I wrote a tad about how whiny I was during Meggie’s birth, but I haven’t actually ever written her birth story in my blog. I’ve written Tristan's birth story and Aimee's birth story and now it’s time to write Meghann’s.
I haven’t written hers, some because I am ashamed of what I did, some because it was scary and much because I now know how incredibly stupid I was to have an Unassisted Birth. At the risk of alienating a segment of readers, I’m going to plow forth and write the story… including how I saw things then – and adding how I see things now. It might jump around a tad, but I will do my best to keep things in a chronological order.
Included in the narrative are photos that have yellowed terribly with age and while I am decent with Photoshop, I don’t know yet how to restore old photos; please forgive their discoloration and blurriness. I have also blurred out the faces of the others in the photos because I don’t have permission to share them.
After my pregnancy with Tristan, where I gained 80 pounds, had pre-eclampsia, magnesium sulphate in labor, Demerol x 2, a medio-lateral episiotomy that went into my thigh muscle, nursing for a mere 4 months and still being really fat, I needed things to be different with this next pregnancy. We moved from Orlando to Tacoma, Washington when I was 3 months pregnant – arriving the day before Thanksgiving 1983. It was dark! Growing up in Florida, I never understood the Christmas song about “a long winter’s night”; I got it then! Not knowing I would suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder when living in Northern climates, I cried my way through the rest of the pregnancy, hating living so far from home, hating the prenatal care I was getting and not having any friends.
During one prenatal visit, I saw a social worker (we were in the military and our household goods didn’t arrive until January 1984, so we had to pilfer the Army’s loan closet, but had to qualify first) and cried my eyes out about my loneliness and fears of getting so fat again; I hadn’t even lost my pregnancy weight from last time! She looked in her Roladex and gave me the number to a pregnancy exercise instructor, Marie. I called her that afternoon.
Besides leading dancing pregnant women around a room, Marie was also a La Leche League leader and a Bradley teacher. I fell in love with her and the groups immediately. It reminds me of how people fall into cults, the place of intense vulnerability and finding a group of kindred spirits who embrace your whole being, quirks and all. It was like that.
I took Tristan’s birth pictures in to show them off and the women gathered around, saying kind things. I, oblivious to their horror, proudly told them of my beautiful hospital birth, induction, rupture of membranes, medication, episiotomy and all. They never said a word – letting the veil of ignorance slowly fall from my face over the next few weeks.
Marie invited me to read and I voraciously devoured her entire library. From Silent Knife, Spiritual Midwifery and Transformation Through Birth to Sheila Kitzinger’s books, Penny Simkin’s early writings and on to the extremely radical Marilyn Moran, the mother of Unassisted Birth in the United States.
Marilyn wrote Birth and the Dialogue of Love and a newsletter called New Nativity. Her belief was that birth was meant ONLY for the husband and wife, no outside interferences at all. No midwife, no on-lookers, no other children there. She felt birth was as sexually charged as intercourse and encouraged, even more than Ina May Gaskin, sexual expression during labor and birth. I thought Marilyn was the greatest, writing her and then talking to her on the phone as she really insisted my then-husband and I birth alone. It took more convincing, but not much.
We started our Bradley class with Marie in early March. 12 weeks of gobs of information about interventions and how to avoid them. I was in heaven! I couldn’t get enough of classes, exercise class (which was every day!) and La Leche League meetings (once a month), so continued reading like a madwoman and talking to Marie and the others about birth; I was insatiable.
During this time, I was going to Madigan Army Hospital, seeing the doctors who tsk’d tsk’d about my weight (I’m remembering I was about 250 pounds at delivery), whined about the size of the baby (too big, of course) and were baffled that I’d passed my Gestational Diabetes screen.
As the Bradley classes advanced, I wrote up a birth plan to take to the doctors to sign off. Shockingly, none of them would! Birth plans were a brand new phenomenon in 1984, yet the obvious liability aspects weren’t lost on the obstetricians.
My Birth Plan demanded that I not be induced, no artificial rupture of membranes, no IV, no episiotomy, no fetal heart monitoring (only a doppler), no silver nitrate for the baby’s eyes (they didn’t use erythromycin back then), no Vitamin K shot, able to eat and drink at will throughout labor, wearing my own clothes, able to ambulate as I wanted to and squat for the actual delivery. In class, we saw films that showed women in the hospital having births like this – I wanted that, too!
