Birth….a mirror for life

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IMG_2303 I first heard my daughter Nova’s voice seconds after her arrival at 5:28 am on Wednesday November 19th, 2014. I heard her strong, raspy yelps right after they cut and wedged her out of my body, my arms secured and cushioned on the operating table, me drugged and numb from the chest down. I began to dry heave and cry myself the second her presence filled the cold, brightly lit room as finally she had come to greet us after a tedious 4 days of anticipatory labor.I use the term anticipatory (all labor is, of course) because my water broke around 7 am on Saturday the 15th and when I finally showed up at the hospital Sunday night, I still had no sign of contraction action or any cervical dilation. I was one of those pregnant women who was excited to morph and push and navigate the intense sensations of a regular, old school delivery. Why wasn’t there even a bit of cramping or rumbling happening after almost 2 days?

Slow it would continue to go. I had never had a baby before so I knew it could be a long labor but what transpired seemed unnaturally drawn out. Walks, spicy food, sex, acupuncture, nothing seemed to get active labor going that weekend and time was ticking. I was disappointed heading to UCLA in the dark that Sunday night, as I was very eager to have the majority of my labor happen at home with my fiance Gabe and my doula. I wanted to be at home, where I could take baths, snack, rest in my bed, just be easy and free, all things that would make the experience so intimate and give Nova good reason to come on out! Given the risk of infection (30 something hours had passed since my water broke) I couldn’t hang out at home any longer. My doula was also a midwife and I trusted her judgement and she and Gabe felt it was best to go ahead to the hospital. I was so hurt. It felt like a failure and unfortunately as the next couple days unfolded, that feeling grew stronger. I was against any medical anything initially, but turns out I sampled the whole buffet of interventions when it was all said and done. Set aside what you think you know! This phrase would have served me well at that time.

This perfect little lady entered the world via Caesarean after multiple arduous and hairsplitting negotiations had ping-ponged and finally settled within my body and after choosing one by one to entertain a wide spectrum of interventions. I tried those soft, nudging, preparatory kinds (weekly acupuncture and homeopathic remedies) the weeks and days before labor as well as the ones that get a nasty rap from ladies like me with crappy names like Cervadil and Pitocin. The Cervadil, meant to aid effacement, after 12 hours did nothing. A low Pitocin drip was begun Monday morning and even with calculated increases got me to about 3 cm dilation. Really? I felt fried from anguish, my mind constantly saying this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Tuesday morning around 10 am with no push from anyone, I decided to get a blasted epidural (me? what?) so I could rest, sleep a little and keep contractions going and this girl heading out. I eventually let the epidural wear off, so I could feel my lower body enough to push. Around 11 pm I changed into my own “bring me the baby” gown and got ready for the strange thrill of pushing. After 3 hours and lots of encouragement from everyone (yes, Mia you’re doing awesome and we can see some of her head) my own body went into shock, I developed a fever and infection and my kidneys weren’t producing any more pee we could see. I was graciously offered a couple options.Everyone was truly sensitve to me and my desires but we were at the end of the line. I could keep pushing for another bit (Nova’s heart and vitals were being monitored the whole time and was doing just fine) or opt for a Cesarean. We were at that dreaded place that once I got there feeling like I did, didn’t seem so awful and felt like the right thing to do. Her head was stuck and I was completely mentally and emotionally spent, not at all how I had expected myself to be when I met my girl. My bravado was gone. Yes, she was likely a 10 lb baby and I could manage that no problem I had previously thought, but I had nothing left. My body was crashing and I needed others to help me, which they did and had been doing all along, despite my push back.

What a totally unexpected ride it had been so far! I decided I couldn’t do anything more, I couldn’t even keep my body from shaking or writhing around in my bed and so I asked them to prepare me for surgery. Gabe got suited up and all the while my body just wouldn’t be stil. This is why they cushioned and strapped my arms down. I had to let go of my expectations once again and allow this incredibly compassionate team of ladies to bring Nova to us, which they did graciously. While I had wanted to feel everything, I was now numb, arms twitching, my heart beating hard and the big rocking motions of my lower body as they tugged and dug to pry her out. It was pretty damn fascinating.

