At the Edge of the Bubble

I follow the Huffington Post Parents Blog on Facebook.  This is where I read about Emily Rapp and find other good articles and interviews.  Today, there was an article about a woman in a hurry to deliver her baby now that she’s at her due date.

I’m sure it’s a cute story, but I had to stop reading about half way through.  She mentions prostaglandin twice, as a means to thin her cervix and release her baby into the world. Until I was reading this, I even know that word was a hot button for me.

I wrote about prostaglandin in Heart Warriors but the context was entirely different.  Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with this writer, her story, or her sharing it with readers.  It’s perfectly sweet, and I wish her much success, a healthy birth, and most of all a healthy baby.  This sweet but ordinary article, which I was harmlessly reading on a Sunday morning, hit my trigger by using the word prostaglandin, in a fully appropriate way, but in a way that never ever applied to me and never will.

Liam will be ten in a month.  Ten years ago, I supposed my cervix was thinning, and I did lose my mucus plug not long before Liam was born.  I was supposed to deliver him the natural way, but that ended when the doctor told me, “You can push that baby out, but he won’t be alive when he gets here,” and I had a c-section and live child five minutes later.

My c-section is not, however, why this article hit my trigger.  It’s entirely possible this ordinary woman who wrote it with all of her expectations firmly planted, will harvest a c-section herself – it happens, and it’s not the end of the world.  It’s just the beginning of something else.  No, it doesn’t trouble me that she defines prostaglandin the messenger molecules that will start her own labor process or that my labor process was sped along with cervical gel induction, pitocin, and abruptly ended with a scalpel.

What troubled me is that I have no memory of ever hearing the word prostaglandin until I asked an intensive care nurse what “PGE” was.  The line running into Liam’s umbilical stump at birth, later his head when the belly line dried up, and then in his arm where a doctor “cut down” his wrist to place a permanent scar and  a central line into his heart, had a little flap of plastic that read “PGE.”  I was told PGE was prostaglandin.

For whatever reason, I want to call it PGE now, and disambiguate the same chemical from the one this woman seeks to start her motherhood and the one that made my motherhood possible to  sustain for two weeks, two hospitals, two states, one jet, one helicopter, and on ambulance ride before Liam’s first open heart surgery.  While prostaglandin failed my own body in that I couldn’t get Liam out fast enough,  PGE preserved his fetal heart structures long enough for him to survive to have heart surgery.  I also remember being told in the CTICU in LA that too much PGE would become toxic and Liam’s other organs were beginning to break down on the days leading up to his surgery.

It’s funny how memories suddenly resurface like bottles in the ocean – how much we can put behind us and tamp into the past, yet something as little as a single word can snap us back.  Smells can do that too.  But that word did it today, prostaglandin, used out of the context of my own life threw me against a bubble that I forget still exists between me (and people like me) and people who go through life not outside the context where expectation is a dangerous and false entitlement and prostaglandin is the means to a very different beginning.  This is the kind of article that used to make me angry about my isolation and never feeling represented or depicted in the world beyond the bubble.  It doesn’t make me angry anymore because it is just one of many stories. It’s no one’s fault, it just is what it is.  Now, instead of making me angry with grief, it just reminds me every so gently of what might have been, for Liam and for all of us, and while there is a dull ache in that distant echo, it has dimmed and is fading still.

At least now, after ten years, I know why these things still hurt. It’s not that people don’t or can’t understand me, it’s that I cannot understand them.  The ordinary slipped away more than ten years ago and has been eclipsed by the shadows of my own life and I cannot understand what others take for granted because I can never know it.  I can watch what ordinary people do on the outside, but I’m in the bubble and this is where I live.  Like a dog on a chain I can only get so close to understanding the average experience before my collar snaps me back to my extraordinary life.  And that’s actually OK.  My life is rich, full, and beautiful exactly as it is, and my life is not diminished by what it might have been, even if the echoes of it sometimes haunt me still.  That new mother can have prostaglandin, and I will take PGE and we’ll all be alright.


  1. Haha, this made me smile. My recollections of prostaglandin are that it was the most expensive drug that Colin was given. Somehow we got a copy of his hospital bill, and we were aghast at how much each dose cost. But now it makes for a interesting comment I can throw out when other “normal” people talk about birth and babies and such.

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