Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Woman in her Thirties Surrenders

Last night I sat down to write an email to S, my yoga instructor, about baby Aaron's birth story.  In doing so, I realized that I was a woman in her thirties in the beginning phases of trying to process everything that has happened in the last six days.  So here it is, with a few photos taken the week before by the wonderful Kim P at Mimsydotes.

I was diagnosed with Vasa Previa at nine weeks.  The blood vessel covering my cervix was 'huge' according to my OB, and one afternoon spent on Google me realize that it was serious.  I was put on strict restrictions— no bathing my daughter, no heavy lifting, no sex, no exercise.  I was told to expect bed-rest, likely in the hospital, at 28 weeks (earlier, if I showed any signs of bleeding), and a C-Section at 32 weeks (36, if I was lucky). The main thing with Vasa Previa is that the mother cannot go into labor.  If the blood vessel bursts, which would happen as the cervix dilates, it means almost certain death for the baby and a life-threatening situation for the Mom.  

For seven months I was monitored closely by both my Perinatologist and my OB, and as time went on and my belly grew, my ultrasounds seemed to show that the blood vessel was moving out of the way of my cervix.  Both doctors argued about what to do with me (my OB being the much more conservative of the two), but at 32 weeks I was still on my feet and an MRI showed that we'd been granted some kind of miracle.  In the end, they finally agreed that I was out of imminent danger, and they allowed me not only to go full term but also have a vaginal birth.  We were beyond relieved and resumed 'normal' life.

Last Wednesday, after a perfectly normal day, I went to bed feeling exhausted.  I was 38 weeks by then, and had dilated 1 cm as of Monday.  L came to bed after me and had been laying down for less than a couple of minutes when I felt what I thought was my water breaking.  I smiled (my first instinct!) knowing that this meant that labor was on the way.  But when I reached down to my legs and pulled my hand back, all I could see was blood.  It was covering my whole hand and continued to flow steadily beneath me.  'Oh God' I said.  'I'm bleeding.'  It was the worst-case scenario we'd thought we would avoid.

L leapt out of bed and was on the phone with 911 in seconds.  I continued to lay on the bed, wide eyed, as the pool of blood beneath me grew darker and redder.  I was dreaming, wasn't I?  This couldn't actually be happening.  Within minutes, the police were there, and right behind them the EMT.  They wheeled me out of the house, and I barely spoke, barely moved.  All I could do in the back of the ambulance was think about the baby inside of me.  Was he dying right then, or was he already gone?  The shock and sadness of it numbed me completely.  

I was hooked up to some kind of small ultrasound machine that showed us the baby— his heart was still beating and he was still moving.  I lay back on the stretcher and allowed myself to cry tears of relief as I was being prepped for surgery.  He was okay, and that was all that mattered.  But then it hit me as we barreled down France Avenue— if this wasn't the baby's blood supply, that meant it was mine.  'Is this how it's going to end for me?' I wondered as I felt the blood continue to flow out of me.  I think we all wonder how we will react in a situation like that, and for me it wasn't with fear or sadness or anger.  I was really quite peaceful, actually.  I found myself scanning a picture album of my mind of all the people in my life I'd loved, and how much they had made me who I was.  Would they ever know how much I loved them?  I asked myself.  Would they ever understand how safe I had felt, knowing they were there with me no matter where my journey in life had taken me?

A row of doctors and nurses waited for me at the entrance of the emergency room, and another group were at attention in labor and delivery.  'Have you had any complications with this pregnancy?' they kept asking me, and I didn't know where to begin.  It was then that I saw my OB, who had rushed to the hospital when she'd been paged.  Her face was ghostly white, and she was already prepped for surgery.  'How can this be happening?' I managed to ask her amid all the commotion.  'I don't know,' she said, because it was the truest thing she could say.

I kept asking for my husband as they did the final preparations for the C-Section, and finally he was allowed inside when the curtain was up and we were ready to go.  Seeing his eyes underneath the surgery scrubs sent me into despair.  'This isn't how it was supposed to be,' I moaned.  'I didn't get to say goodbye to Anna.'

'It's okay,' he kept saying.  'Everything is going to be okay.'  And I wondered if he knew that of all the people who had cast their supportive arms around me in my life, that his had been the most important.  No matter what happened, my children would be safe because he was their Dad.  

'You're going to feel us push on you for a second,' the anesthesiologist said.  I did, and then I felt my baby being born. 'He's perfect', I heard my OB say to all of us in the room, but I didn't relax until I heard his beautiful cry.  I was stitched up and wheeled off to recovery, and it was over.

Aaron Richard was born 5 lbs, 8oz, 19 inches, and is my miracle child.  He is perfect in every way.  

In yoga, my instructor always talks about the importance 'surrendering'.  Not just in a difficult pose, but in birth. I've thought about that a lot over the last few days in the hospital.  No, this was not the birth I'd planned for.  It is certainly not the birth story that most women would be excited to share.  My OB's best guess is that the blood vessel that had been responsible for the Vasa Previa had one or more tributaries that had ruptured as my cervix dilated, causing the hemorrhage.   No one could have foreseen what happened, no machine could have predicted it.  

