Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife

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Vignette: My Brother's Birth

Posted by Lucille on December 29, 2016 at 2:10 AM

My mom had a tubal ligation after I was born, and by the time I was 7, she was in her late 40s and perimenopausal. Then she started getting nauseous, a little bit at first, and then throwing-up-every-day nausea, complete with swollen feet, headaches, and a whole host of other things. Her doctor did lots of tests, moving from testing for more common things to progressively rarer and more serious things. Mom thought she had cancer (not an unreasonable conclusion, considering that she had already survived breast cancer once in her 20s). Four months later, her symptoms had lessened with medication but never completely gone away, and she still didn't have an answer from her doctor. She thought she was going to die.

In frustration and desperation, she switched to a new doctor, bringing with her an entire stack of the tests and reports from her old one. They took a blood draw to redo some of the tests. Later that night, she got a call at home.

"Hi, this is Dr. Newguy. I'm working through the reports from Dr. Oldguy to make sure I have everything straight before we make a plan for how to move forward from here. I'm not seeing a report for one here so I just wanted to check...someone gave you a pregnancy test, right?"

"A...what?"

"A pregnancy test. Just to make sure we've ruled that out."

"I haven't had a period in a year. I'm in my late 40s. I had a tubal ligation, for Pete's sake!"

"So, you don't remember being given a pregnancy test?"

"I..."

"Tell you what. I have some of your blood down in the lab for those other tests, so I'll just add that on to the other tests they're running tonight to make sure we've ruled it out. I'll call you when I have the results."

He called a short while later.

"Where are you right now?"

"At home."

"Is your husband there?"

"Yes."

"I'd like you to sit down. Carefully. ...Are you sitting now?"

"Yes, what's going on? Did you get the results back? Is it cancer?"

"You're pregnant. Given the tubal ligation, there's a high risk of the pregnancy being outside of the uterus. When that happens, there's a risk that the pregnancy could erode an abdominal artery, which could be a life-threatening emergency. That risk goes up as the pregnancy continues, and given how long you've been experiencing symptoms, you could be as much as 5 months pregnant. I've already sent an ambulance your way. I'd like you to stay where you are until they arrive. Don't make any sudden movements. Just try to stay calm. I'll meet you in the emergency department when you arrive."

They were in the emergency department a few minutes later, staring with absolute shock at an ultrasound machine that showed my wiggling brother, not only in the uterus, but with the placenta implanted right in the center of the back of the uterus with absolutely ideal placement. And later tests confirmed that the tubal ligation was still in place, leading them to conclude that an ovum had slipped out of a microscopic tear on one side of the Fallopian tube and into the freedom of the abdominal cavity, and then BACK through a microscopic tear on the other side to nestle into the perfect place in the uterine lining. Obviously, my parents were very concerned that the fetus might not be healthy, considering Mom's age and that she hadn't been following any pregnancy precautions, including all the medications and tests she'd been given. All I know about the decision making process from there is that Mom said they went over the risks, that it mattered that she had a choice, and that she chose to go forward with the pregnancy.

Spolier alert: my brother came out absolutely healthy. He is our local miracle child.

Once they were decided that they were going forward with the pregnancy, they chose a time to tell me. They sat me down in the living room and said they wanted to tell me something important. I remember that they both looked very serious. They were worried that I wouldn't respond well to learning that I wouldn't be an only child anymore. They had been shielding me from as much of their anxiety as they could, but I knew enough to know that Mom was sick, that the doctors weren't sure how to make her better, and that Mom and Dad were scared. So when they told me that not only was Mom NOT dying, but that I was going to get a baby brother, I exploded into ecstatic joy. My parents sat open-mouthed on the couch while I ran, dancing and singing, through the house for two hours straight. Without understanding the science of it, I understood that he had come to us unplanned and against all odds, and I was sure that the universe had sent him especially for me.

I immediately wanted to know everything there was to know about babies. We went to the bookstore, and loaded up on books about babies, puberty, pregnancy, and newborn care. We had a baby shower, and I wore my 'big sister' shirt like a crown. I don't actually remember any discussion about whether I would be at the birth. It didn't occur to me that I wouldn't be there, and if Mom and Dad did ask me, I'm sure I gave an enthusiastic yes.

My principal (a stern, older French woman) got wind that my parents were planning to allow me at the birth and asked my parents to come meet with her in the office. She explained that this would be highly frowned upon, because I would talk on the playground and then other kids would go to their parents with questions and she would have to deal with the fallout. Dad responded that they were of course getting me all of the books I wanted and answering all of my questions so that my peers would receive accurate information, and that he understood what she was saying, but there was no need to thank them, really, because after all they were just doing their jobs as my parents. He offered that if the class would like for me to put together an educational presentation, he would be happy to assist.

My principal was speechless, and didn't try to interfere in my mom's birth plans again.

I timed my mom's contractions, and when they started to come consistently 5 minutes apart, we headed to the hospital. The hospital's policy was that there needed to be an adult whose sole job was looking after me, so a family friend met us at the hospital to fill that role. As an 8 year old, being given a day with an adult whose only job is to entertain you was like Christmas come early. There was more waiting involved in labor than I expected, so we went to the park for a while and I got to pet a dog. We checked in on Mom periodically, explored the hospital, and hung out with my grandparents in the waiting room. A nurse gave me a free popsicle. Mom had a fever, so they started Pitocin and she got an epidural. We settled into the room after that, and in the early hours of the morning, I fell asleep.

They woke me up as my little brother was crowning, and I saw my first birth. These first two pictures were taken about 10 minutes apart. It's not every midwife that gets to have photo documentation of her first-ever birth high!

I was so proud of my mama. And I still feel like this kiddo found his way to us especially for me.


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HIPAA Disclaimer

Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.