Friday, February 29, 2008

La La Land

Tonight was movie and pizza night. Imagine that! I absolutely love television as a rarely-used treat, because it truly is magic to my children. Of course there are other forms of magic that I relish more than television, but to see them, at the end of a long day, help me to roll out the pizza dough, carefully help with the red peppers and the cheese, and then sit down into their matching, little white rocking chairs, is truly a treat. Little Aoife runs commentary on whatever she sees, and Liam just sits there with a grin plastered on his face. They are relaxed, they are happy, and it all seems good. I love it.
I think my attitude about television is pretty consistent with my attitude about mostly everything. I think that in general TV isn't good for kids, but I also don't want to ban it completely, lest it become this crazed, forbidden fruit. Like the hot fudge sundae, a movie every few weeks is not going to poison my children. They would no sooner ask for a movie on a Tuesday morning than they would ask for a bowl of ice cream for breakfast. They know that a movie is a treat that comes when the Mother decides it's going to happen. And when it does? We all sit back, relax, and really enjoy the show. Even if it is Thomas the Tank Engine. (Those engines are terribly rude to one another, really, but with their cute british accents it seems less aggressive and so long as none of that is repeated in our household, I'll be okay with that.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I have so much I want to do. I just have to say it. The list gets so long in my head I can't keep track of all the things that are on it and I have such a long list of things I want to do that I never remember to add to the list that I ought to try to write down the list so I can actually accomplish some of the things.
So here are some of the things that I want to do, in no particular order, no priority, just what I'm thinking of.
-Call the dentist and get the stuff they use to make teeth molds to make baby hand/foot casts at the hospitals for the poor lost souls
-Meet with the nurse at Hospital number 1 to find out what her deal is and how she's dealing with loss stuff
-make the handouts for Hospital number 1 for people to go home with
-Deal with the emergency department at Hospital number 1 to get them on board so they don't treat miscarriages the same as arm wounds
-Deal with day surgery to make sure they are compassionate to the people they get for early D&Cs as opposed to the childbirth center
-Figure out what to bring with me to my meetings at Hospitals Number 2 and 3
-Talk to the social worker who used to work at Hospital number 1 to get her take on things
-Talk to nurse friend from same hospital to get her deal
-Talk to friend who birthed at Hospital number 2 to just get her take on things
-Figure out if I can go to this conference in May to represent Share
-Plan my talk for next Friday at the university
-Make a meeting with the people who got treated like shit in the ER at H #1
-Figure out the memorial walk/butterfly release for this year which will happen in about 10 weeks.
-Make t-shirts for the kids and me saying, "Charlotte's sister" etc. (Greg has one already) for her birthday
-Figure out whether we can get a speaker to come out here and do nurse/OB education this year maybe in the fall? Have to figure out budget stuff
-Get some really pretty blankets for H #1
-Organize a person to get stuff for H #2 and H#3-- to be responsible for making sure their closets are stocked with good handouts, handprint kits, dental stuff, etc. and that someone there knows how to use it.
-Figure out how to get more people to come to our group. This is impossible. But I wish I could figure out how to do this...
-Make a form that the nurse fills out at a loss -- this needs to go to H #2 and H #3 as well-- where the patient signs to be contacted by our group so that we can send them cards, emails, remember baby's birthday, etc. and try to support them

You see the thing is, when you have had your loss it is so much easier to be supported than it is to ask for support, so it doesn't really always work to just send people home with a pamphlet. Then people have to read it, make a phone call, and be brave enough to get in the car and drive to the meeting. If we can contact them, and they know us, then they are more likely to come.

Oh, that is just a part of the list. I would never expect to be paid for the work that I do because it would be blood money but just imagine how totally full time I could work on this if it were a job. And I could then be employed. Not that being employed by my two little dictators ages 1 and 3 is not the best, don't get me wrong, but I have met people who work a few jobs and they're okay. I do this job anyway, right?

Then there is the rest of my life, and the things I might like to do there, such as move picture albums from one closet to another so that the first can become an art closet, and to move the little porcelain stuff that Aoife keeps wanting to take out of the dining room cupboard before she breaks ALL of it, and varnishing the "new" bannister that we got put in about, oh, 27 months ago before Aoife was born, but that's all kind of pending, I think.

My to-do-list for awhile. I'd better copy and paste this one.

