I met MS, the author of this blog, when I was 20 years old. We were both sitting in a room clutching newspaper clips, waiting to be interviewed by the managing editors of The Des Moines Register. We both wanted the same journalism internship.
What struck me most about MS was how genuinely NICE she was. She talked non-stop and extremely fast. Unlike many of the female friends I had at the time, MS had many interests outside of bars and boys. She had already lived in Australia. She had gone sky-diving. She had interned the summer before at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I was impressed.
MS was the friend I desperately needed at age 20. Eventually, she became my boss at the Iowa State Daily. I learned more from her than I did in my journalism classes.
Ten years after our first meeting, my life is not extremely different.
I work at The Des Moines Register. I don’t have kids. I don’t have pets. (I am engaged and plan to have children. I will pass on the pets, thank you very much.)
I spend most of my days copy editing, kick-boxing, and watching TV shows that challenge me intellectually, my mainstay being “Dance Moms.”
But for the last 48 hours, I lived a bit of MS’s life. She has experienced a lot more big life changes in the past decade than I have, most certainly.
She is a wife and a mother. She works full-time as a web editor at a university. She takes care of her husband, their 7-month-old son and their two cats. She breasfeeds (the baby, not the cats). She uses all cloth diapers. She gave birth to her son completely naturally at a birthing center, not a hospital. That prospect would make many women (including me) a bit nervous. But MS is the same woman she was in 2002, the one who lived in Australia and jumped out of airplanes. She did not want an epidural, drugs or a C-section to numb the feelings of her son’s birth. She wanted to experience it all, to feel that rush of “happy” hormones when her son was placed on her chest. She did that, even though she literally pushed for eight hours.
Sometime during those hours of hard work, she separated her pelvis, medically known as Diatasis Symphysis Pubis.
I remember that happy day in January, when MS’s sister texted me to let me know the baby’s name, weight and all other vitals. She left the bad news for last: “The midwives think she separated her pelvis.”
About a month after her son’s birth, I visited MS and her family in Kansas. As always, my friend was positive, upbeat, talking loud and fast. But she was not walking so fast. During a routine trip to Target, I saw tears swelling in her eyes. She had to go sit down on a bench, her son swaddled in a Moby, while her sister and I waited in the check-out line. I don’t think I realized at the time, as she shuffled to the parking lot in very tiny, very controlled steps, how much pain she was experiencing. MS never wanted people to feel sorry for her. She didn’t tell many people about her injury.
She was told that if she wore a brace and rested, she would get better. She did not.
An X-ray eventually revealed a 13 mm separation of her pubic bones. She needed surgery, at least six screws and a plate, to pull her bones back together. She and her family live on a third-floor apartment. Her surgeon said he shouldn’t operate unless the family moved. On Thursday, MS and her family get the keys to their new home. On Friday, she has surgery.
This happened very suddenly. MS could have delayed surgery, but she chose not to wait. She wants to be able to walk when her son starts walking this winter. What mom wouldn’t want that?
As a result of her injury, MS can’t clean, can’t pack boxes, can’t carry heavy boxes. She uses a walker to get around, a prospect that that is horrifying when you are 81 … a prospect that is barely imaginable when you are 31.
Most of MS’s family lives in North Dakota and Omaha, Neb. She and her husband moved to Topeka about a year ago because of fantastic job opportunities. They do not have an army of friends and family down the block to help them pack, move and prepare for surgery.
On Sunday morning, my fiancée and I drove to Topeka. We couldn’t see out of the back window very well because it was packed floor to ceiling with cleaning supplies, cardboard boxes, plastic tubs, a Swiffer Sweeper, and some all-important baby spoiling items.
For 48 hours, we would live just a little bit of my friend’s life, minus the busted pelvis.
As we climbed the two flights of wooden, outdoor stairs up to their apartment, I wondered what this felt like to MS. I wondered what the physical pain was like, and also what it would be like to know you were incapable of carrying your infant son up those stairs whenever he was in his car seat.
I hugged MS extra-hard as soon as she opened the door, hoping the embrace by my own beefy “man arms” didn’t cause her more pain. It was so very good to see her.
Our goal was to bring the family some relief from the pressures of moving and the tension of the upcoming surgery.
The first night, we talked a lot, mostly about our college friends and good times. We told a few journalism war stories. But mostly, we dusted and we packed. Thankfully, my fiancée is tall and was able to remove a ton of shelves from the wall that I could barely reach.
We camped out for the night in the baby’s room. When he started crying at about 6 a.m, I picked him up and wrapped the two of us in a blanket together, rocking him back and forth. I wanted MS and her husband to be able to get some extra sleep, even if it was just five minutes.
After an initial investigation, it became apparent the baby was wet. I looked back in the crib. Oy. What was that brown spot? Oh, it is … POOP! How can a baby so small produce so very much? As I mentioned before, I do not have children of my own, but I have worked with and around children for a good chunk of my life. I fumbled with the cloth diapers, guessing and testing with the snaps. I dressed the baby in a new blanket sleeper. I gave him his favorite Mickey Mouse lovie and kept rocking him. His huge blue eyes widened, looking me up and down. In that one moment, I knew exactly what he was thinking: “YOU ARE NOT MY MOMMY!” He started crying again and was inconsolable. His daddy came into the room, and I handed him over. He needed to go see his mom for breakfast. She has been a soldier with breastfeeding, meticulously keeping track of how many ounces of milk she has frozen so her baby won’t have to consume formula during the surgery stage. I am so proud of her.
My friend and her husband went to work. The baby went to his daycare. We had one day to pack and clean as much as we could.
I won’t go into too many details, but with a baby using cloth diapers and two cats using a litter box, there is a ton of … POOP!
We did a grand total of six loads of laundry, including the little guy’s cloth diapers. I remembered to pull the fitted sheet from the crib. We emptied the cats’ litter box. No more poop.
It’s challenging and a bit strange to pack another family’s belongings. Do you pack up the stuff in their bathrooms, or do you leave it so they can wash their hair the next day?
We cleaned two tubs and mopped two bathroom floors. My fiancée emptied the dishwasher, reloaded it, and washed the expensive pots by hand. He reorganized the stacks of cardboard boxes, since some looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We packed up the baby’s army of stuffed animals and toys. We tried to label everything.
My friend’s husband came through the door at about 6 p.m., a car seat in one arm. MS came through the door with the walker about five minutes later. I thought of the stairs again, and how many times my dear friend has had to climb them over the last seven months since her son was born.
My fiancée and I were exhausted. We smelled of sweat and Swifer Sweepers and cats. My lower back hurt a bit. But I could not imagine complaining. We lived just a tiny slice of what my friend has lived with every moment of every day for seven months.
Surgery is Friday. There are many unknowns.
But there are a few facts I do not doubt: My friend will chase after her son when he takes his first steps this winter. And, she will dance at our wedding on Aug, 31, 2013. I can’t wait.
Editors’ note: This blog was typed on an iPhone during the car ride from Topeka, Kan. to Des Moines. Please excuse any typos.