This story is a documentary, with feeling. A feeling-u-mentary.
“So, Natalie, when was your last ultrasound?” Dr. Baxter looked at me and asked.
I smiled, “Not since I had a baby last!” I was already 17 weeks into my third pregnancy. I sat in the room of my new OB/GYN clinic at Orem Community Hospital.
“Well, why don’t we send you back there right now and get you one?” I was not hard to convince. My smile almost tripped me as I giggled my way down the hall. At this stage of pregnancy, there is a slight possibility I would see a gender! The less than perfect thing about the moment was that Mike was not with me. Would it betray him if I found out alone?
“There is the baby’s head. Can you see his vertebral column there?” The ultrasound technician was professional at seeing TV static and calling it body parts. The baby was very well formed, still less than half way through the pregnancy. “Okay, I am going to check for gender now, so close your eyes if you don’t want to see.” I obeyed.
“Alright, we have a pretty good shot here.” Aah! What an idea, this stranger knew what my future would bring although it was mystery to me. She went through a few more measurements, then said “Now I am going to measure the femurs, but the legs are wide open so you better turn your head if you don’t want to see.”
My eyes widened in perfect clarity.”What? It’s a boy. I know it. You wouldn’t have said that if it was a girl! Oh my gosh! Okay, just tell me. Show me.” My tone changed from calmness to commanding, as I talked fast-even interrupting myself. I looked from my belly to the computer screen to see the picture of what was inside my belly. The baby was positioned just so…and it was very obvious. What a healthy flexibility that baby has! We are dealing with a very un-shy boy!
I knew Mike must hear this news immediately. I drove quickly to Utah Valley University where he was working in the photo lab. I parked in a teacher’s stall even though I caught an evil stare from an old man who clearly thought the space was his (it was) but I got it first, although illegally. Mike sat at a desk of the photo lab talking with a friend, laughing. He worked there a few times a week, checking out dark room equipment to students and helping them understand their developing woes.
I was out of breath from running into the school. I was flushed and embarrassed for barging in, but nothing could keep me away, even a comment by a teacher, “Hey, no PDA in here!” I had kissed him on the cheek (my husband, not the teacher) and ignored the other people in the room.
Mike had created in himself a surety that Hannah had been a boy last time around. He asked the technician to check and then recheck that Hannah was a girl. He even used the words “really mad” that she was not a boy. So, I knew that this new information would give him another reason to live. I whispered to him that I had the appointment. I said “I found out what it is!”
He was amazed as I gave him the picture of the black and white fuzz. “What! It’s a boy!” His face almost split in half with his smile. He took the picture and scanned it immediately to show the world over the Internet. He was thrilled to hear that his careful consideration to the Chinese calendar had paid off. With myself, Kaitlyn, Hannah, and Kali the dog, all girls, he liked to tell us that he needs a boy in the family because he is “all girled-out!”
Our baby boy grew fast and I felt some major physical expansion too. There was one month that I had gained 10 full pounds! Kaitlyn, Hannah, and I had many interesting conversations like, “Mom, is it hard to run with that big huge tummy?” (I was only 5 months pregnant at that time). And, “Mom, your tummy is fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat!” One day I was standing in the kitchen and Kaitlyn stood by my side and put her hand on my fleshy midsection rolling over the top of my jeans. “Mom, what is that?” Sheesh. Where is the respect?
Worse, though, than haphazardly-made comments from my children about my size, I tried to avoid that ever-present female hand groping out to touch my belly. I teased often that I would slap any hand that came near me, but for some reason I couldn’t do it. Ladies, especially old ones, seem to have magnetism to pregnant tummies. It was probably because their baby production system had turned into shriveled raisins long ago, and they were jealous of mine that had not. Why would someone come and put their hand on an area that is usually reserved for lovers?
On the other hand, I begged for someone to say to me, “Wow you are getting big!” so that I could reply, “So are you, but I wasn’t going to say anything.” Where is my nerve? I usually just smiled. How boring.
