It just so happened that I attended Birthingway College’s “So You Want To Be A Midwife” event a few weeks prior to getting those two life-changing pink lines. Although it hadn’t been on my mind at the event, there was one midwife on the midwives panel that I really liked and felt I could trust. I became one of her clients, and entered into the world of midwives.
My prenatal visits were held in little a rented office near the Hollywood district of Portland. There was no staff other than my midwife and her apprentices. The lights were dim and there were exotic tapestries on the walls. Because her office shared a wall with an acupuncture clinic, we had to speak quietly, which added to the zen atmosphere. But make no mistake, this was not just a hippy office full of herbs and tinctures and good vibes. I mean, there was that, but there were also blood and urine tests, Doppler checks of the baby’s heartbeat, offers for prenatal screening, and all of the usual things that would happen at a doctor’s office. There wasn’t anything lacking, medically, but there was so much more alternatively that I also had the option of using if I wanted to.
My pregnancy was pretty normal. I had terrible morning (all day) sickness my first trimester (a legacy that would follow me through my two subsequent pregnancies) but nothing notable until my last month. During my weekly prenatal visits, my blood pressure started going up. My midwife had me make changes to my diet, but it kept rising. At almost 38 weeks she ordered a 24-hour urinalysis to check for protein in my urine. After I completed it, she called with the bad news: I had pre-eclampsia, which was serious enough for her to transfer my care to the attending obstetrician at the hospital. I needed to pack my bags and be admitted that night.
All of the preparation for my homebirth went out the window, but I was too excited and nervous to care. There wasn’t any time to be disappointed anyway. We arrived at the hospital and after I was checked, they asked me how long I’d been in labor. “I’m not. I’m being induced,” I explained.
“Well, you’re already four centimeters dilated!”
We waited anxiously overnight, but no actual contractions came. They broke my water first thing the next morning. Soon my midwife and two of her apprentices came as “visitors” to help me in any way they could. My sister-in-law, who was also my doula, arrived. (A labor doula is a person who helps the laboring mother cope with labor and delivery, and can help educate the mother regarding common medical procedures.) Between the four of them and my overwhelmed husband, neither I nor the nurses had to worry about whether my needs were being met. I had liquids to drink. I had someone to help me to and from the bathroom. When the IV started filling me with Pitocin, they applied pressure, they massaged my hurting back, they knew what to say to encourage me. When they realized that the baby was in a poor position and not descending, they tried everything in their bag of tricks to encourage the baby to rotate. When the contractions were more than I could handle, they helped me see I could handle them after all. They never let me down.
Finally, after an hour of exhausting but absolutely fruitless pushing, a nurse brought it up.
“The doctor will only let you push for another two hours before he’ll decide to do a C-section on you.”
Two hours?! The first hour nearly killed me! Something had to give.
My doula sister spoke up. “Maybe we should all leave and let Roxie and Jason make their own choice.”
Every person in that room filed out except for my husband and me. The quiet was a stark contrast to the multitude of people and sounds in there a minute ago. My husband, perhaps just a little terrified but doing a good job of being brave, patted my forehead and looked at me with love. I looked back at him, straight into his eyes, and said, “I WANT A C-SECTION!!”
He called the team back in. The nurse said she could give me something to stop the contractions. I flung my arm at her, (probably mistakenly) believing that the medicine would be injected into my arm. I had no words, only flailing. The next thing I remember is sitting on the edge of the bed in the OR as the anesthesiologist gave me a spinal injection as anesthesia for the operation. I didn’t even care anymore about pain. I had transcended pain. I had already felt all of it possible, and nothing was painful anymore.
The procedure soon started and my husband reappeared at my side. The pain was gone and I was finally comfortable and thinking clearly again, although I was very tired. Things were happening below the big blue sheet. The doc told my husband to stand up and look. He stood up and then sat down very quickly—I don’t think he realized what he’d be looking at. (The man can gut a deer no problem, but his wife’s guts are a different story altogether.) So we just looked in each other’s eyes as we heard her first cries echo in the surgical suite. We watched each other become parents.
They placed her in the crook of my arm as they wheeled me back to my room. The narcotics made me nauseous and I was afraid I might barf on my new baby, so I couldn’t put my face anywhere near hers. But an hour or two later after the doctor and nurses were done poking and prodding and almost everyone had left, and even my husband had crashed on the cot and was fast asleep, I finally was able to bond with my daughter. As my sister sat nearby as a quiet witness, I was able to closely examine my baby’s perfect, delicate features. She was so beautiful and precious. I loved her so deeply already. We were both born that day: she into life, and I into motherhood.
Three years later I did have that homebirth I sought: a beautiful water birth VBAC. My midwife and her apprentices (and my doula sis) did a great job, but that’s a story for a different day.