Marisa’s Story

January 21, 2015

The Advent of Baby A

In the late spring, I learned that I was expecting a baby.  This new baby would be my second child. My daughter, R, was already 16 and looking into colleges.  My boyfriend of many years, T, has 2 children of his own – both boys, and both pre-teens at the time we expected our latest addition to our family.

My daughter’s birth 16 years ago was a medically uneventful, natural childbirth, in hospital, no complications or interventions.  My labor lasted only 6.5 hours from my very first contraction, and by the time I was certain it was “really it,” it was nearly over.  She was born just 45 minutes after arriving to hospital – accompanied by both of my parents because I was only 20 and otherwise on my own.  I recall pulling the IV out of my arm 30 minutes postpartum, and looking for my shoes; I felt great and was ready to go home.  I was exhilarated and my adrenaline was at an all-time high. Obviously, this isn’t how things are done.  They told me that I could leave whenever I chose, but that baby R was required to stay for 24 hours.  I climbed back into bed and waited it out, because I wanted to be sure that the baby I brought into the world would be the one I went home with.  I didn’t feel sick, or weak, or any of those things I had seen on TV.  I hadn’t screamed once.  I felt incredible.

The deliveries of T’s boys, by his former wife, were both induced, with some complications and some intervention.  All of our children had been born in hospitals, thus far, but each had been a completely different experience for us.

Our new baby, A, was expected to arrive in January, and we had moved up north, into the mountains the previous fall, just in time for a really dreadful, snow covered winter – my first actual winter, in fact.  I grew up in the south, and for most of my adult life, didn’t even own a real jacket or coat, and had driven in snow only once before.

After a series of getting-to-know-you appointments with various doctors, I learned that the hospital I would be delivering in was 30 miles away.  To be clear – these are 30 mountainous, 25 mph speed limit sort of miles – with more than an hour’s estimated drive on a good day, according to my GPS.  T works a bit more than 70 miles in the opposite direction.  He typically left home around 5am, and returned around 5pm.  I am fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home-artist; leaving the house most days only to drive R 4.5 miles to the bus stop and back.

When all of the math was done, I laughed aloud – nervously.  I imagined all of the possible scenarios: trying to drive myself to hospital while in labor, in the snow (uphill!); having my inexperienced daughter at the wheel; giving birth in my car – or a cab – or stuck in a snow bank with no cellular signal.  I jokingly suggested to T that we have our baby at home, which he didn’t find funny at all.  He told me the stories of his other childrens’ births and how terrifying each was for him.  The topic of homebirth became a running thing, something I would mention occasionally; that our baby would be born at home, or in the car, but that we were never going to make it into hospital since my daughter had come so quickly.  He said that when my due date approached, we would spend the week in a hotel a block from the hospital – adding more than an hour to his commute each way, and that he would drive R to school while we waited it out there.

About halfway through my pregnancy, an ultrasound showed that Baby A was bigger than expected – by about 2 weeks.  A month later, another ultrasound showed that he was still running 2 weeks big.  I’m not a large woman – I’m tall, but with a small frame – and any mother can tell you that this is cause for a few sleepless nights, filled with imaginings of things a giant baby may do that cannot be undone.  We ran tests for diabetes, and then ran them again; my glucose levels were fine, my thyroid, too.  I was having blood drawn so often that I referred to my phlebotomist as “my best friend, MJ,” as the months passed.  My only other “friend” within 150 miles was my regular OB, Dr. V, and I became friendly with her staff, K and M, as well.

At my first prenatal appointment, I met with a male doctor, Dr. L.  Dr. L was unimpressed by my age (36), and was even less impressed with the fact that, as a former tattoo artist, I have many. He chose to focus on these things during my examination, and at the end of it, the only information he gave me about Baby A was that I was considered “high-risk” due to my age, and that my uterus tilts back slightly – but he provided plenty details regarding his disdain for my personal life choices.  My second appointment was with Dr. V, closer to home.  She is a down-to-earth woman with a sharp sense of humor.  She broke everything down to layman’s terms for me, and interjected pleasant small talk into otherwise awkward examinations.  I decided that the remainder of my appointments would be with her, if I could help it.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving, and T’s parents came to spend the holiday.  Mere hours after their arrival, we found ourselves covered in more than a foot of snow – on a workday.  His father had brought his own shovel, although I never asked why, and set to shoveling our driveway so that his son could make it up when he got home.  T arrived home more than an hour after I expected him, explaining that he stopped to help 3 different vehicles that were stuck and blocking his path home, 2 of which were inside our subdivision.  With the snow still coming down, he and his dad were back out shoveling at the top of every hour. We watched our neighbors attempt to get up their driveway several times before finally giving up, and saw tow trucks coming to the rescue of others who had the misfortune of having to leave their homes on such a day.  At one point, when I went out to offer the men a sandwich for their labors, T looked at me, laughed, and said, “Honey, we’re going to end up having this baby at home.”  I laughed, too.

My appointment that week was with a midwife in Dr. V’s practice, midwife S.  Dr. V had somewhere to be, out of town.  During my appointment, I made some inquiries about midwifery, and learned that here, in this practice, midwives only delivered in hospitals, never at home.

