I am typing and nursing at this very moment. I realized I never wrote the story of my daughter’s birth. I write because I love it, but also because I believe it is important to share our stories. My favorite books are ones of challenge, adventure, and strength. And the story of the birth of my daughter is all of those things. When we share our journey we help empower each other.
If you know me or have been following my blog, you know that at 29 weeks pregnant, a week before I was supposed to move to Portugal, my midwife found a problem. My uterus was measuring 6 weeks too small. I was sent to a high risk doctor. After an ultrasound and fetal non stress tests, I was told I couldn’t fly, put on strict bed rest, informed that likely I would be delivering early, and that my baby would need intensive care. My placenta was not functioning properly. My daughter had severe asymmetrical IUGR.
At that point, I didn’t even have a place to live, my life was packed in suitcases, and my sweetheart was far across the sea. Frozen in shock, I almost lost what is left of my sanity. Ha! Luckily a dear friend offered her home, her support, her love.
Physically, emotionally, and mentally, bed rest is terribly painful. Add waiting in limbo, knowing there is a problem with your baby, and it is real torture.
There were many incredible people in my life that really helped me through that time. One of them was my doula, a massage therapist, a single mother, a kundalini yoga practitioner, a dancer, and an amazing healer. She is a ‘Wise woman’. Through rituals, body work, chanting, and real magic, she helped me dig up strength I didn’t know I had. She was so supportive during my pregnancy, my labor, and postpartum. Friendship and the power of love. I highly recommend having a doula. It makes such a difference.
Fast forward to 33 weeks pregnant; Amniotic fluid was low. 2 failed fetal non-stress tests. Baby was off the growth chart small, sliding further and further down. I sat outside the door to the Drs. Office listening, while two doctors loudly debated what to do with my case. I knew what they were talking about. I had read every article I could find about IUGR… From the worst scenarios to the best. I have a friend, a Florida midwife who I often talked to regarding my pregnancy. She gave me advice and good questions to ask the Dr. I was terribly afraid. Finally, the high risk doctor came out and explained that my situation was very complicated. We were on a tight rope. Deliver early and risk organ failure, or continue close monitoring and wait, until we could wait no more.
It was decided we would wait. Fetal non-stress tests 3 times a week. Cord flow was checked once a week. The Dr’s instructions “Lay on your left side, eat, drink, rest, do fetal kick counts, and go straight to the Emergency room if you don’t feel movement. “ Days were long, minutes were like hours, my body hurt. When there was no fetal movement, fear struck intensely. Anxiety was high, there many tears.
Regardless of eating all day, my belly was small. I remember getting on the elevator, and having a well intentioned woman say to me, “I am really good at guessing how far along someone is in their pregnancy, let me guess, 24 weeks?” I was 35 weeks. I held back my tears and offered a fake smile.
At 36 weeks, a friend of mine, A Buddhist Lama from India, came to Florida and blessed my baby. He did a healing ritual. It was powerful. I will never forget that experience. White Tara. Afterwards, he talked to my baby, and then he said to me with a smile, “Don’t worry, sometimes a very small baby makes the delivery easier and faster.”
At 36 weeks and 4 days, I was told we could wait no more. I was instructed to go home, pack my bag, and that I would be induced the next day. My friend came over and we made a belly cast. She told me with sadness and concern in her eyes, that whatever happened, I had the strength to get through it. We both cried. As painful as it was, I knew she was right. Whatever fate had in store, the time had come, no more limbo.
We were sent to a hospital with a level III NICU, the highest level of intensive care, we knew there was a good possibility my daughter would be spending time there.
We actually had a very nice hospital room. Large windows overlooking a beautiful fountain, palm trees softly swaying, and a regal sign in the distance “Olympia”. Strangely enough, Olympia is where my son was born. But we were nowhere near Olympia, we were across the country, and I was giving birth in South Florida.
The nurse gave me a hospital gown, the ugliest thing I have ever seen. A giant pink tent. Literally I could have slept inside it… along with several friends. Ha! Horrible. But my clothing was the least of my concerns.
My Doctor knew I was terrified of a c-section, and though she told me to be prepared for one, she promised she would do everything she could to prevent one.
With that, I was hooked up to fetal monitoring and given cervadil, to help open my tightly closed cervix. I started having mild contractions. Fetal heartbeat was stable. My Doctor said we would see what my body did with the cervidil, and instructed me to sleep, for I would be giving birth in the morning.
Morning came, and I was put on pitocin. The contractions came on strong. My doula arrived, and with her arrival, my sterile hospital room was transformed into a magical birthing temple. She set up an altar, put on my favorite yoga music, and sprayed the room with essential oils. She instructed me to bring my awareness to my breath as she massaged my lower back. She helped me call my spirit guides for assistance.
My Doctor came to check on me, my cervix was still barely open; this is after hours of strong and painful contractions. She decided to break my water and said it would speed up my labor. She left the room for perhaps three minutes. During those three minutes, my baby moved. It was a big move, which created painful complications.
