Homecoming in Norway

Homecoming in Norway

We went back to Norway.

Just over seven years ago, my son L was born in Oslo, when B had a Fulbright and I got pregnant and we stayed awhile. It has felt, all these years, like something out of mythology, our 15 months in Norway, L’s birth, the four months postpartum until we came back to the States and lived with our parents on and off for over a year, finally “settling” here in northern California. Our lives are so very different now than they were then: Leo’s babyhood is gone, our friends are different, the climate is different, everything.

And yet, when we went to Norway a month ago, there was a way in which absolutely nothing had changed. There was our Norwegian dad-type, Petter Andreas, picking us up at the airport looking exactly the same, and our good friends whose cabin in Sweden we invaded for one beautiful week?despite their kids being now 12 and 10 and 8 and a three-year-old we’d never met, they were almost exactly the same, too. In two weeks we slipped into this state of noticing difference and appreciating sameness. And oh, the comforting, perfect sameness. B and I loved living in Norway, loved almost everything about it. When we left in 2009 I cried?like I hadn’t cried in years, a visceral, wrenching kind of crying; leaving there was the biggest of losses. So?being back felt like slipping into my?parents’ house again at Christmastime when I was?in college: the familiar smells, the dishes I knew were coming for dinner, the scent and feel of my?old bed.?And thank goodness, because a part of me had worried that it wouldn’t feel that way, that Norway would feel not so much familiar and the same but foreign, alien, other.

But no: it all felt very much like the home it was all those years ago, eerily familiar, and when we left this time, there were those wrenching tears again, those eviscerating, devastating tears. It is hard to love a place, and people, who live impractically far away.

Midnight sun in Norway, circa June 2009

Midnight sun in Norway, circa June 2009

I’ve changed so much in the seven years since we left Norway. When I look back on who I was in 2009, I see a woman who didn’t yet know what it was to parent, and to have finished a book, and to have learned how to be a working mom, and all those things that are so central, now, to my identity.?But in one fundamental and surprising way, I’m the same now as I was then.

Readers, I’m pregnant again.

Those of you who follow my stuff know that this is A Big Deal. I’ve published articles about my infertility over the years. Not being able to conceive has been a large part of my life, because we started trying to make L a sibling before he turned two and all these years, our second baby has loomed, an idea, in the background. We gave up, we started again, we decided to adopt, we decided not to adopt. And so imagine my surprise when one of those newfangled, new-age fertility treatments actually?worked and I found myself, in January, morning sick as hell, hormonal, and needing to pee every ten minutes?PREGNANT.



Me in Frogner Park

A pregnant me in the Frogner Park, next to the fetus statue

I am not a young pregnant person; I am right on the tail end of my waning fertility or even a little past. I have a seven year old. I have not changed my own child’s diaper in years. I have slept through the night for, oh, six years now.?And along the way of these past eight months of being pregnant I have felt more than a little fear and anxiety about starting over again, even as I’ve felt joy (and more than a little disbelief) that we’re starting over again. The pile of worries I’m contending with, it’s big.

And?that’s why the trip to Norway was so perfectly timed. My birth with Leo was long, complicated, and at-times harrowing, and I’ll be honest that giving birth again is at the top of my worries list at the moment. L’s birth, his origin story, if you will, has?been a part of the Mythology of Norway all of these years. Perhaps because we left so soon after he was born there’s a way that I’ve been dislocated from his birth, like something relegated to the far-back reaches of memory.

So when we were in Oslo a few weeks ago, we took the bus to the hospital and showed L where he was born, and I remembered riding that damn #20 bus up Kirkeveien for my appointments; at the end of the pregnancy, I was up there twice a week for ultrasounds and fetal heart monitoring because they were worried there was something wrong with the baby. We showed L the cemetery adjacent to the birthing rooms where, a sober midwife told us when we first met, the cycle of life was completed. I remembered B walking a hungry and traumatized two-day-old baby around that cemetery when my milk hadn’t yet come in, L so utterly tiny and helpless and beautiful in his little?hat with the stars on it.

And somehow being there made it all more real again, in ways that were hard and in ways that were good. I think every woman, if she’s honest, has some PTSD after giving birth, and standing in the lee of that hospital building looking out at the cemetery, I felt mine. But then there was my seven-year-old beside me, just himself, on his actual birthday no less, whining about how long the walk was going to be back to the #20 bus.

Just our lives, just us, how we’ve been all these years, only very soon, about to change completely.


