For some of us, the journey matters as much as the destination. This is the fundamental reason many of us make alternative birthing choices.
So many of us are told that what matters is a healthy baby and a healthy mom – the implication being that these are the only things that really matter when a woman is expecting. Certainly, these are the ultimate goals of any expecting woman and her care provider, but wanting a healthy mom and a healthy baby shouldn’t cancel out also wanting a positive birth experience – whatever that may be. Too many moms are told after a disappointing birth experience that “at least you and the baby are here, safe and healthy,” leaving them to feel as though the only emotion they should be having is gratitude, and that there is no room for disappointment or grief over a birth that didn’t go as the mom had hoped it would.
For many of us, how we give birth – the atmosphere in the birthing room, the attitudes of those surrounding us when we give birth, the procedures we submit to by choice or otherwise, and yes, ultimately the outcome – ties very much into how we feel about ourselves as women and as mothers. It can also play a large part in how we cope with the postpartum period and beyond, and it can impact how we approach subsequent pregnancies and births.
I know this because it’s what’s driven me for years and years in the birth arena. I never realized how profoundly my birthing experience would impact me until after I gave birth to my first baby over fifteen years ago. It ended up being a huge disappointment, even though I went into it with no particular agenda except: (a) wanting pain management as soon as possible (which was based on fear), and (b) believing I was in the best possible hands. After Kevin was born, however, though nothing had gone amiss during his birth, I felt cheated. That experience led me on a pursuit for positive birthing, and it was during my next pregnancy with Joey five years later that I became somewhat of a birth junkie, reading everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy, labor and birth, and even pursuing certification as a doula. The truth is, though, that I don’t think I really had the kind of birth experience I pined for until this last one, when Scarlett was born. My hospital births were all disappointments – my twins’ birth, especially, still makes me sad and angry when I think back on it – and even my first two home births left me with conflicting feelings (my first home birth – Lilah – I just went into arrogantly and was therefore ill-prepared for the reality of how intense it would be, and my second home birth – Finn – not only kicked my ass physically, but the aftermath, with his hospitalization and diagnosis, clouded the entire experience with gloom and sadness). This last birth, though, was pretty much everything I dreamed of: it went smoothly, I was surrounded by people I love deeply, it was, more than anything, a celebration, and I felt empowered and very much at peace with the whole thing. I am profoundly grateful for that experience and for the memories of it that I’ll carry around for the rest of my days.
There is a misconception, I think, that women who choose non-mainstream birth want to be in control of the process. I don’t believe it’s about control – birth is unpredictable, and we all know this. It’s about wanting to be an active participant in our own care and our own experience; it’s about putting our care in the hands of someone who has as much reverence for the process as we do, who honors and respects our bodies’ capabilities. It’s about surrounding ourselves with people who believe in the value of the journey as much as in the value of the destination.
It’s true that these things don’t matter to everyone. And while deep down, I think those women are missing out on something profound, I’m not here to say that it should matter to everyone. To each his own. But to discount the feelings of those of us to whom it does matter is doing a huge disservice. It is valid to care about how we get there, and not just getting there.
A little over three years ago, my sixth baby was born into loving hands, a planned home birth. I had, of course, spent the previous nine months imagining what this newest member of our family was going to be like, and dreaming the dreams for him that mothers tend to dream for their babies. Within the first day after his birth, it became clear that something was wrong, and after a frantic drive to the ER, our tiny newborn was admitted to the NICU where he would undergo major surgery at a day and a half old to correct the intestinal atresia he was born with. It was while Finn was in the NICU that we learned that he has Down syndrome.
Suddenly it felt as if all the dreams I had dreamed for him were shattered. I was afraid and angry – what did this mean? What would it mean for our family? What did I do to deserve this? How bad was it going to be? I was overcome by a grief so deep, it shook me to my core. There wasn’t a moment I didn’t love my new baby, and I found myself feeling a fierce protectiveness over him – but I felt lost and completely ill-equipped to be one of those mothers – a mother of a child with special needs. I was just a regular person, often frazzled and short on patience with my “typical” kids – certainly not thespecial kind of parent that everyone was suddenly assuring me I must be to have been given this special child.
I’ve traveled quite a long way since those early months of grief and fear and sorrow. Finn has grown into a mischievous toddler who continues to surprise me all the time. I’ve watched my other kids grow around Finn into sensitive, compassionate children who are accepting of people with all kinds of differences, from all walks of life.
As for me, I’ve made my peace with my son having Down syndrome, with his beingdifferent. I adore every inch of him, his body, his heart, and his mind, and I wouldn’t change him if I could.
