Thursday, October 25, 2012
The Good Doctor
It was the weekend of July 7th, and while everyone I knew was aware I was awaiting the arrival of my sweet little girl, no one knew the emotional turmoil that was festering within me. As I sat on my bed, mindlessly making my hands move across a sweater, I would look around my room. Recently revamped with crimson paint and wooden floors, a little nook prepared for the baby to be, birth supplies waiting in my closet among the many bins of yarn....I was ready. At least that what was I was trying to convince myself of.
Home. Birth. Everything in me, everything I believe knows that home is a very good place to welcome a new arrival. I played out the entire scenario in my mind over and over, trying to plug in all the new players into memories I had stored away from previous births, but it would not compute. In the quiet of my room, the only place in my active home to experience such stillness, I contemplated the why of my turmoil. Was it fear of the inevitable pain? Was I unsure about the possibility of my midwife arriving in time to do her thing, or was I afraid she'd arrive too soon? Or was I just afraid of her? She looked good on paper. She had the knowledge thing down to a science and had many, many births under her belt to prove she could do this thing, and do it well. So why was I so unsettled by the prospect? I had no concrete reasons, none that I would allow to come up for air at least, but I did have an overwhelming sense that this was not to be, and it shouldn't be and couldn't be, and finally...it just wouldn't be. I couldn't allow it.
This weekend will go down in infamy in my family, particularly my marriage. For 45 minutes I would pace and exclaim to my husband that I absolutely had to go see a doctor. The next 15, I would sit calmy on my bed, mentally comparing it to the dreaded hospital mattresses and waffle, reasoning that maybe I could just have the baby without the midwife....without anyone really, then come to my senses that my baby was way too important to allow juvenile thoughts of renegade birthing to enter into the realm of possibility. I do believe my husband used words like 'insane...crazy...never again...make a damn decision already..' things like that. But I couldn't. I was sitting on something big, a choice I didn't want to have to make. So he made one for me.
First thing Monday morning, my husband found a doctor, close to my home, that would see me that afternoon. Jamie's way of thinking was "Meet the guy...then when you go into labor, you have choices and just having the choice might calm you a bit..." Ha! Me calm? I don't think so. Especially when the word "Doctor" entered the picture. I can't say that I've even one good experience with any person trailing the letters M.D. after their name, especially when it came to the baby birthing variety. I wasn't concerned with stepping on the scale, getting bloodlet by a needle and too many tubes to count, or even with the questions regarding my original plan. It was the whole "history" thing I wanted to run away and hide from, because in the past, eyebrows were raised quite frequently when giving my birthing history and it was in this moment, I had wished for a typed up Birth Resume to prove I was a certifiable "Statistical Anomaly." The questions are basic....Due date, birth date, weight of the baby, vaginal or c-section, age of the mother....And in this I wanted to be alloted five full paragraphs describing each because every detail of my life, of how I came to be a mother with more than your average 1.8 children is so important to who I am, and who they are, and who my family is....please, oh please, do not form your opinion on what we've got going on here from statistics, popular media, or even the grim statistics that say teenage mothers are a societal problem of epic proportions that must be solved immediately lest the world implode.
I walk into the spacious, warm and well decorated waiting area, my heart pounding, brimming to the top with apologies of my last minute consultation, sure that the emotional flogging for being an irresponsible mother would begin with signing in. Nope. Smiles and welcomes and "Here you go, just fill this out and we'll get you started..." Uhm wait, don't you want to know why I am 100 months pregnant and you've never seen me before? Will you still recieve your paycheck if you don't publicly chastise me for having the gumption to pursue a homebirth in a state where it's not techincally legal? I rattle off some random string of explaination and still, the smile remains and I feel at ease. This I did NOT expect.
After an incredibly short wait (that felt like hours because of my anxiety level) I was ushered into the back where the scale and needles greeted me. Jamie and I spent some time laughing at the newborn pictures all over the walls of the room we were first in because, well, newborns really aren't that photogenic and some looked downright shocked by their new environment. I was brought into a second room where I was given a lovely paper sheet to cover all the areas my skirt previously concealed and then it began. My history. I felt compelled to tell the nurse that I was the proud owner of recent documentation that I was STD free. Broke the ice a little bit....
