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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Breathe (Children and My Neuroses Mentioned)

I'm well-aware that these street names will only be meaningful to people who know their way around Washington, D.C., but I needed to write them in order to try to figure out my own craziness...

Sometimes--but not every time--when I turn off Reno Road onto Garfield, I have a panic attack. A full, all-out, chest tight, can't breathe panic attack. As I drive up Garfield it gets worse and worse (G-d forbid I get stuck at the light at Garfield and Massachusetts Avenue) until it hits a crescendo as I turn onto Wisconsin Avenue. After you pass the Russian Compound, you come to a fork in the road. One street takes you into the heart of Georgetown's shopping district. The other street takes you down towards Georgetown Hospital and their NICU.

Like I said, it's sometimes--not every time. It doesn't happen, for instance, when I'm actually driving to the hospital. Strange. I sometimes have that panic attack when I go into the hospital and I enter through the doors I used for the NICU rather than the entrance that I use to get to the neonatologist. But driving to the hospital itself does not bring on this attack.

I don't have this attack when I'm driving out of the city, even though when the kids were in the NICU, I never cried going into the city to see them, but I screamed like a tortured animal the few times we had to leave them in the city and drive out to the suburbs for the night. Strange. You would think that leaving the city would bring me back to those fears and not driving into the city. But, like I said, I don't have this attack driving out of the city.

It happened on Thursday night last week. I was driving into the city to hear Peggy Orenstein read from Waiting for Daisy (book pick for tour #4!) and have my unsuccessful jaunt at the Starbucks when my throat closed up as I crossed from Reno Road onto Garfield. By the time I hit the light at Massachusetts (damn that light!), my heart was pounding. I felt clammy and cold. I couldn't breathe. I kept telling myself that it would all pass because I wasn't driving down 37th Street, I was taking the other fork in the road that goes through the shopping district.

But I passed the turn off for 37th and saw one of the hotels we stayed at while the kids were in the NICU. And the CVS where we tried unsuccessfully to print some photos one morning since my daughter had pulled out her ng tube and I had managed to snap a few photos that looked like average baby photos and I wanted to send them to relatives like any proud parent. The Fresh Fields where we'd wander around, never feeling hungry enough to decide on something to eat. And then the Einstein Bagels where we had gotten breakfast one morning on our way into town and the Social Safeway where we picked up yogurt for dinner one night on our way back to the hotel.

The panic attack didn't stop until I drove all the way down Wisconsin Avenue and passed P Street. And then, as if someone had flipped a switch, my breathing returned to normal. My heart slowed down. And I felt like I was back in high school. I was in safe Georgetown. I was in Cafe Northwest and Burrito Brothers Georgetown. I was in Steve Madden Georgetown. Urban Outfitters Georgetown. I was in sneaking-into-Garrett's-underage Georgetown. More importantly, I wasn't in NICU Georgetown. Even if I was only a few streets away from the hospital.

I pulled into the parking space that opened up in front of the bookstore and sat in the car for a moment, trying to untangle myself. Was it because I was going to a reading for a book about infertility? Was it because my day had already sucked and I hadn't gotten to tuck the kids into bed?

Two-and-a-half years out from our NICU experience and it truly is a case of all is well that ends well. The kids are fine. The kids are healthy. Except for a few lingering developmental lags we're still dealing with, our NICU experience--unlike some families--is decidedly behind us. Except that even if I don't think about it during my day-to-day life, I can't seem to let it go when I'm driving on Garfield.

There is an idea I heard first through RESOLVE: having a child resolves childlessness, but it doesn't resolve infertility. That is emotional baggage that still needs to be unpacked by every parent who has difficulty conceiving or carrying to term. Maybe wellness resolves prematurity, but it doesn't resolve the fears that accompany a NICU experience.

Because when I'm driving up Garfield, I feel the same fears that I felt when they were in the NICU. What if the bradies don't resolve themselves? What if we can't bring them out of an episode? What if they never gain more weight? What if they back-pedal and have to go back into the NICU? Even though I know the answers. We always brought them out of their bradies and the bradycardia episodes stopped happening when they were a few months old. They have gained weight--even if they are smaller than average kids their age. They never had to go back into the NICU because we took every precaution in the world.