It’s changed me, having Finn. Although I am not a believer in some grand, divine plan, I do believe that being Finn’s mother has enlightened me in ways I never really thought about before. There has been a great deal of introspection, reflection, and reevaluation of what it is I value. What constitutes a happy, full life? Are happiness and success naturally borne out of intelligence and ability to achieve? What are the criteria for a life worth living?
I have a sense of appreciation and perspective that I never had before. I am able to see and accept my fellow human beings with a more open heart and a broader mind; it’s made my heart more tender towards those who are different, and harder towards those who are cruel or callous or rejecting of those who are different. It’s made me more aware that we all have our trials, and that I and my family are incredibly fortunate and have a trillion things to be grateful for, Finn being one of those.
Sometimes the fear is still there, but I experience moments of fear concerning each of my children when I try to guess at what the future might hold. Life doesn’t offer guarantees to anyone. I don’t know what Finn will be capable of, but I have very high hopes for him. Those dreams I had for him that were shattered? They weren’t really shattered at all. It just took me a while to figure out that his life is not about my dreams, it’s about his dreams, and only he can decide what those dreams are. Only he will be able to show me how his life is going to play out.
What I want people to know most is that this is not a consolation prize. This is not our family just making the best of a sad situation. We do not exist under a cloud of sorrow, and we do not dwell on the fact that our son has Down syndrome. Finn just is who he is, and we’re pretty much like any other family. This is just life; it’s rich and full, and it’s pretty great.
– Reposted from October 2011
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I can’t believe it’s been a month already since Scarlett was born.
She’s changed so much; she hardly looks like the same baby. It was hard at first to figure out who she looked like. After a few days, I saw a resemblance to Annabelle and Lilah. Now people are saying she looks like me, and at first I didn’t see it, but I’m starting to now. It’s weird – I’ve never had a kid who looked like me.
She’s starting to reward us with those first goofy baby smiles – real smiles. (Which is not to say that she’s not still quite a fuss bucket – she is. Man, can that girl scream!)
There are times when she won’t let me put her down, when I spend hours sitting with her, trying to soothe her, trying to get her to go to sleep . . . and then when she does finally go to sleep and lets me put her down, I find myself missing her. I like having her close, and I feel very possessive of her. Which makes sense, if you think about it: she’s been with me since conception; why wouldn’t I have a hard time separating from her this early on? I have friends who want to hold her for hours, and I imagine they think they’re doing me a favor by giving me a break (or satisfying their own baby lust), but the truth is, right now I still feel like she’s a part of me, and I miss the soft, warm weight of her when we’re apart.
As for me, it’s been a tough go all the way around, this recovery. First a bad case of the blues, which, thankfully, began to lift a week or so ago. But right when I started feeling better in my head, I got a bad case of mastitis, and that was miserable. Then that started clearing up, and I started having abnormally heavy postpartum bleeding – at a time when it should have been petering out. That appears to have resolved now, but for a few days I was scared and just really bummed that one more problem seemed to have appeared.
I’m finally starting to feel better in every way, so hopefully things will remain on an upswing. Seems to me that this is just a sign that chicks as old as me . . . well, anyway.
Here’s a montage of my birth photos. Some of the pics are fairly graphic, so if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing, or if you won’t be able to look me in the eye after seeing pics of a baby coming out of me, do us both a favor and skip it. I think birth is beautiful, though, and Scarlett’s birth was by far the best of all my birth experiences. A wonderful note to end my childbearing career on.
Well, it’s been a somewhat eventful few days here on the home front.
Sue, my midwife came over a few nights ago and brought me some magic potion to perhaps help ease the blues. While she was here, she weighed Scarlett on her scale (the very same scale Scarlett was weighed on at birth), and she weighed 7 pounds 12 ounces – so she is gaining (you might remember that I was concerned because she wasn’t yet back up to her birth weight of 7.5 at her first pediatrician appointment at 2 weeks old). I am therefore officially putting that worry to rest.
Sue also made arrangements for me to see her favorite chiropractor on Saturday morning to address this lower back/hip pain I’ve been having for so long. I confess that I was skeptical – but also desperate. I’ve been in chronic pain for a few months now with it, and it’s only gotten worse since Scarlett was born, which I’m sure has added to my feeling punk.
When I got up Saturday morning, my left boob was sore. I also noticed a white coating on Scarlett’s tongue, so I assumed thrush. I’ve never had it before, and none of my babies have, either. I packed Scarlett up and headed to Sue’s office (she shares office space with her chiropractor), and she wrote down some things to use to treat thrush.