So your first baby? Mother's age? 19. Yes, I said 19, but look person who I will probably never see again, I wasn't a really real 19 year old. I was married. I wasn't a recent high school graduate..oh yes, I did graduate high school, but I did it earlier than my peers. While all my high school friends were picking out prom dresses, I was in an office reconciling several hundred thousand dollars in rent money and trying to convince a..uhm..."overly thrifty" landlord that he absolutely could not raise the rents in his complex without some serious property improvements. I wasn't stressing over shoes, hair and nails for the big dance, I was making sure all our newspaper ads were indeed listed and running down to the courthouse to file eviction papers for an unfortunate tenant who felt rent was a mere suggestion, not a requirement. So, all things considered, 19 wasn't that young to enter motherhood. I sort of skipped the whole "irresponsible adolescent" stage and went straight from high school to "Hello 80 hour weeks, working night and day.." I just happened to meet my true love, just happened to get married at the tender age of 18 and just so happened to become a mother before my 9 month wedding anniversary. I wasn't the dreaded "teen mom." Too bad there wasn't room in my chart for all this information though.
Second baby? 21. I turned 21 while gestating my second and there were no legally permissable trips to a bar or liquor store. I celebrated my 21st birthday solo, while my husband was stuck in a tin can 20,000 leagues under the sea, but with my precious firstborn, most likely reading "I Spy" for the 17th time in one day, and counting the days until I'd see my beloved again. Partying hard? No. Unless you count painting a love nest all by yourself while a toddler runs around trying to "help" partying....
23....25...baby three, baby four....Yes, we had figured out by that time what causes "it" and that the Pill didn't think it needed to do it's job, so we tossed them out and actively tried for that little guy who arrived less than a month after my 25th birthday. Easy peasy. All delivered through nature's intended exit point, all healthy, all wanted, all hospital.
Then we get to the part I hate. The part that makes me pause every single time anyone asks "So how many children do you have? What number is this?" Matthew. Most times I leave him out when talking numbers, because the fact you had a baby die makes most people really uncomfortable as they don't quite know how to react to a tragedy that you've healed from, but they are just now being made aware of..It's very awkward. But for the purposes of My History, all must be revealed and accounted for and it's never easy. Full details disclosed, the immediate need is to assure the person listening that you really are okay and that you've given birth to two more amazing children, and that they don't need to treat you any differently given the knowledge they've just recieved, but inevitably, the kid gloves come on and the atmosphere does, indeed, change.
We now entered into that which makes people's eyes bug out. The homebirths. The babies born in my home, without a doctor, without drugs and in their eyes, without sanity. As my nurse was jotting down all the required statistics, I waited for the comments that, while veiled, would speak the same message "You are one crazy lady..." Didn't happen. Didn't matter. Eyebrows did not raise, judgements were not cast. I had entered the Twilight Zone. It had been drilled deeply into my pysche that if you pursued homebirth and changed your mind at any point, you could expect the absolute worst treatment imaginable from any medical professional you'd see from that point on. What exactly was going on? Oh, I get it. The nurses are trained to be very neutral, so as to allow the doctor the full pleasure of berating his patient for being so stupid as to attempt a homebirth. I'm onto you...I get it...I shall now brace myself for The Doctor.
It took a few minutes. I heard his voice outside the door. He sounded nice. Well, as nice as a voice can sound when you don't have a face to go with it, but nice, nonetheless. Nothing prepared me for what was about to enter into my room, and into my life.
A Very Good Doctor.
The visit was a pleasant blur. The Good Doctor smiled quite a bit. The Good Doctor treated me like a person not only with a body and brain, but with presence of mind. His language was firmly rooted in "I like you. I like babies. I like moms." He asked more than he told. He pointed out hair on my to-be-born baby's little head. He asked me if I had any trouble with my previous big babies and when I answered no, his jovial reply was "Guess you're just built to have them then.." Smile, reassure, affirm, repeat. What was this creature? When did doctors start asking you what YOU wanted, how YOU felt? I was bowled over.
I walked into his office, broken, in turmoil, knowing that a baby was going to be born soon, but not where or how....I walked out, fully confident that my well being had just been guaranteed (as much as possible) and that my baby would not enter into the world the way I had originally planned, but in an environment of acceptance, love, joy and anticipation. Ironically everything I had wanted from my homebirth and my midwife, that was being denied to me in a way, was handed back to me the minute I met The Good Doctor.
I wish I could say my entrance into the hospital was met with such joyful anticipation, but that would be a falsehood in the first degree. Every detail was sharp. The lights. The cool tile under my feet as I slipped my shoes off. The hospital gown, starchy and crisp to the point of uncomfortable, the anticipation of what was to be not joyful, but one of trepidation. The last time my body adjusted to a hospital bed, arranging itself into a somewhat comfortable position, I was preparing to say good-bye to a child, not hello. People came and went. They explained to me what would happen, how things would go and the flashback was intense. I am not usually one to sucuumb to emotion of any kind, but when the baby nurse explained that they would take my baby away for "about two hours to watch her vitals" I broke. I wanted to yank out the IV and run home. I whispered to my nurse that the last time I was in a hospital and they took my baby away, he didn't come back and her reply was not comforting in the least. It was some variation of having to get over that and understand this was different. Thankfully I'm a pacifist and didn't slap her right there, but if I were a person prone to violence, I may have spent my first night with my baby in jail. It was a very unkind thing to say, and while I appreciated the sentiment of life going on and new beginnings and all that jazz, I would advise anyone in that situation to never, ever, ever, downplay what a mother goes through when the memories of something so horrific are floating to the surface. I do believe at this point, there were some whispers, some consulting as to what to do with this crazy woman in room number whatever, and it was settled that they would bring her back to me as fast as they could and that yes, my husband could accompany her everywhere she went. I calmed. Besides, I reasoned...if they wanted to take her away from me and I didn't want them to, it's not like they could tackle the woman with the baby. Ha!
