Since I promised…

7 02 2015

6 months ago, already, of course, but once you become a parent all social obligations exist without deadlines, right? (We hope, as we’re still planning wedding presents for friends married 2 years ago and expecting their first baby any minute–we sent a little baby gift, though!)

So voila: Tabitha’s birth story. Which, like all birth stories, is inherently about a little gore & a lack of modesty, so it’s TMI for anybody not interested in birth stories (are we safe to assume this sort of thing will self-regulate it’s own audience?)

First: the backstory. After Evanny’s delivery, accompanied by insufficiently explained interventions with undesirable consequences, I didn’t want to go back to the same hospital. My doctor was a nice enough guy, but he only delivers there, and I’d heard all his jokes before (although it IS always nice to be told your cervix is beautiful), so once I was past the first few check-ups and feeling confident that all was well and normal, I started looking into options. Central New York, alas, isn’t Austin, so the all-natural, pools-only, walking-paths birth center wasn’t an option, and also alas, my government-job insurance (I teach at a state school) doesn’t fully cover midwives, but I did find that there’s one midwife practice in the area whose deal with the insurer allows partial coverage, and the owner of which, it turns out, is thoroughly offended by this gap in state-sponsored coverage and cut us an additional deal to keep costs somewhat manageable, so about halfway through our pregnancy, I got myself a midwife (or at least a midwifery, since I saw them all, the rest more often than the one officially in charge of my case).

The midwives–part of what I wanted them for–deliver at a different local hospital, one with a lovely low-intervention, slow-paced, leave everybody alone in the middle of the night approach to L&D, so we did our tour a month or two before our little sister was due, relaxing at the very notion of delivering in a room that looks at least as much hotel as hospital, in a queen-sized bed with room enough for hugging or bracing a more gravity-friendly delivery position than the flat-on-my-back trap induced by Evanny’s arrival circumstances. We chatted with the nice Birth Place nurses, one of whom Matt knew from work, checked out the stash of fleece blankets and the much-talked-up better food options (true), and I admired the little plaques with pictures of nuns and peaceful, optimistic professions of faith. We were sure we were in good hands–lots of friends and neighbors had delivered there and talked it up, and several of our kids’ friends were delivered by our new midwives, and I’d been reading up on my options and trying to angle to get the midwives to agree to a no-IV delivery. “Not likely,” the woman I had the final version of this conversation told me. “You’re a redhead. Redheads bleed. And once you’re already bleeding all over the table, it’s a little late to run the extra fluid. So my advice is to have one anyway, and if I’m the one there, I’ll insist. Your best bet is to stall by laboring at home as long as you can; that way there may not be time to put one in!”

A month before we were due, right exactly on her due date, new friend and neighbor baby Darcy was born in Birth Place room C, and I went in the day after with ice cream to trade for a peek and a chance at a snuggle (denied, because of the holy awe of sleeping baby). The room was homey and cozy and dark, my friend was lying about in an ethereal white nightgown like a lady on holiday, the baby was asleep, and we had ice cream: it was like the nirvana of hospital L&D (an impression helped by how her husband had left with the 2 older kids already and taken them to the pool). Having not experienced that kind of stillness even once that I could recall in the 22 months since our first daughter was born, I couldn’t wait for my turn.

Of course, the number of birth stories that match their plans to the letter is exactly zero, so knowing what I wanted all but guaranteed a different experience: the only guarantee in this process is surprise! 19 days later, 2 weeks ahead of the due date Matt has insisted was wrong all along, but after a few scattered days of fake-out little contractions, I found myself lying awake at 4:30 on a Monday morning, playing with a contraction-timer app to try to help me decide if this round of little twinges was another practice run or the real deal. I drowsed, I listened, I read web articles about timing and symptom differences, I wandered around a bit, I showered, I texted my dad, our on-call toddler-sitter, and told him to walk the dog now, because his services might be needed soon, and then I woke Matt to tell him this seemed to be happening. “I don’t think there’s any rush,” I told him. “It’s not like last time, all irregular and terrible right from the get-go. They’re about 5 minutes apart, getting a little more intense but no big deal yet; this seems much more like how they said it was supposed to go. So I’ll call the midwife, and you can text Jenn and put your coffee on, and I’ll text my dad back and tell him to come over in a bit.” Jenn, if you’ve missed that along the line somewhere, is Caleb’s mom, and in summer we pick him up on Monday mornings to stay the week, so Matt had been about to get up and put the coffee on anyway. We decided, since this was a 2nd baby, and the first had been relatively fast, that we should delay pick up instead of Matt heading out for an hour-and-a half drive, even if my dad’s job would have been easier with a 6-year-old helper.