So the chiro has me lie on this table/contraption (I fondly named it “the rack”), and after asking me a bunch of questions, she proceeds to examine, and then adjust me. She said it wasn’t sciatica at all, but a strain of the sacroiliac joint (huh?). She basically tortured me. No, really – I was yelling out in pain as she twisted me and cracked me this way and that. When she was done, I slowly got up from the table – er, rack – and . . . the pain was gone. As in, no trace of it. I’m not kidding.
Sue and I chitchatted for a while, and then I left. On the drive home, I suddenly started feeling achey. All over. And I had the chills. Very quickly, I started to feel really crappy. I thought to myself, “What the . . . ?? Did that chiropractor eff me up? Did she trigger some weird sick reaction in me?” No, really – I actually thought that for about two solid minutes. It was just so weird how suddenly I felt so sick. When I got home, I took my temperature, and it was 101. And my boob was really hurting. And it hit me then: mastitis. In all my years of nursing, I’ve never had that either. I guess I’ve been lucky. I got undressed and got into bed with Scarlett, and that’s where I stayed until this morning – for two solid days, I was feverish and achey and more miserable than I could imagine from a breast infection, and all I did was sleep and nurse while Michael took care of the other kids. I’ve heard about mastitis but always thought it must be trumped up – now I know. I would not wish it on anyone. Okay, maybe a few people . . .
Anyhow, when I woke up this morning I knew I had turned the corner (thanks to antibiotics, Advil, warm compresses, and lots of rest). I feel much better today, thank goodness.
Oh yeah, and sometime over the weekend, Finn got out of the house, out of the yard, and took off down the street. We have a childproof doorknob cover on the inside of the front door specifically to prevent him from getting out, but apparently it had come off, and he knows how to open the front gate, so, off he went. A neighbor down the street saw him, thank goodness, and brought him home. I still feel sick inside when I think of how easily he could have run into the street, or just kept booking it down the sidewalk if nobody had seen him.
It’s hard to say how I’m feeling mentally/emotionally at this point after losing an entire weekend to near unconsciousness. Last week I was still having crying jags. None today – just the usual level of aggravation today. My friends have been so wonderful – especially since I broke down and confessed what a tough time I’m having – bringing us meals and having the older kids over for playdates to give me a little breathing room. I’ve got a pretty great support network when I admit I need it. And I’m deeply grateful.
I’m still wondering at the wisdom of posting my last post about Annabelle’s trich. The last thing I want is for anyone to pity her or see this as freakish behavior (though, I admit that seeing a bald spot on my own child’s head, caused by her own hand, is horrifying).
I’ve researched trich quite a bit over the last few years, and while I don’t hold myself out to be an expert, I have learned some things:
First and foremost – and this responds to probably the most prevalent misconception about trich – it is NOT an OCD behavior. OCD is characterized by repetitive, ritualistic behavior (for example, washing one’s hands over and over, or feeling compelled to turn a light switch on and off a certain number of times), the driving force being a belief that if such behavior isn’t followed, something bad will happen, or the general order of things will be upset. Trichotillomania is classified, rather, as an impulse (as opposed to compulsive) control disorder – in other words, an inability to control one’s impulse to do certain things, in this case, twirl or pull one’s hair. It is considered to be the same type of “habit” as nail-biting and skin picking (know anyone who habitually picks at their cuticles? I bet you do.). The sad and frustrating thing about trich, and what makes it stand apart from nail-biting, is that it impacts a person’s physical appearance so much more drastically, and therefore it has a much stronger social stigma attached to it. If you see someone biting their nails, even down to the bloody quick, you hardly give it a second thought, because so many people do it. If you see someone pulling their hair out, on the other hand, well, that just sort of screams “crazy,” doesn’t it? But in reality, the two behaviors are extremely similar.
As for Annabelle – and I suspect for many people with trich who began the behavior very, very young – I believe it started out as a sensory thing. I think as a baby, she just liked the feel of hair between her fingers (much like some babies like rubbing tags or the silk edge of a blanket between their fingers). I think over time, it became a self-soothing behavior – very much linked, in her case, to her finger-sucking, which she also continues to do to this day – and gradually the rubbing/twirling just grew more vigorous until she was breaking the hair off, and over more time, yes, it became a response to boredom and stress. To this day, she only does it when she’s idle – sitting in the car, for instance, or watching TV, and in bed as she falls asleep at night. It tends to go in cycles with her – she’ll go for months when it will seem very much under control, and her hair will grow out beautifully, and then for whatever reason, she’ll go on a pulling cycle that might last weeks or months. Right now it’s the worst it’s ever been – I say that because never before now has she ever actually pulled hair out at the root, creating bald patches – and I’m sure it’s tied to the upheaval of having a new baby and the boredom and lack of structure that comes with summer break.
