I've read quite a few birth stories lately. They're all different yet much the same, and all magical and freakin' miraculous that women can survive that sort of thing. - Recently, a woman close to me, out of her own deep pain and without thinking, spat the venomous words at me, "You didn't give birth." - And I've come to ask myself, "A birth story, a birth story - Do I even have a birth story?" And I answer myself, "You had a baby didn't you? That's sort of the definition of birth. Obviously you have a birth story, self." So I thought I'd take a shot at writing Lana's "birth story," if for no other reason than to convince myself that there is indeed such a story. (Maybe someday Lana will be interested. More likely, she'll just say, "Eww, gross!")
Let's skip the pregnancy drama - at least everything that's not related to birth. That was some crazy stuff.
I've noticed a lot of birth stories begin with the mother's realization, "Oh! These must be contractions! I must be in labor." Not my story. Nope. No labor contractions allowed for me. I had vasa previa, which meant if I had had real labor contractions, Lana's umbilical cord would have detached and she would have died.
Let me clarify, lest you think I somehow magically skipped contractions altogether. At 19 weeks gestation - halfway done for those who don't count weeks - I had a laperoscopy. Following surgery, I began having Braxton Hicks contractions consistently. Oh fun. A Braxton Hicks contraction feels very much like flexing your abdominal muscles as tightly as you possibly can and then holding it for 30 seconds to two minutes (go ahead, try it guys; see how easy it is to breathe). Except that flex is unintentional, happens randomly - or, in my case, every three minutes or so - AND there's this large, moving someone inside those abs. Let's just say a timely kick during a contraction HURTS.
So instead of a few hours or days of contractions, I had four months. I am not unique in having Braxton Hicks though, so save your jaw-dropping for later.
I was hospitalized (again) at seven months - Thanksgiving Eve - for an ovariectomy. They sliced open my belly, reached around my four-pound baby, and cut out my right ovary. But the baby miraculously did fine. No birth yet. Next came the ICU for me until I could breathe again without support. No birth yet. Then came the explanation that it takes six weeks minimum to heal from that kind of surgery, but they had to do essentially the same thing in just four weeks to remove the baby (prematurely) so she didn't die. And they wanted to wait all four weeks, if at all possible, which it might not be, to give her the best chance for survival. No birth yet. I'd be living in a hospital room down the hall from the operating room for the next month - just in case.
Get as cozy as possible. But that wasn't really possible at all. Every day have a hundred tests, checks, injections, pricks, monitors, drugs, etc., etc. Wonder whether to make conversation with the nurses as they inspect my urine or feign unconsciousness to escape the embarrassment. Stare at the hospital walls - a lot. Play "hospital bingo" on Tuesdays. "Sleep" as best as possible on that awfully uncomfortable hospital bed whilst nurses wake me up every four hours to check vitals and draw blood.
MY labor took way longer than most.
Oh, and I did have "real labor contractions," too. It's just that every time one happened, a nurse or several would rush in, force me to take drugs to cease contractions, physically rearrange me, and wait on stand-by for an emergency c-section until the contractions stopped. Whatever those enormous stop-contraction pills were had some unpleasant side effects.
Let's skip ahead a month, shall we? I had a c-section planned since month four of pregnancy, since I had no other option available. I walked down the hall to the OR - which was an impressive feat in and of itself given my condition - my husband and nurse supporting me on each side, my hands holding up my enormous, awkward belly, trying to hold together the still-healing incision. Thank God today was finally the day we'd stop the madness! Anthony was dressed head-to-toe in white scrubs. I wore just an over-sized hospital gown.
They made Anthony wait in the hall while they prepped me. Who knew it took SO many doctors and assistants to perform a c-section? Even more if the baby is premature. The room was ice cold - I've noticed all OR rooms always are. The anesthesiologist gave me a spinal shot - no different from any other shot, except she told me I must lie down on the cold metal table immediately. I soon found out why: "Um, what just happened to everything below my upper ribs? It seems to have disappeared." I saw my scarred belly and jell-o legs for only a second before the blue tent-shield was up. Someone went to fetch Anthony. The anesthesiologist began giving me my highly-demanded "feel good and make me forget" drugs. A technician with a sharpie asked the perinatologist, "Should we mark her [where to cut]?" He just laughed and, I assume, pointed at the gruesome line from my recent surgery: "She's already marked."
Anthony held my free hand tightly. Time to get the party started! In minutes I was going to be DONE! And the anesthesiologist had promised I could have a nice "nap" while they stitched me back up. (After eight months of hell, a nap sounded like heaven.)
Another unknown-to-me side effect of a spinal - you cannot take a deep breath. So trying to to slow down a panic attack - impossible. "More drugs here, please!"
Finally, the perinatologist (who in my distressed mind had no right to be so happy) stepped to the left of the curtain and presented a tiny purple baby. "Look over here!" he cheered.
I looked. Then I began to sob so uncontrollably that I couldn't see a single thing anymore. I don't even remember what I felt. Joy, I am sure. I was finally a mother, and miracle of miracles, my baby was ALIVE. Relief to be done - free at last! Every moment of panic and anxiety from the last eight months, and a whole lot of everything else. I'm pretty sure I felt ALL the emotions EVER, at ONCE, in that moment.
So between my sobs, all I could say, over and over, was "It's too much! It's too much!" And I didn't mean the joy was too much. Don't judge me - I'd had a CRAZY eight months. I meant being awake for even a single moment longer was too much for me to handle, "So for the love of all that's holy put me to sleep already, anesthesiologist!!" As far as I remember, she did.
