Stella Rose Justus
The Birth of Stella Rose
It took us almost a year to get pregnant. As discouraging and stressful as those months were, it did give me a lot of time to read a LOT of books on pregnancy and childbirth. I would later come to realize that I needed that time, that year and the 8 months of pregnancy that followed, in order for me to realize how my beliefs and perceptions were completely shaped by the media and the medical model of care that currently dominate here in the US. By educating myself on midwifery, natural childbirth, the evolution of birth practices, and the risks of a typical hospital experience, I felt myself becoming empowered to create a gentle, natural, intervention-free birth for myself and my baby. I was convinced that the environment and way in which a baby is born into this world is extremely important and can affect them for the rest of their lives. I became a Morning Star client and planned to have a water birth at the birth center. I spent six Saturdays and countless "home-play" hours, learning and practicing self-hypnosis in order to fully relax and feel at peace during my birthing time. I ate well, I exercised, I drank wheat grass juice and got regular massages. I prided myself on never once having to see a doctor during my pregnancy. I felt amazing. As my due date loomed closer I started getting more and more excited to meet my baby, although my to-do list was still long and I was nowhere near ready yet. I kept telling baby to stay in until his or her due date and I felt sure that we would probably go past it.
Then one day everything changed. I was 34 ½ weeks along, still working full time and still working dutifully on my long to-do-list. I had a baby shower planned for the coming weekend and the nursery yet to decorate. As I left work for the day about 2:00pm I mentioned to a co-worker that I felt "crampy." She joked that maybe baby was coming and I laughed as I completely dismissed the idea. I figured I just needed to rest. I went to my husband's doctor appointment with him and stopped at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription before heading home. I felt what I would describe as typical menstrual cramps in my low back that would come and go every few minutes. They were uncomfortable but not really painful. When I got home around 4:00pm I lay down and took a nap and the cramps went away. I got up and ate supper at about 8:00pm and started winding down for the night. My husband and I both decided to go to bed early and he took two sleeping pills to help him fall asleep as he had not been feeling well. About 9:00pm the cramps came back, this time pretty intensely. I tried applying a heating pad to my back which did not help at all. My husband suggested that I lie down and listen to one of my hypnobabies tracks to try to relax and fall asleep. I agreed but just as I was about to hit the play button the cramps got so intense that I figured I should at least call my midwife and let her know what was going on. So I called Rachel and described the cramps and some other mild symptoms I had been having over the last week. Neither of us thought I was in labor and Rachel speculated that I may have a urinary tract infection. As I was talking to her the pain became much worse and I started moaning through it. I timed the cramps and they were coming about every 3 minutes and lasting 90 seconds. Rachel suggested I go into the ER to get checked out just to be on the safe side. I REALLY didn't want to go in, but eventually agreed. My husband, who was still feeling sick and whose sleeping pills were probably starting to kick in, asked me if I needed him to drive me or if I could just go myself. At first I said I could probably drive myself but then changed my mind as the intensity of the cramps continued to build. The half-hour drive to the hospital was awful. All I wanted was to get there, even though I knew getting there wouldn't stop the pain. Although I told the admitting clerk that I thought I might be in pre-term labor neither my husband nor I really believed it yet. He told me later he assumed we would get checked out and be on our way home in an hour or two. I thought if it really was the beginning of labor that they would give me something to stop it and I might go on bed rest for a while. But by the time a cervical check was performed they told me I was 7cm dilated! I heard my husband ask, "So, this is really happening tonight?" "Yes," they replied, "you are going to have this baby!" Because I had not received any of my prenatal care there everyone was asking me tons of questions trying to get a history. I answered what I could but mostly ignored them as all I could do was concentrate inward and cling to the bed rail in order to get through each wave. I remember I just kept thinking "I can't believe this is happening," over and over again. My poor husband, who must have been running on pure adrenalin, was AMAZING. He took over answering questions to the best of his ability, and called both of our families, all the while continuing to be at my side supporting me. At one point someone from the anesthesia department came in and asked me what my plan was for pain management. I told her I had not planned on taking anything, although I will admit I was tempted! As it turned out there probably wouldn't have been time even if I had changed my mind. About 45 minutes after being told I was 7cm there were no more resting breaks between waves and I had a couple that "shook my very being to the core." I then started to feel pressure like I was ready to push and they wheeled me into the delivery room. I told them that I wanted to direct the pushing myself and didn't want anyone telling me how and when to push. They agreed and let me push on my own for about 10 minutes and then they said something was not right with the baby's heart rate and started doing exactly what I told them I didn't want. The person receiving the baby, I think she was a resident doctor, even threatened me with an episiotomy at one point if I didn't start pushing harder. Although I thought this was incredibly disrespectful and unprofessional, I really didn't want one either so I pushed with all my might. A couple of minutes before baby came out my bag of water burst all over her which secretly made me kind of happy. After about 20 minutes of pushing my beautiful baby was born. I asked if we could let the cord finish pulsing before we cut it but they told me no. My husband cut the cord and told me we had a baby girl as they whisked her away to make sure she was okay. After only a few minutes they brought her back to me and laid her on my chest. She was grunting as she took her first breaths but they said that was normal for her gestational age and that she was perfectly healthy. I asked my husband how much she weighed and he said 4lbs 15oz. We named her Stella Rose. After a couple of minutes they took her away again and I felt the resident touching me and pulling on the cord. When I asked what she was doing she said we had to get the placenta out and I told her to stop and asked if she could please give me 10 minutes to deliver my own placenta! So she, and what I imagine was a student of some sort, proceeded to sit at the end of the bed and stare intently at my vagina while I relaxed and let things happen naturally. After a few minutes I felt the urge to push and pushed the placenta out without any problems. I asked to see it and the nurse showed it to me. It was so much bigger than I imagined! I had a small tear (which I'm convinced I wouldn't have had had they let me push on my own like I wanted), that required two stitches. Then I heard them talking about giving me Pitocin and I asked why I needed it and couldn't we just massage the uterus instead. The resident "warned" me that the massage would hurt much more than the contractions from the Pitocin. I somehow highly doubted that and insisted that we try massage only first. She reluctantly agreed. And by some miracle my uterus was able to contract and shrink just as it was designed to do, without the help of artificial drugs.