As far as behavioral therapy, yes, it’s something to consider. But the truth is that our insurance won’t pay for it, it’s very difficult to find a therapist with specific knowledge about trich, and I’m not sure it would help anyway. I have a friend whose daughter also has trich, and they took her to THE expert/renowned trich therapist (in a different state), and the tools she offered, from my understanding, weren’t all that different from what we already offer at home which I’ve learned about just through my own research.
It is very difficult, without a doubt.
Trichotillomania: hair loss from repeated urges to pull or twist the hair until it breaks off. Patients are unable to stop this behavior, even as their hair becomes thinner.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written about Annabelle’s hair-pulling, partly because the older my kids get, the more I struggle with weighing their right to privacy against my penchant for being an open book, and partly because, although she has continued to struggle with hair-pulling, it’s been mostly manageable for the last year or two. Addressing the first concern – her right to privacy – all I can say is that in the end, I’d like to raise a little awareness about this disorder. My experience has been that when I’ve written about it in the past, people come out of the woodwork confessing that they pull their hair or have a child who does. The point is, it’s a lot more common than people realize, but it’s something that is usually dealt with in secret because it tends to be so shaming and stigmatized.
While Annabelle has never been officially diagnosed with trichotillomania (trich, for short), I have no doubt that that’s the name for what she does. She has been pulling her hair since she was about ten months old, and for a long time we hoped it was a phase she would outgrow (our pediatrician assured us she most likely would, as well) – and most of the research out there does support the fact that most children who begin pulling/twirling their hair before age 6 usually do outgrow it. However, Annabelle has now been doing it for seven years, and I think the chances of her “outgrowing” it are next to nill. I’m pretty certain at this point that it’s something she will struggle with over her entire life.
Here’s the history of Annabelle’s trich:
So why am I writing about it now, after all this time? Good question. Answer: because it’s worse right now than it’s ever been.
Like I said, it’s continued to be an issue, but it’s mostly been manageable. She tends to twist the hair on one side of her head, until it breaks off, leaving the hair on that side noticeably shorter. So, every so often I’ll trim up her hair to even it all out.
When school let out for summer break a few weeks ago, I decided to try cutting her hair very, very short to see if that would minimize the pulling. My thinking was that there would be very little to pull, and really not enough to twist at all, and maybe that would alleviate the situation.
This was her hair at the end of the school year:
On the last day of school, when she got home, I bribed her with Oreos and got Michael’s electric clippers out and gave her a pixie cut:
Honestly, I was very surprised at how much I loved this on her. I know I’m biased, being her mom and all, but seriously, she’s got such a beautiful face, and this cut really shows it off. She can absolutely pull off a do like this, no problem. I actually started thinking, hey, we’ll just keep it this short all the time, just because it looks so sweet on her – hair pulling or no hair pulling!
It was only a week or two later, though, that I noticed this:
Yes, that’s right: she has pulled out a bald spot on the back of her head. A completely new spot for pulling for her, by the way.
I was horrified. Horrified. The bald spot has actually grown since I took this picture. Every time I look at her head, it’s all I can do not to break down crying.
And you thought Down syndrome was a big deal?
This, my friends, is heartbreaking. To watch your child engage is self-destructive behavior and be utterly and completely helpless to stop it. She is seven years old. She has an entire lifetime ahead of her during which this disorder of hers will likely cause her all kinds of self-esteem issues.
So the super short do ended up being an experiment that didn’t work. For now, we are wrapping her pulling fingers in tape (only because she’s willing; I learned a long time ago that trying to take measures against her will only creates a lot of tension and resentment) and hoping the bald spot fills in somewhat before school starts back up. She’s going into third grade, and I know that the kids at that grade level are old enough to notice things like that and to be cruel about it. And despite Annabelle’s acting like she doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks, she does care. I know, because she won’t go out in public now without a hat on.
Funny how a topic like postpartum depression can be such a lightening rod for discussion. But I think that’s a good thing – and half the reason I write about even the not-so-pretty things that go on in my life: because I think discussion is good. I think awareness is good. It’s useful to me to write because it helps me sort things out and feel less alone, and I like to think it’s useful to someone else out there who might be struggling the same struggles.
I really didn’t expect anyone to have any instant answers for me, but I appreciate everyone’s input. And it’s silly to think that anyone is going to be able to accurately diagnose me over the internet. I’m keeping my eyes open to whatever it is I’m going through, rest assured.
