Monday, August 20, 2012

Lynne's Birth Story - Jessica's Birth!

This is a very, very special blog post, written by my mom, about my birth and her breastfeeding experience with me. I'm struck both by how many similarities there are to giving birth 30+ years later, and also by what was different. Much of this should seem familiar to those of us who have had hospital births. There was far less breastfeeding support back then, but many of the challenges my mom faced are the same challenges faced by working women today. There wasn't much on the books at the time for breastfeeding mothers in the Navy, but my mother made her own rules! I hope you can see where I get some of my passion from in reading my mother's story.

I really don’t remember why I decided that my baby would be born naturally and I would breastfeed. I’m the type of person who, when confronted with a new situation, will spend hours researching and reading, so it is possible that when I found out I was pregnant nearly thirty-two years ago, I rushed out and purchased as many books (no Internet) as I could find on childbirth and breastfeeding. I was greatly influenced by a book called The Immaculate Deception, by Suzanne Arms, published in 1975, which described the horrors of modern childbirth. I still have a copy of the book.  [Ed. note: This book is now out of print, but apparently the author wrote a second one: Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic and Birth, in 1994.]

Natural birth was becoming the “rage” in the early '80s, with hospitals opening up “Alternate Birth Centers” called “ABC rooms,” so I’m sure I was influenced by this trend, but there could have been other women in my life at the time who influenced me. As I said, I don’t remember. I do know that I wanted the very best for my baby, that she (I didn’t know it was a girl until she was born – no regularly-scheduled ultrasounds then) would have every benefit I could give her as she came into this mean, cruel world. I wanted her to be perfect.

I was (and I guess still am, but with less energy) a perfectionist and was not afraid of challenge or hardship, as I tended to push myself over the limit in everything I did. I was also extremely stubborn and tended to believe that if I wanted something, I would get it, so being an officer in the U.S. Navy at the time did not seem an obstacle to fulfilling my goals for my baby.

My pregnancy wasn’t anything interesting except for my high blood pressure, which the doctors passed off as nothing since it didn’t get any higher from my first prenatal visit. I gained more weight than I should have and I tended to eat a lot of chocolate but I exercised and did yoga. I expressed my desire for a natural birth and wrote up a “birth plan” to present to the attending doctor when the time came.

I worked passed my due date without a problem. That weekend, we went to a Triple A baseball game and fireworks at the stadium (the major leagues were on strike that summer). My water broke in the middle of the night and we called the hospital. They said to come right in. I knew that was a mistake; that I needed to stay home as long as I could and walk, walk, walk but I was also scared that something could happen with my water breaking so we trudged to the hospital in the middle of the night. I was only one centimeter dilated. They said that they preferred that I stay, because my blood pressure was high (no kidding), and I had signs of preeclampsia and a chance of infection, and we were too many miles away from home to turn around. I was admitted to a ward but I didn't want to just lie there, so my husband and I walked around the hospital campus for a while. I was hurting and scared and knew that I was starting out on the wrong foot, but I presented my birth plan to the resident. The poor guy; it was early in his rotation to OB, and he wanted to do well but was inexperienced, which is probably why he agreed to my birth plan. It included no drugs and no IVs or monitors so I could move around. I was hooked up to the monitors once an hour but was free to walk around the rest of the time. Ideally, when the contractions started and I was well on my way, I would gather my strength and all that I had learned from the myriads of reading materials and move around. Alas, I didn’t. I lay there for hours on my back, enduring the pain, which I could not believe was so bad, ignoring the breathing techniques we learned in our Bradley classes, but still determined to avoid drugs. I did not have an IV and did not drink anything, so I became dehydrated and the baby also. The doctor would come in periodically and check on me. He felt sorry for me and would induce a semi-trance to help me, which wasn’t helping since it reinforced me lying still for so long. My husband came and went, bored and scared.

The doctor did talk to me about a cesarean as my labor wasn’t progressing as quickly as it should have, but I declined. After twenty-six hours, on Monday morning, I was finally ready to push. I was transferred from the labor room to the delivery room. My husband was prepared with his camera but he had forgotten to put film in (no digitals then) so we don’t have a record of the birth. I pushed and pushed but the baby wasn’t coming out so the doctor took up his scissors (or whatever they were) and did the longest and deepest episiotomy on record (at least it seemed that way to my husband who nearly fainted, equating the sound to tearing a chicken wing in half) without asking. I had also been doing exercises to avoid an episiotomy but I guess they didn’t help. The baby slid right out amid a lot of blood and it was announced that it was a girl. I asked to have her on my chest and see if she would latch on but since her Apgar scores were too low, they let me have her for less than a minute and rushed her off to the neo-natal ICU. Not part of the plan but I was exhausted at that point.

I went to recovery and had to pee 1,000 cc’s before I could go to the ward. I requested that I be discharged as soon as possible, that I didn’t want to stay in the hospital. I had it in my mind to take the baby home right away, as I wasn’t sick and therefore did not need to be in the hospital. When the pediatricians visited, I told them I was going home and taking the baby with me. They said I could go home but the baby was in the NICU and wasn’t going anywhere. They had come to consult with me about her condition. She was extremely dehydrated and had “thick blood”. Her white cell count was elevated, suggesting an infection. They needed to take out half her blood and replace it with plasma because it was too thick to travel her veins and she was headed towards major brain damage if nothing was done, all because I wanted a natural birth, but I was stunned from the pain and the contractions into a trance and my doctor was too ignorant to compensate for the lack of modern intrusions like the IV for hydration.

I went home eleven hours after giving birth; the baby didn’t. I visited daily, tried to pump and tried to breastfeed her when they would let me, but they convinced me to start her on formula so she didn’t lose any weight so I agreed. She developed jaundice and spent five days in the NICU altogether before she was released. Luckily, she recovered completely.

I was still determined to breastfeed and started immediately. No one told me that babies can’t switch from formula to breast milk smoothly. She was up the entire night crying and pooping, crying and pooping. I knew nothing about the proper latch so every time she latched, I’d literally cry out for the pain. We finally settled into a routine and I tried to pump in between feedings (huh, she wanted to nurse all the time) in preparation for going back to work. I had six weeks off and decided to stay home full time for four of those weeks and return part time for four weeks, which was approved by my command.

I needed to pump and store the milk at work. I marched into my commander’s office and announced that I needed a private office so I could pump. It never occurred to me that he’d disagree; I was that sure of myself. He never said a word and I pumped until the baby was four months old and then had to start “supplementing” with formula as I couldn’t keep up with her demand. She nursed at night until nine and a half months and then stopped altogether, probably because I didn’t have enough milk.

In a way, that inexperienced doctor with a heart of gold did me a favor by not performing a cesarean, as there were no such things as VBACs then and I would have probably not breastfed (although I don’t really know), but there was also the real possibility of damage to my little girl because of my shock when labor actually came.

I learned a lot with her and knew a lot more when my son came along three years later. But, of course, my daughter is perfect!

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