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As I was ruminating on this post, I really appreciated Annie Reneau’s “Actually, it DOES Matter How You Give Birth,” which you can read here.?Thanks, Annie!

Born In My Heart: A Guest Blog Post from Lynn Sollitto

Hi folks! It’s an exciting summer day over here at susiemeserve.com: my first ever guest blogger. I met Lynn Sollitto at the San Francisco Writers Conference in February, where we bonded over memoir-writing (and Tweeting). Lynn’s been working on a book about adopting a baby girl?from foster care after serving as her drug-addicted biological mother’s birth coach?and then adopting the baby’s older sister a couple of years later. Lynn’s memoir, Born in My Heart, is about?her girls? adoption, their unique needs, her unusual relationship with their birth mother Ruth, and “the good, the bad and the ugly of it all.”

Below is a chapter from Lynn Sollitto’s work-in-progress, Born in My Heart.?I hope you enjoy!


Chapter Three: Accidentally in Love

Paige in the NICU a couple of hours after her birth

Paige in the NICU a couple of hours after her birth

The first rays of sunshine crept under the closed curtains. I dug through my purse for loose change. Angrily, my stomach growled. ?Food?s on the way,? I reassured it. ?Stale, overpriced vending machine food?? My wallet was empty. Although there was an ATM on the first floor, I didn?t want Ruth to be alone when she woke up so I stayed in the room. I filled a paper cup multiple times with water and drank quickly. My stomach was somewhat placated.

Over the next couple of hours, Ruth?s contractions became closer together and more intense. I felt helpless that I didn?t know how to help her. I have been birth coached, but not the birth coach. Ruth wasn?t aware of anything other than her pain. The nurse said it was time to push. A two-person cheering squad, we encouraged Ruth. ?One more push,? the nurse encouraged her. ?C?mon Ruth, you can do it!? I exclaimed, holding her clammy hand. “I know it hurts but it?ll be over soon!? The situation was both hilarious and sad. I was witnessing an intense and personal experience with a woman I didn?t know.

I got a cool, wet washcloth and placed it gently on her forehead. I dabbed her sweaty forehead and pushed her hair away from her eyes. I winced when my finger caught in a tangle from her night of restless sleep. ?You?re strong. You can do this!? Of course, I knew no such thing. In agony she suddenly cried out, ?I want my husband, I want David!? At that moment, the full intensity and reality of her situation hit me: This woman was all alone. She was in physical and emotional pain and I could do nothing to help. Her future and the future of her children were uncertain. I felt gut-wrenching sadness for her situation: a complete stranger stood in her husband?s place.

My hands shook and my voice trembled. ?I know you do, Honey, I know…? I turned away and re-wet the washcloth, a guise to hide the tears welling up in my eyes. Ruth pushed for nearly four hours. Then she gave up. Although the nurse and I urged Ruth on, she stopped all effort. She looked defeated, her energy obviously spent.

The nurse gestured for me to follow her into the hallway. ?She isn?t pushing anymore. We?ll have to do a C-section if she doesn?t keep trying.? The nurse paused and her eyes probed mine. ?Is there anything else about Ruth?s pregnancy that I should know??? Her voice trailed off and implied there was. ?I don?t really know her.? The nurse?s face didn?t change as I briefly explained the situation. She nodded at me then turned resolutely back to the birthing room. Once again at Ruth?s side, she firmly said, ?Ruth, we need to know if you?ve done anything during your pregnancy. You need to be honest so we can help you and your baby! There might be something wrong…? Ruth took a deep breath. Quietly she told the nurse: ?I did meth once. When my husband went to prison and I was really upset.? Suddenly Ruth cried out, ?Is someone going to take my baby? I don?t want anyone to take my baby! Please don?t take my baby!? The nurse reassured Ruth no one would take her baby, then left the room.

I stared at Ruth?s pale, gaunt face. She no longer tried to hide her rotten teeth. She had small scabs and sores, a sign of chronic methamphetamine use. I thought, Once? You?re full of shit! When the nurse came back, she pulled me into the hallway again. ?They?re prepping the operating room for a C-section,? she told me. ?Will you be accompanying Ruth??

