Sunday, September 11, 2011

Prologue: All the World's a Stage...

Before you can fully appreciate the recent Geoffrey-centered drama, you must understand the context of all my past pregnancies.


I have remarked before on the tendency for drama in my pregnancies. With Eric, I had some major adjustments. In the space of twelve months, I got engaged, graduated from college, got married, lived in married student abject poverty for a semester, celebrated Jon's graduation and job offer, got pregnant, and moved to North Carolina. I then went through occupational withdrawal (I wasn't a student and I wasn't working) while pregnant in a new ward with a high turnover rate. My mental state fluctuated between insanely bored and incredibly worried, both as pertained to motherhood. Add in some not-quite gestational diabetes. And there was the time I thought I was having a heart attack. (Turned out it was a combination of the baby strrrrretching the connective tissue between my ribs plus an anxiety attack.) Then 9/11, two weeks before my due date, terrified everyone and almost grounded both grandmas. Oy.

Both grandmas did manage to arrive in time. My due date arrived and I poked my distended belly. "That's it, B," and said firmly. "You're of age. Now move out or start paying rent."

I went into labor early the next morning. Both grandmas, Jon, and I all got to the hospital in plenty of time. Labor and delivery themselves were absolutely textbook. Slow but steady, 10-12 hours total. Epidural, second-degree tear....

I did pee all over the doctor. I didn't do it on purpose, but neither did I feel remorse. He was an obnoxious, hyperactive, egotistical chihuahua of a man. I did not appreciate his constant lecturing about how I was "breathing wrong" and "wasting oxygen by grunting."

I thought of all kinds of come-backs, some then, and some, inevitably, hours later. ("I don't care how many babies you've delivered, you've never actually delivered a baby," or "I don't have room for a back-seat driver!" or "Those who can, do. Those who can't, coach." I would have been delighted to switch places with him. Grrr.)

Unfortunately, I couldn't deliver the lines since I was too busy breathing, pushing, and, alas, grunting. I accept that I wasted oxygen which should have been channeled to my straining muscles, but, truly, I could not help it.

Nursing was horrible. I rank them as the third- and fourth-worst weeks of my life. I loved baby Eric of course, but trying to nurse him was sheer hell. Frustration, complete exhaustion, and excruciating pain for me. Frustration, exhaustion, and gnawing hunger for him.

I'm amazed I stuck with it. I'm proud of myself for succeeding, but even today, I think the cost was almost (but not quite) too high.

The best memory in all that was the day I spent sitting on the couch listening to General Conference with a sheet over my head, trying vainly to nurse discreetly. My poor father-in-law sat valiantly trying to listen to modern prophets and ignore the background sound track of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of baby gums. He also tried to avoid even glancing in the direction of his burqa-clad daughter-in-law. I made this difficult by flailing about with occasional shrieks of "OUCH!!!" and "Bad baby!" I imagine Eric and I (completely draped in a white sheet) looked and sounded like a very scary (or very funny) ghost.


At an ASL lesson, Kathryn Chapman once asked me to practice story telling. "Tell me a story," she instructed, "Like about what happened when Eric was born."

"Eric?" I signed. "Hospital--doctor--nurse--medicine--boring." (This was actually perfectly acceptable grammar in ASL.) "But Danny," I continued, placing "home" in one spot and "hospital" in another, then showing a car moving swiftly between them, "Super fast--freezing rain--screaming--no drugs--pain, pain, pain--awful, horrible....Drama."

Physically, my pregnancy with Danny was my easiest. I had other medical issues going on at the time, though, which really complicated things. Still, I worked through things fairly well and had mostly regained my equilibrium.

On the night of January 24th, 2004, I was sitting on the couch reading. It was around 11:30 and I was about to go to bed. Suddenly I realized I'd been having some abdominal discomfort. "Huh," I thought, dismissing it as a minor digestive problem. Then, " that a contraction?" I glanced at my watch. Around six minutes later, I glanced at it again. And then, an interval later, again. It was ten or so days early, but there was an ice storm coming. Jon and I had already discussed how we didn't want to be stranded at home and then have me go into labor. "Perhaps," I thought, moving upstairs to throw a few things into an overnight bag -- yes, I had procrastinated, despite Jon's frequent reminders -- "Perhaps we should err on the side of caution."

I told Jon, who began grabbing stuff far more aggressively. I called the doctor. She listened to my "Owww!"s over the phone and said to come on in.