Now that I've been listening to that Dixie Chicks album non-stop (sorry, Erin McKeown, but you've been temporarily bumped from the CD player. You know you'll be back; I mean, it's the same deal for Elvis Costello. And Bob Dylan. And Mr. Ben Folds. You all make it back in at some point, but for right now, you're going to have to lie on the floor on the passenger side of the car.), there is a line that keeps jumping out at me when I listen to "Not Ready to Make Nice." I know that they're speaking about the incident, but I hear it and I think about where I am still when I'm driving down that three block stretch of Garfield:

I know you said
Can’t you just get over it
It turned my whole world around
And I kind of like it

Maybe we're not meant to get over these life-changing incidents. Maybe they're supposed to stick with us and maybe we're supposed to have panic attacks every once in a while to remember things since we can get lulled into forgetting in our daily life. Maybe when I'm sinking in all of those fears, I should reach up and get out of it by thinking about those amazing moments in the NICU--sitting up and talking with the nurses at midnight, the way their skin felt when it was so new, the fabric sunglasses they wore for a few days under the billi-lights. Kangaroo care. Sleepiness. The first Shabbat.

That or avoid driving into Georgetown. Or at least find a different route.


Samantha said...

Wow. That was a really intense post. I agree that remembering our intense experiences are designed to help us cherish what we have today. Thanks for sharing.

aah0424 said...

I think the fact they stick with us is what makes them life changing events. If we forgot where we were or what we went through then we probably weren't changed by it. Wonderful post, Mel!

Artblog said...

were having th e same thoughts this week Mel ;). Nicely written. X

Chris said...

Thank you for sharing this post and your feelings. Without those experiences you wouldn't be the person you are today which I imagine would leave a huge gaping hole in someone else's life.

Venusuvian Debs said...

You are totally normal!! I was totally traumitised when my little one had to stay in NICU when he was born. I don't think I have ever really admitted to myself how hard that was. I felt cheated. I felt cheated of a normal birth, of the classes I missed out which covered birth, on getting to choose a pram, a cot, a breat pump for goodness sake and I didn't even have my bag ready for the hospital. Now in comparison to having a baby that is ok, these things are trival. So add a nice dose of guilt to the mix.
When "Babies" did come home it was to worry about every tiny thing - is he breathing, will he vomit in his sleep and choke (he battled with reflux) because he was prem!! And on it went until he was at least a year old. But I still feel pretty scarred.

Starfish said...

I will always have a connection to my infertility. Heck, it's the reason I'm still reading your blog, even after we've adopted our son. You just can't walk away from those kinds of experiences. It's made me who I am today and I would feel a fraud to pretend otherwise. Great post.

serenity said...

I found myself holding my breath with you while reading this post.

Your experience with the Georgetown NICU was probably one of the most intense experiences for you. And Aah0424 is right - that makes them life changing events.

It takes a LOT of time and distance to turn the rawness of those emotions into scars. And right now, you have neither.

Thank you for sharing this. *hug*

Tina said...

Wow... First, it is so very normal, your reaction. Shows how much you cherish your children, and how even now, the experiences affect you.

I think the reason you have the attacks going is because you KNOW what happened there, how your life at that time was up in the air, unknown. But, leaving now is easier than it was when your children were in the NICU - you KNOW they are healthy, you know they are developing and growing, you know you have not had to go back to the NICU since. Make sense? The NICU is a place you never want to go back to again - so, when you are going, all of that fear, dread, unknown comes back.

This is what I fear if I ever get PG again - and I think the place of my attacks would probably be the u/s room where my last 2 m/c's were first discovered, and were my monitoring u/s's during the cancelled IUI cycle took place. My experiences in that room have been far from positive, so I wouldn't be surprised if I react with panic and anxiety.

I hope you can work out a plan on how to work through the attacks so you don't have to avoid it forever. **Hugs**

Reproductive Jeans said...

I agree!! One of the reasons I want to be who I was before we started this journey AND who I am today with what we have already dealt with-and all that we WILL deal with.
Thanks for the post--good reminder=)

Piccinigirl said...

I think you are so right, I do believe we move beyond it (or we don't) but no matter what it changes who we are.
The post I am working on now is just like this, about never forgetting and wanting it that way.


sarah said...

Mel, I'm sorry the streets haunt you like that! I used to live on Wisconsin between P and O and I worked at Wisconsin and M for 3 years -- that's my hood. I totally just took that drive with you and I'm so sorry that it brings you such anxiety! You know what it is and you thankfully know how it is resolved (healthy babies). Seems to me that it is now just a reminder of what was. I'm a sicko and would probably keep driving it until it no longer had a hold over me.

Jess said...

This is funny because I JUST SAID something like this to a friend who gave herself her first injection last night.

She was saying how she's never be the same, how her and her husband would never be the same, that sort of thing. We've all thought it.

I said, well, you know...that's the honest truth. You will never be the same. Some things in this life, good things and bad things, you can't take back. And lots of those can't-take-back things are out of our control.

But sometimes, change can be ok. You can be a better, stronger person. A more intelligent person. A person who CAN instead of CAN'T.

Infertility is not without it's heartache. But it's not always without it's hope, either.

Ms. C said...

