Beach Day: Birth Story of William Alexandros Tuddenham

It’s Sept. 28, 2010, and it’s a perfect 91 degrees F in Athens, Greece, a great beach day. I mean, why not? So what if I’m 85 lb. over my normal weight and have high blood pressure and I’m 9 months pregnant—a beach day is a beach day.

I arrange to pick up my sister and head for the beach, which is a 20-minute drive. I go by her house, go upstairs, and all of a sudden I start seeing the little sparks that my doctor had warned me about. I, of course, ignored them because it was a beach day.

The sparks went on so I decided to call my doctor and, of course, he panics and yells at me, shouting the name of a pill that I have to take as soon as possible—that, of course, I do not have—and he says to get to the hospital.

I told my sister that I had to go to the pharmacy but she went to the beach instead. So there I am, in a tiny car (not because I’m big, it actually was tiny) sweating, fat, seeing stars, and I start driving on a crazy-busy road looking for a pharmacy. I found one and ran in—no luck, they did not have the pill. Back in the car again. Well, four pharmacies later, I found it.

Then, it’s off to my house, I get the pill, sit on the balcony with my husband, chat a bit, and decide to go have this baby. I called my mom and told her that I was going to have the baby and I will see her later. Of course, she yelled at me and requested to come with us.

Finally we got to the hospital. I was about to get the epidural but had to have an emergency C-section because of the high blood pressure.

My biggest concern was my husband who was stressed out, in a hospital waiting with hundreds of people, and a person announcing the births over a mic in heavy Greek. Lucky for him, around 20 family and friends—who are drunk and smoking—are with him. My doctor was asking if we were gypsies.

Kony and William

For me, it was simple. I got my epidural, went into the operating room with my doctor and another doctor, no nurse, (no one else was allowed in) and listened to Enola Gay and U2 while they cut me open. All of a sudden, I had a perfect baby boy laying on me. The way I had been and who I was changed forever in a second, but once that baby left my arms to get cleaned up, I thought, “Shit, my husband?!”

I told the staff I needed to see my husband NOW. After trying for a good amount of time to put some decompression socks on my spaghetti legs, they put me in a room next door to see my Nate.

All of a sudden, the door opened and 20 drunk people came in (Nate wasn’t drunk, he looked frozen), and they were all taking pictures and saying congrats. This all happened at 7 p.m. I sent Nate home to rest and sent my mom home, too, because she was too drunk and being rude, and could not stop commenting on the decor of the room.

It took 48 hours to walk again, a big fight to keep my catheter in (yes, I wanted it in), and a lot of phone calls from my doctor telling me to behave well.

My friends and family saw me suffer but I was truly having the time of my life with my new friend, William Alexandros Tuddenham, even if I missed the beach day.

Fin!

Written by Kony Filippou

The Modern Mamas Podcast: The BIRTH Project

I’m so excited to share this podcast I recorded with my amazing friend Laura Bruner of Radical Roots and the Modern Mamas Podcast. In the episode, Laura and I delve into my “why” behind The BIRTH Project, and we chat about parenting, birth, fitness and more. You’ll learn a bit more about me, my background and why I’ve become passionate about the birth community.

My husband Chad and I, our daughter, Isla, and our son, Ellis.

Give it a listen and let me know your thoughts! Download on iTunes HERE and on Stitcher HERE!

Birth Story of Henry Young

On July 26, 2014, I woke up at about 6:30 a.m. with menstrual-type cramping. I had been having this for a few days and just laying down with a heating pad usually sent it away. I got up and took a nice long, hot shower hoping to send these cramps away as well. I shaved my legs for the last leisurely time. Of course, I denied this being the “real thing.”

I tend to be a hypochondriac, so for fear of overreacting to things, I tend to under-react. Corey and I went to breakfast. I insisted on driving despite Corey’s objections. I denied I was in labor even after driving there and making Corey park the car, because I couldn’t parallel park through contractions.

After breakfast was the farmer’s market, Vitamin Shoppe and Costco. My contractions were about 7 minutes apart and 45 seconds long. I chalked it up to being too active. I checked in with my midwife, Carol, told her not to cancel her plans just yet, and set home to park myself on the couch with a heating pad.

Corey was supposed to record vocals for a band at noon, and I wouldn’t let him cancel it until about 11:15. I was still convinced that if I could only relax enough, they would go away. They had slowed to about every 15 minutes for about 30 seconds after all!

I started a bath, used the toilet and noticed I had lost a bit of my mucous plug (still in denial). While I was in the bathtub reporting the mucous plug to my midwife, I felt the sudden urge to pee, or rather, that I WAS peeing. I hopped onto the toilet and still wasn’t certain but thought that might have been my water breaking. What came out was yellowish and cloudy, not what my urine usually looks like but not what I was expecting amniotic fluid to look like either. I was ready to admit I was in early labor! I have like 24 hours ahead of me, right?

I called Carol again and she suggested she come by to take a look at me. I agreed, but first we have another errand to run! Corey and I had been planning on baking a birthday cake and I didn’t want to even buy the ingredients ahead of time, because I figured I had a long labor ahead and wanted ways to make time pass quickly.

We took a leisurely trip to Nob Hill, complete with contractions in the ice-cream aisle. Yes, we got concerned looks and comments. Corey assured them that, yes, I was in labor, but I’d suck him back up until we got home. We made one more stop on the way home to borrow a rebozo from my birth boot-camp instructor before returning home to find a Comcast truck in front of our house. I completely forgot about our 2 p.m. appointment! Business was conducted quickly and the worker left. I was prepared to watch my Breaking Bad marathon while I labored for the next 22 hours!

Corey and I started to make Henry’s birthday cake together. I don’t think I lasted longer than pulling out the pans. I instructed Corey to keep at it while I labored in the shower for a bit. I put Jim Gaffigan on Spotify and got in the shower. Corey kept coming in and checking on me. He asked me if he should set up the pool and, of course, I said not yet but I saw him roll it past the doorway anyhow. I asked him to call his mom and let her know this was happening.

My mother-in-law, Kathy, arrived and I remember her observing from the bathroom doorway. I was butt naked—I didn’t care. We knew what we were in for. Carol arrived, watched me for a little bit and informed me that we were having a baby! Yay! Carol said she would call my other midwife, Jacqueline. I kept looking at Kathy and saying, “SHE did it. She did it with Pitocin. I can do it.” Corey later told me I was in transition at this point. He overheard Carol relaying to Jacqueline that I was grunting during my contractions.

I could hear Corey baking and filling up the pool in the kitchen. I heard something about a connection giving him a hard time. Later, I found out that instead of hooking up to the kitchen sink and pumping warm water into the pool, he had to fill it with the garden hose and boil pots of water to pour in to warm it up. Baking, boiling and pool filling—so far labor seemed more labor intensive for him than for me! By now it was around 5 p.m., and Corey let me know the pool was ready when I was, so of course I got right out of the shower and into the pool. Jacqueline had arrived by then.

The water. Felt. Amazing. I spent a long time there. Sometime around now, Henry’s birthday cake came out of the oven and was set aside to cool. I made Corey sit on a chair right in front of me. I would go in and out of consciousness. I woke up and asked if I time traveled. I was aware that there were no less than eight eyes on me, but no one was in my face. It was very quiet, I could hear whispering.

