Since today is my due date (and also my own birthday), I wanted to take a minute to share Noah’s full birth story. I wrote it in my journal on November 10 (he was born Nov. 7) and have had it next to my computer to be typed up ever since that date. Finally, this weekend I typed it up. I have mentioned that I feel the need to “close out” my pregnancy with him—almost like I’ve continued to be a “little bit pregnant” and it is time to close that “pregnancy” and to move on. Not to forget or to stop talking about it, but to acknowledge that NOW I “shouldn’t” be pregnant anymore. I felt almost driven this weekend to finally finish typing the story so that I could publish it on this day. Of course, I expected to have a different sort of birth story to share on this day (or somewhere around now), but this is what our story actually is (very long—I broke it into three chunks to make it a little easier to skim through if necessary):
On Wednesday evening, November 4, at 14 weeks 2 days pregnant with my third baby, I had an appointment with a prospective midwife. I have not written much about this experience, because I did not want her to come across it online and feel badly. The short version is that the visit was like a “fear bath”—it was pretty intense the level of fear and “what ifs” she kept throwing out there, as well as personal insecurities. Also, she used the phrase, “you’re going to have a dead baby” at least five times during the conversation (said in reference to comments people make TO her regarding attending homebirths, however, the words made me want to curl protectively around MY baby and reassure him. And, given the way the rest of our story unfolded, in hindsight her words felt prophetic—or, like she cursed me!). When I left the fear bath, I had a headache. I woke the next morning feeling like my uterus hurt. I also became aware of contraction-like sensations coming every three minutes but only lasting about five seconds each. I lay down and rested until time for playgroup. By playgroup I was down to just uterus aching/hurting feelings, plus a low back ache. I talked to my friends Summer and Trisha about it and Summer reassured me and rubbed my belly, “your baby is strong and healthy.”
Thursday evening (November 5), I started to feel concerned. The contraction-like feeling was back. At 3:00 a.m. (my nightly wake-up time throughout the pregnancy to date) I got up to sit on the couch. I tried to be positive and think about a “bubble of peace” surrounding us and I also repeated to myself, “you are strong and healthy, your baby is strong and healthy.” I felt like I felt the baby move a little then and felt a little reassured. I had decided earlier that perhaps I had a UTI and that was what was causing the crampy feelings to come and go (urinary frequency also). I ended up throwing up later in the morning and was reassured by presence of morning sickness still. Between 3-5:00 a.m., I started to spot a little, but only when wiping. After seeing this, I began to feel extremely worried and scared. Spotting continued lightly in morning and I called a semi-local midwife to see if I could come and try to listen for a heartbeat. She was on her way to Montana however, so I made an appointment with t he nurse-practitioner at my doctor’s office for 2:45 that afternoon. I called my mom and my friend and rested in bed, waiting and worrying and repeating my healthy baby mantras.
I went ahead and packed for my class, then took the kids to Summer’s house and went to the doctor’s office, crossing my fingers that the diagnosis would be a UTI—I strongly felt it was going to be either-or, but it turned out to be both 😦 The NP said my urine looked infected and I felt my hope restored a bit. I truly thought the baby was going to be okay. She sent us downstairs for an ultrasound at 3:30. Though I tried to be hopeful, it was clear from the ultrasound tech’s non-communication that it was bad news. She didn’t show us the screen and I wish now that I would have asked to see it. I stared at the light in the ceiling and held onto my goddess of Willendorf necklace and to Mark’s hand. She clicked around with kind of a frown on her face and then finished and stood up. I said, “not good news?” and she said, “no, not good news,” put a box of tissues down said, “take as long as you need” and left. I told Mark that I couldn’t “do this” here and so we went back up to the NP and she confirmed (obliquely) that baby was dead. She said the tech said it was probably a fairly recent loss and that it was low in my uterus and my cervix was starting to dilate, so I would probably “pass it” this weekend. I felt like she expected me to be crying and I told her that I needed to “process” at home, not here. I called the college to cancel my class and that is when I started crying—I had to say the words, “I just found out I’m having a miscarriage.”
