Archive for February 22nd, 2006

If you are one of those who, when you inadvertently stumble upon a “birth story” post, roll your eyes and grab frantically for your mouse . . . better leave now while you can, and come back another day. If you’re like me, though, and love to read birth stories . . . here you go. I am still sleep deprived, so I apologize for its flow . . . or lack thereof . . . there were about 20 different “angles” from which I could write it. I think I just strung together some memory snips . . .

I had two miscarriages before I even began trying to get pregnant. The pregnancies were “surprises,” and by the time we became accustomed to the idea, they were ending. After the second one, at 31, I thought, “Hmmm, wonder if I could get pregnant if I wanted to?” Turns out, the answer was no. Jif and I went through the testing and determined that I had an endocrine problem that would make it very difficult for me to conceive, and even more difficult to carry a pregnancy to term. So we began the nightmare that would lead us to our dream-come-true — infertility treatment.

At that time, we pursued the “mildest” options available. (We would later, and without success, pursue more “aggressive” therapies.) But there is nothing mild about ingesting hormones that aren’t manufactured by your own body. I took pills to force my eggs to mature and release. Then I took pills and suppositories to help my body support a pregnancy that may or may not have occurred. By the time I would have known whether I’d conceived, it would have been too late for that hormone to do its thing.

The drugs made me mean and crazy and gave me a perpetual migraine. And the protocol made my husband make love to a mean, crazy, nauseated woman, on demand. Once a month, a few times in a row. Our pillow-talk was something like, “You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.” Good times.

I remember the day my ob-gyn said to me, “You’re going to get pregnant, and have a baby. I promise you that.” I loved her for that. I still do. There is no way in hell she should have said that to a patient. She couldn’t possibly know that. But I did love her for saying it.

I was on the medication combination that I was on for four months longer than is recommended. I think that was because my doc was negligent about doing her reading on the subject. I have never complained. That fourth month too long is the month LG was conceived. I suspected it, because hours after we made love (unscheduled, woohoo!), I had a vision. An actual, altered-states kind of experience. So bizarre and so powerful, that I got out of bed and wrote it down. Later, no one would have believed me, had I not done that, and dated it. And you wouldn’t believe me now, if I wrote it out here. But it happened.

That month, as every month, I went and had the blood test before my period was even late. We had to get those “keep-the-pregnancy” drugs cranking very early, we couldn’t wait for home tests. Somehow there was a mix-up in the results. They told me it was negative. I cried. Then I went on about my life. That was my usual monthly routine. Later, I checked messages at home, and the doc’s office had called. I was out to lunch with my MIL when I called them back. The nurse on the other end of the phone said, “Your numbers are low, but not TOO low. It looks good.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked her.

“Your HCG. We’ll have to watch it, but it’s within normal range . . . “

“No, ” I corrected her. “You only have HCG when you’re pregnant. It’s negative this month…”

“Susan! You ARE pregnant! They didn’t tell you?!” She had been with me through all those months. And um, no, they didn’t tell me.

I started to cry. My MIL started to worry. I told her. I told my MIL before I told my husband. She was standing right there, knowing I had called the doc, and then burst into tears. I had to tell her. She started treating me like fine china. It was nice.

This was on a Friday. Father’s day would be Sunday. I wanted to wait until Sunday to tell Jif. Shyeah, right. I told him as soon as I saw him. He said, “Congratulations.” And we just looked at each other. Neither of us could believe it. In fact, we would go on, not believing it, up through the birth and well after. And sometimes, still today 🙂

The next thing I remember was the first doctor’s visit. Very early. And I left there and went to Woodward and Lothrop department store. And bought baby girl clothes. I was only days pregnant. And I knew. I knew we had a daughter, and we knew her name.

The next thing I remember was the sonogram when we saw her heartbeat. It remains the most beautiful sight I have seen. A white, flashing star. If I live to be very old, and can retrieve only one memory, that will be the one. For some reason, even moreso than her beautiful face. It was her beating heart.

