Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Birth Story

       If I’ve learned one thing in the past ten months, it’s that even the best laid plans are at best, strong wishes. I couldn’t control the events on July 8, 2013, even though I’ve thought of a million ways I could have avoided that bus stop. But I didn’t. I was there, at the wrong place and the wrong time, simply on my way to work, and my life changed forever. If Gabriel and I had gotten pizza that afternoon instead of making love at that particular moment, on that particular day, I’d be in school right now–not exhausted, covered in a thin layer of breast milk and cuddling the sweetest baby boy. My twenty-one years of life are more keenly divided into pivotal moments now that I know my own profound weakness.

Being raped has instilled a deep fear and insecurity in me, and uncontrollable circumstances are more difficult to face now. Since I found out I was pregnant, my mind has slowly become consumed with pregnancy, labor and birth. I welcomed the distraction. I read everything I could—books, blogs, websites. I watched YouTube videos and documentaries. I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to know what’s coming. I didn’t want any surprises. I was determined to take as much control as I could. Gabriel and I made the choice that our baby would be born at home, away from a hospital system full of triggers and controlling protocol. I made lists of behavior I wanted and didn’t want in labor. We bought and prepared meals for our birth team.

       I had a plan.

       Then March 19, 2014, my due date came and went. For the weeks leading up to my due date, Gabriel and I would optimistically wake up everyday thinking ‘Maybe today’s the day we’ll meet our son!’ Maybe it was wishful thinking gone rogue, but I actually believed I would have my baby before my due date. It was part of the “plan.” I was very done with being pregnant, and Gabriel was more than ready to no longer have a pregnant wife. But not only did I not go into labor before my due date, but our little babe didn’t make an appearance for another two weeks.

       I was pregnant for 42 weeks.

       As the days ticked by with no sign of labor, I started to panic. I had never intended to be pregnant this long. Finally, on March 29th I felt a change. Gabriel and I were at a Mosque with my sister attending an Islam 101 course and as soon as the teachers began to speak I knew something was happening. My back was radiating. Contractions started and I couldn’t sit still. I quietly excused myself and walked around the beautiful Mosque, swaying my hips, leaning on tables, squatting when I needed to, and praying that this was it.

       That night I called our midwife to let her know things were moving.
       “Get to bed soon,” she suggested, “You’re going to need your rest.” The warning hung over us as we excitedly headed to bed early to pray and prepare ourselves for the journey ahead. That night I woke frequently and restlessly tried to sleep but nothing picked up or changed. This was normal, I told myself. Labor can start slow. I had contractions 6-15 minutes apart all day Sunday—again thinking, this was it. Sunday night rolled around and I fell asleep, waking often through the night with the same infrequent contractions.

       Monday morning was greeted with tears. This was not part of the plan. Labor was long, but not this long. We had already eaten our labor food, done our labor tricks and burned through our early labor excitement and nothing was changing. Our midwife came over Monday and started some mild homeopathic labor enhancers. Gabriel and I went for a walk. Nothing changed. I was still only in latent labor, and we had foolishly already told our families that the baby would be here soon so Gabriel’s family had driven 15 hours overnight from Minnesota and my family drove in from Tennessee and Maryland. Everyone was waiting.

       Monday night was much the same as the last two nights—but with more tears and less sleep. Gabriel and I watched a chick flick in the middle of the night to distract ourselves from the steady, slow contractions and dulling disappointment. Tuesday our midwife came over to begin some hard-core crunchy methods to speed things up. Before we started with the blue cohosh and castor oil she did the routine check of the baby’s heart rate and position.

       “Oh! That’s different,” she said as she prodded my stretchmarked belly, “He’s turned. He’s now posterior.” After discovering the undesirable position of the baby, the long latent labor made more sense, but was no closer to being over. All of Tuesday was spent drinking special concoctions every fifteen minutes, leaning in certain positions and rebozoing the heck out of our sunny side up baby. Finally, Tuesday night, after Gabriel and I made a huge pot of vegetable soup, something changed. Contractions started burning through my back to my front and they were now coming every 3-4 minutes apart. We had finally hit active labor!

       We were in the home stretch—or so we thought. I spent the next twenty-four hours rocking through intense back labor, with six hours of transition and zero sleep. My beloved husband stayed with me the entire time, holding my hands, wiping my tears, putting counterpressure on my back with every body splitting contraction. Due to exhaustion, my body started involuntarily pushing midafternoon on Wednesday. The trouble was, I wasn’t fully dilated yet. I still had an anterior lip of cervix left. I had to keep my body from pushing with each contraction to prevent damage to my cervix. This is when I lost it. After hours of laboring and resisting, I was losing my strength.

       Without my knowing, my family had started to silently gather downstairs. My mother, and three sisters were waiting, praying and hearing my cries. Early in the evening my midwife came to me and quietly brought up the possibility of transfer to a hospital. “There’s no shame in a change of plans. We could go to a hospital, get you an epidural, get some rest and try to push him out then.” Gabriel went downstairs in tears, not knowing how to make these decisions and asked my family to come upstairs and help. My mom, three sisters and Gabriel all gathered around me, holding my hands, praying, breathing with me and singing childhood lullabies over me. I could feel their strength. I could feel their love.

