Cricket's Eventful BIRTH STORY
As a Doula and breastfeeding advocate, her willingness to support mothers in every way has been a huge help for years.
But as every informed mama knows, birth (like life) doesn't always go as planned. A little bit of positivity, prayer, and the cheering of friends can go a long way.
Here is Cricket's story.
Please be aware: I have included photographs that may "show more skin" than you're used to. I think birth and breastfeeding are beautiful so I choose not to censor them - but it's up to you whether you'd like to view them as well.
This birth story is not just the story of sweet Genevieve’s arrival. The circumstances surrounding her birth require back story in such a way that to leave it out would do a disservice to all that my family went through leading up to her arrival. So please bear with me as I start the story off in my 30th week of pregnancy.
On December 8th, my 2 year old Moxxie and I went to the farmer’s market to get our free range eggs and white chocolate lolly as we do every Saturday. As we walked toward the exit, I noticed that she was walking slowly and appeared to be stepping on the back of her shoe. When I pulled up her pant leg to fix it, I realized her shoes were fine. We got home and I continued to watch her - she seemed off balance. We went to the chiropractor and she had fluid in her ear - possible ear infection? No big deal. Her balance became worse. On the 15th, we took her to Victoria Children’s hospital in London. The doctor said middle ear infection - no medication required, should clear up in two weeks and if not to bring her back.
Her balance seemed to get better over the next week and a half, but thinking back, I wonder if she was just adapting her walking style. We started to notice some shakiness in her hands and even her speech became a touch halting. On December 27th, she woke up much worse. We took her to the chiropractor again, and cranial sacral therapist. On the 29th, we went back to the hospital, exactly two weeks after her middle ear infection diagnosis. A CT scan was ordered and later declared to be perfect. They assumed it to be an ataxia that would clear up on its own but made a referral to a pediatric neurologist, just in case, saying that they recommended that she be seen in the next two weeks. We went home and I started making video of her everyday to show how quickly she was deteriorating.
On January 2nd, I called the office to see if the referral had been made. The referral had never arrived and the receptionist scoffed at the idea of getting an appointment within two weeks and said it would be more like two months. I decided that we couldn’t wait that long and on the 3rd, I took her back.
Again, they tried to tell me ataxia. After several hours of getting nowhere, I tossed out the 34 weeks pregnant card and said I can’t wait, please do an MRI. The same doctor who had said middle ear infection said he would take the CT scan to a doctor who is apparently the most skilled CT scan reader in Canada. The CT doctor looked and said, yes, there is something abnormal. MRI ordered. MRI showed lesions on her brain stem and she is admitted. We are terrified. She is in good spirits, despite being hooked up to an IV. Her lesions have caused her no pain.
Friday January 4th, a lumbar puncture is ordered. I am in the room with her while they put her under GA for the second time in two days. While walking back to her room to wait for the procedure to be over, I felt that I had peed. I went to the bathroom and my underwear was very wet...and did not smell of pee. I am 34w and 1d. In the back of my mind, I knew what was happening since my water broke with Moxxie at 34w and 2d but I was in complete denial. I lay down in Moxxie’s hospital bed and wished it away. This was NOT a good time! A nurse came to get me when the lumbar puncture was done. Moxxie was having a hard time waking up from the GA and while I stroked her hair, I felt my waters gush. I just stood there for a minute screaming NONONONONO in my head. I looked at the nurses and the doctors in the room and said quite calmly “well, my water just broke” and then I started crying. Hard. Had the situation been different, what happened next might have been amusing. Half of them trying to find me a chair, someone looking for a wheelchair, someone calling down to OB triage, someone asking me questions. I just looked at them and I said “I’m not leaving her right now, I can’t leave her right now!!” I was overruled and stuffed into a wheelchair, sobbing as they take me two floors below from where my little angel would be waking up to unfamiliar faces and no breast to be comforted with.
