Baby A was nonresponsive during our NST (fetal monitoring) at the doctor’s office Wednesday (3/26) afternoon. No amount of poking or prodding would rouse him. This was a big change since he’s usually very reactionary. His heart tones and oxygen were fine, but we were sent to Labor & Delivery. (“To trap me?” I asked my doctor. He put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Yes, to trap you. This time you’re not leaving this hospital without babies.”) A second NST yielded the same results, non-responsive. By now it had been hours since I’d felt him move. If this were all just precautionary, I wouldn’t be able to escape now that the wheels were set in motion. But if something was truly wrong, well, I couldn’t even go there. For three days I’d been in early labor, nothing too crazy. But that particular morning brought a host of random, moaning contractions. One came on while I was hooked up. It lasted 4 1/2 minutes. Baby A crashed. I was at the center of an instant frenzy – oxygen mask, teams of medics rushing about, shouting, beeping. Then he recovered. The ultrasound technician wasn’t permitted to talk about what she was seeing, but having watched two hundred scans by then I knew exactly what we were looking at: Baby A not moving, not practicing his breathing, diaphragm perfectly still, and Baby B bouncing around, wiggling toes, sucking fingers. I started to cry. Each fetal test brought us to the same worrisome conclusion, something was wrong. I knew it. Our midwife knew it. The doc knew it. He told us his wife had undergone two unwanted and unplanned c-sections. With tears in his eyes and a quivering lip he told us that if I were his wife we wouldn’t be talking right now, we’d be on our way to surgery. I wondered why I wasn’t on a gurny already. Baby A’s small size and cord had always been of concern. It was likely he’d simply reached the expiration date of his placenta. He was hanging on with a strong, healthy heart, but it was clear labor would be too much for him. I was at once profoundly grateful that there is a such thing as hospitals, surgeons, interventions, c-sections, and that they were all accessible to me.
Everyone, the whole of the staff who worked on me, was respectful and supportive of my wishes. Before we went into the OR my midwife reminded me that all of the coping skills I’d learned in birth class would be highly useful now. She stayed by my side and encouraged me to center myself just as I had done with my contractions. I thought of the Ring of Fire I’d made, all the words written on it, the names attached to each word, and a great sense of calm and faith washed over me. I was not afraid. TC kept me calm as the epidural block sunk into my spine. It killed. I had just enough time to lie across the operating table before my legs went warm, then hot, then numb. It was a wild sensation. I took it all in asking TC to take pics of me splayed out naked under the bright lights. It hardly seemed real. High above me I spied my reflection in the giant surgical lamps. I could see the entire sterile field. I narrated what I was seeing to TC who refused to look. This is what it took for me to cope, to keep me from freaking out, and to ensure the safety of our boys. I had to engage my fascination with all of it. There came the smell of disinfectant. My belly was scrubbed and painted. Pieces of tight plastic wrap stretched across me. A long incision gave way to a pool of rich blood. A metal clamp peeled back my skin, further and further. The doctor sliced through several layers of body until a fountain of amniotic fluid flooded out of me. A gloved hand reached inside of my abdomen. “Look, look!” I cried, “The head is about to come out!” I chanted, healthy babies, healthy babies. The first baby didn’t fit through the incision so it was quickly made bigger. A perfect, slimy baby rose up from the flood. Large and strong, he managed to clear his lungs on his own. “This can’t be the little guy!” said the doctor, “Whoops! Baby B is now Baby A!” Endorphins. Wonder. Joy. Love. My chant immediately became, Come on, Little Guy, Come on Little Guy. I wanted only to hear his voice, to know that he would not need to be resuscitated. Human hands fished around my bloody uterus then with a loud cry the Baby formerly known as A was born.
The big guy was stimulated, wrapped and brought right to me, gunk and all. My midwife quickly unswaddled him and placed him naked in my arms. I kissed his face, rubbed my cheek against his, smelled the top of his head, looked at his beautiful fingers and toes. It was heaven. It was all I’d dreamed of for these long, long months. After making sure he was healthy, the little guy was brought to me for the same naked cuddles. He was TINY! I was overcome with thanks. They were born at 8:56pm and 8:57pm. And it was over. They were here. All I could do was turn my head and vomit. My uterus was removed, placed on my abdomen, examined and rinsed. It looked exactly like a grade-school kick ball (huge, firm, red), but they somehow managed to shove it back into my body (a very unpleasant experience I might add). While I centered myself and let the anti-nausea meds take effect, the brothers greeted each other for the first time out of utero. Pictures were taken, video shot. If you’ve ever heard me complain about those terribly sad photos of immobile mothers in blue surgical caps with their newborns held up to their drugged faces – I. Was. Wrong. It’s not sad at all. No matter how it happens, it’s amazing. It’s exuberant. It’s new life. For me, it was a moment of thrilling clarity. Healthy babies. Nothing else mattered.
The hours leading up to their birth passed like seconds. Nobody was called, warned, informed. As they wheeled me into the OR I suggested TC call my parents to let them know I’d be having a c-section in a matter of minutes. The next twenty-four hours were a big blur. But for the exhaustion, there’d be much more to tell… The part when the little guy went to stay in the NICU, the part when I puked all night after surgery, the part when I freaked out about all the nurse interruptions, the part when TC kept asking if I wanted to brush my teeth, the part when I woke and discovered I looked every bit as pregnant after surgery as I did before, the part when I broke down about how my milk was not coming in and my sons were starving yet loathed my nipples, the part when TC staged an intervention and insisted I let the big guy sleep in the nursery on the second night, the part when I screamed at a nurse to rush one single solidified drop of colostrum to the NICU, the part when Lactation staged a second intervention and advised that the only advise I needed was to get some sleep, the part when we found out the little guy would have to stay in the hospital longer than the rest of us. But for now there’s a lot of baby to care for and I think I probably won’t get around to telling these stories for a very long time. The boys are beautiful, perfect, new and pure. Their sisters are dying to be with them. We’ll probably be home Monday late afternoon.