I was sick as a dog for nine months. I developed the rare skill of smiling while vomiting. Sick meant hormones were working, and I was keeping my baby. It was all good. I was working two jobs at the time. My private practice, and as a “mental health consultant” at a Catholic grade school. At the latter, I developed a serious Mountain Dew habit, during those final weeks of pregnancy. I KNOW, it’s terrible! But hear me out. There was this 8th grade boy I was working with. One day, he offered to go and get me a soda. This boy never offered to do anything for anyone. So I accepted, to reinforce his good behavior. I just cautioned him, “No colas, I can’t have caffeine.” He returned with that strange yellow/green formulation, which tasted pretty darned good, even though it obviously had a ton of sugar in it. Then a funny thing happened. The 2 p.m. droop that I was accustomed to experiencing just disappeared! I was running all over the school, up and down stairs, feeling FINE and not needing an afternoon nap anymore. I didn’t know why. I should have known, when every day I made my way to the lounge for a Mountain Dew. But I didn’t. I didn’t know until my baby was about 3 months old, and my niece was visiting and said to me, “You are such a health freak about what you eat and drink while you’re nursing. I cannot BELIEVE you are drinking Mountain Dew.” I sheepishly acknowledged the excess sugar. “No, I’m not talking about the sugar! I’m talking about the caffeine!” I argued with her. It can’t have caffeine; it’s not brown. (I know; WTF?) I was wrong. I quit. It wasn’t easy!

Back to the pregnancy. I had never before in my life felt “old.” At my doctor’s visits, I noticed that on every page of my chart was stamped, in red letters, “AMA.” I said to the nurse, “Why is American Medical Association stamped on my chart?” Oh, no. It was “Advanced Maternal Age.” Geezer mom. I was 36.

I knew that my age made things more complicated. And I was very careful about everything I did. Heading into the last weeks of pregnancy, I had gained 19 pounds. I was pleased with that, thinking I had plenty of growing room to put on maybe 10 more, without risking diabetes or a too-big baby with complications. Then everything went haywire. If it “ain’t pretty,” and it can happen in pregnancy, it happened to me. A sudden 25 pounds of fluid (I know this because within 3 days of giving birth, I had easily peed away that much. Within 2 weeks, I weighed less than before I became pregnant. I was a walking water park); carpal tunnel syndrome; discolored face and chest — people complimented me, asking me if I’d been “to Florida.” You wanna talk hemmorhoids, varicose veins, swollen everything? Doubled volume of mucus and chronic heartburn? No, I didn’t think you did. And still with the puking, always the puking. And smiling.

One day, I apparently stopped smiling. I was in Wal-Mart. I walked past a bench. A woman I did not know sprang up from the bench and approached me very quickly. It would have been alarming, actually, but she had such a peaceful spirit about her that I just stopped to see what would happen. She put her hands on my shoulders. I can still see her face. African-American, a beautiful round face with bright, warm eyes. She said, “You must smile to tell God you are pleased with this gift. You are beautiful, my sister.” Oh, yeaaaaahh. I had forgotten that 😉

We went through the natural childbirth classes. We were the geezers in there. One thing I remember from that class. At one point the instructor asked the dads to write down on a slip of paper the thing that they most feared about the birthing process. All the 20something dads said some variation of “something will happen to the baby; something will be wrong with the baby.” Jif alone wrote, “something will happen to my wife.” I found that interesting. I think it had to do with how long we’d been together (18 years, including dating), and in our own, “older” perspective on mortality. I think the 20somethings didn’t think THEY could die. We’d had enough prenatal counseling (because of the AMA) to know that the older the mom, the more can go wrong.

A couple of weeks before the birth, there was a blizzard. HUGE blizzard. And my baby stopped moving. I ate spicy foods, I drank coffee, I did everything to make her move. She wouldn’t. I had to get to the hospital and be hooked up to make sure she was OK. We were absolutely the only car on the road. I would have lost my mind if I couldn’t have gone and heard her heartbeat. When I finally did hear it, the doctor said, “We are not going to bring you this far and not have a good outcome. Your baby will be fine.” But then she went on to tell me that in a few days, I had to have some sort of advanced sonogram, because my daughter wasn’t moving much because she had outgrown her living arrangements. She was so big, she had no room to move.