What a boring post. I promise to write something fulfilling tomorrow or on the weekend.
I just couldn't get anywhere with the milk being my last post. It filled me up too much every time the blog came on my screen. Now when I see this boring post, I will be inspired to start anew.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Milk

The milk was really the worst part physically. People think that giving birth to a dead baby must be the worst thing a person could ever have to do. But I think perhaps making milk for a dead baby might be worse.
When I gave birth to Charlotte, it was work for her, and work with her. My body was doing what it was supposed to do for her, and she was still there. Of course it was painstaking and heartwrenching. I don't mean to lessen the burden of grief that hung over me during that birth. It was, by far, the most difficult and courageous act of my life.
But the milk hurt more. The milk was beyond my control. When I gave birth to Charlotte, it felt like a choice. I rose onto the balls of my feet and felt myself doing exactly what my body was meant to do. I felt my motherhood coursing through my veins. I was making myself a mother, I was engaged in this universal act of birthing a child. I could feel her moving through me.
When the milk came, she was gone. I was home. The pull out couch was pulled out downstairs, because we could not face upstairs: Charlotte's things, the bed we had lain in the night she died. The day before, when I had arrived home, my mother told me, she said, I'm worried about your breasts. Let's do something. They were loose beneath my shirt. I could not bear to put on the nursing bras I had packed in my suitcase for the hospital, thinking I would be wearing them home with my baby in the backseat. So my sweet mother helped me into my younger sister's size A sports bra. We bound my breasts tight. And we waited.
The next morning, the ache preceded my consciousness. My breasts were beginning to bulge. They were hard. They hurt. We kept wheat packs in the freezer and rotated them for that day. I took advil. I waited some more.
The next morning they were blue. They felt just like a canteloupe, only smoother to touch. They were ridged with their fullness and absolutely rock hard. Just as when you push a canteloupe, you think maybe in its ripeness you should be able to push your finger in, but you can't. It's just too hard. The milk wrapped all the way around my sides, even a little bit onto my back. This day I had to shower. I had help peeling the bra from my body. It was barely possible.
Once I was naked I looked in the mirror. The milk was pouring out of me in rivers down my belly, my sagging, empty belly. My breasts hurt so much, to the touch of the air, to the glance of my eyes at my poor, ravaged body, devoid of life. Their fullness and ripeness stood in stark contrast to the emptiness below.
Once in the shower I squeezed them a little, knowing I should not, watching the incredible bounty of life flow out of me. I had no control over this. It was just happening to me.
This milk seemed like a mockery of my motherhood. Where giving birth to Charlotte had sealed me as a mother, this milk that came after her departure seemed cruel at best. Here it was, pouring from me, fatty and sweet, and she was gone, en-route to a crematorium, lifeless and gone. My motherhood tucked away somewhere in an urn, waiting to be returned to the funeral home nearby, while her milk actively churned in my body, unaware of her loss.
This was pain. There is nothing more to say.

Monday, February 25, 2008

For the love of the nursies

Welcome Carnival of Breastfeeding readers...
So the breastfeeding humor for me started when I was about eight. It was the early eighties. I lived in a hoity-toity town east of Boston, where most mums did the requisite six months or so of nursing and then switched happily to the bottle. But not my neighbor across the street. She was what I would one day become: the mum who just couldn't say no. Her daughter was a fiercely independent, fiery little creature with a temper like I still have not seen to this day. And until what seemed like a pretty ripe old age to me at the time, maybe 3? Maybe more? She would shove into her mother, tearing up her shirt and pulling out the weathered, tired breast, and say, in a voice that clearly communicated that there was no other option to be had, "Mummy! Nursies!" And on she'd go. My sisters and I thought we had had the last laugh on this. Whenever the neighbor girl's name would come up, even well into our teens, we would joke about whether or not she was still nursing. When my babies were little and would want to nurse, we would use the familiar phrase: "Mummy! Nursies!" And laugh.
But it had lost some of the humor to me long before my babies were nursing. When Charlotte died, the milk became symbolic to me: to give milk was the privilege of those who had sustained life. Poison darts shot from my eyes at women I knew of who had chosen to not breastfeed. To endure the agonizing pain of a new mother's milk undrunk ON PURPOSE? To make the choice to let the milk spill, to stand in the shower with it pouring down one's chest, for the choice of not nursing? Unfathomable, to me, and ungrateful, it seemed. Suddenly the milk seemed so much more, and my neighbor (the mother) seemed much more on my team than I had thought.
We'll skip Liam, his nursing, his adoration for the nursies (he called it mimi mook) and his weaning (successful and untraumatic weaning, I might add) and go straight to Aoife, the unweaned. Drastically unweaned. Completely unweaned. Loving the nursies.
It goes something like this,
"Need da nursies".
"You need to nurse RIGHT now? But Mimi is (fill in the blank-- cooking dinner, trying to sleep, playing with Liam, taking a shower)".
"I need da nursies. Aoife tired. I need a nap." (This might be about an hour after she has woken up, but if she takes a nap, she figures she might sneak a nurse in the rocking chair)
"Aoife, wait just a minute. Mimi is busy right now".
"I sick. I need da nursies."
"Just a minute, Aoife."
"I yuv you. I yuv you, Mimi."
"Oh, honey. Let's go have a little nursies."
We curl up in a chair. She has won again, and I don't care one bit. She's so darn clever! Not even two, and she sits there and goes through all the scenarios where I will definitely give her milk. Got to reward the girl for her intelligence, right? A little reinforcement for the use of a creative strategy? And plus, what's really important?

Later, I say to her, "Aoife, what's your favorite thing?
"Why? What do nursies taste like?"