We went to Wal-Mart to pick up antibiotics for the UTI and I cried in the car while Mark went in. Then, to the post office to mail an ebay package. Again, I stayed in the car crying and wailing almost in my anguish, “MY BABY!” We got the kids from Summer’s and I cried in her arms briefly.
Mom brought over dinner in sympathy/empathy. I was still feeling some crampiness/uterus ache and that eased after dinner. I sat and read my miscarriage books—I had four on my shelf already, one from my time at RMHC and the others from my childbirth educator training. I talked with Mark for a while. I kept saying that I didn’t feel ready to let go and also that I didn’t know HOW to do this—should I walk around and try to get “labor” going or what? Decided to go to bed…
I woke at 1:00 a.m. (November 7) with contractions. I got up to use the bathroom and then walked around in the kitchen briefly, talking to the baby and telling him it was time for us to let go of each other—“I need to let go of you and you need to let go of me.” I looked at the clock and said to go ahead and come out at 3:00—“let’s get this done by 3:00.” I had woken every night at 3:00 a.m. throughout my pregnancy for no discernible reason and had said several times previously, “I’ll bet this means the baby is going to be born at 3:00!” (but in MAY, not November). I knelt on the futon by the bathroom door in child’s pose. I said again that I didn’t know HOW I was going to do this, but my body does. I realized that I needed to treat this like any other labor. I changed into soft, stretchy gray pants, leaving behind my pajama pants that felt too tight across the middle while crouching forward. These pants were Summer’s water-breaking pants—when she lent me her maternity clothes she said the only thing she was attached to getting back were these gray pants because her water had broken in them. I felt like they would be good energy birth pants. I was more comfortable right away upon changing into them. My contractions picked up to about 3 minutes apart and were just like with a full-term baby—starting in the back and spreading to a peak in the front. Mark rubbed my back and I talked to myself as I leaned forward in child’s pose with my head on my arms. I was going to “laborland”—that altered state of consciousness place of a birthing woman. I realized the only was to do it was to go through it. I asked Mark for my goddess pendant to wear (the one he gave me as a “happy new baby!” present in August when we found out I was pregnant). I held her and stared at my Trust Birth bracelet (and felt the irony). I had already put on my birth bracelet from Zander’s blessingway to help me feel strong.
When I was still having the “HOW?” questions, other women that I knew who had experienced miscarriage started to come to mind and I knew I could do it too. I told myself that I had to do what I had to do. I said out loud, “let go, let go, let go.” I said I was okay and “my body knows what to do.” The afternoon I found out the baby died, I’d received a package that included a little lavender sachet as a free gift with my order. When my labor began, for some reason I wanted the sachet and held and smelled it throughout the experience. As I chanted to myself, “let go, let go, let go,” I smelled my sachet (later, I read in one of my miscarriage books that in aromatherapy lavender is for letting go). I also told myself, “I can do it, I can do it” and “I’m okay, I’m okay.” I felt like I should get more upright and though it was very difficult to move out of the safety of child’s pose, I got up onto my knees and felt a small pop/gush. I checked and it was my water breaking. The water was clear and a small amount. I was touched that now these gray pants were my water-breaking pants too, but I was also worried about messing them up. I asked Mark to get me my leftover disposable undies from Zander’s birth and put them on (SO glad I still had them!) I went back into child’s pose and reminded myself to open and let go.
Contractions continued fairly intensely and I continue to talk myself through them while Mark rubbed my back. I coached myself to rise again and after I sat back on my heels, I felt a warm blob leave my body. I put my hand down and said, “something came out. I need to look, but I’m scared.” Then, “I can do it, I can do it,” I coached myself and went into the bathroom to check (it was extremely important to me not to have the baby on the toilet). I saw that it was a very large blood clot. I was a little confused and wondered if we were going to have to “dissect” the clot looking for the baby. Then I had another contraction and, standing with my knees slightly bent, our baby slipped out. It was 3:00. He landed face up on the clot with his arms raised over his head. I said, “Oh! It’s our baby!” and kind of shut my pants. Then, I opened them again and looked at him. He was clean and pink, about four inches in size, and well-formed with eyelids, nostrils, closed mouth, fingers, and toes. I felt something else and saw his little cord—I showed Mark—it was spiraled like a big one, but thinner than a piece of yarn. It broke then and a whole bunch of clots came out and nearly covered the baby. His head and one arm were showing only.
