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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Miriam's Story: Delivery Into Life Installment #1

I was trying this year to make a blog entry for each girl on the eve of her birthday, and I had a pretty good track record for 75% of them. But due to some pretty overwhelming days of sickness for two of the kids (including an ER visit), and the subsequent falling behind at work for me, I didn’t get a blog entry about Miriam out until now, a few days past her actual birthdate.

And yet, of all the girls’ stories so far, Miriam’s is probably the most impactful, the most harrowing, the most triumphant. So far. It has become tradition between her and me that I will tell her birth story every year on her birthday. “If you don’t remember, then you forget,” says Sam Krichinsky in my favorite movie of all time. Remembering takes effort. Forgetting comes easily. So we remember, she and I, each year. And we celebrate. We celebrate so much.

So I am going to tell her birth story to you, and put it on record for anyone, how it happened, what God did. But it is complex and long, and so I think I will have to do this in installments. This will be installment #1. I will try to continue with an additional installment every day or every other day until the story is all told, with the fullness it deserves.

To look at her, to watch her, to listen to her, you would never guess that this full-of-life, highly animated, highly creative, fearless child was ever fading out of our presence, predicted to die. It seems inconceivable. She is feisty, firey, agile, active, bursting with interest about almost any subject, bursting with joy at new things, bursting with love and an infectious smile that exposes every molar, bursting with temper at injustice. And I think all that life is evidence. Evidence that in a way most of us have not experienced in a very real, physical, elemental sense, Miriam has been given the Spirit of Power.

This is her story. The story of her deliverance into life. It may contain details some consider gory or too explicit, but there is blood, and to be true, those details have to stay. It contains some details some may consider super-spiritualized, but again, it’s the truth. And as a witness, I have to tell you what I saw, what I experienced. Make of it what you will.

It was July 1, eight years ago. She was a week late. I had had the non-stress test to be sure she was still OK, but since my first baby was born just a little early, yet had some difficulty breathing and sucking at first, I had become more and more comfortable with waiting beyond the due date rather than rushing things. I’m thankful for that God-given patience, though I must add, for the sake of truth, that I am not a very delightful, long-suffering person to be around once the fullness of a pregnancy is reached. I had begun to think she was going to stay there forever. But I found the magic ticket: a $1 dvd of old episodes of the hokey western Bonanza in the bargain section at Target. I brought it home, just for kicks.

And that evening, July 1, I sat in an upright rocking chair while Bill lounged on the more cushy furniture, and put in the dvd. I had forgotten how bad acting and set designs were in my childhood. How could we not have noticed? When the jealous villain with the fake Spanish accent threatened the life of Little Joe after having seen Joe with a girl he liked—“I cooood haf keeled you on your moonleet rrrrrrock uv LUV!” he spat—I lost it in gales of laughter. And had my first real contraction.

The next came about eight minutes later, and they continued at a fairly regular rate like that for several hours. But I didn’t think it was the real thing. You see, it didn’t hurt, and labor is supposed to hurt. So I just ignored the contractions, and went to bed. But I couldn’t sleep. I’d doze off and wake again with the next one. Tight, tense, bothersome, but not painful. I got up, checked the clock, walked around. Still no pain. Not even achiness. I suppose I would never have called my doctor except that I started to leak just a little fluid. I called. “Better come on in,” the answering service said. So I woke Bill. I packed a few things while he made some midnight phone calls. We have six nearby friends on our “L&D call list.” Six. All within about three miles of our home. We called them all. None were available to come stay with the other children, the older of which was only six. It was General Assembly week for our church’s denomination. Some were traveling for that. It was now only two days before the 4th of July. Some were traveling for that. At least one was just a very deep sleeper who didn’t hear the phone ring.

I wasn’t super anxious, but after another 20 minutes of phone calls, I was ready to be gone. Bill finally called another friend, who had done us so many favors in the past, and always stood ready to serve anyone in need, that we had not put her on our list. We wanted to give her a break. But we ended up dragging her out of bed anyway, and she was at our house in minutes.

At the ER entry, Bill dropped me off. I walked in with no unusual effort and told them I was there because I was in labor. The staff laughed at me. One does not simply walk into Labor and Delivery, they said. “We’ll just see if you’re staying.” The absence of screaming and moaning produced great skepticism regarding the likelihood of the impending birth, but a (personally undignified but necessary) few moments later, it was declared, “You’re staying. We don’t send women home who are seven centimeters dilated!”

