Sunday, March 24, 2013

Christmas Baby

Christmas 2012. We had gone to the midnight service extra early to hear a special hymn and carol singing. It was beautiful and inspiring. The crèche at the church was stunning; I had never seen one quite like it. It was close to life-size, camels and all. I love Christmas, it has always been a special time for me.
            We finally got home and crawled into bed at 2 a.m. I gave thanks for all that was well with the world, especially our deliciously cozy feather bed and was soon sound asleep. I was dreaming that the phone was ringing. Why didn’t it stop? It just kept ringing. I should be answering it in my dream; come on, dream, stop! My husband nudged me. I rolled over and looked at the clock: 4:00 a.m. And the phone was ringing. Why would someone call me now? Oh, duh. It wasn’t a dream. I am a doula. But no one was due for two more weeks at the earliest, or so I had reckoned, and I hadn’t even laid out my stuff.
I picked it up, “Hullo?” The caller was laughing! I didn’t like this joke.
“Isn’t this funny?” she was giggling, even.
“Uh, not really” I answered.
“I’m gonna have a Christmas baby!”
“Who is this?” I demanded.
“It’s Shannon, and our baby decided today is The Day, I don’t believe this! We’re on our way to the hospital.”
“When did it start?” I asked as I leaped out of bed with a sudden rush of adrenaline and ripped a clean outfit out of the closet. Usually I have my clothes laid out on a chair in the order I would put them on during the general time of any upcoming births, and have my bag by the door with my ID tag on top before I go to bed. I also always put a sticky label above the lock on the front door reminding me to bring a snack, my watch, my cell phone, charger cord, and purse. I have arrived at too many middle-of-the-night births missing one of these essentials in my rush to get there. Now I use sticky notes and line up everything the night before.
            This was her 3rd baby so I wasn’t going to waste any time, either. Then I confirmed what hospital or birthing center they are headed to as I tugged my clothes on with one hand while still holding the phone with the other, the usual litany running through my brain all at the same time: coffee, filter, mug, lid, creamer, sweetener, spoon….
            I have actually arrived at the wrong hospital – once. That was a couple of months ago. By the time I figured out my mistake and rushed over to the right one, the baby had managed to wait for me, but I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Since then I always confirm the name of the hospital or center and city or town with the caller, even if I think I remember which one it is. A pencil and note pad live under the phone by my bed to WRITE IT DOWN immediately. I no longer trust my brain to register correctly, often with only as little as 1 or 2 hours of sleep, and this night was definitely one of those. OK, I confess: I am turning 60 in a few days, but there is NO WAY I am going to stop going to births in the middle of the night. I love this work. It really isn’t work, I can’t call it that. It is a privilege. It is an honor to be invited into a family’s most intimate moments and witness this miracle once again. And this miracle would be happening on Christmas.
            Aaron, Shannon and Eloise, their toddler, and sometimes her older sister Lilli were always early for our appointments. Shannon even brought her mom along once. I also enjoyed our visits and looked forward to their birth. She had two previous births which had been plagued by high blood pressure. Combined with that, Shannon was living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which complicates not only pregnancy but just plain daily life. A side effect is hypermobility, when joints over extend. People with joint hypermobility syndrome may experience many difficulties. For example, their joints may be easily injured, be more prone to complete dislocation due to the weakly stabilized joint and they may develop problems from muscle fatigue (as muscles must work harder to compensate for the excessive weakness in the ligaments that support the joints). Hypermobility syndrome can also lead to chronic pain or even disability in severe cases. As her pregnancy progressed Shannon needed to use crutches just to walk. Her pain continued, growing worse in the last two months. A scrupulous, organic diet helped to stave off worse complications, but Shannon knew as much as anyone who has scientifically researched everything that is known to date about her disability and the benefits of an appropriate diet and certain supplements.
            Shannon was dealing with the rushes or contractions quite well when I got to the hospital at 4:40 a.m. She was up, walking around the room while Aaron supported her but didn’t feel able to go further or tackle the long halls. A birth ball also helped since she could be upright but letting gravity move her baby down. During the next hour or so as she steadily dilated she ate and drank and combined short rests on the bed with time up on the ball or in a chair. While she rested we used a peanut ball. It is like a birth ball but shaped like a giant peanut. When she lay on her side, I would put the peanut ball between her knees. It is large enough that the upper leg that is draped over the top of the peanut can hang up and out over the side of the bed. The lower leg is brought up bent at the knee as high as is comfortable. This position opens the pelvis as wide as is possible in a lying position, so as to facilitate the baby’s descent. Every half hour or so Shannon would roll over to her other side and we would replace the peanut again. Her blood pressure was creeping up during this time, possibly because of the added pain she was experiencing in her expanding joints along with the contractions of labor, so her nurses suggested staying in bed if possible to help the blood pressure from rising any more without medications if we could avoid that.
              At this point I made a hasty retreat to the nearest ladies' room. I just remembered that I had volunteered to bring the green bean dish for Christmas dinner later that day. Good thing I had not offered to host the whole dinner! I quickly sent a text to my husband (who had never made a casserole in his life) with directions on how to assemble and bake the dish. By the time I got home it was in the oven and actually looked OK! David was used to half cooked dinners hastily put back into the refrigerator and a note at the table letting him know I had gone to yet another birth. He often put the food back into the oven per my note, but more frequently he would wander down to the corner restaurant and order his favorite gyro or quesadilla to bring home, put on some nice music and wait up for me.
            Shannon was dilating quickly at this point. By 10:30 a.m. she was able to push and Nora Jane was born after a short second stage with perfect Apgars. We didn’t really need those to tell us she was finally, happily here, though she seemed to register otherwise with her lusty cries. She was a very healthy, beautiful big girl at 9 pounds, 11 ounces. And then, before she was weighed or the cord even cut, she held up one pudgy little hand, thumb up, seemed to contemplate this for just a second, and then popped it in her mouth, sucking contentedly! That was a first for me. I stayed on long enough to celebrate this very special baby with her parents and make sure she was nursing well. There was no problem there. She had already made up her mind that today she was going to feast!
            I was home, showering and changing clothes in time to go to our relatives’ Christmas dinner. Although I was tired, I was still on a high from that beautiful birth and felt that with some coffee I should be OK for a nice afternoon and dinner. 
            I called ahead the next day to find out if Shannon was up to a visit. I wanted to see how she and Nora were doing. I was very surprised to find out they had requested an early discharge and were already home celebrating Christmas with their whole family. I couldn’t visit during the next couple of days either, as different relatives of theirs were all bringing over meals as an excuse to see their very special Christmas present: Nora Jane.

                                  Written with permission from Nora and her courageous mother.

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