“I can’t close my eye.”
I lift from my pillow and look over at her. Her eye is puffy and red. Her face is awash with fear.
“What’s happening to me?” she asks.
I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening to her.
What I do know is that her mouth barely moved when she spoke. What I do know is that I am worried.
We call the midwives, who urge us to go to the hospital. We go.
Hospitals are so strange. Simultaneously sterile and sickly, I find myself using sanitizer every two minutes. I don’t like that my wife is here. I don’t like the idea of her getting sick or the baby getting sick. I also don’t like what is happening. I don’t understand what is happening, but I know that I don’t like it.
One half of my wife’s face is completely paralyzed. She can’t blink and she can’t move her mouth. One eyebrow lifts slightly higher than the other—the left side of her face alert, the right, drooping.
We are called into triage where a friendly man asks my wife what is happening. She can’t talk. I explain how yesterday her ear hurt. Her ear still feels clogged. Her head hurts and last night her mouth started to tingle. Today, terror.
He asks her to squeeze his fingers, to press her knees up against his resistance, to kick her feet. Good, good, good. Most likely not a stroke. We breathe a collective sigh of relief. So what is going on?
We are escorted to a room. We wait. The waiting is both frustrating and a relief. If they aren’t treating this as urgent, maybe it isn’t so serious. I send a quick text to update friends and family. My wife reclines on the bed, sits up, stretches, paces. She’s anxious, and this clinical setting is doing nothing to allay her fears. “I’m so glad we’re not planning to birth in a hospital,” she says.
Eventually a doctor comes in. Thank goodness.
“Bell’s Palsy,” he finally proclaims after examining her. “We have no idea what causes it. It usually goes away on its own, but we have some meds that might help. I have to check and see if they’re safe for pregnancy, though.” He leaves the room.
Our heads are spinning. Bell’s Palsy? Out of all the complications we feared, this was not one of them. Neither of us know very much about it. At least it isn’t a stroke, we tell ourselves. At least it’s not Lyme. At least they’re not forcing us into an emergency C-section. At least.
The doctor comes back in the room with a clipboard. He tells us about the medication he’s prescribing. He tells us that facial function may return in six months to two years. Two years. The words hang in the air like smoke.
We leave the hospital and head to the pharmacy. We drop of my wife’s prescription. We pick up an eye patch. We start driving out to pick up our farm share. My wife cries silently beside me. I know this is not what she had hoped, not what she imagined. She’s in pain, she’s in disbelief. She’s unable to use half of her face.
Next day, we head to Northampton, Massachusetts to get my wife a prenatal massage. We tell the massage therapist about the Bell’s Palsy. We tell her we hear it’s more common in pregnancy. She tells us that in the twenty years she’s been offering prenatal massage, this was the first she’d heard of it. She tells my wife she’s afraid she’ll fall off the table due to lack of depth perception. Then she tells my wife to relax. Right, I think. Because this conversation has been really relaxing.
I walk around town while my wife gets massaged. Northampton is known as a lesbian haven, and I pick up a cute onesie that reads: Proud of my moms. I browse a few more shops then head back to pick her up from her massage so we can browse together. The difference between walking the streets alone and walking with her is striking. I can feel her distress and embarrassment. She struggles with whether to wear the eyepatch as her increase in physical comfort directly corresponds with her increase in emotional discomfort. I sense her anxiety as we walk. I sense the eyes of others, darting toward her then darting away. Mind your own business, I think. I hold her hand tighter.
We head home and decide to beat the heat with a dip in our local river at the dam where the water pools. When we arrive, my wife panics. The shore was teeming with children. “They won’t bother us,” I assure her. She apprehensively follows me to the water. She dips in.
For a moment, I can see her relief. For a moment, I watch as the cool water washes away her stress. I smile. She looks back at me through her non-eyepatch eye. It’s impossible to hear over the roar of the rushing water spilling over the dam, so she signs “sorry” and “I love you.” I sign back, “I love you, too. You’re beautiful.”
Just then, a pre-teen boy runs over. “I like your eye patch, pirate lady!” he shouts. Embarrassment floods over me. I’m appalled. “You need a sword!” Before I can do anything, the boy chucks a stick at my wife, runs to a nearby rock, and crows like Peter Pan.
I look over at my wife, thinking she will break down, worried she will start sobbing and that I will be unable to help her in any meaningful way. But she doesn’t cry. She just stares.