Scars remind us where we've been. They don't have to dictate where we're going

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Melissa's Birth of Max

Today, I am going to share what has become one of my absolute most favorite birth stories.  Melissa was a mother in my due month club on Mothering.  Her son was born at 43 weeks in the most unexpected way--but the way he absolutely needed to be born.  His mother's wisdom, grace and courage during, and after, his birthing time is a pretty amazing thing to behold.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do.

43 weeks...  Birth story.

My baby was due on the 30th of Dec 2010.  Of course I had told everyone that he was due on New Year's Eve, so everyone in town knew.   By mid Jan I had stopped going out and my husband screened my calls.  Even then, he lost it one day when my otherwise caring friend started telling him about how much danger our baby was in because we were not inducing.  I had done all the tests, baby was fine, my mother was known for very long pregnancies, and I was in great health so we were trying not to worry.  But the social pressure did not help with what felt like Groundhog Day, almost every night for 6 weeks (we were originally worried I would go 3 weeks early!) I had been getting practice contractions, and then every morning I would wake up again, still pregnant.  It was a lesson in something more than just patience I assure you. 

On the 18th I told my husband Ron that we were having a sunrise baby and that was that.  I did not allow myself to think otherwise.  That evening we went for our daily walk, a beautiful stroll through the countryside.  The sunset was stunning and we felt great peace and joy.  I started noticing some pressure cramps, they were different to other things that I had felt.  And they were rhythmic, happening every 5 minutes or so.  They were not uncomfortable, but we were excited.  We went home and I was busy writing up some natural birth notes (so to help myself keep defending natural birth!) when Ron came to me at about 10pm and said that we should get our rest as it looked like it could be a big night.  I stood up.  I felt a rush of fluid down my legs.  Ron noticed the look on my face. "I think my waters have broken" I said and we exchanged looks of excitement.  He looked down.  That was the moment everything changed.  "It is blood" he said.  I looked down, and at my feet a dark, accusing pool of blood was forming.  My heart smashed into the ground alongside it and I ran to the bathroom, just 10 feet away, leaving a trail of fast blood over the carpet and a shocking red trail splashed over the white tiles.  My pants were drenched in seconds, I just stepped out of them and stood over the toilet, blood gushing.  My heart was screeching "You've lost the baby!  OH MY GOD YOU HAVE LOST THE BABY! Everyone was right, you were wrong!!! You lost the baby!" Hysteria quickly rose and threatened to engulf me.  I knew suddenly that I had to be very, very calm. 

Within minutes we had called my midwife and were out the door.  I had some things in the car in case we had a hospital birth, but everything else was on a list.  It would have taken me 5 minutes to gather it all.  I never expected that I would not even have that time.  I ran out of the house, no pants on, just a few towels swathed between my legs.  The bleeding lessened when I was sitting in the car thankfully.  We called an ambulance to meet us at the next town, about 45 minutes away, halfway to the hospital.  With that amount of bleeding we were not sure what would happen to me, or what Ron would do about it if he were driving.  The ambulance met us on the main street of this little town in the middle of the night.  I was bundled out of the car into the ambulance.  I still did not have any pants but of course that did not matter any more. 

The ambulance ladies were wonderful.  They could not find a heartbeat in the vehicle but were wonderful at reassuring me that everything was fine.  They said they would all stay with me until we heard the baby's heart beat.

I was wheeled into the hospital. My midwife was there, and here assistant and the other late night staff.  They seemed to want to fuss and do things like take my blood pressure.  "Get the doppler!  Get the doppler!" I kept screeching, the irony of which was not lost on me as I had avoided the thing during my whole pregnancy, making my midwife use the pinard horn instead.  Mercifully the doppler was produced.  The gel was on my tummy.  It started to roll around, looking, looking.  Time seemed to freeze.  No one was breathing.  That awful dark hysteria that I had managed to suppress earlier started thrashing about from its prison walls, long tendrils ready to escape and engulf me forever.  "Oh please no...  please not this, not this..." Silence........