When the doctor came back, ready to break my water, she suddenly paused. She said “Oh My GOD!” She sat in silence with an expression of concern and confusion. We stared at her and we waited. Finally she said, “Your baby just turned. She is now feet first breech!” She sighed and gently shook her head in disbelief, “I am not attempting a vaginal delivery with a tiny IUGR baby that is feet first breech.” With a puzzled expression, she continued “Never in all my years delivering babies has this happened.” Again the room was quiet. Finally she said, “We can either set you up for a c-section now, or I can stop your labor, we wait a few hours for your uterus to stop contracting and then I can try to manually turn the baby. But there is a good chance it won’t work and we will have to c-section anyways. Those are the choices, I leave it up to you.”
With the support of my doula and sweetheart, I decided to wait. My contractions slowed and then stopped. The doctor came back. And with her strength, she began to manually turn my baby. It did not feel good. In fact, it was extremely painful. I yelped out in pain. I wanted her to stop. But she kept pushing and pressing, for several more minutes. Finally she took her hands off my belly and satisfied she said “We did it! But this baby is very small. I am going to break your water now so she doesn’t have enough room to turn again.”
Pitocin drip back on, water broken. Strong contractions, I came in and out of normal consciousness. No pain medicine. And no progression either. Hours later, evening setting in, my cervix was still 1 cm dilated. The contractions were there. And with each contraction my baby’s heart rate dropped drastically. I stood up and rocked from side to side, moaning, sighing, crying, breathing. The pain of labor is indescribable. But my yoga practice helped immensely.
The drops in fetal heart rate were getting worse. The Dr tried to change my position, wondering if there was a cord problem. I was given an oxygen mask which helped stabilize the fetal heart rate. My contractions continued. The doctor did not hide her concern. She said this was a very difficult labor. It was time to prep for a c-section.
My doula with her wisdom, spoke out, “If she needs a c-section, she will need an epidural, right? Is it possible, that we can give her an epidural now, and see if her body relaxes enough to allow her cervix to open?” The doctor said, “ I am not opposed to trying this, but I will give it one hour, if her cervix doesn’t begin to open, we have to c-section.”
With that, I was given an epidural. The strangest sensation of cold flooded up and down my spine. The pain was gone. The contractions were still there. But they didn’t hurt. I felt good, I felt dizzy, everything blurry, I was so calm. An alarm went off, people were rushing around, all of it a fuzzy dream. My heart had nearly stopped beating. They injected a medicine to get my heart pumping again. I remember vividly hearing and feeling a loud drumming in my chest… and a rush of energy and sudden awareness. Apparently this is one of the many big risks of an epidural.
Stable once again, still with oxygen mask, the painless contractions continued. My Doctor said I was now 2 cm dilated. We could wait a little longer. It was late, 11pm. I told my doula to go home; at this rate, likely I would not have the baby until morning. My doula is the mother of 2 young boys and was still breastfeeding. She had helped more than enough.
Soon after my magical doula left, I started feeling the contractions again. Mild pain. My oxygen mask suddenly smelled like chemicals. I felt I was going to throw up. My partner, who had not left my side, or eaten in 2 days, caressed my face and calmed me as I told him that the chemicals in my oxygen mask were making me sick. I took the mask off, fetal heart rate instantly dropped. The nurse came back in. She put the mask back on. I told her I wanted to throw up. She said cheerfully “Great, I will go get the Dr.” In 50 minutes my cervix had opened from 2 cm to 10. It was time.
My doctor arrived, along with a team of pediatric doctors and nurses all prepared to greet my tiny baby. Just after midnight and with three gentle pushes, my baby was born. At exactly 37 weeks. 4 pounds and 6 ounces. Like all IUGR babies, she looked old, elf like. I was amazed, relieved, frightened. She was skin and bones. Her arms were smaller than my pointer finger. Welcoming her to this world, I kissed her. My tiny, old, newborn, elf-baby. She started nursing right away.
The Dr’s checked her blood sugar and gave her a brain ultrasound to see if she had suffered brain damage, but she was fine. We were all amazed a baby so small was so strong. We spent two days in the hospital, and she needed no intensive care. She never left my side. We did have to spend 1 hour in the NICU to do a car seat check, but that was merely a precaution because she weighed less than 5 pounds. The Dr’s never determined the cause of my daughters IUGR other than saying my placenta was extremely small, and that sometimes with “advanced maternal age” this happened. I was 36.
Before we left the hospital, my Dr. came to visit in our recovery room. She told me that I had the most fantastic labor support she had ever seen. She is right. Between my sweetheart, my doula, my dear friends, my family, and a great Dr. who didn’t give up, I don’t think this birth story could be more magical. That hospital room became a temple.
My daughter’s birthday is almost here. I look at my beautiful, owl-eyed daughter and I smile. Like life, her birth story, our story, was one of challenge, pain, strength, and love. We named her in honor of the moon. The moon; the maiden, the mother, the crone.
Honoring the cycle. Namaste. ~Tiff
I apologize for neglecting my website. We are living without internet at the moment and my days are spent running around after my little moonbeam, and doing yoga whenever I can. But the stories are still there, and I hope to start posting more regularly soon.