I had done it! I had birthed my baby completely naturally, without any pain medications and without any medical interventions. I only wish that I, and so many other women, didn't have to work so hard and fight so many battles with medical staff in order to do so in a hospital setting. Even though there was nothing medically wrong with Stella the doctors told me she would probably need to be hospitalized for 2-3 weeks due to her prematurity. There were certain parameters she would need to meet before being discharged. After bringing her in to breastfeed (which she did for about 20 minutes!), we were taken to our separate rooms. They had a video camera in the nursery so that I could watch "the Stella channel" from my room whenever I wanted to see her. The next morning Rachel called me to see how everything had turned out with my "cramps" from the night before. She couldn't believe that I had had the baby and asked why I hadn't called her to come to the hospital to be with me. Everything had happened so incredibly fast that I had not even thought about it. Looking back I really wish I had.
When I went down the hall to visit and feed Stella over the next few days it felt strange, like she was someone else's baby, not mine. I didn't have that instant connection with her after she was born. I didn't feel that intense love that mothers often describe. I think that several factors contributed to this delayed bonding experience. One was of course our physical separation. Stella was kept in a covered isolate in her own private room, in a separate wing of the hospital. She was connected to heart and oxygen monitors, an IV, and a nasogastric feeding tube, all of which made lifting her out of the isolate and into my arms quite the process. Also when her bilirubin level increased after a few days the doctors wanted her to be under the LED lights as much as possible, and I would only get to hold her every three hours when breastfeeding. Another factor was the shock of her early birth. I felt like my mind was in a haze those first few days, still not really believing that it had happened. I was running on autopilot and was both distracted and overwhelmed by all the well-meaning visitors, texts and phone calls that I felt obligated to respond to. But looking back, probably the biggest factor was that due to her 24hr nursing care, and her regular tube feedings (my infrequent and not overly encouraged breast feedings were considered "supplemental"), I just didn't feel needed. I never had to kick into mommy gear, because someone else was taking care of her. So instead I focused on my own recovery, and on pumping my breasts every couple of hours as the nurses directed to ensure that my milk came in.
When I was discharged two nights later I was still unsure of how the next few weeks would play out, and what my role would be. How often should I be at the nursery? Didn't I need to be there to breastfeed her and get her off of those tube feedings? I was very confused but went home that night because it just seemed like that's what was expected, and because I didn't feel a strong inclination to stay (i.e. needed). But when I got home and didn't have Stella with me, I realized quickly how wrong it felt. My midwife Paula called me that night and I told her how I was feeling and how confused I was. We talked for almost an hour and in her calm, loving, encouraging way she helped me to realize that I was what Stella needed more than anything else right now. More than the nurses or the doctors, more than the bilirubin lights, more than the tube feedings. She needed her Mama. She needed her Mama to hold her, comfort her, feed her and love her. She needed me. So I packed a bag and decided that the next morning I would move in with Stella until she was discharged. Her nurse called me at home before I left and told me that Stella had been extremely restless all night and had even rolled over in her isolate! She said she was acting hungry and thought she needed more than the tube feedings she was getting and could I get there to breast feed her as soon as possible? I honestly believe that on some level she knew that I had left and was letting me know that she did indeed need me.
Although I was prepared for a long stay it seemed that Stella had other plans. When I arrived at the hospital I noticed that she had pulled her feeding tube out of her nose. When I let the nurse know she said that that was the second time she had done it and suggested we just leave it out and see how she does with breastfeeding only. I was ecstatic! I knew we could do it. I will never forget all the time we spent nursing together in that chair in her hospital room. We shared some incredibly sweet moments and bonded more than we had since her birth. I will always cherish that time. Incredibly, over the next two days, Stella proceeded to meet all of the parameters required for discharge. She maintained her temperature and her weight, she breastfed exclusively, passed her car seat test, and her bilirubin level returned to normal. We took Stella home on Sunday, just five days after her birth.
Needless to say Stella's birth did not go as planned. Although I am so thankful that she came out healthy and everything turned out okay, I mourn the loss of the birth I had envisioned for us. We will never know why she came so early, but I honestly do believe that everything in life happens for a reason, and I know that her birth occurred just as it was meant to. Even though my midwives were not present at the birth, the amazing holistic care and support they provided me throughout my pregnancy and postpartum period has been invaluable. I trust them and love them. They believed in me and gave me confidence and strength. They truly care about me, my husband, and Stella. How many women can say that about their OB's? I feel a little sad that my upcoming postpartum visit will be my last, but I will always cherish this experience and can only hope that my husband and I will be blessed with more children, and can once again receive the amazing care that the staff at Morning Star provides. And in case you were wondering, as each day goes by, I continue to fall more deeply in love with my daughter than I ever thought possible. I am finally the mother I always knew I would be!