Then came the pushing. It wasn’t an “urge”; it was happening. My body was doing it. It had a mind of its own. I hung onto Corey’s leg for dear life. I threw up. I had Corey drape the rebozo over his shoulders and stand up so I could pull down on it. I think somewhere about now I asked how dilated I was. I kept asking, as if laughter wasn’t a clear enough response. Finally, Carol (or someone) told me my cervix was long gone. Wow, that was quick! More pushing.

Carol checked Henry’s heart rate several times in between pushes. She gently recommended I get out of the pool and walk around. Nope, I’m in my happy spot. “OK, but maybe now you might want to walk around?” No way, Jose. “OK, but don’t you have to use the toilet by now?” Someone promised me I could go back into the tub afterward. Trickster. I realized by how they wouldn’t let “getting out of the pool” drop it was probably in mine and Henry’s best interest to listen to them. I found out later that Henry’s heart rate had slowed a little, that the pool had slowed my labor and they were hoping some movement would get it going again.

I reluctantly waddled over to the toilet, my entourage helping me on my way. I labored on the toilet for a bit. I remember at one point wanting, TRYING, to throw everything off of the pony wall next to it. Someone explained to me that I needed to get Henry out, I needed to push with the contractions in an effort to tear my perineum because he had been in the birth canal for a while. If I couldn’t tear, I could receive an episiotomy.

Carol said she could see his head and suggested I feel for myself, as it would give me a better idea as to my progress. I asked if he had hair several times. I was assured that he did and encouraged to feel for myself. I stood up and reached down. I felt … not what it usually feels like down there. I couldn’t tell where I ended and Henry began so, frustrated, I gave up on that venture.

Just after Henry was born

I moved to the birthing stool in front of the toilet. I pushed. Corey wanted me to wait a moment for him to adjust the rebozo during a contraction, my response was to pull harder as if I was trying to break his neck. I pushed as hard as I could. Carol massaged and tried to get my perineum to give up my baby. The words “perineum of steel” were used at one point. I called it, I couldn’t keep pushing like this, I asked for an episiotomy.

Jacqueline explained to me that it wouldn’t hurt, it would just feel like relief. She was right. I realize having written this far that this is the first real mention of pain in this story. The thing is, I don’t recall it being painful. Sure there was pressure. Sure it was uncomfortable, but nothing like the insurmountable pain like they show in the movies. I leaned back on Corey for support as Carol (I think) performed the episiotomy. I didn’t feel a thing. The next contraction, I had an urge to stand up. With Corey’s hands under my armpits, I reached out for more support. I grabbed onto the pony wall with my right hand and reached up for the towel bar with my left hand. In one fell swoop both my baby and my towel bar were liberated from their restraints. My head was spinning. Carol placed something warm, wet and squirmy on my chest, it went “waah” once. I gathered my wits enough to wish Henry a very happy birthday. It was 7:58 p.m.

Henry was squinting, alert, holding his head up. I offered him my breast to nurse from and he took to it immediately. Carol asked me to cough. I half-heartedly obliged and my placenta was liberated as well. We brought our family bubble to the bed for some much deserved bonding.

Henry was beautiful. Corey and I both just stared at him as he nursed and slept. Corey continued the skin-to-skin snuggles as Carol repaired my episiotomy. Henry proceeded to christen Corey “Daddy” with meconium. Eventually, Daddy left to clean both of them up, himself and Kathy putting Henry’s first cloth diaper on as I tried to describe how to do it from across the house. We discovered our cat helped himself to a layer of Henry’s birthday cake. We measured Henry—he was 6 lb., 2 oz, 19 in. long, and 100 percent adorable. I think we’ll keep him.

Written by Lindsey Young

Birth Story of Lily Laufer

“Are you SURE the baby is OK?”, I asked, nearly breathless, about an hour into pushing. As we got closer and closer to meeting our baby, my excitement and my fear continued to build in parallel. “Everything looks perfect, the heart rate is great,” my team assured me. “Look around, Molly, it’s just us, no one specialized is here, there is no emergency — your baby is doing great. You’re doing great.”

As a first-time mom, I didn’t know what to expect in the delivery room — I didn’t know that the big table full of medical instruments being set up just meant that the baby was close. It was a small group but I was being cared for, cheered on and coached by an all-star team. The midwife who I had seen during my prenatal care was playing tug-of-war with me with a bed sheet to give me counter strength to push against. She was calm and in control, something that I valued in the moment, but appreciated even more as we debriefed the birth later that night in my recovery room.

The resident who had been on duty when I was in triage a few weeks earlier being monitored for lack of fetal movement, was reassuring and kind; he was soft spoken but his excitement for us was palpable. The nurse, whose feedback style could best be described as “drill sergeant” — giving commands, counting out the seconds as I pushed, quick to tell me when I was pushing in the wrong place—was intense, commanding, and exactly what I needed. My doula and her apprentice, Brigette, were reading my body and helping the nurse adapt to the demanding cadence of pushing to my abilities and strengths. Emmylou was photographing the whole thing. I didn’t realize how graphic the photos that she captured in the moment were, but later would pore over those images to piece together the milliseconds after the birth.

And of course my husband, locking eyes with me, calm and strong, feeding me water through a straw and doing yoga “horse lips” with me in between every push. It sounds like a crowd, but it was really peaceful and intimate. I had space and room to adapt, while being cheered on and supported in every way I needed. It was the perfect birth. In the words of January Harshe, the leader of the Birth Without Fear movement, I had options, I was supported in my choices, I was respected. Despite not having a rigid birth plan, this was better than I could have scripted or planned.

A few hours earlier, once the epidural had kicked in and I finally felt clear-headed and in the moment, the team walked me through what to expect after the baby came out. I remember they said to expect some commotion and a lot of moving pieces, but that the priority would be to get baby to mom. They’d make sure baby was OK, but that skin to skin would help with the after birth and focusing on my baby would help distract me from the third stage of labor. We’d gone from hours to minutes to seconds remaining and now my hospital gown was opened up to expose my stomach and chest to accept the baby. The warm blankets were nearby, ready to cover us both. I’d seen the baby’s head in a mirror and I felt a little tuft of dark hair during crowning. There really was a baby. It was almost here. After 37 and a half anxiety-ridden weeks, my pregnancy and delivery were coming to an end.

“Give me one more push,” Molly the midwife said. And suddenly, the baby was here.

Dan, Molly and Lily

I caught a glimpse of something wet that looked like a baby. A tiny ball of fluid and skin. It was a dingy shade of gray blue, but all babies look a little funny, right? I felt something wet and slippery touch my stomach, our baby. “Was it a boy or a girl?” I thought, as I reached down to grab the baby. But before my hands made it to that wet and slippery body, the baby was whisked away to the other side of the room.

