Maryland Photographer: Cesarean Awareness Month

Yes, the blog is mid-redesign. I only get little bits of time to work on it at night, so please be patient with the layout and the links.

April is Cesarean Awareness Month. So, I am doing my part to make others aware. And usually, awareness is where I draw the line. Not into advocacy or activism, but I like to share my stories because they just might help someone else who is struggling with something to hear that someone else has felt as they do. This post is a little bit about art, but mostly about some of the most intimate moments of my life--the days my babies were born.

I got out of the Air Force in my first trimester of pregnancy after having served my 6 year term, and was hired on as a graphic designer with a defense contractor. The new health insurance policy considered my pregnancy to be a pre-existing condition and would not cover my care. But, I was still able to receive prenatal care and deliver at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD--and the care would be covered. So, that is the option I chose.

I knew that I wanted to have a natural, vaginal birth. I also knew that at the time, Bethesda's c-section rate was at 42%. I knew that I did not want that to be me. But, really, I knew nothing more. I imagined a helpful nurse or doctor at my side assisting me during labor and delivery. I wrote a birth plan stating my desires for no drugs or intervention.

On January 9, 2007 at 1pm, my water broke. Trickles. I called the doctor, who said to come in immediately. No contractions. Not one. By 7 that evening I was on pitocin to augment labor--now 6 hours into my 24 hour window to get this baby out. The hospital policy did not allow you to labor more than 24 hours after water breaking for fear of infection. And with the pitocin, came the internal fetal monitoring--the device they pushed into my unborn baby's head to monitor his heartbeats.

Now the contractions came strong and hard. The nurse told me I should take something to "take the edge off" so I still had energy when it was time to push. I did. The drug was called Nubain--and that is one of the last things I remember for a while besides vomiting. The drug caused me to hallucinate and vomit. I am unable to recall large periods of time through that night.

They cranked up the Pitocin.
And again.
And my body contracted long and hard. Through the night, I was alone. Lying there, on my back wishing I had someone to talk me through the waves of pain that were crawling down my spine and forward through my abdomen. Nate had fallen asleep. I called for him. He didn't hear me. I called for him again--unable to move from the bed. He awoke, and at 9cm--they administered an epidural.

For those women who desire and praise the epidural, I am happy for you. But for me, I just felt confused. Half my body hurt, and when it was time to push (at 6am), I had to watch a monitor to tell me when I was having a contraction, and I could not feel what I was doing or if I was even really pushing at all. But I tried... for 6 hours.

I pushed every minute or so for 1 hour. With the TV on and student doctors walking in and out and nurses saying PUSHPUSHPUSHPUSHPUSH in high pitched frantic voices. Then, SHIFT CHANGE. Nate and I looked at each other as the room cleared and our staff left. And we waited. What do we do? Are we supposed to keep pushing? On our own? With no one here? And we waited. We waited an hour before a nurse finally came back. Then, began to push again. I pushed for 5 hours this time--every minute or so, following the spikes on the monitor as best I could.

Then, just shy of my 24 hour mark, 6 doctors walked into my room. Stared at me. Some arms folded. Some, hands on hips. I asked if someone could help me to better position to push in? Or to check the baby's position? They knew nothing. Absolutely nothing. There was only one doctor on staff who had that sort of knowledge and experience. I waited for her. I pushed with her for 30 minutes or so. And she was warm and great and gave me a chance. But, my time was up, my energy was out, and they handed me a pen. I signed the paper, and within 5 minutes I was in the OR prepped for surgery. I sobbed on the table, my body still contracting. I pushed through them to take the pain away.

A blue curtain in front of me. An anesthesiologist at my head, and Nate at my body is numb from my toes to my throat. I feel nothing but pressure in my abdomen and I vomit. Then, I hear a baby cry. He is mine. They wipe the vomit from my mouth. "Nate, can you see him? Is he there? Is he okay?" Nate tells me he is perfect. They show me the top of his head, marked from the monitoring device and overriding skull form where I tried to push him out, then took him away. Nate went with him and never left him. They taped up my belly and put big boots on my legs to prevent clotting.