Yeah... butter. That's cute, hey? You don't get that from the sweet little newborn, snuggled up to the big ol' boob taking in actual nutrition. Those are the words of the little snacker, who craves just the actual boob, not necessarily the butter inside it. Gotta love it. And you have to laugh.

I forgot to mention that this summer, when Aoife was age 1.2, my mother brought up the old neighbor again. Every time Aoife wanted to nurse, my mom would laugh, "Mummy, nursies". And so my dear daughter, who like her brother calls me Mimi, now says "Mummy, nursies", quite often when she craves the boob.
And who am I to say no?

Welcome Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! Other blogs participating in this Carnival of Breastfeeding include:
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog

Breastfeeding 123

Mama Knows Breast

Breastfeeding Mums

Crunchy Domestic Goddess

Nurturing Notes

Friday, February 15, 2008

I don't know how you did it, some people say.
Of course, the truth is, I am still doing it. Because on May 13th I will bake a cake with five candles in it, and swirly, pink icing, and there will be nobody there to blow out the candles. So it's not as if the job has been done.
But I did rebuild my way to sanity, I peeled myself off of the floor, I unfolded my arms and legs from around my slack, empty belly, I raised my eyes and met the faces of others, I walked back into the world. It took a long, long time before I really was part of that world, at least most of the time. But I did come back.
Because I felt it. I felt the sadness, the despair, the all-consuming, body-wrenching, agonizing, flesh-tearing, searing pain that started somewhere in the middle of my gut and coursed with my blood, up through my heart, out through my fingertips, then circling my brain, and finishing right down to my toes. I didn't know any other way to do it. How could I run away from something so collassal? Something that called to me from every corner of my silent house? The pain that dripped off the drooping lilac bushes with the spring rains that would not cease?
I had the "gift", if you want to call it that, of time. No responsibilities. No work for Greg or I until the next school year began. No other children (was this a good thing?). Nothing to distract us or remove us from now. We sat there, and we sat, and it happened.
The pain happened, and we felt every stab of it. We did what we needed to. In every decision, I acted robotically, either chosing to do or not to do any given activity purely on my gut. The phone would ring. Can I talk? Yes. Answer the phone. I am in the store, grocery cart half full. Can I make it to check out? No. Turn around and walk out of the store. I am buying an emerald ring. I am about to cry. Lean over counter of expensive, fancy jewlery store, and cry (the ring story is a good one for another day). This was how I operated.
It worked.
If you are in those shoes, I highly suggest the robotic, wade through the pain technique.
With this in mind, you feel what you've lost, and she (or he) just becomes part of your landscape. As the pain becomes less searing and you start to look up more often, you see your child all around you, and you begin to trust that you will never leave her (or him) behind. Your history becomes who you are. You can then move forward, bringing all of your past with you along the way.
You are strong, you are weathered, and you are back.

Here's a favorite poem, by Ellen Bass

The Thing Is

To love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
When grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, how can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say yes, I will take you
I will love you again.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Question.. version 2

How many kids do you have?
I am in a bar. It is noisy. I am out with a bunch of women, about 9. We are at a big table. The woman who is asking me is diagonally across the table from me, three people down. She is shouting. There are two conversations happening between she and I. I hesitate. I know the answer. It is very complicated.
I have two at home with me, I answer, and a little piece of me winces.
This reply is not a lie, but it is not the answer I would like to give. If we were face to face, eye to eye, and there were time, I would give her the real answer, the full answer.
I found this question mindless and easy when I was pregnant or had a newborn. They would say, "Is this your first" (or second). Then I could very simply and without explanation explain that I had had two babies before this one, Charlotte and Liam. But kids throws me.
Charlotte is not a kid. She never got that chance. She would be my kid. She should be my kid. She was my baby. She doesn't do the kid things with me.
I get confused by this. She is my kid. I want to have her drawings with her name scrawled on them all over my fridge (the loss of the name, that loss, of my very favorite ever since I was a little girl name Charlotte, that's something, too), the answering of the phone and it being for her, that won't happen. These daily things.
My child, yes. My baby, yes. My daughter, yes. But there is something about kid that connotes this daily grind, this carpooling to nursery school and making peanut butter sandwiches for them, and she misses that.
I don't deny her, not ever. I suppose not telling the woman at the bar would count as denying her to some. It's just that I have to do her justice. If I ever spoke to that woman again, and we got on the topic of kids, I would amend my answer, that is for sure. This is often what I will do, I will answer "two with me at home" (my standard, non-lie answer for tricky situations), and then if the conversation progresses, I hunt wildly for the opportunity to slip in that I actually did have another daughter before Liam. It could come from anywhere. The person could be saying, "I have a pink shirt", and I would say, "Oh, I had a pink shirt when I was pregnant with Charlotte, she is my first daughter who died at birth". I mean I really sometimes pull it out of thin air, because once I am actually talking to someone about my motherhood, I absolutely cannot look at them in the eye if I think they think I only have two kids. So I weave it in.
So yes, two kids with me at home, and three children, three babies, three loves. Always in my heart, together.
Happy Valentines Day, my sweet Charlotte. I wish I could send you a chocolate heart and a kiss wherever you are. xoxox

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


My babies and my charge in our nest

When it is morningtime, the sun isn't up here. An hour before Greg's alarm has sounded, soft classical music that rouses him and sends him out of the warm cradle of our sleigh bed. Each day I stretch my arms widthwise across the bed to fill the space that he has left, it is warm and I pull the duvet high over my ears and return to peaceful slumber.