I tried calling my sister and my husband - my sister came back with my mother and was there when Moxxie woke up. My husband arrived shortly after. When Mickey came into the triage room, I could not control myself and I wailed a great deal louder than I think I ever have in my life. The sadness of the loss of my healing homebirth and the stress of having a premature baby while my other baby was so sick was more than I could bear. My midwife arrived and I pleaded with her to not let the doctor do a vaginal exam but she would not advocate for me. 2cms. I told them that I assumed I would start contracting in about 6-7 hours since that is what happened with Moxxie. No treatment was ordered to stall labour. As soon as I was assigned a room in the antenatal ward, I met my nurse and told her I would not be here in my room unless they needed me. We worked out a schedule for antibiotics and vitals and I went to find my sweet Moxxie sobbing in my mother’s arms. I recall saying “give me my baby, now.” We nursed and nursed until she was asleep. I went back to my room to sleep for a few hours while Mickey stayed with Moxxie in her bed.
I did not have any contractions that day. Or the rest of that weekend. No answers from Moxxie’s blood tests and lumbar puncture. We seemed to be in limbo, just waiting for news. More than once while I curled around Moxxie, crying as she slept, I pleaded with God - I did not need two babies, I can just have Moxxie and that will be okay. Please understand - I was not in a good place. I was angry that this little baby inside was making things beyond difficult. I realize now that it was not her fault - my body just doesn’t do intact waters beyond 34 weeks but in the moment...I am very ashamed to admit these things in a public space but I need to tell this story. My aunt asks me about cord blood banking. I ask the neurologist and he recommends it as we don’t know yet what we are dealing with. A most generous friend offers us the money for the cord blood as a gift or loan - our choice. We have a kit rushed to us as I am convinced the baby will come soon.
While all of this was going on, my friends, both in real life and facebook only were mobilizing. A stocked freezer, pantry, toiletries, toys for Moxxie, cloth diapers, clothes, chocolate, cash, gift cards, kind, encouraging words and things I am surely forgetting came pouring our way. Mickey and I worried about money as he took unpaid leave and was supposed to go on parental leave when baby came. We decided to just go with it because we could not wrap our heads around one more stressor. The amount of love we felt from our friends helped us not worry.
On Monday, a team of residents waltzed into my room to announce that they had booked my induction for Thursday. I looked at them incredulously and said I absolutely did not want to be induced and what were my options. They looked at me like I had two heads - I guess they are not used to any pushback. I asked if we could revisit the topic later, after I had some time to think about it and said “come back Wednesday and I will let you know.” Wednesday rolled around - lumbar puncture tests were all negative and I told the doctors that I would not consent to being induced. They reluctantly agreed, trying to scare me with talks of sepsis and infections that could have me ending up with a NICU baby in a worse way than just having a small baby now. They rescheduled my induction for the following Thursday, which I was “okay” with. Not ideal by any means but I needed time and I needed to make sure Moxxie was going to be okay and to wrap my head around impending birth. On Thursday, another MRI is ordered and then cancelled because I had nursed Moxxie and she likely got a few drops of colostrum. I was so upset but no amount of reasoning with them would make them realize that nursing colostrum from 3 hours ago would be digested by now. She had a sore throat and was not allowed any liquid for 8 hours. That was not acceptable to me. I asked them to please book the MRI for the morning next time because a small child with a cold should not have to wait around all day to be allowed to drink something. They agreed. Friday morning, they did the MRI, she was put under GA again. When she woke up, I could hear her crying but they would not allow us to come back because her vitals had not stabilized yet. Eventually they did - after I was allowed to come back and nurse her. MRI showed no change in the lesions, however, we had been noticing the last few days that she was getting a little bit better. Test results from the metabolist and the rheumatologist came back clear as well. On Saturday, the neurologist came back with a diagnosis of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis - to be short - she will likely fully recover, it will just take time. No need to bank the cord blood - a sigh of relief as we were told that they would not delay cord clamping if they were taking cord blood...sighs of relief but also blank stares at each other while we processed this. She was going to be okay. It was all going to be okay. She was discharged on Saturday.
