A Tale Of Two Births
Many things define who we are before we get here. Are you a summer baby or a Christmas miracle? What’s your birthstone? Birth order? How about your birth story?
I had two distinct pregnancies and births. Both defined how I feel about myself and motherhood. Do they also define how I feel about my children?
There’s the whole first born, heir and a spare, dynamic. All parents are more relaxed and along for the ride with the second kid. You know how car seats work. You have nookies and bottles in a box somewhere. Everything that comes after the first is a bonus. You’re a parent now no matter what.
Dealing with infertility blows that up by a thousand. Every wish and prayer is to have one. Please God, I don’t need two girls and a boy. I don’t want twins, dimples, or curls. Give me one baby. One lumpy screaming pink baby that is mine forever.
Having a surprise pregnancy after an IFV pregnancy is a total mind f*ck. Yes, the first pregnancy was a miracle and my prayers were answered. I became a mother receiving the privilege of birthing and raising a child. The second time I didn’t have to ask, which made the whole thing…better. The first time was a gift and the second time was mine.
I’m still surprised it was me who went through IVF and the clomed, acupuncture, herbs, and metformin that came before it. I can’t imagine ever having the guts to volunteer for something so invasive, expensive, and elusive.
Sure the graphs said my age was in our favor but someone had to lose. I had never won a trophy, why would I win a family? I had dumb faith that this would work. It had to. I wanted it too much.
We started our cycle on December 26th 2010. I couldn’t wait for Christmas to be over to crack into those needles. Hot flashes? No problem. Night sweats? Nailed it. I was cruising through this science experiment. I dare say we were described as “textbook.”
After a blood draw, I rode the elevator with a couple leaving their egg retrieval. The wife was still out of it and bundled up in a wheel chair. The husband joked, don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it looks. He kissed his wife’s head and said this was their sixth time.
Wait. I might have to do this again?
A few days later we left our own egg retrieval. It was really happening. I got a daily embryo update from the lab. They were fantastic embryos.
Our clinic was on the way home from grad school. I drove a block out of my way to wave up at the window where my twelve potential babies were growing in the dark. I wanted to sit by them. Sing to them. First twelve, then nine, and then four. An heir and three spares. A huge success.
Implantation was boring. I got some nice drugs and we picked up Wendy’s on the way home. The next few weeks all I could think was: stick, stick, stick.
I got the call at work. We were pregnant! They would check my hormone levels one more time and off we’d skip into the first trimester.
The next call wasn’t awesome news. The numbers weren’t bad, but not normal. One more check. Who knows, maybe it was a lab error? They didn’t say that, my mother did.
Two days later I got the call at work.
I’m sorry. This is not a viable pregnancy.
I locked myself in the handicapped bathroom stall and sobbed. I was wearing a purple and black wrap dress from Target. My boobs hurt. My body ached. All I could think is what a horrible person I must be to deserve this. Maybe not in this life, but in some life I did something to make God abandon me. Fuck your footprints in the sand. I was alone in this stall. Maybe I’d been alone forever.
We stopped all the shots. Put the box of syringes away. We would get more next time. There would be a next time. We had paid for six cycles. It was the best “deal” and if you didn’t get a baby you got your money back. We financed it all like a Toyota Corolla.
Another few weeks went by. No blood. No cramping. No grain of rice in the toilet. I went to work. Went to class. Waited and slept. I couldn’t stay awake long enough to be sad.
The longer I waited the more I crept in on infertility boards following the threads of women with similar hormone numbers. They were all certain they were pregnant and their doctors were wrong. It always ended with a sad emoji and angel wings.
But could I really be winning? Why is this blighted ovum not expelling from my busted womb? I started calling the clinic. A lot. Like a crazy person.
We went in for an ultrasound. There it was. My sad sac that stopped growing.
Oh the practiced pity they had. No. The labs are not wrong. There’s been no mistake. It’s too small. Like everything before we were a textbook case. This time I was having the perfect miscarriage.
Only I wasn’t.
With each day I was more convinced I was right and science was wrong. I didn’t say it out loud. I judged those women with their stupid acronyms and hope. I wasn’t brave enough to be one of them.
Nearing the end of what would be the first trimester we were called back in. One last ultrasound and then a scheduled procedure to wrap this up.
All the times we sat in the clinic lobby were a mixture of excitement and nerves. This time we were pissed and tired. Another gentle greeting and climb into the stirrups. The doctor patted my husband on the back and reiterated what great candidates we were.
