Happy Six Months Baby B! You are the chunkiest chunk of love that God has given your dad and I, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re 3x bigger than you were when you were born. And while that makes me a teeny bit sad because you’re getting big so fast, I’ll never take a chubby baby for granted.
Six months later I’ve given a lot of thought to Blaise’s birth story and why it was so difficult for me to write it.
Expectation, comparison and judgment were the key mental blocks I had, and what kept me from accepting the circumstances surrounding Blaise’s birth. Both comparison to my other births as well as to other women’s birth stories, and the judgments that society has of certain aspects of birth. Quite frankly; having cancer has changed my perspective so much and really, I am just SO grateful to have a healthy baby.
I think that there is a lot of judgment in motherhood, especially on social media, that has played a part in how I felt about this birth. I felt like a failure because my birth wasn’t what I wanted or expected. The fact: no matter how it happened, I brought new life into the world. I carried him in my womb for 39 weeks. How is that a failure? In Spanish, to give birth is “dar a Luz,” which literally translated is actually to “give a light.” That’s kind of amazing, and true: every child is a light brought into this world for a purpose.
But for weeks I felt like my birth was a failure and that I wanted a do-over. I kept thinking about how I could have changed it or what I could have done to change it, which is pretty ridiculous because really it is what it is and the idea of a multiverse won’t do me any good. Let me give you some backstory here.
Mathias’ birth was a pushing marathon; I pushed for four hours and because he had pooped in his bag and because I was bleeding a lot, I didn’t get to hold him right away. My heart goes out to all of the mothers whose babies get rushed to the NICU and can’t hold them for days, because even a few hours was awful for me. His birth was traumatic, and there were several distinct thoughts I had during his birth, including: “I’m never having any more kids,” “I feel like I’m dying” and “I want a c-section.” I pushed for so long because I refused to get an episiotomy, and my midwife told me I didn’t need one and we could get him out without needing to do it. This plays an important role in my birthing psychology.
Livia’s birth was the opposite of Mathias’. I was induced at 39+2 because I was already 5 cm and fully effaced and my sister in law was in town to babysit only until the end of the weekend. After the traumatic birth I had, I wanted as much control over Liv’s birth as possible, meaning: my midwife and my husband present and not having to worry about Mathias during that time. They started me on a slow drip of pitocin which didn’t really help my contractions progress, but once they broke my water I dilated the rest of the way and pushed Livia out in 45 minutes. My labor was fast and furious; for whatever reason my epidural didn’t kick in and I experienced the ring of fire. But I pushed four times and pulled her out onto my chest, and laid and nursed her successfully. It was everything I had wanted; to pull her out on my own terms, to have a hungry baby who had the right instincts to nurse, to not tear at all in delivery. She was my redemption birth.
So after two polar opposite births, my expectations were high. I expected to fly through labor again, to not tear, to have that beautiful moment of reaching down and retrieving my baby from my womb and placing him on my victorious body. I had all of the signs that it would be a fast and easy delivery; I had been contracting my whole third trimester and was four centimeters dilated at my 38 week appointment. A few days before he was born, the ultrasound technician measured Blaise around 6 and a half pounds. No sweat.
The evening of February 22nd I knew that labor was imminent. First – Lucas and I were fighting, which is the perfect time to go into labor (#sarcasm). Second – every 30 minutes or so I would have a super painful contraction and had to go to the bathroom. This continues through the night, and I kept going back to bed expecting to wake up in full-blown labor. Instead, I woke up to a steady stream of contractions increasingly close together, but no more painful. I was 39 weeks exactly.
Lucas had to go downtown to work a huge Home Show, and told me that either we go to the hospital or that I could call him whenever I thought I was close to having the baby and we’d rush to the hospital again. Not wanting to deal with my kids while having bothersome contractions and afraid of going into labor alone or at home (no offense to home birthers – but having the possibility of another special needs baby it is not a responsible option for me or for my child) I chose to go in, despite my pain level not being very high. I even told Lucas to stop at the gas station so he could get himself snacks.
When they checked me I was 6 cm dilated and contracting 3-4 minutes apart. Should be no time at all, they said. So I sat on a yoga ball and chatted with my husband for an hour, two hours, with no chance at all. Then my midwife arrived and asked me if I’d like to just break my water to “get the show on the road.” My midwife, Anna, has delivered all three of my babies and I’m so blessed to have had her on my team. I know a lot of women don’t even get their OB to deliver once. But Anna is as much a doula as a midwife and I called her cell when I decided to go into the hospital. She’s the best. She remembered that with Livia all it took was for my water to break to fly into labor. So I said let’s do it.
My water broke in a huge gush that continued to spill out for several minutes after I thought it was over. At 7 centimeters, my midwife suggested to get an epidural before the pain was too high for me to sit through. I hesitated; Lucas looked at me and asked if I wanted to try to do it naturally. I said nah let’s just get this over with – and waited for the epidural.
It took nearly 45 minutes to get my epidural because of some missing equipment, and in that time I hadn’t progressed at all. It was just taking SO LONG.
Once the epidural was placed, the nurse assigned to me asked me if I’d like to do some spinning babies techniques to try and help Blaise move along. I said yes, and so for an hour I rotated from side to side, peanut between my legs, stretching and trying to get this baby (who for so long seemed like he wanted to come out early) to finish the job. As a baby moves down towards the birth canal, they kind of nose-dive from your front to back. Blaise seemed determine to stay in the front and push down on the wrong place.
