The Birth of Scarlett Rose
** WARNING: Birth is graphic. View the following at your own risk.
Scarlett Rose Morguess
June 23, 2012 6:46 p.m.
7 pounds 5 ounces, 20 inches
I became pregnant with my seventh baby at the age of 44, this after my husband, Michael, had undergone cancer treatment for stage 3 colorectal cancer two years prior, which included intensive chemotherapy and pelvic radiation. To say that this pregnancy was a surprise would be quite an understatement; my age alone made it seem somewhat unlikely, but we were under the impression that his cancer treatment had left him sterile. Our family felt complete with six kids, and we were thankful that Michael’s cancer was in remission, so the idea that we would have no more children was fine with us.
After a week or so of mood swings and crying jags last October, however, I decided to take a pregnancy test just to rule that out as a cause of how strange I was feeling. I was absolutely certain the test would be negative, but I needed to see that just to be sure. It was positive.
I cried. How could this be? I was too old, I had no business being pregnant. There was no way this could end well.
When I called my midwife, Sue, who had been here for Lilah’s and Finn’s births, and who had also become a dear friend who gave us so much support through Michael’s cancer treatment, she laughed. She was sure that this was a miracle baby who would someday do something phenomenal.
I spent the entire first trimester being really scared (and nauseous), sure that I would miscarry, or that it would come to some other bad ending.
But it didn’t.
By the time the second trimester rolled around, I was feeling much better physically, and I felt myself relax and stop thinking about bad omens. Right around the time my nausea disappeared, I began to feel those little flutters of movement. Wow! I was really going to have another baby.
We opted not to undergo any prenatal screenings to detect disorders or birth defects, despite my advanced age and the fact that Finn, born almost four years ago, has Down syndrome. It wasn’t a difficult decision for me; I didn’t feel that knowing anything ahead of time would be of any benefit to me or to the baby. I was glad to have not known about Finn’s Down syndrome until after his birth, and I wanted the same opportunity to just enjoy being pregnant this time around. I figured that our family was strong enough to deal with whatever surprises this baby might be born with as well. We did opt for a mid-pregnancy ultrasound just to rule out obvious physical anomalies that would preclude a safe home birth, and it was then that we learned we would be having another little girl.
The whole pregnancy went by really quickly. I guess that happens when you have a passel of other kids to keep you busy. I settled into being pregnant and reveled in it. I felt really good and could hardly believe how smoothly things were going.
The biggest concern was my blood pressure. I’ve had blood pressure issues throughout my last few pregnancies, and I was diagnosed with chronic hypertension about two years ago – hereditary (my dad had it) – and have been on meds to control it for about that long. With medication, a high protein diet, and supplements suggested by my midwife, my blood pressure stayed in a nice, healthy range throughout my pregnancy – until the last couple of weeks.
Around 38 weeks, my midwife went out of town for a few days, my blood pressure started rising, and I came down with the flu – all at the same time. That was stressful! She was in Nashville, and she and I were in constant contact via text about my blood pressure, and I was able to bring it down somewhat after a couple of days, but from then on it continued to go up and down and remained a big concern.
On Wednesday, June 20 – two days shy of my due date – I woke up with some bloody show. This was a promising sign; it meant that labor probably was not very far off. I happened to have a prenatal appointment scheduled with Sue that morning, and she checked me and said I was dilated to 1 cm – which really means absolutely nothing, but at least it satisfied my curiosity.
My blood pressure continued to rise and fall. By Friday, June 22 – my due date – the Braxton-Hicks contractions I had been experiencing for so long were finally becoming real contractions, but they were pretty irregular, ranging from ten to twenty minutes apart. Still, I thought it was a sign of progress, and I went to the bakery and bought a “birth day” cake in anticipation of the big event and put it in the fridge.
Sue came over again late in the day. She and I talked and I agreed to have her check me again and if I had dilated any further, she would strip my membranes to see if she could get things moving. I had, indeed, dilated a little more, so she did a membrane sweep.
For a few hours after that, my contractions picked up. They were definitely more intense, and consistently ten or so minutes apart. Michael and I went to bed, half expecting things to really pick up during the night. I slept fitfully; the contractions were waking me up from time to time, but they actually had gotten farther apart. By morning, Saturday, June 23, it seemed that whatever had started up had now mostly stalled out. I was feeling a little frustrated – was this going to be another drawn out start-and-stop labor like I had had with Lilah? – but also sort of okay with it; I figured the baby would come when she was ready.
