Repost from July 2016.
How to tell this tale. Where to begin?
All of June I felt like I was in the early phases of labor. Strong contractions and a constant need to pee. There was a lot of stress in June. There was a week at the beginning of June where I couldn’t eat or sleep. I lost weight and feared for my sweet baby boy inside of me. As the month went on, I slowly began to gain back some of the weight I lost and by the last week of June, we knew baby was head down and fully developed. I was ready. He was ready.
I went for acupuncture on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday’s session was intense and when I left, I could feel that my body was moving. When I got home, I started nesting like crazy. I mowed the lawn, watered, mopped the floors, took a shower and even washed and dried my hair (gasp). I made sure that our bags were ready and snacks were prepared. I made a list of things that needed to be taken care of over the next couple of days and noted who to delegate the tasks to. After everyone was asleep, I felt the contractions becoming more regular and the bloody show started. I squatted, I lunged, I went up and down the stairs and then I’d rest. I did this all night. I didn’t wake Josh or call my midwife or Mom. I just excitedly worked on my labor, my heart growing more and more sure with each contraction that labor was imminent.
When Josh woke up, I told him I thought I was in labor. I called my midwife and they told me it was probably time to go to the hospital to get checked. “There’s no way!” I thought! I was still laughing and feeling pretty calm and peaceful. With Leif, by the time we left for the hospital I was cursing and moaning and swore I was dying. Not this time. My mom arrived to be with Leif and Josh and I WALKED the 4 blocks to the hospital—telling jokes and laughing along the way. Side note—Josh was in a full suit, ready for work. We went in through the ER and I was actually embarrassed to be there—how could I possibly be in labor and still laughing and smiling?
A nurse from labor and delivery came down with a wheel chair. There was no way I was getting in it—but Josh took the ride, which the nurse and everyone we passed along the way enjoyed.
They checked my cervix and found that I was 5 cm dilated and baby boy’s head was in position -1. I asked if we could go home for a bit as I felt so great and they laughed and told me I was crazy. Sigh. I sent Josh home to get all of our things, asked my mom to cancel my dentist appointment and pay the yard guy and started back at squats and lunges. The contractions grew more intense with each set of squats. I breathed through each one and said “Open, open, open”.
I felt strong. I felt empowered. I felt peaceful. My body was working beautifully to bring Reinger into the world. It was everything I imagined labor could be.
After a while, Josh returned with our things. I set up a snack bar for myself and my team and kept working while I messaged family and friends. My nurse was wonderful—an earthy, compassionate woman in her 50’s or 60’s who encouraged my peaceful labor and validated my work.
Mom arrived. Chelsey—my friend and photographer—arrived. We laughed between contractions and all fell quiet during my contractions so I could focus on my Blissborn hypnosis CD and working through the intensifying contractions. During my labor with Leif, I couldn’t eat but this time I snacked on rice cakes and plantain chips. I giggle thinking about how I would hand the rice cake to my mom every time I felt a contraction coming. My mom timed them and kept family in the loop. At one point, Chelsey suggested a birthing ball and the nurse brought a peanut shaped contraption for me to straddle. It was way too intense and we all laughed and agreed it looked like a giant penis. A birthing ball soon arrived and it was heaven (thanks Chelesey—I feel like I got a doula out of the deal too). The contractions lingered in my hips and being able to circle and swivel and rock alleviated some of the pain. Mom pressed on my shoulder trigger points to help move baby down and on my hips to help with the back labor. Women are incredible. It is so amazing to be surrounded by strong women who love me when I’m doing difficult things—especially birthing a baby. It feels extremely sacred—like a secret society of sorts.
The contractions were close together and intense and I asked the nurse to get my midwife to check my cervix. A while later, the midwife came in. Having someone put their hands in your vagina while in labor is NOT fun. I knew something was up when I needed to change positions and she didn’t have an answer for me right away. She told me I was at a 7 but Rein’s head was not presenting anymore. My heart started beating faster. She went to get an ultrasound machine to figure out what was going on. Josh, at this point, had stepped out of the room and I sent him a text to come in because I was scared. A few minutes later, we were looking at a breech baby. “CRAP,” is all that came out of my mouth as tears began to stream down my face. My first thought was, “I can deliver a breech baby. I’m strong.” I later learned that they had considered attempting a breech birth. But when she called in the other midwife to confirm, we discovered he had moved to transverse. Babies cannot be born shoulder first. It just doesn’t work. It was too late in my labor to try to manually turn him as my sac was bulging and the risk of his cord prolapsing if my sac broke was high. A prolapsed cord is dangerous as it cuts off the life flow to the baby. I sent my close friend a text to tell her what was happening. She was so sweet to encourage me and tell me what a rock star I was for being able to send coherent messages at this point in my labor. My mom messaged Josh’s mom and she also sent encouragement. Again, women are incredible.