Then as the icy dawn begins to creep over the horizon, I hear tip-toes on the pine floor, and a little form moves through the darkness. Do I sleep with my face turned to the east because I know this is coming? He leans into my face and kisses my lips softly, then climbs up, and over my sleeping body, and curls himself into the comma of me. I pull the covers over him. He is tired, but he does not sleep. He does not speak. He warms me.

As the light grows around the edges of the blinds I hear the small voice, quiet so as not to wake his sister. "It's almost morning," he says. I have to admit, the morning is looming, our nest must wait another day. We sit, pulling the pillows high behind our backs, and gather books to read. Some mornings I go downstairs to fetch hot chocolate for my weaned one and coffee for myself, even a little snack to nibble on if there are muffins or extra-tasty dry cereal available. We read and snuggle and chat quietly as the sun rises over Turkey Hill, and the river rushes by, and the light changes.

Sometime midway through this time a cry comes from the end of the hallway, a startled awakening followed by quiet, and then chatter. I retrieve my littlest sprout and tuck her in with us, she nurses contentedly while we finish our books and prepare to begin our day.

This lasts sometimes 10 minutes, and sometimes an hour. This is morning, on the best days I have, sometimes 2, sometimes 3 times a week.

It was 6 years ago on Valentine's Day that Greg and I went to a local furniture store and ordered a cherry Sleigh Bed. "An extravagence," I explained to him, "We would never indulge in once we have chidren". Realizing the truth in this, we agreed to buy the bed, and never exchange gifts on Valentine's day. My co-worker smiled to herself, knowing how I had longed for the bed. "Your children will love it. You will fill that bed," she laughed. I did, too.

We waited and waited for the bed. I began to phone the store, concerned. The owner kept me going. "They're behind on their orders," he explained of the small company who was to build the bed. "Their head bed-maker is on vacation." Finally, on my last call, a version of the truth: We're bankrupt. Then a few days later: a call from the lawyers. Not just bankrupt, but they had taken our deposit and never placed the order for the bed. It seemed our bed (as well as our deposit) was not meant to be.

A few months later, the lawyers called again. Some funds had become available to fulfill orders that had been fraudulently taken. Would we like our bed after all?
Yes, please.

And now it is our nest, our hub. Our family gathering place, where books and love and everything else comes together.

This all sounds so peaceful, no?

It is also about 85% likely that Charlotte died in this bed. Died as I lay there, pleased as punch to finally be in labor, so delighted that I would soon be bringing my baby home to this beautiful bed.

Why does there have to be a flip side to everything?
So this is why, in the early dawn, my heart sinks with gratitude as the tiny warm lips awaken me, and I see the boy who never would have been climb into bed with me. His miraculous self fills me to the brim, and when his sister joins us, the love makes me giddy.

My nest calls.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Obvious

I take it back, what I said the other day about not feeling a deep connection to something deep in my heart. I have a religion, it just doesn't have a name. I have a belief, and a cause, and you all know what it is, and so do I.
I went to this meeting on Sunday night, it was a meeting of a number of our local homebirth midwives and also some doulas. They invited me to come and talk about the services that we provide in the area. I was excited to go and formally meet these people (who all know my story because of the Mothering article).
As I'm writing this I'm realizing that maybe I've never really written about what I created here in the valley. When Charlotte died, there were no support groups, networks, no nothing for anyone whose babies died. There was a support group at the big, scary hospital down in the big city twenty miles south, and so we went there.
It saved us. Being in a room for two hours a month with these other people who had cradled their tiny little babies only in death, it was a rebirth. It gave us connection where before we had been stranded. I tried to find the people in my area who had lost babies: surely they were out there? But to no avail. I knew I had a calling, I knew this had to happen. So in the end, I started my own group. It took 3 1/2 years for me to have the energy and time and space to do it right, but it happened.
What I started is a group that meets every month, and then more, too. I sell us as being available all the time. Phone, email, whatever. When is your crisis moment? When do you need support? What if it's not between 7 and 9 on the 4th Wednesday of the month? Call me.
We are also available to consult with doctors/midwives/nurses/doulas about a birth, and even to come into a family's sacred space before, during, or just after a birth if that is what they deem helpful. We are available to counsel with families who have received a terminal diagnosis.
We are also working--trying--to work within hospitals and such to improve the care and experience of families experiencing loss. I have stocked the cabinets full of rolls of film, decent cameras, handprint kits, dental amalgamate for castings, beautiful clothing, wraps, blankets, etc. We have talked to nurses, docs, etc. about what should happen when this does happen.
This is the tip of the iceberg. I could literally, and would LOVE to, work on this full time. Of course the thing that gets in the way of this is that I am a full time mama, and I would never, ever sacrifice this sacred opportunity... so doing this full time must wait. This and the fact that I can't get paid for this work, which also gets in the way since I end up paying for child care to get my work done but then don't get paid. And we live on one teacher's salary. So anyway.
So I went to this meeting of midwives, and I talked to them about what we could do for them if they found themselves in this situation. I probably only spent maybe 45 minutes there. But I left feeling positively smart. I felt informed, I felt on top of things, I felt accomplished, I felt proud. I felt like I was making change happen. It made me feel swollen with life.
I felt passionate. I felt like this was it for me. It is slightly uncomfortable for me, because what I love to do is work with people in absolute crisis. I think it is because I know that I can do it. Just for the same reason why there are those nurses out there who ask for the stillbirths, because they know they have something to offer that mother that somebody else might not offer her. I know I am doing work that nobody else is doing, and whatever I do, if I put in one hour or one week of work, it is going to make somebody else's loss more tolerable.
So who was I to say I didn't have a cause? This is my cause, obviously.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Middle Ground, and Regret

