Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In celebration of life

January 25, my friend Laurie gave birth to her second daughter, Mia.

February 3, my cousin's daughter, Sadie, died.

Laurie lives only a few blocks from me, and gave birth at home. As it turns out, the same midwife who caught Connor caught Mia. During Laurie's labor, her husband called to see if I would come over just to bring a different energy to the atmosphere. I had told them both before the birth that I would be more than happy to be involved in any way Laurie thought would be helpful. To make a long story short, it was really cool.

I arrived at Laurie's after she had been in labor for a few hours. Connor and Helen were both in bed and I told Ed I'd probably only be there for an hour or so because I wasn't sure how long she'd want me there. Truth be told, it was awful timing for me. Connor had been sick and a true grump, Ed and I were both on edge, and we were feeling really overwhelmed. But I wasn't going to tell a man with a wife in labor that I couldn't come after they had been so good to pick-up Connor around 7AM the day Helen was born to care for him, and so I went. Plus, I felt at least partly responsible for Laurie being in labor at home without meds since I had told her how great giving birth at home was about 1 million times. I was also very excited that Scott had called because I thought I could be helpful and really wanted to be there.

I could never possibly describe it fully, but seeing a woman in labor is incredible. The moment it starts, everyone knows what the ending will be - a baby will be born. But nobody knows how long it's going to be, what twists will happen, or how many special moments will be recorded along the way. I should point out, that I'm one of those people who thinks it's just amazing that a tiny seed can be planted in the ground in May and a couple of months later a tomato will be there. So you can imagine how amazing I think a little human growing inside a person is.

My mom gave me some great advice about weddings one day. She told me that there was so much hulabaloo leading up to a wedding, that by the time it comes, it can go by so fast that the actual day doesn't end up being nearly as glorious as it seemed it would be with all the planning. I'm not sure she would remember saying this, but it was at the time my sister's wedding was being planned and I remember it. When my own wedding came, I decided I was going to take my mom's advice (which I believe was to focus on the event, not the details) and enjoy that day to the fullest. After Ed and I hired people we thought would make a good contribution to the day, I refused to manage any small details. The day of the wedding, we were having photos taken at the reception site and the maitre'd asked me a couple of questions about details (I believe they had to do with placement of salt and pepper shakers, and possibly about when the bar would be open). I remember telling him "I'm sorry, I'm not going to answer any questions. Ed is in charge of all wedding day details. I'm sure your instincts on this are better than mine anyway." I said this not because Ed cared at all about any detail (except that the bars be OPEN at all times), but because I knew there was no way the maitre'd was going to bother Ed, so I was freeing the maitre'd up to do his job, and he wouldn't have to worry that I was going to have a meltdown because some tiny detail wasn't perfect. It worked perfectly. The maitre'd never asked Ed anything, and by avoiding concerning myself with any particular detail, I have no memories of anything going wrong, and I have a ton of fabulous memories about the day. I wouldn't change a thing. Not because it was perfect, but because everything important turned out perfectly. I really felt like a guest at my own wedding rather than feeling the need to orchestrate anything.

A child's birth is also something that should be remembered like a wedding. And similarly, you spend a lot of time planning for it - both in the conception phase and then during pregnancy. The problem is, you can't offload caring about details - particularly when you give birth at home. In short, your partner can do an awful lot, but he's not the maitre'd of the event. He can help make sure there is adequate food and liquid in the house. But only the laboring woman knows the right time to call the midwife and birth assistant. Most importantly, nobody can labor for you. In short, I would've loved to be a spectator at both of my births, but I was so focused on conserving energy and getting through the pain, that I couldn't really sit back and take in all the little things. Other people could, and did, but I was working really hard. Certainly I had a few moments at the beginning to be in awe "holy cow! I'm having a baby!", but once the serious business of labor began, there was no pause button.

So to have the opportunity to watch someone else's labor was very cool. I got to really marvel at all the little moments, but I wasn't in pain. I could provide support for Laurie and Scott, but after the contraction happened, I didn't need to start gearing up for the next one. Instead, I could sit back and say "wow - that's amazing. Your body is really working hard." I am so grateful for that experience. I finally understand why midwives do what they do. The hours are terrible, it can be hell on a family, and I suspect the pay is mediocre - but catching babies is meaningful work. And, my own bias is that doing this in a home setting is the most meaningful of all because the midwife, birth assistant, friend, whomever the laboring woman invites - enters the room with the laboring woman on her terms. So the contribution of being the midwife at a home birth is really crucial. She might be the only person with substantial medical knowledge around.

