Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Confessions of a Baby Endangerer

[I started writing this rant within days of Samuel's birth, then shelved it. “It's not funny enough,” I thought. “It just doesn't...flow.” Six months later, though, I have concluded that it is gating all my other blog posts, and it will go up, ready or not. Just remember, I wrote this in the immediate post-partum period. Also, my thanks to Carolyn, Ronald, and Jon for their input.]

Wheee! 7/16/2010


I wasn't always a bad mama. Then I delivered Samuel and discovered I am irremediably, irredeemably reckless. I guess the folk wisdom about blasé parents of third children is true.

What negligence am I guilty of, you ask? Did I abandon him in a baking-hot car? Dangle him over a balcony? Did my crimes involve bungee jumping or live artillery fire? No, worse: I almost defied the strictures of the modern hospital where he was born.

Now, I agree with most hospital rules. When I got my ID bracelet, I agreed that security was important; any crazed child-snatcher would obviously target my baby first, since Samuel was the cutest, smartest, best baby in the nursery. (The nurse agreed.)

Sometimes, however, Regimentation and Rules can go too far.

But first, a discursion about...


A naive new mother is shocked to discover that, more tiring than the travails of labor, and more irritating than the intermittent sleep of the baby, the most grueling, galling part of post-partum recovery is the constant interruption by hospital staff.

Of course, I was experienced enough to expect it, but I was still really annoyed by the traffic. Nurses every four hours I understand, even when they enter at 2 am and awaken the baby who has just barely fallen into slumber. Naturally, each nurse had separate and completely contradictory philosophies about nursing, but I ignored 'em all impartially. Housekeeping and room service weren't too bad, but the concatenation of other staff drove me nuts: the clerk nagging about the birth certificate; the volunteers delivering other pamphlets, paperwork, and surveys; the lactation consultant; the hearing screener with her machine and electrodes and half-hour of testing; several iterations of people demanding blood samples from the baby and/or me; a technician checking for a dangerous gas leak (twice); and, ad absurdum, ad abuntanium, the official hospital photographer, there to take pictures of the baby for crassly commercial purposes, who negated her latex gloves by handling the trash can before touching my infant.

All of these people seemed to appear just as I was trying to nurse Samuel in privacy, or moments after I had finally laid down to smuggle a few minutes of rest past the draconian dreamland border guards. They also compounded the problem by either not knocking, or knocking perfunctorily and then barging in anyway.

(The worst example actually happened with Daniel in Raleigh. I had been interrupted all day and had finally relaxed because it was after 7 p.m. and I assumed the deluge was over for the day. Seizing the opportunity to nurse discreetly, I was appalled when a knock at the door was followed by a person barging into the room, despite my frantic call to "please wait!" A male, middle-aged hispanic housekeeper popped into my room (despite my disheveled and uncovered state), emptied the waste basket, and walked out again, leaving the privacy curtain open and my pitiful nursing attempts in full view of the passers-by in the hall. Apparently he didn't speak English, because my further requests that he close the curtain also went unheeded.)

Bearing these conditions in mind, perhaps the jury will be sympathetic to learn that on my second night there, tired of Samuel waking up and fussing, I put him in bed next to me. I suspected he was simply cold and wanted a nice, warm snuggle.

I further note that this brilliant plan worked--for an hour, until a nurse came in and moved him back to his Official Bassinet because "he was so close to the edge of the bed." I enclose a diagram of the scene:

He was, in fact, secure among the railings and my arm, unthreatened by suffocation from bedding, and, above all, content. I understand the hospital's official anti-SIDS fear of mothers rolling over on the kid, but that wasn't what the nurse said. Grumph.

I did not sleep for the remainder of the night. [Gail whimpers piteously.]

The next morning, a new nurse came on duty and caught me trying (unsuccessfully) to snatch forty winks. This slatternly behavior—lazing in bed at nine am!--is obviously unhealthy, so she began immediately screening me for post-partum depression.

**If a new mama goes four days without changing out of her pajamas, it might indicate post-partum craziness. If a new mama snatches naps when possible, it demonstrates remarkable sanity. Note the difference!**


That incident is minor, though, compared to my ordeal at checkout.

The scene ran thus:

After we'd completed all the discharge requirements, Jon began shuttling luggage to the van. While he was carting my suitcase down to the parking lot, two volunteers arrived with a wheelchair and cart to assist me.

Knowing the nurses and volunteers were over-extended with several mothers all trying to leave at once, I offered,"Oh, I don't need a wheelchair; I can walk." The grandfatherly volunteer started to disappear with the wheelchair while the matronly volunteer started to assist me in placing my purse and the car seat on the cart.

