Thursday, October 29

The birth story of Aurelia

The birth story I am about to write is nothing like the birth story I was planning to write when I fell pregnant. I knew that having a baby with chronic fatigue syndrome and POTS would not be a simple business, and Ben and I decided to do all in our power to make it a positive experience with as little emotional stress as possible. The stories I want to write rarely resemble the tales I actually live, and this was no exception. The journey to her birth was as brimming with emotional stress as it could be, but also laden with support and chances to grow. 

Knowing my hospital anxiety and drug sensitivities, we decided to stay far away from hospitals and chose a private midwife who would grow to know my health situation and support me in minimising drugs in labour. I had long appointments with Judy, and cups of tea, and it was the perfect care for me. Ben and I did a hypnobirthing course to help with natural pain relief, and I exercised, and did yoga. I devoured natural birth stories and longed to labour in peace and dark, sway with my contractions, and cry with joy when I met my baby. I wanted all things natural and instinctual, bar lotus birth and placenta pills.

But after that twenty week scan, instead of choosing gender appropriate baby clothes and drinking celebratory coffee, we found ourselves in the car looking at each other in stunned fear. Perhaps we would have to go to the local hospital for appointments after all, as there was an abnormality detected in her brain. The next day we learnt that the local hospital would not do, we would be travelling to Melbourne right away to see white coated obstetricians, who seriously questioned the wisdom in our decision not to test her chromosomes. We said that whatever the test came back with, we would keep our baby. We heard the words ‘severely retarded’ and ‘termination’, the latter, too many times. My great fear was being faced; intimidating medics and waiting rooms, and another even greater fear was being faced simultaneously, the possibility that we could have a child with special needs. I literally quivered my way through appointments, and grieved deeply yet came to peace about the possibility of having a different baby to the one we had imagined. But I held fast to my natural birth plan. When the brain measurements improved, it became apparent that her growth was not normal, and then there were two issues. Before long, I found myself in an appointment with my obstetrician Emily who seriously advised us to take her early, by induction or caesarean. She had to find a box of tissues for me. Not caesarean, my heart cried out. I cannot be awake during surgery, I simply cannot do that. I am far too anxious. I will die from the drugs and wound. I woke in night sweats; I cried and shook for hours that night. I cannot face another fear, I have faced too many. Almost every day I was at the hospital to see if she was still safe to stay a little longer in my womb, and when I came home, I was grey, sad, demolished, and searching for the joy of pregnancy I’d lost. I prayed desperately, I read psalms over and over, I lay in the bath and spoke to the legs that kicked from inside.

The night before the appointed day, Ben and I went to dinner at the restaurant we had first gone to nearly seven years ago, and he pulled out a letter for me which lead to more crying-in-public because it was so lovely. He is so good at lovely. We drank coffee, and felt greatly excited, because we had already grieved the changes to our plans. We slept as well as one can expect to the night before becoming parents, and possibly labouring on syntocinon or possibly having surgery. Early the next morning, we were monitoring her heart rate with CTG for the hundredth time, and for the hundredth time she was bright and active. The obstetrician I had grown to love came in and assessed my cervix to see if it looked favourable for induction – this assessment was another long term dread of mine, but with the support of my husband and Judy, it was effortless. I scrutinised her face to gauge whether my dream of being able to labour {despite being frightened of induction} was going to come true, but her expression gave nothing away. Then she gently told me that in just a few more weeks, I would certainly have gone into labour easily, that I was already on my way to getting ready, but I wasn’t dilated enough to be induced. I had a lump in my throat as she looked me straight in the eyes. I knew what that meant, it meant surgery this afternoon. She knew this was my fear, but I just asked what time I had to be back at the hospital and strained to keep my frayed nerves together.

We emerged from the hospital to a day which was drenched in sunshine. It was the perfect day for our daughter to be born on, golden and springy. We took a last pregnant walk down at the waterfront, and tried to buy a premmie hat for her at Myer, but there weren’t any. Still I willed my body to go into labour spontaneously, but my wish was not granted. I averted my gaze as Ben ate lunch, and I began to feel dizzy from fasting. By the time we returned to the hospital, I had nearly passed out, and I slumped down on the floor as I waited to be taken to my bed. There my cheery midwife gave me a drip which helped to revive me, and I climbed into a pale blue gown and waited for the bed to arrive. This was when I started to feel dreadfully anxious, I didn’t want to be the patient driven along on a bed waiting to be transferred onto an operating table. The calm of the morning evaporated, I wanted to run. I do remember in the lift seeing that the midwife had brought along a baby’s crib with flannelette blankets, and I told her that I liked what I saw, though it didn’t seem remotely real that I would have a baby in a matter of an hour. All I felt was dread.