The clock ticked away the minutes, the hours. It was my husband and myself and the irony that we were spending more time alone together than we had in years did not escape us. We called our children every 1/2 hour to ensure their safety and comfort back at home. We discussed our 401K and what we'd like to do in the future with that and what to do to get our children into investing, we laughed way too much and too loud. We disagreed about Earl EVER being a good name and The Good Doctor humored the crazy lady in room whatever by pronouncing Earl for us with his slight southern drawl, prompting me to explain to my husband that since neither of us have the same accent, Earl just cannot happen. It only sounds right when tossed off the lips of a true southern dude. (I have a sneaking suspicion he may be a Nascar fan, but I didn't get a change to confirm)
The Good Doctor came and went at the appropriate intervals. His smile and good nature settling all nerves, his presence speaking for him "Hey I do this cool thing, and I'm really good at this cool thing because all these people let me do this cool thing.." In other words, while healthily aware of the importance in his role on this very special day, ego was not found with him. For all intents and purposes, he was just another guy in the room that played some role, but not the most important one. Honestly, if you didn't know he was the actual doctor among all the people coming and going in scrubs, you'd never assume he was The Good Doctor.
When the time came for Miss Emory to have her first birthday, I no longer saw The Good Doctor. The lights were too bright to see (seriously, if anyone that matters is reading this, do something about the lights. It's a birth, not Broadway. The lighting sucked) but I did hear him. His voice was gentle and cheerful. He was instructing a student that was attending and everything he said was Very Good. Words I can recall "Let her stretch...amazing...good job....She's doing great....Baby birthing herself..." stuff like that. It's all pieced together all hodge podge, but all of it was Very Good. My unplanned hospital birth, also Very Good and this surprised me (and to be honest, my husband as well)
From the time I became aware that Homebirth was an option for me, I became intent of finding out everything I could. What I learned was that homebirth was the movement by which women were empowered to make their own decisions about their body, their baby, and their birth experience. Empowerment is a good thing, but insomuch, there must be choice. There must be a margin in which a woman can decide between two things, not recieve undue pressure to choose the one pre-determined choice of "empowerment." There must be an allowance for all the variables to recieve consideration and after all things are considered a woman's choice should be respected. There is an unfortunate, unspoken rule with the homebirth community that caused me much grief towards the end of my prenancy: All doctors suck and seek to co-opt the birth experience to line their own pockets with the vast riches insurance companies dole out for babies being born. Now, I will say I do know a couple midwives (of above average intelligence I may add) that absolutely do not agree with this conclusion. They have a healthy repsect for birth and technology and are the embodiment of a woman's right to choose her birth place and people. These midwives are also Very Good.
But, my midwife was Not Good. Her version of empowerment meant one thing and one thing only and that thing did not jive with my need to feel that my body and my baby were well placed into the arms of safety. She would swear that homebirth was best because doctors "do not listen" in the same sentence as explaining to me that a request I had made wasn't the best way to do things. She repeatedly skirted my requests for certain things, confident that her knowledge exceeded my own and she'd do things that were in my best interest, even if those things were not what I wanted. Everything she would swear you needed a homebirth to avoid. Everything a Bad Doctor would do...turns out, is the same thing a Bad Midwife would do. Lesson learned.
I still believe homebirth is a good and beautiful thing. I do believe it's possible to birth your baby into the world gently, safely, peacefully at home...but I have been re-educated that it's also possible in the hospital, with all the techno-craziness because it all boils down to the people surrounding you. If they have ears that will listen, it is Very Good. If they have a heart for babies and mommas, it is Very Good. And when it comes to empowerment, a doctor that can be traced to a Momma of 7 walking out of the hospital feeling as like I did the day I came home with Emory, is Very, Very Good.
And I personally find it very EMPOWERING to be made aware that there are still very good people in every corner of the world, especially where you least expect to find them. And that the very rare creature, one I thought long extinct, still exists and is thriving right here in my hometown....
The Good Doctor. Very good indeed.