How the doctors didn’t bust out laughing is beyond me!
Now, If women are going to write a birth plan, I encourage them to write nothing more than will fit on a 5x7 index card because so many things are Birth Plan Standard Operating Procedure. But 24 years ago, you’d have thought I was asking to build a manger, lay hay in it, bring a cow in and then moo along with her as I squatted alone in the corner while everyone just watched.
My Birth Plan didn’t go over so well.
When I left crying, I’d decided to find a midwife. I was 38 weeks pregnant.
I began calling the referrals I was given, but because we didn’t have money, none would take me as a client. I called all the way up to Seattle, trying to find someone who would help me. I shake my head thinking how I sounded, hearing myself now as a midwife. I wouldn’t have taken me as a client, either!
Resigned, I decided my odds at a normal birth were better alone than at Madigan (which had over a 40% cesarean rate – even back then!), so I began planning for my DitY… (pronounced “ditty”) Do it Yourself… birth. I was going to do it.
(My former husband was along for the ride, learning, growing, changing as I read paragraphs aloud and he attended class with me. Because he reads here and doesn’t often like what I write, I am writing from my experience and will leave much of his experience and feelings left unsaid.)
My pendulum had swung so far to the left that, near the end of my pregnancy, I tried to get Tristan, 19 months when Meggie was born, to re-learn how to nurse. He’d been diagnosed with a protein allergy and was drinking donated breast milk, so I thought it’d be dandy if I could re-lactate or could re-nurse him once the baby arrived. He lay in my lap, lips on my breast, not having a clue what to do. Sadly, I just had to keep giving him the milk in a cup (I’d abandoned the bottle because of the stigma). We did bring Tris into our bed, too. That, we all enjoyed. Once Meghann came along, Tristan was relegated to his crib mattress next to the waterbed.
Getting ready for the birth, I invited Marie to attend, much to Marilyn Moran’s horror. She said she would come except she would be camping if the birth fell over Memorial Day weekend. I invited her 16-year old daughter, too, a budding photographer. I invited two women from the exercise class, Eileen, a former L&D Nurse and Candace, working on her Bradley certificate. Both women had nurslings that would also come to the birth.
On Friday, May 25, 1984, I went to my usual OB appt. I was 41.1 weeks pregnant when I was shown to the room, I was told to undress from the waist down. I told the nurse I wasn’t going to have a vaginal exam, but she insisted. Mad at myself, I grudgingly took my pants and underwear off and sat on the table waiting for the doctor. When he came in, I was really upset to see the nastiest of all the OBs. He repeatedly told me I had to be induced, that the baby was too big. When I said I didn’t want a vaginal exam, he said he had to see how “induce-able” I was. I laid back and put my feet in the stirrups.
He stripped my membranes. Hard. Tears leaked out the sides of my eyes and I asked him, “Are you stripping me?” and he denied it, but still was digging around in my vagina. He said he could barely reach my cervix and while it was soft, it wasn’t open very much. He got his hand out, told me I had to be induced on Monday if I hadn’t delivered over the weekend and walked out. The nurse came back in, helped me up and gave me Kleenex to wipe myself before I got dressed and, in pain, went home angry and sad that I had buckled under the pressure of The Man.
Before I even got home, I was having contractions. Small waves, every once in awhile, while also having constant aching in my thighs and butt.
In all three labors, I never felt contractions in my belly. I felt them in my upper thighs first, then my whole thigh and butt joined in as the contractions came and went, came and went, came and went. I hated to be touched from nipple to knees (the exact expression, “nipple to knees,” that was used at the time for where an epidural numbed a woman) – and anytime anyone tried to massage me, comfort me or guide me – touching in those places, I about crawled out of my skin, snapping at them to STOP TOUCHING ME!
It was Memorial Day weekend. Marie was leaving to go camping Friday night, but her photographer daughter said she’d stay home to photograph the birth. I’d wished Marie would have changed her mind, to stay with me, but she didn’t. It was hard and sad to see her go. But, I kept in touch with my other “doulas” (there was no such word until about 1988) and puttered around, knowing I was in early labor, baking bread and swaying with contractions.
I barely slept on Friday night, had slightly stronger contractions during the day on Saturday and felt I wanted/needed company about 6pm on Saturday night. Eileen, Candace and their nursing babies came over and I remember labor kicking in pretty good about then.
I was miserable.