Here I am talking with my girls. “Just feel how hard it is. Do you feel that lump? That is our brother’s head!” The ultrasound tech had revealed another important secret to me when I was about 36 weeks pregnant. She told me the baby was sitting breech. (It only took Dr. Baxter a half-second of tummy pummeling to confirm it.) Kaitlyn asked how babies come out. I told her. Her cheeks brightened up a bit, but she accepted the truth well. She understands body systems pretty well, in fact one day during dinner she recited the pathway in our bodies from drink to urine…no big thing!
I wanted to make a demonstration for them to visualize the baby. “If the baby comes out head first, this is what it will be like.” I made a circle with fingers together and passed the baby through.
Then I made the circle again, with the baby doll coming out bum first, as mine was positioned to be. In the sitting position the baby was caught on my pelvis hands. “See,” I said, pulling on the baby bottom, “not so easy this time.”
During the conversation, I kept thinking back to a movie I had seen in a science class. It showed a snake that was greedy; it began eating before he had taken time to evaluate the potential outcome. Instead of a smooth meal, his jaws could not get around the animals legs which had splayed out the wrong direction and would not flatten to its body. The snake died, choking on its meal. I understand the possibility that I have a psychological issue in the way I have equated this with the birth of my own child. I will have to get that checked out later.
“If I get a C-section, because the baby is bum first inside of me, then the doctor will have to cut open my tummy and move my guts over to get the baby out and then sew me back up. I don’t want that to happen.”
Kaitlyn prayed again in her prayers that night to bless our brother to turn around in Mommy’s body. She was really concerned. Kaitlyn and Hannah both were just so excited to have our new little brother. Any time we saw any baby articles in any store at all, they would ask if we could buy it for our baby brother. Hannah told me she would like to babysit our baby brother all the time and rock it to sleep, and sing him songs. Kaitlyn said she would like to feed him and change his diapers; although she has since redacted the diaper promise. They were already counting him as a member of our family even though he had not yet arrived.
The girls and I spent a lot of time talking about the baby overall, but in specifics that night. I wondered why I was so compelled to the discussion. We still had a month until the due date…or so I thought.
Late into the night, I leaned up on my elbow in bed, talking with Mike about the baby. “Can you imagine what would happen if my water actually breaks? You are a zombie when you don’t get enough sleep! I bet I will have to drive both of us to the hospital and hopefully you can wake up in time to see his birth.” We enjoyed the slim idea of my stubborn body taking charge of the situation on its own. Contraction-wise, I had rarely ever felt anything. In my past two childbirths; I was induced in the hospital because spontaneous labor never happened. My babies must be too comfy inside to come out.
But I really wanted my water to break-such a big event to experience what only a woman will ever feel. I hoped to have the sensation of spontaneously wetting my pants with no control.
I was scheduled for a visit to the Maternal Fetal Medicine doctors at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. They were going to attempt an external cephalic version. That is doctor-speak for smashing the heck out of my abdomen to try to get this baby irritated enough to somersault himself. By this point with a month left, there was surely not much room for a full flip, especially if his behind is lodged in my pelvis.
The idea of getting a C-section felt as fun as eating a shoe sandwich. I never had one before (shoe sandwich or C-section). In fact, neither had three sister in laws, two sisters, my mother in law, or my mom, although between all of us there were 31 live births! There has been only one or two of them in the entire family.
I trusted my doctors. I felt I could calmly accept this new cesarean adventure, but if possible, I wanted to avoid it. I greatly appreciate the physical battle it takes to bring forth a baby: making new friends with my large midsection who was at first a stranger, learning high jump techniques just to have enough velocity to get out of bed, becoming a miniature bounce house at any hour of the day or night from the inside! The newest experience for me this pregnancy was feeling my pelvis creak and shift with my first step out of bed each day, wondering if my organs could possibly stay where they belonged. I imagined that my pelvic girdle would just crack in half, splattering viscera and baby all over my feet.