The team was right — there was commotion — and everything started moving so fast. The door burst open and a small army barreled in. Five people? Ten people? I don’t remember, but all of a sudden my calm, energized team became a lot bigger, a lot more medical, a lot scarier. Who were all these people? Someone yelled, “Dad, go be with baby!” I remember trying to reach out, to grab Dan’s arm, yelling back, “What is it? What is the baby?” Finally, after what felt like minutes, I heard “it’s a girl” from the other side of the room. Later I would be told that it was Dan in fact who called out the sex of the baby, but in the moment, I couldn’t even pinpoint the voice who called out what we had been waiting nine months to know—that magical moment I had envisioned and played over and over in my head in the months leading up to that morning.

I was ready to look in his eyes, hear the news, and look down at the baby in my arms. I looked down, but there was no baby. My stomach was deflated, my arms were empty, and the midwife and resident were dutifully focused on the afterbirth. I don’t remember delivering the placenta, I don’t recall being stitched up or what it felt like. I’ve been told it probably hurt, but my brain was so scared, my heart was so heavy, and my arms so empty that no amount of afterbirth pain could possibly compete with what I was trying to process. The baby was here. It was a girl. And while I had no idea what was normal, this didn’t look or feel like what I had expected.

I looked to my right, where Dan had been sitting for the last hour and 36 minutes of pushing. It was finally light out, the sun shining bright after a whole night of laboring in the dark. In his place was Brigette. “What’s going on? Is she OK?” I screamed. No one would give me an answer. “Talk to your baby,” she said, “she knows your voice. Talk to your baby, make sure she can hear you.” I remember screaming, but I don’t remember what I said. “Lily. My baby. You can do this. You are so brave. Mommy loves you so much. Come on Lily!” If I try really hard, I think that’s what I said, but everything was so chaotic, I can’t quite remember the words that came out of my mouth. Maybe that’s what I’d like to think I would say if I did it all over again.

Molly and Lily

After what felt like an eternity, the room was finally quiet. The giant room that for seven hours of labor and delivery was energized and spirited was now empty, sterile, and lonely. It was just me, the nurse, and my doulas. No husband, and no baby.

Lily came out blue and floppy, I was told. She wasn’t breathing, her Apgar score was nonexistent. She was successfully resuscitated on the little table outside of my arm’s reach. She was breathing on her own, the last I had heard, but she didn’t sound good. She was taken to the Intensive Care Nursery, her dad by her side the whole time. The umbilical cord, which we’d hoped to delay clamping for five minutes, was immediately clamped, cut, and tested — its blood gas came back high for lactic acid. Little did I know, at the same time, Lily’s blood gas was being tested. High levels of lactic acid, someone told my husband in the ICN. Not being a doctor, he could only take a rough gander at what that meant. Could that mean that the brain isn’t getting enough oxygen? It sounded crazy, maddening, impossible. That’s exactly what it could mean, the doctor said. It wasn’t a good sign. My placenta was shipped off to pathology to be tested for infection or some explanation that could explain why this perfect baby, who moved through labor and the birth canal with ease, came into this world lifeless.

Brigette handed me my phone, the first time I looked at it since I timed my last contraction at 2:10 that morning, right before we made the decision to go to the hospital. It turns out news — good and bad — traveled fast. My brother-in-law and his wife, vacationing in South Africa, had heard the news. My mom in Santa Rosa had heard the news. They knew no more than I did: there was a baby, and we don’t know if she’s OK. I furiously texted Dan. “What’s going on. Is she OK? Send me pictures. What are they doing to her?” I received a photo back: a tiny finger holding her dad’s big finger. “Send me more pictures — I want to see her. Is she OK? What happened?” I saw the “…” typing icon of the iPhone. There were no more pictures. “I don’t want you to see her like this,” he responded.

My wonderful labor and delivery nurse/drill sergeant was still in my room, explaining what would happen to me and when I would move to recovery. I didn’t care about what was happening to me. “When can I go see her?” I asked. She informed me that I had to stay in L&D for two hours. I don’t even remember why — something about fluids and monitoring or being stable/steady enough to leave. I’m sure under any other circumstance, two hours of cuddling with your newborn baby, initiating skin to skin, helping baby latch and learning her vital stats — height, weight, etc., feels welcomed and needed. Two hours in L&D, alone, without my baby or my husband felt like a lifetime.

“Eat something,” they said. “You need to eat.” They were right — aside from the few Annie’s cheddar bunnies I snuck after the epidural kicked in and the Swedish Fish I tried to eat during active labor in between breaths into the nitrous oxide mask, I hadn’t eaten since our spicy, oxytocin-inducing Thai take-out dinner the night before. I ordered half the menu — pancakes, eggs, sausage, hash browns, juice. I just wanted to drink up the smell of my new baby. I ate. I called my mom who had been out grocery shopping in Santa Rosa for the upcoming Christmas holiday when she got the call from Dan, reiterating what he’d already told her, what little I knew. We had the baby, it’s a girl, you have a granddaughter. No, she’s not OK. I don’t know what’s happening. Please come to San Francisco.

Two hours later, I was told I could go down to the ICN to finally lay eyes on Lily. But first, I had to pee, they said. I’m not sure what passing urine had to do with being allowed out of L&D, but if this was the ticket out of the place that housed the most terrifying experience of my life, to see my daughter, then I was going to pee as fast as possible. I stood up, finally feeling the impact of what my body had been through over the last 24 hours. I remembered hearing something about a first-degree tear during the afterbirth, and now I felt it. The physical pain of the aftermath of delivery was no match for my desire to see Lily. To finally touch her, to hold her. To get some answers. I sat down on the toilet and cried. The drill sergeant changed my mesh undies, folded up a clean submarine-sized pad soaked in witch hazel, tied up my gown, helped me into a wheelchair and pushed me down the hallway to the security-badge guarded doors to the ICN.

She was in Yellow-12, a unit with no windows, no natural light. It was dark and quiet in the central nurse station by the entrance — just the humming and beeping of machines. It was a foreign sound but in time, the beeping of machines would be the soundtrack to my days and later, my nightmares.

Molly, Lily and Dan

Baby Girl Laufer was printed on white paper, outside of Room 12. There was a little black and white cartoon lion under her name. She was in an Isolette, wearing a diaper and what looked like miles of wires and tubes. A little mesh cap covered the EEG nodes affixed to her head. I remembered thinking that her cap matched my undies. I don’t remember much about what I learned medically during that visit to her room; something about her breathing having stabilized and she was breathing on her own, but maybe had an infection. She was on antibiotics, and would likely remain in the ICN for 48 hours until the antibiotics ran their course and they monitored her more closely. I couldn’t imagine spending my two days in recovery without my baby in my arms and in my room. “Is she eating?” I remembered asking. She must be hungry, my baby must be so hungry. She had been on this Earth for no more than three hours. Has she even eaten yet? No one gave me an answer. Someone was taking a video of the moment I met my baby — maybe Dan, maybe our doula. Later I would watch that video and hear myself sobbing to her, telling her how hungry I was after she was born, “Mommy had pancakes, and eggs, I was so hungry,” I told her. “I wish I could feed you, you must be so hungry. I can’t wait to hold you.” That was the only thing I could think and say over and over again.