I was asking if the next cycle would be frozen or fresh when the doctor started laughing. We were all looking at a blinking light on the screen. He pointed and clapped his hands. His bedside manner was concerning.
Do you know what that is?
Sure. The heartbeat, but when do we start the next cycle?
You won’t have another cycle for what…two…three years?
Wink wink. Everyone in the room was so happy. My husband and I were so confused. But what’s wrong with it?
I don’t know how to talk about that first trimester and my miscarriage that wasn’t. I wouldn’t dare compare my experience to women who lost a pregnancy. But what was my experience? It was the darkest and lowest point of my life. Giving birth didn’t bring closure. Fixing something doesn’t make you forget it was broken.
It was a short pregnancy. I was released to my OB at 13 weeks. At 35 weeks I started itching. Especially my feet and hands. Since I had been working hard on my honorary degree from WebMD I quickly diagnosed myself with a rare and deadly liver malfunction. I’d be fine, minus the insane itching. The rate of stillbirths was alarming.
I called the nurse line.
How bad are you itching? Do you have open wounds?
Well, no. I’m a grown up human.
You don’t have it. The itching is that bad.
At my next appointment I was 36 weeks with one centimeter down and nine to go. I told my doctor about the itching. Like the nurse he said women will literally scratch their skin open. I didn’t let it go and he agreed to a blood test.
No rush on the blood work, I was just crazy. Man did those stillbirth rates rise exponentially with each day I itched. I kept telling myself the Internet was wrong and my doctor was right.
I was at work when I got the call. Surprise! I was right! I had the itching disease! He’d meet me at the hospital in an hour and we’d deliver the baby.
Any risk of an early delivery was far outweighed by the risk of stillbirth. (There was that word again.) I would spend the night hooked up to monitors and induce at 7am.
I told my boss. I called my husband. The office wrapped up its due date pool.
I didn’t have a birth plan. I wanted as easy a delivery as possible. I would let the pros tell me what to do and take as many drugs as I could get my hands on.
The next day was the worst day of my life. This baby did not want to come out and my body didn’t know what the hell it was doing. He was face up which made for back labor. That’s awful. The cord was wrapped around his foot. He spent hours bungee jumping in the birth canal. There’s the head! Oh there it goes!
My husband and I asked for a C section.
Monsters! What’s next…formula?
Twelve hours after my water had been broken, things had just been unpleasant. In an instant things went horribly wrong. Tom’s heart rate plummeted. Alarms went off. He wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The doctor was in route. A whole bunch of other doctors and nurses came in and pushed my husband out of the way. They flipped me around. Gave me oxygen. Put things in my tubes. The alarms stopped but his heart rate wasn’t good.
Our doctor finally arrived. She wasn’t the person I saw at my routine appointments. Not my favorite at the practice. She was cranky and reminded me of an old teacher who didn’t like kids anymore.
She entered the room in her North Face jacket, Starbucks in hand, purse still over her shoulder.
This baby needs to come out now.
She put the latte down and yelled at the nurses for not giving her all the information. We should have had a C Section hours ago. She didn’t take her coat off. She handed me a clipboard to sign off on emergency procedures and we raced to the operating room.
I prayed with all my might to die. If some cosmic payment was owed, take me. With zero hesitation I resolved if my baby wasn’t coming out of that operating room, neither was I.
Any epidural was long gone. A doctor worked on each end. One prepping to put me under the other desperately trying to vacuum Tom out.
Someone dropped a tray of surgical instruments. We were in a Grey’s Anatomy episode and I was about to be cut open. I wanted that to happen before being put under. I couldn’t go to sleep without knowing the ending.
Tom got sucked out two minutes after it was safe to have a vacuum attached to his head. He was blue and quiet with a head injury. I held him for a moment and then he was whisked away with my husband. My lady bits were stitched up and I was wheeled back to the room.
A nurse apologized for the doctor yelling. Another nurse came in and they hugged. Both cried. They didn’t think Tom was going to make it. Then they left.
I couldn’t get up for another hour thanks to all the drugs they gave me that didn’t work. I still had blood on my legs and I filled up two bed pans. The doctor came by and saw my empty room.
Get this woman her baby.
Tom was very sleepy but not as blue. He didn’t look like a baby at all. He looked like a beautiful little elf. The nurse gave him a bath and we were golden.