Here I am about 2 hours after yesterday's photo. Baby Aoife, how beautiful you are.

Rixa's comment from yesterday: "

I want to thing, though, about birth advocacy is in the end, I want women to be able to make choices in true autonomy. That means that for some women, having all of the technology right there will be something they embrace and that is inherently right for them, and for others that will mean staying at home and having only their family members present. Or a multitude of other approaches somewhere in between those two."

Who is this woman who says it all so clearly?
This is so beautiful, because this comment in itself liberates me from the defensive place where I stand.
Why can't I believe, truly, from the bottom of my heart, that I had beautiful, gorgeous, perfect hospital births with really low interventions? That my births were not somehow lesser than somebody's beautiful homebirth because I had an elastic full of electrodes strapped around my belly? This monitor that brought me more peace than any other single piece of technology ever invented?
It's because there don't seem to be many people who I know who occupy the middle ground of believing that there are many, many things that fall inbetween a birth in the hospital which includes pitocin, an epidural, and a c-section and a birth in your own bed with your other kids gathered around to watch. I feel like the only people I ever hear speaking are the ones who say, "Oh, I love my epidurals, I get one as soon as I walk in the door", and those who say, "The tub is all filled up on the deck, and we're ready whenever she is. Thank god I don't have to worry about getting a staph infection at that dirty awful hospital place for sick people."

I guess one of the things that has also been inspiring about the great people that I have worked with at my local hospital and at my births is that I can see that there are people who believe in educating women about all of their choices and options, and who do listen to them when they're in the hospital, and I wish this could happen for more women. I feel so lucky.

It is ironic that I do feel I had great births even though one of my babies died.
And would you like to hear a confession? I did get an epidural when Charlotte died. I think about this in the way that I bet lots of other people wish away their c-sections, I wish I hadn't gotten it. I never wanted to get an epidural unless I really thought I couldn't be present for my birth. But when we found out Charlotte had died my midwife calmly suggested at one point that I might want to think about getting an epidural as a means of carving out some space for my emotional pain. She spoke of the difficult decisions to come and the great difficulty of the task I was about to embark upon. It wasn't so much a suggestion to get an epidural as it was a suggestion to consider it a possibility now that my circumstances had changed. I chose that route. I now know that I did this because I was afraid of what my threshhold would be. How much pain could I handle? Could anything trump what was in my heart at that moment? What would it feel like to wrestle with physical pain on top of what was searing through my soul? I chose the easy way out, the avoidance route, because I was afraid. I had never had a baby before, and I didn't know what it would be like. My regrets for having made this choice, if you could call them regrets, come only after I have had two more relatively effortless, unassisted labors without any drugs. I now realize that the grounding rhythm of labour might have drawn me into a thinking spot. I wish I could have felt the work of birthing her more than I did. What I will say is that luckily (from the perspective that I am looking at it from) the epidural didn't do too much, I didn't feel painful contractions but I did feel them, I could walk, and pee, and by the time I needed to push I was feeling them strong and hard. So this did allow me to be present for some.

But what I will also say, as the flip side of my "regret", is that I never fault myself for any decisions that were made on May 13, 2003. I know that I did the best that I could. I made choices that seemed to make sense to me at the time. I was blindsided, stunned, captivated by this upcoming event that would crush me like a bug. What was this, this no-mans land I occupied? This space where I had been told that my baby would be born dead, but she hadn't yet been born? The space where maybe they were wrong? The space where it was up to me to make this prediction come true, where it was up to me to push out this baby and see for myself that my life with her was about to end. It was a place I could not bear to be. So I trust that I made the best choice for me at that time. I am in no place to judge that woman who lay curled in that bed, her arms wrapped around her huge, beautiful belly, encasing her long wished-for daughter who would never take a breath. That would be unfair, and would cause me nothing but further pain. So I rest here, and trust she did what was right for her.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Different kind of Pro-Life

Here I am laboring with Aoife. Greg is laughing because I sound exactly, EXACTLY, like one of the spirits in the Christmas story with Scrooge..."I am the ghost of Christmas past.." Moaning so low and loud, and loving every minute of it. My mantra: Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves (Mary Oliver) Please note the super (man) woman shirt, which is my traditional birthing shirt.