During this time, things started to get increasingly more painful. I’m not talking about pressure – I’m talking about searing, intense pain, and contractions that made my eyes water. On multiple occasions Lucas told me to hit the epidural button to get more juice; I ignored him the first few times and succumbed one or two more times. Because my epidural was so dense with Mathias I couldn’t feel a damn thing and I didn’t want that to happen again; so I try to take it easy with the anesthesia. My ideal epidural: one that takes the edge off, but isn’t so thick that I can’t tell what’s going on with my body. It was at ten centimeters that Lucas asked if he could press the button for me, and I succumbed through tears.
So epidurals work like this: the anesthesiologist places a catheter through the needle into your back. The needle is taken out, but the catheter stays in place to provide more medicine as you need it. It’s not like an IV drip; it’s controlled by a machine and you can hit a button to inject more anesthesia as you need it. It was over two hours from the time the epidural was first connected to when I needed to start pushing, and since I had a walking epidural the whole time (total control of my legs) I didn’t realize what had happened; I just thought that the pain was getting worse. In reality: the wire that connected to the machine had disconnected and I hadn’t gotten any epidural juice since my first injection, which explained the intense amount of pain I had felt as Blaise moved down into the birth canal.
The anesthesiologist was called into the room and after the machine was back in order he told me that I could hit the button and get more anesthesia, but that it might not kick in until after I had the baby. I didn’t care. I pressed it anyway, hoping for some amount of relief.
My midwife got her gloves on and we got ready for me to push. I pushed twice and she told me –
“You’re a great pusher. One more push and his head will be out.”
His head was out in the next push.
There was a variety of exclamations and I was told to push one more time to get the rest of his body out. I pushed. Once, twice, for longer than I pushed to get his head out. I pushed as hard as I could and nothing was changing. The sounds around me changed from excitement to an anxious cacophony as Anna attempted to pull the baby out while I pushed. Lucas’ face was concerned as urged me to push faster and that the baby’s face was turning blue. The baby hadn’t cried. NICU had arrived in the room, ready for the worst. All this in what felt like seconds.
“Faith, she’s cutting you, she has to cut you -” Lucas stammered, wide eyed, torn between watching me and watching what was going on. “She cut you.”
The baby gave a weak cry and was passed immediately to the NICU team. They had to check to see if they had broken anything. He had gotten stuck at his shoulders, Lucas explained to me. There was nothing I could do, he was really that stuck. He was really big. Over 8 pounds! Bigger than my previous babies, a week ahead of schedule. And he was ok.
I laid back, exhausted, upset that I couldn’t hold my baby. Lucas checked his toes and said they were normal; 93% of children with Smith Lemli Opitz Syndrome have second and third conjoined toes (it was the key to discovering that Mathias had SLOS) and since we don’t do genetic testing in utero this is the closest way to get an immediate answer. Sidebar: for those who are wondering, there’s only one way to know if the baby has SLOS in utero, which is an amniocentesis. Amnios are done after 20 weeks but there are some risks associated with it and according to Mathias’ geneticist the results are inconclusive for SLOS babies. To be completely honest: it doesn’t matter to me. We’re having the babies we have regardless of their genetic makeup. Liv and Blaise were both tested via cord blood testing after they were born, and they are both carriers (like myself and Lucas). But I knew right away with both of them that they didn’t have SLOS because they were able to latch and were obviously hungry from the moment they were put on my chest.
I told the team too late to not wipe Blaise down, my mind focused on my midwife stitching me up. Lucas told me I had a full episiotomy. Emotionally destroyed, I asked Anna how many stitches I needed. Her answer: “a lot.”
We named him faster than either of our other kids. “He has to be Blaise.” Lucas said. “He got stuck at his neck.”
We had a few names that we’d tossed around for a while, but Blaise and Liam were our top two. St. Blaise is the patron saint of the throat and it was too appropriate.
When they handed me my new baby he nursed right away. My mind drifted between the present situation and the fact that I had failed. That’s how I saw my birth. A failure. A failure because it took so long; a failure because it didn’t go according to plan; a failure because I had an episiotomy. The reason I pushed for four hours with Mathias, thrown out the window. My previous two births had left me with a total of one stitch. Now – one long scar, where no woman should have to have one.
I couldn’t, wouldn’t accept it. I kept replaying the day in my head, telling myself that if I had gone in later, or waited longer, or gotten more exercise, maybe this wouldn’t have happened the way it had.
I had totally different expectations. I thought I would have a fast labor, with minimal pushing and no tearing because that’s how Livia was (and frankly, that’s how Mathias was too, minus the four hours of pushing). But nope. That wasn’t the case.
I was so upset about it and I think I needed my body to fully heal before I could accept it. Healing was awful, and it was by far my worst recovery. And in my obsession with my failure – which was completely out of my control and totally necessary, as my husband and my midwife repeatedly assured me – I lost focus on the good and how happy I should have been to have a healthy, hungry baby.
Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters, right? That my baby isn’t just healthy, but thriving. Before Mathias, I took the health of my children for granted. Before cancer, I took my own health for granted. It is not guaranteed. It is not something to take for granted. So today that is what I am so grateful for: that this baby was born healthy and full of life.
Blaise is my happiest and easiest baby. He is constantly being shown love by both of his siblings – something that I didn’t imagine was possible. Mathias ignored Livia for the majority of her infancy but he has grown so much since then and he shows Blaise affection at least five times a day. Livia is a little mamacita whose first word every morning is “Blaise?” when I go to take her out of her crib. The amount of love that I felt from my toddlers when they met their baby brother far exceeds anything I’ve ever felt from them before. It was a magical moment and I’m so grateful that Allison Wolf was there to capture all of those first moments with them less than 24 hours after Blaise was born!