At my next appointment with Dr. V, we briefly exchanged holiday stories.  I relayed to her our joke, and all of the math, with me being due in mid-late January.  She laughed – nervously.  She told me that, while a second child often comes faster than the first, it had been more than a decade since my daughter had been born, and so those rules didn’t necessarily apply to me anymore.  She said that if it really came down to it, I could call an ambulance, and we moved on to my 2-weeks-big Baby A check up.

As December began, I started getting more nervous – really nervous.  It wasn’t very funny anymore.  Sure, we had a plan to go to the hotel – but Baby A was measuring big, so I couldn’t determine what that did to my timeline – and that hotel looks too spendy to just live in.  It was time to get serious.  I sat R down and explained the situation to her.  Apparently, one of the most difficult things you can ask a 16 year old girl (who was born and raised in the south) is whether she would rather take a swing at driving her laboring mother to hospital in the snow, or help deliver her baby brother.  She said she’d do anything she had to – that doesn’t involve driving, to help me and/or Baby A – but she was terrified, and wasn’t afraid to say that she’d rather not be involved at all.  Fair enough, and I told her she’s a good kid – because she truly is.

I’m a planner, and I can’t sleep at night until all of my loose ends are all tied up.  I became this way the instant I met R in person for the first time. Now that I have a disaster plan, I need supplies.  I ordered a fetal heart doppler, sterile umbilical clamps (more than we would ever need), umbilical scissors and everything else I could garner might possibly be necessary.  Also, as a former tattoo artist – while many may see us as punks and thugs, wearing our art on our sleeves – I have extensive training in biomedical waste disposal and sterilization techniques.  I even have my very own autoclave; a ridiculously heavy, industrial piece of machinery; the very same machine used in hospitals to sterilize their instruments – and I know how to use it.  I’ll admit that my Biomedical Waste Generator permit had been issued in a different state, and is currently expired – but you don’t need a permit for one placenta, and I had no plans to do this every weekend.

The internet is a supremely convenient thing.  The internet is also a supremely terrifying thing. For all of the information available to us, at the tips of our fingers, at any time, there is more misinformation and speculation.  There are 2 types of information readily available regarding home births: 1. mortality statistics, focusing on everything that can go wrong, completely ignoring that childbirth is literally the most natural thing in life.  I mean, surely someone must have survived it, at some point, because that’s how we all got here – for thousands and thousands of years; and 2. crunchy granola advocates – some of which assert that childbirth is a “sensual” experience, best suited to the privacy of your own home, so that you may enjoy it to the fullest extent – in the same way you enjoyed conception.  I discarded everything that reeked of patchouli or was obvious fear-mongering.  I found that I was best served by taking my search out of America – what wussies and weirdos we have allowed ourselves to become – it’s almost laughable.  Except that none of these people were kidding, and I needed information.

An article was recently published in the UK recommending that women with uncomplicated pregnancies should consider home births, so long as they weren’t expecting multiples, and it wasn’t their first birth; their bodies being “tried and true.”  The most helpful article I found was written by a former Australian doctor, who left general practice in order to only attend home births.  His experience in delivering hundreds of babies, over more than 20 years, had convinced him that babies are very much involved in their own birthing process, and that most of his transfers to hospital from home were due to prolonged labor, causing the exhausted mother to simply “tap out.”  His opinion is that the best thing to do for any baby looking to come into this world was to just let it happen, at it’s own pace.

I took everything that I read with a grain of salt, the internet being what it is, and all.  But I’m a pretty rational person, and I like to learn everything I can about everything I do.

So, I polled my girlfriends, too, some had given birth years ago, some very recently.  Each had a different story to tell – some had medical interventions, but all of them opted for epidurals for the pain.  By comparison, R’s birth had been “cake,” and I began to refer to it as such.  I knew that I didn’t want an epidural, but that was the only thing I was actually sure of.  For all of the benefit it had to offer, the universal drawback seems to be that it slows things down and makes them take longer.  That is the absolute last thing I want to do to myself.  A few friends had c-sections, some of which were due to labor simply taking too long after the epidural had been administered and slowed things down, making it too risky to leave their babies in the birth canal any longer.

My friend X and I have been friends since we were 10, and had the same body type.  She gave birth to her first child via c-section when the doctor determined that she just “wasn’t built for childbirth.”  Her second child was delivered via scheduled c-section, as well.  We no longer look the same, although I’ll admit that I sometimes envy her newfound curves.

My friend, B, gave birth in September after wandering around her house for several hours wondering if this was “it.”  She had an appointment that afternoon, where they advised her to get to the hospital – and fast – her contractions were only 2 minutes apart.  When she arrived at hospital, there were concerns about her blood pressure, so she was put in a bed with monitors.  She told me that her contractions had been bearable as long as she was able to move around, but shortly after being unable to do so, she opted for an epidural, despite having planned to birth naturally, without drugs. The epidural slowed her labor, so she was injected with pitocin, which she said made her feel drunk, but also made the pain from her contractions unbearable once again, she said that she couldn’t feel her left leg and thought something strange was in the bed with her – which was actually, in fact, only her leg.  After a time, her contractions stopped entirely and she managed to fall asleep.  When the epidural and pitocin wore off, she awoke to strong contractions again, in all of their painful glory.  Her doula suggested that she continue on without any more medication being administered, and her doctor told her that if she didn’t deliver within the hour, a c-section would have to be performed.  Terrified, she pushed her body hard, and she delivered her baby naturally, within the hour, inflicting a bit of damage to herself in the process, even though she had an episiotomy, pushing harder than her body was doing on it’s own, out of fear.  When I asked her if she felt that her delivery would have gone better if she had just let it happen, and had been left alone, she wasn’t sure.  This was her first child, and she couldn’t speculate to any other outcome, but was just glad to have it overwith, with a brand new, healthy baby, without a c-section.  But she had been afraid and is in no hurry to do it again.

