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The card I gave my husband, Brent, last January said, “Thank you so much for my wonderful birthday gift. I can’t wait to open it on or around September 25th.” His puzzled look told me I’d have to explain. “I’m pregnant,” I said.
The card I gave my husband, Brent, last January said, “Thank you so much for my wonderful birthday gift. I can’t wait to open it on or around September 25th.” His puzzled look told me I’d have to explain. “I’m pregnant,” I said. He was less surprised than I expected as he stood up and hugged me. Telling our eight and three year old sons didn’t go as well, although they came around in the end.
We were very excited to be expecting our third child. It was even more special to me that the baby had been conceived on my birthday. It just felt right. Then in my seventh week, I started spotting after a day of housecleaning. I had done this with my other two pregnancies but it was still worrisome because I have a mild blood clotting disorder so I tend to bleed longer than other people do. By the next afternoon this had turned to heavy bleeding so we drove to the doctor’s office where an ultrasound was done. The doctor gave me the news that there was not only no heartbeat but that the baby’s sac was a week too small for my dates. He wrote a prescription for methergine to contract my uterus in case the bleeding became worse and told me to expect an inevitable miscarriage. All the way home I looked for a sign that the baby was fine. I imagined that if I saw one bird flying outside, that could be my signal that all was well. I didn’t see a single bird that February afternoon. I waited and grieved several days for our lost baby.
After the third day passed and the bleeding had stopped without any severe cramping or other telltale signs, I began to suspect that my baby was still hanging in there. I braved a snowstorm and had a local minor emergency clinic run a serial beta-hcg. The results were great…I was still pregnant and boy was I smug when I called the doctor and midwives back to tell them!
A mere two weeks later, I became sick and ran a temperature. My mom noticed a rash on my chest and stomach and said, “Honey, I think you have the chicken pox.” My reply was that I couldn’t have the chicken pox. I was pregnant! Sure enough, an emergency room doctor confirmed the diagnosis. This same doctor, my own family practice physician and an ER nurse explained to me that termination of the pregnancy was advisable as disastrous anomalies such as microcephaly and limb deformities could result from the exposure to the virus in utero. I refused the termination offered in the ER, opting to receive a VZIG immunoglobulin injection and went home to phone the CNM I was seeing. She mailed me several studies regarding chicken pox in pregnancy. The incidence of any deformities for a baby born following exposure to chicken pox in the first trimester was .4%-5% respective to the study. That was a chance I was more than willing to take. I knew this baby wasn’t hanging in there for nothing.
To top off my first trimester, almost as soon as my pox began to heal, my son and I got the flu and my unborn baby was subjected to yet another high fever. I was becoming aware that I would have to let faith fly with this pregnancy and trust that all would be well. This seemed to be the lesson this little soul was bringing to us. I felt in my heart that this baby was a girl and I had longed to have a daughter to share with. I talked to “her” everyday, hoping that she’d feel the love we had for her.
As if health (or lack thereof) wasn’t stress enough, my husband changed jobs when I was four months pregnant, necessitating our second re-location in eight months. Fortunately, we were transferred back to our hometown of Virginia Beach, VA so I had the support of my family and friends for the remainder of the pregnancy. As it turned out I would be seeing my former care-provider, which would be a blessing in the end.
As our baby grew, I kept track of its heartrate with a fetoscope. Every night I listened to the tiny heart beating, getting to know my baby, its sleep/wake rhythms and guessing at its position. A month before my due date I began to suspect the baby was breech because I heard hearttones only in the top of my uterus. Three chiropractic exams considerably altered the baby’s position, but something still didn’t seem just right about it. At 37 weeks, my obstetrician did an ultrasound which revealed that the baby was high in my abdomen due to a marginal placenta previa. It looked as if the baby’s head was actually resting on the placenta like it was a pillow. My doctor explained that it was still possible that the baby could be born vaginally but that a cesarean may be warranted if I began to bleed heavily or if the placenta abrupted. Having had a cesarean to deliver my first child, I knew I wanted to avoid this if at all possible. My blood clotting disorder would make a cesarean much more risky and the blood product I would need to increase my body’s clotting ability would cost more than $80,000. We decided that as long as the baby and I were “okay” we would wait it out.