The midwives stepped out to give us a moment to process. My sister-in-law, Megan, arrived and I had a few moments to cry with family before they began prepping me for the OR. The nurse shaved me, IV’s starting going in, the anesthesiologist came and briefed me. They gave me drugs to stop the contractions—both a relief (why work that hard when they’re going to cut me open anyway) but also a heavy feeling of grief as my contractions felt empowering and connected me to Rein. I was helped out of the pretty gown I was wearing and into a hospital gown, a cap covered my hair. The anesthesiologist was so generous to allow not only Josh but also my mom and Chelsey into the OR.
A few moments later, I couldn’t move my lower body. The anesthesiologist poked me to make sure the spinal had worked. I could feel the pressure but it didn’t feel sharp like when he poked my arm. The medical team began their routine of verbalizing the details of the surgery. “Expected Blood loss—600 units…” Jesus. My midwife advocated for me—delayed cord clamping, baby on mama right away. NICU was there—“As long as he comes out crying…” I responded, “He better coming out crying!”
My team arrived in the room. I have vague memories of the OB talking about her new puppy. My mom held my hand. Josh behind me, the anesthesiologist to my other side asking me about my comfort and nausea and keeping me alive. Thanks for that, buddy. Then, it started. The first slice was terrifying. I was so scared I would feel it and was so relieved when I didn’t feel the sharpness of the scalpel slicing me open. I watched in the light fixture as they sliced me open and blood ran out of me. Oh. My. God. These memories are blurry. I’m sure partly because of the drugs but also because the trauma of watching your body being opened. I squeezed my mom’s hand tight and when I needed a break from watching, I looked back at Josh for reassurance and also to say, with my eyes, ‘do you see what is fucking happening?’ I do have faint memories of the medical team discussing my lack of tummy fat! A whole conversation about how I was not a typical American (had I not been completely mortified by what was happening, I would have shouted out ‘Whole Foods Plant Based diet and exercise, folks! Grab my card on the way out the door!’). Its not every day you get to have your insides examined. Nice to hear they’re looking good.
I was open. All the way open. To the OB’s surprise, Rein stuck is arm out of me. Not good. He was face up and had wiggled himself to the far back corner of my uterus. She needed his butt and his butt was nowhere to be seen. She pushed his hand back in. Suddenly, there was another doctor with his arms elbow deep in my body. The nurses and midwife were pressing hard on my stomach. The pressure was so intense, so violating, and violent. It felt like a rape…a rape I had consented to out of necessity to keep me and Rein alive. This was not the fault of the medical team. They did exactly what they needed to do but it was painfully traumatizing as I felt their hands in me and on me and watched my blood spilling and them struggling to get my baby out. Then, he was out. I saw them rush him to the NICU table. He wasn’t crying. I started crying, “Why isn’t he crying?! Why isn’t he crying!? Oh my God, Oh my God, please let him be okay!!” Josh said, “he’s breathing… its okay.” My mom comforted me but I could see in her tear filled eyes she was also scared. 60 seconds. No crying. I felt like my world was collapsing. I couldn’t move. I laid there, paralyzed from the chest down with my body still open while I thought my baby was dying. It was the most helpless horrid feeling I’ve ever felt.
Then—he cried. The horror turned into sheer relief. They gave him 2 minutes of oxygen and Josh offered to let my mom cut his cord (Thank God for his cord pouring life into him during that first minute of life). Soon, Sweet Rein, was laid of my chest and not long after he was searching for my breast. He latched on like an old pro. My terror began to melt into relief as I kissed his head and he suckled.
He has since been a relaxed newborn, allowing his mama the rest she needs to recover physically from the ordeal. Emotionally, I have a lot of work to do. The trauma—both physical and emotional—has left me raw. I have flash backs and nightmares and cry every time I think about it. I feel an incredible sense of grief—Rein’s peaceful birth was taken from him. That first rush of intense euphoria that you are supposed to feel when your baby comes out was instead one of the most horrifying feelings I have experienced. Of course, I was flooded with love and joy when they placed him on me…but the relief that he was alive was the most intense emotion.