A friend of mine posted this on my Facebook wall:
Although the length of the postpartum period varies cross-culturally, the notion of a 40-day postpartum is common in many non-Western cultures (Lauderdale, 1999;Nahas et al., 1999). In almost all non-Western societies, 40 days after birth is seen as necessary for recuperation. Among most non-Western cultures, family members (especially female relatives) provide strong social support, help new mothers at home during that period. The new mother’s activities are strictly limited, and her needs are taken care of by (typically) female relatives and midwives (Holroyd et al., 1997;Nahas & Amashen, 1999).
For example, in Guatemala, a traditional midwife visits the mother every day or two, for up to 2 weeks after birth, to check the baby’s cord, to massage the mother, and to wash the families’ clothes and linens, so that the new mother may rest (Lang & Elkin, 1997).
Chinese women believe rest is essential after birth. During the customary 30-day postpartum confinement, female relatives or live-in helpers perform household activities for the new mother (Holroyd et al., 1997). The new mother must be confined to her home during a 30-day postpartum period and must perform a variety of avoidance rituals (Holroyd, Katie, Chun, & Ha, 1997).
In India, postpartum confinement typically lasts up to 40 days. This seclusion is to protect the new mother and her infant not only from evil spirits, but also from exposure to illness, because both are considered to be in a vulnerable state after birth (American Public Health Association, 2001).
In the Middle East, resting 40 days after having a baby is customary in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine (Nahas & Amashen, 1999;Nahas et al., 1999). During this 40-day period, someone comes to the house or stays with the new mother to take care of the baby, the house, and the other children, so that “all new mothers have to do is rest” (Nahas & Amashen, 1999, p. 42).
Very interesting. Kinda makes me want to move to a different country. I would be very interested to know how the rate of PPD in those countries/cultures compares to the rate of PPD in western culture. It seems that other countries maybe have more reverence for the profound changes a woman goes through after giving birth, and a deeper respect for what she and her new baby need. Here in the U.S., it seems that overall, we expect women to get over it and bounce back very quickly – and we’re more interested in treating PPD than taking measures to prevent it. Even being in the throes of postpartum-ness myself, I’m still a product of western culture: I want to feel like my old self NOW, and accepting help is very, very difficult for me; I hate being needy.
I’m riding a lot of ups and downs right now. I’m actually not sleep-deprived; I get a decent amount of sleep at night because Scarlett sleeps next to me, so I barely have to wake up to nurse her. The tiredness is more from being physically and emotionally drained every day trying to meet the needs of seven kids, take care of the house, etc., and then the resulting guilt for knowing I’m short-changing everyone. I might spend a good part of the day feeling okay, feeling like maybe I’m getting a handle on things, and then it can all unravel very quickly when, say, the baby wants to be held, and while I’m holding her, Finn pitches a fit, so I ease the baby down in the bassinet to go to Finn, only to have the baby start crying as soon as I put her down – and that cycle might go on for a solid hour or more. Or, I might dissolve into tears when Michael takes the kids out and I get the baby down to sleep and suddenly I’m left with peace and quiet that I don’t know what to do with. Or my 15-year old might leave for a four-day camping trip and I might find that I’m really going to miss him.
I’ve been thinking about things that would help me feel better overall, in no particular order:
- If my kids would be just a smidge (okay, A LOT) more cooperative and well-behaved.
- Walking. I really need to start walking again – I think the fresh air and exercise and endorphins would do me a world of good. I’m going to shoot for starting next week, just short walks and working my way back up to the 2 – 3 mile walks I was doing before I got pregnant.
- More time with Michael. I miss us time.
Boy, a baby sure can throw a monkey wrench into things, huh?
Several people have expressed concern that I may be suffering from PPD. No, no, I’ve said – I’ve experienced PPD before and that’s not what I’m dealing with now. When I had it before – after Kevin was born, and after Joey was born – it was truly like I was weighed down by a black cloud. Although I never had any issues bonding with my babies, I was profoundly sad. I had no appetite and had to force myself to eat a little something a few times a day so I could nurse the baby. I would sit with the baby in the rocking chair and stare into space for long periods of time, thinking about all the terrible things that could befall him, and I would cry and cry.
To reassure myself, I decided to do a little research. What I found was that, pretty much across the board, the experts say that if a mom isn’t feeling mostly like her old self within two weeks (two weeks!) of giving birth, it’s most likely PPD and not just the baby blues.
This news, of course, left me in tears. Scarlett is two and a half weeks old, and I’m still feeling low.
But the truth is – at the risk of coming off like someone in denial – I’m still not convinced that what I have is bona fide PPD.
I probably don’t have much standing to argue with the experts, but two weeks seems like very little time for a mom to get back to her old self, emotionally speaking. She’s still bleeding, she’s still adjusting to a massive hormone shift, it’s doubtful that she’s well-rested (especially if she’s got other kids besides the new baby to care for), she’s likely still trying to figure out her newborn and get into a groove – in short, she’s still adjusting. It’s a huge adjustment, by the way – even for a seventh-time mom.