I now felt that I had some time to think about my birth. I spent a lot of time talking to the baby, telling her that I was sorry that I hadn’t wanted her to come yet and telling her that I loved her already and that she could come whenever she was ready. Through this time though, I was being separated for the first time from Moxxie or rather her from me. It was overnight and after her ordeal this was devastating for her. On top of that, a new family drama occurred to epic proportions. I won’t get into it now but I will say that someone said something so horribly wrong and hurtful that that person is no longer in my life. As though I needed that right then! As one of my friends mentioned to me - some types of dysfunction escalate in times of crisis or milestones, such as birth. This was both.
Sunday, I start taking caulophyllum. I had initially not wanted to do any type of natural induction but since baby was not coming on it’s own, I found I preferred the possibility of not being hooked up to an IV for a pitocin induction. The caulophyllum did nothing. I began to feel very depressed, sitting alone in my room in the evenings, staring out at the skyline of London, Ontario, taking a moment to process what city I was in...it didn’t even feel like I was in a city, I just lived at the hospital now, as though it was it’s own entity. I wrote up my birth plan, making concessions for what I knew they would not allow. It broke my heart. Had an NICU consult, making more concessions. Ultrasounds every other day, non-stress tests on the other days and doppler used 4 or 5 times a day. More concessions.
During the day, I got to see my little love. Mickey would bring her and her trains, we would walk around the hospital, getting timbits and trying to be cheerful. Her eyes seemed a little less bright each day. We talked about the baby but she would no longer acknowledge that there was a baby. I cried each night, wondering how she would get through this, how we all would.
Early Wednesday morning I starting contracting, enough that they would wake me up. My nurse brought out the monitor and even though I said that my contractions didn't show up on the monitors with my first and that they can’t be felt or seen like other women’s contractions, she just shrugged and said oh maybe they are just Braxton Hick’s. Wednesday during the day, I would have a few here and there. Residents kept wanting to shove their hands up in me and I declined citing increased risk of infection and what was the point if I was going to be induced tomorrow?
Early Thursday morning, they became more consistent. I called the nurse in again and she said the same - no, not real contractions.
This is where I start to crumble.
When I started contracting with Moxxie, this very thing happened. No one believed I was in labour. I was told Braxton Hicks, irritable uterus, moderate contractions. This went on for 30 hours until finally someone decided to check me and I was 5cms. In two births, I have not had one “real” contraction show up on a monitor and anything that could be felt was called moderate. It was for this reason that I became a doula - no woman should be told she isn’t in labour or have her feelings and her pain lessened because a machine said her pain wasn’t real.
Back to me crumbling. I got in touch with my doula and told her what was going on - thankfully she believed me and came to me straight away. I was starting to get vocal and recalled me telling doula clients about not having your waters broken if you aren’t 5 or 6 cms dilated as the contractions can be more intense without the water (and I virtually had no water left - I was 1 day shy of having broken water for 2 weeks and I continued to leak my replenished waters as well). I was trying to keep it low, mooing as per Ina May but I could hear myself getting into a higher pitch and telling myself no, keep it low. The uterine pain was not so bad. It was the pressure in my rectum that was so intolerable. When my contractions were about 5-6 minutes apart, a resident came in, checked me and declared 4 cms. And then asked if she could start me on a pitocin drip. My doula and I both looked at her like she was insane...I still wonder what, exactly she thought was going on - again, the machine said no contractions, so in her mind, I was not actually labouring. Again, the fear of no one believing me is weighing heavily on my heart and mind and when morphine is suggested, I cave and say yes. All it does is put me into a fog. I drift off to sleep for a few minutes until the next contraction wakes me. I notice that Mickey and his mother and Moxxie have arrived but I am too out of it to really acknowledge them. My doula continues to massage my lower back through contractions. When the morphine wears off, I am checked again - 7-8 cms now and I am sent to L&D. It is about 3pm. The pain in my rectum is such that I am feeling pushy and I panic. I ask for an epidural, but I ask that it be very light. By the time I got the epidural, I