Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Emerson's birth story

Every journey to motherhood presents different challenges, and some much more difficult than my own. This is my attempt to document my story nonetheless, a record for myself and my children, to be shared with other woman and mothers in the tradition of birth stories.


I have learnt much since becoming a mother. Slowly discovering for myself experiences that have been repeated through the ages, connecting all mothers. I discovered a type of love which I'd not yet experienced. A powerful, connected, protective, nurturing love that is as intense as it is different for each child. I learnt that their births would be the single most important days of my life and that nothing could compare to them. I felt the passage of time change, marked forever by their growth and milestones. I found that part of loving so deeply meant feeling pain just as deeply, feeling their pain. And I'm still learning.


One thing I didn't realise was how difficult and winding our journey to having a family would be. Dave and I met, fell in love, brought a house and got married young and then went travelling. Our notions of having a family seemed distant and indistinct until I had to have an ovary and Fallopian tube removed due to an abscess, and my ability to ever conceive was brought into question. It was something we had taken for granted and it had been brought into sharp focus. The irony was that after trying so long not to fall pregnant, we would end up trying even harder and go through so much more in order to fall pregnant. It was a scary, emotional and difficult time which resulted in me suffering from anxiety.

After first suffering a miscarriage, we conceived Cohen and with his birth became a family, and I a mother. His 36 hour labor resulted in a third degree tear and abdominal muscle separation. Cohen was 9 pound 4, but had breathing difficulties and was taken to special care. The forceps used to deliver him strained a muscle in his neck that resulted in him needing physio. It was a traumatic experience for both of us. My birth plan resembled my birth in few ways. But I had my baby boy and all our efforts were rewarded.

+After twelve months and mindful of my missing ovary, we tried again to conceive and in time learnt instead of my diagnosis of Graves disease, which inhibited my ability to fall pregnant. After months of trying to control my thyroid levels with medication that I became allergic to, months of specialist appointments and blood tests, months feeling ill, we undertook the more extreme measure of having radio-iodine treatment and destroying my thyroid function forever. Another daunting undertaking. But one which allowed us, with the passage of time, the green light to once again try to conceive.

As soon as the specialist gave us their consent we decided to 'try without trying'. No calenders, no discussions, life would move on and time would tell. We sold our house, moved in with family, starting looking for a new nest to renovate and call our family home and one day two blue lines come up in the windows of a pregnancy test. We were ecstatic and continued with our plans with added meaning.


As in my previous pregnancy, the thought of miscarriage was a daily companion. Through days of lethargy, mornings and nights of nausea, I crossed each finger and counted down each day until we reached thirteen weeks. Next I counted the weeks until the baby would be viable to live outside the womb should it be born premature. In the meantime my thyroid astonished us, and the specialists, by recovering enough from the radio-iodine treatment to once again become over active. And thus the potential to cause problems with the pregnancy, (hinted at back here in December,) from which point baby and I were closely monitored for possible complications.

But each week the baby grew bigger and stronger. Each week I saw doctors, specialists, the high risk team at the hospital and underwent fortnightly scans. And at 35 weeks the doctors conferred and offered me an elective cesarean. The baby was continually measuring in the 98th percentile and could be expected to weigh 9 to 10 pounds at full term, which, given my birthing history, placed me high in the risk factor of having a fourth degree tear should I birth vaginally.


Until this point I hadn't realised what it meant to me to birth this baby naturally. For thirty five weeks I had unintentionally focused on this birth being a sort of saving grace for my first birth. That I would be more prepared, more relaxed, ride out the contractions instead of fighting them and this time my body would not fail me. I would have the birth I had so wanted the first time. I hadn't realised how much I had invested emotionally in a natural birth. But after discussing my options with midwives and specialists the decision was made, and I would not be birthing naturally. I felt informed and confidant about my decision, but also heartbroken. My cesarean was booked and I went home and awaited the days and wondered if my baby would wait the scheduled 39 weeks and 2 days or decide to come early.

The days wound down until my sister was installed in my house as babysitter, my bag was packed in the car and my preparations ready for the scheduled early morning surgery. I was equally anxious and excited. Fearful of the surgery, but oh so ready to meet our baby and find out the sex. It took me a long while to fall asleep that Sunday night and my dreams were filled with hospital rooms and babies.


The hours before the surgery were mercilessly few. The staff were warm but through during the preparations, doing their best to ease my nerves and keep me focused on how soon I would have my baby in my arms. Things moved quickly. Cap and gown, hospital bed, wheeled into theater, spinal block applied and preparations for surgery made. Dave rejoined me as the first incision was being made. Reflected in the angle of the theater light overhead, I was able to see the surgery as it took place. And I, who is not usually one for such things, was riveted to the reflection. I found I was not at all uneasy, but rather a strange disassociation occurred between my body and brain. While I felt pressure, there was no pain and my brain tried hard to reconcile the feelings and the image above and could not.

In this way I watched as my babies head appeared, before a shadow was cast over the reflection and moments later the surgeon was holding our baby up above the screen between us. Dave, seated beside me, saw what I could not and said, "You've got your girl, baby." Relief, joy, excitement, release - the tears flowed freely from my eyes, even as she was brought to me to hold for the first time. My beautiful girl. Our beautiful Emerson. Peering into her Mamas eyes. Love.


One thing, through all of this, that has been incredibly distressing for me has been that both of my parents have chosen not to have contact with me since my sisters wedding five months ago. My mothers absence during my pregnancy has been particularly noticeable, especially given that my pregnancy with Cohen brought us closer together. That relationship I missed no more so than on the third day after her birth when Emerson was diagnosed with jaundice and a heart murmur. Tired and hormonal, in pain and concerned for my baby, I felt strongly the need for my mother.

I don't know what I could have done for her to continue in this way or ignore the birth of her grand daughter. There are many things I have learnt as a mother, but this is not one of them. Surely there is nothing Cohen or Emerson could do or say that would make me turn my back on them indefinitely? Despite trying to make contact with her, she has not as yet attempted to make contact with me or my sister these past five months. I've been operating in limbo, unsure as to what is happening or how she feels. As a result I felt unable to even call her with the news of Emerson's birth. I've no idea what the future holds for this relationship.

Mama and Emerson day 2

Thankfully the jaundice is slowly clearing without needing intervention and the heart murmur is being monitored. It may be a result a valve not closing completely after her birth when she transitioned from breathing liquid to air, or as a hangover from my thyroid medication crossing the placenta. She will be monitored at our follow up appointments.

Emerson is otherwise healthy and happy. She loves her sleep, has had no trouble breastfeeding and has a doting big brother. Cohen is in awe of her and has adjusted beautifully. All our subtle efforts to prepare him these past several months seem to have been rewarded. He is now constantly patting her with his 'gentle hands', or staring at her and asking us questions. He sits down on the couch and asks for a cuddle in his toddler way, "Emcen sit here please." He helped give her her first bath, elbowing Daddy out of the way in order to wash her (and cover her head in bubbles.) Cohen has discovered my childhood doll and has taken to changing it's nappy and clothing when I'm with Emerson.

One thing that I have learnt as a mother is that you have to be adaptable. Things rarely seem to go to plan, for me at least. But the reward is always more meaningful for the struggles you undertook. As they say, 'nothing worth having comes easily.' Life goes on and we are enjoying our family of four.

Welcome, my darling Emerson. We've been waiting for you for such a long time and we are so glad you are finally here. I wouldn't change a thing.
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