No longer worried about having the baby on the toilet, I sat down on it then and took off my birth pants, feeling worried about getting blood on them (I didn’t get a drop on them though!). I tried to clean the baby off and wanted to check his gender and take some time to look at him, but he felt so soft and rubbery that I was extremely worried I was going to damage him. His mouth came open when I touched his face and I was stunned beyond words at the complexity of having a working jaw—this was a very developed little person and the magnitude of that complexity of development was unbelievable.
Then we had to set him aside to continue to deal with me. More clots came out then and I started to feel faint when I stood. I said I had to lie down and laid on the futon and smelled my lavender until I revived. I asked Mark for fizzy drink (Emergenc-C), which in hindsight I think I should have taken because I’ve read that too much Vitamin C can prolong bleeding—however, in my incredibly large collection of pregnancy and birth books, I could find NOTHING that would help me physically cope with a miscarriage in progress—no self-care suggestions, ideas of things to drink or eat. Nothing. I had Mark bring me various midwifery books and laid there bleeding and looking through them desperate to find some kind of ideas. I told him, “I’m going to write a book about this someday!” (and I am). I also had him bring me some Arnica and Rescue Remedy and later some Nux Vomica (which was in one of my books).
As I was lying there thinking about how to assess blood loss, I was also thinking about how in so many ways this had strangely been the birth I planned for, just not at the right time. And, that it was very much a birth, not “just a miscarriage.” The birth was unassisted—just my husband and me—the baby was born at a little after 3:00 in the morning, just as I had thought he would be, I had my futon “nest” on the floor as I had planned, and instead of trying to take a shower and clean up, I’d laid down when I felt I needed to. I was also thinking about how I felt good that I’d done it myself and that we’d given our baby a respectful and gentle and strong birth at home. I reflected on the similar endorphin-rush, “I did it! What an amazing person am I!” feelings I also had following my previous full-term births. In the midst of these thought processes, I was amused to notice the thought, “I obviously need to get into extreme sports!” There are probably lots easier ways to feel an endorphin rush and sense of physical prowess than in giving birth!
My contractions continued fiercely and I lost my “cool” then—after having the baby, I felt like it was “over” (the birth part anyway) and so my coping skills/altered state of consciousness diminished also—and just started saying, “ow, ow, OW!” over and over. I also said, “this is good! I’m doing good! My body is doing good work” (i.e. with my uterus clamping down and finishing up the process). This went on for some time and I kept feeling little gushes of blood with each contraction. I had Mark call my mom and dad to see if my dad could come check my blood pressure and pulse. They came and both stats were normal. Continued to have pain and to say OW and my mom suggested that perhaps getting up and using the bathroom would help. When I sat on the toilet, a giant grapefruit-sized clot came out. I immediately felt better and went to sit in a chair in the living room after that. I had felt faint and woozy again with clot-viewing, but in the chair I felt like I was “coming back” and out of the woods after that clot was gone. Ate some cheese and crackers and drank some tea and more fizzy drink and later a pudding cup. Continued to feel contractions and little gushes of blood with each of them. Started to feel a little concerned about it and knew I had most definitely lost more than two cups of blood. Much more. More than both other kids combined.