Alas, the grandfatherly volunteer noticed this feckless behavior and vetoed it. "Because if the car seat fell off the cart, we could get sued," he explained.

The cart had raised edges, but fine. I could see his point though I thought the rule was overly cautious.

"Okay, I'll just carry the baby," I said, and started to unstrap Samuel.

"No," he said.

I started. "Huh?"

He looked apologetic. "You can't carry him that way," he explained. "Because, heaven forbid you tripped and fell and dropped the baby, you could sue us for a million dollars."

I rolled my eyes. "I am not," I stated firmly, "Going to drop my baby."

He patted my shoulder. "Of course you're not that kind of mother," he said, with a slight air of condescension. "But all it takes is one crazy person..."

Negotiations followed.

Thinking their concern was the shakiness of post-partum women, I suggested the volunteer could carry the baby. But no, the concern about dropping still applied.

Very well; I could sit in the wheelchair and hold the baby. This, too, was nixed: all babies were required to be strapped into car seats for transport, not just for the car ride home, but also for the trip down to the car.

(I wonder, now, what would have happened if Samuel had developed colic. I can imagine holding him and wandering the halls of the maternity ward, trying to calm him through motion, only to set off alarms and be intercepted by security staff. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you must return to your room at once...")

While I could manage a 7-pound baby, the added bulk of the car seat was too much for me. Perhaps the volunteer could carry the baby strapped into his carrier?

No; the volunteers were forbidden to carry the baby under any circumstances, because, heaven forbid something went wrong, I could sue the hospital for--


I proposed to strap Samuel back in his car seat, place it on the cart, and let the volunteer push the cart while I walked alongside, keeping a firm grip on the car seat to prevent it from falling. (The cart, by the way, had slightly raised edges, making it extremely unlikely anything would slide off.)

No, said the gentleman volunteer, who was beginning to look less like an amiable grandpa and more like one of the Stanford Prison guards. After all, a truly crazed person might deliberately push the infant carrier off the cart in a deliberate effort to sue the hospital for a million dollars.

What I should have done at that point was announce, "That's it, I'm waiting for my husband to get back. He can carry the baby strapped in the car seat." Unfortunately, my sleep deprivation seriously undermined my problem-solving skills. While I retained my vocabulary, and though I was capable of great sarcasm, this obvious solution seemed unworkable for some reason. I think I felt a silly sense of community responsibility to resolve the issue quickly and free up the oh-so-helpful volunteers to assist other mothers waiting to escape this medical jail.

In the end, the matronly volunteer diffidently suggested that I (1) strap Samuel back in, (2) sit down in the wheelchair, and (3) hold the car seat with both hands, after which (4) the male volunteer could push the wheelchair while (5) carrying my purse for me. Meanwhile, she would flee the war zone by (6) taking the cart to some other needy (and presumably less argumentative) woman.

To this plan I reluctantly acceeded, though I couldn't refrain from making sardonic comments about the risks of a mother carrying her own baby down the hall. (Imagine the emotional trauma inflicted on the baby as he realizes he is being removed from the protective care of watchful medical professionals and placed into the sole custody of an incompetent, clutzy, exhausted, and mentally deranged mama. Perhaps if I took out insurance policies both for shipping the delicate package and against any pain-and-suffering suits the baby might file twenty years hence...?)

As I was wheeled through the hospital, it occurred to me that Jon might return to the room and find me missing. I wanted to call him, but was required by my escort to keep both hands on the carrier. Because heaven forbid the mother, under the influence of a rare astrological conjunction, fumble her phone and dive instinctively to the floor, jettisoning her baby in her misguided attempt to save the poor device from being trodden underfoot...

Whatever. Suffice it to say that prohibitions against chatting while driving appear to apply equally to interstate motorists and maternity passengers.

After ruefully reflecting on this, I noticed that the volunteer was taking a different route than I had expected, and protested. "I think this is the wrong way," I said, but he shrugged me off absently.

I decided I would no longer worry about wasting his time. "Let'im rot while waiting for Jon to find us," I thought grumpily.

Unsurprisingly, we arrived at the entrance but saw no sign of Jon. No longer in motion, I whipped out my cell phone and called him. He was, indeed, parked at a different entrance, and was also back inside the hospital. It took several more minutes for him to exit, move the car, and find me. (That's not a criticism; none of this was his fault.) Meanwhile, my guard made slightly-inappropriate jokes and comments about the sexiness of new mothers. (Ewww. On several levels.)

