Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Gabriel's Birth Story
Two and a half days earlier Ben and I were saying goodbye to our dog Gideon. I wanted to promise Gideon that I would bring his little brother Gabriel home soon, but I couldn't make a promise I couldn't keep, even to the dog. The truth was I had hopes and dreams and even faith in what the next few days held, but there was also a lot of uncertainty. Faith grows best where there is uncertainty.
We were surprised at six in the morning when we called to report for our scheduled labor induction that the hospital was ready for us. We had been warned that getting in could take all day, even though we were told to start calling in at six in the morning. I got up in time to make that first phone call but with no time to spare and we were told to come in. We each showered, had breakfast, and I straightened my hair. We loaded our bags into the car, which included a number of things we'd packed to preserve memories of Gabriel before he passed. I kissed Gideon good-bye, knowing my parents would be by soon to take him to their house for a few days, and we drove to the hospital. I was excited, but I sensed that Ben was very anxious. It wasn't the right time to reassure him out loud. He knew that my belief that Gabriel would be born alive was strong, and I knew that he was afraid of the hours and days to come. We drove in quiet understanding.
Per our request we were placed in a delivery room at the end of the hall, away from other new parents and their newborns. We were assigned a nurse, Taryn, who asked us if we'd been told everything. We looked at her curiously, not sure if she was talking about the plan for induction or. . . "Do you mean his condition," Ben asked. She said yes. "We've known since Week 21," I informed her.
"Have you thought about what you want to do after --" and her voice trailed off.
"Yes, we have!" I presented her with a copy of our birth plan, printed out on stationary with a baby print border, with a copy of our announcement letter about Gabriel's condition attached.
"Oh. You have a birth plan."
I seized the opportunity to break the ice. "I know what you must be thinking. 'I went to school for this for three years, but sure! Bring me your birth plan!" She smiled and finished whatever she was working on at the time and left the room for a few minutes. When she returned it was clear she had read and nearly memorized our birth plan. She started asking questions for clarification. In particular she asked about our desire to have Ben hold Gabriel first. The hospital's policy is to hand the newborn directly to the mother for skin-on-skin contact to facilitate bonding, but Ben and I had agreed that he would hold Gabriel first. Gabriel was due to be born on Ben's birthday, June 9th, and though we were starting labor on June 8th I thought he'd wait it out to be Dad's special birthday gift, and Ben should be first to hold him. Besides, I'd spent the last nine months in a close relationship with Gabriel, and nothing was going to interrupt our bond. We confirmed with the nurse our wishes and she was very accommodating. Nearly anything we asked for, we were granted. Before leaving the room this time she told me that our letter to our family almost made her cry. Then I knew we had an ally in Taryn, who played a vital role in bringing Gabriel into the world.
The first day, Wednesday the 8th, was uneventful. I took a medication called Cytotec to help start labor, but after 12 hours of that I was still only at 2 cms. I was told to eat and take a shower and at midnight we started on Pitocin. I slept intermittently that night, waking up to allow the nurse to take my temperature and check Gabriel's heartbeat, which stayed strong at between 120 or 130 beats per minute through the entire labor. His heartbeat has always been strong.
In the morning we saw Taryn again, who examined me and reported that I was only at 2.5 cms. She was in and out throughout the day, as were a few visitors including Ben's dad Charlie and stepmom Tina, my mom, our doula Marivette, and a few of my aunts. The contractions slowly got stronger but not unbearable. I knew this was just the beginning. Later into the evening I began to struggle to talk through the pain but I continued to make light of it. The pain got stronger and stronger very quickly. After more than a day of slow labor things started to speed up. Pain started to crash into me and I wondered if my mom and Marivette were right, that a slow start would probably mean a quick middle and end. It became impossible to talk through contractions and I started drawing on our training from childbirth class, mimicking the hippies in the video we had watched. The hippies were on to something, because for a few hours the cleansing breaths and moaning worked. I drifted into sleep between contractions, which were about two minutes apart. I got up to use the restroom, dragging my IV bags with me, and realized I was shaking. My mom pointed out that my skin was pale and yellow. Marivette said transition was near and I felt relieved until Taryn came in to examine me and told me I was at three and a half. "No. No, no, no," I whined and shook my head. I was starting to crack, and what frightened me most was that in all of our training we had been told that the breakdown would come, but would come in the later stages. I still had seven centimeters to go and I was losing it. My mom and Marivette excused themselves to allow me to cry with Ben and I did. I sobbed loud and hard. My mom returned and I sobbed louder and harder. She waved Gabriel's stuffed giraffe at me and even put one of his caps on it, trying to remind me about why I was doing all of this but it was of no comfort. "It's not fair," I cried. "It's not fair that my son has a defect and I am going to lose him and I also have to go through all of this pain. It's not fair and I can't do it and I don't want to."