A few days later, I lay, in THE POSITION, in the doctor’s office, while three different docs paraded through, one after the other, to look and to feel, and to form an opinion about whether I would be able to deliver the humongous child we had all just seen on the sonogram. Finally, my regular doc came and said, “Your baby appears to be at least 10 pounds. Maybe as much as 12, or even more. We are all in agreement, your pelvis will not separate enough to deliver her vaginally. We have to start talking about a Cesaerian.” I didn’t question. I just wanted her OUT, and SAFE. I would have done whatever I was told.

When the day came, we went to the hospital. We filled out the forms and answered the questions. I was terrified. I was, and remain, a big medical chicken. I had elected to have an epidural (anesthesia injected into the spine, making me numb from the waist down), rather than general anesthesia — not used much in childbirth any more, but it was offered as an option. The nurse came in to prepare me for the epidural. Jif had to leave the room. She was all business, appeared supremely competent. Told me not to worry, she had done this hundreds of times . . . I was to sit on the bed, lean forward into her while a small local anesthetic was injected into my back, then the large needle with the good stuff would be injected into my spine. “DON’T LOOK AT THAT NEEDLE!” She didn’t have to tell me twice. The small needle was no problem. Then, there was a problem. They said I would feel pressure. I felt a pain I cannot describe. I jumped, and shrieked, like a wounded animal. Then I shook. And shook. The anesthesiologist became flustered. He apologized. He said he had to try again. We did. It happened again. It happened a total of four times. I thought I was trapped in a nightmare. As I remember it now, I picture myself cowering under the bed, making the sign of the cross. I probably didn’t actually do that. I would not have known how to tell you about the pain, except that later, a SIL said that in her birthing class, they said that if the anesthesiologist misses the “epidural space,” the pain feels like being electrocuted. Yes, that sounded right. I was electrocuted four times. By this time, the supremely competent nurse had backed away from me, was holding both hands up in the air, as if to say, “I want no part of this,” and was crying. Yes, the nurse was crying, and saying, “I don’t know what is happening here; I have never seen anything like this.” I don’t mean to be critical, but that was maybe not the most helpful thing to say.

The anesthesiologist was angry and embarrassed. He accused me: “Your epidural space is too small! I can’t hit it!” Jif wasn’t there to help me. I was quadruply electrocuted and barely able to speak. Another nurse walked in with a tube and said she was going to insert my catheter. I started to say, “Someone told me to do that after the epidural . . . ” But the anesthesiologist turned on her and shouted, “Leave her alone! She’s had enough pain! Get the hell out of here until she is anesthetized.” He really wasn’t mad at me for having a small epidural space. He was really upset that he’d hurt me. The first nurse and the second nurse left the room, and in came George. He was a nurse anesthetist. He and the anesthesiologist talked about what to do. I don’t remember what they decided to try differently, but on the 5th try, with George in front of me being so, so sweet to me, and the doc at my back, the needle went in the right spot.

A few minutes later, the anesthesiologist touched my thigh. He said, “Can you feel that?” I said I couldn’t. I was lying. You have to understand, electrocution in the spinal column hurts like a sonofabitch. I was thinking, “I will have a C-section with no anesthesia rather than have a sixth epidural attempt.” He knew I was lying. He assured me that they had gotten the needle in the right spot, and he was really only asking if the meds were working yet. So I told the truth. And soon we were on our way to the OR.

