Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A story of two births Part I

I do have to go back in time a bit for this birth story; not to go into excruciating detail about how I discovered homebirth and how I never saw myself as the type.

No, I’m the type.

I’ve always been the type.

I have to go back to tell you about another birth, the one that happened two years, two days and eight hours before this one.

I had five beautiful kids and while I considered having more, I was pretty focused on getting back into shape. I spent my life as a fit, size one but after five children I had evolved into something that barely squeezed (and I mean squeezed, because I would not wear a fourteen) into a twelve. So if I was going to have more it was going happen after I lost ten more pounds.

Then something really weird started happening.

All my life I’d had these sort of “psychic” moments. Nothing too dramatic, just a few odd things; I would occasional hear someone’s thoughts. Once in a great a while I’d have a dream that would unfold a few days later in real life. It was always something unbelievably mundane and meaningless.

Once I was so very excited to find a Pinesol type cleaner that was potpourri scented. An hour later my husband called to ask me, “What the hell is potpourri?” and why hasn’t he been able to get the word out of his head for the last hour.

I often dubbed myself the World’s most useless psychic.  If nothing important were to happen that day, I would the first to know the details of it.

But overnight the events went from three, four times a year to several times a week. It was very strange, even for me.

And then I realized I hadn’t had a period in forever.

I was pregnant, almost twelve weeks. I had been so busy I just didn’t notice. With all my other pregnancies I had been waiting to be far enough along for a pregnancy test to even work. I always knew. This one had crept up on me.

My best friend in the entire world was a midwife. For my past pregnancies she had flown all over the country to help birth my kids. She retired because she was battling breast cancer but had still driven three and a half hours in the night to deliver my youngest son.

She was so so thrilled to find I was pregnant again. She was in no shape to deliver a baby but was determined to be there for it. A deeply spiritual person; Kay believed strongly that the door to generations before was wide open during a birth.

For months we made plans. My wonderful Montana midwife, Marcy (the same midwife who delivered my fourth baby) was more than willing to deliver this baby while my friend, Kaye, helped in anyway she could.

Kaye’s condition worsened quite a bit over those months. We decided we would rent a motor home and her partner could drive. They could set up in our yard, we had plenty of room. I’d have the baby there, in the motor home.

Kaye was determined to be there for this birth. Her family told how she did everything she could think of to keep strong.

Meanwhile, as my pregnancy continued so did this strange psychic phenomenon. I’d dream some silly scene, just some person pushing a cart across a store while the cashier announced something on the PA . The next day it would happen in front of me. But along with all this trivial stuff came something else; an unending sense of forebode.

I could not imagine this pregnancy ending well.

I tried really hard to figure out why I felt this way (and tried harder to ignore the idea it might simply be a premonition). My first thought was that after five perfect pregnancies and five super easy births, maybe I felt I was pushing my luck. I was 38 years old. Two of my friends who had this many children also experienced (including Kaye) a stillbirth. I reasoned that this, this was why I felt this way.

Kaye often talked of pregnancy being the walk through the valley in the shadow of death; that you were a bridge between worlds. I know a lot of this came from her own experience. She had been carrying twins when one stopped moving. She gave her still alive baby three more weeks in her womb so he could have the time he needed, and then induced herself, six weeks early.

We talked a little about birth and death being intertwined.

Kaye felt as strongly about death as she did birth. She would not numb herself, she didn’t want to miss any time she had left to foggy, dulled thinking.

I did not tell her about this sense of dread I carried because she carried so much of her own.

I did tell my Montana midwives. Marcy set up a thorough ultrasound at the hospital to put me at ease. They checked for everything imaginable. Everything was absolutely perfect.

We made a trip from Montana to Las Vegas while I was in my 28th week.  In Vegas, we spent some time with Kaye. She wanted to feel my belly. Her arms and hands were swollen and huge; one arm was almost unusable from her non functioning lymph nodes. Two people helped her stand while her daughter filmed what everyone knew to be her last prenatal.

After we left, she told her daughter she couldn’t trust her own hands because they were so swollen but she felt something wasn’t right.

