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|The Dream of Natural Childbirth : River Valley edition : Thursday, 24 May 2018 23:15 EDT : a service of The Public Press|
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The Dream of Natural Childbirth
by Craig Idlebrook
My wife and I were the perfect candidates for giving birth at home: Two healthy granola types living way out in the woods and harboring a deep distrust of western medicine.
The Dream of Natural Childbirth ... and Our Reality
(We support all things green and natural. Sometimes, however, it's pretty comforting to have the capabilities of technology close at hand. This is a good reminder to temper environmental enthusiasm with a dash of conventional wisdom and common sense.
All our friends had given birth to their children at home. One couple expecting their second child said their first labor only lasted three hours. In the back of our minds, Frances and I thought we could beat that.
We dreamed of an ideal birth. We wanted everything quiet and cozy, with no one else around except our midwives, who'd sit benevolently in the corner.
Cozy was not a hospital. The books we read made hospitals seem a notch above the local mechanic's garage as a good place to give birth.
We prepared for home birth as if it were the Olympics. We biked, swam and ate well. We gathered every birth supply on our list, from adult diapers to witch-hazel. We worked to prepare our nest, then went to sleep in a tent under the stars.
My wife started labor one night after we had hiked a mountain. I wanted to fill the birth tub, but Frances gripped my arm and told me my sole purpose in life was to hold her aching back. So we called her sister, who came over in the middle of the night to wrestle with our cranky water-heater.
Our two midwives arrived a little later. We kept vigil all night as Frances labored like Atlas with the world. She refused food, so the midwives offered a drink called Recharge to keep her going.
We stuck to juice. To us, Recharge was just sugar-water with an ad campaign about electrolytes.
Dawn came, and Frances' water hadn't yet broken. One midwife helpfully suggested that perhaps Frances had unresolved psychological issues preventing her from wanting the baby to be born. At that moment, I was glad my wife didn't have a gun.
Morning blended into afternoon. The midwives began to exchange looks. The baby's heartbeat was steady, but Frances was clearly tiring. The midwives had lost confidence that she could deliver on her own.
After a confused conference between contractions, we agreed to be taken to the local hospital, where the midwives said Frances could get a shot of Pitocin, a drug to speed up her labor.
That's when our life became flashes from a bad dream.
After a bumpy ride to the hospital, Frances was doubling over as we waited for the elevator. A scruffy man walking by shook his head and said, "Bummer."
Of course, the baby dropped into the birth canal as soon as Frances touched the hospital bed. A small crowd of medical professionals screamed for her to push. She stood up on the bed, and whoosh, out came a baby girl.
But our baby wasn't breathing. The crowd whisked her away to the other end of the room, leaving my wife confused and bleeding. I held Fran's hand and tried not to let on how bad things looked.
Our daughter was revived, but almost immediately Frances began acting strangely. She stopped speaking or making eye contact, though she smiled happily. Later, when I fell asleep, she went into convulsions. The hospital staff started testing her for brain damage.
Throughout all this, my little daughter, Clara, was in my arms, looking like a tired dockworker. She started twitching, and I told the nurse I thought she was having seizures.
The nurse assured me it was just hiccups. Then they took Clara away to be weighed, and returned to tell she was, in fact, having seizures.
The seizure medication stopped her breathing, and she was hooked up to a ventilator.
I called my saintly sister-in-law to sit with my brain-damaged wife while I sang lullabies to my ventilated child. The pediatrician informed me they'd need to transfer our baby to a big-city hospital that everyone had told me to avoid.
Shortly before dawn, my wife came back to the world. I told her the bad news, and she smiled and took my hand. We shared a package of cold seasoned tofu. It seemed like the best meal we ever ate.
It was decided both mother and child would be transferred to the big hospital, though Clara would have to go in a separate ambulance for insurance reasons. They wheeled her in so we could say goodbye; she was full of tubes, but my wife said she looked beautiful.
An hour later, we were wheeled into the megahospital's surprisingly cozy maternity ward and given a room with a majestic river view. The sun was coming up.
We were miles from home in our second hospital, and the debate over home birth vs. hospital births seemed hopelessly far away and meaningless. Overnight, all of our dogma had been stripped away, leaving two essential facts: Frances was back among the living, and our child was alive -- in intensive care.
How could we have felt anything but joy?
As Clara grew stronger, tests revealed that both mother and child had extremely low electrolyte levels, which can cause seizures and impaired brain activity. Maybe Recharge would have been a good idea.
We later got the news that our friends now had their second child, born at home. The labor lasted only an hour and a half.
Craig Idlebrook is a freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com.
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