"You CAN do it. We all say this." I knew it was true, but I also was threatened by the fact that it was happening so early. My emotions were overwhelming me, making each contraction both painful and stressful. Relaxing like the hippies was out of the question. I wanted pain medication. My mom called Taryn in and she gave me a mild pain reliever, which would make me drowsy and last about an hour. I was asleep right away and slowly woke up an hour later to a seemingly milder contraction.
It was time for Taryn to switch shifts, and she came in with our new nurse. Joel. Panic swept my face and the room was silent until Taryn said "Is that okay?" Poor Joel. I wanted nothing to do with him. I'm sure he's a nice guy, qualified and educated. I was also sure I'd lose my mind if I had to endure 12 hour with him as my nurse, that I'd never progress and that I'd certainly never relax. Joel was traded out for Cassie, another vital participant in Gabriel's birth. I asked Cassie for two more doses of the pain medication I'd already received. Upon waking up from the second I saw Ben in front of me sleeping upright in a chair. Behind me my mom and Marivette were also sleeping sitting up. They'd been with me for hours and probably would be for hours more, so I grit my teeth through a few contractions, now stronger and quicker, until Ben woke up.
"I want the epidural," I whispered. He nodded. I looked back at my mom who had woken up and was wondering what we were talking about. As soon as I told her, she left the room and came back with Cassie, who said "You asked about an epidural?" The words woke Marivette quickly, whose job was to remind me even through the pain that I wanted to do this unmedicated, a labor of love for Gabriel. I asked a few questions about how long it would take and how it might help my labor and she left me to make my decision. Marivette came to the bedside and made the necessary reminders. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Ben looking at me with eyes that said he hoped I wouldn't be talked out of this. I must have looked so pathetic in that moment as I weighed what was really best for Gabriel. If I was in this much pain, I couldn't believe that Gabriel wasn't feeling some of that stress. I had to wonder how much of my strain he could take. I started to have flashbacks to my miscarriage a year ago and remembered how only sadness came from that physical pain, whereas this pain was bringing me face to face with Gabriel. And I was sure Gabriel would be born alive. But I was also sure I didn't want to take much more pain.
After the epidural at three in the morning I slept for nearly six hours. I woke here and there to Cassie's simple proddings. She didn't make me stick the thermometer under my toungue to take my temperature, but gently placed it under my arm. She softly lifted the bedsheets and placed the Doppler on my tummy to check for Gabriel's heartbeat. It was easy to find nearly every time, and I could hear that there was little change. My baby was staying strong, like I always knew he would.
In the morning when Taryn returned I didn't flinch when she told me I had still hardly progressed. Gabriel had missed Ben's birthday, the 9th, but he was on his way today and I knew it. Taryn joked that I had to have him by the end of her shift, because she was off the next day. At about noon my parents told me they were going out for lunch, and I insisted Ben go with them. It would be an eventful afternoon and he needed a break. While he was gone the doctor came in to examine me. I was now at about 6.5 cms, and she wanted to break my water. I had objected loudly to the request the day before, knowing how important the bag of waters is for the anencephalic baby, but that morning it felt right and I allowed it. Gabriel, who was already in ready position, moved quickly into place. After a few practice pushes with Taryn she said "I'm going to go get the doctor." The room was abuzz with activity as more nurses moved in and Taryn dragged in a warmer. Taryn again asked about our requests and the other nurses asked questions too. Were we sure we wanted Ben to hold him first? Were they to understand that they should cover his defect before they passed him to us? We barely had time to answer. Gabriel was on his way.
Pushing went quickly. I remember Ben putting washcloths on the bed railings. Marivette took her place on my left hand side, my mom next to her taking pictures. Ben stood on my right hand side, next to the warmer for Gabriel. They all spoke words of encouragement and I was moved by the chance to bring this special life into the world with my mom and Ben by my side. After two and a half days in the hospital, Gabriel arrived after less than half an hour of pushing.
He was silent, but that's not unusual in the anencephalic baby. I looked at Ben and he looked at me nervously. I could see the activity behind me, I could hear the nurses working on him. I could hear the doctor giving me orders to help me finish laboring, and I finally got up the nerve to ask. "Is he alive?"
I cried. I ordered Ben out of my way so I could see him, not caring if they'd put the cap in place or not. I could see that he was beautiful. His body was long and with a beautiful tone. He was here, and he was alive, and I couldn't believe I'd had even a moment's doubt. They passed him to Ben and he just held him and looked at him with curiosity and wonder. That's when I heard Gabriel cry.
"Was that him," I asked Ben, and he responded "Yes." And I thanked God for answering not one, but two of my prayers already. My husband was standing at my side, holding our son, and he was breathing, he was crying, and his heart was beating strong. He was alive. At 3:19 on Friday, June 10, 2011, the world stood still for me in a moment in time that changed my life forever. Gabriel was here.
So many stories of anencephalic babies report the death of the baby at this point or not long after. I dare not say their stories end, because their story goes on forever. However four, nearly four and a half days later, Gabriel is still alive. He is napping at my side as I type and take breaks to stroke his arms or back. The story of his life on earth has many chapters, beginning last September and still being written today. I close this chapter with promises to write more as the story unfolds.