My daughter died. That’s a strange way to begin a birth story, but it is the beginning of mine.
My 8 ½ year old baby left on June 11, 2006. It was very unexpected and soul-searingly painful. The day she died I had 3 weeks or so left until we expected the baby to arrive. Sitting in that hospital room with all the tears, I got dehydrated. Who knew a single person could give so many tears? I was unable to eat or drink. People kept offering me food and water. I think I managed to eat two bites of banana and a sip of black coffee. I started having contractions while they were doing their stupid tests so they “knew” she was dead. Hmmm. I knew from the precise moment I touched her hand that morning. Her spirit had already left.
I wasn’t allowed to touch her during these ridiculous tests, which stressed me out even more, if that is possible. I started having pretty intense contractions- ones where I could watch the shape of my belly change. I was terrified. NO WAY could I have a baby that day.
My sister was there and she spoke to a nurse for me about whether we should do something or not. I decided I wanted IV fluids. I couldn’t hold my oldest baby anyway, and I needed to take care of the one in my belly. My sister walked ahead of me as my dad pushed me in a wheelchair on the way to the OB floor. The nurses were all very respectful. The one that gave me the IV said over and over how sorry she was and how she wished there was something she could do to change things for me. They pushed a big bag of water into my veins and never bothered me for a moment about how and where I would have my baby. I laid on the bed and talked to my dad and sister about memories I have about Marissa. My husband arrived (he had been at home, I think. I don’t remember why. Many things around that day are a blur) and stood at the end of the bed. He said he never EVER expected to see me where I was- on the OB floor in the hospital.
My husband wheeled me back after the fluid was done and the nurse unhooked me. I was unable to walk very well because I hurt my pregnant self running at full speed to get to my daughter that morning. I’m glad I got that fluid. The contractions stopped. If they hadn’t, I would have been signing up for a c-section. And please put me completely out while you’re at it, thanks very much.
My husband and I held our daughter after the doctor removed the ventilator. I had spent hours holding her before this, but it was just not enough. It couldn’t have ever possibly been enough. Marissa did not try to breathe, she simply let go and died. I sang to her and my husband talked to her. We looked out the window as her heart beat for the last time and saw a beautiful lavender sky- the exact color of the dress we brought from home and laid her to rest in.
When I think about the first few weeks following Marissa’s death, I don’t know how I survived. Literally. I’m very serious about that. The pain……..oh…..it is unfathomable. I was unable to function. Unable to eat or drink or think or even breathe. I laid in her bed or on the couch. I laid in the grass outside while people walked by my house, holding her stuffed lion. I didn’t care what people thought of me. I didn’t care about anything. Other people took care of my living children. Thank goodness for all of our wonderful family and friends.
Every morning when I woke up for those weeks I would beg the baby not to come. I would tense up………………terrified. One morning I woke up suddenly and was convinced my baby had died. I jumped out of bed and started poking and shaking my belly, begging my baby to please be OK. After several minutes, the baby got tired of being poked and prodded and began pushing on an extremely painful nerve, which he decided to sit on for the remainder of the day. A reminder of his presence, I guess.
My husband (Craig) and I argued about how this baby would be born. I was scared. He was scared. We struggled together and apart. The opinions I got from the outside looking in were interesting. Some were very helpful. Coming to MDC helped me feel more at peace with how natural and safe birth usually is. Before this baby, we had been through 1 managed hospital birth, 2 midwife assisted homebirths, and 2 unnassisted pregnancies and births together. So we did have the experience and knowledge and intuition to know what the right choice for us was, there was just SO much fear and intense grief over it all that we had to dig through that to figure it out.
I spent a lot of time trying to prepare for birth after those few weeks. The baby was due at any moment and I knew there was no time to waste. Some wonderful MDC mama’s gave me ideas about herbs and flower essences. I took their advice and was constantly dropping these things into my water. It did help. I was able to focus a bit.
On July 16th, I woke up early with my first regular contractions. It was 4:30 am. I got up right away because lying down was too painful. Our 17 month old got up when she heard me (she sleeps with us). So I made her some cereal and snuggled her a bit. I really felt like I didn’t want to do much for anyone else, though, so I decided to wake my husband up. When I did, he grumbled and complained about how he hadn’t slept well. I tried to let it roll off my back, but I was very sensitive (I am sensitive in labor anyway, and obviously even more so this time). He got up and my contractions spaced way out.
Craig took the kids downstairs when the rest of them got up. I think they watched TV. I built a mountain out of blankets so I could lean on them and sleep a bit, but I wasn’t able to get much rest. Just as I would doze off, a contraction would come.
The house got crazy after a while. A friend who lives several states away stopped by out of the blue. I only had one contraction while he was here and his visit lasted an hour and a half. After he left, the kids were running around fighting and yelling. I decided I wanted everyone to go away, so Craig took them all on an errand. While they were gone I did some dishes and talked to the baby and to Marissa. Being alone didn’t really seem to help things along, either. I was feeling a bit frustrated at this point because it had been several hours and labor had still not become regular again.