There are so many things I’m dealing with. At the top of list are some serious behavior/discipline issues with the older kids – mostly the twins and Finn. Finn is prone to awful tantrums lately – he will scream his head off when he’s unhappy about something (and he’s very often unable to communicate what it is he’s unhappy about, but sometimes it’s as simple as being told “no” to a snack or TV time). Daisy – who is highly emotional to begin with – has become almost incessantly whiny and complainy and screechy. And Annabelle . . . Annabelle. Naughty Annabelle is driving me to drink with her antics. Coloring on the outside of the house with crayons. Digging in the outside garbage cans for god knows what. And the hair-pulling. More on that in a separate post, but it’s worse than it’s ever been, and it’s breaking my heart.
Here I am, alone, with seven kids. SEVEN! My hat is seriously off to all those other moms of large families who seem to hold it all together so easily, and with smiles on their faces. I’m not one of them. I feel like I am barely hanging on with my fingernails.
I’m overwhelmed. I thought it was going to be a real positive for Scarlett to be born during summer break, when we had no schedule to adhere to, when the long, lazy days would make it easier to handle a newborn. In reality, I think the lack of routine is causing everyone to run amok, and I feel like I’ve lost control over all the kids – and with that comes a whole lotta guilt. “You’re failing,” this little voice keeps chanting at me.
I miss being pregnant. This is a feeling I’ve struggled with after every single one of my babies has been born. It’s not that I don’t adore the baby, I just miss that magical time full of anticipation, when it’s all still in front of me, when the baby is all snug and cozy inside, and with me all the time – not crying, not demanding, just along for the ride – all mine, not something I have to hand over and share with everyone. And this last pregnancy, especially, perhaps. It was a bonus, so out of the blue, and so unexpectedly wonderful – I felt like Wonder Woman: who would have thought that a 44-year old woman could have such a positive, easy pregnancy? Now, I just feel old and frumpy and drained.
I miss my midwife. The thing about home birth and that sort of midwifery care is you spend all those months in this very personal, intimate relationship – and then the baby is born, and poof, she’s gone. Onto other clients, other births, other stories. And I’m left sitting here, grappling with the end of something. It’s a sort of loss, and I’ve always felt it keenly.
All this to argue the fact that I may or may not have PPD. I don’t know if I do or not. I feel like, regardless of what the articles say, it’s still too soon to say. Give a girl a chance to catch her breath!
This is part of the path I’m on, and hopefully, it’s just a relatively short detour.
The Birth of Finnian Hendrix
6 lbs.; 19 inches
So, again, my water broke at about 12:35 a.m. on July 6. I was 38 weeks, 2 days pregnant. I was asleep in bed when it happened – I had only been asleep for about an hour, and that’s the only sleep I would get that night – and it woke me up and honestly, it scared me and I started crying. I felt the “pop” and then a big gush, and my side of the bed was soaked. Michael woke up and asked me what was wrong because I was crying – he thought I was having a bad dream – and I told him my water had broken. He called Sue who instructed me to check for cord, which I did, and didn’t find any. She told me to get a towel and try to go back to sleep and that my contractions would likely start in earnest within a few hours. I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. I kept having sporadic contractions – more intense than the Braxton Hicks contractions I had been experiencing for months, but they weren’t falling into any pattern.
Sue came over later in the morning when everyone was up and about, and she listened to the baby’s heartbeat, checked my bp, etc., and everything looked just great. She checked my cervix and said I was dilated to 3 cm. I continued to have sporadic contractions and was beginning to feel a little discouraged because I had expected things to pick up by then. By late morning Sue decided to go home and told us to call her when my contractions picked up and I could no longer walk and talk through them. We had Alycia, our babysitter, come over and stay with the kids, and Michael and I went out to lunch and then walked around the mall for about an hour. The contractions seemed to be picking up somewhat by then, definitely more painful, but I was exhausted from not having slept more than an hour the night before, so we went home and I was able to sleep for a couple of hours.
The evening is a blur. I really don’t remember much, except that we got the kids to bed and then I was in the bedroom sitting on the birth ball watching an I Love Lucyrerun and eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, when suddenly the contractions got significantly more painful and closer together. I told Michael to please call Sue and fill the birth pool. Sue headed right over and arrived around 10 p.m. She checked me and said I was significantly more dilated (I don’t remember the number), that she felt a bulging bag of water, and that the baby’s head was still floating and not engaged. Apparently what I had experienced the night before was a high break, or a break higher up in the amniotic sac. The excess fluid seemed to be preventing the baby from settling into my pelvis, so we decided to go ahead and have Sue break my forewaters. She had a tough time breaking it, as the sac was pretty tough. When she did, the amount of fluid that came out was unbelievable. Before all was said and done, I would lose 6 lbs. during labor just in amniotic fluid.