In the anaesthetists room I was reassured to hear that my slim back would make for a more accurate placement of the spinal block, but I was immediately startled by the pain. It was shooting down one side, and I flinched over and over as they continued to put the fluid in me. It frightening me, and only worked painlessly after a second lot of local anaesthetic. Then a droopy warmth flowed down my back and legs, and I lay down with waning control of my limbs. As they wheeled me into the small operating theatre full of medical people and equipment, I began to feel sleepy. Sleepiness gave way to light headedness, and I felt that I would not be fully conscious for long, until they corrected my rapidly dropping blood pressure. I put my ipod in my ear, but it was too loud and I couldn’t adjust the volume. I breathed desperately into my lavender aromatherapy sack, and looked at Ben who was right by my head, and hoped for dear life that things would go well. I had no idea how it was going, but it felt like a long time of just hanging in there. My body was being moved from side to side, it was being rummaged in, with great pressure and a physicality I was not expecting.

I didn’t see them lift her up above the curtain, but Ben did, and the image of her little blue body is imprinted on his mind. The first thing I noticed was a cry! A beautiful clear baby’s cry, just as I had longed to hear! She was out. She was alive. Ben called out 5.15, and I thought it was her weight in pounds and ounces, but instead it was the time that she was born. Before long, the midwife had placed a little velvety bundle on my chest, wearing a white beanie. Her skin was red, and deliciously warm, and though I couldn’t really hold her because I was shaking, and couldn’t see her because she was so close to my neck, I could feel that she was there, and she was breathing. She nuzzled in, curled in a perfect ball, and I basked in her warmth. I’m not sure when I heard that she was only 4lb 10oz, or that she was perfectly formed, but I was happy. Someone asked if we had a name for her, and when Emily heard, she said ‘Did I hear Aurelia? That’s perfect’. We cuddled for maybe 15 or 20 minutes while the midwife deliberately lingered over her job with the placenta, which was apparently small, and a little pale and gritty.

Once she was taken to Special Care Nursery, I had to be brave a little longer, but Ben was by my side and we looked at the photos of her on my phone. I was convulsing violently by this point, it was uncontrollable and intense, though quite normal. The same violent pushing and pulling was happening in my numbed body. I was still anxious, until Emily started chatting with us, and the casual conversation reassured me, especially when she said it would take her months of diet and exercise to get a stomach as flat as mine. She was also calling me Danny by this point which was a familiarity not consistent with haemorrhaging to death, and therefore had a calming influence on me. When they told me it was just the skin layer to go, I felt relief. My joy increased as I was wheeled out of theatre into recovery, with cheerful yellow curtains, and a kind nurse who took my obs repeatedly and checked how the spinal was wearing off and how my uterus was contracting. Ben and I looked at the photos the midwife had taken of us in theatre, marvelling at our daughter.

In Special Care Nursery, Judy was doing kangaroo care with Aurelia, who had been given all 10mL of colostrum we had painstakingly expressed prenatally. I don’t remember this period very clearly, but Aurelia was rooting and came to lie on my chest in bliss. My shaking subsided more and more as she lay on me, this little warm bundle of baby. She was tiny and beautiful and snug in her maple leafed onesie. She was perfect. We signed a waiver to be allowed to use donor milk until mine came in, and a very generous woman named Jess expressed and delivered milk immediately so that Aurelia wouldn’t have even a drop of formula.

Finally I was wheeled up to the ward, leaving Aurelia warming in her isolette. I was hurting by now, and Ben stayed by my bed till quite late. The night was one of regular monitoring, endless waking, significant pain and real difficulty turning over. In hindsight, I could have taken more pain medication, but I had been told to rate my pain on a scale of 1 – 10, where 5 was crying. And I wasn’t crying, so I rated it at 3, which really was rather inaccurate.

The next morning I just wanted to get down to my baby girl, after gazing at photos of her all night. But how?! I could barely turn onto my side, let alone get up and off it. And then Judy walked in, and I was so surprised and delighted. She opened the curtains, and with Ben helped me to lower the bed and get me to the bathroom. It was excruciating to stand, but after several steps the pain lessened. Then we got a wheelchair, and I was wheeled down to Special Care Nursery. There was my beautiful baby, and my heart exploded that this tiny wonderful little human had grown inside me, and was safely out.

She was safe, I was safe, God had brought us safely to shore, and the shore was firm and beautiful. I had sat in the most uncomfortable places, surrendered my deepest desires, done the things I feared the most to come to this moment, all while covered in prayer by friends and family. And now I could pick her up and kiss her a hundred times and tell her that we love her, and would love her, imperfectly and deeply, forever and ever.

The joy Aurelia has brought has been so extremely bright that it has demolished the sadness, in a flash. That's the thing about this story, the end point is happier than I could have written, not in spite of the journey, but because of it.