Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Our Semi-Traditional, Semi-Non-traditional Pregnancy and Birthing Story


I'm little over five feet tall. I have small hands, small fingers, small breasts, small feet, and a small vulva (relatively speaking). I always had a feeling that a baby, even a premature or shrunken baby, having to grow in my small body would be quite an interesting, unparalleled experience. And it was. I had not, however, fully considered the prospects of a baby's exit out of my body (the "inside world") and entrance into the earth body (the "outside world"). I had, very noncommittally, considered the experience from time to time. When I was in middle school, I announced to my mother during a car ride that I was going to become a nun because I never wanted to have babies (not because I was scared of being a lesbian...I had no clue at that time that I was lesbo-all-the-way-baby).

At that time, I must have had some clue as to the nature of giving birth. I was very ill-informed, actually, so who knows what I was thinking at the time. I am the girl who missed both sections of sex education (during two different years) because I was sick with an unknown illness (at the time we thought it was mono, but now I think it was anxiety-related...fear of school and teachers, especially a science teacher named Mrs. Kaplan). I am also the girl who, during her freshman year of high school, thought that "giving head" meant rubbing one's head --not face, head-- against a guy's crotch (penis, testicles, you get the picture!). My friends had a very long laugh over that one. So when I decided I had to be a nun to avoid having children, I didn't even know the half of it.

Until I met Sandy, in 2003, I did not even know that my cunt actually was called a vulva (and consisted of inner and outer lips, a urinary hole, a clitoris, and a vagina). I thought the whole thing was a vagina. Thanks to Sandy (and Betty Dodson), I learned a very important part of my anatomy. Before I met Sandy, I didn't know the wonders of clitoral stimulation OR the wonders of lubricant. I had only had a sexual relationship with one person before Sandy. I did spend some time masturbating, but mostly I was focusing on the vagina (it was all up in my head anyway. I could just as well have squeezed and massaged my thighs while thinking of an intricate scenario of how the person I was in love with would finally let her guard down and let me in). So thank god (with a lower case g) that I met Sandy, or I would be even more clueless about my body and what giving birth would do to it. I have always wanted to have a baby. Sandy decided she wanted to have one after meeting me. We were a couple for five years before having Darah.

Sandy and I tried getting (me) pregnant for over eight months in 2006-2007, with the help of our lovely friend and donor, Adam Chacksfield. We met Adam while we were having dinner at a friend's house. I walked into the kitchen and he was standing there. He was tall - that's what I remember noticing most vividly. He was leaving as we were coming in. Then, during the course of the evening, we got to talking about our desire to find a sperm donor and have children. Our friend thought that Adam might know someone who would be a good match for us. His name is Bob. I asked about Adam, but she thought that "Bob" would be a better match. We got caught up in the moment and she put me on the phone with Adam. I explained, very briefly and awkwardly, the situation. And, with knowing very little about him, I mustered up the courage to ask him if he, himself would consider donating. He was very sincere, and said that he would think about it during his trip to visit family in England and get back to me.

A couple of weeks later, Adam contacted us and asked if we could get together to discuss it. He decided he wanted to help us. We drew up a contract that would protect both parties and signed it (not in front of a lawyer). We started trying to conceive in October, 2006. Around the time of ovulation (when the test strips we purchased showed that I was having an LH surge - which occurs 24 - 48 hours before ovulation), Adam would come over for a few nights in a row each month. He would go into our bathroom and produce sperm. Like magic! Then he would carry the sperm in a cup to me and leave the house. I would carry it into the bedroom, where Sandy would be waiting with a needle-less syringe. And then, after being propped up on pillows, she would put the sperm inside me. I would try to stay in that position and sleep propped up, but it wasn't easy. We used a glass cup, after learning that the semen would be absorbed into a Dixie cup. We tried this method for seven or eight months. There were MANY times I was convinced I was pregnant. But it didn't work, and I got my period every time. I guess the force of the syringe just wasn't enough to get the sperm where they needed to go. Plus, there is only so much you can do with a syringe.

So I threw a new/old method out there that might be faster, easier and more efficient: S, E, X. Yeah, I wasn't sure what else to call it. Sex. A non-traditional sort of sex, but sex nonetheless. It started as a little idea that I had. Then it was a little idea that Sandy and I discussed and agreed upon. Sandy was supportive of me if I was willing to do it, but she did not want to be there or be a part of the process. It's not for everyone. I thought of it like a job. I've posed nude for art classes and done lots of other "uncomfortable" things in my life, this would just be something new to try. I started out thinking of it as a medical procedure. Having a medical procedure would be uncomfortable and awkward, so to me sex would be a similar endeavor.