I did, finally, reconnect with Jon. I asked Herr Kommandant if he needed to verify the father's identity before releasing us into his custody. I almost asked, sarcastically, if he would like to climb into the van and inspect it thoroughly before permitting us to drive in the hospital parking lot. I restrained myself, though, in the fear that he might actually take me up on the offer.

On the way home, I amused Jon with a lengthy rant about the future of hospital care. “...Patients will be diverted to third-party 'park and ride' lots. Grandpa may be dying of heart failure, but his loving relations will be forbidden to drive onto hospital property, since their emotional distraction might cause them to crash their vehicle into a hospital barrier, the stress of which might cause Grandpa to go into cardiac arrest. Oh, wait, he's already dying of that. Well, the shock might finish him off. Plus the family could sue the hospital for damage to the family car. No, far better to meet the EMTs in a neutral location and let them whisk Grandpa onto a stretcher and race a quarter-mile, outside, on foot, in freezing rain. He might die of asphixiation or hypothermia while waiting for a second man to rescue the first (who suffered a broken leg after skidding on the ice), but at least the hospital's insurance will cover the accident. And the EMT's worker's comp claim. Let us, by all means, take risk aversion to insane extremes!...”

I have seen the future, and it was scary even before the new health care bill passed.


Unfortunately, my bad behavior didn't end there. Perhaps I'm addicted to the adrenaline rush, but I have endangered my baby even more since I got home:

Left: Luke Skywalker, Hoth Ice Cave, about to be eaten by a monster. Right: Imitative publicity stunt. 4/19/2010. Note the baby's surprising zen calm: he could totally have used the Force to extricate himself if necessary.

Above: Babyshnikov. 4/09/2010. Risking a fall and burn out from training too young.


Vogon: Does your mama know you're hitchhiking across the galaxy?

Sammy: Yes. Plus I have a nutrient-striped towel. With instructions for handling the Ravenous Bugbladder Beast of Traal!


Right: Sleeping face down! 5/14/2010


Confession is good for the soul. Still, rather than pull more stunts so I may confess them, I shall repent. Upon mature reflection, I have concluded the hospital is right. Carrying my child anywhere is dangerous; from now on, I shall send him sledding down the stairs, tobaggan-style, strapped into his carseat, rather than risk carrying him over the bumpy terrain.

The next time you see a woman actually carrying a baby in the grocery store, call 911.

I'll be catching up on my sleep.


In the scenario of a mother jettisoning her baby from a moving wheelchair, assume the combined weight of baby and carrier is 15 pounds, the horizontal speed is 3 mph, and the distance to the floor is 24 inches. Neglecting air resistance, what would be the terminal speed as the baby impacts the floor? What would be the force of the impact?


Jon said...

Maybe the physics question would be a good one for home school.

Jon said...

It's funny that he was so concerned about them being sued for dropping a baby, but not about being sued for being a dirty old man.

Three Little Brown Kids said...

Once on a trip from the delivery room to the post partum room the nurse insisted that I ride in a wheelchair even though I was feeling fine. Since my husband was out picking up an older child this meant that I pushed the little plastic baby cart while the nurse pushed me. This wasn't working well in the hallway (me sitting, be pushed and trying to push the cart ahead of me) but getting on the elevator was a disaster with the doors closing on the baby cart. If she'd just let me walk and the nurse had pushed the baby cart we all would have been so much safer!

Gregory said...

This calls to mind the lengthy discussions we had with hospital staff about how we would walk home as it required less total walking distance than a pickup in the car at the main entrance. What sealed the deal was being able to point to our house across the street from the window of Cheryl's room and effusive assurances that yes we did in fact have a car seat and knew how to properly install it. There was some concerns about potentially slipping on ice but these were assuaged by waiting till the warmest part of the day to start our arduous two minute trek.

Krenn said...

De-acceleration rate is technically a higher danger than force as such. also, you have to include vector of impact: Sliding is safer that right-angle impacts.

Amy M said...

I also was once reprimanded for merely walking into the hospital's hallway while holding my infant. Geez, Louise! I just wanted to see something other than my room's four walls. Apparently, not okay.

Grandma Homer said...

When we left the 25-bed hospital in Jerome,Idaho with our new son Larry in 1971, I held him on my lap in the wheelchair and then in the car for the 6-block ride home. There were no car seat laws then,no insurance nightmare rules, and no corps of volunteers to maneuver around. How did our poor baby ever survive without more oversight? Why, cars didn't even have shoulder straps for the passengers. Don't tell anybody. We're probably illegal.