Tuesday, September 26, 2006

top 10 things I love about the buka

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1. her kicky kicky feet
2. her funny soft hair, golden in the sun
3. her operatic hand gestures, impassioned, if arbitrary
4. her sneezes in groups of two or three (just like some guy I know)
5. her world-class burps
6. her squeaky-squirrely wake-up sounds
7. her expressive lips, sometimes so tiny a button; other times so wide, so sensuous, so close to a smile
8. her salty sweet breath, expelled in a yawn
9. that thing she does that mom and I call “looking all around”
10. her emotions, right on the surface and apt to change. She either likes sth --

witness her exquisite, face-tearing, eye-pulling pleasure when she finds her thumb:

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-- or she doesn’t.

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She hated that.

Monday, September 25, 2006

an urban pastoral

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Exactly a week after the birth of the buka, my father was sitting on the front balcony (the verandah, he called it), watching the ongoing construction of a six-storey high rise going up in my neighborhood. He'd built houses in his youth, but he'd never seen a construction like that. A white pick-up truck pulled up across the street. From the scratching of sharp claws or hooves, he knew there was a large animal in the back, what looked like a big white dog. It turned out to be a big white sheep. The driver of the truck led her out to the empty lot across from my house (which some clever opportunist has sparsely cultivated with tomatoes and squash), where she proceeded, much to my dad's amazement, to give birth to three little lambs. Two of them stood right up and wobbled all around; the third, the runt, may or may not have ever found its feet. The man stayed with them all afternoon, encouraging them to walk, and nurse. By night, they were gone.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

birth, part ii

I did not give birth to the buka. I was not in a position to give her anything at all.

That night, the nurses came and said it was time to go up to my room, which meant I had to get up from the bed and get into a wheelchair. I couldn’t. I was weak, in pain, IV on one side, catheter and urine bag on the other. I don’t know how I managed it finally. But I got into the lift and into the room, and everyone wanted to put me right back into bed. Just let me sit here, I said, I want to hold the baby. I shouldn’t have had to ask. Somebody put her in my arms, but my hands were so swollen, I was so tired and in so much pain, they took her away from me right away. You can’t, they said. So I lay there and watched, all night, all three nights, drifting in and out of sleep, or pretending to, while the mil fed her and changed her and talked to her in a language I didn’t know, fussed over her and held her, and became her mother.

The next morning, the doctor said I had to get up, take some steps, start moving. I made it to a chair, where I sat, all day, on the opposite side of the bed from the baby that was supposed to be mine. I am no more your mother than the cloud, I said to myself a thousand times, wishing I could remember the rest, swallowing the guilty tears I didn’t want the nurses or the mil to see. Later, much later, I swallowed my tears and my pride and asked someone again to bring her to me, to put her in my arms. It never occurred to anyone to offer. She was all bundled up, in blankets and gloves and double pajamas; all I could see was dark hair and a red worried face. I wanted to see the rest of her, to count her fingers and toes, to find some part of her that I could recognize as mine. But at the first sign of a cry, they took her away from me again. You can’t, they said. And I couldn’t. And she wasn’t mine. Nobody had to say that.

She wasn’t the buka I had carried in my belly and fought to carry just a few more days. She wasn’t the one I’d taken to school with me and everywhere else, with whom I’d shared those special days in January and March and May. That one would would know me, and want me. And I’d know her by her blue eyes and blond hair, a face I’d imagined, then seen in pictures.

They cut me open and took that buka away. I never even said goodbye.

Then they cut every connection I had to her, or could have had. All it took was two cruel words. So I took the pills, I held my breath, my pressure soared to 14. I cried and cried. The baby didn’t know me then, and now she never will. I’m nothing to her that anybody else in the world can’t be.

Those three days were an eternity. I missed her every second, watching her every move, so alone in that room, surrounded by people all the time, with all their wishes and extravagant pink presents.

I ate what they brought. I made myself get in and out of bed. I got used to the pain and needles and tears. I said I’d be okay. I had no choice but to be okay with all of it, but none of it was what I wanted or imagined. I put on a brave face with the doctor, with the mil, with the only person I could have told but didn’t. Better for him to think I was strong, taken care of, thrilled with the baby and motherhood and all the usual things. As I wanted to be.

I had a baby. I have a baby. And all I can think is of all I lost: the conclusion to the pregnancy, the buka that I knew before, the chance to be a mother, the love that got me into this, and the love I hoped would get me through it.

birth, part i

Friday, Aug. 25

When the deal was made, the movers promised to pack and unpack everything, put the whole house right back together the way they’d found it. That wasn’t quite the way it happened. They left everything everywhere in big black bags and unmarked boxes. At the end of the day, they asked for 200 euros more than what we had agreed.

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Monday, Aug. 28

I thought it was funny that the buka was upside down (right side up)… until she did it again. Sometime between the 36th week, when she was definitely in the right position, and the 38th, when she wasn’t, the buka turned again. The doctor was shocked: never in 20 years had he seen such a thing so late in a pregnancy. At first I was mad at the buka and mad at myself. We had just moved into the new house two days before and I had spent both of those days bent over in boxes, climbing up and down chairs, lifting heavy books and clothes, doing everything everybody told me not to do. I was stubborn, and so was the buka. She tried doing things the right way (I have to acknowledge that) and, for her own reasons, preferred the wrong.

