Given Pause – An Appendicitis Story

I’ll never get to support my partner through labor and birth, simply because he’s a cis man, and well, it’s biologically impossible.

Of course, as a doula, I’ve supported and backed up birth partners again and again. I have a pretty good sense of how difficult it is to see one’s loved ones in pain. So why would I ever need the experience of supporting my partner myself?

After all, I know how to stand with clients – those in labor as well as their partners. I know how to help them through the uncertainties; how to facilitate communication with medical staff; and help clients build the confidence to cope with the intensity of transition or unexpected events. And, as a mother I have supported my children though pain and medical and emergency room visits time and time again.

I know how to “doula” my family as well as how to help others “doula” theirs. Or I did anyway, until it was about MY. PARTNER. And therefore, all about me.

Until the morning when I found myself packing all three wide-eyed, worried children into the car and driving their incredibly pale and, clearly suffering, dad to the ER, ushering them into a tiny triage space, and looking over to see a monitor showing his blood pressure was 60/20….wait, What?

Despite years of experience looking at and interpreting meaning from other people’s monitors, I could barely take the numbers in: “That’s not a blood pressure…that’s…woah, that is way too low.” I suddenly had no more doula skills at that moment, or in many of the moments that followed.

I struggled to call them back of course, and for most of the experience that followed, I did manage it. I was able to do what needed to be done: get the kids to a friend; get back to support Mr. K; stay by his side as he struggled through coping with the unknown, and pain, and waiting. There was so much waiting – first for a diagnosis: appendicitis, then for surgery, and eventually, through recovery.

Woven in between those moments of handling everything though, I lost it. I completely lost it. The fear and the uncertainty, relatively small in hindsight, became oh-so-large to me when I could not tell what was happening as the pain and intensity increased for him.

We had been told it would be hours before surgery and moved to a room to wait. In those moments as he lay there on his back with the pressure building and the feeling of being about to explode breaking through the morphine, he was convinced, and being pretty convincing, that his insides were going to burst any minute.

Granted, I know appendicitis is minor in comparison to so many other things. I feel certain now that we had the benefit of care we could fully trust and which was among the best in the world. Other loved ones have experienced and pulled through much worse. But until that day I had never truly looked at the possibility of the complete and utter end of my own reality with my partner. I had never considered myself possibly about to lose him, or ever been so unable to help anyone cope, most especially him.

Was his appendix truly about to burst as he feared? Did the doctors really know? Could things have changed that rapidly for him? He was in mental agony, the surgeon was busy, the nurses simply couldn’t respond fast enough, and I had no way to stop it or to “shut him off” as he was pleading.

Finally, he vomited and then came relief. We sheepishly understood that this was what had been causing the unbearable increase in pressure. Puke.

Man could I have used a doula right then. And for a brief period after he was finally able to sleep, I sat there and lost it. I sobbed and shook – at the fear and the uncertainty and just the sheer need to shake out the adrenaline.

So what happens for me as a doula now that I’ve gotten to experience losing my shit in a hospital setting over my partner’s appendicitis? Am I some sort of super doula, impervious to the unknown and never to lose it again? Better than ever at supporting both mamas and their loved ones? Nope. And maybe a little, yes.

Perhaps I have a few more drops of compassion to offer clients, gained through finding compassion for myself in that moment and in the days that followed. Through looking back and seeing how neither Mr. K. nor I could have done anything differently given what we knew, and that even if I would have myself behave differently now, I was doing only the best I could in the moment, as was he.

And with that new knowledge, and that new understanding, I hope I am just a wee bit better at being a doula – for myself and for others.

Birth Day Appreciations

I came home late tonight to a quiet house after spending the last 26+ hours providing labor support. Partner and kids are already tucked in bed for the night – so my birthday has passed by here for my family without me. And I am kind of sad about that. We will have to make it up later.

But instead!… Instead, I got to spend it doing something I love! Something that is truly an honor. And I was rewarded by witnessing the birth of a completely posterior (and asynclitic!) baby. For those of you who don’t speak “Obstetric”, that can be a very tough birth and frequently results in a cesarean rather than vaginal delivery. Anyway – it was simply a miracle. I do love my job.

And now I am enjoying one of my favorite meals after a long day (and night) of doula work: Thai food (Panang noodles that were waiting for me in the fridge) and a dirty gin martini.

But the especially cool thing is that along with it, I got to read through so many birthday wishes from such a fantastic group of people. I got a little weepy (either the sleep deprivation or the gin or both) and thought I’d write a bit just to say: “Thank You!!” I am so glad I get to stay connected with each and every one of you.

