Less than a month after my last post I gave birth at home to a lovely baby girl who we named Georgina Frances (Georgie for short). The labour and delivery were so miraculously perfect and predictable that we were entirely unprepared for what followed and I'm still sort of trying to work out how I feel about it.
I went into labour before my due date this time (I was late with Theo) but almost exactly when I expected to. I had a feeling the baby was going to be early by a few days and that I would be bringing her to Pascha so it didn't surprise me at all when I started having contractions on Sunday afternoon. By one am on Monday morning there was no denying the pain and I called my midwife who came to check and be certain. I was only two centimeters so we weren't in a rush, and the contractions weren't all that bad. My midwife wasn't convinced I would even have the baby that day. We had Theo picked up by his grandparents just in case and partly because I was fairly certain that delivery was imminent. I then rang my best friend and my doula and told them to come over.
At 11:30 am my midwife recommended I go for a walk to get the contractions going-- something I was reluctant to do because I had either forgotten how painful they could be or I was just too out of it while I was in labour with Theo to notice. But I went anyway. We got the mail and bought some chips at the corner store. When we got back my midwife said she still wasn't sure I would have the baby that day. By 1 pm I was on the bed pushing Georgie out, and she was born at quarter past. I think I was pushing for maybe 10 minutes. The other midwife barely made it in time to help catch.
It all happened so fast and so beautifully, the way I had hoped, sun streaming in the bedroom window on Holy Monday afternoon, that I was completely unprepared for what happened next. The moment Georgie was born it was clear that something was alarming the midwives. Instead of giving her to me they were asking each other questions and I heard one ask "Was that on the ultrasound?" Eventually they put a very purple screaming baby on my chest, but as I looked down I noticed that my midwife's hand was firmly pressing down on the baby's belly. At this point I didn't even know the sex of the infant bawling on my chest and everyone was so distracted with whatever the trouble was that it took a couple of minutes for someone to tell me it was a girl.
I caught sight of what my midwife was clearly concerned about-- a large protrusion on the baby's belly. I had seen and heard about umbilical hernias before so I wasn't too shocked or worried at that point--I knew they weren't meant to be cause for much concern, but the midwives clearly thought it was necessary to call the ambulance. I was assured by my midwife at that point that she didn't think it would be a problem since there was skin covering it and that it certainly wasn't life threatening. Nonetheless, there was enough of an upset that it took until after the ambulance arrived for us to worry about the placenta delivery and none of the usual measurements and exams were done until we got to the hospital.
The pediatrician at the hospital examined her and determined that the doctors and surgeons at BC Children's Hospital would want to examine and possibly operate on her before we would be allowed to take her home but that nothing very serious was likely to be wrong. We were transferred to BC Children's Hospital where it took 2 and a half days for the various doctors to determine that there was nothing wrong and the muscles in her abdomen had simply failed to grow together.
In the mean time Greg and I were set up with a family room in the neonatal unit where we were left almost no information from doctors and at best conflicting if not downright useless information from the nurses. Georgie was hooked up to monitors and a sugar IV and left in an incubator with a dummy in her mouth. After 12 hours they had determined she was safe to breastfeed and after 24 hours they finally told me I could breastfeed. It was practically impossible though because she was hooked up to so much equipment that I couldn't cuddle her or swaddle her to settle her long enough and of course she wasn't all that hungry because of the IV--which the nurses refused to remove because my milk hadn't come in. How my milk was going to come in when she wasn't hungry enough to nurse was beyond me.
I was stunned by how ignorant some of the nurses were about breastfeeding, but of course there is little you can do to argue with them. One nurse asked, when I was unsuccessful getting Georgie to nurse from me, if she could give her formula in the night. I drew the line at formula feeding and frankly told the nurse that if the baby was really hungry then she would eat breastmilk and that there was no danger of her starving if she was being shot up with sugar-water. I was furious. And course I was busy with using a breast pump to bring my milk in quicker --something that would have been entirely unnecessary if they'd been sensible enough to remove the gratuitous IV in the first place.
The second day at the hospital we were finally informed that the results from her heart ultrasound showed everything in perfect working order so we felt relaxed enough to leave the hospital and have a somewhat celebratory lunch at a sushi place. But we hadn't seen anyone all day and they were still testing things we knew nothing about. Nursing wasn't going well and by that night we were both so upset with the lack of news and the waiting in our pokey room and the bullshit being fed to us by the ignorant nurses that were decided we REALLY wanted to get out of there. The plan started out as coffee and quickly turned to beer (good for nursing right?) but since it was so late at night already nothing was open and we were so desperate to DO something that we drove all the way home to Langley to raid our own fridge. At least we felt like we were accomplishing something.
By the third day we finally caught the surgeons doing their rounds. They were able to enlighten us as to everything that was going on and finally put our minds at ease. Up until then we had only had short, highly uninformative exchanges with various doctors who were ordering different tests. We knew they were looking for other birth defects, namely heart, lung, and intestinal defects. The cardiologist had briefly mentioned, as he passed right by us without looking at Georgie, that her heart ultrasound came back fine-- as though this explained everything. But since we were completely uncertain exactly what they thought what might be wrong in the first place we'd been left to imagine and fear the worst.