More holidays in late December – and Dr. V would be out, so I’d have to go to  different office for my next 2 appointments.  The receptionist, K, set me up with a different midwife, P, on the 26th, and a different doctor, Dr. O, to see on January 2nd.  I meet with midwife P and tell her that I have a strange inclination, which T and everyone else have discounted as wishful thinking, that I’m not going to go much longer.  I had almost 4 weeks left until my due date, and imagine that most women get hopeful in the last stretch.  I was having contractions more and more frequently, but they weren’t terribly strong.  She examined me and told me that while my body was likely practicing for when it was really “it,” I was still sealed up tightly, and she advised me to try keep Baby A in another week, at which point I would reach the 37 week mark.

I tried.  I put it out of my mind best I could.  Afterall, B had just gone a full week past her due date, and another friend, J, had just spent a week bouncing on a yoga ball, with no luck in speeding up her own process.  If everyone around me was going the distance and beyond, I had no real reason to think I wouldn’t have to trudge through until mid-January.  Even R had been born at 39 weeks, 5 days.  Besides, Dr. V was out of town, and with my luck, I’d just get Dr. L if my “wishful thinking” came to fruition – that thought alone made me content to keep on trucking.  That guy would likely opt for a c-section in order to keep his lunch plans intact, for all the respect he seems to have for a woman and her body, as well as my own personal choices – but might justify it by citing my frame, as with what happened to X.  I just didn’t like him, I didn’t feel comfortable with him.  The only benefit to him delivering Baby A, in my mind, was that it would give me someone to be mean to, should I feel so inclined.  I lacked confidence in him to do anything else that might benefit me, or Baby A, and imagined him criticizing me on a personal level again, instead of focusing on the actual job at hand.  No, thank you.

Women’s Intuition

My now-deceased Grandma used to talk of a woman’s superior ability to discern things on instinct alone.  She gave birth to 9 live babies, and birthed them (naturally) well into her 40’s.  A fact that T researched independently, and relied heavily upon when discussing having more children, despite my “advanced age.”  A woman’s intuition is now considered an old wives’ tale, and although every woman I know can recount a premonition they’ve had – most didn’t put any faith into it until after it had already come to fruition.

Monday started with some contractions.  They were stronger than the previous ones, but not always well timed or consistent enough to be considered “real.”  After a few hours, they stopped altogether.  Tuesday evening, they began again, once again mild and mostly just inconvenient.  T came home, we had dinner with all of our kids, I went to the grocery before it closed and did some laundry. Later that night, he went to bed with both of us thinking that my contractions would soon subside and he would wake in the morning to find me asleep next to him as I had before.  On his way to bed, T asked me one last time if I thought this was “it,” to which I replied that I wasn’t really sure of anything anymore, and wished him goodnight.  Afterall, my thinking had only being wishful, thus far, and I’ve been taught that there’s no such thing as intuition.  Especially where hormones are involved.

I paced the house, I stretched, I worked on my latest art project – a 3D painting using a belly cast I’d taken earlier in the day.  I found this distraction the most helpful.

Suddenly, there was a searing pain in my back that was unlike before; my toes curled, and my body doubled over so I couldn’t unbend it.  I crawled on all fours into our bedroom and somehow managed to climb onto the bed to wake a sleeping T.  I told him it was time, that we had to go.  As I descended our bed, a new contraction came, it hurt less, but because it was a whole different sort of contraction.  The searing pain was replaced by my body doubling in half – and pushing – “tick-tock,” I thought to myself.  As I crawled back out of our bedroom into what would soon be Baby A’s room, it happened again, except this time, my water broke.  I told T that we weren’t going anywhere.  He had been asleep for less than an hour, and it took him a minute to process how quickly everything had changed.  It wasn’t time yet, mathematically, but Baby A wasn’t concerned with any of our numbers.

Ready or Not…(but we were)

T ran upstairs in between my contractions, both to make himself some coffee, and to tell our other children what was happening, and told his 2 boys to stay in bed, lest I scar them emotionally if I screamed.  R sat on the sofa, nervously, awaiting refill runs from T so that she could get updates on our progress, and be sure that I was okay.