Only we weren’t golden. We were very very orange. With all the blood pooling in his head injury Tom had terrible jaundice.
I didn’t know anything about anything. I didn’t know I should have shoved a bottle of formula into his mouth so he could pee out all that bilirubin. I didn’t know I should have demanded we stay in the hospital or be sent home with a Billy Blanket. They told us to make sure we got his first well child check done within 48 hours of discharge.
48 hours after checking out of one hospital we were checking into another. This was very serious. But he’ll be fine. But very serious. They put sun glasses on him and locked him tight in a light tube. We couldn’t hold him. The lights needed to do their job.
It wasn’t working. At 3am there was talk of a blood transfusion. Had we recently taken him out of the country? Maybe this wasn’t jaundice at all but some sort of blood infection. They left scratching their heads to go and re-run the labs for errors.
The nurse stayed. She was perfect. In a thick Russian accent she said:
Doctors know nothing. Fix your baby.
She opened the light tube and gave him to me. She said he had to eat. Eat eat eat and he’d be fine. He’ll pee it all out. This is how it’s worked for a thousand years.
But my milk hadn’t come in yet.
Make it come in. You’re his mother.
She brought in a breast pump and we worked that sucker for every drop. She gave me a bottle and he drank. We smashed him to my nipple and he ate. I kept him out of the tube and attached to me. By morning his numbers were dropping and we went home two days later.
I still think Tom knows I let him down. Why didn’t I shove a bottle of formula in his mouth the minute he was born? Had I learned nothing from the last nine months? I might know what’s best. Sure, it’s normal for milk to take a few days to come in. Tom didn’t have a few days to wait.
At the hospital the doctors got so distracted with the idea it wasn’t jaundice but some rare disease, no one thought to just FEED HIM.
We couldn’t possibly introduce a bottle or formula. BREAST IS BEST. He can’t afford to have nipple confusion now!
The day we brought him home for the second time a nurse from the first hospital was sent on a home visit. I know, it’s hard to keep track.
He looks a little orange.
I cried. I cried for a year. Sometimes I remembered what the Russian nurse told me and I felt better. Mostly I felt like a fraud.
Tom is lovely and perfectly fine. I’m a great mom. We have a loud, fun, happy house. He’s just been identified as gifted for Christ’s sakes…and half that DNA is mine! Being his mom is wonderful but it didn’t start that way.
Being pregnant with Betty, my free baby, was boring and annoying. I wasn’t blessed, but swollen. I didn’t need to read the books, she’d come out one way or another. Doctor visits were short.
Well, you’ve done this before.
I started itching at around 35 weeks. Thank the lord! Get this baby out!
No such luck. In the last four years protocols had changed. I’d be monitored and we let her cook.
Tom was a panic. Betty was a wait and see.
I went in every two days and got a 3D ultrasound. We had a full baby book before she even got here. For the itching I took some pills that turned my poop into foam.
Maybe it was the Zoloft (it most definitely was the Zoloft) none of this bothered me.
I went into labor at 37 weeks. No medical interventions needed to kick off this party! It was 11pm. I tracked my contractions with an app and tried to sleep.
I was a big girl and didn’t wake my husband until 6am. The doctor said to go in once the contractions were five minutes apart. Boring stuff. At 9am we headed out. They weren’t five minutes apart but f’ labor. I was tired. Contractions hurt.
I packed a bag and we told Tom mommy and daddy would be going to the hospital to have the baby. His response:
You’re going to break your vagina.
We moved from a waiting room to a waiting room with a bed. This was far from the red carpet medical interventions I experienced before.
I asked repeatedly for my epidural.
You have time. Go walk around the hospital.
I told them my birth plan involved as many drugs as possible. They laughed. I wasn’t kidding.
We walked. I breathed through my contractions like a lady and back we went to get my cervix checked. I had not progressed and was four centimeters. Which sure seemed like a lot of centimeters to me, but what do I know. Contractions were coming every 4–6 minutes but they weren’t “real.”
They made us an offer. I could stay in the hospital and walk around for another hour or they would send me home with a sedative.
Don’t worry, the sedative was like popping a few Benedryls. A few thousand Benedryls.
I was mad and embarrassed, tired and hurting. We’d probably be back that night or this was a false alarm and it could be another month. Who knows! Miracle of life!