I called the midwives’ number, got the after-hours answering service and was told that my designated person would be calling me back soon, and went to take a bath. I never got the tub filled; halfway there, while I heard Evanny wake up, call for us, and be taken downstairs for a sippy cup full of milk, the innocent little contractions turned into gigantic wrenches, and I crawled out of the tub, went to hang out on the toilet because sitting was more comfortable than standing around, and checked my phone fifteen times. No call from the midwife. No answer from Dad, who was still out with the dog. Matt came back upstairs while the coffee was steeping and found me naked in a ball on the bathroom floor, cussing. “What the hell,” he said. “You said we had lots of time!” “Well, that’s because it didn’t hurt before! But it does now. A lot! And nobody is calling me back and I think we’re going to have the second baby in this neighborhood this year born on the bathroom floor. Ow!” “We are not,” he said. “Let me get dressed. You get dressed. I’ll call your dad. You’re scaring the baby,” he added, as little miss sippy cup peered around his legs at me. “Don’t worry, baby,” I told her, making my way quickly into the bedroom between contractions and then alternating items of clothing with spells of bending over the bed moaning. “Mummy’s just having a baby. It hurts a bit, but it’s all okay. Papa’s coming over to play with you, oka–ow ow OW!”

Dressed, I went downstairs to moan and groan out of the way in the living room while he packed up, called my dad again, and got her settled in her high chair with some Cheerios and some Peppa Pig episodes on an old cell phone. Still too loud, I thought; definitely going to scare the baby. Toddler. Big kid? I went out on the porch, watching my phone. No midwife. Dad, at least, was reported to be on his way. I looked up the phone number of the Birth Place, who were supposed to be warned we were coming by my AWOL midwife, and got a sweet but not all that helpful person on the phone. “I can’t find my midwife,” I told her, but I’m all registered there, so I guess I’m just letting you know we’re on our way?” “Sorry,” she told me. “All of our rooms are full, so you’ll just have to check into regular labor and delivery, and we’ll switch you over as soon after as anything opens up.” So there I was: it was a warm, cloudy summer morning, and I was alone in the silence of that blanket of sky, tearing at it with my primal experience, moaning away from the house, stretching my back against the porch-rail, failed by the plans and technology alike. No midwife, no queen beds, no Birth Place–and if my dad didn’t hurry up, it was going to be no delivery team but me and that sky, because this baby was coming. The remarkable part of all this, to me, was that I was annoyed at the people who weren’t where they were supposed to be, but I wasn’t really worried about myself or the baby knocking insistently on my inner musculature. It wouldn’t be hard to get out of the ugly maternity pants, I was sure; in that moment, I felt capable, powerful, and a bit sarcastic about the future possibility of having to tell Tabitha that she’d been born in my pants. I was quite sure I could have her on the porch if need be, and we were rapidly approaching “need be”. “We need to GOOOOOOO,” I advised Matt in my best ‘no panic here’ sort of voice, seriously contemplating leaving the toddler alone in the house, perched in her strapless high chair to wait for my father’s arrival. Fortunately, he rounded the corner right before I started to insist, and thus our daughters are still ours and haven’t been taken into foster care on account of flagrant neglect.