We had to leave, they said, to check into our recovery room. It was OK, they said. “When you come back, you can hold her.” That was all I heard, and it was enough to get me out of the ICN and into recovery. The room was lovely — spacious with a large window which we kept shaded the entire stay. There was no differentiation between the light of day and night during our hospital stay, just one long blur of nightmares. They had already moved the baby bassinet out of the room. Word quickly spread that until further notice, there was no baby in this room. Dan ate, I changed into a clean hospital gown, the nurse came through to check my vitals and give me some ibuprofen. I was still confused and scared, but mostly I was so excited — I didn’t know what was happening to Lily, but I was going to hold her now!

I got back in my wheelchair and Dan pushed me through what felt like a mile of corridors to get back to the ICN. There were large double doors leading into the yellow unit. He pushed the button to open the doors and as they creaked open, they revealed a crowd of doctors standing outside of Lily’s room. I turned back to look at Dan — his face expressed similar confusion at the sight of dozens of new doctors, some in suits and some in scrubs, standing outside of her room. My first thought was, “Well they better get out of our way so I can get into her room!” As we wheeled up, the group turned around, seeming just as surprised to see us. Someone whispered Those are the parents. I slumped over and emitted a sound that was a mix of a cry and a scream.

Molly and Lily

Everything went dark and blank in my mind. Things both slowed down and suddenly felt like they were moving 100 miles an hour all at the same time. I remember asking, “What’s going on?” as a doctor said something about needing to move quickly, to start the procedure. “The cooling works best if completed within six hours of birth. After that, the risk of brain damage goes up. We’ve been monitoring for seizures, and so far it looks good, but we want to do everything we can to mitigate further brain damage.” “Brain damage!” we exclaimed, in unison. I was here to hold my daughter, didn’t they know? “I’m sorry,” one of the neonatal neurologists in a crisp blouse and dress pants said. “You can go in and talk to her, but you can’t hold her. We have to move quickly.” I remember thinking I hated that neurologist. Later, once I could comprehend what was happening and what they were doing and why, I felt grateful for her expertise, and her command of the situation. But in the moment, I hated that she was the one who seemed to be standing in the way of holding Lily.

I slowly stood up from the wheelchair, the pain of delivery weighing heavy on my body but I needed to stand up to get as close to her as I could in the Isolette. I held her tiny finger and gave her the only thing I could in that moment — my voice. I don’t remember a thing I said, but according to my husband, I told Lily about her namesake, about who she was named for. Her great grandfather’s first wife, Lilian, who was killed in Auschwitz. Her late Safta Liora, her Hebrew name, meaning “my light.” Her great grandma Pringle, her grandma Lydia. Strong women — women who were fighters for themselves, their families, their communities, their heritage. Lily is a fighter, too, and she would get through this. I’ll never know if she heard me or knew my voice but I like to think it helped to bring her some comfort. Dan looked around the room, and one thing was clear — from the tears in the eyes of every doctor and nurse in there, they had certainly heard me. This baby was special, and she was going to fight like hell. They were ready to answer that call.

After that, we headed back to my room, unsure of what else we could do. The medical team was preparing Lily for Neonatal Therapeutic Hypothermia — a treatment where they would cool her body by 3 degrees celsius for 72 hours. She would rest atop a tiny refrigerated “water bed.” Babies prefer warmth, so they’d use a constant morphine drip to try to keep her comfortable. Most of her major organs and bodily functions would simply “hibernate” for the next few days. She would be given enough nutrients to stay healthy, via a glucose line in her belly. But perhaps the worst part for me was that she couldn’t be held and couldn’t nurse — two things that her chilled body couldn’t support but that my postpartum body and mind craved.

“No news was good news” was the name of the game, the team said. They were monitoring brain activity for seizures, but ideally, there wouldn’t be any new developments or reports in the next 72 hours. Nothing was being tested or tried — they were simply monitoring all major organs, and doing whatever they could to keep her comfortable. She even looked like a little hibernating bear — snoozing and occasionally waking up to blink and look around before going back to sleep. “Chilly Lily” she was quickly dubbed. The name stuck. Baby Girl Laufer, Chilly Lily, in Room Y-12.

That was around 2 or 3 p.m. As we exited the room, we ran into a doctor who had been previously cheerful during the past few hours. His mood turned more serious, professional, reserved. He said he’d get us a conference room, to meet with the head neonatologist and the social worker to talk about what happens next. I remember wheeling back to recovery and seeing a text message from someone at work, asking me to add them to the calendar invitation for a client call that afternoon. The word of my water breaking the day prior didn’t make it to Los Angeles. I ignored the text. I don’t remember much from the rest of that afternoon. It was like time was frozen and I was merely an observer of the events.

My doula stayed with me to get a hospital-grade breast pump set up. She taught me how to hand express colostrum and how to pump every 2–3 hours. This bulky machine on wheels would be my companion for the next eight days. I didn’t yet know how to change a diaper, or what my baby’s skin felt like, but I already knew the difference between speed and suction, how to wash breast shields and assemble a pump. It was a task I wasn’t ready to know how to do. For the next eight days, I would pump every 2–3 hours, sometimes drops, sometimes nothing, eventually ounces. I would proudly transfer a tiny mL of liquid gold into a syringe, and take it with me to my next trip to see Lily. She couldn’t digest colostrum or breastmilk yet, but I dabbed it into her mouth with a Q-Tip-like device to get her familiar to the taste and pass on any little antibodies I could. Those syringes were my trophies, the only tangible souvenirs I had from childbirth before I could hold my Lily, which didn’t happen until her fifth day of life.

Lily

We are lucky. Our story has a happy ending — 72 long, uncertain, painful hours later, Lily was slowly re-warmed. She passed her MRI with flying colors. The NP popped her head into our room on Christmas Eve night: “all clear” she said. All clear, no brain damage. The verdict we had been waiting five days to hear. The tension in the air deflated, like someone had popped a balloon. I think I let my breath out for the first time since she was born. We sobbed. Our good friends showed up with champagne. My sorority sisters had sent a decadent cake from my favorite bakery, the words “This Calls for Cake” inscribed in pink icing. Because you can’t fit “Congratulations on your baby, she is adorable and no matter what the outcome of the MRI is, you guys are going to be OK and we love you” onto a cake.

The Rabbi, who hadn’t yet checked her email to see the good news that we had sent out, was already en route to bless our sweet baby and offer her prayers for protection and health. She met the delivery guy in the lobby, and forgave our lack of kosher dinner selection as a large pepperoni pizza made its way to the ICN. The occasion really did call for cake. We left the hospital four days later, as a family of three, once Lily learned to eat and could demonstrate weight gain from feedings. Those four days were filled with their own set of unique challenges, small milestones/victories and disappointing setbacks. Ultimately, we feel so incredibly grateful for what we know is a very positive outcome and for what was a relatively short stint in the ICN.

My therapist, who I had seen since finding out I was pregnant with Lily after my second pregnancy loss, listened to my birth story that I shared in pain-staking detail, from my water breaking at 37 weeks, 2 days to our discharge from the ICN. As I told it, there were two sides to Lily’s birth: the 24 hours before 10:58 a.m. on December 20, and the harrowing eight days that followed. Ironically, Lily, whose Hebrew name Liora means “my light,” joined us the morning after the last night of Hanukkah. After eight nights of light, the following eight days were the darkest I’ve ever experienced. I was particularly hung up on all of the details of the story that I couldn’t remember and I felt frustrated that there were parts of those eight days that I could not account for at all.