Back then we thought (and some folks still think) laboring women had to walk continuously to get the baby out. It was heresy to lie down during labor and whenever I did, I was exhorted to get back up! I was flippin’ exhausted.
Here, you see how miserable I was. I had no humor about this labor. None. I am sure I never smiled, simply whined and cried and felt way sorry for myself. It would have helped to be reminded there was a BABY in there – that I was laboring to birth a child – but, back then, in Bradley, we were taught to “do what felt natural.” I felt anything but “natural.”
My former husband, the primary attendant who’d read Gregory White’s Emergency Childbirth with me, was amazing as my partner in this journey. He never wavered in his care of me, loving me throughout the entire long labor and birth. You see his love and concern easily in the photos. However, the last thing I ever considered was being sexual with him while I was absorbed in all this pain. Was Marilyn Moran crazy?!
I walked, took several showers – where I sobbed alone – had cold cloths put on my head and neck and leaned on my then-husband.
When Eileen and Candace and the teen photographer were settled, I begged for drugs. I was damn serious, too. I was in so much pain I could barely stand it. But, that was during the contractions. I remember standing straight up after one particularly horrendous contraction, completely out of pain, and saying, “I could do a jumping jack right now. The pain is gone!” And then another contraction smacked me on my ass.
I begged the women to find me drugs. Didn’t someone have a lost joint in their coat pocket somewhere? (These were the straightest women you could ever imagine – and I hadn’t done any drug since I was a teenager!) Couldn’t they go downtown and find me something? Eileen calmly told me if I wanted drugs, I could go to the hospital… they had plenty there. She was very soft and kind in saying this. I don’t think I heard judgment at all, either. I just remember the hospital being an alternative, not a threat.
I gritted my teeth and said I wasn’t going anywhere, that I just had such a hard time believing I was going to have this baby at home. I couldn’t see it. Eileen and Candace, almost in unison, said, “Well, no wonder it’s taking so long!” and exhorted me to squat and visualize the birth over and over.
I hated squatting. I was fat and it was hard even though I’d practiced during the entire Bradley series. (We know now not to have women squat in late pregnancy until we are sure the baby is in the proper position and deep in the pelvis lest s/he get mooshed in there in a not-optimal position.)
Look how humorless I am. laughing I so wish I could go back and do that birth again. I would do things a whole lot differently. But, in the scheme of life, I know I had to birth Meghann this way; it was a huge part of my walk towards becoming a midwife.
Once I began squatting, Meggie must have come down a lot because I began feeling pushy and changed into my Birthing Shirt.
I got this shirt when I was pregnant with Tristan and we’d attended our Lamaze class at Florida Hospital in Orlando. It was one of the few things that fit me – I always wore huge sweat pants during that second pregnancy – and knew I wanted to wear it in labor as a closeness to the birth with Tristan.
I don’t even remember what Tristan was doing during the whole long labor. He was always such a good baby; it isn’t surprising I don’t have any memories of his fussing or crying. I’m sure I was the one who cooked for him and fed him – and I know he was in bed early the night the gang came over – we’d put him in his old room for the night. He went without any problems that I can recall.
See how they still had me squatting? I wasn’t even pushing yet… knew I wanted to have the baby in a squat (it was THE preferred Bradley position and as an obedient acolyte, I was going to push this baby out in the squatting position)… no one considered how flippin’ tired I’d be after HOURS of squatting. So much for doing what felt natural, eh?
My former husband was sitting in a chair and I was dangling between his legs in a squat. My arms were over his legs. In the above picture, I am sure I am flailing in frustration.
I say “let me” because I really was directed what to do and how. I was reduced to an infantile state, whining, “It hurrrrrrrrts” for every contraction, my mantra annoying the crap out of them all. I obeyed all instructions even though I complained the entire time about it. I had no independent thoughts about what to do or how to do anything once getting drugs was out of the question. I was drowning in my own labor – and I hated it.
We are wont to say these days that if labor brings on suffering, then medications are absolutely appropriate. If a woman is noisy and cruising along in her labor, then she’s most likely just fine without meds. But, using the word “suffering” designates the line between tolerating the birth and enduring the pain of labor. I was beyond suffering and wish someone would have known the distinction and helped me. I didn’t have any other words beyond, “It hurrrrrrts” – was non-verbal except for that evermore-grating expression.
I am sure a flopped myself dramatically over my husband’s shoulder. Vain, I usually have my hair meticulous (even now when I go to births, I always have make-up and hair done), but look at it… messy as all get out. I cringe looking at the pictures, thinking how I must have looked and smelled.
