Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Education

I got my first real job when I was 22. I had just moved from Houston to Columbia with my B.S. in Physical Anthropology. Setting my sights on graduate school, I was still aching to be a forensic anthropologist. When I stumbled across a job in the Columbia Tribune for a histology technician (hours 5:30-2:30) I mailed my application. It didn't matter that I didn't know what histology was, exactly, but I couldn't resist the job's description: human specimen processing, microscope slide staining, embedding specimens.

Making 9.20 and hour and getting health insurance, I spent my early mornings at work listening to music and learning how to put colon polyps, breast lumps, moles, and pieces of cervix into melted wax to harden...and then be cut into slides by someone else. The precise, quick movements took skill, say, to get 10 colon polyps into wax before it hardened. I felt like I was doing something, really doing something at that job.

The best part, though, came in the afternoons. Our lab would get in its daily shipment of specimens. Though most of them were the above mentioned items, we sometimes got more exciting things: foreskins, fingers, gangrenous legs, placentas, and fetuses. My job was to line them for the pathologist to cut. Big things went last, so sometimes there were two fetuses a day. They came in plastic, Central Dairy ice cream tubs. Tiny babies floating and rocking in formalin. I found them the most fascinating. In fact, in my free time, I'd sneak into the back room (where we stored the fetuses for up to a month--in case the doctors wanted more tests run), pop the lid on the bucket, and just stare.

* * *

The past three weeks have been numbing. I have no other way to describe them yet. When we went into the hospital, I kept picturing Mindy having to give birth to one of those fetuses. It was horrifying to the point of absurdity. My mind just kept playing that scene over and over: Mindy crying and a teeny, tiny baby just slipping out and lying still. The problem is, we knew and understood too much.

On Sunday, when things were just hazy and Mindy went into labor after blood just spilling out of her, I kept hoping that Cyrus would be gotten by c-section. I couldn't bear to think of his birth. He was complete breech, and within 10 minutes of the doctor saying this, I was sitting on a stool in a surgery suite, behind a blue sheet, talking to Mindy about the stupid idea we had about getting pregnant. "This is the worst decision we've ever made," I said to her. Through her teeth chattering from cold and hormone surges, she smiled.

Minutes before entering the surgery, a nurse had shoved a disposable camera in my hand with my hat, mask, booties, and gown. I stared at the camera. What in the hell did she think I'd like to have pictures of?

I waited at Mindy's head, watching her body shift as they cut her and pulled her uterus onto her stomach...though I didn't see any of that. I just saw her shoulders being moved and knew what was happening behind the curtain.

When they pulled him out, I heard a little squawk. Numb. Numb. Numb.

The only way I can explain the feeling is relief. I was relieved that that part of the journey was over. I was elated because I knew that no matter what happened, Mindy would be coming home in a few days. I imagined, while she tried to keep her teeth from chattering, us having a drink and eating out. Us sitting on the couch watching SVU.

* * *

You see, in college I took a human osteology class. I loved it more than anything I'd ever learned. After that class I signed up for an osteology lab. I spent 120 hours that semester trying to glue 3,000 year old bones back together. At one point my teacher gave me a bag full of dirt and asked me to "find the baby." I thought she was joking.

After I dumped the dirt into a mesh kitchen colander, I saw what she meant. A fetus. It was probably 5 inches the most. It had a tiny penis and it's head wasn't attached. I spent the next couple of hours trying to get the skin off the bones.

* * *

Nearing the end of the c-section, I was summoned to a small room off of the surgery suite where Cyrus was whisked away. I walked in and 10 people stood staring at me. One doctor put out his hand and said, "Congratulations." Thanks. I peered into the incubator for only a moment; I didn't want to leave Mindy on the table like that, all alone. I saw a small baby with a small hat. The doctors stood frozen in mid-stride, waiting for me to stay or leave. "Did you see him?" someone asked. He was 14.5 weeks early, ripped from his mother's womb. And I just kept picturing Lady, our cat, decomposing under the pine tree in Mom and Dad's yard. I opened the door, nodded, and walked back to Mindy's head.

That was 7:32 p.m. We weren't allowed to see him until 1:00 a.m. That was after an hour of two neonatologists talking at us about all of the things that could go wrong. As if we didn't know. As if we hadn't read. As if I hadn't already numbed myself to it all.

I rolled Mindy up beside his little table. She touched his tiny, red hand and he squeezed it. Reflexes, you know. I was afraid to touch him; he was smaller than some of the fetuses I'd seen in the histology lab. I did though. I put my pinky into his palm and started when he squeezed my hand, too. You can see all the veins in his body, the little muscles, the smallest toenails. I swore I could see all of the four sections of his fetal skull.

Our baby is a live fetus living in plastic womb.

