by Judith Newman
September 26, 2001, noon
For some reason my blood platelet levels were down, a condition I passed on to Henry and Augustus. So this morning I was told both babies received platelet transfusions in the middle of the night to prevent internal bleeding. Henry's count is now up to 300,000, which is fine; Gus's is in the mid-90,000s and climbing. The doctors will do a full body scan next week, but they say the possibility of internal bleeding is remote since platelets were given right away.
Maybe it was the morphine, but I was perfectly confident all would be well. At least I was until a social worker knocked on my door. "I want you to know this is a safe place to discuss all the anxieties you must have," she said, holding my hand and stroking it. Hello, I did not have terrible anxiety until you mentioned I should about thirty seconds ago. Let go of my hand, you jackal. I flash back to Woody Allen's nightmare in Annie Hall, where he is being chased by a monster with the body of a giant crab and the head of a social worker.
Here's the thing I can't wrap my mind around. How is it possible someone -- two people, in fact -- will call me "Mother"? It seems like such a huge mix-up, because
a) I am really fifteen years old; the forty-year-old haggard woman you see before you is just an unsightly mirage; and
b) I shouldn't be trusted with a favorite pair of shoes, let alone a human life.
September 26, 2001, 5:00
Despite their tiny size, both are breathing on their own. Henry, the tinier one, has that patented take-me-to-your-leader look of preemies but is sucking milk like a regular baby. Gus is still being fed through a tube. To counteract their jaundice both are on light therapy. They are wearing tiny hospital-issued caps that say, "I got my first hug at NYU." But the writing on the caps is flowing and flowery; I read it as "I got my first flug at NYU" and had to ask the nurse why they had needed a flug. I though it was some sort of medical procedure.
Not only do these small people not look related to me or John, they don't look related to each other. Henry is bald and pale as a grub, with skin that immediately flushes crimson with the slightest exertion. His head is the size of a cantaloupe, and he's ravenous. His nose is large and bulbous, thus dashing my hopes that my nose job could have somehow become embedded in my DNA. Augustus, who's so mellow he has to be jostled while eating to keep him from lapsing into a coma, has a thicket of black hair that stands up like a bottlebrush and an olive complexion like no one in either of our families. John will not shut up about how he looks suspiciously like Dr. Grifo.
"You'll be taking them home as soon as they reach four pounds," the NICU nurse tells me cheerfully. Four pounds? The roast chicken I had last week for dinner was bigger than that. And I'm supposed to do what? Bathe them? I am pretty sure if I place them on a moist towelette they'll drown.
Growing up in Scarsdale during the seventies -- what I now think of as the Ice Storm years -- my baby-sitting experience consisted of arriving after the kids went to sleep and rummaging through their parents' porn collection. Baby-sitting is how I first read The Story of O and learned that not only cops but accountants and periodontists may own handcuffs. I lied about my age when I baby-sat. The boy I sat for most often was, unbeknownst to his parents, six months older than I was. I told them I was sixteen; I was, in fact, twelve. Gary had just turned thirteen. He always kept me sitting on his bed, talking way past his bedtime. He sat close. I think he was on to me.
Children scared me, even as a child. What were they going to do next? There were lots of bodily fluids that might fly in your direction at any time. Babies made you into a befuddled contestant in the game show from hell: spin the wheel and you land . . . on . . . sweet smile? . . . no . . . mellifluous chortle? . . . no . . . vomit. Bleah. And then there was the way mothers would hand me their infants, who would invariably take one look at me and burst into tears. "They're like dogs in horror movies," I thought. "They can sense fear."