CHAPTER 12 – THE BIRTH
1982 – Pregnancy agreed with me, except for the first few months when I often felt queasy but never nauseated enough to toss my cookies. It was spring, the time of new life, and I blossomed in spirit as my belly grew with child. The only “scare” I had was when at about eight weeks pregnant, I jumped over the fence into the duck pen and back over again before I realized I probably shouldn’t be doing that!
In my search for information on natural childbirth, I discovered Dr. Lamaze, who had some ideas about childbirth that had been published since 1959 but not used regularly in the United States up to this time. In our modern society, especially with my mother’s generation, “unconscious” childbirth had become the vogue, and many women in the 1980’s still really didn’t want to be aware of the birth, much less participate actively.
Pursuit of Natural Birth
Since I’ve always been a little odd and out of the step with the general populace, I was no different regarding childbirth. Because women and medicine had strayed so far from natural, active childbirth, going back to that seemed odd to many of the older women in my life, so they weren’t much help in my search for wisdom.
However, it was encouraging to learn that my mother-in-law had birthed the first five of her eight children at home with the use of Ma-ma Nuree (grandmother nurture), the local Houma Indian midwife. Although I wasn’t brave enough to attempt home birth; and not knowing if there were still true midwives attending home births, I decided to educate myself and do the best I could at the hospital in town.
After explaining to my doctor that I didn’t want any anesthesia, pain medication, or unnecessary invasive procedures, he just patronized me, chuckling to himself that I might change my mind and agree to an “epidural”, which were quite popular at the time. I assured him I would not, and the challenge was on to learn all I could about natural childbirth.
With my mind made up, I purchased my own copy of Painless Childbirth – The Lamaze Method by Dr. Fernand Lamaze. Not really believing that painless childbirth was truly achievable, I also purchased, read, highlighted, and dog-eared a copy of Thank You, Dr. Lamaze by Marjorie Karmel, a testimonial in its seventh printing. Maybe her experience could convince me that the Lamaze method was the way to go.
During that time, I realized I wanted to breastfeed the baby, as well, becoming the real earth mother type, with my hippie wanna-be past rising swiftly to the surface. The book Nursing Your Baby by Karen Pryor was most helpful and encouraging.
Armed with what I felt was a complete arsenal of books, I absorbed, imagined, and then began to do all the recommended exercises. When it was time, I enrolled us in the Lamaze class in Houma and looked forward to each session with The Captain.
While I didn’t really believe that psychoprophylaxis could entirely alleviate the pain of childbirth, I did believe that if I practiced the breathing techniques until they were second nature, they would indeed distract my brain away from the pain of the contractions and on to the importance of flooding the uterine muscles with oxygen so they could do their work efficiently, thereby shortening my labor, especially as a primipara (first-time mother).
The book about breastfeeding enlightened me to all the chemicals and medications that can cross the placenta wall or are carried via breast milk into the baby’s blood stream. Even some of the drugs given at the hospital aren’t best for the unborn baby and often have a negative impact on the baby’s birth experience.
I enjoyed being pregnant. The second and third trimesters found me full of life and vitality, looking forward to the challenge of natural childbirth and determined to accomplish my goal of providing the best entry into this world for my child. I put together everything a newborn needed, including cloth diapers, plastic diaper covers, and a diaper pail (it never occurred to me that no one was giving me a baby shower, either!).
During those seven months of preparation, I learned everything I could and stored it all away in my steel-trap brain, not allowing any essential tidbit to escape, thereby being fully prepared both mentally and physically for the big day.
The Birth is Imminent
October 8,1982, it was a Friday night. We we were watching that old TV drama, Dallas, and I had a little snack of Wheatsworth crackers and chocolate milk. I was lying there on the couch, engrossed in the show, when all of a sudden a pain shot through my core, literally lifting me off the couch.
Springing from the couch, I headed straight to the bedroom, dressing quickly. The Captain grabbed my overnight bag, and as I walked through the living room toward the front door, something like a rubber band snapped inside me, hot fluid rushing down my legs. At that point, I went into a trance-like state, with every move after that seeming surreal.
Dreamily, I walked to the bathroom, grabbed a towel and placed it between my thighs to capture the fluid. I can’t, at this moment, recall if we paused to time the contractions, which is what you’re encouraged to do before rushing off to the hospital. Rather, in hindsight, I think my training kicked in, and I remembered that once your water breaks, you must head straight to the hospital.
The contractions continued regularly during the 30-minute drive to the hospital in Houma. The young nurse’s aid met me at the car with a wheel chair, which she pushed chattering nervously with questions as I huffed and puffed my Phase 1 breathing patterns.
“Is this your first baby? Are you in pain? Do you want a boy or a girl?” How in the world did this girl expect me to chit chat with her without interrupting my breathing patterns? I mean, this was serious business to me, and although I’m sure she thought me extremely rude not to answer, I was already in my Active Labor Zone and really didn’t care what she thought.