We got Eric up. Poor kid, he was roused from sleep at midnight, thrown into the car, and rushed to a strange house. (At least we had a plan of where to park him.) He was two.

Yes, we had to stop and pack a bag for him, too, and yes, I was ill-prepared. Jon has been gracious enough not to rub it in too much over the years.

Sadly, the babysitter's house was in the opposite direction of the hospital. We drove over there, dropped off a very disoriented Eric and all his gear, and paused while Brother Schnegelberger assisted with a priesthood blessing. I remained in the passenger seat the whole time. Poor Brother S. was wearing light pajamas, and the temperature was plummeting rapidly. I was also beginning to pant and whimper. The contractions were coming more quickly and I was getting nervous.

Jon then retraced our route in the direction of the hospital. It would ordinarily have been a twenty- or twenty-five minute drive. In the middle of the night, with minimal traffic, it went slightly faster. It seemed like ages. I began yelling. "OW, OW, OWWW!!!"

Jon stopped for a red light. "Run it!" I ordered, tersely, and he looked startled but complied. We hit every single red light from then on, but by then I was screaming "Aaah! It hurts! Make it stop!" and Jon didn't have to be told to run 'em.

In retrospect, screaming "Jon!! Make it stop!!!" was one of the cruelest things I've ever done to the man. He's a guy. And an engineer. He likes to fix things. This was one problem where he was helpless. I maintain I was not responsible for anything I said at that point. (I do note proudly that I did not curse, even once. Or call Jon nasty names.)

 He began going twenty, then thirty, miles over the speed limit. I worried that a cop would pull us over. I feared not the ticket, but the inevitable delay. Would a police escort offset the time lost explaining the situation?

By then I was crying incoherently. It was a very odd experience: I could think fairly rationally, I just couldn't communicate.

Jon screeched to the ER entrance. A nurse was standing ready with a wheelchair and bundled me into it. Jon raced off to park the car. He said later the brakes almost caught on fire.

The nurse wheeled me, shrieking, through the ER. I had a vague, blurry impression of lots of faces staring at me, mouths dropping, as I was rushed past them at a moderately loud volume. (I was pre-registered at the hospital, by the way.)

The labor nurse didn't even have to look at me. Hearing me coming from several hundred feet away, she automatically routed us into a delivery room. She helped me undress and began to examine me. Jon rushed in, gasping asthmatically and looking like a second medical emergency.

"She's there," one nurse said to another, and I REALLY started to wail.

"Nooooooo! I want drugs! Give me drugs!!!!" I screamed, over and over. (I remind everyone of my classical vocal training. Despite a baby interfering with my diaphragm, I was very...piercing.

The next twenty or so minutes are rather vague. What I really remember thinking was "This must be what torture feels like. If someone told me, right now, that he could make the pain stop instantly if only I would reveal the top secret nuclear launch codes, I would totally do it. In fact, I wish I DID know some top secret nuclear launch codes, because then perhaps I could negotiate something..."

This was just a few weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. I have always opposed torture, but this experience gave me a much deeper, personal view of the issue.

It also gave me a new perspective on the atonement, but that's a topic for another time.

Somebody gave me something to bite down on. It wasn't helpful. I think I almost accidentally bit off someone's finger, though. I wished for a nice, thick, crunchy leather strap. Or a thick stick.

I remember a nurse getting in my face and yelling back at me. Something about "Gail. The baby is coming and you have got to focus!"

I did manage to push when they told me to push. Horrible as it was, I realized that I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. I also managed not to scream while pushing, since I was highly motivated to use my oxygen efficiently.

From the moment I thought "Huh. Was that a contraction?" to the moment I delivered measured almost exactly two hours.

Daniel popped out. I collapsed, hyperventilating and shaking uncontrollably. The pain and accompanying hysteria waned quickly. The first coherent thing I said was, "I am NEVER doing that again!!!" Jon got a quick disappointed look, like "Aww, I kind of wanted more kids, but I am totally not arguing with her right now!" Reading his look, I clarified, "I mean natural childbirth, not no more children."

The nurses gaped. "How," they asked in astonishment, "Can you even think about hypothetical future children right now?"

They had a point.

The second coherent thing I said was "Hi, my name's Mommy and I'll be your server for the next eighteen years."

It was odd how quickly the nurses moved from drill sergeants to sweet, sympathetic ladies. During the crisis they yelled at me and practically slapped me around. Afterward, they were very solicitous.

Jon stuck around briefly, but he needed to hurry home to beat the impending storm.