Lynn's husband and son saying hello to the baby

Lynn’s husband and son saying hello to the baby

Are you kidding??I thought, excited. Out loud, calm and reserved, I said, ?Yes.? My interest in medicine, rather than my birth coach duties, prompted the decision to go with Ruth. ?I sure hope she turns her life around so she can keep her baby,? the nurse said, then she walked into the room to prep Ruth for transfer. I walked next to Ruth?s hospital bed as we entered the elevator and rode down to the operating room. It was as absurd as a scene from ER or General Hospital. Ruth was wheeled into the OR and I stayed behind in the hallway. The nurse told me to put on a gown and wait until I was called in.

My stomach grumbled; I was surprised to see it was 1 o?clock in the afternoon. Twenty minutes later I was called into the OR. Machines bleeped at consistent intervals. Nurses and doctors milled around in scrubs and surgical masks. A tall surgical curtain just below Ruth?s chest separated the doctors and nurses from her upper body. To the left stood a few nurses next to an incubator, ready to take Ruth?s baby. To my immediate right lay Ruth. An anesthesia nurse stood by her head. He was dressed in surgical scrubs but didn?t wear a mask. Things were surreal; I was an actress in a movie so preposterous it should have been fiction.

I tentatively approached Ruth, touched her arm and spoke. ?Hi Ruth, I?m here. How are you?? She turned her head towards me, eyes unfocused. ?It hurts,? she moaned, breathless. She turned her head to the anesthesia nurse and asked for more painkillers. I fidgeted, awkward and clueless. Should I massage her arm or gently stroke her hair? Should I distract her with jokes or reassure her as the doctor did me when I was in labor? Should I keep my hands to myself and merely stand next to her silently? ?Let me know if you need anything, Ruth,? I finally said. She didn?t respond. The doctors and nurses swiftly performed their job. They explained the procedure as they went. ?We?re going to make the incision. Can you feel anything Ruth?? Ruth muttered that she couldn?t feel any pain. I heard things on the other side of the sheet. I stood on my tiptoes and watched as best I could. Their arms moved around and performed what was routine to them but no less than amazing to me.

?Ruth, we?re going to deliver your baby now,? said the surgeon. I peered earnestly over the surgical drape, obsessed with seeing as much as possible. I forgot my role to assist and support Ruth. Instead, I witnessed the baby?s birth. She was a healthy-appearing, flushed infant covered in afterbirth, with a patch of hair plastered to her head. The doctor announced quite unnecessarily, ?It?s a girl,? and handed the infant to a nurse. I suddenly remembered Ruth, the whole reason I witnessed this miracle. I turned back to Ruth. Was she aware of giving birth in her narcotic-induced haze? She seemed focused on her discomfort and the next painkiller push. I smiled at her pallid face and squeezed her hand. ?You have another daughter, Ruth!?

Through a fog not induced by drugs, I heard someone ask if I wanted to cut the umbilical cord. I froze, dumbfounded. That?s not my job, that?s the father?s job!

Awestruck and surprisingly steady, I asked, ?Do you want me to cut the cord?

Her eyes met mine. She nodded and whispered, ?Yes.?

An understanding passed between us, and an unbreakable connection was made.

I approached the nurse, who waited patiently. I?d never cut an umbilical cord before. I?d never seen one still connected to the infant. I expected it to be brown and firm, a dried up stump like Eli had. To my surprise, it had a greenish hue, and was thick and twisted. As I cut through with the sterile scissors, I discovered it was soft and rubbery. I cut the cord and thoughts of disbelief raced through my head. I cannot believe I?m doing this? Afterwards, the doctors stitched up Ruth. ?It hurts,? she moaned. She got another dose of painkillers.

?Do you want to hold the baby?? A nurse stood to my left, holding the pink bundle of joy. My eyes widened and my hands shook. David should be the first to hold her, not me. ?Ruth?? I whispered. She conceded with a nod. I took the wrapped bundle in my arms, amazed that I had witnessed her birth. I turned to Ruth and proudly showed her her daughter, as though I was the father. ?Look Ruth, it?s your daughter. She?s beautiful!? I gently lowered the baby so Ruth could see her. Ruth looked at her briefly and then closed her eyes. When she didn?t open them again after a few seconds, I straightened up. The PA system played a faint lullaby of bells, symbolizing the newborn?s arrival. I gazed down at this perfect little package, enamored. She sucked on the edge of her tightly wrapped blanket. It reminded me of our kitten, Boogie, who did the same thing.

Then, without warning, I thought, You?d fit in good with us.

I jerked my head up, paranoid someone had heard what I was thinking. Where the hell did that come from?


You can follow Lynn on Twitter @LynnSollitto and check out her Facebook page here.