todd reeves: the birth

As I rounded the bend into week 38 of my second pregnancy, a cloud of denial and confusion lifted and it became clear that my husband was an active addict.  Multiple substances were involved.  I won’t go any further into that nightmare, except to say that I decided we needed to separate for a while, and he decided to go to inpatient rehab.  We both knew this meant he would miss the birth.  This was indescribably sad, simultaneously very freeing, and absolutely the right decision for our family. 

In my 39th week.  Little did I know how long I still had to go . . . 

 As I struggled to adjust my vision of what birth and family life would be like, my blood pressure, which had always been borderline high throughout the pregnancy, began to skyrocket due to stress.  This was no shock to either my midwives or myself.  I showed no other signs of pre-eclampsia (no swelling, no protein in my urine, no headaches, not seeing spots, no stomach pain).  They decided, after some research, to keep me as a client, provided that things didn’t get any more out of control with my pressures and I continued to show no other worrisome signs.

The main thing on my mind was that I wanted to give birth to the baby before my blood pressure got so out of control that I would be facing another hospital induction.  I started taking a tincture of motherwort and hawthorne, which was rather dramatically effective at keeping my blood pressure in check.  (Here’s to living in a neighborhood with an herbal supply store and experienced herbalists to help me!) 

I also began doing all those things that are supposed to bring about labor:  eating pineapple, eating spicy food, acupuncture three or four times a week, chiropractic adjustment, massage, walking long distances.  Week 39 passed, then my due date. 

I broke out the big guns.  I started taking evening primrose oil.  I had my membranes stripped – twice.  I took blue cohosh.  My sister came to stay with me for a long weekend as I turned over into week 41.  I continued to have strong, painless Braxton-Hicks contractions, as I had for weeks.  I had been dilated to 4 cm for at least two weeks. 

This baby just did not want to come. 

I didn’t know if it was emotional reservations I was having about the birth, if God was trying to tell me that I needed to consider another plan besides home birth, or what. 

From checking my cervix, my midwife Jennifer and I both tended to think that the baby was asynclitic – meaning his head was tilted to the side and it wasn’t putting even pressure on my cervix to open it.  Only strong contractions would bring him into proper alignment. 

At 41 weeks and 3 days (Wednesday, May 15), I reached the end of the road.  Jennifer came over to check my blood pressure and other vitals.  My BP was way too high – 185/100, twice.  We talked over our options.  At 42 weeks, licensed homebirth midwives in Tennessee are required to take their clients for a Biophysical Profile, which is a cluster of tests on the baby that measure how well he is holding up in there.  The vast majority of women do not return from this test and are induced after the BPP.  Jennifer asked if I was willing to go in for a BPP the next morning, with the knowledge that I was most likely walking into a hospital induction.  I agreed.  Since I would have to do it in a few days anyway, why not just go ahead? 

But there was one old wives’ tale that I hadn’t yet attempted.  The dreaded castor oil.  I decided that tonight was the night, as I was staring down the barrel of another pitocin-drenched birth.  I took a tablespoon at seven pm, Jennifer came over and stripped my membranes one more time, and I started cleaning the house – trying to stay upright and get some good contractions going.  The castor oil wasn’t too bad.  I chased it with apricot nectar so I didn’t taste it.  It had the consistency of what I imagine motor oil might be like?  It’s a strong stimulant laxative that is really supposed to give you kicking diarrhea.  I had one measly, normal BM.  I figured I was immune to the stuff.  I took the dog for a long walk, paid the bills, did some laundry, and thought about packing for the hospital (Vicki was already with her grandparents for the night).  I took one more tablespoon of castor oil at 11 pm and lay down to rest. 

At about 1:00 in the morning, I rushed to the bathroom for the awful diarrhea I had been promised.  But it still didn’t really feel like labor.  After finishing up, I went back to bed and slept a bit longer, even though I felt some cramping.  At 3:00 or so, I woke up and could no longer rest comfortably through the cramping and contractions I was feeling.  Now THIS was labor.

I tried to take a bath.   The pain got more and more severe, very quickly.  I tried to stand up.  I tried to sit down.  I tried to rock back and forth, I tried to drape myself over a stack of pillows.  The contractions were coming so fast, I had no idea what to do.  I must have been having them every thirty seconds, lasting about a minute?  I couldn’t get my head together to time them.  I felt like I was losing it and I surely needed to get to the hospital.  My main thought was, If this lasts for ten more hours, I will die.  Finally, I texted my friend Stephanie who was going to support me through the birth, and midwife Jennifer.  It was about 4:17, according to my text log.  I texted them both:  “Come immediately.  Want hospital want drugs.  Can’t cope with this.”  They both responded that they would come right away.  I waited for what felt like hours.  I cursed them both, wondering if they fell back asleep.  I looked at my phone.  It had been six minutes. 

Steph got here first.  She had never witnessed a birth, and I apologized that this was going to cause her to never want children.  To her great credit, she was amazing.  Although I could tell she was scared by the drama of it.  All I could do was lean against the kitchen counter and yell “No, No, No, No.”  I cried to God to help me and save me.  The pain and pressure were so intense. 

Jennifer arrived shortly.  She could tell through the door, as she waited on my front porch, by my yelling and carrying on that this wasn’t going to last much longer.  I was either having a baby or going to the hospital.  I had a few more contractions before she could get me to lie down and check my cervix.  It was totally gone.  It was time to push!  Within a couple contractions I felt an unbearable urge to bear down.  I was standing up, leaning against the side of my bed.  Four or five pushes later, and baby Todd was born!  There was a huge gush of fluid as his head unstopped my water.  It was 5:06 am.  I had been awake for two hours. 

Todd’s shoulders were broad and he didn’t want to turn them correctly.  Jennifer had me push and pulled him out quickly.  He was big!  8 pounds, 12 ounces.  He looked so huge compared to Vicki when she was born (7lb1oz).  She wasn’t that size until she was almost 8 weeks old!

He had his thumb from the very start!  

I had trouble birthing the placenta, which was very large as well.  It took me about an hour and it was very painful.  They had to push and prod at my abdomen a lot.  I was so panicked because I thought the pain was going to be over when the baby was born!  No such luck!  After two shots of pitocin in the thigh to clamp down my bleeding, I was finally able to push it out. 

Stephanie had been holding the baby while I was delivering the placenta.  He hollered and screamed from the second he came out – very healthy and pink.  He had the “look” that overdue babies sometimes have:  long fingernails, dry skin, wrinkled hands and feet, thinning hair.  He was definitely fully cooked!

I felt great.  I didn’t have any tearing or need stitches.  I felt very tired, of course, and sore in all my muscles.  The birth had been so intense that I could hardly believe it.  I had what is called a “precipitous birth.”  This is the kind of thing where ladies have their babies on the sidewalk.  I was so lucky that Jennifer lives just around the corner!  Bobbi, our other midwife, didn’t make it in time. 

I am so thankful for the level of skill and care that our midwives showed to me.  They truly became friends and confidantes as they walked with me through a very difficult time.  There are unfortunate circumstances at play, of course.  But what has been so amazing is the goodness and grace that God has shown our family through it all.  I have had friends and family at my beck and call since Todd’s birth.  Someone stays with me every night.  People take Vicki to and from her school each day.  They bring me whatever food I want. 

In the brief time of Todd’s birth, I had to face my emotions about some very real evil that has come into my life.  I believe now that that is what was keeping me from birthing for so long.  And in labor, as I screamed “No!  No!  No!” I was declaring my opposition to this evil.  God is so good, and has given me another healthy baby and birth.  I have so much for which to be thankful, even in the midst of evil and suffering.  

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