The Blood Pressure Monitor

I went to my podiatry appointment this morning. It’s the Monday after the time change, so I was a little groggy. And I felt the doctor was less chipper than usual, probably because he is also groggy. But, I left feeling completely out of sorts, and on the way home, I tried to decipher why.

It’s all for the most ridiculously mundane reason: I had my blood pressure taken, and I wasn’t prepared for it.

How silly is that?

I never even knew what good blood pressure numbers were before preeclampsia. I knew high blood pressure ran in my family but only in people older than 40. So, as a young, healthy person, I paid very little attention to it. I never even thought about it when I was pregnant with J. But, after the shock of preeclampsia with M, blood pressure cuffs give me the chills. They are revolting. The sounds they make take me right back to having my blood pressure taken every fifteen minutes. For days. Lie this way, turn that way, tip your body back, relax, don’t talk, try to rest and hope that the next reading is better. (How do you relax when you’re living by those numbers?!) Now, at a podiatry appointment a year later, someone pulls out a blood pressure cuff, and the fear absolutely floods me. I tried to make a joke about it to the nurse, but it sounded hollow. It really wasn’t funny at all.

The podiatry nurse has daughters born at 24 and 25 weeks, so during every appointment, we chat about how our preemies are doing. We talk about changes in our NICUs and what life is like with preemies and how people who haven’t lived it just have no idea. His youngest daughter recently started walking unassisted, he told me, and she’s two if I remember correctly.

I love conversations about preemies, because now it is my home. It is my world. And I rejoice in it.

But, the stupid blood pressure monitor? I wanted to fling it off of the highest building, which is pretty unfair because it’s not really its fault I have such terrible associations with it.

M helped me make peace with so much of the NICU trauma that I don’t have many triggers, and I guess until this morning I didn’t realize the power the blood pressure monitor has over me.

I talked to the nurse about his triggers. He laughed about how the coffee pot when they first brought his daughter home sounded just like the alarm on her feeding pump. Get a hammer and kill it! But, it’s only a little bit funny.

Even walking into the podiatrist’s office is difficult. It’s on the same floor as my high-risk doctor’s office. When I park the car, I think of all the visits I made here. Each week, I had progesterone shots in the hopes that M’s journey would be different. (Well, it was but not in the way we’d hoped.)

Every time I drive downtown, I am a new mother again with a sick baby in the hospital. When I go to the town where my son’s school is all my memories are of his early years and how difficult they were. When we drive to the town where my son was born all I can think about is that night in the hospital when they couldn’t stop my labor. When I drive to visit my best friend from the NICU, I think of all the trips I made when all our kids were on lockdown and we only had each other.

From the first six weeks we lived here when J was born so suddenly until this moment, everything about this place has been about preemies. I know I can’t make up my mind because one day I say I don’t know how I’ll leave this part of our lives behind because it has changed everything, and today I’m saying the ghosts of the NICU are in every closet and I can’t get away from them.

We are moving this year to a place where the memories aren’t ever-present. They will be memories, not everyday reminders. While I’m sure I never want to forget all my babies’ firsts and while I’ll always hold dear the places that have made my children’s successes possible, I can’t help but think it is time to put all the visceral reminders in the past.

We can leave the house where we brought our tiny babies home. We can leave the cities where our babies were born. We can dust off the NICU cobwebs that seem to be sticking to us, and we can start fresh in a new place.

But, I am probably deceiving myself if I think I can ever look at a blood pressure monitor the same way. At least the next time I see one, I’ll be better prepared.

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