Then, "Thump thump.  Thump thump"  I have never heard such a beautiful sound.  The terror and horror suddenly dissolved and I cried for joy.  My tears were not the only ones in the room. 

It was late at night and after an ultrasound the OB said he would deal with us the next day.  He could not find a cause for the bleeding or the fist sized clot that fell out of me.  He needed to do another ultrasound with a full bladder as he could not see all of my placenta.  We were given a room and told to rest.  Of course, this is difficult in a hospital but we managed a little fitful sleep.

The next day was intense.  The nurses kept wanting to monitor me, they would get their "20 minutes only," but there would be some bump at the end and they would want to do it again and again.  I started to stress terribly.  Here I was in an environment that I hated and feared.  I knew my baby was alive, but I felt powerless to deliver it myself, and powerless to protect it from this horrible invasive medical world that I usually ran from.  Another ultrasound was scheduled for the afternoon so I decided that Ron should go home and grab our things.  It was a bad decision as as soon as he and my midwife were gone the other nurses started to descend on me.  They really did deliberately wait until my midwife had gone, an independent who would defend a woman's personal choice about her birth.  One nurse came in demanding constant monitoring.  As she needed a 20 minute activity pattern I asked if she could come back later as the baby was asleep now and I needed to get some rest before the afternoon tests.  She stormed out.  The OB from the night before came in.  He started by playing good cop and asked what my problem was with the monitoring.  Let's say he came from a place where women are not expected to question men.  Quickly he turned into bad cop.  I was polite, I always am, but I knew what I thought and explained to him my concerns and the studies that I had read to support this.  He was extremely patronising and rattled on for a while including such statements as "you may have read some studies, but you have not been in medicine for 17 years as I have and you could not possibly understand the metascience of it all..."  By that time I was so overtired and overwrought that all I could do was repeat my request to have the machine hooked up, and when the baby started moving I would turn it on myself and get the 20 minutes of activity, I could see no reason just to leave the thing on for no reason....  He agreed then, and strode out. 

Finally my midwife and husband were back, apparently the 3 OBs had had a disagreement about who would NOT get me as their patient.  Fortunately the one who agreed to take me was a sweet and gentle man.  He did the next ultrasound and found that I had a partial placenta previa, a kidney shaped placenta which is why it would have been missed from earlier tests.  However I could still try for a vaginal birth if I wanted to. I was given some choices: we could start a prostaglandin gel induction, but if there was any more bleeding, it would be a general anaesthetic  and an immediate emergency csection.  Or I could just sign up for the csection now; I would get a spinal and be conscious for the whole thing.  I was scared of the general, worried about its effect on the baby and breastfeeding.  There would go skin to skin and any memory of the birth.  And I had seen all that blood.  My husband and I looked at each other and thought the same thing.  If there were that much blood from such mild contractions, what would serious contractions do?  We were leaning toward the csection.  However the OB came in, gel in hand, helpful nurses in tow.  I was going to say wait...I think I should sign up...   But he busied himself and gave me an internal exam.  "The baby still has not descended," he announced. He said our chances of a successful induction were almost nil.  He would recommend the csection...  He would go and get the operating team ready....  I nodded, numb, resigned, exhausted...

When we were alone in our room, tears flowed.  I just could not believe that it had come to this.  All the healthy food, exercise, positive thinking and research had not worked.  I could not believe that I was here, unable to give birth myself, unable to protect my little one from interventions, unable to give him or her the beautiful dreamy homebirth and wonderful start to life.  I could not believe that I needed medical help.  I had been so excited to experience birth, the strength, the intensity, the wonder of it all.  Now I was just terrified that I was about to have an operation.  All I could do was cry.  I tried to be brave but couldn't.  I could just cry.  

Finally I gathered myself and rewrote my birth plan.  Gone were all the lovely ideas.  I scribbled them out and condensed it to 3 on the back of the paper.  I wanted immediate skin to skin, delayed cord clamping and to find out the sex myself.  My midwife took my request to the OB and returned.  Rejected.  Two of them. I could have the baby for skin to skin after a 2 minute checkup though and  I could find out the sex myself.  So I would get one thing.  It was down to one.        