The recovery process is hard. The first night, I was so blessed to be cared for by my neighbor’s sister—a nurse at St. Josephs. The compassion I was showed during my entire hospital stay was moving and had I had some fresh air, I probably would have wanted to stay an extra night to be cared for. Just sitting up in bed required so much effort. I had to pull myself up by the side rails and grunt to adjust in bed. The first time the nurse got me out of bed I thought “Surely, I’ll never walk again…” She told me I was actually moving really well. Oh Lord. I had the most painful cramp in my shoulder, which I was told was gas. What? Gas in my shoulder? I was encouraged to move and to fart as much as possible. I lost more blood than expected—almost twice the amount. I felt weak, depleted, ghostly. The next day, an OB came to check me. As she read my chart, she said, “Oh, you’re that one. I’m so sorry…” What. Shit. Luck. She encouraged me that my body is strong and healthy and that I was lucky I didn’t have to be cut up my center—which would mean I could never deliver vaginally again. She said she thought my next baby would be the perfect birth and I was a perfect candidate for a vbac. Too soon to talk about baby number 3? Probably, but I don’t think I’m done. I won’t let this experience rob me of having another child.
There is guilt too. Not only do I catch myself taking the blame for the c-section at moments, I also find myself feeling guilty for my grief and trauma. Shouldn’t I just be joyful that both me and Rein are okay? That I have two beautiful healthy boys? I have friends who have tried for years to conceive. I have friends who have lost babies. My incision is healing. My energy returning. I’m eating well and sleeping better than I expected with a newborn and a toddler. My community is feeding us and loving on us. But physical healing is also dependent on emotional healing. My body cannot fully heal until my heart has also healed. I am most fortunate to have access to healers—from a great counselor to chiropractors, acupuncturists, reiki healers, massage therapists and of course incredible nutrition, oils, and friends and family that will listen and validate my experience.
So, now, we heal. We process. We rebuild our broken places. We give thanks that we are safe and healthy. Most importantly, we love.
For More Photos from the Lovely Chelsey Hawes, Check out this beautiful story.
Two years ago this evening I was quietly laboring to bring Reinger into this world. I had returned from an acupuncture appointment and had the motherly knowing. I mowed the lawn, watered the garden, prepared meals, cleaned the house, showered, and even dried my hair. I made a list of things that would need to happen in the morning and who would do them. Mom could call the dentist and cancel that appointment I was trying to squeeze in before the baby came. I'd also need to put money in an envelope for someone to give to the man that was helping me with the garden. Hospital bags were ready, snacks for laboring and recovery ready to go. I knew but didn't say a word. I laid with Leif as he drifted off to sleep, knowing that it was our last night just him and me. Knowing that he would very soon be a brother and that he would no longer be my one and only.
As Josh and Leif slept, I labored. I walked the stairs, squatted, lunged. In between sets of lunges and stairs, I sat on the toilet and excitedly examined the bloody show and visualized the energy moving down, pulling Rein with it. I did this all night, occasionally laying next to Leif to rest. The contractions were strong but manageable and exciting. Waves of gratitude and joy. My July baby would sneak into June...a peace offering from the Universe after what had felt like a month of torturous hell.
The next day did, indeed, bring Rein to me... but the universe threw one last test at me first. One last mountain would have to be moved when my head down baby that was so ready to be birthed turned transverse at 8 CM. I'll save that story for tomorrow... that story of grief and fear and pain that was necessary for Rein to take his first breaths.
Tonight, I'll watch my boys as they drift off to sleep... Rein, in his last day as a 1 year old. I'll probably cry as I think about how I wish I could keep them little forever and pray that Leif's promise "we'll always be your babies..." stays true. I'll also cry knowing how incredibly lucky I am. Lucky to be born with a particular skin color and in a certain country that allows me particular privileges. Lucky that because of this skin color and country of origin, I will not have to worry about my boys being shot by police on a routine traffic stop. I will probably never have to flee my home to save their lives. I will probably never have them ripped from my arms or told they are being taken to be bathed, only to have them taken to a "tender age detention center". Lucky because me and my children were born on 3rd base. We didn't hit a triple. No, it was just luck. I'll cry because I know there are mamas out there grieving not knowing where their babies are. I'll cry because our government has been in the business of ripping children from their mamas since the beginning. I'll cry because just dipping my toes into that emotion makes me want to scream in agony.