George held my hand and said, “You’re nervous. It’s important that you remain calm.” I hope, and I do believe I didn’t use any expletives. But I did say something like, “George? You need to just get over any illusions you have that I am going to be calm. Ain’t happening. However, I want YOU to be calm because that will be helpful to me, and I certainly want the docs here to be calm; in fact I insist.” He assured me that all medical personnel were calm. I was strapped down, arms open side to side, as though on a cross. Jif came in. I asked him to hold my hand, and he asked me where it was. And they cut into my abdomen and removed my daughter. Sometime during that procedure, I lost consciousness, and as I was leaving, I heard someone say, “We’re losing her…” My blood pressure went dangerously low. But, as you can tell, I wasn’t truly lost.

Because she hadn’t had to go through the birth canal (isn’t that an odd expression?), she was not squished. She was perfect. She was also filled with fluid which didn’t get squished out of her during the normal birthing process, and she didn’t cry right away. They suctioned. And suctioned. Then they put her in a tray, and began to pound her back and chest with little hammers. It was a terrible sound. George, the angel, took a blanket and wiped my happy and frightened tears. Then he went and got one of the little hammers. And he said, “See, they’re not hurting her. This is not uncommon with C-sections . . . this loosens the mucus so we can suction thoroughly . . . ” All the while he was hitting me with the tiny hammer. LG started to cry loudly and clearly, with none of the awful gurgling that I had heard to that point.

Then the mood in the room relaxed. They started calling my girl a butterball, and taking bets on how much she weighed. I demanded that Jif go with her everywhere they took her, that she not be out of his sight for a moment. Later, he came to the recovery room and asked me to guess how much she weighed. She weighed 8 pounds, 7 ounces. As it was explained to me, they used a formula to determine her size, based on apparent head circumference and length of femur. She had world-class cheeky monkey cheeks, which made her head appear bigger, and she had long legs. She was 21 3/4 inches. That’s a tall baby. But at that height, with that weight, not a “big” baby.

My doctors were fearful that I would be angry about having had an unnecessary C-section. Finally, one of them asked me point blank if I were. I said, “Look at her. You aren’t going to hear me complain about anything. She arrived safely. I asked God to take care of that. As far as I’m concerned, He did. We don’t know what may have happened if we had gone another way. As it is . . . look at her. . . “

I guess this is a good stopping point, having completed the “birth story” proper. It’s hard to stop, though. I could talk about the visitors, the breastfeeding (what a whole ‘nother Oprah that is!), the ride home . . .

Oh, let me throw in the ride home. After 5 days, Jif picked us up in the minivan. LG and I sat in the backseat. She was wearing the jacket that he came home from the hospital in, as a newborn. As we drove the 15 or 20 miles home, I came to a new realization about myself: I could kill someone. I was a mama, and everything had changed. When people would dart in and out of traffic, or stop short, or cut us off . . . I felt almost compelled to inform them of my new status. Of my new ability — to kill them. I remember saying to God on that drive home, “I knew I was ready to be a mother. I did not know it came with being ready to kill. But I will.” I thought there should be a sign in the window. Not some lame ass baby-on-board. No, a very matter-of-fact, “Hurt my child, and I will kill you. You have been warned.” I was very hormonal, remember. But that sign . . . it’s not posted anywhere . . . but yea, that’s still my sign.

Even after 10 years, I really do have those moments of just looking at her. And not believing she’s ours. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to have her grow inside me, and to watch her grow outside me . . . and yes, God help me, even away from me.

1st birthday
Nine years ago . . . the universal symbol for “that was a great party!” . . . you end up nekkid on the floor with balloons 🙂

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.
When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May.
I guess you say
What can make me feel this way?
My girl (my girl, my girl)
Talkin’ ’bout my girl (my girl).

I’ve got so much honey the bees envy me.
I’ve got a sweeter song than the birds in the trees.
I guess you say
What can make me feel this way?
My girl (my girl, my girl)
Talkin’ ’bout my girl (my girl).

I don’t need no money, fortune, or fame.
I’ve got all the riches baby one man can claim.
I guess you say
What can make me feel this way?
My girl (my girl, my girl)
Talkin’ ’bout my girl (my girl).

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
With my girl.
I’ve even got the month of May
With my girl


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