I let my dad escort me to our car, where I crawled into the back seat because sitting up with a belt on was out of the question. Matt tossed out a hurried collection of reminders for Evanny’s care, and I reminded Dad that he could text us with questions; we were only going to be 12 minutes away. Then Matt drove us through the construction jumble that is the Syracuse downtown, like a champ, and I fussed about potholes to have something to do, moaned through contractions, and thought about telling Tabitha how she was born in my pants in the backseat of a Nissan. When we finally arrived at St. Joseph’s, more like 15 minutes later than twelve (we hit a few red lights), we went to where the valet parking spots were supposed to be waiting for us to just pop out and go on in, and they were all full of cars and shuttle busses. With nowhere to put the car, Matt did a few laps. “I’m going to have this baby in this car,” I warned him, “and I really don’t think the upholstery treatment on this lease can handle that.” So he pulled over willy-nilly and found a helpful fellow with a wheelchair who could holler to the car valets and help us out. “My wife is having a baby,” he told the guy. “Uh-huh,” said the guy, who probably heard that line fifteen times a day. “No, like RIGHT NOW.” So we got a fast-track wheelchair ride past check-in to the elevator line, then a no-faster wait for an elevator that stopped twice on the way to our floor, once to collect a few people after a morning snack in the cafe, and everybody got to listen to me moan, and we took the long, winding road through the halls to the L&D check in, where the receptionist was on the phone. “Hang on,” she told whoever she was talking to, and then glanced idly at me. “You feeling pressure, hon?” “YES,” I said as sweetly as was humanly possible, and she directed my charioteer to triage across the hall.

Jen, the midwife who’d told me to stall at home, was at my side suddenly, in street clothes. “My shift is just wrapping up,” she said, “but Maggie will take care of you. I might just hang around for a few minutes since she’s new, to make sure everything is in order to get you started. Have you met Maggie?” I hadn’t: Maggie was the only midwife in the practice I hadn’t seen, but I’d heard glowing reports about her delivering Darcy, so I was fine with this development, fine with Linda not being there, fine with whatever, because the affair was going to be finished any second now regardless. They helped me onto a stretcher behind the triage curtain, where I asked for and was granted permission to take off my horribly uncomfortable maternity shorts, which in the last half an hour I had decided were the item of clothing I loathed most in the world. “Let’s just check where you’re at,” said someone who might have been a nurse and might have been Maggie–it was all such a quick blur that I don’t think I’d recognize her if she were at my door tomorrow. “I’m having a baby RIGHT NOW is where I’m at. It’s RIGHT THERE.” “Okay, we’ll just take a look,” she said calmly, and then her voice rose an octave and she chirped “uh, she’s crowning. We’re having the baby right here!” “Is that okay?” she thought to ask me. I assured her it didn’t matter at all. The nurse protested, though. “I don’t have a kit here! And there’s equipment we might need! If we can just get into a room–” It took them 15 seconds to ascertain that there was a room just across the hall, and Maggie-the-midwife refrained from rolling her eyes about getting to it (believing, I imagine, that the only equipment needed at this point was me). Then, like a bad TV movie, I shit you not, she–or it might have been Jen, who didn’t have time to leave anyway–said “okay, here we go–just–keep your legs closed!” (I suppose it’s a terrible liability of a baby pops out into the air mid-hallway dash and bounces off the shiny floors?). The delivery room finale of our birth story goes like this: they wheeled me up beside the bed and while they pondered the best approach to transferring me, I rolled over onto all fours and crawled from one bed to the other. “She’s strong!” said someone, who might have been Jen, or Maggie, or one of the nurses. “Can I just stay like this?” I asked whoever was listening. “Sure,” somebody answered. So I held onto the back of the bed and pushed three times, without anybody barking orders of any kind at me, and then in a hot little tumble of slick limbs, Tabitha slid out into Maggie’s hands and we were done. They put her on my chest, sticky and gooey, nobody whisking her away to check anything in any kind of a hurry. Somebody called the time as 8:04 AM. Matt looked at his text record and said “my last ‘where are you’ text to your dad was only a half hour ago. Literally: it’s time stamped 7:34. Can I go get a coffee now? I never had time at home!” “Of course,” I told him, giddy with the reprieve: all the things to fear or dread about a birth were already over, and it was only 8 in the morning, and we’d had a full night’s sleep the night before. It seemed too easy, a crazy little miracle. And who the heck was this baby? MY baby was at home with her Papa probably still watching the same cartoon, and with no real work to speak of, here was this whole new naked person on my body, just waiting to be known.