A few more words on a lesbian having heterosexual sex -for the first time, mind you: I love Adam as a friend, but I do not have romantic feelings for him. I consider myself a lesbian. On the continuum of sexuality and attraction, I am probably midway between the bisexual center and homosexuality end . I am attracted to women, primarily. Not ALL women. And there may be a few men (David Bowie-ish men) that I am attracted to. But my psychological attraction or lack of attraction to Adam is almost irrelevant, because sex, for me, is most enjoyable when I am "in love" (or whatever that is - emotionally AND physically VERY, very attracted to a person). I also liked the sex idea because I thought it might be more pleasant and gratifying for Adam (it would be rude to assume he would LIKE having sex with me, especially knowing I am a lesbian who would not want to have sex with him under normal circumstances). I asked Adam to have tea with me, and then I asked him to have sex with me. He was surprised I asked. He said yes. So we had sex and got pregnant after two months of attempts. Adam was very kind to do this with me. I tried to offer him whatever kindness and love I could during the sex - kindred spirit sex, I'll call it. The first time we had sex, I felt a lot of guilt and discomfort (right after he left the house). I cried to Sandy, and she held and comforted me. Then it got easier. There were some difficulties with communication a couple of times, which is understandable given the unusual circumstances. But both Adam and I tried to go into it (the situation, the sex) with compassionate and generous attitudes. And it worked. Darah was born from love. Adam's love for us and for himself and for humankind. Our love for each other (Sandy and me) and our love for Adam and his generous spirit. And our love for the baby we were bringing into the world.

After deciding to use a more "hands-on" method, it only took two months (or two monthly attempts) before I was pregnant. The second method worked well and make it more enjoyable for Adam (who was being so generous and selfless by giving up so much time and effort in our bathroom before). The first major sign I had of pregnancy, aside from bloating, was that I had an abundant amount of mucous-like fluid on the edge of my vagina. I noticed it in the mirror of the hotel room we stayed at the May 2007 MPA conference in Chicago. It was definitely strange. I became a little obsessed with it...and I had to be careful not to remove it all because it served a purpose. The bloating was pretty obvious. Okay, let me put it more bluntly. I was a gas machine. That is how Darah earned her fetal name - Fartyce Rae (Kris Kelly helped us decide on the spelling).

Shortly after we returned home from the trip (it was also on this trip that we had to take our aging Sheltie, Cydney, out on the streets of Chicago at 2am to find a grassy area for her to go to the bathroom on...we were both wearing our pajamas), I took a pregnancy test while Sandy was at work. AND GOT A POSITIVE RESULT. I was screaming and jumping up and down when I called her. It was such a happy moment for both of us. For a week after we got the results, I felt GREAT. I felt healthy and happy. I did have one strange craving during that week - I ate a jar of green olives with pickled ginger. The thought of the combination still makes me sick to this day. That was the only craving I ever had, though. It was right after that snack (the day after or so) that I became very, very sick. Debilitatingly sick with nausea all day long, every day for over three months. I carried a black bucket around with me everywhere - even to the grocery store. I did not vomit very often, but I felt like I could constantly. (The major vomit that I remember involved six pieces of french toast, butter, syrup, and cranberry juice. It was traumatic.)I burped and spit all day long. I felt like I would puke when I brushed my teeth. I couldn't clean or read or do anything. I watched HGTV and TLC (baby shows!) I was lying on the couch or the bed all day long, whining and whimpering and complaining. "Oh Sandy, help me. Help me, help me, help me." "Sandy, I'm dying. I wanna die. I wanna die. I wanna die." "Kill me, just kill me." "Oh, this is horrible. Oh. Ohhhhhhhh." "Please, Sandy, make it stop. I can't do this. I can't get through this." "I'm dying. I'm dyyyyying." I was useless. Sandy served me meals and cleaned up after me for three months. And she had to hear me complain all day long, especially at meals - when I would say "Oh, I don't feel like anything. I can't eat anything. Noooooo." But I did manage to eat every meal, every day. I forced the food down. I made it hard on Sandy. I am normally VERY difficult to feed. I am very picky, and I only eat fish (no white or red meat). I was ten thousand times harder to feed. If I ate something once, I would not eat it again. So poor Sandy was trying to come up with things for me to eat, and it was very difficult. And for some reason, the foods that sounded the least sickening to me were hydrogenated, processed foods - pop tarts, Twinkies. You get the picture. But I would eat one or two from the pack of twelve, and leave the rest for Sandy to eat. It was NOT a fun time in our lives. Sandy fed me dry cheerios in bed every morning. She brought them to me and put one in my ear every day -my daily Eario- before leaving for work. But once we were past the first three months (which seemed to last FOREVER), we gradually started to have an easier time. I said then and still say - ANYTHING is better than nausea. I had terrible heartburn (and acid reflux) at night, but nothing tortures me more than nausea. While I was sick, I said I could "NEVER GO THROUGH THIS AGAIN. ONE BABY ONLY." And then, just an hour after having Darah's head and the doctor's thumb tear through my vagina, I changed my mind and said I was willing to have another. I just had this sense that it was over - and, therefore, worth it. It felt so good to know that I got through it and got her out safely.