I went home to feed Helen once during labor, and then when it was getting really late, there was a moment when all of a sudden Scott went from sort of being on the outside worrying about Laurie to totally getting what his role was, and at that point, I went up to Laurie and told her everything looked great and I went home. Scott called once more when apparently Laurie was screaming at the midwives and had definitely hit a wall. I was feeding Helen though, so it took me some time to get over there. I waited to make sure Helen was all the way asleep before I headed back, and this was a mistake because I missed the actual birth by 4 minutes. But, it was still so cool to have been there earlier and to share a few moments with Laurie right after she'd given birth. I will treasure these memories always.

The next day, I told Ed I needed to be a midwife. I told him there was a 3 year Masters program at Georgetown for folks who weren't already nurses. I was totally ready to sign up. Ed is a very smart man. He would never tell me "you cannot do that". After all, he knows that I can be stubborn. Possibly my sister telling me I could never give birth at home is what kept me there when I had serious doubts with Connor and for a few moments, buried my head in a chair and thought to myself that I was never going to make it because it was SO.PAINFUL. But as soon as those thoughts entered my head, I knew transferring to a hospital would mean my sister was right and I was wrong about giving birth at home. I wasn't about to call her up from the hospital and tell her I was waiting for a baby to arrive while my anesthesiologist gave me an epidural. Nothing wrong with hospitals and epidurals - but I had told my sister they weren't for me and I wasn't backing down. So instead of telling me he wouldn't support me becoming a midwife, Ed said perhaps I should give it a little time, maybe become a birth assistant or doula first. I still think about it, but I am not nearly as convinced as I was that I need to be a midwife - though I do think I would be good at it and if I knew what I know now back when I was choosing careers, I would be a midwife now. The high of witnessing birth, was really high.

And then came the cruelest low. My cousin's daughter, Sadie, died after a two year struggle with cancer. Kids are not supposed to preceed their mom in death. It is not right, on any level, and there is no possible explanation that I will accept for this tragic event. If you find comfort in the thought that your god has some grand plan and this is all part of it, then your god is not nearly as merciful as my god. My god would never have a mission to prove something by ending a child's life. Which is just a very direct way of saying that I am unable to gloss over this loss with any supernatural explanation. I am, however, very hopeful that the next dimension will be much kinder to Sadie than this one ended up being.

I often wonder how my cousin manages to get through each day because I'm not sure I could handle losing either one of my children. I did not know Sadie well - only met her a few times at family reunions. My cousin kept folks updated on what was happening with Sadie, and I certainly cheered when good news came and sent all the good karma I could muster toward her when bad news came. The image I hold of Sadie is this unbelievably gorgeous Christmas card my cousin sent that featured 3 super cute photos of her 3 kids before Sadie was diagnosed with cancer. I often think of those photos when I think of Sadie because for me, it just shows how fast things can change. Nobody who received that card could've guessed that they wouldn't be receiving a similar card every year until the kids were teens and too concerned with their image to be the focus of the family Christmas card.

The take away lesson from both of these experiences? Kids are amazing. My kids are particularly amazing. I worked from home one day a few weeks ago and when I went upstairs for lunch, I looked out back to see Connor and the au pair playing in the sand and Helen sitting under the magnolia taking it all in. All I could think about was that I had no idea how many more days like this were going to come. My very flexible employer allowed me to cut my hours back again. I asked to do this because I don't want to miss too many days with my kids while they still think I'm really groovy. Ed has adjusted his hours, too, and he's home almost every day by 4:00. I don't know how long this will last, but I'm going to enjoy it while it does.


1 comment:

  1. i am so very, very sorry about sadie. no one should ever lose a child.

    and your employer (my former employer) is awesome. they were so amazing when i became sick. i have never, ever experienced that sort of caring and actual assistance from an employer before. it's a testament to the quality of the people there -- very, very amazing. i'm glad they're working with you, too :)