I could see the finish line, but I wanted to end this journey with the uphill climb of labor that I have found very invigorating. I was afraid that I might not feel a strong connection with my baby if he was just presented to me after laying on a table for a few minutes in the cesarean way. What an unfeeling end to pregnancy, which had been such a joyful interaction for me. I did not want to be air-lifted to cross the finish line like a big fat bench sitter.
I promised myself to finish strong no matter the outcome. I planned to sit down on Sunday after church to schedule my important final preparations for my new man. Three weeks left meant menu planning, frozen dinners, finding the car seat, washing and checking if we have all the newborn baby clothes, etc. I should have executed that plan a little sooner, because IT happened a few nights later on Saturday night.
It is easy now to realize that Father in Heaven helped me have these ideas much sooner than I would have naturally done on my own. He was preparing me gently for what was to come. On Saturday night, August 20, 2011, I woke in the night to get a drink of water. I had created a habit of checking if my pants were wet or dry when I awoke in the nights. It was more of a joke to myself than anything else. But this time they were NOT dry! I said to myself, “Ok, what is going on here? I am sure it is not what I wish it is.”
I maneuvered my stiff joints to get my feet on the ground. There was a big rush from my body down my legs–but can it really be? Now? Me, here, standing in the dark, not intending to have my water break? Now? Only wanting a drink of water? I waddled off to the bathroom down the hall, trying to quell Niagara falling from my britches. With each step I felt my abdomen gogling out water. I grew up wondering why pregnant woman called water breaking so embarrassing, when it is such a natural thing. But my prejudice changed with the experience of it, as it almost always does. I am the Lady of the House. Caregiver to children. The One who cleans vomity messes on pink pillow cases in the late night hours. And now, as I waded to the toilet, I felt simply embarrassed.
My pupils scarcely had time to react to the bright light of the bathroom. As I squinted, there was something out of place in the situation; the curious puddles of deep red blood that had followed me. Wasn’t water breaking supposed to look more like, uh, water? I filled the toilet two more times with blood, as I called out, “Mike! Come here! I’m serious!”
The tenseness of my voice was an invisible rope that tugged him to me. Having jumped out of bed with my alarm, he blinked and stared for a long moment. I had created my own murder movie production set! He stumbled when he saw the blood footprints; it was a stark contrast to the white marble floor my parents had just put in the past summer (hopefully the white grout was still a good choice). “What?” was all he said. He looked down at the floor and then up at me, as I was sitting on the toilet asking myself the same thing. “What should I do?”
“Call my doctor right now.” Obviously all they would say is come to the hospital but I wanted to forewarn them that my baby might be coming out with all that blood. Should I shower? Should I stay here until I am done bleeding? The entire radius of the toilet was streaked with blood where my legs had touched it. I look back and wonder at myself. I can’t understand how I handled the situation with such a level head. I felt it important to grab the Spray and Wash to pretreat the laundry before I made a load full of bloody bedclothes (I wonder how many murderer’s mothers have thought the same thing), and put them in the cold washer. I gathered my makeup and a couple of journals because I knew that we were going to the hospital and were not coming home without the baby. During my not so organized packing, I was trying to hold a folded up towel between my legs to hold the still-flowing blood.
Mike got no answer at the after-hours clinic. He did reach his little sister, Ashlyn, who luckily answered the phone at 2:45 in the morning. His parents just happened to be in Hawaii. They had expected no baby activity for at least two weeks after their trip. My parents were on a mission to Uruguay, so they wouldn’t be able to take care of our girls in the night either. Kaitlyn and Hannah were downstairs, oblivious to the mayhem, just sleeping away.
Ashlyn drove over immediately; now the third person scared out of the stupor of sleep. She was in great alarm because Mike had said on the phone that “Natalie is exploding with blood. It is everywhere on the bathroom floor.” Somehow in the excitement, others in the family who received the message understood the “exploding with blood” part, but they did not quite hear the “she is doing fine” part…because later Steven heard I was having a miscarriage or dying, or being eaten, or whatever.
