I feel compelled to write Anna’s birth story – and my own birth-as-a-Mom story. This is most likely because I’m sitting here at nearly 19 weeks pregnant with Baby #2. Oh hey, in case you hadn’t heard, Crazy Mama is getting ready to be that much crazier.
It’s going to be a two-part post. The first is all exposition, sorry. It’s just that I feel a need to explain. Otherwise, you might be a little surprised at how things unfold. Besides, everybody loves a cliff hanger.
How to begin…
Early in my first pregnancy, we decided to forego obstetrical care and begin prenatal care with a CPM, or Certified Practical Midwife. I saw an OB regularly up until about week 24, when the “final straw” occurred that made us decide we’d be in better hands outside a traditional clinical setting.
My pregnancy was super easy. I was low risk, both in terms of my own health and in terms of maternal family history. On two separate occasions, someone at the OB’s office – the most popular practice in our town – panicked over nothing and sent me on a spiral of anxiety, in both cases due to an improper reading of their own instruments.
The first time, at about 13 weeks, the Nurse Practitioner (who I’d not met before this visit) could not detect a fetal heartbeat with the Doppler device. Rather than simply saying, “Sorry, I’m having trouble getting a reading – let’s go over to ultrasound for a look,” the woman visibly panicked, started shaking, and stammered out, “Oh gosh, oh – I – I don’t hear a heartbeat.”
I had to take control (someone needed to.) I demanded she leave the room to inform imaging to expect me – and asked her to please not return. Ultrasound proved quickly that Anna was fine – it was just too early to easily catch her heartbeat via Doppler – and as I checked out, I calmly requested an appointment on a day when that Nurse Practitioner would not be involved in my care. Then I went to the bathroom and cried with relief – and nearly puked from the release of the greatest fear I’d ever felt.
The second incident – the “last straw” – the OB reviewed my ultrasound and said, “it looks like there’s a problem at the insertion point of the baby’s umbilical cord.” When I asked for clarification, she said, “well, it could be that there’s a restriction and it looks like her belly button may not be centered, but rather a few inches low and to the left.”
What the heck? Not “it could be, but probably isn’t” or “it looks like, but I could be wrong.”
So they sent me elsewhere for a 4D ultrasound at a specialist’s office – days later – and I was a mess for days waiting. Needless to say, there was again no issue and I’d been put in a panic over nothing.
It thus became clear to us that our baby’s health and my own were playing second fiddle to the star of the show – which was the practice’s insurance policy. Let me be clear – I’d been on daily medication to treat general anxiety disorder before becoming pregnant, and had been for a long time. I was advised to discontinue the drug (Celexa) as soon as my pregnancy was discovered. I soon found that I no longer needed it – I guess the hormones and good diet involved with my pregnancy had the same effect on me that the meds had. But the medical and pharmacological history was on my chart. It had been discussed at the first appointment. That office knew I was at risk for severe anxiety attacks – and had zero problem increasing that risk with their approach to my care. The appointment where the OB essentially misread (or had trouble reading) my ultrasound, but chose to make it seem as though her ignorance or mistake was actually a potentially life-threatening problem for my baby was the last time I stepped foot in that award-winning OB office (which I discovered later had a nearly 45% C-section rate – so bullet dodged.)
I didn’t just go off the reservation. I did my homework. Years earlier, I’d read Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin in anticipation of helping my best friend with her first birth. She had chosen to birth at home with a midwife – and I at first thought she was nuts. She gave me Ina May’s book to read and told me to chill out. I read the book. I didn’t really chill out. But I was there with her that day from about 6am until her firstborn came into the world that afternoon, and found that I was forever changed by the experience. I also attended her second birth, a water birth at home with an attendant CPM. I still tell people that watching my friend reach into the water and “catch” her own baby – bringing the sweet little girl up from the water where she locked eyes with her Mama for the first time – was at that time the most powerful moment of my life.
At 24 weeks pregnant, knowing I was totally healthy and so was my baby, I decided to let go of the fear and embrace my own ability to birth on my terms, no one else’s. From that day, the anxiety melted away, the unnecessary worry wrought by others ceased, and I started down the path to a normal, natural, woman-centered birth for myself and my baby.
It helped having a supportive husband who agreed with my decision. It also helped that I quickly bonded with a CPM who reminded me so much of my friend – and who gave me Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth to read on my first visit.
On that same visit, my husband and I sat with the actual care provider who would be delivering our child for about an hour and a half. She reviewed the records the OB’s office had (grudgingly – and with a petty $20 records fee tacked on) released. She took my blood pressure, listened to Anna’s heartbeat with a Doppler device (just like the one the nurse practitioner had so “famously” been unable to use,) did an external palpitation of my belly and took measurements.
We spent more time with the primary care provider on that first visit than we did with the OB over the course of 24 weeks.
For the next several weeks, we met with our CPM once every month. Each visit lasted about an hour. At 36 weeks, we started meeting her every 2 weeks. At 38 weeks, she also stopped by our house to get the lay of the land. She provided us with a list of supplies to have ready:
- A baby t-shirt with shoulder snaps, pants, a gown, socks and a cap
- An infant cloth diaper (a few) and pins
- Soft receiving blankets
- Plenty of clean towels and wash cloths
- 2 sets of clean bed sheets
- 2 fleece-backed vinyl table cloths to use under the bed sheets
- Rubbing alcohol and peroxide
- Flashlights and extra batteries
- Olive oil
- A package or 2 of incontinence pads (like puppy pads only bigger)
- Several large garbage bags and a clean trash can prepared with a bag
- A clean laundry hamper lined with a large trash bag
- A large plastic mixing bowl with a lid
And some less-exciting items:
That’s what I recall off the top of my head. It was a fun trip to Target, I remember that. Everything put together and clearly labeled in easily accessible boxes. The idea was to have everything to hand for the midwife in case I would be unable to give directions.
It was exciting. I sat up late every night reading birth stories. I knew Anna was head down going into week 39, but she was “sunny side up” – face up – rather than face down. A couple of days before my due date, I sat up until nearly dawn reading about things to do to encourage her to flip around.
When I finally dragged myself away from the computer for the night and made my way to bed, I felt a twinge – like a menstrual cramp – that was sort of like the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been having, and at the same time, completely unlike them. A trip to the bathroom and I discovered the first sign of true labor – the horribly-named “bloody show” that I’d been looking for at every bathroom trip for weeks.
Yep, after being awake for nearly 20 hours already, my labor was starting at 5:00am on November 30, 2008 – three days “early” by the OB’s original estimation. All the complaining about how little sleep I’d been getting for weeks finally culminated in the hardest day of my life starting off with zero hours of sleep the night before. I did what any sane person going into labor would do. I continued on to bed…
Tune in next time for our continuing story. Will our hero get some sleep? Does she manage to beat the odds and deliver a baby without medical intervention? Will a baby born naturally at home without an obstetrician present have any hope for survival? And most importantly – will the baby’s father pass out cold in the bedroom floor?
All this and more to follow. Spoiler alert! Our story has an incredibly happy ending. As four-year-old Anna would say, “duh!”