At dinner I was not hungry. I pushed my food around on my plate and left the table to go sit on my birth ball in the living room. When dinner was over, Craig came to sit with me. I don’t remember what we talked about, but it was nice. He told me I was beautiful.
My contractions picked up around 7:45 pm. Craig called our two friends who were watching the children for us. Before they arrived I took my clothes off and sat on the living room floor. I covered up with a blanket as they walked through, very quietly, as though they were passing through a sacred space. I found out later one of our friends had made a point of noticing the color of the sky and it was lavender.
This was an easy labor. There was very little if any pain. It was more like pulling and stretching than anything else. I had to breathe and focus, but it was okay. We lit candles and asked Marissa to be with us. I wore a bracelet the hospital had given me the day she died. The nurses that day had made bracelets for everyone in our family that spelled MARISSA. At one point I was confused about how to move in order to best deal with the contractions. I immediately received an image of angel wings pulling me up. The next contraction was on the way back from the bathroom and I decided to stay standing, which I have never done before- it worked wonderfully.
At 9:00pm I decided to check my cervix. I was fully dilated and very excited. I thought it was just about over and was thrilled with how easy it had been. A few minutes later I changed my tune. I was hit with THE most excruciating, horrifically painful contractions I have ever felt. In fact, it was the worst physical pain I have ever felt in any situation in my entire life. I tried pushing a little and that made it worse. I tried getting in the birth pool and that did nothing. I ordered Craig around, telling him to get me water, get me juice, push on my back, hold my hips, just please please make it better. He couldn’t make it better. I screamed at the top of my voice. I shook. I cried. I wailed and threw myself around. My 7 year old later told me I sounded like an elephant from the basement.
Despite the pain, I knew there was nothing wrong. There was no thought to call a midwife, or go to the hospital on my part or on Craig’s part. I eventually got so exhausted that I slept between the contractions. I rested my head on the edge of the pool and fell asleep. Craig didn’t realize I slept. He was so good at following my cues. At this point he just sat quietly and let me do what I needed to do.
Craig came to the edge of the pool and started talking to the baby. He said “It’s OK Baby. Daddy loves you. Mommy loves you. It’s safe.” There was one final contraction. I rose up on my knees in the pool and screamed and my water broke and the pain stopped. Stopped. I sat down on the bottom of the pool and went deep within myself. Craig asked me if I was OK and I said very quietly “Shhhhhhh…..I’m fine.” I started to feel the baby moving down. There were no contractions, just a baby moving down. He started to crown and I leaned onto my left hip. It was a bit uncomfortable, but not bad. There was no burning. I didn’t push until the head was out and the shoulders were moving through. I’m sure I didn’t need to, I had just been obsessing about shoulder distocia the last half of my pregnancy for some reason. I gave a birthing roar at that point, which was the only sound I made in this phase of birth. I pulled my baby up out of the water and this was the first time Craig noticed that the baby was actually coming out. He announced it was a boy and I held him to my chest. His lips were quite purple and he was not yet breathing. I was thinking I should hold him upside down on my arm, but I couldn’t because I was in such deep water and the cord was a bit short and wrapped around his body, but he coughed and cried on his own. It was 11:41 when he was born.
The baby started nursing right away. After only a few minutes, I felt the placenta detach and decided I would push it out in the water. I got on my knees with baby in one arm and caught the placenta under the water with my free hand. I had never held one of my placentas before. It was wonderful. All warm and gooey and life-giving. Craig brought me a pie pan and I placed it in it. The placenta was so big that it hung over the edges. It looked healthy and whole. I took angelica because I had some membranes hanging out and shepherd’s purse because I hemorrhaged after my last birth and definitely wanted to avoid that.
We couldn’t quite figure out how to get me and baby out of the water with just the two of us, so Craig got our friends from downstairs, who came up to help. I started shaking as women sometimes do after birthing and was very glad for the extra assistance in getting on the couch! Someone made a little nest for me there and I sat with my perfect new baby boy. Craig cleaned up and dumped the pool outside. Max nursed until 3:00 am and then fell asleep. I took him to bed with me and we both slept until 8:00 am.
This was an amazing birth. I am sure there is something about the timing of this baby and my oldest daughter’s death. I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of the universe, but I do know that this labor was healing for me. In most other countries, when a child dies, the mother is seen lying in the street screaming and wailing. In America, we are expected to sit quietly and find a socially acceptable way to grieve. I got to scream and cry and shake and moan. I needed to do that.
We were not quite sure when he was due, but we are certain now that he was about 2 weeks late. I’m thankful I didn’t know that. I’ve never had a late baby before and I would have been scared because of all the stress I was under. He came when he was ready and when we were ready. He was 10lbs 1oz when he was born. That is according to the fish scale, anyway. I suspect he may have been just a bit heavier, but it doesn’t really matter. We named him Maximilian Giovanni. He looked so much like Max we just couldn’t get around it, and Giovanni is the masculine version of Marissa’s middle name (Giovanna).
At 3 ½ months now, Max stares at the shelf Marissa’s picture and urn sit on. I think he knows her. That is a wonderful thing and I hope he never forgets. I certainly never will.