People talk about women knowing when something is wrong and taking care of it. It isn’t true. I’ve known more than one UCer to lose her baby and not realize something was wrong until the baby was already dead. As smart as I was, as educated as I (thought I) was, it never dawned on me that that long labor and all that pain could mean something. I had been taught that there was a wide spectrum in the realm of norm and surely this was just part of that, right? I was enveloped in my pain; I couldn’t have made any decision after making the one to stay home. I was, quite literally, out of my mind in pain.
And look! My hair’s fixed again. shaking head and laughing
Only this time, I felt the urge to push.It’s a head!
Eileen is now behind me and my husband in front of me. I can still remember that chrome, curved armed dining room chair they sat in.
In Bradley (at least back then), one was supposed to put chin on chest (still de rigeur) and open one’s eyes, calmly pushing the baby out. I’m sorry, but there wasn’t a baby in there; I had a semi-truck coming through me. Full of cargo.
Eileen and Candace kept telling me, “Open your eyes!” and I would try for a second, but it just felt wrong, so I’d close them again. “Put your chin on your chest! Open your eyes!” Too many instructions, for crying in a bucket. Leave the birthing woman alone!
My head would bob up and down, mimicking one of those glass cocktail birds that dips his beak in the drink… moving to the instructions barked at me. Trying to do their bidding, I felt like I was patting my tummy while rubbing my head – and I’m not very good at doing those at the same time.
These are not a quick succession of pictures. And my husband kept telling me to lift up! I was sitting on the baby’s head. (Again, so much for being “in touch” with my body.)
She sat still for a long time. No rotation. Who knows if she turtled, no one was aware enough to look for it. A cord was felt for, but nothing found. It hurt like crap while they dug for the cord.
Meghann began to rotate, but stopped.
And then, oddly, she began rotating the other way.
Now, of course, I cannot thank the angels enough for doing what an attendant would have done and that is do the Wood's Maneuver to get her out. I was already technically in the McRobert's position since I was squatting so deeply I was on her head.
The suctioning isn’t doing crap but stimulating her. We could have rubbed her up for all a’good the bulb syringe did.
The decision is made to call for the ambulance. There was no 911 back then.
Nice cord, though.
Instead of tending to the gasping child, everyone else is cleaning up the room to make it look like I precip’d. We conjured a story quickly about how I was having a baby shower and PLOP! the baby just came out!
The fire truck got there first, several men traipsing in with equipment. Immediately after were the police and ambulance folks. In all, I had 8 giant men in my small bedroom, looking at Meghann, who had finally begun to perk up. She never left my arms, but they listened to her heart and lungs and I look down and notice one of the guys with my cord in his hand. I told him to let go of it! He said, “I’m just going to do some cord traction to get your placenta out.” I told him to let go, “No you aren’t!”
I learn later that my husband is in the living room having a “discussion” with the ambulance captain about transporting me to the hospital. “She’s fine. It’s cold. We’ll go to the hospital in the morning.” The captain was incredulous asking, over and over, if we planned this – was there a midwife? and my husband explained the baby shower story again – as if we’d rehearsed it the whole pregnancy (which we hadn’t).
I’m sure the whole group of them were disgusted with my not getting on the gurney to go to the hospital. They left before the placenta was born. Today I am shocked they would do so, but they said, as they were leaving, “Call if you need us for the placenta.” Isn’t that odd?
Once we were alone again, we congratulated each other and I stood to deliver the placenta into the bowl. The cord was then cut and… what… did we use a shoelace? I think so. A new clean white one.
I got up into the bed.
It’s a miracle she didn’t end up seriously hypoglycemic as big as she was. It didn’t dawn on me how big she was, though. I saw she was fat and she had this weird thing on her forehead, but was pretty oblivious to her size. I should have known when, later, the newborn diapers we’d bought didn’t fit without snipping the elastic legs.
I hadn’t told anyone we were having a homebirth. My family would have crapped. When I told them on the phone, they congratulated us, but withheld their surprise. Later I learned they actually weren’t at all surprised I’d had a homebirth without a midwife; it seemed in character.
(Once, after having the homebirth, becoming Christian, coming out as lesbian and then telling my mom I was converting to Judaism, she said, “Barbara Ellen, if you told me you were going to be African-American I wouldn’t bat an eye.”)
