I am grieving the shortness-of-breath, the startling foot between ribs, the big, soft round of my unknown, unborn belly.
I went into labor on a Wednesday afternoon. After a few nights of strong contractions and some indubitable signs that the birth was coming soon.
I had an appointment with my team of midwives, Melissa, Katherine and Chelsea, that morning. I told them that I thought this may be the day and asked Melissa if she would check me to satiate my curious ( and eager) mind. 4cm. It wasn’t all in my head, my body was preparing for birth. I was told to eat a light meal, take a bath, get some acupuncture, and walk. My mother and 9 year-old son were with me. Before we left Alma, Melissa said she was pretty sure she would see us all later. I was overcome with excitement. As soon as we got in the car my contractions began.
We ate. I bathed. I contracted. I paced. My mother and I joked around. I packed and repacked my birth bag. The baby bag. The snack bag. And then for the first time in weeks… I didn’t want to walk. Or move. Or go get acupuncture. All I wanted to do was take a nap… And that’s how I knew for sure… It was time. My contractions were about 8 minutes apart and getting more intense so I called my midwives and put my Doula, Patricia on alert. Katherine told me to meet her at Alma at 630pm. It was 415pm. Rush hour traffic time. My mother, son and I got into the car and headed toward the birth center.
Traffic was a breeze so we arrived near Alma an hour early. We drove around in search of coffee, and a Jolly Rancher popsicle. We found the latter at 7-11, where I had to lean against the overflowing garbage can outside to get through a contraction. It was then that I started feeling a little nervous. I hadn’t done this in ten years. Even though my life and work is full of birth, I was the one in labor this time. Every rational and comforting word that I knew no longer seemed to be so.
We parked in front of Alma. Chelsea came out and led us upstairs to the room that holds so much of me inside it still… The Chloe room. The tub was full, candles were burning, it was surreal. I half expected that they were going to take a look at me and send me back home. Instead, Katherine just smiled and asked if I wanted to get in the tub. And I did.
I labored in the tub for awhile, got out and walked the room, sat on the birth ball, all the while in good spirits, joking and laughing between contractions. Every person I needed was now there. My Doula, Patricia, helped me through contractions with some low moaning. She was there, by my side, through every single contraction. I love her. Her presence was absolutely indispensable. I was certain I did not want to be touched. I’m just not a touchy-kind. I am stubborn and independent. Stubbornly independent, actually. But Patricia knew something I didn’t in the moment and braved the waters by applying some counter-pressure on my lower back during a contraction. THAT is why I am a doula. It was so helpful and felt so good to accept her loving touch.
I only looked at the clock once during my whole labor. 10:27pm. I thought to myself that it was taking much longer than I had hoped. My son (ten years prior) was born within three hours of arriving at the birth center. I was beginning to obsess about my lack of control over timing when things suddenly shifted and I found myself right in the middle of what we call “transition.”
After swooning over her always-impressive beauty and ability to make the smoothest smoothie I had ever had, I decided to have Melissa check for cervical change. “The good news,” she said, “is that you are 8 centimeters. The other news, is that I am pretty sure you have a fever.” I was pretty sure I did, too. I knew what it meant. I couldn’t get back in the tub, I needed fluids, and the baby needed to come out. And then the whole world started spinning and it felt like I would certainly split in half. I was pushing.
One of my strongest memories was looking into Melissa’s eyes as the last four contractions brought my baby into the world… As each contraction came I looked to her for something… and there in her face was the honest truth, without speaking and with the most empathy possible… “Yes, it hurts. Yes, you have to do it. Yes, you can do it.”
As baby’s head began crowning, Melissa had me reach down and feel it. As I touched the top of my baby’s head, an indescribable feeling rushed through me and I knew something was different. There was no reason for it, it felt like any baby’s head would feel. It was intuition. A connection. Some kind of preparation for the minutes, hours, days, and lifetime ahead.
I heard the Doppler. The heart tones were low. Melissa gave me the “serious” look and I knew it was time to get my baby out. And I did. On my fourth push, baby was out. It was quiet. The umbilical cord had wrapped around her neck not once, but twice. Blue. But breathing.
As any mother would, I noticed the second I saw her… Something is not right. Something is wrong (language that I would soon abandon). This baby is not who I expected.
While Katherine suctioned her nose and mouth, I looked to Melissa and asked “Is my baby okay.” and she told me “Yes. Welcome her.” it was then that I noticed… I was not crying. I was not smiling. I was not responding to my own child. I was enveloped in the darkest place imaginable.
It was not ( and it kills me, absolutely shatters me to the core to speak it now ) love at first sight. I needed someone to pick her up off of me… she weighed 500 pounds and I couldn’t breathe.
My mother knew, too, because I felt her begin to shake uncontrollably beside me. This was really happening . . . Though no one spoke a word about the shape of her head, or the way her fingers were all fused, or how her feet looked strange.
God bless my midwives and my doula. They were so calm.
Minutes into the shock, the silence, the vigorous back rubbing and searching the room for an answer on someone’s face as to whether or not this was all real… She cried. A very tiny, very foreign sound that filled the room for only a moment. She was bobbing and rooting, eager to eat, so I brought her to my breast and she took right away… But she could not eat and breathe at the same time. There was too much stuff, too many sounds inside of her. She choked and struggled for air. Melissa picked her up lovingly. With my tiny, periwinkle colored girl lying face down along her forearm, she said to someone “I think it’s time to make the call.”
For an ambulance arriving, and paramedics assessing and packing up my newborn baby in mere minutes… It still seemed calm, there was still enough peace lingering in the room to say it was all done with dignity, and moreover, respect for the intended atmosphere.
And then she was gone. It felt like I had woken from a nightmare. Sweaty, out of breath, terrified. The most startling feeling sweeping over me… Loss. I began grieving without even knowing what was happening. I froze there. Absolutely still. If I didn’t move, I didn’t have to face it. If I pretended to be invisible, they might leave me to dissolve into the floorboards and escape the unknown. I was going numb. Some switch flipped inside of me and everything human turned off. Even God had disappeared.
Melissa and Kat went with her Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital. She was never alone.
8 hours later, everyone around was saying it “You will feel better when you see her. You have to go be with her. She needs you.”
Chelsea helped me shower. Wiped the blood as it ran down my legs. Helped me step into my underwear. Helped me in silence. There weren’t any words that would change the truth, or ease the fear, or reassure. She knew that. She didn’t try to fix anything. She stood beside me and offered me a steady arm. It was the only thing I needed from anyone… Something strong enough to hold me up until I trusted the ground again.
My mother went to trade places with Melissa and Kat at the hospital. Kat returned to Alma to take me to see my daughter. She wheeled me up to the NICU, next to her isolet with the paper card that said “Poppy Avalon Myers.” All at once I fell in love, felt emotion again, picked her up and promised her the world. And i meant it. She was perfect. Beautiful. Mine.
Even though her name had been chosen from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I had yet to speak it out loud.
The next 7 days were a blur of doctors and nurses, a geneticist, specialists and therapists, surgeons and consultants. I was told that my daughter had a number of “congenital anomalies,” words like “craniosynostosis, syndactyly, disorder, and syndrome,” and a handful of acronyms that were full of letters that no matter how smart I was, still didn’t seem to make real words.
I just held her. I just sat there and held her in my arms and prayed that all of those sounds coming from all of those people meant she was going to be okay.
I didn’t cry until a stranger told me that it wasn’t my fault. It was nothing I had done, or failed to do. It was a 1 in 200,000 chance that every human faces at the time of conception.
I spent my whole life preparing for Poppy, now that she’s here, a whole new world begins…