Two days before my due date, I was at a park with a group of friends when I started bleeding. I called the doctor from a cell phone (scared him to death, he later said) and some friends drove me to his office. I was sure I was on my way in for an emergency cesarean and I fully believe that any other doctor would have done just that. A quick ultrasound revealed that the placenta had started to separate and this was causing the bleeding. The baby looked fine though and we decided to take a watchful approach considering the risk of a cesarean in my situation. However, the bleeding continued on and off for the rest of my pregnancy and increased the concern that I would conceivably become anemic before giving birth. I began to grow more concerned for the baby’s safety. It seemed that there were just too many problems with the placenta and I hoped that the baby would be born before it became further compromised.
My first two children had been late by eight and twelve days so I expected to go overdue this time as well. I didn’t expect just how late this baby would be! Seventeen days after my due date, I was beginning to get very annoyed. I actually believed that the baby would never be born. Because the baby was still so high in my abdomen my cervix was not dilating or effacing. My Bishop’s score, used to assess ripeness of the cervix for induction of labor, was 0. I needed a 5 to have any chance at a successful induction. The baby still appeared to be fine, trudging along and enjoying this free ride, so my doctor suggested we give it 3 more days before making our “plan.” I agreed, knowing if I’d made it 42 weeks and 3 days, I could make it 3 more.
Late Wednesday night, nineteen days past my due date (and hours before our appointed “planning” date), my water broke. When I made my way into the bathroom I saw that there was meconium in the fluid. This seemed an ominous sign, knowing that my placenta was compromised not only from the previa and the separation but also from being so overdue. I called my husband and told him to come right home from work as he was more than thirty minutes away. By midnight when he made it home I was having contractions. Almost immediately they were two minutes apart and lasting a minute and a quarter. We threw some things into my friend’s van and broke several speed limits as I leaned over the back seat. There was no way I could sit comfortably.
Fifteen minutes later as we pulled up in front of the emergency room entrance, the contractions were a minute apart and right on top of each other. I had almost no break in between them. We left the van in the loading zone and Brent got a wheelchair for me. The aid came out to retrieve us and stopped at the admitting desk despite my obvious “discomfort.” I could barely breathe out my social security number and I began to stand up and turn around to lean over the back of the wheelchair during the contractions. This upset my poor ER aid so badly that he begged me to sit down and promised to get me to the birthing room as fast as he could. I don’t think he had any desire to catch his first baby.
As we rushed through the hallway, a janitor stopped us and barked that he had just mopped the floor so we couldn’t come through. At the other end of the hall, the OB nurse who was coming to get me yelled back at him, “I got a lady having a baby in the hall here, what do you want me to do?!” I thought she meant the rooms were all full! I didn’t realize she was talking about me. Reluctantly, the janitor let us pass and in a few short minutes I was never so happy to see a birthing room.
At this point the most I could manage was to lean over the edge of the bed as my labor support people tugged my clothes off. The nurse wanted to get a baseline heartrate but I couldn’t get onto the bed so she could place the monitor on me. We began to list my ‘complications’…VBAC, mild blood clotting disorder, marginal placenta previa, placental separation, 20 days past due date, ruptured membranes with meconium…her jaw is said to have dropped lower with each word. She did manage to get the monitor belt on me as I leaned backwards against the head of the bed and began pushing. “NO, NO, NO, I don’t want you pushing…” she yelled, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. I tried growling at the peak of each contraction but it apparently wasn’t working because I heard her say into the intercom that she wanted some baby papers and suction equipment, she thought she was going to be delivering. That was enough to snap me into reality. I did not want my baby born before the doctor who knew our whole story and had some sort of plan in mind had arrived. “Slow down Baby, slow down Baby…” I chanted. My mind was racing and yet all that I knew had escaped me except the gnawing feeling that my baby was at risk. I wanted to give into the primal feeling of birth but I knew I had to hold it back. It was the most intense twenty minutes of my life. It no longer mattered that I was uncomfortable, all that mattered was that my child arrive safely. My plans for the “perfect birth”-the mirrors, the perineal massage, touching the baby’s head as it was born, feeling the warmth of my fresh-born babe-all evaporated, none of them mattered anymore.