I feel very blessed this January 23rd.

…And in case you want to know more about preventing posterior positioning – or ways to try turning a baby who’s already there. Check out spinningbabies.com!

I’ve Been Reading…

I should be doing my reading and writing for achieving my DONA and Birthing From Within certifications. And yet, I’ve been seeing all sorts of interesting items online, pulling my attention away from the hard-copy stack on my desk. Social media: good for networking and getting new information, bad for getting things crossed off a doula and birth mentor’s to-do list.

Here is a sampling of the articles and blogs that have caught my interest as of late. They span birth, motherhood, breastfeeding, feminism, racism and a bit of pop culture thrown in:

LA Times, “Childbirth: Can the US Improve?”

Henci Goer: Elective Induction of Labor

From Healthy Times “Risk to Baby Rises With Repeat C-Sections”

MamaHeartsBaby: A Baby Came Out of My Vagina

Science and Sensibility: First, Do No Harm: Another Reason to Ditch Routine IVs in Labor

Hoyden About Town: Missing The Point Awards, Manchester poster edition

Chicago HypnoBirthing: Kismet

Anti-Racist Parent: Just Like Me

Birth Write: Remembering Pearls of Mothering Advice

Hit Me Back!: Thoughts on the Mom-in-Chief

Womanist Musings: What White Women Can Do

Nov 30: A Sad Day for This Trekkie

Feel free to add your own!

Homebirth Safety Act Update – And Pictures!

Despite a setback earlier this month, and what this article might lead you to believe, Rep. Julie Hamos and the co-sponsors of the Illinois’ Home Birth Safety Act, HB 226, are still working on getting the bill passed this session. They need all the help we can give them to turn legislators’ “no’s” into “yes’s”.

If you live in Illinois, please let your legislators know that you support HB 226 and women’s right to give birth where we choose. You can go here to find out who your state representative and senator are and get their phone numbers and mailing addresses. For tips and talking points you can refer to info here and here.  This bill needs ALL the support we can give it, so please understand – I am asking YOU to join me and do this!

As an incentive, I finally finished going through my pictures from the road trip I took with my kids to lobby for the bill earlier this month. (Thanks to Kathleen, for helping me figure out how to post them). The photos aren’t going to win any awards (except maybe one that Elijah took). But they tell the story of the day, so have a look at them and then support the effort and call and write your legislators!

Roll Call and Next Steps

I promise to write about the road-trip-to lobby-with-children part of yesterday and upload the pictures as soon as I am done sorting them.

As far as the legislation goes, here is the roll call for the vote to pass HB226 out of committee yesterday:

Yes:

Mary Flowers

Keith Sommer

Mike Zalewsk

Julie Hamos (subbing in for Esther Golar)

No:

Greg Harris

Will Burns

Lisa Dugan

Karen May

Mike Connelly

Joanne Osmond

Rosemary Mulligan

Tim Schmitz

There is re-grouping happening to decide next steps, but what is clear today is:

  • – Rep. Julie Hamos deserves tremendous appreciation and support from all of us who support this effort, because she has gone all out to make it possible for women in Illinois to have the choice to give birth at home.
  • – We have our work cut out for us to turn these nos into yeses! If we are to succeed, we must talk to representatives across the city and state. If you haven’t done so, please consider calling, writing a letter to your representative – or even better, go to see them and give them information about why a mother might want to birth at home vs. the hospital and ask them to do every thing they can to support this bill the next time they see it. You can look up your legislators here: http://www.ilga.gov/ If they are a supporter already – please thank them!

If you want to call, write, or visit and haven’t gotten around to it, please let me know and I will help!

What I Wrote Before Collapsing Into Bed Last Night (reposted from Facebook)

We are home and settling in. The hearing was packed and the hallway outside was lined with mamas and babies and kids and dads. I was barely able to get into the room but was able to speak to two Reps in person beforehand – Rep. Osmond, who just doesn’t get it and was not open to hearing new information at all (but was very sweet to the kiddos) and Rep. Currie who is the House Majority Leader (but not on the committee) and is doing all she can (and was even sweeter to the kids).

But it didn’t have the votes. A few of the reps really showed that they don’t understand why women want to give birth at home and why midwives don’t “just go to school to be nurses.” So, despite the tremendous showing, and a two-hour hearing with lengthy questions and answers – including supportive MD testimony, the bill was not passed out of committee. We needed 3 more votes. Yet, there were signs of progress with some of the committee members and potential openings and next steps. More tomorrow – w/ pictures!