       With exhaustion and desperation swiftly approaching, my midwife suggested that even with the swollen lip of cervix, that I try to push him past it. Finally, I was allowed to give in to my body’s impulse to push. With Gabriel holding one leg, my oldest sister holding the other, my mom and my two other sisters around me cheering I pushed for over an hour. We tried different positions—squatting, side laying (which made my back feel like it was splitting in two), on my hands and knees, and it seemed to be working at first. But after pushing for so long my midwife checked my cervix again and it was only more swollen.

       Gabriel and I retreated to the bathroom to be alone and discuss.
       “I just don’t want you to be disappointed,” Gabriel said crying, “I want this for you.” Tears streamed down both our tired faces as we held each other, knowing the decision that had to be made. We knew it was time to transfer to the hospital. My sisters rushed to pack our bags while I painstakingly made my way down the stairs and into the car. The twenty-minute car ride to the hospital was hands down the most painful part of my three-day labor. Once the decision to accept pain relief was made, I wanted it immediately, not after a long car ride, triage, and nurse’s questions. I snapped at every nurse or doctor I saw, delightfully demanding, “Could you please hurry!” I apologized to everyone after I finally got the epidural.

       “You’re having a contraction. Can you feel it?” These were the most beautiful words spoken to me, because no, I could not feel it. I could have wept with joy. Minutes after having the epidural, the baby’s heart rate starting dropping. A doctor examined me and discovered that there was meconium present and the baby was in distress. Quickly a flood of nurses and doctors were in my room, poking and moving and shifting me around, talking in rapid, succinct statements about emergency procedures.
An imposing, tall doctor walked in the room, looked at the scene before him and declared, “I never would have even given her the epidural. She needs an emergency c-section.” Another doctor quickly recited the risks and reasons for having a c-section and asked me if I consented. My mind was cloudy, and my ears were ringing as countless strangers touched and manipulated my body. I quickly locked eyes with Gabriel across the room.

       “It’ll be okay,” he said with a sweet, slow smile.
       “I want whatever is safest,” I said quietly. And with that, I was whisked away to be prepped for surgery. Gabriel was given scrubs to wear and was soon by my side. I expected fear, anger, and disappointment to flood my heart as more needles and monitors were attached to my body, but all I could think was “I’m going to meet my son soon.”

       The anesthesiologist calmly explained to me everything that was going on. Gabriel held my hand and smiled as the blue curtain was raised, separating me from my pregnant belly. I was finally in no pain, Gabriel was still my support and the surgical team was confident and kind. Jokes were being made and laughter bounced off the shining surgical equipment.

       “Dad do you want to take a picture because here he comes!” the surgeon offered. A full cry covered the room like music, or color, and all I could say was “My son. My son,” as tears rolled under the surgical cap and into my hair. Our son, Theodore Eldon Duane Myrin was born on April 2, 2014 at 10:16pm. He was eight pounds, ten ounces and twenty and one quarter inches long. He was perfect. Gorgeous. The most stunning newborn I had ever seen. And he was mine.

       The days in the labor and delivery unit were joyous, too. Family came and stayed all day. Theodore was held and adored by many, and the hospital parfaits were fantastic. But when the day came to be discharged we were ready to take our son home. After being home just five hours I started to get chills. I assumed I just needed my pain medication prescriptions filled, but we soon realized that my 102.3 degree fever was an indicator of something more sinister. We headed back to the hospital. After a few hours in the emergency room I was readmitted to the hospital with a uterine infection.

       A young resident asked, “Who will be taking the baby?”
       “He has to stay with me,” I asserted.
       “Well, we have to make you better.”
       “I will not stay, if he cannot stay.” And that was that. For the next week and a half our little family of three huddled together while my fevers continued spiking above 103 several times a day. Countless doctors came through, poking and prodding, offering their individual opinion. Pretty soon the idea of another surgery was brought up. On three separate occasions I was told I could not eat or drink in preparation for surgery, only to be told the next day that we wouldn’t be going to surgery after all—I would be starting a different round of stronger antibiotics.

       I had an infection in my abdominal cavity that they couldn’t figure out how to get rid of. I had a hematoma in my abdomen, and an abscess on my uterus that was obstructing my ureter. I had numerous CAT scans, several blood draws a day (with many blown veins as a result), a drain, and several delightful catheter experiences. I had to consult lactation consultants to insure that I could still breastfeed Theodore with all the medication they were giving me. Thankfully, I could.

       Finally, the strongest cocktail of antibiotics available broke my fevers. With a minor surgery to insert a stent, and a PICC line in place for continued IV antibiotics at home, I was discharged. Gabriel and I once again, packed up our new little family and headed home. We were tired, sore, bruised and much thinner than before (the hospital parfaits lost their charm), but we were finally free. By the grace of God, the fierce support of family and our new dazzling love for our son we arrived home with worn smiles on our faces. We were ready to sleep in the same bed again and get to know our baby without the invasive beeps of hospital machinery.

       The plan didn’t involved epidurals or hospitals. It certainly didn’t include surgery or infections—but in the recovery room after my cesarean as Gabriel and I held our little gift from God—we were elated. No remorse, no disappointment, no fear. Just joy and wonder. He was ours. Our son was finally here.

Photo Credit: Katherine Michael