I asked my parents if they wanted to see the baby and they went and looked at him and cried and cried. I got up to use the bathroom again and another grapefruit and some oranges came out. When I stood to pull up my pants, I held toilet paper to me to keep blood from dripping onto my clothes and when I did, blood came welling up and over the tissue and onto my fingers. My vision started to darken and I heard loud ringing in my ears and my family helped me back to sit in the chair. I felt thisclose to “going under” and sniffed my lavender desperately and put my head to my knees. Recovered a little bit, but still felt as if I was fading as well as losing more blood. I was completely white. No color. I could not differentiate any longer if I was “just fainting” or dying, so we decided I needed to go in. I said I was sad to go because I felt like I was proud of how I’d handled everything myself and that I had been strong, but that it is also strong to know when to ask for help and that I needed to go. It was around 8:00 a.m. at this point. The kids had woken up and we left them with my dad and my mom drove us to the emergency room. I laid in the back seat and hummed the song Woman Am I over and over again so that they would know I was still alive. I briefly thought about how I had so much more to do before I died and hoped it wasn’t time yet. I also thought how ironic it was that it was going to be birth that killed me. I expected at least a blood transfusion, but the hospital was fairly nonchalant about the whole thing and acted like everything was normal. I smelled my lavender and felt better almost as soon as we were there.
The ER staff was very casual and asked all the usual intake questions and a doctor came in to check me. She said, “this is very common. It is just natural selection,” which ranks as perhaps the very LEAST helpful thing to say to someone experiencing such an intense physical and emotional event (and, I beg to differ about “common,” since only about 1% of pregnancies end after 12 weeks). She tried to do a bimanual exam but couldn’t feel my cervix because of all the blood clots in the way and so had to do a more painful and traumatic exam using a speculum that I do not feel like writing more about because I do not want to give any space to her non-caring treatment and lack of compassion. She said the placenta was about 75% through the cervix and that was why the continued bleeding. She said I was not hemorrhaging (in sort of a, “you’re so silly and overreacting” tone) and that she expected the placenta would come out soon on its own. I was given a bag of fluids via IV, which again caused me to nearly “go under” and become completely white—vision darkening, ears ringing—the nurse seemed more understanding then of why we had come in, asking Mom and Mark, “is this how she looked when you decided to bring her in?” After the hour or so with the IV, I got up to use the bathroom. I asked first to use a commode in the room so we could see the placenta and was told to just use the regular bathroom, where the “placenta” came out, only to be whisked away by the automatic flushing action before I could see it (it was NOT the placenta however. The placenta came out six days later). Bleeding did immediately lessen then. The doctor checked me again and said my cervix was closed and there were no more clots. She gave me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory and for pain medication. We went to Wal-Mart for the scripts and then home. Getting home was HARD. Everything reminded me of what had just happened and Mark and I both cried and cried. Then slept.
My dad took the baby home to clean him up for us as well as provided a walnut Shaker box to bury him in. My mom crocheted a liner for the box and a matching blanket for the baby. I woke up at around 3:00 in the afternoon and started to collect things to add to the box. Mark and I talked about names for the baby. We thought perhaps the gender-neutral, Noa, based on a stillbirth dream I had had many years before in which we named the baby Noah. While Mark dug a hole by one of our cedar trees, I got a 2009 penny to put in the box, a purple goddess of Willendorf bead from Zander’s blessingway, one of my scrabble tile catch-your-own-baby birth power pendants, a rock and a shell from Pismo Beach, a picture of the boys, one of my womb labyrinth postcards, a hat I had crocheted, and my last “women healing the earth” postcard. Mark cut a sprig of our lavender to add. My parents came back at sunset with the boys. My dad asked if we wanted to know the baby’s gender and of course we did. He told us it was male. My mom added and elephant bead to the box and my dad had made a bead out of a log from their house. He split the bead in half so the two halves fit together—half to stay with me and half to go in the baby’s box.
I had chosen three readings from Singing the Living Tradition. I read the naming reading and since we now knew he was a boy, we announced the baby’s name was Noah after my previous dream. I read the other readings and the kids wanted to see the baby, so we all looked at him—he was much smaller than when he was first born (my dad measured him at 3.5 inches). Then, we put his box into the hole and each added a handful of dirt and said, “bye bye, baby” and cried and cried some more. (I have written more about the ceremony in these posts.)
I did not feel as if I had “lost” my baby, I felt like he died and I let him go.
“There is no footprint so small that it does not leave an imprint on the world,” or on his mother’s heart.