I remember that I was hugely pregnant and tired of the whole thing. My feet were swollen and my hips hurt. I was also tired of trying to keep my house immaculate as I prepared for what I thought would be my third homebirth. I had given birth at home the first time in 1995 and had a gorgeous 10-pound ounce boy. In 1998, I gave birth in my living room to my fourth son, a sweet boy who weighed 9 pounds 8 ounces. So I felt like an old hand at this homebirth thing. All the mystery and drama had been played out for me. I felt comfortable at home and other than trying to bolster my spirits for what I knew lay ahead in labor, I was mostly ready.
A few weeks earlier, I had learned that my sister-in-law, Helen had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She was only 45 and this diagnosis stunned Mr. Pete and me. I had determined then and there that I was going to try and offer up my labor pains for the special intention of healing for my sister-in-law. I had never attempted doing anything like that before, but I felt called to make sure that this special suffering be put to extra good use.
So the day came and I was finally in labor. The house was in relatively good order considering four little boys ages 1 to 10 lived there. The doctor who had delivered me the year before was coming back for this baby too and I felt comfort in that. I had receiving blankets and even had the baby book. I just wanted to get on with it. There was one little problem that was nagging at my mind. The baby had not engaged into my pelvis by my last examination. All of my previous babies had been down and low when labor started, but this little one was not. Nonetheless, I felt that maybe that was because I was older and once labor started the baby would move down as the others did. Wanting to avoid another post-dates ultrasound to the tune of $200, I was more persistent in trying to get this labor going. Still, I was a week past my due date which was not unusual for me at all.
My three older boys had seen their little brother be born the year before. Frankly, they were bored with the whole labor thing. They had a chance to go over to a friend’s house and play and they were excited about it. When my friends showed up to get them, off they went. My mom left also taking baby Noah. It was just Mr. Pete and me with my doula, Kathy, and Dr. S. What a strange feeling it was for me not to have any of my children in the house.
I labored okay. I spent a lot of time in the tub with hot water trying to deal with contractions. I walked around and did some squatting. My labor was progressing taking it’s usual leisurely time. Mr. Pete kept reminding me of Philippians 4:13 as I had asked him. I tried to remember Helen between contractions. I am not very good at suffering. I hoped that my efforts were somehow helpful to her. When my water broke and it had some meconium staining, but my doctor was not concerned. The heart rate was good and I was making progress. Because the membranes were broken, I could not get back into the bathtub. I was trying to find ways to deal with labor as the contractions got stronger. Dr. S even reminded me that I had wanted my baby to be born on the 22nd because my husband and two of my sons have births on the 22nd of their birth months. I think he thought that would hurry me along. It is not like I could control it. I was hoping to be pushing before midnight, but I could not trust that I would be.
Around10:30 or so Dr. S wanted to check the fetal heart tones. What he heard concerned him. There were some decelerations. He asked me if he could check my cervix and I was definitely ready for that. I was starting to feel like pushing and I wanted to know how much longer I had to go. I sat down and he put his hand into the birth canal. The look on his face made my heart freeze. There was something terribly wrong.
“Oh no,” he said.
“What!? What’s wrong.” My heart was racing.
“The cord has prolapsed. We’re going to have to call the paramedics.”
I just sat there trying to understand what was happening to me. Intellectually I knew, but I had to hear it.
“Am I going to have to have a C-section?”
He nodded. I could not believe it. In an instant I learned that my baby was in mortal danger, my plans for a homebirth were gone, I would need major surgery and all that went with that including pain, recovery, and a whopping debt.. Would I have time for an anesthetic? And how were we ever going to pay for this? I wanted to just go lock myself in the bathroom and push the baby out by myself. But I did not want to hurt my baby. I wanted to give this child every chance at a normal life that I could.
I got off of the couch, put my chest on the floor, and raised my hips and butt into the air as high as I could go take the pressure off of the umbilical cord, my child’s lifeline. I started to pray an imaginary rosary. I was no longer offering up contractions, I was instead praying for mercy. Mercy for my baby, and for me. And as I lay there on my living room floor in this less than ladylike posture, I felt a peaceful calmness come over me. I was afraid, but not panicked, concerned but not overwrought. In a strange way, I felt courageous.