The girls left, picture-taking ended. Dad, Tristan and Meghann slept. I got up (alone!) and took a shower. Dang did that feel great! As tired as I had been, that’s how buzzed I was now. The intensity of the pain had vanished from my memory and I was in bliss. Look! There was my family asleep on the waterbed… pillows, blankets and all.
(Donna and I laugh about how we co-slept with our kids in waterbeds with fluffy pillows and tons of blankets. The SIDS people would have a fit if they knew!)
About 9am, I couldn’t stand not knowing how much Meghann weighed, so woke my husband up to go to the hospital.
Once we got to Madigan, Meghann was “isolated” since she was born outside the hospital. She was taken into the NICU and I went to be checked out by an OB. Dad stayed with Tristan while they checked Meggie out behind the glass.
I tore over my old episiotomy scar and they asked if I wanted to be sutured. It seemed a weird question and I said, “Of course!” Now I know that many homebirthers would rather heal without sutures. I hadn’t learned so much yet after all.
Once sutured, I went back to the nursery where I was bombarded with questions about the birth. We answered in our rehearsed words; they couldn’t crack us! At one point, a nurse spit out, “Do you VACCINATE?!?” Again, I was confused and said, “Of course we do.” She was startled and pulled back some of her venom. We didn’t stop vaccinating for another 2 months when Meghann had a horrendous reaction to the Pertussis vaccine. Even then, we selectively vaccinated after that.
Standing next to a nurse, I pointed to Meghann’s forehead and asked, “What’s up with that? Why does it look like that?” She blinked and looked at me funny. “She’s FAT! That’s a fat roll!” I couldn’t believe she was that fat.
On the scale, she weighed 9 pounds 15.5 ounces. The nurse and Pediatrician said she probably weighed 10 pounds 6 ounces at birth, but since she’d pooped and peed a couple of times, she weighed less. I use the 10 pounds 6 ounces as her birth weight. She was 20 inches long. Fat AND short!
“I’m a little Meghann…
… short and stout…
… here is my handle, here is my spout.
When I get all steamed up…
…here me SHOUT!”
This child was noisy! Unless she was nursing or sleeping, she was hollering. She probably had a headache for two years.
The day after she was born, Child Protective Services showed up at our door. I stayed in the room, but my husband had to bring Meghann out and talk about the birth, about vaccinations, about how we parented. I don't remember the details, but know the gentleman was satisfied that we were decent parents and the case closed.
Meghann grew up to be left-handed. I’ve noticed many oxygen-deprived babies are left-handed. I wonder if anyone’s studied that.
My daughter is a brilliant woman. She made straight A’s as a student… from kindergarten through college. She’s mathematical, scientific, well-spoken, a wonderful writer, musical and an absolute delight to be around.
I worried for many years that I had somehow damaged her during her birth. After the initial bliss wore off and I realized that what I had done was a really incredibly irresponsible and reckless thing to do. I am infinitely grateful I wasn’t given a harder lesson than I already was. The weight of worry wasn't worth the fleeting pleasure of the Unassisted Birth.
Life is precarious.
I chose midwives for Aimee’s birth. I’d sufficiently learned the error of my ways.
I know that Meghann’s birth was important for me – so I can empathize (if not sympathize) with UCers. I was there, but as I recently said, I was so ignorant of the realities of birth… I hadn’t even seen another baby born in real life yet!
Yes, birth is phenomenal most of the time and perhaps some will see Meghann’s birth as proof positive that even complications aren’t devastating when left alone to resolve, but I saw her birth as a giant THWAP on my knuckles to wake up! and see birth for what it is... a wonderful event in the lives of families, one that almost always works out great, but that sometimes, when you might least suspect it, babies or moms might just need a hand.
(That powerful lesson brought me to my knees 2.5 years later as I watched a woman die in birth.)
I am blessed to be called to be that hand for the women choosing homebirth. I don’t take the role lightly.
I’m flying to San Antonio to hang out with Meghann (named for Meggie in The Thorn Birds) next week. We’re going to go see Sex and the City together. I’m going to photograph her as she does her job as a wedding coordinator (during a wedding!). We’ll swim at her dad’s house and yack and laugh – she makes me laugh so much! And I’ll tell her stories. I love telling her stories. And she laughs and laughs and laughs.
She’s never heard her whole birth story. She’s reading it now.
I can’t wait to kiss and hug her.