Michael and I ran some errands in the morning – mostly to kill time, I think. We came home and fed the kids lunch and then decided to go for a walk. While we were out walking, Sue called me on my cell phone. She was still very concerned about my blood pressure, and talked to me about risks associated with maternal hypertension. Placental abruption was the biggest risk and the biggest concern. She emphasized that the best thing would be for the baby to be born as soon as possible, and she wanted it to happen that day if possible. Suddenly I was scared. Placental abruption? Now I had to consider the possibility of death for my baby and/or myself? Sue said, “I love you guys too much, and have watched you come too far, to allow a bad outcome.” Michael was scared, too. Was this a situation that required transferring to the hospital? I didn’t want to do that unless absolutely necessary – I knew without a doubt that if we went to the hospital, my blood pressure would shoot through the roof just from stress and anxiety, and they would immediately put me on Pitocin and probably Mag/Sulph, and the entire thing would spiral downhill with interventions and it would break my heart. I trusted that Sue would send us to the hospital if necessary, and she hadn’t, so it wasn’t necessary. But we needed to give my labor a kick-start and encourage this baby to come out and meet the world.
When Michael and I got home from our walk, we figured we had better get things set up just in case.
Sue came over mid-afternoon and she, Michael and I sat down and talked about our options. I was having strong but sporadic contractions, and she checked me again and found that I was dilated to 5 cm. I asked her about breaking my water, and she said that she’d rather not unless I was in active labor. She suggested castor oil. I wasn’t thrilled with that idea because I had taken castor oil to get things moving with Lilah and remembered the effects. Sue said that her experience has been that castor oil gets active labor going within two hours usually. I absolutely didn’t believe that was going to be the case with me – my contractions were twenty to thirty or more minutes apart at this point, and I just couldn’t imagine that things would pick up considerably that quickly. It was worth a shot, though, so I agreed.
So we sent Michael to the store for the ingredients for Sue’s Special Kickstart Labor Shake: castor oil, OJ concentrate, and vanilla ice cream. She threw it all in the blender, and I drank it at about 4:00 p.m.
Then we waited.
Kevin was down the street at a friend’s house, Joey was running around the neighborhood from one friend’s house to another, and Michael took the girls to swim at a neighbor’s across the street. To kill time, Sue and I chitchatted for a while, and then we started watching home birth videos on YouTube.
Michael texted me a few minutes after 5:00 from the neighbor’s house to see how I was doing, and I told him my contractions had picked up a bit but they were still 10+ minutes apart. My friend Lisa texted me at about 5:30 and I told her that my contractions were picking up some. I still thought it was going to be quite a while, and I was prepared for it to stall out again.
Michael came home with the girls at around 5:45, and Daisy got into the shower. Suddenly, my contractions started coming on stronger and closer together. By 6:00 they were no more than a couple of minutes apart and incredibly strong. Every time one would hit, I would drop down on all fours because that seemed like the position to assume to deal with the contractions best.
In no time at all, the contractions were coming fast and hard, one right after another. I began to panic. I yelled for Daisy to get out of the shower because we needed the shower connection to fill up the birth pool.
I was trying to get undressed, but the contractions were coming so quickly. “Shit! Here comes another one . . .” I moaned. “Fuck, another one . . .” Sue said, “Why don’t you let me check you just to see where we are?” “No, there’s no time, I’m there!” I said. Clearly, the baby was coming. Sue helped me get a bathing suit top on and into the pool, and being submerged in the warm water was a relief.
I remember thinking, “I hope it just stalls out now, I hope it just stalls out now . . .” but the contractions kept coming, one right behind another. I couldn’t believe how fast this was happening.
We sent the girls out of the room so I could focus, and because I didn’t want to scare them with all the noise I knew I’d be making. I had screamed my way through Lilah’s and Finn’s births – the truth is, as big a fan I am of natural birth, I’m not one who will claim it’s a peaceful or serene experience.
I felt my water break in the pool, and suddenly my body took over and the pushing started. It is the wildest thing – completely beyond your control, that bearing down with everything you have.
Somehow I managed not to scream through this one. I moaned – loudly – “No . . . no . . . no . . . I can’t do it . . . I can’t do it . . .” while Sue and Michael kept saying, “You are doing it.” I just wanted it to stop, to be over. I was on overload, every cell of my body working to get this baby out, and truly feeling like there was no way I was going to survive this. Melodramatic, I know, but damn – giving birth just pushes you to your limits.
I could distinctly feel the baby – especially the round, hard shape of her head – moving down and out. Though it felt like it took an eternity, the truth was that I pushed through two contractions – just a few minutes – before my daughter was born.