What a heartwrenching post, Mel. I was holding my breath and starting to panic and you described your drive (and I don't know DC!)
My first thoughts were right in line with Amy and Serenity: remembering and reliving such event are exactly what make them life changing.
Then I though: Yes! Whatever doesn't kill us will only make us stronger. And we gain strenghth becasue of our life changing events. But sometimes I wonder how much streghth I have left when it comes to IF...

Watson said...

Wow, amazing post Mel!

I am just struck by your line:

"having a child resolves childlessness, but it doesn't resolve infertility."

I guess we all bear the scars (and hopefully the badges of courage too!) for going through this for a very, very long time. Maybe forever.

Lots to think about, thanks for sharing!

Ms.Once said...

I've been thinking a lot along these lines all week and have been struggling to write about it. I'm nearing my due date in May, but I'm also intensely feeling both the loss I experienced in late March and another due date, unrealized, in early April. The whole season for me is a series of streets that catch my breath and take it up and constrict my chest and heart.
I think the physicality of memory is really powerful--the rooms, the buildings, the sidewalks that lead us into those times when our hearts hurt the most. It's not only the physical landscape I share with you, as I live in DC and know these streets well, but the emotional one as well.
A really involving and eloquent and important post. (I think it's so interesting how many of us had trouble breathing right along with you--this happened for me in reading as well. Not only have we been there with you, we're still there in that place where the breath struggles to come, consumed in our own memory as well.)

Frances said...

For what it's worth, I can't get over the NICU and am not sure I ever will. As for infertility, I like how it's helped me to appreciate more, complain less. It's made me better.

Anam_Kihaku said...

snap in the music choice. currently playing it here to for IF and other reasons. I get the same fears when i see certain food hsops - i am 5000 miles away from the horrors of where our IF started, was manageled and then out little girl but seeing those images or those franchises here brings me out in a cold sweat - like i've been here before and i dont want to do it again - although it changed my life for the better, i really dont want it again.

LJ said...

While I haven't experienced the harrowing fear that must be involved in the NICU, I can relate. There are aspects of life - things we regret, fear, or were hurt by. We make associations, associations that linger long after we think we have moved on.

Part of us always lives in that moment. On my better days, those reminders help me to be thankful. On worse days...well, that's another topic.

That and DC streets, harrowing in their own right.

Dee said...

I'm just a month out from my NICU experience and I'm having a hard time dealing with it. I haven't had to go back to the hospital yet, or to the road that it's off of, but I will next month for a follow-up appointment for the wee one and I'm dreading the trip. I can't even imagine the thoughts and memories it will conjure up.

I don't know if I'll ever be "okay" with our NICU experience. After four years of struggling with IF, I thought I was strong, but the NICU and the losses it brought shook me to my core. How do you ever recover from the helplessness, the grief, the anger, the fear, the terror--a gamut of emotions that changed seemingly hour-to-hour in the NICU?

Life changing indeed...I'm now trying not to take anything for granted and I try to keep in mind the reality that one of the NICU nurses spelled out for me: "there is always someone who has it worse off than you" therefore, cherish what you have. Yet, there are no "winners" when it comes to grief (i.e., the pain olympics, as it was referred to in the IF world a while back). It is relative to/for each of us.

And yes, like ms. c said--that which does not kill us makes us stronger. The reality of IF and everything else we put ourselves through on this journey is this fact: we are stronger than we give ourselves credit for.

littleangelkisses said...

Mel, do you read my mind? Did you know I'd be near Boo's NICU in Iowa City yesterday? Do you know how much "I'm Not Ready to Make Nice" is my theme song? I swear, it's spooky.

Thank you.

Aurelia said...


Memories are good, and we need to work through sad ones, but PTSD and flashbacks are not. I'm not sure if what you are describing is that, but it sure sounds close.

Trauma is trauma, we have to get help for it, especially because if we don't it can impact our children in the future, but changing our parenting style. Parenting after IF and losses can be a minefield. I'm trying to work on my issues about loss precisely because I can't have gone through all this crap to have my kids and then screw them up. It would just be unfair to them, if I projected my neurosis on their little shoulders.

There should be some entry on your wiki emblopedia about this concept, I think.

Bea said...

I think you're absolutely right here:

"Maybe we're not meant to get over these life-changing incidents. Maybe they're supposed to stick with us and maybe we're supposed to have panic attacks every once in a while to remember things since we can get lulled into forgetting in our daily life."

In some ways, I think people *want* to remember the bad times, as if remembering them and being able to recall, viscerally, those powerful emotions makes them all worthwhile. Because otherwise, what were they for?

Maybe it's the mind's way of trying to get you to do what you said next: you feel the panic, but somewhere in there you know it's going to be ok in a few minutes, when you catch up with the present again. It's like your psyche is trying to teach you that these feelings can lead to happy endings - as a preparatory lesson for next time, so you hopefully won't feel so afraid.