The other thing about me, regarding birth, which would have been different in a different life is that I know I would have been a more active normal birth advocate in another life. I am pretty outraged by the state of birth in this country (as a focal point, although I could extend this to the entire developed world). It is unfair to the mothers and it is unfair to the babies. I feel passionate and could really pour myself into working towards helping to change the ways our system pushes women through birth and creates different outcomes than would have happened if patience and respect for the birth process were at all near the top of the priority list for OB nurses and doctors.

Oh, this is huge.
Except that one of my babies died, and I just can't get past this. I can't get past this because I held my baby, my first born, beautiful, perfectly created baby in my arms, and then the nurse walked out of the room and I never, ever saw her again. I looked at her tiny little eyelashes and toenails and the softness of her shoulders and her hair and her nostrils and the perfection of her entire body and wept at the injustice that so much beauty and time and energy had gone into creating and sculpting this beautiful ball of glowing potential, who might have grown to be a nuclear physicist or a beet farmer or just a regular mom and was now just lying in my arms, lifeless, and we would never know. That happened to me.

So now only one thing really, really matters to me. Life.

It was a coincidence that I went back to one of my older posts, where I wrote about the birth of Liam. Somewhere in January, maybe near the beginning. There was a comment there, one which I hadn't seen before. It was a lovely comment from Leigh, who had been a homebirth transport because of a breech presentation and had delivered her first daughter by c-section. Leigh wrote beautifully to me about how emotionally difficult this birth had been for her, and how reading my perspective made her feel grateful and consider the alternatives.
Before I go on, I have to say that while I did not experience the regret over my own cesarean birth that many women do, I am very sympathetic because I know that had I delivered by cesarean under other circumstances, I would have had a very difficult time with it. When Liam was born by cesearean, my best friend from childhood said, "But you are not the type of person who gets a c-section!" We giggled together about that, but it's true. I am a drug-free squatter with long hair who bounces on a ball and moans, right? Right. So if my first had been born alive by c-section? I would have questioned it over and over, and mourned my loss of my vaginal birth. Admitted wholeheartedly.

So back to my story about Leigh, and I hope that Leigh (if she still reads this blog) won't take this as a criticism, which it is NOT. It is simply a perfect example of how where I sit is different, and so sorry, Leigh, I get to pick on your story as my comparison point. At the end of Leigh's post, she P.S.'s that her second daughter, also a frank breech, was born at home. She giggles that her babies like to be born upside down.

I scream inside, and here is why. I'll divide my scream into two categories and address them separately. One, I am jealous. Two, I am afraid.

I am jealous of Leigh because she still lives in the world where babies don't die. Leigh trusts that her second baby will be born alive. She knows that breech babies can be safely delivered and she trusts that hers will do just that. She is innocent and alive and vigorous. She believes in her body, and she believes in her baby.
It makes me feel so GUILTY to think that I wouldn't be able to have that trust in my baby! In my own body! I seethe with envy that she can live in that world of beauty where a birth cry follows every delivery, where her trauma of her c-section can be soothed by a beautiful homebirth of daughter number two. I want this for myself.

But more than my envy, I am afraid for her, because I can see the other side of the coin, the side that thankfully landed face down on the pavement for Leigh. This is the flip side where she makes the decision to have this baby at home, even though she is breech, and she trusts in her baby and her body, and something goes wrong, and her baby dies. Her baby dies. She dies, and Leigh knows that perhaps it was her choice to refuse the c-section and go forward with the home birth after cesarean that has caused her baby to die. I am so grateful that this is not what happened. But what if it had happened?
I can tell you that if I had been in that situation, where a conscious choice I had made had killed Charlotte, I would have killed myself. As it was, with no cause whatsoever being linked even remotely with my decision making, I could barely peel myself off of the nursery floor my grief was so heavy. My responsibilty for my baby's life weighed so heavily on me, and despite anything my midwife, or my husband, or anyone said to me, I knew this one thing inside: she was my child, she was my responsibility, I was supposed to keep her alive. Now what would that have been like if I knew that I could have made a choice to save her, but didn't? It would be suicide, plain and simple.