Tomorrow, on Rein's 2nd birthday, we'll march. We'll march to let our government know that we will never be okay with treating living beings with such cruelty. We'll never be okay with using this uniquely disturbing form of torture. We'll march to let them know we won't shut up until all of those children are in their parents arms. We'll march because we were born on 3rd base I want my children to know that when other's suffer, we all suffer. Their humanity is wrapped up in ours and ours in theirs.
Mamas, Rise Up. We can do hard things.
My cousin, Allie, is an actuary. I once asked her if she could figure out my chances of dying. She smiled and told me not to worry about it (as it turns out there’s a 100% chance). There are so many ways to die– disease, violence, and accidents– it seems like a miracle that any of us make it as far as we do.
From one cell we grow into these super complex beings. Each with the same basic anatomy but with completely different characteristics and personalities. I’m not even going to pretend to know how it all works but what I do know is that it is pretty miraculous that it all keeps doing its thing with little help from me. I used to like to go under water in the bathtub and listen to my heart beat—it amazed me (still does) that this thing inside of me just kept ba-bumpin’ away to keep me alive. I love to feel my heart beating faster while I’m running. I also like to lie very still and see just how slow I can get it to go. It’s really quite incredible.
In June 2010, my 4-year-old nephew’s body stopped working. His creativity and joy for life got him into a situation that turned out to be deadly. For the next 5 days his body was kept alive by machines while we desperately waited for a miracle to happen and the swelling in his brain to go down. On the fifth day, after accepting that his body would never be able to work on its own again, he would never wake up from his sleep, his parent’s did what no parents should ever have to do, and took him off life support.
When it was time to say goodbye, my brother and Tera held him for the last time while Payton let go. My very loving and very large extended family sat in the waiting room with our eyes down. Every time the door opened our heads flew up. Finally, after what seemed an eternity (only 22 minutes) a nurse came to tell us Payton was gone. We sat crying and holding each other while chimes rang over the intercom, announcing the birth of a baby—a new life with a heart that went ba-bump, lungs that filled with air, and 8 other working systems, came in to the world just as Payton was going out.
Payton’s parents were so courageous and had decided to donate Payton’s young, healthy organs to give others a second chance. We stayed in the waiting room as the organ donor team operated on Payton. A while later a team of 4 doctors came and told us how amazing Payton had done and how many gifts he had given. It seems as though Payton new exactly what to do—because he let go so quickly, more of his organs were able to be saved. Through our extreme pain and gratitude, we each came forward and hugged and thanked the doctors (who were also crying) for giving us hope by turning our greatest loss into others’ second chance at life.
In the days, weeks, and months to follow I often thought about the recipients of Payton’s organs. I prayed for them, that their bodies wouldn’t reject the new parts and that they would live full lives. I wondered if they had a level of gratitude proportionate to the level of our pain. I wanted to know if they ever thought about the grief that we live with. I feared that they wouldn’t live lives worthy of Payton’s sacrifice.
Then it struck me, it’s not my concern whether they were grateful for their gifts—my own gratitude is where I should be. It’s of no use to me to wonder if they think about our pain—I should be focused on loving myself and my family through the pain that we share. It’s not my place to judge the quality of their lives—I should only concern myself with the quality of mine.
Steve Prefontaine, a running icon who also happened to die tragically at quite a young age, is famously quoted for saying, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” Most of us will never be Olympic athletes. You may not feel like you are incredibly “gifted” at anything. But if you are reading this now, it means you have an INCREDIBLE gift—you’re alive. All of those systems are working together to keep you alive. Your heart continues to go ba-bump in your chest and that, my friends, is a gift worthy of your gratitude.
I can’t control how the recipients of Payton’s organs will choose to live their lives. I can, however, control how I live mine. I can choose to care for my body. I can push it to explore new boundaries. I can give it my best so as not to sacrifice this gift. I can be present each moment and choose to live with gratitude for this thing in my chest that keeps going ba-bump.
So, here’s to my precious little nephew, whose zest for life inspired many, and who probably would have gotten a time out for using the “H” word. I’ll honor your short but beautifully lived life by giving a big“hell yeah” to living as fully as you did.
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