There is a new mama in my area. She has a one month old daughter with Down syndrome and is staring heart surgery down in another month or so. She is a young mama and this is her first child. Sound familiar? Like me, maybe? It came up when Abigail's therapist was asking me questions about Abigail's eating issues before and after heart surgery. The therapist was telling me that this new mama was asking all these questions about her daughter's life, her future, even tearing up as she talked and rocked her baby. I was tearing up hearing about it! I know exactly what she is going through. She sounds just like I did when Abigail was that age. I am on the hunt for this mama. I want to love her. I want to support her in whatever way she needs to start her healing journey. If she likes to read, I can recommend scores of Ds books - I've read just about all of them. If she wants to talk, I can make a mean homemade chai and listen. If she wants to hear my story, I can recount it all. If she wants to know what surgery is like, I will show her pictures, hand her my journal, spill my secrets. When the therapist told me they don't like to share names, I reacted flat out, "fuck that shit." Okay, I didn't swear at the therapist, I just swore in my head, but I got up that very instant, found some paper and jotted down everything: my name, phone number, email address, Abigail's age, how old she was when she had surgery. I gave the therapist explicit permission to tell this women what town we live in, about Abigail's eating issues before and after surgery, and that I would love to chat with her. No mama enters this community without getting a burst of love on my watch.
Healing is a long process, sometimes marked by slow steps, sometimes by bursts of speed. I feel really, really good about how far I've come with the whole Ds aspect, but I still struggle a lot with my birth experience. I hate to call it a traumatic birth experience because everyone lived, but it definitely was a dramatic one that left me with a lot of scars. You'd think with how much I've written about it (I mean, I'm freaking writing a book about it) that I would be over everything by now, but I'm not. Now that we're pregnant again and I'm getting ready to give birth again, I'm struggling a lot with those old scars. Primarily, I'm still not over the fact that I didn't get to see Abigail for three hours after her birth, that I couldn't breastfeed her, and that we were separated for three days while she was in the NICU (I did get to visit her, but it was still painful). My biggest fear (aside, obviously, from the baby dying), is having to be knocked out for the baby's birth. I was this close to being knocked out for Abigail's birth. Minutes. Less than a handful of minutes.
I am interested in having a doula or midwife present with me during my hospital birth. There are two main reasons I want someone there: 1. To help me parse out doctor's advice in the midst of labor pain. I'm not good at vocalizing my desires and I want the support of someone with experience when I make decisions in the middle of labor; and 2. So that if something does go wrong (c-section, post-birth separation, etc), I will know that it was because it had to and we did everything possible to avoid it. I've looked at all three midwives covered by my insurance and wasn't impressed. One doesn't serve at the hospital I'll be at, one doesn't do deliveries anymore, and one won't call me back. So I contacted an out-of-network doula service and fell in love. They're a bit pricy, so we're still deciding if/how we want to make things happen. But in the meantime, they lent me a book about processing dramatic birth experiences and last night I attended a free birth healing class that they sponsor. Both resources left me with a ton of tips, techniques, and ideas. I'm feeling much, much more positive about revisiting labor and delivery in May.
One of my favorite ideas is to make a list of goals I want to achieve during the birth process. They can be anything from big (I want to have an unmedicated birth) to simple (I want scented candles, for example). This way if things do go off-course, I can revisit my list and remember all the things that went right. All the things that happened according to plan. Under my control. Seriously, my favorite idea. I want lots of things on this list that can't possibly go wrong. One thing I want on that list is really shallow: favors for visitors.
I know, it's unbelievably silly. But here's why I want it: we knew that Abigail had serious heart issues by the time I hit the 3rd trimester and no one let me forget it. They all had good intentions when they plied me for details on our latest specialist visit, but it still set a really negative tone. I purposely didn't tell many of my Florida friends about Abigail's heart issues and it was soooo peaceful. I didn't have a single discussion about life-threatening issues at my Florida baby shower. But most of the time, if I wanted that "Yay, congrats!" attention most pregnant women get, I only found it in the aisles of Babies R Us. And once Abigail was born and we had a diagnosis, it only got worse. Most people acted like Abigail had died. I heard, "I'm so sorry" about a million times. It sucked. It felt like no one was happy for me. It wasn't until we moved back to Florida when Abigail was almost four months old and a friend turned the first "Ladies' Night" into a "Welcome, Abigail" party that I felt like someone was happy I had a baby. (TB, I don't know if I ever properly thanked you for that party and that cake with the yellow flowers, but it meant a lot to me. A lot). A child is a blessing and I will never let that happen to my family again. So I want a celebration. And one of my favorite parts of celebrations (other than good food) is favors. They are these frivolous little light-hearted luxuries. And I want that. So if you know me IRL, come visit me in the hospital. Paste your biggest damn smile on your face, say "Congratulations!" until you're sick of the word, and feel free to bring Abigail a balloon that says "Big sister" on it. And you will walk away with a kick-ass favor (that I will definitely get started planning) and you will have made my day. And no matter what else goes wrong, even if I have another c-section, I don't get to see her for three hours after her birth, I can't breastfeed, and this baby spends days in the NICU, it will be a celebration. And that will be healing.
I have lots of other things to sort through, think about, talk to Matt about, prepare for in the next three months and I am really looking forward to it all. I'm so excited to get another chance to rock another little girl in my arms, put little pink fleece socks on her tiny feet, and watch Abigail give her gentle kisses on her forehead. This child will be just as loved as Abigail, but this time, her mama will be a lot more whole.