The MOMocrats are helping spread the word about the Mothers Day Every Day Project, part of the White Ribbon Alliance's efforts to raise awareness of maternal death worldwide. Over 500,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth each year, due to lack of necessities like clean water and basic medical care. To honor this effort, we are sharing our birth and adoption stories. Here's the story of how I became a mom. Please share your story on your blog and leave a comment over at MOMocrats and we'll link to your post on Sunday, in honor of Mother's Day.
I've written before about my feelings about being the mom of a boy, with some trepidation, but ultimately, much joy. My pregnancy was uneventful. I had some morning sickness, but nothing debilitating. I never had to go on bedrest, or worry that anything was wrong. All the worries I had were of my own making.
I delivered Alex by scheduled c-section, probably the least dramatic birth method every invented. I went in for a routine prenatal visit at 38 weeks, and had an ultrasound.
"Oh, my!" the ultrasound technician exclaimed.
"Is that a good 'oh, my' or a bad 'oh, my'?" I asked.
"Well, your baby is measuring a bit um,...large," she said.
"How large is large?" I asked.
"He's looking like about 10 pounds," she paused dramatically. "Plus or minus 15%. I think you should discuss this with the doctor."
I could handle the "minus 15%", but giving birth to an 11 and a half pound baby was not exactly something I was prepared for.
I spoke to the OB, an ebullient, enthusiastic man in his mid-30's with piercing blue eyes and a ready smile. I liked to think of him as Head Cheerleader at Gyno U.
"Hoo boy! You've got a big one in there!" he said, waving the ultrasound results at me. He spoke as though I had a prize trout swimming in my uterus, not a baby. Then, he suddenly turned grave. "It's great that he's big and looks healthy, but the problem is, giving birth vaginally could lead to him getting stuck in the birth canal. If that happens, there's a fairly good chance of dystocia, which could lead to shoulder paralysis."
I got stuck on the word "paralysis" and when I snapped to again, I asked him what we can do about it. He recommended a c-section. I asked "What day looks good for you?"
We agreed to deliver on his due date, July 29. I never hesitated to think that a c-section would be a problem, and was a little relieve that I didn't have to go through all the huffing and puffing and pushing and screaming. At least, not until after the baby was born.
The night before the big event, my mom helped me pack for the hospital. We were folding clothes and putting them into a suitcase, including a tiny blue outfit and matching cap for the baby to wear home.
Fingering the soft cotton receiving blanket, It suddenly hit me that the next day, my life would change forever. I would no longer be just me, but someone's mom. Someone small and helpless would depend on me for food, for clothing, for shelter, for comfort, for everything. I started thinking about the gravity of the surgery. I'd never been in a hospital as a patient in my life. I had been born at home with the assistance of a midwife, so I couldn't even count my own birth as a hospital stay. I'd been lucky, but what if my luck suddenly ran out? What if something went horribly wrong for me or for my baby?
Tears welled in my eyes. My mom said, "Are you scared?"
"Yes," I said.
"Krajee girl! Women have been giving birth for thousands of years! You have the best doctors, the best hospital! You will be fine! Snap out of it!"
Leave it to my mom to hit me square in the nose with a big dose of reality.
I noticed there were tears in her eyes, too. "You will be a great mom, so don't worry," she said.
"I know, " I said. "I learned from the best."
"Damn straight!" she said, and we both burst out laughing.
The next day, we checked into the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. As my mom said, it is one of the best pediatric hospitals in the country. If anything went wrong, this was the place to be. Unfortunately, the hospital was in the throes of a bitter nurses strike, so we had to cross a picket line to get in. That did not make me too happy, but I didn't have much choice at this point.
I remember lying on the gurney, being wheeled into the OR, thinking, "Wow, this looks just like on ER when they are wheeling people in after some big car accident or something." It was an odd feeling to be lying down and watching the ceiling tiles go by, with doctors and nurses scurrying by on their way to save a life or have donuts or whatever.
Frank was suited up in scrubs and a hairnet, camera at the ready, and in the operating room when they wheeled me in. I thought he might burst from excitement and pride, and they would need the OR for him instead of me. My parents waited anxiously outside. They put up a curtain at chest level, so I couldn't see what the doctor was doing, which was basically temporarily eviscerating me to pull a giant baby out.
I told my shutterbug husband that under no uncertain terms was he to take any photos of my entrails or internal organs or other things that would likely make me faint. He dutifully complied, but I knew he really, really wanted to because it was cool.
As I lay on the table staring at the harsh white ceiling, the doctor and the nurses worked diligently, and chatted while they worked. "What are you doing this weekend?" the doctor asked.
"Thinking of going up to the city with my boyfriend." said the nurse.
"Oh, I hear there's a great restaurant that just opened...hmm...can't remember the name..."
Hello! Patient here! Kindly pay attention to person being carved, okay? I thought. Then, I realized that things must be going well if they had time for small talk.
I was suddenly freezing, and started shivering. The kindly anesthesiologist noticed and put a warm towel on my arms and chest, patted me, and called me "dear." At that moment, I wanted to ditch Frank and marry him.
I couldn't feel much of what was going on. A little tugging and pulling, but for the most part, they could have been building a miniature replica of the Taj Mahal out of popsicle sticks down there and it wouldn't have felt much different. Suddenly, the doctor and all the nurses in the room snapped to attention.
"Here he is!" Frank went crazy with the camera. I couldn't see anything.
"He's a big one, Mom! Take a look, Dad!" Again, felt like I was giving birth to a trout. Frank was overjoyed.
"Want to see? I'll take the curtain down!" he said.
"Leave the curtain up. Bring him around."
It took a while for the nurses to do the weighing and measuring, announcing, "10 pounds, 9 ounces, Mom! 22 inches! 10 fingers, 10 toes!"
I heard him cry, and tears rolled down my face, too. I don't remember feeling joy then. I remember feeling enormous relief. Relief for the fact that he was a healthy baby boy. Relief that I was feeling good. Relief that the worst hadn't happened.
Eventually, the nurses swaddled him and told Frank that he could come with them to the nursery for some additional testing. While the doctor and nurses stitched me back up, they brought my tiny, yet somehow enormous by normal human standards, bundle of boy to me. He fleetingly opened his eyes a tiny bit. I kissed him on the forehead, and a tear ran down my face.
He's here. I thought. The person I've been waiting for all of my life is finally here.
My birth story, in the retelling, is pretty mundane. No drama, no fuss. Everyone should be so lucky, but millions of women around the world are not. Hundreds of thousands of mothers lose their lives for lack of medical care, for lack of sanitation, for lack of basic necessities we take for granted. The White Ribbon Project hopes to shine a bright light of hope on women in our global community who risk their lives to bring new life into the world. In telling our stories, we tell what those women cannot. In telling our stories, we hope that all mothers will survive to know what we know.
This Mothers Day, I am thankful for my mother, who always knows just what to say to snap me back to reality, who shared this important day with me, who cried with joy at my birth and the birth of my son, who cried sympathy tears when breastfeeding hurt so much it made my toes curl and my face wince. I am grateful to have a generous, willing partner in Frank, who has nurtured and loved our son from the moment he was conceived. Mostly, I am grateful for my son, who is and always will be, the person I've waited for all of my life.
Happy Mothers Day!