I'm still numb. He could die any second. We could bring him home as healthy as any kid in three months. Until one of those happens, we'll stare into his incubator. I'll keep being amazed at how he has Mindy's nose and toes. We'll speculate over his hair color.

I'll watch as my wife becomes a mother and I slip into another skin.

It feels like my heart is made of pure steel; It's just so heavy all the time.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


If you know me at all, or if you've read anything I've written, you know that the number 25 means a lot to me; it is the baseball jersey number of nearly 5 generations of Holzhausers.

Today marks the beginning of Mindy's 25th week of pregnancy. At 25 weeks the survival rate of our little man is roughly 54-60% depending on what and where you're reading. On top of that, the chance for disabilities is 50%. It sounds bleak, but compared to our odds and chances when we got here two weeks ago, it seems magical.

Mindy had a morphology ultrasound today. It has been 5 weeks since we saw him. He looked bigger on the screen, his bones whiter and denser, his head absolutely huge. But, really, he's only 1 pound 11 ounces. From what I've read, he's a little above average. We'll take it. We'd take a fat ass baby right now.

If I'm understanding correctly, he's all there. I mean, he has all of the parts he needs: arms, legs, brain, kidneys. All that. However, his lungs and brain aren't developed. Did you know that fetuses "breathe" the amniotic fluid to help their lungs grow? I mean, they breathe their own pee. It totally makes sense, but I had never thought about it until recently.

* * *

Perhaps one of the best parts about being with Mindy in the hospital is getting to know him better. Last week I could feel him moving through her belly. It felt like least the kind of gas I have. He has a sleeping pattern; he moves around about the same time every day. Because Mindy has little to no other sensory stimulation, she lies around all day feeling his every move. He's all she has to worry about right now, while I have to worry about the both of them, my students, the house, our cats, the mortgage.

She has been in this bed for 15 days. Surprisingly, she hasn't really gotten bored. Yet. We've watched just a couple of movies. She has a book to read, but she hasn't. We've watched much less t.v. than I thought we would. So, what do we do? We talk. People stream through the room and make us laugh (though Mindy gets nervous after too much laughing; we don't want him coming out, you know). She hasn't really complained, though she didn't feel well when they did the magnesium sulfate iv. But that was only 24 hours of 15 days.

She lies with her ass above her head as often as she can (even though there is no evidence that this helps), she says it's all she can do. And there really isn't much of an option.

She is teaching me a lesson in patience. I've always known she's more patient than I, but now I really see it at work. I shave her legs and she pretends it's normal, acts like it doesn't bother her that she can't.

I guess it's all an odd routine, but I wouldn't mind if it lasted for months. In fact, we can only hope that it does.

So, week 25 is here. Every day is better. Every day our son grows his lungs and his brain. Every day I kiss Mindy and tell her I love her.

And every day we grow.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


If you've ever been to our house (or cabin in Alaska) you noticed that we had four cats. Three of them are tabbies, so it was always a shock, a good surprise, when Lady would introduce herself. She was a blonde, always trim, always a hit because of her unusual color.

One of Lady's favorite things to do was bring us socks. Rugby socks. Sometimes she'd bring small stuffed animals. She have them in her mouth and she'd make this howl that sounded like she was in pain. Sometimes she'd drag our bras out into the living room. Mindy called them her "babies"-- I think because the habit started with small stuffed animals (the rugby sock babies came later in her life). Lady would drag out several babies a day; we'd come home from work, the dinning room littered with purple socks, yellow and black striped socks, a pirate from a McDonald's happy meal.

In the past months Lady started to lose a lot of weight. She went to the doctor in December and they said all the tests showed nothing unusual. She kept getting skinnier. We fed her calorie-rich wet food and some prescription wet food from the vet hospital. She didn't gain weight.

Of course, the past week I've spent most of my time at the hospital. But I noticed when I would go home, that Lady would sit in spots she didn't normally like: on the floor, in the clothes basket. She didn't bring babies; she didn't meow at me in the mornings for her wet food. Just Sunday I reached down to pet her and she nearly fell over. Mindy made an appointment for Tuesday.

I knew she was sick. Blood tests showed that she had kidney failure, and not just the beginnings. She was 16 years old. I left her at the hospital while I came back to talk Mindy. I didn't really talked. We just cried all over each other, as if anything else horrible could happen. Mindy called the vet.

Mom went with me. I was there for it all. Normally, that's not my job. I don't deal well with death, as most of you know. I especially don't deal well with animals dying. And not my Lady Fluff Pants. Lady who loved to be brushed just a little...then she'd bite the bristles and go crazy. Lady loved to have her belly rubbed, but only if you put your hand between her legs. She was our little slut. She and I were lovers in a past life. Or something like that. I'm lucky I'm not home right now; they house is empty enough.