Turned out, according to the surgeons, that Georgie's birth defect was exactly what it looked like--just a gap between her abdominal muscles. There was nothing else the matter and the final ultrasound was being done that morning to determine if there was a hole in her diaphram which the heart may have slipped through. If there was a hole however, it wouldn't pose any threat to her, simply delay any possible surgery since they would want to wait until she was older to ensure her heart would have enough room to grow before they put it back where it belonged.
In fact almost all of the tests they had ordered were simply to determine the best time and method for surgery rather than if there was anything likely to threaten her life or leave her with a disability. After they had found that her heart and intestines were whole and functioning (which they had confirmed within the first 24 hours) all the other blood tests and scans were largely just gratuitous routine monitoring or else simply to help them decide when or if to schedule surgery and precisely how they were going to do it. If we had known that at the time we would have felt a lot less panicked and frustrated. And I would have insisted they remove her IV and allow me to dress her and take the other monitors off. Instead we were left for another whole day to wonder and worry.
We were so relieved to hear that she was fine and were told that we would be able to take her home that day--even though our previous night's trip to Langley saw us packed for several more nights at the hospital. They performed their few gratuitous blood tests while we went to get breakfast. My midwife turned up at the hospital and thankfully managed to corner the doctor who was to discharge her and got the whole scoop--as well as the job of post-partum care. We finally felt ready to relax and celebrate. Friends turned up to visit at the hospital and we were able to tell them the good news.
We brought her home that night and were told to take her in to the local hospital for one more test the next day. She was slightly jaundiced. But we weren't concerned and were happy to show her off the people turning up at church for Holy Week services. Theo finally came home and met his new sister and the first thing he did was give her a kiss.
The next two days we tried to adjust to the new situation. People visited, Greg did paperwork. We tried to get Theo settled down. He was completely out of routine and a bit short tempered and uncooperative. Meanwhile nursing was proving a bit of a challenge, though she was gaining weight. And the pediatrician was rather unhappy with her bilirubin levels. By Friday afternoon all hope of getting things back to normal had vanished and we were told we would have to take her back to hospital to treat her jaundice and perform MORE blood tests. At this point we were so depressed. Theo was completely beside himself with all the upset and we were far too exhausted to be patient with him.
The idiot nurse at LMH informed me we would be giving Georgie formula and was less than impressed when I indicated it would be over my dead body. Later the pediatrician told me we would have to "top her up" with formula only to make sure she was over-hydrated so the bilirubin would be flushed out more quickly, but in the mean time I was welcome to use the pump and bottle feed her whatever breast milk I could. I called my midwife in a panic and she wisely told me to just comply for now and get the heck out of the hospital--and out of their control--as quickly as I could.
To my delight, Georgie was almost completely uninterested in formula. My breast milk was almost always enough and she didn't like using the bottle much either. She nursed quickly enough for me to be able to take her out and feed her directly from the breast a few times, which was encouraging. But Greg wasn't allowed to stay with me in hospital this time and the doctor was not forthcoming as to how long we would be there. We weren't sure if we could even make it to Pascha.
To add to things, my body was quickly returning to pre-pregnancy shape and while it was nice to sleep on my almost flat tummy and have my cramps and varicose veins rapidly disappear, I was beginning to feel like the whole pregnancy had never even happened. Like I'd fasted for all of Lent and had to miss Pascha. Here I was, stuck in hospital, alone with a baby I wasn't allowed to bond with and had no idea when I could take her home.
Of course, as my dad AND my midwife reminded me-- it was Holy Friday. And of course I knew it wasn't the end of the world. Plenty of kids have jaundice. Greg and I both had it. And we were incredibly lucky that Georgie's hernia was covered with skin. My midwife had a client whose baby didn't have skin covering the gap in his abdomen and it was the grace of God that saved his life. The mother had been planning a home birth and she was lucky my midwife had been uncertain enough about the baby's position to order an ultrasound at 34 weeks. The scan revealed that all of the baby's organs were outside his body. She was flown to BC Womens and given a c-section, the baby was operated on immediately and her little boy was perfectly fine. But, like me, her 18 week scan had shown no irregularity in the baby's abdominal wall. And, like me, she had been planning a home birth. If my midwife hadn't double-checked the baby's position, her baby might have died. So I knew that in spite of the misery I was experiencing, God had been taking care of us.
But I couldn't understand why God wanted me to experience this challenge. I'm still not sure. Perhaps it was to help me appreciate the true reality of Holy Week, or perhaps it was to show me that He was taking care of me even when it felt like He wasn't. Or perhaps His purpose had nothing to do with us at all. I'll probably never know. But all I could think of at the time was that for some reason God didn't want us to go to church or be at Pascha-- and that was the hardest part to figure out. There could be any number of reasons for allowing us to experience the doubts and fears every parent goes through when their child is in hospital, but why keep us from the only thing that might help us to get through it?
As it happened, we DID get to bring our little girl to Pascha after all. My midwife--also Orthodox--arranged with the pediatrician to have us temporarily discharged so that we could bring Georgie to church for the midnight Pascha service. We returned to the hospital at 4am after the Paschal liturgy and later that morning she was permanently discharged as her bilirubin levels were back to normal.
We came away from the whole thing with a very unique experience of Holy Week that few could relate t0-- a true triumphal entry followed by a week of fear, doubt, disappointment and darkness, only to have everything restored to us in the end. It did not feel like we had really been given our daughter until Pascha. And maybe that's what God wanted for us-- to be able to welcome our daughter with Him. I don't know. But He resurrected our joy with Himself this year.