There were so many holes in the hours that followed her delivery: in the conversations that were had between doctors and nurses, during my first two interactions with Lily by her bedside, in her first few nights in the ICN. When I was about four to five months postpartum, I would lie awake at night after feeding Lily, my perfect, healthy baby. I would replay the hours after her birth over and over in my mind. Angry that I couldn’t remember all the details. Mourning the loss of being able to hold my baby after I delivered her even as I held her in my arms in the present, feeling regret that the hours and days after her birth didn’t look like how I thought it would. Scared by how much worse her outcome could have been. I’d stay awake after a feeding Googling “birth asphyxia” and “hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy,” feeling mentally paralyzed by the statistics and typical prognoses I read. Terrified knowing we were so close to a very different outcome, yet relieved for her clear MRI and her clean bill of health. Grateful that she learned to breastfeed and we were discharged so quickly after the MRI. But I was so consumed by the anger that there were details that I lived and experienced but for the life of me, couldn’t remember what had happened.

The events that did stick with me were terrifying and painful — events that I wish I could forget but are seared into my mind forever: waking up the next morning in my hospital bed drenched in sweat from fluids and hormones, screaming and sobbing for Lily; feeling so empty without her there that I wished that I was in her place in intensive care. Wheeling to the ICN multiple times a day, holding my breath every time we rounded the corner and opened the doors to the yellow unit, fearing another occasion where the entire team was crowded outside of her room. The visit from the NP during that first night in the hospital. I was awake to pump when she came in, explaining that Lily needed a blood transfusion and would I sign the paperwork to agree. To this day, I have no idea why she needed the blood transfusion. It’s not for lack of being told, but I was in a mindset where I couldn’t possibly understand the explanation. Scrolling social media my first night in the hospital, during a middle-of-the-night pumping session, seeing birth announcement photos that someone had just posted on Facebook: happy, smiling families cuddled up on a hospital bed. Mom tired but glowing, a snuggly baby in a stylish muslin swaddle blanket in her arms, the proud Dad. Going through the motions of discharge, without Lily. The areas on the discharge form that related to the baby were X’d out. The car ride home, the carseat empty in the backseat. Not knowing when we’d bring her home, or under what circumstances. It was with my therapist’s help that I began to understand how my brain and body processed these events in the moment and what remained in my mind after the fact. At her encouragement, I wrote the story of these hours and days to address the parts of the birth that I had blacked out due to severe traumatic stress and to recount the parts that have stayed with me.

There were many, many joyful, funny, and empowering moments during labor and delivery before Lily joined us Earth-side that I don’t want to ever forget. Maybe one day I’ll put those on paper before time causes those memories to fade. And there have been even more joyful and sweet moments in the nine months since she has been a part of our family. This story was my attempt to acknowledge all of the details that I can’t remember due to the trauma of the events that unfolded. The ability to tell this part of my story, to hold space for the uncertain details after her birth, has been cathartic and relieving. By addressing the unknowns, I am prepared to continue to process the rest of her birth, to celebrate and relish the joyful parts, and one day, be able to tell her this story firsthand.

Birth Story of Breanna Rose Holmberg

Our beautiful baby daughter came into this world on Sept. 19, 2014, unable to breathe, swollen and full of fluid. We knew after being at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital for nine days that she was safer in the womb than out in the world, but we knew she had to be born and that she had about a 1 percent chance of survival.

Breanna

It was a normal Wednesday for me. I was 32 weeks pregnant and dropping off my 4-year-old daughter, Lily, at pre-k. I worked part time then, and I took Wednesdays “off” to do errands, house stuff and be with my girl all afternoon. For a few days prior, I had been feeling off. I felt extra tired, swollen and different than I had before with both Lily and with most of this second pregnancy.

I had just been to the doctor a few weeks prior, but my gut told me I should call the office and check in. I called, explained my symptoms and they found me an appointment that afternoon. I clearly remember walking into the waiting room because I saw a friend who was also pregnant and I told her that I didn’t feel good. We exchanged hellos and I went back into the office. When the nurse placed me in the room I asked her, “I would like to check the baby out so can I request the ultrasound machine?” She said the doctor had it ready and I felt good about that—we will check on her, the doctor will tell me to rest more and I will be done and go pick up Lily. Well, unfortunately that was not the case.

The doctor came in, asked me a few questions and got the ultrasound machine out. Literally within two seconds, I knew something was very, very wrong. The way my doctor looked at the screen and then looked at me. She told me to breathe and assured me that we would work through this together, and then she got the ultrasound tech. I think time stopped. My husband was at work because I thought this would be a quick appointment and it was scheduled within two hours, so I called him on my way in and told him I would call him on my way out.

Time had stopped, the ultrasound tech, doctor and nurse all were in the room with me pointing, talking in a language I felt I couldn’t understand and making very serious faces. The next words out of her mouth were something like, “We need to take you across the street to get a more in depth ultrasound since we are seeing things we are not supposed to see.”

Across the street from Sutter Maternity in Santa Cruz, California, is a satellite office of Lucille Packard. I wish I never knew this but I do. The doctor consoled me, walked me out of the room and asked if I needed a ride across the street. I said no, I can drive, and she said they knew I was coming and to please go now and call my family. All I could think was ummm … this was supposed to be a quick check of my baby, what is happening? An hour ultrasound at the office turned into a check-in that night in Palo Alto at Lucille Packard Children’s in the antepartum unit.

Lily, Jillian and Rob during their gender reveal for Breanna

What about Lily, what about work, what about my life?

The next three weeks of my life were a living hell and since then, life has never been the same. Non-immune hydrops, fluid in lungs and body cavities, antepartum, Mirror disease and more are not terms you ever want to look up on Google. Trust me. But I did. Sitting in the hospital at 32 weeks pregnant, away from my 4-year-old, praying this was a bad dream, you have time to look things up. Waiting. Praying. Asking why.

What do you mean you don’t know what’s causing the fluid? I am in one of the best hospitals in the world for the NICU and you are telling me you can’t fix this? Get in there and drain the fluid, make it go away. These are thoughts you have when seven doctors are staring at you (from med students to Chief of Surgery) every morning at 7 a.m. studying your “extremely rare case.” Every day for the nine days before she was born in the antepartum, I was hooked up to monitoring machines (almost 24 hours a day), had two ultrasounds a day, with doctors and nurses coming in and out. I prayed for a miracle.

Truthfully, they never told me she basically had no chance of survival but I knew in my gut and heart. Like I knew I should go to the doctor on Sept. 10, and check on my baby girl, I knew it was bad. The question now was when was she going to be born? Would I be here for the next two months until her due date and then have a vaginal birth only to not go home with my baby? Am I having a c-section scheduled? What is the plan? No one really knew. Breanna was literally one of the worst cases of hydrops the doctors at Stanford had ever seen. Non-Immune hydrops, by the way is a SYMPTOM not a CAUSE. WTH? You mean you don’t know WHY my baby has fluid all over her body and in her cavities? You mean you will never know why she has this condition and what caused it? Huh?

