It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
This morning, Scarlet started the second year of her life in the same place she started the first year of her life – a hospital. Now it was a different hospital and she was admitted yesterday, but some things were strikingly similar – like when we were being pushed on a gurney together and the children’s ward looked a lot like the Childbirth Center at the hospital I did give birth in, and I was tired and starving and I was dehydrated, disoriented and distraught. And in that state of mind I started to wonder if nothing had changed in the past year and we were just still there at the time of Scarlet’s birth and I was dehydrated and disoriented but joyful instead of distraught.
And then there were the charts and the large number of people whose names I’ll never remember, and didn’t even remember the second after they were told to me. And there were the vital signs and the endless flow of doctors, nurses, advocates, and lots of other job titles that I’ll never remember and didn’t even remember the second after they were told to me.
And there was the pushing her proudly through the hospital showing off our baby. Last time she was in a bassinet and swaddled tightly with a knit cap on her head. She was sleeping. This time she was in a cage-like crib standing one-handed, showing off, smiling at everyone – her wild curls a halo around her head. Her brilliant smile nearly distracted everyone from the glaring red gash on her right cheek. Only nearly.
What happened? Scarlet was bit by a dog. Our dog. And neither of us saw it happen and it was so quick and quiet and probably not done out of aggression or malice – it’s just that Stormy’s teeth are so big and Scarlet’s skin is so fresh and delicate. All I know is I got the call while at work and I ran out of the office, forgetting important work related things and carrying with me work-related correspondence that was supposed to be mailed and I somehow left it in my car until I noticed it today. And my gas tank was on empty and I didn’t know how to get to this hospital but I had help and I got there and it was so hot and sticky and I was having trouble walking into the ER and I thought I’d need an ambulance. And it was not in Northampton. Rather it was in a bad place in a town I call the Newark, NJ of Massachusetts. And some guy who had gotten beaten up really badly fainted dead away next to my feet. And I thought I might faint right on top of him – making a neat little pile of people who had seen the worst of the day. And I waited, fidgeting, before someone could let me into the children’s part of the ER. I had prepared myself for the worst possible looking wound in order to be pleasantly surprised when it was not that bad. And you know what? In real life, it was worse.
Then there was the staff member who said, “You’re getting rid of your dog, right?” with a goofy smile on her face. Or the two women who held her down to put the I.V. in and even though they work in a children’s E.R., they couldn’t understand why a baby might flail and cry at the top of her lungs while their idiot hands fumbled around and the needle poked her multiple times. Really? You want a kid who would just lie there and take that, either because they were used to that sort of thing or because they were too sick to fight it? I wouldn’t.
(I will say that the rest of the staff was beautiful and amazing and Scarlet got three wonderful birthday presents from them.)
Then there were the hours and hours of waiting because the pediatric surgeon was in surgery and Scarlet couldn’t go under anyway because she had food in her stomach. Then there was meeting the doctor (brilliant but very confused about how to talk to people) and before we knew it, she was being put to sleep and she was crying and in a stranger’s arms and we were whisked away to the waiting area. Then there was the phone call that we could see her and she was still half asleep and she was beautiful and we knew the doctor did the best job he could do.
And I know how lucky and blessed we still are. And I know that Scarlet’s surgery is called “Elective Surgery” and that many other children in that hospital were having “Mandatory Surgery.” And I know she’ll still grow and laugh and call me by name and I’ll kiss her delicious skin day after day and chase her around as she slowly learns to walk. And I know her wound will be undetectable someday. But I kept feeling like it hadn’t really happened and I was just going to go home from work as usual and start planning our birthday weekend. I kept thinking life would be great if it just hadn’t happened. I kept wishing for a time machine. I know she’ll heal really well but I am in a dark place right now and I need to find my way out of it. Just not yet.
I was supposed to be having a crisis about my little baby being a year old already. I was supposed to reflect fondly and nostalgically upon that day last year in which I felt the most pain and discomfort I’ll probably ever feel but also got to meet my Scarlet. I was supposed to finish her birth story yesterday and publish it here. There was supposed to be a party. It was supposed to be my day too. My birthing day, her birthday. There was supposed to be joy. There was supposed to be cake. Instead I feel more miserable and regretful than I ever thought possible. Instead I feel more intense love than I ever thought possible. It makes me want to start trying for a second kid like yesterday. It also makes me never want to have another kid again because of all the grief they cause. I’m sleepless and I’ve lost two pounds and I’m so angry I can barely stand it. I haven’t even looked at Stormy since it happened and I don’t intend to. I’ve been swooping over Scarlet while she joyfully and obliviously plays around the house trying to protect her from harm. There’s so much harm in this world, I’ll never catch up with it. I wonder when and if I’ll ever feel calm around her playing again.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.