I grabbed a notebook and a pen and wrote out a list of 7 things for T to do:

  1. Catch baby
  2. Drain baby’s air passages
  3. Give baby to mom
  4. Tie and cut cord
  5. Deliver placenta
  6. Clean and dress baby
  7. Hold baby while mom cleans and showers

I had a few more contractions, doubled over on the floor – it should be noted that, had I gone to hospital, I would have agreed to an epidural, a c-section, or even being cut in half, if it would have given me a 15 minute time-out from the pain.  For all of my planning, having not done this in a decade and a half, I had forgotten how much it hurt.  T was a sport, doing all he could at the time to help me, which was, ultimately, trying to make light of the situation where I would allow it, and rubbing my back during contractions.  His efforts kept my head in the game and kept me from giving up.  We discussed whether or not there was need to call an ambulance, or any other sort of reinforcement, but for as much pain as I was in, I was confident that there wasn’t anything actually wrong with me, and that it had gone just this way with R.  I was also confident that by the time the ambulance arrived from only a mile away, the only contribution they had to offer were more people standing around waiting for my body to do what it was going to do anyway, with or without them, because taking me anywhere or strapping me to anything wasn’t going to happen now.

T, very kindly, informed me that it would be impossible for him to accomplish even the first thing on our list while I was just a crumbled mess on the floor, and a change in position would be necessary, whether I liked it or not.  He helped me to me feet, and we arranged pillows at the foot of the sofa bed that we had decided we could burn later if we ruined it.  As soon as I was repositioned, the contractions came even faster, now right on top of each other, I could barely even catch my breath in between.  I was asking for updates from down south, and he would reply with hand gestures, letting me know how far I was from the finish line.  After what felt like eternity, but was truthfully only a matter of minutes, he told me that Baby A’s head was right there within reach.  I began to put some effort of my own behind what my body was doing, and after only 2 or 3 more quick contractions, Baby A’s head was delivered.  One more push and it was all over, our boy was entirely in his father’s hands.  T had pulled off numbers 1-4 on our list in a matter of seconds, but before we got to #5, I handed Baby A back to his father, and asked him to skip ahead to #6, but to please do so in our bedroom so that I could have a moment to myself.  I delivered my own placenta without incident, I think, grabbed an adult diaper and set about to my end of #7.  Clean up was minimal, compared to what I’d been expecting, and I was in the shower in under 10 minutes.

I stayed there a long while, in complete disbelief of what we had just done, what we managed to accomplish together, but otherwise alone.  To say it was the greatest feat of teamwork I’ve ever experienced is still an understatement.  The words that could properly convey our experience have yet to be imagined, or at least, we still haven’t found them.  After I finished my shower, my adrenaline dumped, and I vomited everything I’d eaten in my entire third trimester, and possibly some of T’s meals, as well.  But I felt amazing.  I rejoined T, and our brand new son, although the whole experience still seemed surreal and far away.  Baby A came into our world at 3:30am on 31 December, 20 days early, but we had made it to exactly 37 weeks, by my count.  We went upstairs to introduce R to her new brother, and to assure her that everyone had survived it, after which, she was able to go to sleep.  We returned to our room with Baby A and marveled over his mere existence, high-fiving over our effectiveness as a team, and our incredible accomplishment.  We both agreed that the experience had changed us forever, more confident now than ever before that we can do anything in the world, as long as we did it together.  Around 7:30 am, I finally fell asleep, having been up since 9 am the previous day.

At my last appointment, with midwife P, we discussed which pediatrician we would use after Baby A eventually joined us.  Upon waking at 9:30 am, I immediately found the phone and called their office, despite my exhaustion – because ensuring that Baby A was as perfect and healthy as he looked was our top priority.

Ignorance, sans Bliss

The woman who initially answered the phone wasn’t shy about telling me that she had no idea what to do in my situation, and said someone would have to call me back.  The first call back came 20 minutes later, but this nurse wasn’t actually sure what to do, either, but wanted to confirm that the first woman had understood and relayed the situation correctly.  Again, someone would have to call me back.  After another 30 minutes, which gave me time to get some coffee into my system, I received a third call – this time from a nurse at hospital, advising that I “swing by” the ER, as the pediatric office wasn’t equipped for newborn check ups.  She advised that I get myself checked out, too, as I had obviously just had a baby.  I was congratulated and told the sooner I brought him in, the better.  I woke T and told him what I was supposed to do now, and we realized that we were faced with a whole new dilemma.  We have newly acquired a 6th member to our family, but our largest vehicle only accommodates 5.

If you’ve ever spent any time with two brothers, similarly aged, who share a bedroom – as well as most of their time together, you’ll know that leaving them together, without parental supervision, is a potentially dangerous risk to take, if you expect to be gone for any length of time.  Given that we had no idea how long this may take, it seemed unwise to leave them with R, because she had been up so late herself.  After a bit of discussion, I decided the best course of action was for me to take Baby A in myself, and I would take R with me for company, but T would stay home with his boys.  It’s not that he didn’t want to come with me, as some may speculate, but in the interest of safety for all members of our family, he just couldn’t.  Before we left, T introduced Baby A to his brothers, allowing them to spend about 5 minutes with him.

As soon as R, Baby A and I got in our car, and even before we left our driveway, it began to snow. This is not ideal.  Baby A is now only 7 hours old, but they’ve insisted – the sooner the better, and I will do anything – anything – in the world to ensure his good health and safety.

Institutionalizing Mother Nature – Or Mothers, in General

Day 1 –

When we [finally] arrived at hospital, it was still snowing lightly, and the nearest parking space was at the far end of the lot – an estimated quarter mile from the entrance.  We had bundled Baby A, draped him in a blanket, covered his car seat with another, and walked as quickly as we possibly could, safely, to get him inside.