After my grab and go packing system was done, I went back to the bathroom upstairs to see the mess. I got on my knees and started wiping up the floor. It was quite a circus with me balancing a towel between my legs with my thighs. Mike pulled me out of it. “What are you doing! Just leave it! We have to go.” I reluctantly put the rags down.
I wondered why I was not freaking out…not even a goosebump. As we walked to the garage, Ashlyn had settled herself into bed on the couch, and I said to her, “I am really really sorry Ash, but could you clean the bathroom? I don’t want the girls to be scared.” She said yes but it was probably because we were almost already out of the house when I asked. I still owe her for the rest of my life for doing that dirty job for me.
We drove to the hospital on open roads. It was only just after 3:15 a.m. We were both quite in shock but feeling jolly all the same. We got to 400 North and 400 West to Orem Community Hospital. A sleepy country town doctor seemed more busy than this hospital did at that moment; we did not see another human being at all. We went into the ER and there were no patients, no TV, and even no lights on. I had to knock on the glass to get some attention.
A man and a woman were in conversation with their backs turned to us. I waved and pointed to my belly. She put her hand to her mouth. “Oh! You need the Women’s Center.” The man offered to walk us there after I refused a wheelchair. I felt the need to tell my situation to anyone who was near, so I told him my story even though he never asked. He passed me off to another gal in the mother’s area, and I also told her I lost a lot of blood. She was just a tech, and she told me she would tell my nurse when she saw her. Both of these people were not giving me the alarm that I knew I deserved.
She opened the door to my room and I sat up on the bed to wait. My real nurse greeted me a few minutes later. She said I was the only mommy in the place (I may have been more than a little excited to have the extra attention). She invited me to change into free flowing sheet a.k.a., a hospital gown. I peeled off the massive sweats that have housed my pregnant legs and belly for 3 pregnancies now, and dropped them in the Bio-hazard bin. They deserved to go peacefully. The towel diaper also would not be missed, as I threw it also into the red bin. I spent a quick moment imaging what it would be like to have the job as the official hospital incinerator.
I walked back to the bed, dribbling the entire way. I gave my personal history monologue once more to my newest audience, nurse Ana, hoping that she might possibly be interested in the blood loss. Because medical personnel expect the average person to think a paper cut causes a lot of blood, she hardly reacted to my information.
I had reached the bed with my legs bare. The nurse put her eyebrows up and said, “Oooh! It looks like I can call the doctor now.” Finally a little respect!
Ana told me the on-call doctor, Dr. Judd, does not want to be emergently summoned to the hospital unless a patient could pass the “red sock test.” If there is enough blood to turn my socks red, then I pass the test. Yes, I passed it well, and I figured I could even pass a haunted house makeup test too.
I told her, “My baby is breech, I already know it. I had an appointment to get him turned, but that is still a few days away.”
“Let’s just be sure.” She brought a portable ultrasound machine in the room and wheeled it right next to my bed. She squirted on some cold belly jelly her magic ultrasound wand, and we both watched the computer screen at the end of the cords. “No, your baby must have turned. He is head-down and ready to go!”
Once more that night, I was in shock! “Really! Are you serious? Are you sure?” This was a direct answer to our family prayers. I looked at Mike and we smiled to each other. His eyes twinkled at me. We each knew the great relief the other felt.
“But because of your blood loss, there is still a chance that you will have a C-section.” I wondered if the baby’s kick flips inside me had actually caused the problem? I would not have been surprised, knowing first hand he was a wild mover. Later, I learned that my placenta tore away from my uterus, which began the bleeding. It was not harmful for me. After a blood test, it was decided my levels were high enough that I did not need a transfusion or a C-section. My baby was not harmed either and I saw this as another miracle.
Mike was my helper, my friend, my personal jester during the entire experience. He sat on the couch surrounded by our electronic devices meant to capture the memory of this baby’s birth. He laughed with me as I joked with the nurse about the whole baby surprise. He complied with my demands to find the chap stick in the labyrinth of my purse. He found insurance cards, made phone calls, got Sunday School substitute teachers for our church assignments we had not planned on missing. He was a very strong support to me. As soon as the preliminary machines were all hooked up, he began began drooping because of his very short night of sleep.