I had read Ina May Gaskin’s books on the sanctity and health of natural, intervention-free birthing. I went to prenatal yoga, took my birthing classes seriously (except my nose was turned up the night we talked drugs and interventions!). I was ready to head to The Farm in Tennessee and have my girl there without any familiar voices telling me what I should do. A little crazy how I assumed my plan for her arrival was the only safe one. It just didn’t happen to be true. The universe apparently had something else cooked up for us. There were others who had our best interest in mind and took such incredible care of us each step of the way. Gabe and our doula, Amy had tried to talk to me about being in the moment and taking things in stride. Just to rub things in a little more, I had created a beautiful movie of how things would go down once labor was under way and had married myself to a well thought out, selective 20 point birth plan, which I had printed up and proudly passed out to the triage staff at UCLA upon arrival for admission. This movie in my mind and this document outlined how I wanted things to go. Ultimately, it just didn’t no matter how much I willed it.

I knew, in theory, we birthed with our bodies, not our minds but it seems I was at war and really struggling to accept how things were unfolding and my body registered that resistance fully. This hostility towards my reality was exhausting. Draining my energy reserves with resentment didn’t help me at all. I felt defensive and pushy long before labor was slowly turning on and looking back today, 7 months later, I can see how armored and ready for battle I thought I needed to be. I used to go to my biweekly checkups at my high risk clinic with a “tough and angry at the system” line of questioning, while those very nice residents were always there to soften me up and do their best to calm my anxieties and address my detailed concerns the best way they knew how. I was put out with the medical communities resounding fears over my being a pregnant diabetic and how high risk my delivery was likely to be. I hated how weak and suspicious it all made me feel. I was strong, capable and special, wasn’t that evident? My “unique” desire to map out and direct events is fascinating to me now. I wanted to puff out my chest and show (who? all of western medicine?) that I could do this without the medicalization of my daughters birth. And yes, that is one way things could have gone, but it didn’t. Back when I was getting ultrasounds all the time to check this little lady’s development, docs and their “pesky” equipment found that Nova had a heart defect. Cardiologists were called in to perform more specialized scans to try and get an exact diagnosis and prepare for what kind of support she would need in the NICU after her birth. Would she need surgery right away or was this something we’d watch after she arrived? If I hadn’t been labeled high risk early on (being over 35 and a diabetic) then I may not have been scanned so judiciously and her heart defect could have been missed until later. I often overlooked this excellent care I was receiving mostly because I had tunnel vision surrounding the birth experience I wanted to have. I was in excellent control of my chronic condition, wouldn’t that grant me the kind of birth I wanted?

My goal was simple at that time: How could I be sure and get my way and have the natural birth I so desperately wanted when I was a type 1 diabetic, a 39 year old lady with a baby inside with a heart defect requiring immediate and specialized support from the NICU the moment she arrived? How could I get to have that slow flow experience, even orgasmic delivery I had dreamed of having when there would be a team of people ready to shuttle her off the minute she was born. Of course I was concerned about her health and knew I needed to deliver in a hospital and have those specialists on board . But what about the picture I had created for us, how could I see to it that Nova was taken care of and that I was able to bring her into this world in the best way I knew how?

I was mad and when I am mad, underneath I am often very afraid. I look back now and realize labor may have been stalled or slow, requiring all the bells and whistles in part because I was afraid of how she would be when she came out. She was safe inside of me and we knew that, but after she took her first breath on her own, how strong and healthy would she be? Would she be okay or would they need to take her away and operate on her? I didn’t think these thoughts consciously over the course of my few days of labor, but I know my body was feeling that deep primal fear of loss and that may have kept her nice and close to me, strong and steady tucked inside. Maybe, she was there to help me let go of all sorts of hard hearted hang ups I had about a number of things I couldn’t ever articulate. I still think a natural birth is best, but who I am to call the shots. I couldn’t very well rescramble her DNA and shield her from a congenital heart defect when she was forming inside of me, but I would of if I could. Nova has since had 2 open heart surgeries to repair her defect and she is growing and thriving as if nothing had happened. She is pure radiant joy. What resilience rests inside our bodies. Hers and mine!

Creation, labor, birthing…..it’s all a huge mystery and that is why it is so incredibly, freaking cool, however it plays out. Softness, flexibility and momentary mental blossoming were gifts given me as I went through those few days of transformation. I didn’t realize it then. They came without my planning for them. The transformation was in large part a change of heart inspired by my own stubbornness and the love and care of countless people helping me shed old skin and birth this little girl. Nova Hanna arrived in precisely the way her momma needed her to. Nova arrived and I became a mother. It’s amazing to me today that the humbleness and gratitude I found in the process, couldn’t have been found any other way. This birthing a baby is apparently much bigger and richer than any plan we can devise and for this I remain eager and joyful.


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