By the time we made it back to Montana I was 30 weeks along. I realized that my own fear had kept me from bonding with my baby. I was still unable to visualize the birth and focus on it like I had always done at this point in pregnancy, but I at least felt I needed to visualize my baby. I hadn’t even begun to prepare for her. So I forced myself to remedy that. I found a car seat on eBay and ordered a bouncer seat online. I picked up a few more baby clothes. While standing in the Salvation Army, I heard someone’s newborn baby cry. At that moment, I almost cried myself.  I imagined that sound coming from my own baby. I imagined nursing her and looking into her eyes. Just hearing that baby’s beautiful cry had allowed me to really intellectualize that I was going to have a baby. This baby was alive and kicking. Everything in the ultrasound had been perfect. Her heartbeat was perfect (I was calling the baby her at this point because I felt it was a girl, but we hadn’t checked). And soon, I convinced myself, I would be hearing that beautiful sound from my own baby.

I stood in that stupid thrift store aisle between a broken organ with twenty thousand “do not play” signs and a row of stretched out bras and fell in love.

I held onto that feeling. I couldn’t seem to stop the sense of dread and fear but I could push passed it and remember how much I loved my baby. I went in for a prenatal and again everything was perfect. By the next check up it would be time to order my birth kit.

I was at 32 weeks. My little boy laid his head on my belly to talk to the baby like he did every night. She kicked back a little like she always did. He drifted off to sleep and so did I.

I awoke about an hour later to the hardest kicking I have ever felt. I told myself everything was fine. Only a crazy person thinks a baby kicking hard is a bad sign but down inside I knew those would be her last kicks.  I fell into a deep deep sleep.

Later that day we would go in to check on her because she hadn’t moved. It would all play out like I had seen in my head a million times. No heartbeat from the Doppler, off to the hospital, no heart beat on the ultrasound. It took two weeks and two attempts to get labor started; I just wasn’t ready to let her go.

I had never had a hospital birth or a hospital anything before. They had me on Cytotec, Pitocin, a ton of IVs. And I really didn’t give a f**k. I didn’t take any pain meds. I wanted to be there for it all. I didn’t want to give anything less to her than I gave my others.

I didn’t want doctors and nurses around my baby. I’m still not sure how it happened but somewhere in that time span, the room sort of cleared out. I think the doctors and nurses didn’t know enough about a natural birth (at least pain wise natural) to understand that the baby was about to be born. My midwives Marcy and Carrie walked in then to visit and check on us. The baby came then with one small push. Caught by midwives while the staff were strangely gone from the room.

Kaye was on the phone through a lot of it. She was devastated. She had been living for this birth. She reminded me that I would want to take time with my baby; to look at her and look at her as long as I could. And so we did. We spent hours with her. But it wasn’t enough.

It will never be enough.

Because at the end, we still had to hand her over to the morgue people and at the end my three year old couldn’t understand why we left our baby at the hospital.

A few weeks later my due date came, and a few days after that, Kay died in her sleep.

We kept ourselves very busy for the net year. We signed our kids up for tons of sports, scouting, and every second of summer was some type of out door activity. After the summer we moved form town to a place in the country. I needed the change of scenery. We grew a garden, had chickens, staying busy was the thing.

I still wasn’t able to be around an infant though. It set off an almost PTSD reaction. My youngest who was three when the baby died (Sonora Rain was her name) couldn’t watch or read anything with a baby in it without crying.

This weird psychic thing was still going on a year or so later and then suddenly it stopped. I realized it had been forever since a dream or daydream had come true. I couldn’t remember when I’d picked up on someone’s thoughts last.

It was a beautiful summer day, just before the fourth of July when I discovered I was pregnant again.

And this time it felt wonderful. There was no sense of dread. I was certainly scared but more in a gun shy sort of way instead of the ominous sensation that had followed me with the last pregnancy.

After almost twenty years of marriage and endless gypsy roving we bought our first (and last!) house. Moving was quite an adventure. We are practically an army. We had a blast one upping our game of “What’s the most redneck thing you’ve ever done?”. This move brought on so many hillbilly opportunities. In the end, we decided that moving the chicken coop full of chickens, miles down the road was the topper. Extra credit was given when the neighbors’ peacocks ran down the road the whole way behind it. 