And it did seem very wrong to me. The doctor immediately got on the phone to schedule the operation. He wanted to do it in two days’ time. Knowing the state of the house (total chaos) and various other factors (equally chaotic), I started the water works and begged for another week. The best he could do was Saturday. He set up blood tests in the clinic for the following day. That afternoon, when I returned to him with the results, I told him I still hadn’t accepted it. Accept it, he said. I couldn’t then, and the truth is, I still can’t. It’s over, the stitches are out, and I still can’t look at the scar.

Thursday, Aug. 31

I got a call in the morning saying the mil was on her way, unexpected, uninvited. Electricians were busy destroying the house, so all I could do was sit around, making polite conversation with her.

I went to a party that night, feeling robust and steady on my stout legs, while everyone fussed over my apparent delicacy, offering me a chair, ice cream, a hand on the stairs.

Friday, Sept. 1

I went to the clinic first thing to have blood drawn and banked for the next day’s surgery. I stopped by the supermarket and came home on foot. I hung around with the mil for a while, then decided to take a walk to the hardware store, accompanied, to shop for towel racks. The house really wasn’t ready for company.

I walked through the neighborhood, stopped outside the hardware store to look at something in the window, and… felt a sudden wetness seeping down into my pants, the crotch of which I was shamelessly grabbing in a state of disbelief and burgeoning panic. I turned around and headed back home, feet moving fast and mind racing faster. The doctor said he’d meet us at the clinic.

I had my bag packed and ready, but I couldn’t find my passport. I was somehow happy, despite the gaspy tears and the frantic search, to have that as an excuse not to leave the house. I ended up leaving without it.

I went back to the clinic where I was surprised to find the doctor, unrecognizable in green surgical scrubs and a funny round beret. A nurse told me take off my watch and earrings. Somebody took them. Another nurse took me into a small room and told me to undress, put my clothes in a bag, and put on a green hospital gown, open in front. She gave me some slippers I could barely get my swollen feet into. I did as she said, but then I was alone there, water still pouring out of me, trailing down my legs and dripping on the floor. I didn’t know if I should stand or sit or wait or what. I walked out, looking for the nurse. The nurses were nowhere to be found, but other people, men, were waiting there, milling about while I was naked and shaky and about to give birth. The mil didn’t even recognize me and was no help at all. The urgency of the situation overwhelmed me, and I started shouting, to anyone that would listen: I don’t know what I’m doing!

A nurse emerged: she got me back into the room and up in stirrups. She shaved me between the legs; we made polite conversation to the accompaniment of an efficient but awful wet-dry scraping sound. She gave me an enema, shocking and cold, and told me to walk around for two minutes then go to the toilet. Walk where? In the room? In the hall? I was alone again, but the toilet was within view and relatively clean. I went, I waited, I wiped, full of blood from the hurried shave.

I was taken somehow to another room, where I lay down on a bed on my side. A double IV was inserted into my wrist, and a fetal monitor strapped to my belly; the sound of the buka’s beating heart was so loud, I asked the nurse to turn it down. Just when I started to relax, the controversy over the anaesthesia started. It must have been 12 or 12:30.

One doctor came and explained everything once in Greek and again in English. Because I’d eaten breakfast, he said, I couldn’t have an epidural. But because I’d been taking aspirin until just a few days earlier, it was also a risk to undergo general anaesthesia. He said he’d try to buy some time while I rested for a few hours. I just closed my eyes, listening to the baby’s heart beat.

In no time at all, another doctor came and said we’d have to go. The baby was in distress. I got up, stumbled along in my undersized slippers through the hospital laundry and into large, open operating theater; the room was cold, metal, and green. I took off my robe and they crucified me, naked, arms and legs outstretched, strapped, exposed, immobile. I felt, not saw, a bucket of freezing cold liquid poured over my abdomen, and chest, and legs, and then a warm, heavy blanket descended. The anaesthesiologist gave me some oxygen while she went on bickering with my doctor. Kostas, she said, you shouldn’t have scheduled this operation for Saturday if she was still taking aspirin on Monday. I think that’s an exaggeration, he said. Well, you haven’t read the latest articles, she said. I felt I was choking, not breathing. I’m giving it, I’m giving it, I heard her say, raising her voice, calling everyone to attention. Because I didn’t have their attention already.

The buka was born at 1:50 p.m.

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Next thing I know, I’m overhearing a conversation about potatoes and omelets. Somebody shouts, congratulations, Sissy! The baby’s fine! I start weeping and choking; I couldn’t open my eyes or catch my breath. Why is she doing that? somebody asked. She’s moved, the doctor said.

They picked me up and I landed heavily in another bed, suddenly aware of the pain and the cut. And for hours and hours after that, I was aware of nothing at all.

Later that night, I opened my eyes in a dim room. Look, said the person sitting next to me, we have such a nice baby. I saw a shiny plastic bassinet with a tiny, black, scrunched-up head inside, a Mediterranean baby I didn’t recognize at all. Is she pretty? I asked. She’s very pretty, he said. I closed my eyes, and kept them closed. I couldn’t wake up, and I didn’t want to.

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(And if that’s not bad enough, the rest of the story is over there.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

settling in

Ah, dear readers. Thanks for your interest. It's taken me a month since the move to get back online (well, half back online; there's a reason there's no picture here) -- a long month of going tirelessly back and forth between the phone company and the internet provider, each one casting blame for my netless state on the other; neither one taking any responsibility or offering any assistance at all. I lost my patience early on. Or found it.

Because I had other things to keep me busy. One of which has a lusty cry and soft, golden hair. Details soon, I hope.