We were told at the front desk that we had been expected, and to go right through – I learned from T after getting back home later that they had continued to call to confirm that we were, in fact, bringing him in to be checked out, in a timely manner.

From the time we passed through those wood laminate double doors, I was blind-sided at every turn.  Nurses took charge of Baby A, and each looked back and forth from my daughter to me, inquiring which of us was the mother, and complaining that he was chilled, with a body temperature of 97 degrees – unwilling to acknowledge that they had advised me to bring him in, in the snow, and their facility made it necessary to have him outdoors for as long as it took to cross their lot.  After asking why Baby A had been born at home, and noting that his umbilical cord has been clamped with an actual clamp intended for such use, I tried to explain how we came to be so prepared, not one, but two nurses let me know that they had “never heard that one before” quite sarcastically, as they looked at each other and rolled their eyes right in front of us. The pediatric ER doctor came and took a look at Baby A, and opined that he was, in fact, a full term baby that someone had done bad math on.  We learned that he clocked in at 7lbs,.01oz and was 19 inches long.  He said that Baby A should likely be observed for a few hours, but that he would not be the doctor assigned to him, so we would have to go upstairs.

A nurse asked me if I was willing to admit Baby A – if the pediatrician upstairs deemed it necessary, I said, of course – as long as there was a reason for admission, since the ER Doctor had just said only a few hours should be all that was necessary.

Once we got upstairs, I was cast aside and ignored, left to stand, helplessly in a corner for 3 hours, listening to conjecture and comments meant to make me feel as though I had done something wrong.  R quietly contented herself to sitting wordlessly on the floor, scrolling her phone, making herself small.  After 2 hours, an anonymous nurse, uninvolved with tending to Baby A rolled in a chair and offered it to me, suggesting that I deserved a seat, having just given birth and all.  Not one person asked me how I was feeling, if I was okay, or offered to look me over.  The pediatric doctor, Dr. P, informed me that my screen for Group B strep had come back positive, and so I should have received an IV treatment during my labor, and that since I had not, Baby A would be admitted for 24 hours of observation.  This is the first I had heard of any such result.  However, to reiterate, my newborn son’s health is of utmost priority, and so I agreed that he could be admitted, even though I cried a little at the news – not even 12 hours postpartum now, and exhausted beyond comprehension.  It also bears mentioning that, had I been informed of any such result, I would have made every effort to go to hospital, even if it meant being sent back home multiple times, to ensure that everything about Baby A’s arrival would be a safe as possible, but all of the tests that I was aware of had been fine, and the high-risk doctors had cleared me from having to continue to see them months before.  Dr. P inquired as to whether we planned to have Baby A circumcised, which we did, but said that he would be unable to perform it himself, offering me Dr. L as an alternate, which I declined.  He said that my other option was to have it performed on an outpatient basis once Baby A was released.  After a fourth hour, I took R and went home, afraid that if we stayed much longer, I would be unable to get us home safely, given that it was still snowing and I was too tired to function properly any longer. I was told that I could retrieve Baby A the following day, right around noon.  I went home and I slept. And slept.

Day 2 –

I awoke around 10 am, and immediately called the hospital to check on Baby A and to confirm that I would be able to bring him home.  I recognized the voice of the nurse as the main offender with the awful vitriol from the day before, and asked if I could speak to someone else instead.  She told me that she was the only one in charge of his care that day, and that the required heel-stick hadn’t been performed until after 1pm, so despite his time of admittance, the 24 hour observation didn’t start until then.  Having had more than 2 hours of sleep, I let her know that not only was I uncomfortable with her being in charge of my baby’s care, I was downright pissed off with the way that she had treated me the day before, making me feel like a terrible mother for simply giving birth to a child in an environment that, wasn’t unsafe, in reality, but simply went against the way she believed things should be done.  I’ll call her ML, and she apologized sufficiently enough for me to stand down. She told me that Dr. A would be in after 1pm, and I could call around 1:30 to get the results from his tests, and confirm he could come home.

When I called back, at exactly 1:30, ML put me directly on with Dr. A, who seemed confused as to why I was calling, and told me that standard procedure is actually 48 hours, despite what anyone, anywhere had told me before.  When I began to cry at the news, he said to me, “Why are you crying?  You aren’t even here with him.”  My whole body crumbled, and I was a sobbing pile of jelly on the floor in my laundry room.  T came running in and took the phone, explaining that these things had not been relayed to me, tried to get more information, and chastised the doctor for his manner in dealing with a clearly emotional postpartum woman.  In the end, he made Dr. A acknowledge, and say aloud, that there was clearly a training issue amongst the staff in their ability to communicate effectively, both with me, and with each other, and that they were needlessly making things harder for me than they have to be.  None of those things helped us bring Baby A home that day, but at least someone was on my team here.

We took a chance and both went to hospital to see Baby A, to hold him and feed him, but we couldn’t tempt fate for too long.  An hour spent with Baby A was a little more than 3 hours alone for the rest of our children.  Dr. A was nowhere to be found during our visit.  We returned home to find it, and everyone in it, intact.  I was at peace while I was with Baby A, holding him, and even as we drove home, I was elated with my new baby.  As the hours away from him wore on, though, I found myself growing irritable, irrational and depressed.  While talking to X, she mentioned that it was a shame that I couldn’t just sit with him and spend more time with him.  Frankly, it had never occurred to me that I could.  She told me that, as his mother, normal visiting hours shouldn’t apply to me, and I should be granted access to my son whenever I liked.  I had been sitting in our room, chatting idly with T while texting with X, and as soon as she said this, I flew into a frenzy.  I couldn’t get back to hospital, and to Baby A soon enough.  It was approaching dinner time, so I make a quick stop at R’s room, and asked her to make dinner for T and the boys so that I could leave right away.