They joked that the baby might come before Bill and my doctor made it to the delivery room.

It seemed to me like the dream birth. For different, unavoidable reasons, I had been induced with the other two. The induction was so intense with the first that I eventually, after 19 hours, asked for an epidural. With the second, a partially dislocated hip preceded the induction, and the pain of that situation coupled with the pain of the intensified pitocin contractions also prompted me to go the epidural route as well. This time, it was so easy. It honestly did not hurt. I told the staff I didn’t need it. So all they did was put in an IV port, not even an IV itself but just the port, “just in case we need to help you hydrate.”

Dr. Jackson arrived to check me and hang out with Bill. The two talked fishing and there was much laughter and joking, but someone noticed that even though I was progressing nicely, those easy contractions were not yet pushing the baby’s head into the low position needed for delivery. To speed things up and intensify the natural contractions, it was decided (and I don’t remember who made this decision) to break my water completely. What no one realized, however, was that the rush of amniotic fluid being released while the baby (who was small even though she was late—the smallest of all my babies) was not engaged in the pelvis, could have contributed to sweeping the umbilical cord into a dangerous position.

Whether breaking my water did that or not, we just don’t know. But as contractions grew, little Miriam’s heart rate began to drop. With each new contraction, her pulse would drop a little, and that is normal. But normally, that rate should rise as each contraction subsided. Hers did not. The atmosphere in our delivery room seemed to change from jovial to somber in just a few moments’ time. The doctor got serious. The baby was about halfway to delivery, but he told me he didn’t like what the monitor was showing. “If we don’t get her on this next push,” he said, “I think we’ll need to intervene.”

I knew what that meant: surgery. A Caesarean section. With a nurse on each side of me and the doctor below, I gave everything I had into that next contraction to try to move her forward. But the baby didn’t budge. What did appear, however, sliding past her somehow, was a large section of the umbilical cord, pinned off and compressed between her and me, cutting off from her absolutely everything she needed for life.

“We have a cord!” the doctor yelled. And then he did what seemed unthinkable. He pushed the baby back in. Everyone sprang into action and chaos as they moved to take us to the nearest operating room. I remember the head of my bed being lowered while we were in motion, the doctor in that very compromising position of trying to walk with me and the bed and the equipment that came with us—all the while with his own arm buried (professionally) within me to relieve any pressure he could from the baby’s cord.

The operating room was lights and chaos and traffic. Scrubbing up the doctor. Draping things. Rushing. Yelling. Someone kept shouting numbers. Numbers? What? And then I realized. Heart rate. A baby girl has a normal heart rate of about 150 beats per minute. I was hearing numbers a third of that. I felt the sickening grip of panic. It was hot and moved like a wave from the center of me outward. She was dying and I was flat on my back with a stranger’s arm inside me. They were strapping my arms down to the gurney. There was a bright white light flooding my vision. It was all a blur, and I was going into a panic.

I have never felt so helpless in my life. I have never even imagined feeling so helpless. She was dying inside me and I could do absolutely nothing to help her. I couldn’t deliver her. I couldn’t even move my own body. My arms. And then something happened. I am a witness. Like I said, make of this what you will.

I heard a voice. It was a real, spoken voice and yet it wasn’t spoken out loud to everyone in the room. It was spoken inside of me. A voice inside my body said, “God has not given us a Spirit of fear but of power.” I heard it as clearly as I’ve ever heard a friend or a child or a sibling or a teacher or an employer or employee speak to me. And instantly, I felt a calm.

The next thing I remember was a return to the view of the chaos. For a second it had seemed to be frozen and silent. But then it was back, all the hubbub, the noise, the frantic action. Yet I wasn’t frantic any longer. I was there, watching it swirl around me like a scene in a movie. Someone’s hands were trying to force anesthesia into the IV port on my hand, but because it had been unused, my vein had collapsed. The medicine blew out backward onto the anesthesiologist. He screamed for a nurse to start another port on the other hand, while he went across the room for more anesthesia. As he was returning, someone else’s arm went up, flinging the second dose across the room. The space exploded with obscenities as the firm but readily placed Dr. Jackson stood over me, a scalpel gleaming and reflecting the light of the surgical flood fixture still nearly blinding me. A female voice was still chanting those numbers. “We have 30,” she said.
“We have to GO,” said the doctor, almost yelling, but not quite. “We have to GO NOW.”

And then it went black.

You can read Installment #2 of this story here.

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