45 minutes after delivery, I see my baby. He was washed, clothed, wrapped, and capped. Wait! I carried you for 10 months. I pushed for hours and hours. You are mine. I don't even know what you look like under there. I was the last to touch you.

Baltimore Maryland Photographer

He sees me.
Baltimore Maryland Photographer

But, our ability to bond has been affected. By stress, by drugs, by fatigue, by disappointment and failure....
That night, late in the night, after the drugs wore off and the visitors left. He cried. And cried. And so did I. Why couldn't I push him out? I got out of the bed, barely able to walk, and I rocked him...He finally fell asleep.
Baltimore Maryland Photographer
I did everything I could to get out of that hospital faster. I took a shower and put on clothes and pretended to be happy. And it worked. They let me out at day 2.
I took this photo when Remy was 7 days old. It was the first time He looked at me and I looked at him, and I felt a bond with him. I am thankful for having nursed him. I thin that helped.
Baltimore Maryland Photographer
When Remy was 11 months old, I became pregnant again. I wanted to try a vaginal delivery again (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean/VBAC). I went to Bradley birth classes, read a great book by Henci Goer called " A Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth", and chose a midwifery model of care. Eventually, I went on to choose a home birth, because deep down, I was still not over the awful experience I had in the hospital. There were things to figure out, like how to pay for the delivery (insurance did not cover). And I needed to build my confidence. But, I was pretty happy with our choice to deliver they baby at home.

Shaymus's birth story is a short one--which is a good thing.

September 3, 2008, Nate and I fell asleep on the couch together. It was so relaxing. I had some signs earlier in the day I might go soon, and I did. At 11pm, I had my first contraction. I woke Nate up. We were both well rested from our long nap. We put together the Amby Baby bed. I walked up and down the walk to our house, standing on my tip-toes when the pain came. Up and down. Up and down. Back and forth. Tip Toe. Tip Toe. Until I could hardly walk. Nate called the midwife. She was on her way. It was hot and humid outside--and in. I knelt in the corner with my face on the cool rubber birthball until the rubber smell got to me. The pain was getting intense. I knelt by the sofa and in a rush, my water broke. I was ready to push....RIGHT NOW. With that, Nate was fratically dialing the midwife. She asked him to get me in a lying position in bed. He did.
Baltimore Maryland Photographer
She walked in the door, unpacked her things and said--"Go ahead and push". I froze. I was terrified. "I am scared", I said. "You have nothing to be scared of. Breathe in. Keep your breath in and do what your body tells you to do." Ten minutes later, Shaymus was born.
Baltimore Maryland Photographer
I cried..alot. I cried for my scar and for my drive and for my strength to break the myth of "once a c-section always a c-section", I cried for the majority of women out there who just don't know or that they even need to know, I cried, and then I let it go...and bonded...immediately...with my naked, untouched baby.
Baltimore Maryland Photographer

All that in 5 hours total, with an Amby Baby assembly and a bowl of pistaccio ice cream in between.

For Cesarean Awareness Month, I have contributed 3 pieces of art to the exhibit "Cesarean Voices" sponsored by the Baltimore chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network. The exhibit opening reception is to be held at 7pm on April 29, 2010 at the Christian Temple Christian Church , 5820 Edmondson Avenue, Catonsville, MD 21228. Here is a preview of my submission:
Baltimore Maryland Photographer


MommaChat said...

So powerful. I cried for you, with you. I cried in sadness for what happened at Bethesda. (I had a similar experience at Andrews but not so bad) I cried in joy for your second experience. Thank you so much for sharing.

Colleen said...

I also thank you so much for sharing. I have lots to learn in this life. Thanks for teaching, living, loving, rocking, ...