I have no experience with hospitals, or their protocols.  The last time I found myself in need of their services was when I gave birth to R.  My mother was raised as a Christian Scientist, and although it’s not something we ever practiced growing up – beyond going to Sunday School whenever we visited my Grandma, which I stopped attending around age 6 – my siblings and I, as well as R, have been blessed with extraordinary immune systems.  The last time I so much as caught a cold was more than 3 years ago – and even that was my body purging all of the crap built up in my lungs and sinuses as I attempted to quit smoking.

I didn’t know, and perhaps that’s my own fault for being ignorant, and failing to ask enough questions.  I’m still not completely clear on their policies, because when I arrived back, Nurse ML was still on duty.  While we had made makeshift amends, we were never going to be friendly, and I would never rely on her to give me accurate information over conjecture.

For every trip to hospital to see Baby A, I was in the car for 2.5 hours, round trip.  Those 25 mph speed limits that I was afraid of in the months leading up to Baby A’s arrival were sheer torture for me now.  I could only manage to stay in hospital with him for 2-3 hours at a stretch because, mind you, I had just given birth, and still had not been looked over.  In my best estimation – but obviously not being a doctor – I had sustained only minimal damage, but there was some damage nonetheless, which required some basic sanitary care at the very least, to prevent any infection that would only make my life worse than it already seemed to be.

While I was there in the evening, Nurse ML was relieved by Nurse B, who was very nice, and tried to coach me on getting Baby A to latch on to breastfeed.  We were unsuccessful, and she made mention that that’s pretty common for “36-weekers.”  It occurred to me then that no one seems to have any real inkling as to how “old” Baby A actually was, gestationally.  Everyone seemed to have a different number, but no one was showing me any math.  Or any test results, for that matter.  We appeared to be on some sort of “honor system” where I am expected to take them at their word, but even then, their word seemed to change with every doctor, nurse, or shift change. I don’t know anything at all for certain.  Except that the popular opinion in this place is that I had done everything wrong.

Day 3 –

On the third day, I was supposed to have my weekly prenatal check up with the Dr. O that K had set up for me a million years before.  When my alarm went off, I only silenced it and went back to sleep, having been unable to fall asleep until 2 hours prior.  When T came to wake me again, I told him that I just couldn’t do it – the thought of having to meet one more new doctor, of having to explain and defend myself even one more time was just too much for me.  I assured him that Doctor V would be back the following week, and promised that I would make an appointment to see her once we had Baby A back home and all of this was behind us.  He agreed because I appeared, to our untrained eyes, to be fine, aside from needing the care that I was routinely providing to myself, simple exhaustion and a roller coaster of emotions brought on by, well, doctors.

I called, upon waking a couple of hours later, to inquire about Baby A’s progress, even though I knew the results of the heel stick couldn’t be expected until the afternoon.  I was told now that his bilirubin results showed he was jaundiced, and he was currently receiving light therapy.  I said that I would shower and be on my way, so to expect me in about 2 hours.  When I arrived at hospital, his nurse this shift advised me that he had to remain on the fluorescent light box, which looks exactly like one I have at home for tracing images onto tattoo stencils – pretty high tech stuff.  I may only hold him while feeding him, and must otherwise content myself to simply looking at him, and maybe letting him hold my finger, at best.  I mentioned that I was anxious for the results of his heel stick within the hour, and to bust him out of there, but the nurse tells me that this light therapy is a mandatory 24 hours, so I would have no such luck.  She was also unaware of any pending cultures, and was under the impression that he was only in to receive the light therapy.  She did go into his file and confirm for me that the cultures from his heel stick showed no growth after 48 hours, putting him in the clear on that front, at least.

An anonymous woman doctor that was not related with Baby A’s care, so I don’t know her name, stopped into A’s room to congratulate me on a job well done.  When she left, I cried.  The nurses had been friendly enough – since Nurse ML received a piece of my mind – but no one had acknowledged that I had done anything right in this entire process, and no one had actually been kind to me since the anonymous nurse who rolled in that chair on day 1.

I hadn’t seen or heard from a doctor involved with Baby A’s care since Dr. A got an earful from T on Day 2.  Everything was relayed to me by nurses, and there really wasn’t much to report apparently.  There would be another bilirubin test at 5am the following morning, results would take about an hour, so I should call around 6:30 just to confirm that he is ready to be discharged. Finally, some hope.  After 3 days, I had been trying to anticipate what the next excuse to keep him there might be.