After the cursory pelvic exam, I was immediately wheeled to Labor and Delivery where I suffered the discomfort of preparations for childbirth, which I begged them to forgo. And after literally “loosing my crackers”, I was finally placed in a semi-private labor room with another woman, also having her first child. When I had previously passed her room on the way to the exam room, I had noticed she and her husband sitting on the bed playing a game of cards. Say what?
How extremely odd–to be playing cards when it was time to focus on bringing a child into the world. I immediately had The Captain pull the curtain between our beds so that I might concentrate and focus on my breathing patterns, while she and her husband talked and laughed.
My labor progressed slowly at first, and the nurse explained that the contractions would be intense since the amniotic sac had already broken, releasing all the amniotic fluid, which acted as a buffer against the pain. She encouraged me to ask for pain meds and to let her know if I would like to reconsider taking the epidural.
Come to find out, that is how the woman in the bed next to me was able to play cards. She had received an epidural upon entering the hospital and was feeling no pain at all. There she sat, passive in her labor experience, flipping cards while I huffed and puffed! Hey, to each her own, right? I’m sure she thought I was odd, too!
At the end of the first hour of labor and only a slight change in the cervix, the nurse told The Captain it was going to be a long night and that he had plenty of time to go get coffee or something to eat. I forget now what it was, but he had forgotten something at the house, so he wanted to go back down the bayou to get it. I didn’t really want him to go, but he assured me he would be right back, and with that I settled in for the long night.
Shortly after he left, the intensity and frequency of the contractions increased. With each contraction, I jumped ahead of the wave of pain using the breathing methods laid out by Dr. Lamaze, which came easily to me after months of practice. I was thankful for my nurse, who was a very gentle soul, soft-spoken and quite supportive of my choice to experience natural childbirth. Her name was Esther, and I know God sent her there for us.
By this time, Big Sis had arrived and was standing by my bedside in The Captain’s stead. (No cell phones back then, but part of our “birthing kit” was a list of phone numbers to call and a bunch of change for the hospital pay phone! He must have called her, but I don’t recall because I was in a trance, remember?) Not primed in the ways of Lamaze, I think Big Sis was a little nervous that her little sister was going to suffer unnecessary pain. But she stood her post, patting my brow occasionally with a damp cloth. My oldest sister-in-law was there, too, probably just about as nervous.
Quite suddenly, after only an hour of phase two labor, my body kicked it up a notch, and it was obvious by the closeness and length of the contractions that I was entering phase three. Changing my breathing patterns to match the strength and length of the contractions, I marched right on through without so much as a moan or a groan.
Before we knew it, the cervix had dilated from 4 cm to 9 cm in a very short amount of time. Knowing it was time for “transition”, Esther wheeled my bed into the frigid, sterile operating room, moving me onto the cold, steel operating table. After getting me positioned, my concentration was broken by a splash of cold on my bottom and a scraping. “Hey! What are you doing down there?” I screeched. Esther explained to the nurse’s aid that I was “going natural” and could feel everything she was doing to me, at which point the nurse burst out,
“Really? She can feel all that? Oh, baby, I am so sorry if I hurt you. We don’t get many like you in here, honey. Most time, they don’t feel a thing. I’ll be more gentle.”
Hey, I know this is too much information, but it’s one of the few funny details I recall. At that point, with my concentration broken, I realized The Captain wasn’t there yet, so I asked Esther to please send someone to find him, lest he miss the birth of our first child.
As The Captain sauntered up the long walkway to the hospital, his attention was drawn to a third story window where two women were waving frantically. He broke into a run (more like his “George Jefferson shuffle), quickly reaching Labor and Delivery, handing my sister a box saying “Here! I brought the nurses some doughnuts to go with their coffee!”
“Forget the doughnuts. She’s on the delivery table. Get in there NOW!!! ” Of course he had to scrub his hands and don a gown and mask first.
Meanwhile, I lay flat on my back, as the end of the table dropped away allowing the final preparations for the birth. A field of sterile sheets was set up, blocking my view of the end of the table. This frustrated me, but I was too focused on breathing to voice my objections.
My favorite doctor of the two was not on call that night, and I wasn’t the least bit excited when the masked face of Dr. B. looked at me over the sterile field. There I was, exhaling long breaths of air, not paying him much mind. Esther reminded him that I was “going natural”. With a perplexed look on his face, he said, “You do realize it’s too late now for any kind of anesthesia?”
Through the deep exhale, I vigorously nodded yes, but inside I was screaming, “YES YOU IDIOT! JUST GET ON WITH IT!”
Just as Esther said, “I think she’s stalling because her husband isn’t here yet”, The Captain was escorted in and placed at the head of the table, just to my right, grasping my hand and whispering the words he learned at our Lamaze classes. Dr. B. looked like he really didn’t appreciate The Captain’s intrusion. Too bad.