Peter called 911 and I heard Dr. S. tell them what was going on and what we were going to need. Almost immediately, I heard the sirens start up and head in my direction. My heart was racing but the more I repeated the Hail Mary, the more I felt that everything was going to work out.
The paramedics came and the fetal heart tones were good.. We were at the hospital in under 10 minutes. I kept my eyes closed most of the time. I was somewhat concerned that my backside was covered and I asked Mr. Pete to make sure that it was. Still I know the sheet slipped a few times. It was a little embarrassing.. My personal glimpse of the 10th station of the cross.
Once we got there, I was taken into an exam room. A doctor there had to determine whether or not I really had a cord prolapse. He came over and introduced himself and told me what he had to do. For a second I opened my eyes. He was wearing a gold cross around his neck. That was another defining moment for me. I do not remember that doctor’s name, or what he looked like. I only remember that gold cross and feeling again that there was a plan to all of this and that I should just trust in that.
I had to go into the operating room alone They took off my nightgown. I never saw it again. They opened my legs to put in a catheter and I had a huge urge to push. They started yelling at me, “Don’t push!!.” Any woman who has ever experienced natural labor will tell you that opening up her legs during a contraction and tell her not to push is like asking a freight train to stop on a dime. It ain’t gonna happen. After that I was out.
I remember waking up in great pain. A doctor told me that I had a daughter. The next day they told me that my daughter had had an APGAR of 1, and that she was very, very sick. They didn’t know what kind of problems she was going to have. She was also in a special nursery and they could not bring her to me.
I do not handle C-section pain well. The trauma of my surgery plus the mental trauma of what had happened so suddenly made it very difficult for me to function. But with Mr. Pete’s help I willed myself to sit in a wheel chair and go see my baby. She was in the NICU. She weighed 10 pounds 12 ounces and looked so out of place with all of the other really tiny babies in the unit. She filled up her bassinette with not an inch to spare! She was beautiful, pink and looked fine to me. The nurse however, did not want me to get my hopes up. She said it could be days, weeks or months before she would get out of there. “She almost died you know.”
Because she was “so sick” they put a tube into her nose to start feeding her. She pulled the tube out. They tried it again, and again she pulled the tube out They tried restraining her, but her vitals became upset so they just told me to start nursing her. She latched on immediately. I did not think she was so sick.
Mr. Pete had to go and be with the other children. The rest of the day, I struggled to get from the bed, to the wheel chair and move myself down to the nursery to nurse her. No one helped me. I felt that the nurses were mocking me in a way. I was the stupid homebirth mom, after all. I felt punished. Maybe for me that was just an iota of a glimpse of what the road to Calvary was like. I try to think of that every Good Friday since then.
Every time I went to see my little girl, she latched on right away and I nursed her until I was too tired to sit up any more. I worked my way back to my room and back into bed. I did that every two hours and through the night.
The next morning they brought her to me to room in. It appears that despite the low APGARs, she was fine, hungry, filling diapers and taking up room they needed for a really sick baby. She was mine and I have had her ever since.
I pondered many of the events of Isadora’s birth since then. I often wondered if because I offered to offer up my labor, that I was given an extra dose of suffering to deal with. I do not know. If so, I am not sure that I handled that well. I did not remember my sister-in-law again until I got home and immediately I tried to offer up a lot of the recovery pain. However, in the midst of it I was thinking of just living through it. I could see God’s hand in getting my children out so that they would not be afraid or traumatized. I could even see God’s hand in having my doctor at the homebirth and even at the hospital. What ever happened to traumatize her I am convinced happened in the OR, probably with those pushing contractions when I was transferred to my back. Yet God got both of us through it. I do not know if that experience was something I needed, or if there is something that she will need in the future that this experience helped set the stage for.
Yesterday, Isadora turned 7. She is beautiful and bright, friendly and loving. I have not really shared too much of her birth story with her. I do not want her to grow up to be afraid to have babies, or to worry too much about it. I probably will downplay it until she is much much older. But the part of her story I want to emphasize to her was how in the midst of it, knowing how to pray the rosary was so helpful to me, even when I didn’t have the actual beads with me. In addition, I want to tell her about the sign of the cross that was there for me, encouraging me and reminding me that I was not alone. It was a very special birthday. For Isadora, all of them will be very special birthdays!
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