Surrendering was, after all, the only thing I could do.  I know now that, in the end, I was still wrapped up in... someone's(?) loving arms.  I had no choice but to let go, and yet I still received.  I am truly, profoundly blessed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Woman in her Thirties is Smarter, Round Two

I am 38 weeks pregnant.  Let's all stop and think about this right now.  I have made it to 38 weeks.  I'm really trying to focus on what a miracle that is, instead of my swollen feet.  But it's hard because, well, IT'S REALLY HOT HERE AND OH MY GOSH WOMEN WHO GIVE BIRTH IN THE SUMMER ARE NUTS.

Since things are looking... imminent... the nesting has begun.  I don't really remember going through this with such intensity with Anna, but I think it's because I didn't know what I needed and didn't need.  This time, especially with all the ups and downs of this pregnancy, the nesting has been on overdrive.  A woman in her thirties might still be afraid of being Mom to two babies, but at least she's smarter-- logistically-- the second time around.

1.  The Freezer
I think I had a couple of freezer meals ready when AB was born.  One was Ina's turkey lasagna, which I love, but was totally impractical for just L and me.  Let's just say that many bags of trail mix were consumed at all hours of the day and night, since I was woefully food un-prepared.  Here's what my garage freezer looks like this time, thanks to Trader Joes:

(Lots of potstickers, lots of polenta for AB, lots of baked pasta.  Still missing: three month supply of Almondictive Bites.  Haven't tried those?  TRY THEM.)

2.  The Hospital Bag
This has been packed for months, so no need to worry about me jinxing myself into going into labor tonight.  But despite it being ready for so long, I still smile when I look at it, unable to help comparing it to the hospital bag I brought for Anna.  When I had Anna, my hospital bag included books, music, clothes that weren't suited for nursing, and a hair dryer.  Oh, and make-up.  Make-Up!  I mean seriously, it cracks me up just thinking about it.

(Cord blood banking kit, my own robe, a couple pairs of yoga pants, my favorite nursing bra, and 5000 pairs of old lady underwear). 

3. The Nursery
AB's nursery was very functional, but again, I didn't know what I needed.  How was I supposed to know that the Boppy was going to drive me crazy?  How could I possibly have planned for how small she was, for so long?  This time I've got less clothes that involve buttons and snaps, and more that will be forgiving of spit up milk.  Oh, and the Bjorn.  LOVE THAT BJORN.

(Fine, Yoda was not a necessity.  But he sure is cute.)

4.  The Mentality
A woman in her thirties is honest, so I'll go ahead and admit it:  I was a crazy person for the first few months of Anna's life.  It wasn't just the hormones.  I was so sleep deprived, so nursing-confused, so worried about every little thing that she did or didn't do, that it's a wonder I wasn't institutionalized.  I know now (as in KNOW, not just know), that everything is a phase.  'This too shall pass' are words to live-- not scream-- by.

And, most importantly, it goes by in a blink.  Enjoy it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Woman in her Thirties Walks

In teaching, one of my biggest pet peeves is when students compare themselves to one another.  'So-and-so got a B, but I got a C!  No fair!'  It kills me, and my response is usually something like, 'Yeah, well, life's not fair.  Get used to it.'  I know it's harsh, but it's true.  (It's a good thing I teach high school.)  So-and-so might have gotten a B, but it might have been the first time he used 'their, they're, and there' correctly in a sentence.  Maybe the kid who got the C is capable of far better, and their grade is a reflection of how annoyed I am that they didn't try harder.  I'm not big on the touchy-feely 'everyone is a unique snowflake' stuff, but it's true.  Teaching gives a woman in her thirties a chance to fully understand that.

Which is why, when I became a Mom, I thought I would have this whole comparison thing down.  I know it's inevitable that parents compare their children, but I thought I would be able to see my little pumpkin for the snowflake she is, and not sweat the ways in which the other kids her age were surpassing her.   I was wrong.

AB has been late for pretty much every gross-motor milestone.  She sat up late.  She scooted/crawled late.  She pulled up late.  She cruised late.  She fed herself late. Lately, it didn't matter what she was doing in terms of fine motor and verbal skills, the fact remained that my eighteen-month-old was still not walking, and all my books say she should be. For the past few months especially, all I could do was watch in anguish as the other kids her age run past her, while she sat happily on the floor.


I know lots of wonderful Moms, Moms to lots of wonderful kids, who all said the same thing:  She'll walk when she's ready.  A woman in her thirties who is also a teacher should have no trouble seeing the logic in that.  But inevitably the bird on my shoulder would start chirping again, and I'd make another appointment with another physical therapist, just to be sure everything was okay.  When they said it was, I would spend an afternoon believing them.  Then I'd go back to doubting myself.

This week... shocker... AB started to walk.  She'd taken steps before (usually to the iPhone), but never just gotten up on her own and went.  And when she did, it looked something like this:

(Watching the workers fix our sidewalk, wearing her Little Gym medal)

(Afternoon walk with Ye-Ye)

(Morning stick collection)

I would be surprised if my family in California couldn't hear the sigh of relief that came from me as a result.  Yes, life is more interesting with a walker.  Yes, I'm going to be one busy Momma in just about four (gasp!) weeks.  But I don't care-- she's walking. And what I realized this week was that my worrying about it in no way made it happen-- she did it when she was ready.

Just like everyone said she would.