I nested like crazy. I planned and overspent and over-organized. I bought cloth diapers because, I reasoned, we lived so far out in the country, but really it was because they were all so pretty. I watched a million YouTube videos on cloth diapering. I exhausted every home birth story available on line (if your story says homebirth in the tile- I have read it) occasionally running into one of my own stories and sometimes not recognizing them until halfway through. 

I was positive this baby was a boy. We chose Justice for the name either way (but this was definitely a boy).

I ordered everything I could possibly need. When it came time for my birth kit I agonized where to set up. I washed and re-washed baby clothes.

About 38 weeks in we thought we would go in for another ultrasound just to be sure (we had had one a while back as well). We live over an hour from our midwives (the same ones who caught Sonora, this birth would be closure and healing for them, as well). We were thinking of giving my body a nudge to labor just before my due date (I usually go over by a week or more) while they waited at my house for something to happen. I have history of ridiculously short labors. Even if I called right away, had I gone into labor naturally, an hour might not be enough time. 

This ultrasound would let us know if the position was good and, if so, we could then start evening primrose oil (to soften my cervix).
The ultrasound tech was a bit gruff and hostile (toward homebirth, I believe) and a bit scared because of my history. She said the water was far too low. My placenta wasn’t doing its job. The baby was small and wasn’t showing the deep breathing pattern she liked to see. I looked over to see tears running down five year olds cheek. 

Midwife Marcy called in her favorite doc. The doc had spoken with the tech. and it seemed dire to all of us. I wondered if my baby was OK. Had my failing placenta already harmed him?  We did the non stress test. The doc seemed a bit muddled, as all seemed perfect to her. She said to go home for now, but come back in two days to check again and possibly start labor. This would not be a home birth unless I went into labor within two days on my own. I knew this would not happen.

I felt like I was caught up in  a whirlwind of fear and this desperate sensation of wanting a baby that I would never have. At the very least I would have a hospital birth. I had spent this entire pregnancy reassuring my now five year old that this birth would be nothing like the last one, that there would be no hospital, no doctors, he would never be separate from me. He could hold my hand the entire time and then he could hold the baby’s live wiggling hand. But now we were looking at induction of my very stubborn cervix two weeks prior to my due date and at least three weeks before I would normally give birth. I was not at all convinced that induction would work. Even if the baby (a big if) were alive and healthy, at the very least I was going get hacked and possibly separated from my baby and I was going to break my promise to my already traumatized five year old.

Two days later after having torn apart my home birth station, I did what I have never done before. I packed a hospital bag. Car seat in the car, nightgown, toothbrush; I wasn’t sure what to bring, in seventeen years of babies it never crossed my mind. I grabbed some baby things and also unearthed the “Welcome with Love” home birth storybook. I promptly threw it against the wall.

We met our midwife at the doctor's office where she would do her own ultrasound and non-stress test.

I noticed immediately that her demeanor was considerably more relaxed than two days ago. She had since gone over the ultrasound pics herself and found them not dire but  inconclusive. She then ran her own scans and found the water to be a little higher than average. Then baby’s hear beat was perfect. His breathing pattern was perfect. He was a good sized kid.  And he was busy playing with his toes. You’d swear someone nudged him and whispered act casual. This was not a baby in a life threatening situation.

And then the doctor said this,

“I see no reason why you couldn’t still have a home birth.”

I could have sobbed with relief and I did but I waited until we got to the car. All of us, my husband, all my kids, we just sat in the car and soaked it in.  We were all smiling with relief

She still wanted to see me have this baby by the due date as the risks go up quite a bit after the date at my advanced age (can you just feel my disdain for that term in the italics?).

At 39 weeks and 3 days the midwife crew showed up with every midwifery/witchcraft/medicinal /herbal concoction known or imagined or once thought of to possibly start labor.

And so that afternoon we began

Every 15 minutes I was trying something else.  I kept walking. I kept taking herbs. I’d get a few contractions here and there but nothing too real. My cervix was opening and softening a little. That evening I felt a pop that almost seemed audible.

Oh, I know that sound, mucus plug and water all in one pop. Well, this was good, it meant that all these herbs were doing something, but now it meant yet another clock ticking threat. It meant I had to get into established labor within a certain number of hours. I didn’t even ask how many, but I knew the drill, if the bottle of castor oil comes out, I’ll know I’m approaching deadline time. 

Everyone started getting tired.

We all went to bed for a bit.