paid off or whatever. I was not sure what had happened but I felt better. That night Youssef and I decided that we could recover form the deep abyss of a disagreement that was instantly formed, like an earthquake, the day before. He then did something that literally changed my life, he went out of the room and asked the nurses to give me a sleeping sedative through an IV. My ass was OUT. BIG TIME. And it was pretty much all gravy after that.

Youssef started on an around the world trip of filing all of the insurance and social security papers. I saw him for all of five minutes everyday and I was so impressed by what he was getting done. While he was out zipping through the city getting our little girls legal and getting us financially covered so I and the kids could leave the clinic, I was wandering back and forth between the NICU and my room, pumping and having massive uterine contractions in the hallways of the hospital. I had DVDs set up to watch and I ate food that his mother sent to me everyday and I slept and drank lots of water and waited for my milk to come in.

Then they said I could leave on Friday, Sophia on Saturday and Mae on Monday. I was actually relieved that I didn't get to take either of them home with me the first day. It would have been too hard to leave the other one. So I left, actually ran out of the hospital to keep from breaking down, trying to calm my breathing in the car and went home with the air of being in a funeral procession. The next morning we went back for Sophia. We went back that night to pump for Mae and check on her and then twice the next day. I showed up at 9am on Monday morning to get my Mae and they would not let her go due to the damned paper work still not being finished. So I sat with Mae until 4:30pm that afternoon. I had breast milk sent to Sophia at the house and I waited for the call from billing telling the nurse to let me take my baby out of there. This was a very happy moment for me.

Since then we are all home and tired but happy and they are both thriving, drinking more everyday. Mae is slowly learning to trust that she is safe now. With lots of love and care showered on her. Sophia is just calm and zen like and only cries when she needs something. They are so different and so wonderful. We are totally in love with them.

The end or I guess I should say, the beginning.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

L'hamraak Garagh

This is a type of pumpkin or winter squash that is very common here. It is called in Arabic L'hamraak Garagh, which actually means pregnant pumpkin. I feel like one of those right about now! I long, however, to feel like a glass of overpriced champagne in lieu of desert after a small but satisfying meal of knife and fork eating accompanied by a bottle of red wine.

I have these shoes. They are strappy, gold, high heeled sandals and I usually wear them with this boxy, white silk dress. I bought the ensemble to wear to my dear friend's soft opening for her restaurant. These were one of the three pairs of heels I chose to make this move with me. Today as I was grunting to rub my anti-itch cream all over my swollen body and periodically yelping out in pain from having to turn half an inch to the side, the sudden image of me putting those strappy heels on made me burst out laughing. I was laughing at the pure absurdity it would be to try to shove my "shrek feet" into those strappy gold heels. Never-the-less, I want to be a woman in those heels again! I want to wear red lipstick and show off my legs and show up way over dressed for something. I want to sniff a glass of red wine and act like I know way more about it than I do.

There is a part of me that desperately misses my old bedroom (the last one I occupied before here) because I have so many memories of getting ready for evenings where I felt like that. I often contemplate how my life would have been different had I stayed in Atlanta, what kind of a woman I would have become.

I feel that my twins and this pregnancy are magic, they are my reward for having the courage to leave, not my burden. Had I stayed in Atlanta and not made this move, I wonder if I would have continued to drink away my thirties and find myself ridden hard and hung up wet in 5 years, with no magical African born twins and salt and pepper haired husband to show for it. I often think that is the case.

In this state, in this perpetual state of physical expansion and discomfort, I long to feel like that budding late twenties woman that drank and smoked and still thought that people weren't really as bad as I now know they can be.