“Congratulations!” said the Agway clerk.
Huh? Congratulations?! Oh yes, that’s right. I had a baby. She couldn’t see the scars.
At 36 weeks pregnant I felt like I had the flu. I blamed it on a stomach virus and the flu shot. I blamed abdomen pain on baby kicks. I took 2 to 3 baths a night for the aches, and dumped Witch Hazel and Noxema on an unbearable rash. Eventually I decided to see my midwife Michelle.
“I just feel crappy and swollen,” I told her.
“A headache?” she asked.
“Hmmm, a little, and I see some spots, like fairies.”
Michelle said, “I’m sure it’s nothing, but let’s check you out.”
I gave her a urine sample, and she seemed unusually calm as she checked the dipstick. She measured my belly twice. Still calm. Then she tested my reflexes and was even more unusually calm. Last she checked my blood pressure, looked at me sincerely, and said, “You will be going to the hospital from here.”
I cried out, “What? No!”
“There is lots of protein in your urine and your blood pressure is sky high.” She handed me a sick note saying: not to return to work due to complications of pregnancy. I said I would drive to the hospital and she said no, she would.
I called Andrew five times in a row until he answered during class. I told him I had pre-eclampsia and Michelle was taking me to the hospital.
Michelle checked me into Samaritan, but sadly she couldn’t make medical decisions. I didn’t expect her to stay with me, but she did. As Michelle told the nurses about my pregnancy I was asked to put on a gown. What? Was I staying here? So many disappointing and sad thoughts entered my mind as my neighbor Amy came to the door. I began to cry.
Amy and Michelle came with me to a pastel birthing room. The nurses gave me paperwork. I just signed, too freaked out to read. Next the dreaded needles starting coming and the nurse couldn’t find a vein because I was so swollen. Finally the IV was in and they started pumping me with magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures, which are the danger with severe pre-eclampsia.
Another nurse came to give me a catheter to monitor the proteins in my urine. The placenta was poisoning me and the baby! Then the doctor came and said I had to go to Albany Medical Center since the baby might need the NICU.
I was not happy, but there was no choice. I just had to wait for the ambulance. Andrew arrived and Michelle told him what was happening.
Soon I was at Albany Med. The nurses asked me a couple hundred dumb questions and yelled at the computer over and over again. I was having contractions every 3 to 5 minutes and Michelle was watching the monitor. Thank God she was there because the resident had no idea I was even having contractions.
Ugh. Okay C-section it is. Michelle wouldn’t say so if it was not the best decision.
Next I was flooded by a team of anesthesiologists, medical students, and nurses. Questions, questions, questions. Papers, papers, papers.
The surgeon entered the room, and stayed halfway between the bed and the door like he had to pee really badly. He asked if I had any questions. I had a vision of him slicing my bladder in half.
I was mad that they wouldn’t let Michelle in since their policy was to let only one ‘guest’ inside the OR. Andrew was finally allowed to enter after they cut me. I would have looked at the scary half of me, but Andrew didn’t. He sat to the right of my head and seemed excited. I felt drugged and a little nauseous. I breathed deeply, trying to relax. I felt a lot of pushing on my belly and I imagined it as a bowl of jello. Then all of a sudden the baby was out! The surgeon raised her over the curtain, but I only saw her foot. Andrew laughed out loud and said, “It’s a girl and she has a lot of hair!” He was so happy.
They whisked her off to the next room and Andrew went with her. I felt a wave of nausea even though they gave anti-vomit meds. I should have been ecstatic, but at that moment I just felt drugged. And very very heavy. I think Andrew came back in after they cleaned her up and began to staple me and said. “She’s healthy so she doesn’t have to go to the NICU!”
She came in on her little plastic bassinet on wheels and the nurses put her right on my chest. She wore a little cream colored hat that was way too big for her head. She was tiny! So adorable and homely at the same time. She had these amazing long little fingers. And so much hair! I was in love.
We had to stay at the hospital five days because my blood pressure wouldn’t stabilize. Andrew slept on a crappy reclining chair and I laid awake still in shock of what had just happened. I was sad that Andrew couldn’t lay in the same bed and cuddle me. I needed that so badly! With all the nurses around I should have felt cared for, but I felt alone.
Sure all of the nurses seemed nice, but not full of love like Michelle. They were just doing a job that seemed annoying to them. Andrew was with me the entire time. All I wanted was to be home in bed with Hazel and Andrew with our warm wood stove and the sunlight that comes into our bedroom every morning. Not the fluorescent hospital lights that made the room feel like the morgue.
Looking back on all of this nine weeks later. I am thankful. Thankful for my life. Thankful for Hazel. She’s healthy and strong. Thankful for Andrew who reminded me daily after the birth that I could have died. Thankful for supportive friends who cooked us meals and cleaned our home when we were in hospital and returned home. Thankful for our midwife Michelle who took care of us with love and wisdom at home postpartum. I don’t think I would have healed so quickly without her and my community.
I recently watched a beautiful homebirth video from a woman in my prenatal exercise class and I was not jealous like I thought I would be. Hazel’s birth was just as beautiful, but in a very different way. My neighbor Amy reminded me about perspective. Hazel’s early arrival gave us four less weeks of worry about her arrival. We didn’t have four weeks to argue about where to put the birthing tub and if it was going to be warm enough with the woodstove during labor. There were four weeks less of my itchy rash and hemorrhoids! And most importantly, four more weeks to get to know Hazel Moon.
The next time a woman tells me that her child’s birth was Cesarean, I’ll say “Congratulations!” instead of “Awwww,” like I used to say. Birth is birth. The product is life. Hazel’s birth took endurance, strength, and love. It made me appreciate my community, my partner, and life. I hope other women and families who have experienced this will have the support to make peace with their unexpected Cesareans, too.