* * *

When I came back after, well, after we put her to sleep I cried all over Mindy. I wanted to throw something out of the window. When I was younger and pissed, I'd take a basketball outside and kick it as far as I could. Then I'd get angrier because I'd have to chase it before it fell in the creek. Then I'd fucking sprint after it and kick it harder. This made me feel better.

I haven't kicked anything yet, though there is a rugby game on Saturday. I don't really feel like hitting anyone, but maybe it will help.

Last night we had a scare, some blood. We're only at 24 weeks. The doctors say 25 is a real turning point. Luckily nothing happened.

I hope the universe accepts our sacrifice of Lady. I'm not this big of a hippy, but I like to think that Lady loved babies so much, she soaked up all the negativity. I think she would do that for us. She took the bullet for us, maybe. As she went to sleep, she gave a soft little meow, like she did when she would lay socks at our feet, beside our bed, or cry for us at night time before cuddling up to sleep.

So, last night when we had the scare, I prayed to Lady. Oh, I know, praying to a cat seems silly, but it's the only thing that feels good right now, in my descent into numbness, nothingness, depression and anxiety. I asked Lady to hold on at least another week, another few weeks.

Not yet, Lady. Please, not yet.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Chasing Cars

I went back to teach today, even after a horrible morning.

You see, the doctors come in around 8 every day to do an ultrasound on Mindy. They're checking to see if her cervix and sac have gone back where they need to be. This morning, the head doctor told her to fill her bladder and then we'd have a look. (Yesterday when this happened, it gave the appearance that everything was normal. she peed, and then it wasn't) She drank a lot of water, they did the ultrasound. I looked at the screen only to find that her cervix was open 2.8cm (the most it's been so far). The doctors didn't say this to us. They told us it was "the same," but I've heard that before.

It was at this point that the other doctor started talking about resuscitation, what we'd like to do if he's delivered soon. I couldn't handle it, not what he was saying, just everything.

I don't do well when I'm tired. I'm also PMSing. These things combined with the image of her open cervix on the screen were enough to set me off.

I cried. It came on so fast. The older doctor (who looks like santa) held me tightly in his white jacket while I apologized...the kind of apologies people give when they cry, for no real reason. The younger doctor said maybe he should come back to talk about what "measures" we'd like to take should the baby be born.

Through my tears I just said that I didn't want him to suffer. Once again, the doctors said we were enlightened for making the decision we have. We know he's too young to survive. If he did, he'd be severely handicapped.

So, it was with this whole scene in my head that I drove to Jefferson City. I heard that damn Snow Patrol song, like, "If I lay here, if I just lay here...would you lie with me and just forget the world? me a garden that's bursting into life."

I cried most of the way to Lincoln.

I had only a few minutes to get my shit together before class, so it was no surprise that I totally cried when I tried to explain to my class why I wasn't at school on Friday. I saw at least three people tear up. And I felt like such a weak asshole.

For my second class, I gave the same spiel. Something about my wife being 23 weeks pregnant, in the hospital, things aren't looking good for us. One student asked, after I'd said this, "who da baby daddy?"

Another student came to argue the grade she received on her last paper. She wanted to cry about the grade (she got an F because it was late; that's my policy), but I just fucking rolled over and said I'd grade it. Then she thought about asking me how my weekend was. I asked, "do you really want to know?" She said she did. I told her. She looked at me and asked, "Did you have to pay to get the baby?"

Not knowing how to answer that I said yes.

"Well, just pray. You believe in God, don't you?"

"No," I answered.

"Oh," she said.

But, you know, other students hung around after class to say they were sorry and they hoped things would work out. When I tried to explain it to one student, he stared blankly at me.

"Do you know what a cervix is?" I asked

He waved his hand around his stomach, "Somewhere down there."

One student emailed to say she was really sorry and that she'd lost two kids this way. It's amazing how open and wonderful people are if you open up first. I guess that's one reason why I write nonfiction. It's like, people are itching to tell their stories, they just don't wanna be the first to do it.

When I got back from work I walked into the new room (mindy had been moved) to find the social worker and the pediatrics dr. talking to Mindy and her mom. The first thing anyone said to me was "Oh, thank God you're here." Like I needed to hear that after a bad day anyway...I forgot to tell you that I called Mindy to check in around noon. She told me then that she'd had some contractions. I almost pissed my pants.

Anyway, the doc was here with a skinny social worker making sure they knew what we wanted to do in case he was born tonight...or any moment. In case you're wondering, we'd make sure he was comfortable for the time he was on earth.

Mindy says he's kicking away; I'm still not able to feel him. I'm not sure if I want to.