I learned that we don’t have all the answers, we don’t know how to fix things, we are human and imperfect and life is extremely precious. Before that normal Wednesday afternoon, nothing had shaken me to my absolute core. I had a pretty good, safe, “normal” life. The truth is, this experience did change me forever. And yes, I would never wish this on anyone and the grief is beyond anything you can imagine, but there are small changes that have made me a better person.

No, I don’t want my “angel in heaven” like people tell me I have. I want her here with me, with her dad and her sister. Since I can’t change the fact that she died, I try to take a sliver of good with me each time I think of her, which is every day of my life. Good like knowing that person in line at Safeway may have just lost their baby, or mom, or dad or friend. I wish everyone could have some kind of lesson in knowing that we are NOT “good” all the time. You know when someone says, “Hi, how are you?” and you answer “Good” just because? What if we met each other at reality:

“How are you?”

“Actually today is a great day.”

Or, “How are you?”

“Actually, I am really not doing well today.”

Lesson: We all have our “stuff” and yes, mine is heavy but so is yours. Don’t compare grief, but please meet people where they need to be met and not in some fake land like Facebook where everything looks perfect and pretty.

Breanna was born via emergency c-section on Sept. 19, 2014, in the evening. Even though I was at the hospital already, it was an emergency c-section as my vitals started to mirror her and things got very serious. Think of an episode of ER on the worst day in the emergency room. Probably 20 doctors and nurses in my room, bright lights, yelling, rushing, asking where my husband was.

Rob, Jillian and Breanna

As I had known in my heart that first day we saw the fluid, she was sick, very sick, but we got to hold her and be with her for four hours. She passed away in my arms with my husband, Rob, at my side. I smelled her, touched her fingers and toes, saw her hair, and held her tightly and told her how much she was loved. Life isn’t fair and my anger has lessened a bit. I believe in God, I believe in heaven, but I don’t believe my God wanted my baby in heaven. My God wanted my baby here on Earth with her mom and dad, her sister, and her friends and family to experience this precious life we all get to live. You are supposed to leave the hospital with a baby after giving birth.

We had a memorial service for Breanna about three months later, which really helped me continue my grieving. It was hard, but necessary. I needed to know she existed, she was real. I can’t say enough about the support my family and friends gave us during our long hospital stay, after her death and every day since. On her one-year anniversary, my family and friends came together at my church in Aptos and released balloons (probably 30). It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life as we each said something about her and how she has changed us.

The next morning, up the coast by Davenport at sunrise, my uncle and cousin were motoring up to go fishing. Out of the corner of their eyes they spotted a pink balloon floating on the water out in front of them. They slowed down and literally could not believe it as they were at the balloon release the day before. They took a picture and sent it to me. I cried for what seemed like hours. In this broken world that we live in, there is hope and there is reason to get up each morning. Whether it was a sign from Breanna, a sign from God or a random pink balloon floating in the middle of the ocean … it gives me hope.

A few lessons to pass on:

  1. Hug someone and look them truly in the eyes instead of just asking, “How are you?”
  2. Look at your children as miracles because they are.
  3. Don’t compare grief—just support your loved ones in it and through it no matter what it is.
  4. When you are in line at the grocery store, remember it’s not only you that is in pain or having a hard time, it’s everyone around you. Let’s be kind people.

Thank you for letting me share my story. It is so important to know that infant loss happens all the time and to support each other in it instead of keeping it silent because it’s so awful to talk about.

Written by Jillian Holmberg (mom to Lily and Breanna)

 

Birth Story of Calev Schwartz

Calev Schwartz was born still on Oct. 24, 2017. After a wonderful pregnancy experience, his death came as a horrific shock to his parents, Jeremy and Allison.

The couple hopes to help others who have suffered a loss by sharing their experience. They created Calev’s Kindness Foundation in honor of their son. This is their story.

The video above was originally published by CrossFit, Inc., and was produced by Torin Simpson.

Top photo from Calev’s Kindness Foundation

Birth Story of Mason Benjamin

Mason Benjamin was born still on May 12, 2002. My pregnancy had been near perfect. I never suffered from morning sickness, I was relatively comfortable right up until the end, and my energy levels were good throughout my 8 ½ months of pregnancy. It wasn’t until the day before he was born that we realized something was very wrong.

My husband and I tried to conceive for several years before finding success, and I had two first-trimester miscarriages before we got pregnant with Mason. We saw several doctors in hopes they could help with our fertility issues, but no one seemed to have an explanation as to why we were having such a hard time.

When we got the positive pregnancy test with Mason, we were cautiously optimistic. After experiencing two miscarriages, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. But once we crossed over into the second trimester, I began to feel a bit more secure in the pregnancy.

Late in the second trimester I began to feel Mason move. It was the most incredible feeling. He was a mover! Not a day went by in which I didn’t feel him moving around in there. So when I noticed a decrease in his activity at 39 weeks, I became concerned. I tried all the usual things to get him to move: drink something sugary, lie on my back, eat something. But still no movement. Though I was concerned, I remember thinking, “He’s fine. I’m being paranoid.” My past experiences seemed reason enough to worry. To be on the safe side, my husband and I decided to go in to the hospital.

The nurses took my vitals and the doctor came in with a doppler. Time seemed to stand still as he searched for a heartbeat in my belly. We heard nothing. He assured us that sometimes the baby is hiding, or in a weird position, etc., so not to worry, we’d do an ultrasound.

The ultrasound confirmed our worst fears: Our baby boy had passed away in the womb.

The flood of emotions that came over me is hard to describe. I was sad, angry and confused. Why had this happened? How could this happen? No one had a good explanation. There was no obvious cause for Mason’s death.

At 39 weeks, there was no option other than to deliver Mason. Knowing I’d have to experience labor and delivery and not have my baby afterward was almost more than I could take.

My birth plan was to deliver naturally. I didn’t want any pain meds, and I hoped to avoid a c-section if possible. But under these new circumstances, I hoped they’d offer one. In hindsight, I could’ve asked. It felt as though this was all just happening to me. I wasn’t myself and I couldn’t voice my wants and needs at this time. I couldn’t even tell my husband what I was thinking. Looking back, I think I must’ve been in shock.

I was induced that evening and labor began the following morning. The pain got very real, very quickly, and I screamed for an epidural. Nobody questioned me. I think the emotional pain I was going through was more than I could handle. The physical pain was just not tolerable.

I got the epidural and looked to my doctor for advice on when to push. When the time came, it only took a few pushes before Mason was here. His lifeless body came out gray and floppy. All I could do was cry hysterically. My heart ached so badly knowing I’d never hear his voice. I’d never feel that first latch, or watch him grow into a little boy. I was sad for my loss, but also for his. He was never given a chance to live this life. This innocent baby wasn’t given the life he deserved, the life my husband and I wanted to give him. 

They examined him briefly and to my own surprise, I still wanted to experience skin to skin with my baby. I didn’t think I’d even want to see him, but he was still my baby, and I am still his mother.

I’ll never forget the moments I had with him. He is in my heart forever.