At 5:45 a.m. The computer screen at the end of my wires told me that I was contracting very consistenly, although I would not have known that if I hadn’t seen it. I got an epidural before I felt any pain, just so I would not miss the chance of the free peace that it offered me. I asked the nurse anesthetist all types of questions about the needle and the procedure. He gave me great information and it was all very stimulating. Tuohy needle, Seldinger technique…words that I hear all the time in my work as a medical transcriptionist, but they finally came to life for me as he punctured my back with pain medicine.
As the hours passed and I progressed into the final stages of labor, I felt prepared. My calmness was only interrupted 3 or 4 times by vomit, but then I was all at ease again. That is a childbirthing tradition I have. At 11:45 a.m. the nurse put a fetal heart monitor on my gigantic abdomen and then checked my cervix once again. Showtime! I had progressed enough for the doctor to arrive. Hoards of workers appeared in the room. Since my baby was officially a premie, being born at 36 weeks and 6 days (full term is 37 weeks), there was even a respiratory therapist joining the pack.
I asked the nurse for a mirror so that I could see all the action taking place. She positioned it at the end of my bed to the right of the doctor. It was my baby and my body, and I wanted to see it. I had witnessed three childbirths when I was taking a CNA class in high school. It was a thrill to see a child birth, second only to experiencing it myself. Of course I was anxious to see my baby before, during, and after the delivery.
Mike stood and took my right hand. I propped up my bed and Mike set my legs into the stirrups because I could not control them at all. They were dead to me. Dr. Judd explained that I would push like I was having a bowel movement. He said to take a deep breath and push until he counted to 10, and to only take a breath after the 10 count.
I tried to keep my attention on the mirror to see what was happening in the baby zone. Dr. Judd kept standing in my view. I asked him to please step aside. But I was not allowed as much viewing pleasure as I had hoped; I was immediately put to work!
I had my legs in position. “Here we go, are you ready for another one? Let’s give it a good go, right here with this contraction! Okay push! 1, 2, 3…” I perceived the doctor to have the slowest counting in history. I closed my eyes and took a very deep breath. My back was arched over my beach ball tummy in the hospital bed. “4, 5, 6” I squoze Mike’s hand and tightened every muscle in my body that I could control. I wanted to open my eyes and see in the mirror where my baby had progressed to, but I could hardly even breathe. I released all the pressure to grab a big breath and then begin where I left off on his count. “7, 8, 9, 10!”
“Natalie I know you want to keep your eyes open to look, but keep them closed so that you can focus on pushing harder. That was a really good one. Now you can rest for one minute and we will go again.” Isn’t that nice, how he is saying “we” as if he could somehow group himself into the category of Me – the one doing all the hard work.
I obeyed the doctor. With each subsequent push, I wondered if a person’s eyes could pop out from pressure. If it was possible, mine were absolutely about to. I had never ever worked so hard in my life. My other babies came out like greased pigs in comparison.
Mike said after the push, “Good job! We are getting close! Can you see his head?” I could hardly see anything because I may have ruptured some vessels in my eyes, but I felt with my hands and asked the doctor to move so I could see the mirror. I felt a bulge in my pelvis where the baby’s head was crowing and getting more on the outside than the inside with each push.
I began again. The entire constitution of myself and my baby rested on this man’s counting to 10. Halfway through the count, the baby’s head pushed all the way out. I could see him in the mirror. How can I describe such a sight? Dr. Judd asked me to stop pushing. The baby’s face was directed toward the floor rather than up to the ceiling. Dr. Judd maneuvered he tiny head around while the rest of the baby’s body was still inside me.
