I wasn’t expecting her to come early. My due date was February 4th, and I’d been told that first babies always come late. I planned on having a few more weeks to polish up a draft of my current manuscript, not to mention to make freezer meals and organize the nursery.
My husband and I were planning on having a home birth, and everything with my pregnancy was normal and healthy. But then, about a month before the due date, my feet started getting itchy. Like, really itchy. It was so bad I couldn’t sleep. One night, while not sleeping, and with cold packs wrapped around my feet for relief, I googled “itchy feet during pregnancy.”
Turns out, itchy feet is one of the only symptoms of a very rare and very serious condition called cholestasis of pregnancy in which the pregnancy hormones cause the mother’s liver and gallbladder to stop functioning properly. It can cause severe problems for the fetus, including death.
Naturally, I freaked out and called my midwife the next morning. She told me cholestasis was extremely rare but I should get tested to make sure. So I went to get my blood drawn.
Unfortunately, Labcorp botched my first blood draw, and I had to go back for a second time two days later. They then took their sweet time (nearly four days) getting the results back.
“If they hadn’t messed up my blood work the first time, we’d know by now,” I grumbled to Paul. I’d convinced myself that I didn’t have cholestasis and that everything was fine, but I still wanted to know for sure. The cure for cholestasis is delivery, so if the blood work came back positive, I would likely go to the hospital to be induced, thus putting an end to our dream of an intervention-free birth at home.
Well, to make a long story slightly shorter, guess when I found out that I DID have the beginning stages of cholestasis… About twenty minutes after my water broke!
“It looks like your body is taking care of business on its own,” the midwife said when we called her. Then she came over to talk to us about our options.
She told us it would probably be fine to have the baby at home, but cholestasis is so rare that in her twenty-five years of practice, she’d only ever had one other patient with the condition, and the outcome had not been great. “There’s not a lot of information about it out there,” she said, showing us an article in a medical journal that had only managed to round up thirteen cholestasis patients for the study. “I think, to be safe, you should go to the hospital where they can give you an external fetal monitor.”
“When should we leave?” Paul asked. “Should we take showers first?” (Everything we’d read about labor stressed the importance of not going to the hospital too soon.)
She gave him a strange look. “Um, I think you should go right now.”
So we headed to George Washington University hospital in downtown DC, which has a midwife practice within the hospital. And we brought Kathy, one of our home birth midwives, with us to be our doula. By the time we arrived and got checked in, my contractions had gone from mostly painless to the worst period cramps ever. Baby was on the way!!
It was a bit annoying being in the hospital. (The room was cold, they made me get an IV port, and the nurse had to adjust the fetal monitor every five seconds – often while I was having a contraction.) But otherwise, it wasn’t too different from home. We listened to music and dimmed the lights and Kathy suggested different positions. The GW midwife left us alone for the most part to labor in private.
We labored all night and into the morning – for about ten hours – and then I was ready to push. “The NICU team is going to come in,” the nurse told me. “But as long as they hear the baby cry, they won’t take her away. They just want to make sure she’s healthy and then they’ll leave you both alone.”
So there I was, pushing out a baby with Kathy, Paul, the midwife, two nurses, the NICU doctor, and a handful of medical students standing around watching.
“Um, how long is this going to take?” the NICU doctor asked. “Should we come back later?”
That’s when I gave a final grunting push, and my daughter (all 6 pounds 13 ounces of her) was born. The nurses placed her on my chest, and she looked up at me, cooing. Only a few minutes old, and she was so alert! It hadn’t happened like we planned, but it had happened all the same. And I can still hardly believe it. Two weeks later, I still look at her from time to time and say “I have a baby. This is my baby and I love her so much.”
I keep telling people that the birth was the best possible hospital scenario – no drugs, no interventions. We got to have the birth we wanted, just in a different location.
And weirdly, I owe it all to Labcorp’s incompetence. If they had gotten the lab results back in a timely manner, I probably would have gone to the hospital for an induction, and my birth story would be totally different.
It reminds me that sometimes the things that seem like annoyances, setbacks, failures, or heartbreaks become the things we are thankful for in hindsight.
I lost my literary agent a while back, and I’ve had trouble finding a new one. At times it feels like a major setback for my writing career, but I’m hoping that hindsight will prove it was a good thing after all: I’ll realize he wasn’t the right agent for me, or that it’s better in the long run that this new manuscript I’m working on be my debut novel. I’ll realize it was all in the timing, and that it just wasn’t the right time for me to be published.
As my daughter proved to me, timing is everything, and in the end it doesn’t so much matter when or where or how something important happens, just that it happens at all.