Anthony left the room to help bathe and monitor Lana and I slept through being sewn up, moved to my room, and transferred into my hospital bed. When I awoke, Anthony held Lana, all cleaned and swaddled, and presented her to me for the first time. I couldn't feel my legs still, and I held her in trembling arms, marveling at all her hair.
Eventually, I wiggled my toes, then moved my legs. Then my parents were allowed into the room and the nurses prepared to transfer me from my month-long birthing suite to a closet of a post-maternity room for the next four days. My parents got to coddle grandbaby #7 (their favorite, naturally). I was perfectly content to watch all the love and happiness and miracle of life from my usual spot in the hospital bed. When transfer-time came, I asked my mom to carry the baby - I still felt weak. "No! No! NO!" the nurses cried. "The safest place for her is with you!" Are you sure? I wondered. This bed is wobbly and so are my arms, and my mom's had experience, you know. But whatev. We made it to my closet-room, me fearfully clutching this tiny fragile person the whole way, until we arrived and I gladly handed her back to Anthony, my parents, and the nurses.
Most mothers talk about this instant, instinctual bond they had with their baby. I think I missed that part. Because while I was glad my daughter was finally here (outside of me!) and healthy - glad beyond what words can express - I truly felt no need to be the one caring for her. She was in capable hands. And I needed rest.
Now be fair to me. I had been through eight unbelievable long, torturous months of HELL. I was spent, exhausted, and had been pushed way, way, way beyond my limit. What I needed was REST.
Because of my vertical incision, I couldn't even sit up, so I legitimately could not change the baby's diapers - Daddy learned how and quickly became the expert. I wasn't producing milk yet, and at 4 pounds 14 ounces, Lana needed serious nutrition, fast. We set an alarm for every 3 hours (later every 2, when she dropped to 4 pounds 5 ounces) to force her to take a tiny bit of formula from a bottle. Sleep was NOT happening for me. Pain was insane. I still had my morphine pump, and was mashing the button, and taking whatever other pain-killers they'd give me, but I was still ranging between an 8 and 11 on the pain scale. When they offered me a coveted spot for Lana in the nursery (spaces were limited), I said, "Yes please!! And can we get me some extra morphine and ambien and earplugs and anything else you can give me to just sleep?"
It wasn't until the next morning, feeling rested, that they brought my baby in and I was desperate to hold her, feeling like a missing part of me had been returned at last. I took to her care (as much as I was able) with relish, and LIVED for skin-to-skin time before each 2-hour feeding (and many times in between), when for at least fifteen minutes I would hold her bare body against my bare chest beneath a blanket so my heartbeat and breathing would help regulate hers, and my body temperature would change to regulate hers - if she was cold, my body heated; if she was warm, my body cooled. The science behind this, sometimes called kangaroo care, is fascinating. It was the most beautiful, soothing thing I have EVER experienced.
My bonding with my baby happened 24 hours after her birth, when I was rested and capable of experiencing that inexplicable mother's love. Before was a blur.
It wasn't until Lana was almost two years old that I finally learned what really happened between "It's too much," wiggling my toes, and the morning after. (My anesthesiologist was GOOD!)
This is the story from Anthony's perspective, though still in my words because I use more of them.
When the doctor said, "Look over here!" holding a tiny, perplexed Lana, I broke down in tears, presumably of joy. They brought Lana to my face, where we had first skin-to-skin bonding. We clung to each other as best we could for as long as we were allowed. Then they took my precious baby, much to my protest, away with my husband for her to be washed, measured and tested.
A quick bath by a skilled nurse, a warming bed and lamp, pictures of our newborn and lessons in swaddling. Then Daddy got his bonding time, holding a sweet (not crying) Lana while they waited for Mommy to reappear. Mommy, unable to move but awake, was rolled from one bed to another and hooked up to all the necessary IVs.
When I was set up, I asked about the baby. The usual: Is she healthy? Fingers and toes? Who does she look like? And with Anthony's supporting arms, I got to know my daughter for two hours (I remember nothing) until grandparents were allowed in to visit. The rest is as I told it.
Here is what is interesting to me. I MISSED my initial bonding with my baby. Oh, it came later and was as beautiful and strong, but I will never know that after-birth high that so many other mothers write of. I was too drugged. Judge me gently there, I needed to be drugged, but a part of me regrets all that I missed. I missed the entire normal pregnancy experience, and then I missed the entire normal delivery experience. What is my "birth story" but yet another anomaly? That by itself is sad to me.
But here's the good part! My baby girl and I share a bond (and have since day 2) like none I've ever known. Granted, that could be because it's the only parental bond I've ever known, but work with me here. A few hours "missed" at the beginning of her life has in no way affected the years we've had together. My daughter is the joy, the very life of my soul. I knew her before her life began - my soul knew her soul long before this earth. I love her beyond description, beyond the capacity to feel.
Every morning when I see her face, when I hear her voice, it is the same - and so much better - than the first time!
So what if I needed a few hours rest before I could bond with my baby? That's sort of the story of my life (and why babysitters, especially volunteers, are such lifesavers!). The point is, no matter the process, no matter how "abnormal," I gave birth to my daughter. We have a birth story!
And it is a love story that is reborn each and every day.
Leave your thoughts and comments please!