At 1:30 am, the doctor finally waltzed in, asked me what was going on, (I grunted something about feeling a head in my vagina) and complained that he didn’t have time to change his clothes. He wanted booties so I wouldn’t mess up his Virginia Tech sneakers! (I can laugh now.) When he examined me, his fingers bumped hard into the baby’s head because he didn’t expect it to be so low. My cervix had been so tight and closed three days earlier that he expected to need to augment my labor and camp out at the hospital. As I turned over (I was still leaning over the back of the bed) the baby crowned. I pushed the head out and he suctioned the baby’s mouth and nose on my perineum to try to get most of the meconium out. Then he told me to push for the shoulders. I pushed but felt nothing give. I could tell that the doctor was trying to maneuver the baby in one direction and then the other. I had a moment of panic as I realized the shoulders were stuck and I asked if they were coming between pushes. My doula told me to push really hard even though I wasn’t having a contraction so I knew something was up. I pushed as hard as I could and the baby bounced out and was placed on my belly at 1:41 am. I got a perfect line of sight between the legs at this point and didn’t see anything ‘dangling’ so I peaked behind the umbilical cord and saw that it was a baby girl! I was so overwhelmed, I laughed, cried and screamed all at the same time, “Oh my God! It’s a GIRL!!”
My doctor had to intubate the baby with an endotracheal tube to remove all the meconium that had slipped into her throat. I was thankful that he did this on my belly instead of taking her to the warming bed. I was able to talk to her and rub her arms and legs while he was suctioning. It was healing for me as my first son had to be intubated due to meconium aspiration as well and since I’d had general anesthesia, it had bothered me that he had to endure this all alone. Our daughter perked up soon after this procedure and began crying her protest to all of us.
When the placenta came a few minutes later my doctor sighed and commented that I’d had every problem there was. The umbilical cord had a velamentous insertion, meaning that it was suspended in the membranes rather than attached in the middle of the placenta. The pediatrician said later that this is sometimes associated with intrauterine growth retardation and fetal demise. Not for our baby!! Caroline Kristina Jarvis had made her 8 pound, 13 ounce, 21 and a quarter inch long way into the world despite every odd that had been placed against her. She is perfect and healthy in every way and quite a beauty as well!
After the birth my doctor said to me, “You’re testimony to what God can do if you give Him a chance.” In most cases, pregnancy and birth work perfectly. I’m grateful that we had the tools we needed to determine that there was a problem with my pregnancy and that we received the knowledge and skill necessary to make the outcome so successful. This, too, is testimony as I had felt all along that Cara was meant to be with us and I had full faith that she hadn’t survived so many complications without a reason for being. I trusted that what we needed would be provided to us and it was. I’m enjoying the lessons Cara is teaching me. I have much faith in her as she’s proven her mettle already. I can’t wait to see what she’s got planned for her life.
Leigh Morris Jarvis is a full time mother, budding wordsmith and proudly claims the title of home-maker. She writes a page for the monthly newsletter "Mothering Friends Times" titled "The Empress Within." Her column celebrates the strength, power and sanctity of women and the collective feminine consciousness. Read about Leigh's experiences of pre-birth communication in The Souls Who Have "Treked" Me Down! which is located on Elisabeth Hallett's web site Light Hearts. Leigh shares a home with her husband Brent, sons Greg and Will, and baby Caroline, in Virginia Beach.
Greg, Will, and baby Cara
Caroline Kristina Jarvis (Cara)