What I went through with Mason is something I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from. It’s the kind of trauma that just doesn’t subside. But what I can say for sure is that my story is not entirely unique. When I confided in friends and family about what had happened, I learned about so many other women I know who had experienced pregnancy loss. It’s important to acknowledge and honor those women and their experiences that forever changed who they are and the paths of their lives. They are mothers without babies. That’s why I’m sharing my story in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

Giving Birth in Armenia vs. the U.S.: A Comparison

Not very many women can say they have given birth in the United States and in Armenia.

I delivered our first baby at a hospital in Northern Virginia. With full health insurance coverage and the best care available, delivery was thankfully seamless. I also had the added benefit of a father and brother who both practiced as obstetricians/gynecologists in the area, so finding the best providers was easy.

The doctors at the Virginia hospital were amazing and professional. I was very lucky. I was also fortunate to have some of the most attentive and generous nurses. Not only did they take care of my medical needs, but they also taught me how to take care of my newborn. As a first-time mom, I learned how to give my baby a bath, change his diaper, swaddle him, and nurse him. My father would joke with the nurses a lot, as he did for 40 years practicing and delivering babies himself. Our hospital room was a happy place.

Three years later, I was on track to deliver my second baby in Dubai, but part of me knew I was meant to give birth in Armenia. We moved to Armenia when I was in my third trimester. My husband dropped us off in our Yerevan apartment (owned by my parents) and returned to his work in Dubai after one week. For a while, I was living alone with my 2-year-old son, while very pregnant with my second. I took him to mankapartezevery morning and then brought him home, carrying him over my growing belly as he always fell asleep during the car ride home. That summer, the power went out almost every day, so I would carry him up five flights of stairs in the summer heat.

My husband knows some of Yerevan’s best doctors. His contacts helped us find a reliable one. I was going in for regular visits and getting the care I needed in Armenia. My doctor was incredibly professional and available whenever I needed her. I did have a few difficulties during the second pregnancy, but she was always reassuring me with a smile.

There’s a dramatic difference between being pregnant in Armenia and being pregnant in the United States. During my first trimester, I took a trip to Virginia to visit my parents. I was having complications in the beginning, struggling to walk or stand, and had been ordered to stay off my feet completely. I remember taking the Metro into Washington, D.C. The train was packed. I was also showing very early on, so it was clear I was pregnant. I started to pant and panic. For 30 minutes, not a single person noticed or offered their seat. No one. I felt invisible.

I spent most of my third trimester alone in Armenia. Every move I made, someone was willing to help. My son’s mankapartez is run by amazing women who offered to help in every way, even to this day. When I would walk the streets, the slightest sign of fatigue would set off alarms and suddenly I’d find myself surrounded by helping hands offering water, a chair, or even an invitation to their family home upstairs to rest on a couch and catch my breath. None of these are exaggerations. These were everyday encounters. Taxi drivers helped me out of the car. Sometimes they offered to buy diapers for me at the pharmacy so that I wouldn’t have to get up.

I’m known to be very honest about the realities in Armenia, so you should know that not EVERY single person in Armenia was this way. But I don’t even remember the unpleasant experiences, if they even were so bad. At the most, a young man maybe didn’t hold the door open for me going into a building and I probably rolled my eyes at him.

Up until the moment my son was born, I had few complaints. I was treated very well and got the best possible care. I ended up having a cesarean section for both pregnancies for the safety of the child, so the process wasn’t new to me. However this time, my husband was not allowed in the room during the operation, so I was alone with the doctors. My biggest fear was the anesthetics injection, but the anesthesiologist surprisingly turned out to be my favorite part of the experience. A man of humor and wit, he walked me through the whole process. To anyone who knows me well: crack a few good jokes and all my fears vanish. Through the operation, he was checking on me frequently and telling me that we were going to celebrate with a bottle of oghi and khorovats at his house while singing tash tush! I was laughing as they were cutting me open. At one point, I was so relaxed that I think even I dozed off.

Arsineh’s youngest in Armenia

Finally the baby was born. He was taken away immediately to be cleaned and measured. Once they were done with me, they took me to the other room where I was able to hold him for the first time. My husband was waiting there, and we finally came together as a family.

I wish I could say the entire process was a perfect one, but it seems Armenia is also not without its flaws. My eldest son Avo was not allowed to visit me at the hospital or meet his new baby brother at all. My parents visited a few times, but the hospital was very strict. My mother and husband took turns looking after me and Avo for the next three days. I just had surgery, so I wasn’t able to walk around immediately. This reality was lost on my nurses. My nurses … the ones who introduced rage into my first few days with my newborn son.

The first day he was born, I was fairly drugged out. But I couldn’t understand why they were not bringing my son to me more frequently. I figured he should be hungry more often. It wasn’t until the next day they told me they were feeding him formula so I could get rest. I was shocked at the blatant lies and disregard for my say in my newborn’s feeding process.

The second day I was transferred to a room with two beds. My husband was charged an extra fee to sleep in the second bed. Meanwhile, for every aching pain I had that I voiced concerns about (and there were many), I was scolded by Armenian nurses who kept saying, “This is what motherhood is all about, get used to it.”

I was having painful reactions to the operation. Shooting pains up and down my back threw me into fits, and instead of responding with stronger pain killers or proper tests, the nurses told me I was being weak and that I have to be strong now without complaining. I will save the subject of postpartum issues for another column, so let’s just focus on the fact that basic pain was not even treated with medication. I was told that because I’m nursing, I shouldn’t drug the baby. In the U.S., I was given percocet for the pain and was allowed a reasonable amount for a week. Here in Armenia, I was given the equivalent of panadol (Tylenol) for the first few days.

They assigned a pediatrician to check on the baby’s vitals. If I talk too much about her, I might get too riled up, so I’ll keep it short. Essentially, I had to complain to the hospital director with a voice loud enough to be heard on every floor because this pediatrician yelled at me for not cleaning the room the day after my son was born—I couldn’t even walk let alone clean a room.

Needless to say the postpartum care in Armenia was disappointing, and it doesn’t end there. So many problems arise when having a baby in Armenia. From stroller-friendly streets to diaper-changing stations, there’s much room for improvement to make a mom’s life just a little easier.

But at the end of the day, I have a gorgeous healthy boy, and the medical care I received was top notch. What a blessing to deliver my son on our own soil. Perhaps with the coming changes, we’ll see improvements in all aspects of healthcare one day.

Originally published in The Armenian Weekly and shared with permission from the writer, Arsineh Valladian

Top photo by Nevit Dilmen

Birth Story of Timothy Brendan Scahill

When I met my husband Joe, he was divorced and 12 years my senior with two children as part of his package deal. We were married in 1979 and moved halfway across the country to settle into family life in Omaha, Nebraska. Since he had primary custody, the kids were with us during the school year and part of the summer, as well.