All he needed was one more half push and then the baby slid out into this rough loud world. There was my sweet baby! I had been waiting to see him for so long now. What a good relief to see him whole and wiggling. He cried, gently singing the most important song in the world; the first sounds of life. Mike cut the baby’s umbilical cord as the doctor gave his early assessment that the baby was much bigger than we expected him to be.
My heart turned into Jello the moment my stomach did. Mike was still holding my hand. He reached down to hug and kiss me. He must have been a little in shock by the gravity of all of it. I certainly was. I rejoiced to have him there; he was involved and attentive in a way that many husbands are just not able to be in such a dramatic situation. We smiled at each other for a long moment. He scurried away to grab his camera and capture the first moments of our new baby’s life.
Our baby was taken to the warmer and the swarm of helpers followed the new star of the show. I expected a tiny guy, at three weeks early, but he weighed 7 pounds 6 ounces! The respiratory therapist grabbed our baby and held him belly down on his left hand; tiny legs and arms dangling between his fingers. I watched helplessly from the bed. I did not sense any alarm, nor did I feel any. Three weeks was a lot of growth the baby did not get, especially his respiratory development. I was preparing myself just in case there were complications that were not yet detected. I happily drank in the words of the respiratory therapist, “everything is fine with this boy. Is there a possibility your dates could have been off?”
The nurse finally brought me the baby; he had been wiped with a towel, but not yet bathed. His face was so pink and puffy! There was birthing fluid in the corners of his eyes and behind his furry ears. He was wrapped so tightly in blanket and hat that there was nothing else to notice! But what a precious sight to me. My eyes grew cloudy the moment I touched him. I tried to smile and act natural for the first moments with my baby as Mike photographed me. I could not stop crying. Too soon, more gloved hands accosted me as they took the baby out of my hands for more testing. Mike went with them all, and the doctor soon finished his work on me and left too. As quickly as it all began, it had ended.
The nurse brought in a lunch tray and I sat with myself, my food, and my tears. I said a prayer of thankfulness for all the goodness in my life and how happy I was that this boy was here. I wrote a few notes in my journal but they got rained on and the ink smeared a bit. I was feeling very grateful and spiritual and also very exhausted; a huge concoction of powerful feelings all at once did not help me stop crying. About half way through eating my tear sogged meal, the nurse came back to check on me. She looked at me, concerned, “Are you in pain?” she asked. As if she had not seen this situation before, as a labor and delivery nurse? No, I felt no pain. I felt so happy and loved and kind of heavenly.
I am so thankful for that day and for my husband and my baby. It all felt like a miracle to me-every moment of it. I got the feeling that some moms talk about-the instant love and bond to a baby; so immediate and strong. Each child birthing experience has been precious to me, all in their unique ways.
We decided to name him Lincoln Michael Ririe. He was born on Sunday August 21, 2011 at 12:16 p.m. Overall I had only to give 5 series of pushes to get him here. He weighed 7 pounds 6 ounces and was 20 inches long. He had plenty of hair-strictly blonde. I have never seen a blonde baby at birth. This boy looks just like his daddy. I laughed to imagine how long his fingernails and toenails and hair would have been if he had the last three weeks of cook time. Dr. Judd told me that he would have weighed closer to 9 pounds, which would have caused me to have a much more strenuous recovery.
Maybe because he was early (or maybe it is just his disposition), Lincoln loves to cuddle in close and be held tightly. He likes to lay his head against my chest and I love to lay my cheek against the top of his delicate head. He was born three weeks and a day early with no physical complications. He did not have a strong sucking reflex, however, and for his first two days of life, he had to be fed drop by drop of milk in his mouth with a small syringe. My personal prayers were answered again, as he learned quickly and left the hospital on the regular schedule, when I did.
My baby Lincoln is like my own sunset. He is so lovely and so breathtaking that I don’t want to look away but still I can’t bear not telling everyone to come and see. By the time I am back to see it again myself, the colors have changed into something just as beautiful and only more complex. I am thrilled to have the ups and downs that we have already experienced together, though he is still so young. He was at birth and always will be a shining miracle in my heart.