That night, an inch of freezing rain fell, shutting the city completely down and cutting off power to large sections of it. Including our neighborhood.

Jon awoke freezing and trapped. The electricity came back on, but not the furnace. He was frazzled too, poor guy. When he called the babysitters to explain that not only were the roads unsafe but our house lacked heat, Erin suggested gently that he should call about getting the furnace repaired. "Oh! Good idea!" he said, dazedly, and she thought "Poor guy."

Poor Eric ended up spending two extra days at our friends' house.

The roads cleared after 36 hours or so, and it looked like I could go home on time.

Then, with Jon on his way to pick me up, the nurse came in to do one last set of vitals on Daniel. After a minute, she said, with studied casualty, "I just want to check on something," and wheeled his bassinet out of the room.

She returned a few minutes later, without my baby, and sat me down. Daniel was "breathing funny," she explained. "It's not exactly wrong,'s not right, either," she said vaguely. Then she described how his chest was doing a see-saw motion. Sometimes his upper chest moved a lot, and then it would migrate so his diaphram had all the motion, and then back up again. A gradual cycle. They wanted to keep him a few extra hours for observation, and to give the resident pediatrician a chance to examine him.

Jon showed up. "A few hours" turned into "at least two extra days in the NICU." He might have meconium-induced pneumonia.They would take a sample and grow it in the lab, but it would take at least 24 hours to get the results back, so they wanted to start him on antibiotics right away, just in case. But the regimen would take at least 48 hours, and in the meantime they might as well run every single test imaginable, checking his blood oxygenation, the air pressure in his lungs, a chest x-ray, and a host of other things I can't recall any more.

They kept expecting me to freak out, and I kept not complying. I was worried, of course, but I thought that if my baby was having breathing problems, the very best place for him was in a very well-monitored NICU, where the slightest issue would be caught instantly. They granted me continued stay in my room; although I was officially discharged, I was staying on as part of Daniel's bill. Insurance even covered it. In fact, it was rather restful. I pumped, slept, and visited Daniel whenever I wanted. No nurses nagged me, except for one reminder that Danny was getting hungry.

Jon and Bishop Garrison gave Danny a blessing. Feeding him was complicated by all the wires and needles stuck into my poor little pincushion. I hated to see him uncomfortable, but he was in a crib next to a set of three-pound twins who were later transferred to UNC via helicopter. My eight-and-a-half pound baby looked like a giant in comparison, and I felt vaguely guilty that he was the healthiest kid in the room.

No, the real terror came forty-eight hours later, when they sat down with Jon and me to go over their findings. It boiled down to "All the tests came back negative, so we're not sure what was actually wrong with him. There might have been some meconium in a lung, the x-ray was inconclusive...anyway, it's probably fine to take him home. We're discharging him. Just watch him carefully, and if he suddenly spikes a fever, has a seizure, turns blue, or quits breathing, call 911."

Wide-eyed, I thought, "I am so not going to sleep for a week. Couldn't they keep him another few days...?"

It all worked out in the end, of course. And my mother was very gracious when I called to tell her, "I know I've apologized for your labor and delivery with me, but I have this new perspective about what it must have been like..."

Ah, karma. Alas, Daniel can't undergo natural childbirth himself, and I wouldn't wish it on a daughter-in-law. In fact, I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I'm sure the universe will find other ways of balancing things, though. Wahahaha.


I don't talk about Marian much, but it seems like Daniel has been telling everyone in the ward about her. That experience was definitely dramatic. I will only add that as bad as nursing each of my babies has been, lactating without an infant was even worse. I tried to donate to a milk bank and was disqualified because of a mild, routine medication I was on. Though it was safe for my own babies, the milk bank couldn't risk drug interactions for preemies. The sheer waste of it all made me feel even more frustrated--and helpless.


Sammy was definitely the least dramatic of all my babies. After my previous experiences, I had predicted a huge, histrionic scene involving a car accident, ENTs rushing me to the hospital via ambulance, and my giving birth, six weeks early, via emergency C-section.

I like to think that Sam was just too sunny and cheerful, and too much of a gentleman, to do that to his dear, sweet mama. In any event, the pregnancy, labor, and delivery were all fairly calm. I pumped instead of nursing for six weeks and it was wonderful. Sam was a marvelous baby, easygoing and charming. I was almost (but not quite) disappointed by the lack of opera quality. This exhaustion with drama signaled to me that I was now officially a Grown Up Old Fuddy-Duddy.