was probably about 9 cms because about 15 minutes later I am 10. I ask for some time before pushing as the epidural has completely blocked the pushing sensations, however I continue to feel the contractions in my rectum. My midwife arrives - not the same one from triage, thankfully. My sister arrives. While Mickey is a fan of the more quiet birth atmosphere, I like the idea of having lots of loved ones. Mickey, Moxxie, my MIL, my sister and my nephew and my doula are all rooting for me. There is also a nurse, my midwife, a resident and an OB and later a two person NICU team. After a while, I agree to start pushing and since they can’t see my contractions on the monitor, they remove that toke and I will push when I feel that rectal pressure. I had explicitly stated that I did not want to be told when to push or counting, etc, but I was having a hard time finding the spot that I needed to push. My midwife takes that part over and as annoyed as I am at her telling me to push and harder, I do think I needed it. At one point, the resident decided her hands needed to be in my vagina and I basically told her to not touch me again. The pushing is taking some time. I am feeling enormous amounts of pressure now and Mickey told me later that I was screaming and that the midwife was telling me not to scream. I don’t remember any of this. I feel the “ring of fire” and I feel all of it. They did a good job of giving me that light epidural.Finally, I feel relief as I push baby’s head out and then another little push for the body. The OB had told me that he only does 45 seconds for delayed cord clamping and I had negotiated another 15 seconds to get the full minute (another concession). I hear the NICU team counting out the 15 extra seconds. My MIL, holding Moxxie in one arm, cuts the cord with her free hand. Baby is taken just metres from me but I feel my heart follow her. Another concession. I tell Mickey he needs to go with her and he does. She is back to me within minutes even though it felt like an hour. She is beautiful and smells wonderful. I do love her - I was afraid I would not. Genevieve Victoria is 5lbs and 7ozs. She does not have to go to the NICU. I feel a sense of victory as my plan to avoid the NICU by keeping her in longer worked. They stitch me up. We nurse for a long time, she does well. We have our first tandem nurse, Moxxie plays with Evie’s toes. My midwife asks how I am feeling and my joy fades for a moment. This was not what I wanted. I am not a birth warrior.
We transfer to the postpartum ward. Her sugars are low and formula is suggested. I try to get donor milk but it is late and the weather is bad. After a consult with an NICU nurse, who was also an IBCLC, we decide formula is the best route. The other option of admittance to NICU meant IV, a longer stay, risk of infection, separation and frankly I was tired of seeing my babies poked and prodded and hooked up to wires. We end up doing 4 feeds of 10mls each via finger feed. We also received some donor milk and donor colostrum in the morning. My colostrum did eventually come in well enough to raise her blood sugars without formula. We went home 36 hours after birth.
I had spent 17 days in the hospital - for 10 of those, I was with Moxxie. Genevieve is one week old while I write this. Moxxie is having night terrors - waking up and screaming for me and to nurse even though I am right beside her. Sometimes she will nurse, making whimpering sounds. She had one night where she woke up screaming every 15 minutes. We think the hospital stay, the procedures done on her and then being forced to separate from me overnight for a week after her ordeal and when I did come back, I bring a baby with me that needs most of my attention - has taken its toll on her.
I am not a birth warrior.
I saw pictures from homebirths today in my newsfeed and I feel annoyance and sadness and anger that I did not have that, but I also know it was beyond my control. I see articles about delaying cord clamping, the risk of epidurals, hypnobirthing, vitamin K and I think I did not advocate for myself and baby enough. I feel weak that I asked for an epidural. I feel dumb that I got it so late in the labour and what was the point? I feel like, even though every nurse, doctor and resident I encountered was told about my contractions not showing up on the monitor that I was dishonoured by their trust in their machines. I know that it deflated my confidence. I know that I was not even remotely prepared for this birth. I tried. I am a LLL leader. I gave my baby formula. I am not a birth warrior.
I wanted to be a birth warrior.
I am writing this one-handed as I cradle tiny Genevieve in one arm. Tears streaming down my face as I work through the stress of this entire month. I look at her, sleeping peacefully against my breast, hoping she didn't feel any of this stress and only love and security and warmth. I hope we can put this all behind us.
I am not a birth warrior.
But I am okay with that.
It will be okay.