Ok, so catheterised, shaved and gowned it was time. Of course, the first thing the anaesthetist said as he entered the theatre was "Ok, so we are delivering a baby boy here today!" My midwife did not miss a beat and corrected him "Oh no, we don't know what the sex of the baby is yet..."  But I knew it was a boy in my heart so I was not surprised, although I was a little amused.  That irony thing again.   

My husband was grey.  He usually has the most beautiful olive skin but he had taken on a grey green pallor.  He told me later that when I had started haemorrhaging he thought instantly that we had lost the baby.  Ok, he decided, he would deal with that.  But he could not bear to lose me and the night before he thought that he might.  We stared at each other and tried to be as comforting to the other as we could.  The beautiful thing about the operation was gazing into his eyes as we talked, chatted and tried to joke, trying to make the best of the situation that we could.   Finally the baby was delivered.  There was no crying.  The nurses were all chatty.  After 5 minutes I called out "your 2 minutes have passed!  Is there a problem?...."  Well there had been, but they reassured me that it would not be much longer.... 

Finally the most beautiful little boy was put on my chest.  He had dark eyes and and an amazing mop of hair.  I had heard that newborn babies could be ugly but he was beautiful, such dark eyes, such wise eyes.  He started to feed right away and I was so happy.   My husband looked dazed and amazed and was holding so tenderly to me.    

We were taken back to our room and my midwife helped Ron to bathe him, the poor little guy had gone through a lot and was covered with blood and goop and meconium.  He relaxed so beautifully when he was put in the water, it was a wonderful thing to see.

We started to feel happy.  He slept on my chest that night and was not separated from me at all.  Ron had to leave that night but was back the next day.  I stayed in the hospital for 4 days, they wanted to keep me there due to all the bleeding.  It was a lovely hospital, I had a room with ocean views and all the nurses were sweet. That helped a lot with the healing.  On one hand I was incredibly in love with this amazing little person, and on the other hand I was still in shock from the drama of it all.  That shock was felt more when I came home, I alternated between happiness for my little boy, and tears.  Lots more tears.  I was so disappointed that I had not had a natural birth. I was sad for myself and for my baby.   In some ways it was like training for a marathon, I had studies hypnobabies and everything else that I thought might help, I was so ready for the challenge of the race, but then, suddenly, it was cancelled.  I was handed my trophy and told to go home.  I expected to become a mother through this incredible rite of passage, a challenge that would leave me feeling powerful and victorious.  Instead I felt weak and in pain and broken.  

For a long time I could not look at the photos of the operation.  I could not read other people's natural birth stories.  To me birth was this sacred special thing, kind of like a wedding day.  I told myself it was ok to feel disappointed that this special day had not turned out.  I was also in shock, I really had believed that everything was fine, that birth really was natural, normal, healthy and safe.  But mine was not. I was getting a reality check.  I needed medical intervention and I knew intellectually I was lucky that I got it.  But emotions are funny things and I was all mixed up. 

I found out later that the cord had been wrapped around Max's neck three times, in such a way that it would have knotted and killed him had I managed to birth vaginally.  Very rare, said my gentle obstetrician, but he is thankful that I bled because then we were able to save the baby.  We would not have known otherwise. Max was shocked by the delivery  and had an agpar score of 2 but he quickly recovered. Other than that, he did not look overcooked, his skin was beautiful even though there was not a trace of vernix left.  My placenta was patchy, but not bad. He was 20 days overdue if you calculate from ovulation date, or 23 days if you calculate from the my last menstrual period. 

I was lucky.  It is lucky that I did not consent to an induction, it is lucky that I haemorrhaged, it is lucky that help was there when I needed it.  But most of all, we were lucky to have a beautiful, live baby boy.  And lucky to have a live mama.  I was terrified by all the things that almost went wrong, but they didn't.  I was lucky.  It took a little while for all of this to catch up to my head, but the smiles of my beautiful baby helped.  I am so deeply, powerfully and  overwhelmingly in love with him.  Love has become the rite that has transformed me into a mother. 

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