I was not watching the clock at all during this time, so I have no idea of a timeline. At some point the contractions started coming hard and fast, and I got into the birth pool. It was as if the animal part of me took over. I instinctively got on my knees in the water and leaned over the side of the pool – not a position I had ever used during labor or birthing before, but it just seemed like the right position this time. I was trying so hard to relax my body during the contractions, but they were so painful and I was tensing up and moaning and swinging my head back and forth saying, “Noooo, noooo, nooooo!” What a sight it must have been. I knew I had hit transition when I began to shake uncontrollably. Sue checked me and said I just had a lip of cervix left. The contractions were so intense and painful by that time that I was pretty scared of the prospect of pushing during a contraction, and I asked if it was okay to push between contractions instead. Sue said I wasn’t ready to push yet. Within a minute or two of her saying that, I literally felt the baby descend down my pelvis – I can’t even explain the sensation . . . it was almost like this thunk in my pelvis and then the burning of him crowning. All the memories of pushing Lilah out came back to me and I started yelling and screaming just like I did with her. I didn’t want to push, but my body took over and the pushing was beyond my control. I was still on my knees in the water, and as I pushed, I was yelling, “NOOOO! IT HURTS, IT HURTS!!” I don’t know how long I pushed, but it wasn’t more than a few minutes and then his head was out, and then his shoulders, and then . . . he was stuck. I was close to panic by then – the sensation of having him half in and half out was almost more than I could bear and I started yelling “GET HIM OUT OF ME, GET HIM OUT!!” Sue told me to give one more good push, and finally he slid out . . . and the relief was immediate.
His cord was so short that we couldn’t even pull him up to my chest. I held him on my belly, and he was so calm and peaceful, it was almost surreal. He gave a couple of coughs, but never really cried, he just looked around. Sue clamped his cord and had Michael cut it pretty quickly because it was so short, and then I was able to lift him up onto my chest. He was covered in vernix, probably because he was a little early, and we were shocked to see this full head of platinum blond hair, and how tiny he was. With how big I got, I was expecting a much bigger baby, but he only weighed 6 lbs.
I had hemmorhaged after Lilah was born, and we expected that I would this time as well, especially because my uterus had been hyper-distended because of the excess fluid. We kept waiting for the blood to start flowing out of me, but it never did. After a few minutes, Sue had me stand up in the pool and try and push the placenta out, but I was so weak I could barely stand, so she had me lie down on the bed. The cramping I was having was horrendous – pretty much full blown contractions, and finally I felt the placenta move down through my pelvis – I actually could feel it in my hips, it was strange – and I pushed it out.
Finnian was still very calm and peaceful. He was spitting up some clear fluid with white floaties in it, and we figured he had swallowed amnio fluid in utero. There were lots of white floaties in the birth pool – vernix. So none of that seemed unusual. I nursed him for a while and then Sue did an initial newborn exam, wrapped him up and put him in bed with me and I dozed while Sue and Michael emptied the pool and cleaned up. Finn was born at 1:29 a.m. and I think Sue finally left at about 4:00 a.m. and then Michael came to bed and we slept for a couple of hours before the kids got up. The kids had slept through the entire birth, even with all of my screaming and yelling. Michael did wake Kevin up shortly after the baby was born so he could see him.
It was a hard birth, and I can’t even really explain why. It went smoothly, no complications, but it really kicked my ass. I remember thinking during pushing “I AM NEVER EVER DOING THIS AGAIN!” and “What the hell made me want to do this again after Lilah?!” I was so weak afterwards it almost scared me. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom without being held up, and I felt light headed, short of breath, and so sick to my stomach that I came close to vomiting a couple of times. My belly was so sore I couldn’t even stand up straight. I felt that way after the twins were born, and at the time I assumed it was because of the mag-sulph I was on for pre-e, but now I wonder. Sue thinks that all that excess fluid and the hyper-distended uterus just really traumatized my body.
I went into this birth hoping I would handle it better than I did Lilah’s – that is, hoping I could deal with the pushing a little better and not scream my way through it. I didn’t, but I’m okay with it. I feel neither defeated nor empowered by it at this point, just that I made it through, and I’m glad it’s over.