Sue’s labor notes read: “6:45 – head out; 6:46 – body out.” Scarlett was born with a nuchal arm, meaning her hand was up against her face, so her head and arm came out at the same time. I don’t know if that added to the intensity of it, but I can’t imagine it didn’t.
Sue went out to tell the kids that their sister had been born. They were all playing in the front yard and didn’t hear me make a peep, and it had happened so quickly from the time they had left the bedroom that they couldn’t believe she was really here.
I sat in the pool, enjoying the weight and warmth of my baby in my arms, marveling at the improbability of all this, until the placenta was ready to come. Michael cut the umbilical cord, severing the physical tie that bound Scarlett and me for all these months, and took his newest baby girl.
Sue helped me dry off and get into bed, and when I put Scarlett to my breast, she knew exactly what to do.
Sue didn’t have the flannel sling that goes on her baby scale, so she improvised with this shopping bag, which will have special meaning to my book club:
Then the initial newborn exam. She looks healthy and beautiful in every way.
I absolutely love that the kids were right there to meet their new sister right away. Home birth is truly a family affair.
Look at this old chick who just had a baby.
I look at the lines in my face and think about how far and wide my life has taken me, and I am amazed that my body can still do this, and I am thankful for all that I have.
Forty weeks and livin’ large –
I know it won’t be long now before I’m wandering from room to room in our house, with a baby snuggled warm against me, marveling at how such a short time ago she was nestled all cozy inside.
It’s been a wonderful pregnancy; I feel so incredibly fortunate for this very unexpected gift.
Everywhere I go, people are starting to look at me as if I have a bomb strapped across my belly. Geez.
Okay, so it’s true that I could blow pretty much at any moment.
Friends are starting to check in with me regularly to see if there’s any news. It’s nice to be on everyone’s minds 🙂
So here’s what’s going on:
My blood pressure is stable, and I’m mostly over this cold/flu I had. The kids are done with school and home for summer break. After not gaining any weight for a month or so, I suddenly packed on three pounds this last week, so now I’m right where I was at the end of all my other pregnancies. My midwife doesn’t think she’s a very big baby, but none of mine have been very big (let me just say for the record that I pushed a 7 lb. 10 oz. baby out with no drugs, and then a 6 pound baby with no drugs – it feels exactly the same). My midwife also has a theory that perhaps I just cook girls longer than I cook boys: all of my boys came before their due dates, and while the twins also came before their due date, I carried them a lot longer than anyone expected me to (2 days shy of 38 weeks), and Lilah was 9 days late. I haven’t quite reached my due date with this one yet (it’s day after tomorrow), so we shall see.
I’m large and cranky and tired. So tired that I can’t sit down to read without dozing off. Yesterday I thought I had pretty much had it and was ready to cry “uncle” and ask my midwife to help things along when I saw her this morning, but then I woke up this morning with a new resolve to just be patient and let things happen as they’re ready to happen. I was rewarded with some signs this morning that things are moving along (I’ll spare you the gruesome details), although, of course, it could still be days away.
I’m ready. I think.
Today marks 13 years since my first husband died from a cocaine overdose. It’s strange to think that he’s now been dead longer than he and I were married (12 years).
I contemplated whether to write anything about this today. I have no desire to commemorate him or my time with him in any way; looking back on that period of my life, I mostly feel anger at what he put me through, shame at what I let him put me through, and a vague sadness at how many years I wasted being victimized and utterly unhappy and hopeless.
But time and distance have a way of altering – not so much the memories themselves, but the texture and quality of those memories. It all seems like it must have been someone else’s life now – not mine. Or a movie I watched. How could I have experienced all those things, living in this very skin that I live in now, looking through these very eyes that I look through now? It seems unfathomable. And yet, not. The bruises on the surface healed long, long ago, but there are scars on the inside that will probably never heal.
This isn’t a “poor me” piece, though. More a reflection, an observation of how far life takes us in directions we never imagined. All those years ago, I never dreamed my life would look so different just a few years into the future. I couldn’t imagine a life of contentedness, a life of bounty, a life of strength built on facing adversity, a life of gratitude. But here I am, living just such a life. Things aren’t perfect, but I wouldn’t trade this full life for anything.
On Crafting a Bona Fide Book Review
Way back last October, I was contacted by the co-editor of Literary Mama, a prestigious e-zine comprised of articles, columns, interviews, and the like by real writers. I was being invited to write a review of George Estreich’s The Shape of the Eye. The invitation came as quite a shock – how did they land on little ol’ me? As it turned out, the assignment had originally been offered to Jennifer Graf-Groneberg, author of Roadmap to Holland and a regular contributor at Literary Mama; Jennifer was unable to accept the invitation, however, and she personally recommended me for the job.