After three months of hell (it was Hell!), we entered into what some call "the Golden Age" of pregnancy -- the second trimester. I was hoping this trimester would be all that they (the authors of the pregnancy books) said it might be - filled with desire, motivation, great sex, and energy. But, for me, it wasn't. It was definitely the best third of pregnancy, but it was still filled with strange bodily experiences. Whenever I tried to read aloud to Sandy at night, I had to stop after only a few minutes because I was out of breath. I often felt weak. The weakness and dizziness came at strange moments in public. It happened at the dentist office. I felt like I was losing consciousness on the chair and had to ask that they stop. Then, at the hair salon, it happened. I had to ask to me released from the chair to go to the bathroom in the middle of the cut. I went into the bathroom and just fell (well, more like sat and collapsed) onto the floor. Pretty gross to be lying on the bathroom floor of a hair salon, but when you are losing consciousness you don't seem to care about those things. And then it happened in September at the Amigone Funeral Home (at one of the wakes for my great grandmother). Luckily, I had a couch to lie on there. The hormonal changes during pregnancy are wacky enough to deal with, but then so many other things happen. It's hard to not become obsessed with your body. My beloved great grandmother died on Sandy's birthday, September 19 2007. She was almost 97 years old. She had a stroke, and went downhill from there. She could not swallow, so her kids had to decide whether to feed her through a tube or let her go with the help of heavy drugs. It's so hard to let someone go, especially someone as special and wonderful as Elizabeth Walsh. I was lucky enough to have spent a couple of days with her over the summer, when I was two months pregnant. She read aloud to me from a pregnancy book (about morning sickness). And she also showed me, on the computer, what kind of copper kettle she used when she was a young woman. Every morning when I came down to eat, she would look at me and say slowly, "how are you feeling?" And I would answer her the same way every time: "not good." Then she shook her head. She sincerely felt sorry for me. A woman who gave birth to nine children naturally, most of them at home with the help of her sisters, felt sorry for me and my nausea. When I came to Buffalo in September to say goodbye to her (we didn't know how aware she was, but she could open and blink her eyes and open her mouth), I had a pretty big belly. I whispered to her that we were having a girl (she was the only one in the family to know at that point...if she was conscious). I held her hand to my belly while the baby kicked. Life and death, touching each other.

As far as weight gain and stretching skin are concerned - I had my share of both. I gained a total of 46 pounds over the course of the pregnancy (I was 100lbs at conception and went to 146). Unlike most women, I was happy about SOME of the weight I gained (probably 25 lbs worth). I gained weight in my butt and thighs right away. Sandy noticed that first, too. More to love, of course. Then it was the breasts (I was truly shocked by the stretch marks - like lightening bolts - that plastered them). And then the belly. People asked me if I was pregnant with twins on many occasions, but it was just little (but long) 7 pound 13 ounce Darah in there. I think she spent a lot of her time in the womb practicing for Cirque du Soleil. I had trouble standing for long periods of time. I don't have much energy generally, but it was so much worse when I was pregnant. Having a human being living inside of you takes a lot of energy.

