The Birth of Finnian Hendrix
July 7, 2008, 1:29 a.m.
6 lbs.; 19 inches
After a fairly uneventful pregnancy, my water broke at about 12:35 a.m. on Sunday, July 6. The only unusual aspect of my pregnancy was that I had started measuring ahead for dates in the third trimester; by mid-third trimester I was measuring about 6 weeks ahead and Sue, my midwife, concluded it was excess amniotic fluid, or more clinically, polyhydramnios. I was huge, and couldn’t completely shake the suspicion that I was actually carrying twins, despite have had two ultrasounds that showed only one baby. Although polyhydramnios can be an indication of a fetal anomaly, neither Sue nor we were especially concerned about that possibility given the fact that we had had a high level ultrasound at 20 weeks that did not reveal any major anomalies. The biggest concern was the risk of a cord prolapse in the event my water broke and the baby was not yet engaged.
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.
I went into labor at right around 38 weeks with Finn. When my water broke, the amount of fluid that gushed and gushed was unbelievable. He was born in the wee hours of the morning on July 7, 2008. The birth itself went just fine, though the whole thing took quite a physical toll on me. All the excess fluid and the extent to which my uterus had been distended kind of put my body into shock, and I could barely stand up without help after Finn was born (it was the same after my twins were born).We were very surprised with how big I had gotten to see this tiny 6 pound baby emerge. I was so exhausted by the birth that I don’t think I was completely lucid or able to focus on details. I was surprised by Finn’s small size, but noticed nothing troubling about him. Michael was concerned about how the baby’s abdomen looked – it appeared distended. I couldn’t see what he was talking about. I just needed to rest. Our midwife stayed for a couple hours after the birth and then went home. Later I learned that she did not go home to sleep, but to pull out her textbooks and do research. Something about the baby didn’t seem quite right, but she didn’t want to alarm us, and nothing seemed life-threatening, so she went home to gather information before bringing anything to our attention.I slept. The baby slept. I woke every so often and tried to nurse him, but couldn’t get him to latch on. I was too exhausted to be concerned. I knew that babies are born with a reserve of fat and that they could actually go a day or so without feeding after birth and be fine. Besides, I remembered that it took some time for some of my other babies to become alert enough after being born to nurse. Finn didn’t pee or poop either during those first several hours. I wasn’t concerned. I was too tired, and my whole body hurt. I felt like I had been run over.
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.
That was the beginning of Finn’s story, of our story with him. Today Finn turned four years old. In some ways, I can hardly believe it’s already been four years; in some ways, I can hardly believe it’s only been four years. In any case, we’ve all come a long, long way since those early, bewildering days.
To say that Finn is a gift sounds trite, but it’s true. He’s a gift in the same way that each of our other children are gifts – they’ve each taught us about love and life and what really matters . . . and Finn, perhaps a little more so.