To say I was flattered would be a gross understatement. I was elated! Jennifer is one of my heroes – not only because she wrote a book that meant so much to me in the early weeks and months after Finn was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, but also because she’s just a really neat person. And I know this, because, despite being a successful, published, big-shot writer, she’s very approachable and down to earth. I contacted her via email when I finished Roadmap to Holland just to tell her how much her memoir meant to me, and she was very responsive, and we continued to communicate from time to time thereafter – she even let Kevin interview her for an assignment he had at school.
Anyway, so she recommended me to write a review of The Shape of the Eye. This was perfect luck, because I had already read the book and loved it – and I had already written a heartfelt review of it on my book blog, as well as did an interview with George Estreich in an effort to promote his book (it boggles my mind how some of the fluff that’s out there can hit it so much bigger than real gems like this; I have no doubt, though, that it all boils down to promotion, and not quality or talent). The editor from Literary Mama wanted much more than what I had written in my book blog review, however; this was going to require me to stretch my writing muscles in ways I had never stretched them before.
I write lots of book reviews on my blog. It’s really kind of a hobby: I love to read, and I love to write; I love to record my thoughts about the books I read, and I like to hear what other people think. The stuff I write on my book blog fulfills those needs and wants of mine, and I do it for me on my own terms, not really expecting my reviews to have much influence anywhere.
Writing a book review for Literary Mama, however, is something to be taken seriously. Literary Mama caters specifically to the reader and the writer, and a book review on LM has potential pull in the literary community. Additionally, all contributions to LM reflect LM’s standards. This would be the very first time I would write something that would go through an editing process.
I was told back in October that LM wanted the review for their Father’s Day issue in June, and they wanted a first draft by some time in May. Back then, it seemed ages in the future – I had all the time in the world. But, as often happens, before I knew it, it was already April, I had to start thinking about writing an in-depth review of this book.
The first thing I needed to do was re-read The Shape of the Eye. I loved it just as much the second time around as I did the first. This time, though, I went through it with a yellow marker, highlighting passages that were quotable, that illustrated certain important points, or that could be used as jumping-off points for discussion of certain issues. This required reading with a much closer eye to detail than when I read it the first time purely for my own benefit.
When I finished re-reading it, I had a book full of highlighted passages and pages marked with Post-it notes. I felt very intimidated about actually sitting down to write the review. Where would I even start? This couldn’t be just an opinion piece like I am used to writing. This had to have substance and harmony, meat and balance. In the end, I just sat down one afternoon and started typing, thumbing through tabbed and highlighted portions of the book, and I didn’t stop until I had written a complete first draft. It was about three and a half pages long, single-spaced – a much more substantial review than I had ever written before. I was actually pretty happy with it.
I had Michael read it, as well as a couple of friends whose writing I admire, and they all suggested a few minor alterations. Then I submitted it to the editor of LM. And I waited.
A week or so went by and I didn’t hear anything, so I started thinking, “Wow, I guess I nailed it on my first try!”
And then I heard back from the editor. She sent me the first draft back, marked up with various comments. All in all, she seemed to be pleased with my first draft, but wanted more. More!? Ack. Now I really felt intimidated. She wanted more of my story with Finn, and how it tied into my feelings about the book. Why was this book so special to me as opposed to other memoirs I had read about raising a child with Down syndrome? She wanted more depth and detail about various other points I had made, as well.
Over the next two or three weeks, so the process of evolution went. She would ask for this or that change (usually it was a case of wanting more), and I would sit down with my trusty laptop and dig a little deeper, and then send her the latest revisions. Finally, a week ago, I got a note back from her saying that it had been submitted to the senior editors, and they were pleased with it but wanted a weightier conclusion. I almost cried. I was in the midst of suffering from the flu, hugely pregnant and thinking I could blow at any moment, and I already felt that I had dug as deep as I possibly could in writing this review. I put on my big girl pants, though, and sat down at my computer once more.
A few days later I got one more note from the editor saying that the senior editors had approved it, it would publish over the weekend, and all they needed was a short bio for me.
A bio, huh? This also wasn’t going to be a piece of cake exactly. I went through some of the other bios of contributors over at LM and they’re all pretty impressive. Those contributors seem to all be actual writers – writers with credentials! Not some SAHM with a laptop and big dreams like me. I finally came up with a bio that I hoped would be okay, and submitted it.