The third trimester was, despite the fact that I had to lug myself and Darah around, pretty pleasant. It was just exciting. I spent the Fall and Winter seasons volunteering at The Elms (a senior home with a high population of individuals with dementia). I spent an hour and a half twice a week with a group of people who had dementia. I acted like I knew them. Sometimes they acted like they knew me. But I think I was a new woman to them each time I visited. The pregnancy gave us something to talk about. They asked me the same questions over and over :"how far along are you" and "do you know if it's a boy or a girl?" We put cards in piles and sang some songs and talked about the weather and played the Wii (well, once). I think I would rather work with babies and toddlers than the elderly, if I had a choice. Just because I think I wouldn't feel as depressed afterward. Once, before I stopped volunteering, I performed in a "concert." I sang and Amy Carr played the piano. They really loved the Christmas and jazz standards. Singing with a GIANT belly is an interesting experience. Sandy and I had three showers thrown for us. Our friend and Sandy's colleague, Kris Kelly, had a lovely departmental baby shower for us. Our friend, Amy Carr, had a small gathering of friends for a baby shower at her house. And my sister and aunts had a big, spectacular family/friend party at my aunt's house in East Amherst, NY for us.

Sandy and I stayed home alone for Christmas because it was too close to my due date (which was about two days off from the date I gave birth). My mother sent us boxes and boxes of food and gifts. I managed to clean more thoroughly than usual some areas of the house (nesting, they call it) a couple of weeks before Darah arrived. For about a week before she arrived, I had cramping and contractions. But at 4am on January 13 2008, I was awake with REAL contractions. As soon as I awoke from sleep with the evenly patterned contractions, I went into the bathroom with a piece of paper and a watch to time the contractions. I showered and dried my hair and even used the flat iron on it (it didn't help, by the time Darah came out I was dirty and disheveled). Then I woke Sandy up a little before 5 to go to the hospital. I was scared and excited. McDonough District Hospital had recently renovated their birthing rooms and I was able to choose from three. They had me undress and put me in bed, and hooked me up to an IV. They had me rate my ability to handle pain. I definitely overestimated it.

Throughout the morning, the contractions were unpleasant but manageable. Sandy and I watched the Food Network (well, sort of). She typed a letter to Darah. We looked lovingly at each other. I took multiple trips to the bathroom hoping that I would get all the crap and pee out of me that I could so that it wouldn't end up on the bed during the "pushing" part of the delivery. The worst part, at that point, was finding out that my OBGyn, Dr. Robyn Alley-Hay, was out of town and would not be able to return in time. I was very frantic about this. First of all, I really loved her and wanted her to be the one to deliver the baby. She was very supportive of our same-sex pregnancy. Secondly, I knew it meant that SOMEONE ELSE was going to have to do it. The someone else was The (only) Other OBGyn in Macomb - the male one. He is a religious man who speaks (in the paper, I've heard but not seen) openly in against homosexuality. We were told by a friend, when we were first looking for an OBGyn, that he would ask us to leave his office if we tried to see him. So all I had in my mind at the time was a narrow view of this man and the anxiety that THIS was the person who was going to be handling what happened to my baby and my vagina. First off, I did not want a man to be in charge of my body and baby. I wanted a women-only experience. I was very anxious about the idea of having someone who would be "against" me and my partner being "in charge" of my body and my baby (knowing that it would make him uncomfortable that we were two women and that we had an obvious age difference). Ah. I was very distressed. I felt powerless. There was no other way. The baby ways coming and he was the only one available. It was far from my ideal. I was upset that my doctor had gone out of town when she knew we would be delivering soon, but then I found out she was visiting her mother (who has Alzheimer's). It was just bad timing. It sucks to have to feel uncomfortable when you are giving birth to a baby. I should not have had to feel uncomfortable. But then I also had some control in the matter - I could have decided NOT to let it bother me (but, come on, I think I was justified). So around noon, after I had a bath in the jacuzzi tub, the doctor came to check me out. He wasn't particularly unfriendly; he was decent. He broke my water and then went on his way (to church...he would return later).

The nurses really took care of me. I feel that they deserve MOST of the credit for having delivered our child. They were there with me 90% of the time; he was there 10% of the time. After my water broke, the contractions grew stronger and I entered into the "Oh HELL no, I can't possibly get through THIS" phase. By 2 or 3, the contractions were unbearable. It felt like the bottom half of my body was being amputated without anesthesia. Knives jabbing my guts over and over. I announced that I was ready for an epidural. And about two minutes later, I was moaning and begging for one. The nurse was very calm and helpful. She tried to get me to focus on my breathing. It didn't work, but it did help to have her there. I tried to grab and hold onto Sandy, but the pain was so bad that holding on wasn't really possible.

