Sunday, September 4, 2011

Back to the middle - Part 1

I was 20 years old when I had my first child. I'd come from a seriously dysfunctional family of origin and I realized as soon as the nurse at the Health Department said, "Your test was positive," that I knew nothing good about being a mother. I knew in that same moment that I would do absolutely everything in my power to find out what that was, and throw myself into it fully. From day one, I was obsessed with finding out what I'd never been told - how to nurture a human being to become the best they could be.

I read every book the library had on pregnancy and birth. I read Dr. Spock and he warned me to chart my baby's pees and poops and feeds for the first few weeks. I remember thinking, "Is is really this complicated to be a good mom? Oh well, whatever it takes!" I felt disconnected and troubled by all of these books warning me of things I worried endlessly I'd forget, and obviously, instantly fail at mothering my own baby. Then I read Dr. Sears - he is the Ina May Gaskin of parenting - he said, "Trust your instincts. If your body says to hold your baby, then hold her. Keep your baby close, we are mammals and meant to be close to our mothers. Independence will come, just trust your heart, trust your baby, trust yourself."

Consider my hair blown back, and my heart blown open! I was so relieved to hear a message from a pediatrician no less, that I didn't have to have Excel spreadsheets of my baby's ins and outs in order to qualify for the Good Mother Club. I felt like I'd just found some secret- we could trust our babies? We could trust ourselves? I started questioning, and doubting what I'd been hearing my whole life, and what some of these books were saying now. Why was I being sold this story that I had to perform in a certain way to be a good mom- why couldn't I just BE a mom?

Not realizing I had legal options that would have allowed me to choose a different provider, I gave birth under the care of my family practice doctor in our HMO. At the time he was the Chief of Staff and my biggest memory of him was coming in, touching my belly and listening to heart tones, and then standing with his hand on the door asking, "Do you have any questions?" How could I have had questions, I was still trying to sit up and he was halfway out the door! At one point he scheduled the MSAFP test which looked for spina bifida, trisomy 18 and markers for Down's Syndrome. My consent on this test was, "We always run this test at 21 weeks (or whenever it was), it's just a blood test, do you want it?" Of course I wanted it. I was a Good Mother.

What I wasn't told was that this test has a perilously high false-positive rate. I didn't discover this until a nurse left a voice mail message at my house telling me that my baby screened positive for Down's Syndrome, and that I'd need a Level 2 ultrasound. I was shocked - terrified- I was visiting my mother at the time and I asked Randy to drive the hour and a half to come get me, I needed to be with him, and I needed to be home. I had to prepare myself for a life with a Down's baby, I had to process what this would mean for us- I'd just been told my baby had Down's Syndrome and that I'd need some higher level ultrasound - probably involving giant needles and drugs - and I was scared SHITLESS.

I called the nurse back and she was blase'. I asked what a Level 2 ultrasound was and she said, "It just looks in more detail at your baby." I wanted to know the procedure. How big was this needle they were going to poke into me? How long would I be out from what was sure to be a lot of drugs in order to get this giant camera loaded needle shoved into my belly? She didn't understand why I didn't understand what a Level 2 ultrasound was. She explained that it was just another ultrasound, like I'd had before- but the image would be more clear. Well, couldn't someone have said that from the beginning?

We went to the genetic counselor and fortunately all was well with our sweet little boy. But something had been broken in me- my trust. I went online and read all about this test and when I discovered the high rate of false positives, and read other women's stories that were exactly like mine, I was absolutely livid. I felt tricked, lied to, misled. Why didn't my doctor tell me what this test involved, and the risk of taking it? Why didn't he warn me about the false positives so that I'd be prepared in case that happened to me? I started to realize that I didn't have to just accept what I was being told and that maybe part of being a Good Mother was also being informed. I kept reading my books and going on websites for pregnant women with voracity. I wanted to know all of those secrets- I didn't want to be fooled again!

Finally I was 41 weeks and still not going into labor. I didn't know about doulas, this was a pretty new concept at the time - and I hadn't taken any childbirth classes so I sat at home while my boyfriend worked graveyards, unable to drive (because I didn't know how) waiting, and waiting for my baby to come. We had a trip to Iowa for my husband's family reunion coming up and it was getting awful close to the time I might give birth, so I asked to be induced. My doctor of course was accommodating, so we set off for our induction.

My blood pressure had been creeping up but hadn't hit any serious numbers - still in the 135-80 range. Somehow at the hospital I developed pre-eclampsia and a nurse came in and said, "You have pre-eclampsia, we have to give you magnesium sulfate so you don't have seizures." She plugged it into my IV and walked out. I was suddenly out of it, and on fire at the same time. I couldn't get comfortable and now I felt like a caged animal at the same time. My mom and aunt arrived and I asked them to leave because I just couldn't handle the distraction of being stuck in the bed, lit on fire with Pitocin contractions at the same time. I don't remember almost any of my labor.

My baby boy was born and after a brief stint of panic and disassociation on my part, we were working on breastfeeding and sent home, a family. I went home with my baby who had been inside me when I got morphine, magnesium sulfate, and an epidural. The kid was tired and nothing I did would wake him up. His latch was so much work when he would wake up that at one point at 4am (I'm now convinced that all breastfeeding emergencies happen at 4am) I put him down on the bed, crying, while Randy made a bottle and cried my soul out that my baby  hated me and that I was a failure as a mother from the start. I did not know that the drugs from my labor would affect my baby and his ability to breastfeed - I wasn't told even after he was born. I didn't know that breastfeeding would be SO hard. I had thought that with all my reading and time on bulletin boards that I'd know exactly what to do, and when I didn't, it was really earth shattering for me. The bottle crushed me, it crushed my heart- it was the first symbol that I was not going to get this mothering thing 'right'.

I got myself together and I looked at my son and I told him, "We are GOING to figure this out." I was determined. We would feed this baby however he needed to be fed but the first sensation he'd have every time he squawked was my nipple at his lips. Finally, he chose me. My heart was bursting as nursing got easier and easier, and I thought - I can't be the only person who is struggling with breastfeeding!

With the best of intentions and with my confidence up, I went online and started talking with women about breastfeeding - working through troubles, and learning a lot myself.