I hoped vaguely that Sam had broken the drama curse. "Maybe this baby, too, will come without major incident," I thought hopefully. (This time it is the universe's turn to cackle maniacally. What was that about karma...?)

Saturday, September 10, 2011


After exhaustive research, I have concluded the following:

1. Yes, sleep deprivation is a form of torture.
2. It can't be very effective, since it renders the subject incoherent.

Once upon a time, during dead week, I went most of a night, and then a day and a night and a day, without sleep. During that time, I wrote a huge research paper, rushed it to my professor's box minutes before the English office closed, rushed back to the Institute, and then composed an eight-page political science opinion paper in less than two hours. I even managed to drive home without incident before collapsing. (The papers both got an A.)

A dozen-odd years later, three nights of minimal sleep (plus childbirth) rendered me completely non-functional. I wasn't quite hallucinating, but I was in bad shape. My apologies to anyone I may have accidentally offended in the last week due to my sheer spaciness.

I had an almost-but-not-quite boyfriend in high school who liked to tease me. "She's a national merit scholar," he intoned, "But she can't tie her own shoes."

I have been imagining what he would say in this situation. "She's an English major and a prolific creator of bedtime stories, but she can't fill out a simple birth certificate form." (Or problem-solve an easy carpool issue. Or even write a blog entry.)

Well, rejoice! Last night I actually got some sleep. Even better, I got a long nap today. (Thanks, Jon!!!) I am feeling vaguely human again, and mostly unzombified.

It is my hope that I can begin chronicling the exciting events of the last week...starting tomorrow.

Alas, so much has happened, I will need to take it in parts. That means you have to hear about the unimportant details (like wildfires and home evacuation) before you get to the good stuff (like notes on young Master Geoffrey).

Speaking of sleep, let's check in on other family members. Daddy has been slightly less of a zombie than Mommy, but he's still been exhausted with compromised efficiency. Sam's schedule has been upended and he has been cranky. Eric and Danny have still not settled into their school routine, and keep trying to stay up late at night. Jon has hit on a marvelous solution to this problem: push-ups. Also sit-ups. If they're being too boisterous, he makes 'em do calisthenics in sets until they're too exhausted to party. Brilliant idea!

Jeff has been snoozing just fine. No all-night marathons for him; in fact, he won't even stay awake enough to eat. He's Sleeping Baby and we're the marginalized magic fairies. If sleep deprivation is the universal intellectual handicap, young master Geoffrey is the smartest person in the room.

As proof of his somnolence, I include a video clip of him snoring. This serves both to prove that I wasn't hallucinating when I claimed that he could, and to assuage my conscience for not providing more baby-themed content.

More tomorrow. After another night's sleep.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Best #^@)! Attendance Excuse Note, Ever.

The title may be an over-reach.

But can you blame me for hoping it's the best note I'll ever write? I shudder to think of the confluence of circumstances which could inspire me to a better one.

I quote my recent email to Meridian Charter School:

Daniel Berry was absent Tuesday, September 6th because of family drama: first our house almost burned down, and then I had a baby.

I didn't write his excuse note sooner because I was dealing with aforesaid drama: first managing a mandatory evacuation (and the threat of my house burning down); then going into labor at a friend's house, more than two weeks early, in the middle of the night; and then "artfully navigating" the insane hospital bureaucracy which a) lectures a new mom about getting uninterrupted sleep to avoid post-partum depression, then b) invades her room at 4 a.m. to draw her blood, and then c) sends in a social worker to screen for post-partum depression when d) she's caught napping indolently a few hours later.

The house and the entire family are fine, but I bet you will rarely receive a better absence excuse note.


Gail Homer Berry

I hope that the school staff will be merciful. If not, I will explain that in the 60 hours prior to composing that note, I had slept a fragmented aggregate of perhaps 8, besides giving birth and exercising marvelous self-restraint at the legions of hospital staff who had impinged upon my privacy at regular half-hour intervals.

For more rantings about insane hospital procedures, read this entry about trying to escape with Sammy.

For people wishing more details, I can only say I'm working on a much longer blog post, but, alas, I keep getting interrupted by over-zealous hospital staff.

I'll write my blog-posting excuse note tomorrow. Assuming I'm coherent tomorrow, and not experiencing sleep deprivation-induced hallucinations.

A final note: I'm sure there are better excuse notes out there. I will give a prize to the person who sends me the best one. But: It has to be true. I could write a perfectly lovely fictionalized note, but that would be cheating. (I may have exaggerated slightly, but the substance was real.)