Even the act of screaming was torture. It seemed like forever before the anesthesiologist arrived; it was probably forty-five minutes at the most. I couldn't get that needle in fast enough. Instant relief. I was so happy. It made the pain stop. Thank GOD. Actually, thank SCIENCE. It was a little while before I went into another dimension of consciousness. I suppose it was like being at the top of a mountain, where the air supply is limited and the experience of breathing is...unique. It was somewhat euphoric and somewhat sickening. Oh, and I was itchy all over. I scratched my belly a lot. I was too out of it to be self-conscious. I wasn't capable of talking or thinking very much. It became scary for a little while, when the epidural directly or indirectly caused my blood pressure to drop drastically and fall to a dangerous level. I wasn't completely conscious, but I do recall that Sandy looked scared (which, under normal circumstances, would SCARE me A LOT). It was pretty serious for a time, but they got it back in the "acceptable range" (I don't recall if they slowed the flow of the drug, but that would make sense).

Then it was time to start pushing. I gave it my all, but it seemed like I was pushing for a LONG time before anything productive happened. It didn't hurt too bad to push until her head reached the surface. Sandy said it was kind of freaky to see this black, wet hair (which looked like a wet animal...well, it was a wet animal!) coming out of my vagina. She did not want to say anything that would scare me, though. The doctor came in after I had pushed for a while with the encouragement of Nurse Janet. He told me to push down against the table. I pushed, over and over. No head. So the nurse suggested we turn off the epidural. He gave her the okay and she turned it off. No, why didn't I say: NO! It was too late, it was off.

I pushed again. Then the pain came. Her head was at the surface (i.e. my skin, my vagina). That hurt so bad. But I had to push. At that point, my body was automatically wanting to push. Then the head was coming out. It hurt more than so bad. The large head was trying to rip through a small hole - my vagina. The hole wasn't big enough. I started screaming BLOODY MURDER. "ah, ah, ahhhhh, AHHHHH, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, GET IT OUT, GET IT OUT, GET IT OUT OF ME, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH." The pain was the worst I've ever experienced but it was short lived. I think my scream was so loud and piercing that Dr. Troy Eckman just wanted to GET IT OUT. He took his thumb and pushed my hole open. His thumb tore me open to get the head out. The second degree tear of a man's thumb got the head out. Only, at that point, it wasn't A HEAD or THE HEAD anymore - it was HER head. Her precious, lovely, perfect head. They showed her to me (I wasn't really paying attention at that moment; I was lying back and breathing and crying with joy and relief...I didn't know that I had torn so badly). Sandy kissed me and went over to see Darah. She wasn't all covered in slime and blood; she was relatively clean (Darah, not Sandy). Red and rashy, but clean. But, as I said, I wasn't paying attention to her. It was time to be stitched up. I was paying attention to him. And the needle. He told me, over and over, to relax. But I could not relax. I said, "I can't relax, I'm scared of the needle." Maybe if the drugs were still flowing I could have relaxed and he could have been more careful with his work, but the epidural was turned off and the needle was ready. He stitched up the tear hastily (which still affects me today...they took a long time to heal...and I had pain and irritation in my vulva/vagina for months). But at least it was over. He was done.

Immediately after he finished, they brought Darah to me for her first breastfeeding. She attached right away and had a nice meal. Boy was she hungry. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And she made the sweetest sounds as she was suckling. Then Sandy and the nurses held her while I ate a meal (turkey and mashed potatoes...for the vegetarian who just gave birth - I managed, though. I didn't really care about anything. She was here and out of me.) They wheeled me into another, less attractive, room for the night. Sandy and I slept for a while on my bed. Then she moved to the other bed. I made phone calls and sent text pictures of Darah to family and friends. And I slept. And I bled. I bled a lot. I cringed every time I had to urinate (with assistance from a nurse), and I seriously dreaded the idea of having to use my butt hole for anything after what had happened to my perineum. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be when it actually happened, which wasn't for a while. They brought Darah to me for a feeding every two hours. She made little baby alien creature sounds. I stared at her in utter amazement. I held her and kissed her head. I loved her and loved her and loved her.

By 6:30pm the next evening we were home with Darah, waiting for my parents to arrive. Sandy had to teach the next day and needed to sleep, so I put her in bed with Darah. For some reason, Darah was having excessive gas that smelled like nasty rotten eggs. I don't know why, but it didn't last longer than a day (thank goodness!). My vulva and vagina were basically massacred. They don't look anything like they did before. More like a bunch of flaps of skin (I know it's gross, but maybe some kind doctor will volunteer to fix it for free for me someday - ha ha). But it was all worth it. She arrived healthy and happy and incredibly precious. And the rest is Herstory.

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