In some ways, she’s still a little stranger; her easy sweetness baffles us after Evanny’s fire, and her face is still sometimes a surprise: she looks like my family, a lot like my family, so it’s not like I wonder if she’s not our little person, but so many of my expectations of “baby” were forged in that first-daughter fire that I’m still sometimes startled that the little hands, so much the same in shape, lead to a different little voice and laugh and body.  But she’s a dear little stranger–and as I remember thinking that Ev felt like somebody I didn’t know for far longer than I expected her to, I know now that she’s not going to stay one.  It’s just hard for me, who sets so much store in language, to feel like I know them truly until they start using words back at me.  In the end, though, everything worked out beautifully: we got into a Birth Place room that afternoon and got to spend our one night in the hospital this time–one!–together in the easy queen bed (where, not surprisingly, Daddy snoozed and I sat awake, listening to and starting to learn a whole new night-time song of cries and snuffles).  Linda the missing midwife appeared later in the day, checking in on all she’d missed and checking out our sequence of events to see what had gone wrong: apparently she’d been driving back from visiting family and out of cell range, but the answering service had just left a message and not known to call anybody else, so I was simply lost in the shuffle for a while. “Clearly,” she said, “we need a new protocol!” As I was well-rested, showered, fed, and relaxing comfortably next to a healthy, easily birthed little baby, we were forgiving to the point of having already pretty much forgotten having been upset at all. There was restful down-time waiting for the kids to come and visit, there were cute “aww” moments (although mostly between Evanny and Caleb playing together, since she was so excited to see him and get to chase him around the room that he rather eclipsed the presence of sleepy new baby), there was even ice-cream (although I lacked the ethereal nightgown).  The kid visit was a bit of a let down, really; I had been looking forward to taking adorable pictures of them meeting the baby, and made sure Matt had the good camera, and instead he was trying to wrangle them into behaving and ended up putting a movie on, and they were more interested in the movie, ice-cream, and each other. Our favorite part of the stay was when, around 9 in the evening, the sweetest nurse we could imagine came in with a little square pan of warm water, the world’s softest little sponge, and a big pile of towels, which she set up on the bed in a practiced, layered array, then proceeded to give our all-day sticky baby a gentle, cooing sponge-bath, singing the praises of her beautifully wrinkled, shocked-pink new skin.  “Aren’t they all beautiful?” I asked her.  “Oh, yes,” she said.  “They’re so different–such different body shapes, sizes, colors, lots of hair or none at all–but they’re all so beautiful.”

The next morning, there was a little pediatric hovering about her possibility of being jaundiced, and a meeting that sprung up in the middle of her hearing test, so I had to peel the gel-sensors off of her tiny face myself while the staff was elsewhere, but all in all, it was a calm, angst-free early-part-of-the day, with lots of time to post brags online and send text messages, and by afternoon they had cleared us for the quick cross-town trek, and we were home to show her off to my grandmother and photograph her curled up in her brother’s careful arms. It still seems like we got off easy; I still catch myself thinking about all of the awful of labor and then remembering that I don’t have to worry about that anymore: Tabitha is here, and I’m not doing it again. We basically skipped it: 2 1/2 inconclusive hours of not even hurting, an hour of labor during which I was totally distracted by being busy doing all the things, and <5 minutes in the delivery area before we had a baby in hand and a name penned on the waiting wheelie-baby-box. Ta-da!






One response

11 02 2015
Cynthia Wingood

beautiful… just beautiful!

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