The other thing on the flip side of the coin is that I also know a mom who bled out and died last year three days after the birth of her son, her first child. So having a VBAC at home? Also something I scream about, because it means you are also lucky enough to live in a world where moms don't die. (I am sure that I have written before about this strange obsession all us moms whose babies have died have with our own mortality.) When I had my VBAC I did even question this decision, even though it was going to be in hospital, because I imagined that if there was a heaven somewhere I would kill myself in heaven if my dreams of having a beautiful birth that also included a crying newborn got in the way of the life with the child that would ensue. But I found solace in the thought that if I started to bleed out, maybe they could save me if I was already right there in the hospital, IV port in my hand (they did put this in for my VBAC just in case)
I guess I am all about the just in case, when it comes down to it. Nothing trumps my own desire to see my baby live. Nothing will ever stand in my way of that end goal, and I want to make sure I have all my bases covered along the way.
P.S. Thanks, Leigh. I am sorry I picked on your story. It was the only concrete example I had. The truth? I think you are badass, and you know I'm just jealous. But I'll still do things my way (and if you'd ask me I'd tell you to do your things my way, too).

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Birth, in another life

I might have had a homebirth, in another life. When I lived in Vermont, many of the people I knew with children had their babies at home. Of course it seemed more natural and more right. I had always had in my mind that my body was made to give birth, and that this was something that seemed bizarre to do in a place for sick people. Then we moved to Massachusetts, and while the community that we now live in also has a relatively large population of homebirthers compared to national standards, I didn't really know any of them. I can remember when I was first pregnant with Charlotte, I got this book out that was a directory of all the birth services in our area. It just felt like the kind of thing I would do. But then, strangely, it never became what I did. As I became really pregnant, as being pregnant progressed from the little line on the stick to actually feeling sick and telling people, something began to pull at me. This is a direct quote from my brain, the same brain that once before had wanted to have a homebirth. "I want to have a baby at home, but if I have the baby at home and something happens, I could never forgive myself because I would always wonder if it would be different if I had the baby in the hospital."
A few thoughts about this quote. "Something happens". This is my favorite. What is something? I can remember thinking this in the car, on the way to the hospital, when Charlotte wasn't moving. "I hope something isn't wrong." What is something? What lies between everything's fine and the baby's dead? Sometimes it seems like the line is pretty fine. So when I say this, "Something happens," what I really mean is, the baby dies. Of course this is what ended up happening. So that's a little strange for me, this idea that I wondered if something might go terribly wrong. and how I would try to place blame on myself if that were possible. Of course even under the circumstances I did feel that it was my fault, somehow, of course. If anyone could have known her struggles, it would be her mother, no?
Back to my memory, my quote, of why I couldn't have a homebirth. Did I want someone else to blame? Did I just want to feel as if I had covered my bases? I don't know. I think I just didn't have anyone to trust outside of the medical community except for myself, I didn't have an excellent homebirth midwife recommended by 9 friends, I didn't have any trust in that community, so I felt like I had to "fall back" on the second choice.
And now, how different I feel for myself. For myself. I seethe with pure, unadultrated, envy for all those fortunate, lucky, fabulous, people out there who are blessed with the opportunity to push out their babies, their live, breathing babies, in their homes. What I would not give for this opportunity. To me, this would be the ultimate in beauty. To have my birth at home in my bed. I now know the sacred beauty of birth, and to have it in my own surroundings seems nothing but perfect. Sadly, I know that if I ever do get a homebirth, it will only be if I have already learned that my baby had died. The only thing I might change about Charlotte's birth? If I could do it all over again? I think once I learned she had died, I might get back in my car, drive home, and have her in my bed. I would bring my baby home. I would hold her in my arms in the bed where she lay with me for 9 months and where she was supposed to wake up and nurse and I would have her there with me.
But another baby? One that is alive, that needs to be RESCUED from my womb? Sad, but true. This is how it feels to be pregnant when you have lost a baby, I think particularly, maybe, one that has died unexplicably at term. You must get the baby out. Fast, now, and with as much monitoring as possible. Even though I knew with complete clarity that planning a hospital birth HAD NOT saved my daughter, who died while I was laboring at home, and even though I try to convince myself that even HAD I been in the hospital when her little heart stopped for good they never could have saved her, this does not change my quest for all possible technology in future births. And by this, I don't really mean drugs. I just mean monitoring, and easy access to anesthesia (if readily available) and scalpels. I just want to know that the baby can be saved. I need to know that the baby can be saved.
I remember a hormonal burst about two years ago this month. "You are not the one walking around with this ticking time bomb in your belly," I cried to Greg, envious that it might be possible for him to go to work and forget for 5 minutes that a second, living baby might be born to him soon, while I tiptoed around the house, adreniline rushing, searching for constant movement, perpetually afraid that this would be the day. With both of my subsequent children, I felt sure, absolutely sure, that this day would come.
It did not. They both emerged with life. This seemed like more of a miracle than I ever could have hoped for. I wonder what it will be like when I take this plunge again, in a year, or maybe half a year, and another life comes to me. Will it feel the same? Will I be so afraid? Will my two living, confident, so vibrantly alive children bring me more confidence?
Meanwhile, there are people right now, and I mean right this minute, at a birthing group, all preparing for their homebirths. There is a part of me that wants to burst into their meeting, to push apart the doors and shout, "Your baby could die, you know. Maybe you should consider some kind of backup plan? A rental home next door to the hospital?" But I know that this is silly. Not even the hospital can always save a baby that might die. What I really feel is sadness for myself, sadness that I could never experience this beauty of a birth at home, envy that they will birth a live baby and keep him or her forever, because that's usually what happens. I feel defeated and defensive. I would have loved to have a baby at home. But what I love more? Having a baby present in my home. That is so much more important to me. I want my babies to be here. In full form, living, pulsing creatures for me to hold and love. My images of birth in my own bed will gladly be cast aside for the hope that someday my body can do it again, that it will push out another crying baby, and that I won't care one bit about whether it took monitoring, or drugs, or c-sections, or what it took to get that baby out alive. What could be more important?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hush Little Baby