The doctor announced full dilation, and then it was time. Esther, well versed in Lamaze, instructed me just as I needed, “Okay, when you feel the next contraction, take a deep cleansing breath, exhale, another deep breath, bear down and push!” The Captain supported my back with his arm while I got the job done.
After repeating the process a few times, the baby’s head was visible, and at 1:59 a.m., our beautiful seven-pound-20-in-long daughter entered the cold, cruel world of the OR. She was quiet and alert, and her Apgar scores were perfect. Her daddy doted on her while they tended to me after the birth.
Without anesthesia, my active labor was swift–four hours total–and uncommon for a first-time mother. The Captain was about as proud as he could be of his healthy, beautiful baby girl. To this day, I don’t know if he ate one of those celebratory doughnuts with the nurses, but they did tell me that he popped a few buttons off his shirt!
Once back in the labor room, my roommate was perplexed as I sat upright in the bed, anxiously awaiting the nurse to bring me my baby. Because I had left strict orders to not give my baby anything via bottle, she would soon be brought in for her first feeding.
Before they brought her, though, a nurse offered me medication for the pain. I graciously declined (that’s what southern bells do, right?), voicing that I was aware anything I took would be transmitted to the baby via the breast milk, thereby making her drowsy. I explained that establishing a breastfeeding relationship immediately was important to me and crucial for the baby.
After the nurse left the room, my room-mate asked me if I was a nurse. I answered her that I was just a first-time mom wanting to do best for my baby. She expressed at that point how jealous she was that I had come in after her and had already birthed my baby, while she lay there under the effects of the epidural. I somehow felt sorry for her, because she had accepted that the experience would be unbearably painful, not educating herself about her choices and options for childbirth; and as a result, was more of a passive observer of the event than an active participant. Again, it’s all about choice, right?
As recommended by the Lamaze instructor, I had brought along one of my homemade pillows to help make the bleak hospital room more homey. When they finally brought our precious daughter to me, I propped her on the pillow, and she fed hungrily. Everything seemed so right with the world in the wee hours of that October 9th morning. Even the pain of the uterine contractions could not diminish the sheer joy.
Once she had nursed to satisfaction, I laid her back on the pillow and stared with awe into her innocent face. Although she should have been sleepy, she stared intently back at me with her dark eyes, taking in everything and seeming so utterly and amazingly intelligent.
She captured my heart in those moments, and we fell deeply in love, that baby girl and I. Such a love I had never known was possible, until it wrapped around my heart and squeezed it tight. No drug in the world could come close to the high I experienced at that moment and the days that followed.
The Captain went to D.H. Holmes the next day and bought the most expensive pink, frilly-laced dress for a newborn he could find and booties to match. We named her Rachel DoVi. Rachel, from the Bible, meaning little lamb. The middle name is one I made up taking the D-o from Donna, my mother; and V-i from Vivian, his mother and also my paternal grandmother, of whom I was very fond. (It is pronounced quickly, with the emphasis on the Vi. The name comes off as French, which was not intentional. For years, she was called DoVi by family members and close friends, until at the ripe age of seven, she informed us that her name was Rachel.)
After three days at the hospital, it was time to take Rachel DoVi to our little WASP world* in Dulac, where she was the center of our lives and the foundation of our family universe. There, she would sleep soundly in a beautiful wooden cradle designed and built by my father, which has since been used by each grand and great grandchild.
At my six-week postpartum checkup, my favorite doctor (who did NOT deliver the baby) was the one to do the exam. He shook his Walter-Matthau-looking head and smiled as he entered the room. “I hear you really impressed Dr. B. He’s not a proponent of natural childbirth, but he said you almost made him a believer. Good for you!”
The Miracle of Birth
Women have babies all the time, and to some, recounting the birth of a child is probably just boring, everyday stuff. Of course to each of us, our birthing experiences are unique and special, some better than others. For me, it’s a miracle that I was even willing to consider children, much less be so committed to natural childbirth. When I was 19 years old, I witnessed childbirth for the first time on a documentary film. I was repulsed, frightened, and a few other emotions for which I have no words. At that moment, I made up my mind that I would never, ever have babies. But God in His immense wisdom knew better, and I’m sure he sat in Heaven chuckling at me just as Dr. C. chuckled about how I surprised old doctor B. Seems like much had changed in eight years!
*I dreamed of my friend, Cathy, not long after I wrote this, who died a few years ago of cancer; but in my dream, she was alive and well. As a Christian missionary, she first visited our home in Dulac back in the early 1980’s. She looked around and said, “Oh! You have your own little WASP world right here in Dulac!” She laughed at her comment but then quickly apologized, thinking that her assessment would be taken as insult. No. She was right. I had created my own little WASP world in a yard full of our Native American Catholic family, where I was the only white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, a fact that had never occurred to me before her remark. It remains one of my fondest memories of Cathy to this day, and I include it in this chapter in her honor, may God rest her soul.