Having children was a serious decision for us. Being a product of an older father himself, Joe didn’t want to be the oldest parent going to PTA. If we were to have children, we decided it would have to be within the first five years of our marriage. We decided to increase the family and became pregnant in 1981. When we told Andrew and Melinda, then ages 6 and 12, about our pregnancy, they were both delighted. Melinda was especially excited being at an age when she was getting too old for dolls. This meant she would have a real live doll to play with. To Andrew, the new baby meant that he would no longer be the little kid in the family. He was going to be the “big brother.” Up until this time, both children had called me by my first name. It was during our time of pregnancy that Andrew decided it was time to start calling me, “Mommy.”

We had determined by use of a pregnancy test that I was pregnant. But one morning when I got up, I discovered that I had quite a bit of vaginal bleeding. I dressed and went to work with the assurance that Joe would talk to some of the ladies in the church office to get the name of an OB-GYN. I had planned to use our family-practice doctor during the pregnancy but this seemed like something we should trust to a specialist. The school secretary called me out of the class I was teaching and an anxious Joe told me via the telephone that we had an immediate appointment. The doctor to whom we had been referred was wonderful. He indicated that it was not necessarily a problem and went on to listen for a heartbeat. Even though it was very early in the pregnancy, we were able to hear a strong and regular heartbeat. It seemed that I was just producing more blood than was needed and this old blood was being expelled. This lasted through the first trimester then gradually disappeared.

As the pregnancy progressed our doctor began to be concerned about how quickly my girth was increasing. He feared I might be pregnant with twins and he hated multiple births. Our doctor was cautious when it came to doing ultrasounds but, in order to be forewarned should this be a multiple birth, he ordered an ultrasound. Apparently this baby liked being horizontal rather than vertical so the baby was showing early. In these days before ultrasound technology could accurately determine the gender of the baby, we speculated as to whether this would be a boy or a girl. There were three votes for a girl but Andrew held out for a little brother.

I was just 26 years old and healthy so we weren’t anticipating any problems with delivery. We signed up for Lamaze classes; Joe had been through Lamaze with his first two children. The classes were wonderful for me to prepare for the whole birth process. What I learned was so beneficial because it took the unknown out of labor and delivery. Though I was not opposed to the use of drugs, if needed, I preferred using the techniques I had learned without drug intervention.

I was fortunate to have only minimal experience with morning sickness. While my stomach did feel queasy in the first couple of months, I never felt the need to vomit. I loved being pregnant!  The feel of the baby’s movements inside me made me realize how special this experience was and helped me to feel close to the developing child. As a school librarian, I did a lot of reading to my students. This child heard a lot of stories in utero. As the baby grew, my students would watch in fascination as a foot or elbow pushed out on my belly while I sat reading to them. I remember feeling lots of movement while singing in the choir and ringing hand bells especially during the Christmas Eve service at church. This child was obviously moving to the music. It was also during this time that I took my first computer programming classes. How was I to know that my interest in instructional technology was transferring to this baby and that he would grow up to work with computers?

Marilyn

We had timed this pregnancy perfectly. I had just enough sick-days at school to be able to work until the due date and be done for the rest of the school year. The main downside of going until my due date was doing library inventory at 8 ½ months pregnant. Remember, these were the days before most school libraries were computerized. We were still using card and pocket technology in books with cards in a catalog drawer.

I worked until my due date and took the rest of the school year off. I enjoyed going out to lunch with friends and having time to finish up the nursery including completion of a rainbow baby quilt in pastel colors. Our doctor said that he would induce at two weeks overdue. Knowing that there would be an end to this stage was encouraging. Six days proceeded with no movement toward delivery but at last the time came when I woke up during the night with contractions.  Joe took the kids to a church member who also lived in our neighborhood and we headed to the hospital. I remember on the drive to the hospital we had to go through a cloverleaf-style traffic area. My contractions were becoming a bit intense as we headed into the first curve. Oh, my goodness, but it felt like a carnival Tilt-a-Wheel ride. We checked into the hospital in the early morning hours on May 19, exactly one week past our due date.

Joe, a minister at a local church, had a funeral scheduled that morning and was concerned about whether he would be able to make it to the funeral or needed to find a replacement. The nurse didn’t give him much hope explaining that first babies usually take a while.

Our labor and delivery was a classic, by-the-book process. We headed to the hospital around midnight. I was dilating steadily and the contractions continued to get steadily more intense but with breathing and concentration, it was manageable. In order to keep the process progressing, my water was broken manually and things started to move quickly. My tolerance for pain is very good but by the time I started to think I should have considered drugs, I was in active labor. I do remember that at some point close to delivery, I became nauseous and vomited. It did serve to take my mind off of the pain for a short time.

Timothy

Timothy Brendan Scahill came into the world at 5:23 a.m., in plenty of time for Joe to make it to the funeral. The widow was comforted by this cycle of life event …  the thought that Tim was assuming the place in this world that her husband had held.

Timothy arrived exactly one week overdue but healthy and very beautiful. Joe had taken some fast-developing Polaroid photos so that he could show off the new baby. He stopped by the school to show Melinda and Andrew pictures of their new brother and give them I’ve got a little brother pins. When they got to hold him after school Andrew marveled, “I can’t believe it … my little brother.”

Our foray into breastfeeding caused a bit of anxiety for me. It took a couple of days for my milk to come in but the nurses were very helpful and calming. By the time we left the hospital, Tim and I both had the general process under control. Once we got home, though, Tim started projectile spitting up toward the end of his feedings, especially during the night. It seemed that I was producing more milk than he needed. It took me a while to figure out how long to feed him.

My employer, the Omaha Public School District, was instituting a brand new program for staff members. As a new mother, I was one of the first women in the district to take Child Rearing Leave. This allowed me to take a year’s leave of absence without pay to stay home with my baby. Although I wouldn’t be guaranteed my same job for the next year, I would be guaranteed an equivalent position with no loss of salary or benefits. This was a wonderful option for me since I didn’t want to give up my career but I did want time for bonding. With two older children at home, this allowed me to have some alone time with the baby. As it turned out, I didn’t take the full school year. A school library position opened up mid-year in a single building just a few miles from our home; I had been driving over 20 one way and splitting my time between two schools prior to pregnancy.

I loved the time I had at home to bond with our happy, active Tim. However, I am grateful to have worked and put in the years that allowed me to retire in a timely fashion. I have time to enjoy retirement: traveling and working on projects with my husband, and taking time to be Grandma.

Written by Marilyn Scahill
Read the birth story of Allison Leigh Scahill, Marilyn’s daughter

Birth Story of Isla Eve Peyton—The Pregnancy

The story of Isla’s birth isn’t complete without touching on my pregnancy experience.

Health and fitness have been critical aspects of my adult life, and when I got pregnant with my daughter, I wanted to be as healthy as I could for myself and for her. For me, that meant nourishing food and daily workouts to meet my physical, emotional and mental needs.

I lived life the best way I knew how in an attempt to achieve optimal health for me and the tiny life that was growing inside of me.

At the time of filming this video, I was 35 weeks pregnant and an avid CrossFit athlete of more than four years. I was well aware of the stigma that often surrounds pregnant women who do CrossFit, but I never considered giving up my fitness regimen.

CrossFit and nutrition kept me feeling semi-normal in a time when my body was going through all kinds of turmoil and changes.

Every woman, body, birth and baby is different. This story was part of my journey.

Video by Ian Wittenber