We have this beautiful book by Sylvia Long, "Hush Little Baby". Perhaps you have it, too. To the tune of the familiar song, this sweet, soft bunny mother weaves a quilt of the natural world around her baby bunny... mama's going to show you a hummingbird, an evening sky, the cricket call, etc. It's a beautiful, sweet song, and the illustrations are dear. Today I read this book to Aoife 9 times in a row. Without one, single break. This was after we had read it twice in a row, and before we had lunch and then read it 3 more times.
This is the beautiful part about this experience. Each time she said, "Again", I was happy to. I turned back to page one, and just started again. Liam was playing campout with Phoebe, we were curled in a chair, why not? Why not again? Each run through takes about 3 minutes. The mesmerised look on her face, the soft, warm slump of her against my chest, why would I ever say no?
I know there are days that I would have. Where I would have thought 8 times was enough, and gently encouraged another book, and maybe even carefully chosen another singing book to appeal especially to her. But not today. Today I am grateful that I felt so grounded and so peaceful that I could just read this book to her, 14 times in total so far today, and feel really glad about making my baby happy.

I know that these days can be rare, where I can just be at the one year old level, and tune myself so completely into being settled at home doing "nothing". To resist the urge to go out and "do something", and to realize that on some days, reading the same book 14 times can make the best morning ever.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Today I found out something that might not seem like good news.
To be honest I don't know what to call it, but it warmed my heart fully.
A nurse that I know told me that Charlotte had changed her. She told me a story of a baby who had died, and she told me about how the hospital wanted to deal with it one way, and how she chose to advocate for another way. She told me about how she carefully took photographs of the tiny hands and feet, and how she tried the handprints and footprints again and again to get them just perfect. She told me about how she insisted, when a doctor thought it might "not be best" for the mother to see her baby, that the baby be brought to her mother anyway. And she was. And so this nurse, this wonderful woman with the hugest heart, has given this mother a gift that might not have been hers, the gift of memory.
What would I do without that gift? What would I do if I didn't remember my beautiful girl being lifted into my arms, if I didn't remember the feeling of her soft head, if I couldn't recall the faint smell of her newbornness? What would I do without my lock of hair, my bracelet, my footprints winking down at me from the fireplace? What would I do if she hadn't been real? I cannot put a value on that gift of memory. It saves me every day, makes me whole, makes me real.
This woman thanks me, and Charlotte, for helping her to know how to give her patient the gift of memory, and for helping her to know to respect the personhood of that tiny baby who never drew a breath. But I would argue that perhaps it is more the person that knows that it is only fair, it is only just, to send every mother home with something. Those who see it differently must be hiding from something. For how could it be better to be sent home with nothing? No memory, no photo, no nothing? It never could be.
But I will add, that it gave my sweet, beautiful, almost-five-year old girl a little bit more purpose in this world, to know that she is working her magic and spreading good will. That nurse may have had this deep in her core, but she thought of Charlotte when she wrapped that baby up and brought her to her mother. And so I smile, deeply on the inside of me, to know that my loss has made somebody else's loss maybe that much easier, and I hope that this will continue to happen. May all of our blows be lessened, little by little, one baby at a time. Thank you, sweet kind nurse, because you have just made somebody's whole life completely different: a mother out there now knows her baby, when she could have never known her. Wow. That is one big deal.

Monday, February 4, 2008


One of the things I like about having this blog is that everyone seems to be really nice to me so far and it's a good ego boost. So thanks, y'all. I really don't know what to say.
I mean this is the thing, isn't it. We're all pretty unimpressed with ourselves. On a daily level I am. As a survivor of losing my baby I do feel badass, I will admit this to you. Having already done the most difficult thing I will ever have to do feels good. Every time I say this, my brain starts concocting scenarios of what could be worse, now that I have two living children with me. But gearing myself up to push forth my child who would not breathe, that took a lot. I cannot imagine any single act of courage that would trump that one, and I am proud of myself for that. I still cannot concieve of any single person performing such an act, much less myself. But on a day to day level I do have these teenagerish moments where I feel dreadfully incompetent. I look around as if to say, "Where's the mom around this place?" I wonder to myself who is going to fold the baskets of laundry, and when. I think "I wonder what's for dinner?" The flip side of this, the being the mom part, is that I do sometimes gleefully eat hot fudge sundaes at midday, and nobody can stop me from doing it. But I waver, sometimes. I second guess. I compare.
Don't we all?