So here’s the final product, with all the edits and cuts: Down Syndrome, Family, and Belonging: A Review of The Shape of the Eye
I’m very pleased with it, and I hope it helps get the word out about this wonderful book. It was quite a learning process for me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to a prestigious publication like Literary Mama. I hope to contribute again!
Late Pregnancy Musings
Today I am 39 weeks pregnant – or 40 weeks if you go by my original due date. In any case, Baby Girl is still cozy inside.
It’s been a week of emotional ups and downs. That cold turned into a full-blown flu, and I’m still not completely over it, though feeling better than I was a couple days ago. Feeling that crappy this late in pregnancy has been no fun at all! Also, my blood pressure has been up and down all week, which has heightened my stress level, which . . . probably hasn’t helped my blood pressure. It seems to be okay for now, but who knows what tomorrow will bring. I’m keeping an eye on it and taking all kinds of extra measures per my midwife to keep it in a healthy range. Oy.
I don’t know how much stock I put into the mind-body connection, but sometimes I wonder if anxiety about this impending birth might play a part in baby taking her sweet time in coming. Not that I’m feeling impatient. Yet.
I wonder if I’m up for this. For labor. For giving birth. I guess I have to be, right? I also wonder if I’m carrying around emotional baggage from Finn’s birth and the aftermath. I’m not sure. I just want everyone to be okay.
I realize now that saying, “I just want a healthy baby” is a loaded statement. Or at least an ambiguous one. What does it mean? I guess it probably means different things to different people. For me, from my own vantage point, it really just means that I want her (and me) to come through the birth unscathed, and that I hope she doesn’t have any issues that will require surgery or hospitalization.
This is the first pregnancy I’ve had that Kevin has been less than thrilled about pretty much the entire time. I have no doubt that his age is part of it – being 15 and realizing exactly how your mom got into this condition is, I’m sure, horrifying. He also remembers very well the aftermath of Finn’s birth and is worried that this baby won’t be okay. It’s not Down syndrome that any of us are scared of, it’s health issues, the possibility of the baby having to go to the hospital. Also, I finally dragged it out of him that he’s afraid to get attached because of the age difference! He’s afraid that he won’t really have a relationship with her anyway because he’s 15 1/2 years older than she will be and will likely be out on his own when she’s still little. I can see his point, and honestly, I find it very touching that he even thinks about stuff like that.
All the other kids are very excited (though worried, too, about the possibility of Mom or baby having to go to the hospital), except Finn who really just doesn’t get it that there’s a baby in Mommy’s tummy. I think he’ll be okay with the idea, though, once she’s here.
So, we wait.
Summer Summer Summer, Summer Summer Summer Time!
It’s official: the kids are out of school for the summer as of today (tomorrow for Kevin), and for the next ten weeks, they will either drive me out of my mind or remind me how precious my time with them is. Probably a little of both. In any case, I am looking forward to:
- No morning rush!
- No homework!
- No fundraisers!
- No schedule to keep
- Late nights
- Lazy mornings
- Ice cream!
- Reading to my heart’s content!
- Baseball camp
- Swim lessons
- San Francisco to celebrate Joey’s tenth birthday!
- Barbecued dinners a la Michael
- Patio swing date nights
Oh yeah, and a new baby soon!
After smugly saying how ridiculously silly I thought it was that the school was making such a big deal out of kindergarten graduation (it’s kindergarten for goodness sake!), the first thing I did when Lilah’s kindergarten class filed into the auditorium tonight was burst into tears, and then I proceeded to cry through the entire ceremony.
I guess I thought I’d be over it by now, having gone through this four time already (and crying through every one of them). It’s just not easy to be reminded how fast my babies are growing up.
Look out, first grade, here comes my beautiful girl!
Strange But True
Well, pregnancy is nothing if not unpredictable.
Today, my blood pressure is completely within healthy range. My midwife and I have been in close contact via text and phone even though she’s been out-of-state for the last few days (she’s back now, as of tonight – I have a sneaking suspicion that she cut her trip short because of me, which I feel really shitty about, but she’ll never tell me if she really did or not), and she’s been having me really load up on protein and super-hydrate myself since yesterday morning, plus today I started taking my bp med on an empty stomach rather than with food. Still, it’s hard to believe that those things alone brought my bp down from 169/75 (!!) yesterday to 124/62 today. I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, ya know?
I’m still going to go in tomorrow morning for blood and urine workups so she can get a baseline on me in case my bp goes up again. Sigh.
Meanwhile, I feel like I’ve bought some time. Hopefully I can kick this cold in the next few days and get through this last week of school for the kids before Baby Girl makes her debut.
Thanks to everyone for the kind words and positive thoughts, here and on Facebook – it really means a lot to me!