The person assigned to his care in the evening when I returned wasn’t a nurse, but a Certified Nurse Assistant.  She’s young, and in my frustration at finding that Baby A had been fed prior to my arrival, I referred to her as a teenager as I vented to T later – while I acknowledge that she is likely in her early 20’s.  None of these things were her fault, and she seemed like a genuinely sweet kid.  In my own early 20’s, I was also a CNA – but worked in nursing homes – as a means to make ends meet as I was learning to tattoo, so I understand that her training mostly consists of CPR training and exemplary hand washing skills – and while I appreciate both of those things, they pale in comparison to my need to bond with my newborn son.  Three days postpartum, my depression when I was away from him was worsening.  A variety of complete strangers had spent more time with my son than I had, and my irrationality was running off the rails at home.

My last 2 days had been: 5 hours driving, 4-5 hours with Baby A, 2 hours with the rest of my family, and late nights with Google reading horror stories of others who have dared to “buck the system” and have their babies at home.  I had read all of these stories while doing my initial research, of course, noting that in cases where children were taken from their parents, there were extenuating circumstances involved as well.  I am not an anti-vaccine advocate; even though I haven’t been vaccinated myself – that was my mother’s choice – and R’s records are completely up to date.  I did not forego prenatal care, I was early for every single appointment, submitted to all required prenatal tests, was even vaccinated for whooping cough as recommended, although I had declined the flu shot.

I signed every single form they put in front of me in hospital.  I know that there is no law prohibiting homebirths in our state – yet, it seems – even in areas where laws prohibit midwives from attending them.  I knew these things rationally, but late at night, alone while T slept, I found myself spinning out of control.

If I thought that was awful, though, T didn’t get to see his new son at all on Day 3.  That was heart breaking.

Day 4 –

T and I got up early, thinking that if we got out soon enough, the kids would still be sleeping, we could let them know we were leaving, yet still have a few hours before they were awake enough to find mischief.  I called at 6:30am exactly, and was told that his bilirubin was actually higher than it had been the previous day, but he was 24 hours older now, so it would be at the doctor’s discretion on whether to release him, and the doctor would be in at 8:30 – per whoever the hell I got on the phone this time.  We arrived at 8am to behold – but not actually hold – Baby A on his lightbox.  After an hour went by, we asked his nurse, Nurse D, to please send the doctor our way at his earliest convenience, as we were anxious to spring Baby A and get back home before the coming ice storm set in.  Nurse D informed us that the doctor on call today is Dr. A from day 2, but that he wouldn’t be in until the afternoon.  She was also not sure why anyone would have told us otherwise, but seemed mostly unconcerned with that part.  She offered to call Dr. A and left a message when he didn’t answer.

T was stoic, completely without expression, but I could see that any faith that he had left in the “benefit of the doubt” here, which was all we had left, is dead now.  Aside from the coming storm, he is supposed to drive his other boys back to their mother’s house today, and they’d only barely had a chance to meet their new brother.  He also couldn’t leave me there, with no way to get home or care for myself properly.  They’ve put us into a position where if Dr. A came in later – even if he released him – we would not be able to return until the following morning.  We stayed a bit more than 2 hours, hoping against hope, with no return call from Dr. A.  The anonymous woman doctor from yesterday happened by, she and I waved and smiled at each other, and I pointed out to T that she’s the nice one I had told him about.  Her quick words and tiny gesture had been the only vestige of faith I have in humanity within the medical community, at this point.  While we waited, Nurse D brought up the topic of circumcision again, and we explained that we would like to have it done, and had accidentally seen Dr. O perform 3 of them in the room next door during our stay, and asked if it would be possible to have it done by him.  She told us that he could not perform it, even though he was prepping for another one as we discussed it, because he was not my regular doctor – who is still out – even though he is in the same practice.  She said that because Baby A was born at home, unfortunately, “we fell through the cracks of regular care.”  Somehow neither of us even pretended to be surprised by this.

We were out of time, now, and we had to go.  After driving me home, he had to drive his children nearly 2 hours, each way, back to their mother’s house, and – hopefully – get himself back home safely afterward.  I had such a good feeling, I had been convinced the night before that this would be “our day,” and we would get to bring our boy home with us.  There is no such thing as intuition, after all.  But I couldn’t even cry anymore, I was just too broken now.

We told Nurse D that we simply couldn’t wait any longer, and she offered to have Dr. A call us as soon as he arrived, with an update.  Having no interest in speaking to him myself, and being completely powerless to return on my own in an ice storm, I gave her T’s mobile number to pass along, and we left.  When we were about halfway home, T got a voicemail.  We pulled to the side of the road so that he could check it.  He dialed a number, whipped a fast U-turn, and told me to tell Nurse D that we would be right back, indicating that her message said that Dr. A had arrived and was ready to discharge our sweet Baby A, at last!  Feeling relieved and more himself, he told me that in his time at home, away from Baby A, he’d been imagining designs for “Free Baby A!” posters from the photos I would text him – to paper the hospital walls and surrounding areas in the wake of our ordeal. There was finally light at the end of our tunnel, and we could find a shred of humor in life again.

When we returned, I went inside to collect Baby A, signing more forms.  We finally got the hell out of there.  As an added bonus, T’s ex-wife agreed to let us keep his children until the following morning, so they would be able to spend some time with their new brother.  We hadn’t even finished unloading the car when the sleet begins, but everything was finally right in our world, it seemed.