So, it was a rough day. Now Mindy's sleeping, her ass as high in the air as she can get it, the blood draining into her face. She's beautiful, though, even with those air pressure things on her legs, her greasy hair, the catheter sticking out of her hand. Her mom brought new hospital gowns that she had made while she awaited a flight from Fairbanks. Mindy's wearing a green one right now, with lady bugs. She is my wife, and I love her.

They only thing that keeps me sane right now is knowing she'll be there after this is over. Even if it turns out terribly, my wife will be there with me, even if she's scarred and depressed. Even if we're both in therapy. Even if I'm drinking to numb the memories of my son, dead before he was born.

She'll be right beside me.

We'll do it all, everything, on our own
We don't need anything or anyone

Saturday, March 6, 2010

3 weeks, she sleeps, through the rain

In high school, I'd go to school in the mornings with my eyelids swollen from crying all night. Life at home was full of fights with my parents about being gay, them accusing me of smoking weed in my bedroom, of being unnatural. I'd sneak into my closet late at night and call Lacey, who lived in Houston; she felt worlds and years away. So, I'd cry all night. And my eyelids would still look like that when I got to band class for first hour. All I remember of my senior year were those burning, swollen eyelids, the constant rising of a lump in my throat.

I hadn't felt that weight, that burden, until Thursday.

I've only been changing Mindy's bedpan for three days. It's only been three days of me worrying. I don't know if I can make it three months.

I can't remember if I've told you that Mindy has what one doctor called a "typical incompetent cervix." That's not a joke. I'd never heard of it. How naive was I to believe that after week 12, everything just got better and safer? It was just Monday that we bought a crib and changing table, breast pump, boppy, and got free clothes from a friend. In fact, this coming Monday we were supposed to have a wall installed in our back room to make the nursery for our baby.

Again, Mindy's at 23 weeks. Survival rate is 3%, not to mention the severe disabilities. With every week of gestation, the survival rate goes up quite a bit. By week 25 the survival rate is about 54% and half of those babies have a disability. If we make it to week 26, then we can worry much less; survival rate soars and the disabilities become less and less severe. If the cervix and sac would go back right now they could do that damn cerclage, then we could worry much, much less.

Realistically, I know the chances of this turning out the way we want are very small. Mathematically, small. Ratios and percentages are not on our side. The bulging amniotic sac and the way the nurses talk to us tell me that they've seen this before, and they know what happens.

I'm thankful that I gave up on religion the same year of the swollen eyelids. If I would have believed in God now, I would be asking why me, why us, why now. But my beliefs are simpler than that. We live. We die. Shit happens in between, some good, some bad. This is some of the shit we've been dealt.

A friend told me tonight that no matter what happens, it will be okay. I know that, but I can't feel that right now.

It's weird, throughout this pregnancy, Mindy and I have had, like, feelings about things. We both knew that she was pregnant before she was, and we kept talking about how we thought he'd be born early. I even had a vision of Mindy being laid up in the hospital, but I figured it would only be for a few days, somewhere around week 38.

Before we decided to have a baby, we had a lot of talks. My biggest fear was, and still is, having a special needs baby. I'm not sure I could handle it. No, let me say, I don't want to handle it. I've told a lot of people I'd take a physical deformity over mental disabilities any day; you can always buy a limb, you know. Oh, I know, that probably sounds really horrible and selfish of me. You're right. But I'm honest.

I asked Mindy yesterday how she felt about the outcome of this whole thing. She said she thought it would be good. I agreed. Our notions have been right so far.

But now I'm wondering what exactly good means.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Week 23, Shit Hits the Fan

Mindy and I have agreed all during this pregnancy that the baby would come early.

Today, though, is way too early.

Mindy noticed something unusual yesterday and called the doctor, a nurse, and finally triage at the hospital. Everyone said it was probably ok, but to make an appointment for today.

After getting out of a deparment meeting at 12:14 I check my phone to find that she's called me 5 times. I called back as soon as I could only to her saying, "they're putting me in the hospital."

Apparently she suffers from "incompetent cervix." It basically means that her cervix was totally cool until the baby's weight was too much for it to handle, so it dilated to 1.5 cm. This is bad. On top of that, the amniotic sac is trying to escape.

We're supposed to wait here for a few days, Mindy in the bed, not moving, hoping the sac will go back where it belongs. If it does, they'll sew her cervix shut and she'll live in the hospital until the baby is delivered.

If something else happens to the sac, well, we lose a baby.

We've already had a neonatalogist come to explain that at this point, they really don't do much to revive the baby. I mean, his lungs aren't even developed and even with aggressive help, he'd have a lot of problems...if he survived at all. The chances are very slim. I can't imagine anything worse than Mindy delivering a 1 pound baby right now. The doctor said we could hold him a while.

I asked Mindy if she would like to hold him, if that's what happened. She said she would. I'm not sure if I would...or could. That feels like that would be worse. Like I'd just have that image to think about the rest of my life.