We were back home at 1pm. We napped. I didn’t sleep but drifted. The bed was floating. I turned off my contraction app. Those bitches said they weren’t real so…
At some point I ended up in the tub. The water was room temperature. I flipped from my back to my knees. This might have been where I got the most sleep. An hour. Ten hours. I have no idea.
My husband was surprised to find me in what turned out to be an inch or two of water. He was hesitant to leave me, but the child who was out of my body needed to be picked up from day care. And might as well grab some fancy milkshakes and enjoy another night as a family of three.
I toweled off and slipped on fresh sweat pants. Things felt surprisingly better. The fog from the sedative lifted and the contractions I planned to just live with indefinetly, took a break. Those jerk nurses were right. This was all “practice” a “false alarm.”
Home alone at 5:22pm a contraction hit that dropped me to the floor. Once it passed I scrambled to my app. Okie dokie. I now know what a real contraction feels like.
In less than two minutes another one hit. Hmmm this could be a problem. My two boys walked into the house as I was wailing like a wild animal alerting other deaf wild animals to a fire.
I ran down the stairs to the bathroom and managed to get to the toilet before my water broke. I screamed for my husband to call 911.
He tried to coax me off the toilet and into my pants. There was no way I was moving. If I opened my legs a baby would fall out.
He dialed 911 for the first time in his life. Very calmly and politely, just a smidge more urgent than ordering a pizza.
I could hear the operator from across the room. Her first instructions:
Get her off the toilet.
My husband turned doctor gently approached asking to look between my legs for body parts. He urged me to get off the toilet. I only replied to his directives by yelling into the phone-
He coaxed me into the hall and gathered towels. It made perfect sense for him to dig through the linen closet to find the baby towels…you know the ones with the giraffe and duck heads sewn to the top.
He was trying to convince me to lay down on Tom’s bed (the nearest place to give birth) when we heard the sirens.
PHEW! Now we will be teleported to modern medicine.
Three burly fire men bounced in all smiles. I was bottomless and hysterical in the hallway.
These handsome men charmed me into the bedroom and assured me I’d have the baby in the hospital. They would get me stabilized and on our way. But no worries…between the three of them they’ve delivered dozens of babies!
The hunkiest of the hunks layed his head down next to me and grabbed my hands.
Breathe with me, Mamma.
I looked deep into his kind eyes, squeezed his man hands, opened my jaws like a T Rex and with saliva streaming down my incisors screamed:
The baby is coming!
I turned on my back and there she was crowning. The men all looked down at the head sticking out. I know it was about two seconds but it felt like two months.
I was about to pull her out my damn self when the blessed paramedics arrived and scooped her out.
She cried right away and they wrapped her in one of those tin foil coats. Now that she was safe, I was certain I was dying. No one seemed panicked enough. Celebrating…high fiving…
HELLO? I JUST HAD A MOTHER FUCKING BABY!
The paramedic promised I wasn’t bleeding to death. In fact, the mattress wasn’t even ruined.
I was terrified in the ambulance. My body was still trying to get the placenta out and I was waiting for the convulsing and hemmoraging to start. Not feeling the same impending doom the paramedic handed me the baby.
He sensed my hesitation.
Do you want to hold her?
Of course not! What part of bleeding to death do these people not understand!
As scared as I was, I wanted to remember this moment as being somebody’s mother and not a woman bleeding out.
I held her to my chest. She looked around with wide eyes. Her curly hair was a yellow crusty color. I gripped her tiny fingers and willed myself to not pass out. We could do anything together.
It’s amazing how medical folks treat you when they think you might sue them. At the hospital, me and Baby Spice were total V.I.Ps. Big shots came down to shake my hand. The whole place was a buzz.
After I asked the nurses 789 times if we needed to worry about Betty being jaundiced the head Pediatrician examined her.
Mam, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty this is the least jaundiced baby I have ever seen.
I told the lactation consultants I was going to go home and stick a bottle in her mouth.
Of course. You know best.
Being Tom and Betty’s mother is all I ever needed or wanted to be. I love them both ferociously but differently.
Could that be because one is a Virgo and one a Cancer? A boy and girl thing or the oldest and the baby?
Or do I love one of them with a broken heart? Their stories are objectively badass and devastating.
This of course will ruin them both. Tom is smothered and the center of my universe. Betty is my soul mate but taken for granted.
I’ve tried writing this all down before and was never happy with it. I don’t know how to end this now.
Maybe because it’s not the ending, but the beginning of our family’s story and how it started doesn’t need to be such a big chapter.