Image via WikipediaAs a child, I knew I'd give birth at home. I knew home birth was safer than hospital birth - why go to a hospital, full of germs and disease and people, when I could have my baby at home, delivered by my own grandmother who delivered me and my siblings and cousins? I felt quite a lot of pride at having been born at home myself, although it always bothered me a bit that no one knew exactly when I was born (especially once I hit teen years and became interested in astrology. How on earth was I going to make a star chart when all my mother knew was that I'd been born "sometime in the afternoon, between 2 and 6 probably"?)
When I found at I was pregnant at 22, I had a lot of hard decisions to make. Would I get back together with my exboyfriend I'd broken up with the day before, father of my fetus? Would we just date or would we get married? Where would I get money? How on earth was I going to tell my mother? The extra question I had was, where would my baby be born?
I knew I wasn't healthy. I'd been doing drugs with my boyfriend (which was why I left him) and I'd been suffering a particularly bad bout of anorexia. I also knew there was a good chance I was fairly far along in my pregnancy. While my periods had changed, and for the last two months even stopped, I'd assumed it was amorrhea caused by my low weight. I decided to go see a doctor, to at least see how far along I was and whether or not the fetus was healthy.
I tried applying for Medicaid for Pregnancy, but there was a funny hitch in the process: You had to have "proof of pregnancy" and apparently the stick test I'd peed on didn't count. I had to have something signed by an MD saying I was pregnant in order to get the insurance help and food stamps. Fortunately, a wonderful man by the name of Dr. Arkin was running the Peace of Mind Clinic within the local Catholic Charities office at the time. The sole purpose of that clinic was to help girls and women get their proof of pregnancy and to assist them with the Medicaid application process.
I sat in a terrible waiting room - full of posters reminding me that "When a pregnant woman drinks, she never drinks alone" and copies of What to Expect When You're Expecting. I waited in the ripped leather chair while two girls before me went into the ultrasound room. When it was my turn, Dr. Arkin's wife cum ultrasound technician cheerfully told me, "It's been a twin day today. The last two girls were having twins!* Let's see if you are, too!" This was already a dread and fear. My boyfriend's father had been born a twin (although his twin had died sometime in childhood, and he was now an only child.)
I walked into the exam room, full of trepidation. She bustled around and chatted amiably, as I stripped and put on that horrid paper gown. Her husband came in and asked me to scoot down to the edge of the of the exam table. Feet in stirrups, completely alone, and with this bubbly woman going on about the miracle of twins, I bit my bottom lip and waited.
"Oh, look," Dr. Arkin told me, "You're having a boy." I turned my head and wept for joy, relieved to only be carrying one, and already in love with the tiny life in my womb. Wow. I stared, mesmerized by the ultrasound image. There he was - head and body, limbs and even sex organs. There was nothing obviously wrong with him, and somehow he'd survived the first 4 and a half months of my ignorance and negligence. He was *beautiful*. Dr. Arkin let me know that I was 21 weeks pregnant, and that my boy would be due on August 30th, just five days after his father's birthday.
I put my pants back on and collected the ultrasound pictures, including the one where Mrs. Arkin had rather gleefully circled the image of his penis, with a label "It's a boy!" She told me, "The daddies are always proud of these" which threw me a bit. (Are mothers "proud" of the size of their daughters' labia?) We sat down in a conference room down the hall, and Dr. Arkin helped me fill out my Medicaid and Food Stamp application.
"You need to gain weight," he told me, looking at my 5'3" 104 lbs frame. "You need to gain 50 pounds, and you need to do it yesterday." That was my battle for the next four months, trying to put on and keep on enough weight to make sure the fetus' brain developed properly.
I quit smoking pot, and mostly quit smoking cigarettes. (Yeah, I snuck a few here and there, most memorably on my wedding day, early in my third trimester.) I laid off the diet sodas, energy drinks, and diet pills I'd relied on to get me through school, and dropped out of college. I changed everything about my body, from what I put into my body, to how long I kept it there (no bulimia for me, as the electrolyte imbalance that would cause could be extremely damaging to the fetus), to what size I tried to be. I dropped bad habits, bad friends, but regretfully, picked up again the bad relationship I had with my ex-boyfriend. We fought constantly, and he did all he could to punish me. Secretly, I think he was thrilled. What better way to get me back, to trap me for good, than a baby?
I tried to put off the wedding. "Let's wait till he's born and old enough to be our ring-bearer! Then it will be our whole family," I said, knowing in the hidden honest parts of myself that Ronnie was in no way prepared to be a father, and not sure how much I wanted him for a husband. But he pushed. His mother pushed. My family (except my mother) pushed. I caved.
We were married during my 7th month of pregnancy, and I felt like a walrus, waddling down the aisle in my sister's borrowed and altered wedding dress, in one inch heels that were absolutely killing my feet.** We said the vows, tied the knot (literally, the priest's sash), and I threw the bouquet. We took pictures with both our wedding ring hands resting on my domed belly, featuring our future child as an unbodied member of the wedding party.
People have this week how I could feel so differently about these two pregnancies, but really they had nothing in common. If anything, my life conditions were exponentially worse for bringing a child into the world back then than they are today. I was poor, unemployed, single, unhappy, and underweight. Yet I knew I wanted him. Also, frankly, I was so far along by the time I learned I was pregnant, optional abortion wasn't really on the table anymore.
I found out I was pregnant back then because for some reason, my weight loss platued and my goal of getting below 100 pounds suddenly seemed impossible. But the real moment of truth came, not when I took the home pregnancy test, but a day before then, when I felt something odd and firm beneath my skin (that'd be my uterus). Within 48 hours of taking the test, I felt the first kicks. Even still, I knew he wasn't a baby *yet* and that there was a good chance he might never become one.
I struggled to stay healthy, while planning a wedding (on an extremely lean budget), fighting with my fiancee, fighting with my mother, and moving three times. I didn't always win that fight, and I spent days and days in the maternity ward emergency room, on IV drips and supplements. My iron levels were low, but the prenatal vitamins with iron in them made me throw up. I was living off pizza, ice cream, and Subway sandwiches, but I couldn't keep weight on to save my life (or my fetus'). A week after my honeymoon, I went into the ER with a fever and a stomach flu, and over the course of that week I lost 10 pounds through vomit and diarrhea. I wondered if either one of us would make it out alive.
At 41 weeks, 2 days, at 6 o'clock in the morning on a Thursday, I started having contractions. We timed them at about eight minutes apart, and waited till the doctor's office was open to give her a call. Once my Medicaid was approved, I was able to start going to regular prenatal visits, and found a fantastic former-nurse OB/GYN and mother to deliver my baby. We'd picked her because she was near the hospital, and we'd picked that hospital (about half an hour away) because it had the best neonatal intensive care unit in the region. Her nurse told me they couldn't make recommendations on whether or not it was time to go to the hospital until they'd examined me, so I woke up my husband and had him ride with me to the doctor. (He had multiple DUIs from before meeting me, and didn't have a license at any point during our relationship, a secret he had me keep from my family.)
[Okay folks, sorry, but I've gotta go make dinner and do those other mommy things. My total labor took 98 hours, so I imagine writing it will take at least a few pages. I'll try to pick this up tomorrow or on Tuesday. Be sure to keep an eye out for my live appearance on CNN this Monday, 3/8/2010 at 10 am EST.]
*Clearly, HIPPA was not her primary concern that day.
** I routinely wear 4" heels without incident. Heck, I used to have a pair of 7" platforms I only wore when going out with a gay friend who was 6'9".