Aftermath

I scheduled a consultation for Baby A’s outpatient circumcision with Dr. P on day 9, a Friday, with the procedure ultimately scheduled for day 21.  On my way back home, I stopped at Dr. V’s office to schedule an appointment for the following Thursday.  K checked the schedule and offered me an appointment for the morning I’d requested.  She was then told something from the side, and after cooing at Baby A for a few minutes, asked me to have a seat so she could see what the sidebar is about.  I’m familiar with the person on the side, but at this point, she isn’t relevant to the story, except as just another cog in this broken down machine.  After nearly 10 minutes, K opened the window again and confirmed my appointment as we had agreed upon.  She told me that they’ve never had a home birth before, and so a phone call had to be made to be sure it was okay that I continue seeing Dr. V.  It turned out that it is, but I couldn’t wrap my head around why it might possibly have been problematic to follow up with my regular doctor, simply because I had given birth at home.

Hindsight is 20/20

Knowing everything now that I didn’t know then, I’m still struggling to determine what I would change.  No one can take away from T and me what we accomplished together, in bringing Baby A into our lives and into this world.  When Baby A grows, and we tell him our story, I hope I can leave everything else behind me after I’ve had time to get further away from it, and can heal my heart from the attempts the hospital staff made to tear it apart and stomp all over it.  Not because they were medically trained to do so, but because they felt, in their personal opinions, that they could get away with it.

Birthing Baby A, alone with T, was the most incredible thing I’ve done in my life, and as a woman – and for everyone who will say that we were simply “lucky” that nothing went wrong – I counter with the knowledge that I, or my body rather, did nothing other than exactly what it was specifically and genetically designed to do.  We aren’t typically surprised each morning, when we wake and find that our bodies remembered to breathe while we slept, even though no one was around to ensure it.  Your hearts are all beating right now – why? – because they were designed to do so.  The only thing I am actually guilty of is being a well-oiled machine, just as nature intended, with or without the help of medical staff.  Our bodies are machines, and doctors are mechanics – trained to repair them when they break down – they are not gods and did not have anything to do with designing them.  Even a complete stranger will probably give you a jump in a parking lot if your car battery dies – and they happen to have cables – but they probably won’t treat you like an asshole if you get it started on your own.

On the other hand, spending that time away from him, with more judgment cast upon me than medical advice, was a most difficult time in my life, and I’d rather be cut in half than endure it again.  I will never forego treatment for my son, or anyone else, in an effort to “skirt the system,” but I will certainly take him, or anyone else who may be ailing, elsewhere – even if it means paying out of pocket for the rest of my natural life.

In the end, our baby is completely perfect – just as we suspected the moment we first brought him into this world – together.  All of the better safe than sorry in the world cannot diminish the new strength in the bond we already shared.  I can’t help but wonder, though, since I wasn’t actually given any results, or attention from a doctor at all – once T stood up for me – if any of it was really even necessary.  Affording the staff the same credibility that they afforded me, I’m more inclined to believe that this was more to do with a business at work, that Baby A was held hostage for these days more because of the insurance payouts otherwise lost by my homebirth, than for an actual need for medical treatment.  After Baby A’s extended stay in hospital, though, I am certain that any revenue lost by my home delivery has been sufficiently recovered.

I’ve read the political assertions that a woman’s body is no longer her own, wrapped instead in the red tape of bureaucracy.  I don’t think that the government necessary trampled on my rights as a woman, but it’s clear to me that a whole lot of men, and even some women, with only a clinical knowledge of how my machine runs, and what I’m truly capable of, certainly seem to think they know better than I do, even though I’ve been living in this machine for 37 years now.

I am not a textbook.

I am not a science project.

I am not a profit margin.

I am a woman, similar to many others, but not the same.  And the fact remains that my body, and others like it, have been doing what they do for far longer than doctors and men have been involved – speeding us along and cutting us into pieces.  Without these genetically engineered machines, running and functioning on their own for thousands and thousands of years, none of them would be here, either.  They seem to have forgotten that.

I think it’s shameful that a medical institution seems to have a protocol for absolutely everything EXCEPT for nature simply taking its course. Someone should probably schedule a meeting about that.

In summary, 10 days postpartum, I feel just fine – and thanks for asking.  But I certainly don’t feel like I’ve done anything wrong.  I don’t recommend home birth for anyone else – unless it’s what they choose for themselves, it’s obviously not for everyone.  T even admitted, only after the fact, that he was terrified the entire time – but he wouldn’t change it now for anything.

Was I afraid?  Truthfully – no.  Not even a little bit.  As a woman and a mother, my role is to get things done, and to do things that no one else wants to do – even if it’s gross or scary – that’s my job.  My part in birthing Baby A, while I’m given most all of the “credit,” was mostly a mental feat of just getting through it without letting myself fall apart – we all do that every day.  There are harder things in life, and I had no control over my machine as it did its job – just as I have no control over my heart that beats to keep me alive – my machine just does what it does.  I’m not lucky – and I find it offensive when people tell us we were.

We’ve taken the most natural thing in the world and institutionalized it beyond reason.  We’re taught, not only to fear it, but that we cannot do it alone. My girlfriends would never consider a home birth, and none were timid about telling me that – and that’s fine with me.  But I can’t help but wonder – why?

I think we’ve been taught a few too many things about not giving ourselves enough credit.  We’re beginning to believe that we are the weaker sex. Women used to roar.

~ Marisa

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