Edited Jan. 31, 2009:
I originally typed out Finn’s birth story just a few days after he was born, while he was in the hospital recovering from the surgery he would have at one day old. I think at the time that I wrote the story of his birth, we were still awaiting the results of the genetic workup that would confirm that he had Down syndrome, but we did not yet know for sure. I knew in my heart of hearts, though, that it was so. And so, that fact coupled with the fact that my newborn baby was in the hospital recovering from major abdominal surgery had thrown me into the depths of despair and grief and fear. And those emotions are probably reflected in the tone of his birth story, which now, all these months later, makes me sad.
The truth is, looking back, his birth was amazing and empowering. I can’t think of a thing I would have changed. I was supported by a loving husband and a caring midwife, and our baby entered this world gently, surrounded and embraced in love.
My midwife came back early in the afternoon of July 7 to check on me and the baby. While she was there, Finn opened his eyes for what seemed like the first time. I will never forget that moment. I saw it in his face then, that he had Down syndrome. It was fleeting, and I pushed the thought away. No, it can’t be, I told myself. I didn’t say anything. I noticed that Sue, my midwife, was doing an extremely thorough exam of the baby – way more thorough, it seemed, than she had done of Lilah when she was born. Still, I refused, or was unable, to register that something might be amiss. Then she showed me his palms, how they each had a single line crossing them (which I had never seen or even heard of before), and she gently said, “You might want to bring this to your pediatrician’s attention when you take Finn in.” “Why?” I asked. “Because,” she said, “it can sometimes indicate certain genetic anomalies.” I went cold then. “Like what?” I asked. But I knew what she was going to say even before she said it. “Down syndrome.”
Things got crazy shortly thereafter. Finn was by then about 12 hours old and still had not nursed, nor peed or pooped. Suddenly he started spitting up blood, and that was really the beginning of the rug being pulled out from under us. Leaving our midwife with our other kids, Michael and I had to rush our newborn to the ER where over the next several hours he would be hooked up to an IV, have a tube fed into his stomach to flush it repeatedly, and undergo a number of exams and tests which would eventually show that he had a duodenal atresia, which explained my polyhydramnios, and also explained why he wasn’t peeing or pooping. He was admitted to the NICU, and we went home that night with empty arms. The next morning, at one day old, Finn underwent major abdominal surgery to correct the duodenal atresia. Relatively speaking, in the gamut of abnormalities and surgeries, this was fairly straightforward and routine, but it was, of course, devastating to us to have to leave our baby and to see him struggle to recuperate from the surgery. He spent 12 days in the NICU, and it was during that time that we received confirmation via a blood draw that he did, in fact, have Down syndrome.
Sometimes I wonder, looking back, if the news of his Down syndrome might not have been quite so crushing had we not also been dealing with his having to have surgery and to be in the hospital instead of at home with us. It all seemed to compound it.
Nonetheless, I really feel that his diagnosis was delivered to us in the most gentle and humane way possible. Really, Finn himself was the first one to tell me, when he opened his eyes and I saw it in his face for that brief moment. I wasn’t ready to accept it then, but there it was. I actually hold that moment as very precious now. My midwife suspected almost immediately after he was born based on different observations she made, but she wanted to be sure before she said anything, and she wanted to give us time to bond with him and get to know him without a scary diagnosis standing in the way. I will forever be grateful to her for the way she handled it. And the doctors at the hospital were very kind when his diagnosis was confirmed. Not one of them ever painted a grim picture for us of Finn’s future, and as I sat there hour after hour, day after day, crying and trying to come to terms with it all, it was the doctors and nurses who told me over and over, “Who knows what he’ll be able to do? Just wait and see.”
There’s really nothing I’d change if I could. I don’t at all regret not having prenatal testing – I’m glad I didn’t know until after he was born. I had the luxury of just enjoying being pregnant and being excited about the coming arrival of another new baby. Had I known beforehand, I know myself well enough to know that I would have been scared and depressed – it would not have been the joyful experience it was. And knowing beforehand probably would have induced me to give birth at a hospital instead of at home, which I know I would have regretted.
I’m glad that Finn was born at home. Not that I’m advocating home birth (I’ll save that for my other blog!), but for me, it was the best thing. Giving birth at home allowed me a measure of love and support I never had with any of my hospital births. Finn was born into loving hands, in surroundings comfortable and comforting to me, and we were given hours and hours to be with him and love him without a diagnosis getting in the way. It would have been a whole different story had he been born in the hospital. A number of people seem to think the whole thing might have been better, or safer, had he been born in the hospital. I am here to say that that is just not the case. Being born at home did not cause his Down syndrome, and wouldn’t have changed the outcome of his duodenal atresia. Being born at home was the best thing for him and for us, and I’m extremely thankful.
And that’s the way it unfolded for us.