A birth story makes a mother. Or grows a mother along her motherhood journey. In honor of Michael’s birthday, here is his birth story.
Three days after my due date (aka “guess date”), I went in for an ultrasound. Nick and I told the technician, “We still don’t want to know the sex of the baby.” To which she replied, “The butt is down.”
My first thought was she was telling us that she couldn’t see the sex of the baby until it dawned on me what she was really saying: the baby was breech. She verified my realization saying, “You need a C-section.”
Somehow I’d had an inner wisdom that never reached my consciousness, because in hindsight, I realized that I had asked each doctor I saw for weeks, “Is the baby’s head down?” and I was reassured over and over that, yes, vertex baby. Poor kiddo, we kept rubbing his head, perching Ali or a bowl of ice cream there, and thinking it was his butt!
I tried not to cry, but the tears poured out. Right there, in the ultrasound room. Then we sat in my doctor’s office for a talk, he said because I was past my due date, because the placenta was anterior, because my fluid could be lower, they wouldn’t try to flip the baby with external version. I would’ve asked better questions if I knew what I know now, but I did ask about other options to turn him. None.
In those pre-internet-accessible days that are nearly impossible to imagine now, Nick and I went to the library and hunted for ways to turn a breech baby, searched for anything we could learn about breech babies at all. Besides one paragraph in the back on one book: Nothing. Crazy since now I have a list of things to give a mom to try to turn her baby, and Google turns up 69,900 results in .31 seconds.
So we waited out the weekend, my parents came down to be with us and to take care of Ali. We watched the Super Bowl together and when we headed to bed, I cried kissing my sleeping daughter, her last night as an only child. Those emotions of adding another child, of displacing the first while knowing you’re giving her the greatest gift of a sibling, overcame me. It was an odd sensation knowing the exact day, and even about what time, I would have my next baby.
My father was so nervous about the c-section that he woke up and came to the hospital with us, dark and early on that January morning to wait, being told nothing, while I was prepped for surgery. The nurse, who I’d had with Ali and didn’t really like then, pulled the IV fluid from a refrigerator and hooked it up to my veins. I remember feeling cold, trembling and shaking, and her dismissing me, “You’re just nervous.” YES! YES I AM! I felt disregarded and her responses and comments added to my unease. I already didn’t want this kind of birth, she made it worse that morning.
In the OR, the blue sheet in front of my face, still shaking, Nick stood by my head. He peeked over the drape and held my hand, stroked my head, talked to me. At one point I said to him, “I smell something burning,” he shook his head and smiled at me, “Yes, I smell it, something’s burning.” He stroked my head and comforted me, he didn’t want to tell me it was me being cauterized!
When my baby was born, I didn’t get to see him. He was whisked away to the other side of the room, I heard a cry and, though I thought I was speaking loudly, no one heard my question. I repeated myself, “What is it?” I think it was the doctor whose voiced called out, “Would someone tell her what she had?”
“A boy!” They wrapped him up and passed him by my eyes. I longed to hold him, to smell him, to touch him. But he was on the other side of the room again. “What’s his name?” a nurse asked. Nick and I looked at each other, we’d struggled with boys names, changing our top choice regularly. The latest pick had been Mark, we liked the solid, definitively boy’s name. So Nick answered, “Mark.”
After being moved from the OR to recovery, Nick was able to report to my father that we had a boy. My mom, at home with Ali, had been calling the hospital but they would share nothing with her, not even if I was out of surgery yet. We must’ve had a cell phone by then, but it wasn’t how it is now with it attached to us constantly. Somehow, no one called my mother for awhile, leaving her at home worried.
They brought baby Mark to me to breastfeed in recovery and having him in my arms, nursing eagerly, helped distract me from the nausea, the persistent shaking. I had my baby boy with me. Finally, the nurse I didn’t like released me to the postpartum floor with Nick and my dad. Nurses really affect the experience of a patient – anywhere in the hospital. I loved loved loved my first postpartum nurse, Lydia, thank God for Lydia.
Alone, a few hours after his birth, Nick said, “He doesn’t feel like a ‘Mark,’” and I burst into tears of agreement, thankful he’d said it. “How about Michael?” Nick suggested. We’d love the name Michael all along but kept dismissing it as an option since it’s my brother’s name and we thought it would be confusing. As we were deciding to re-name our little guy, my brother called.
“We’re thinking of naming him Michael,” Nick reported, at which point Michael sent out an email (he had better technology at his NYC financial offices than we did at home) to 400 of his closest friends announcing that we’d named the baby Michael. We laughed, that’s that then. Decision final.
Ali first meeting her brother is a special memory. She was so curious and interested, she kept gently pinching his nose as she examined all of him. Head, ears, fingers, we even unwrapped his tight swaddle to let her see his tiny toes. My mom and I laughed secretly, it couldn’t be helped, while teaching Ali she couldn’t touch his nose. He calmed and turned to the sound of her singing the ABC’s, a song we’d sung no fewer than a trillion times while I was pregnant. It was truly amazing to witness his response.
Encouraged to walk the halls to help recovery, I would take my walks pushing the transparent bassinet up and down the hospital corridors. One day, at the very moment I was wondering how close to the doors I could go without setting of the alarms, the alarms went off. Nurses leapt from their station and ran down the halls, lights, whistles, even the sound of the doors locking whirled around us. I giggled while apologizing, thinking it was a good, if unintentional, test of the system.
Michael’s birth didn’t happen as I’d hoped, envisioned or wanted, but it brought me my Michael. My sweet, kind, thoughtful, inventive, creative, empathetic little sweetie who’s now a teenager. Who needs deodorant, a razor and truck-fulls of food. He still does things his own way and is incredibly resourceful. He came into this world the way he needed to, upside down, though really he was right side up, and he brought me some lessons with him.
I am a better doula and birth educator for having had a cesarean birth. I am living proof of the possibility to VBAC (which you can’t do without the “C”) safely and I can teach clients and students how to advocate for themselves in a cesarean birth as they would a vaginal one. But mostly, he’s taught me flexibility from the day of his birth, his birth made me live my belief in making the best of a situation, in seeing the positive in things. Michael’s birth showed me a new kind of strength within myself. That scar across my belly, that crooked, angled scar, is a part of me and tells the story of one of the most important, blessed days of my life.
© Copyright Leah DeCesare 2014