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Saturday, June 11, 2011

In Utero

During my first pregnancy I read every book about pregnancy and birth that I could get my hands on.  One of them was a great book called "Babycatcher:  Chronicles of a Modern Midwife" by Peggy Vincent.  I was inspired by it and, being something of a crazy hippie by nature anyway, decided I wanted a natural, midwife-attended birth.  I got plugged in with a birthing center in Austin (there are lots of them down there).  It was like having your baby in a cozy cabin with the medical equipment hidden in cupboards and behind decorative screens.  I got ready for my perfect pregnancy and birth.

Nothing ever really goes to plan, not in my life anyway.  One day while Phillip and I were hanging out in our own cozy cabin, I started bleeding.  I was about fifteen weeks pregnant and called my midwife, panicked.  She told me to put my feet up and the bleeding stopped.  She also scheduled me for a sonogram a couple days later to check and see if I had placenta previa, a condition where the placenta is overlying the cervix and can complicate your pregnancy.

The sonogram was at a doctor's office in downtown Austin that to me is a perfect blend of homeopathy and technology.  All the normal magazines in the waiting room but the smell of patchouli in the air.  We were one of the last patients this one particular ob/gyn was seeing before he left on a bicycle tour of Indonesia.  I was still in my element and still confident that everything was going to be okay.  He looked at the baby.  I could see strange images in the grey screen in front of me, saw the little heart beating, but could not make out many details.  After taking several shots from several different angles, he excused himself for a moment.  When he came back into the room, he said something I will never forget.  I can remember everything about it, what the room looked like, the nuance of his tone.  He said, "Your placenta is fine.  There is something wrong with the baby."

The next few minutes were chaotic.  Phillip and I asking questions, this very nice but very evasive doctor not answering them.  He did not want to go into too many details.  He pointed to a mass around the baby's belly that should not be there.  He did not want to speculate too much on what it was, could be a blocked umbilical cord or the enigmatic "something else."  He wanted to send me to the specialist the next day to find out for sure.  I remember sitting in the car in the parking lot, sweating in our air-conditionless car and calling my mom, freaking out and crying.  There were no answers, just the ominous "something wrong" and twenty-four hours to wait.

The neonatologist's office did not smell like patchouli but there was complimentary hot tea and a nice, calming water feature.  A really nice technician took us back into a dimly lit room with calming music playing, lubed up my tummy, and began to look at the baby.  The difference in the technology was astounding.  Instead of ghostly, blobby images on a dim screen, I was looking at our baby in crisp black and white.  It looked like a tiny, slightly shrimp-like being from an alien planet, but it was our baby.  Phillip held my hand supportively, looking at the screen with me.  The tech asked if we wanted to know the sex and at our affirmative answer said, "It's a boy."  At that point, Phillip's "supportive spouse" demeanor evaporated and he put his hands on me like I was part of the table as he lunged toward the screen to check it out for himself.  I was no less thrilled to know "it" was a "he," but I still wanted to know what was wrong.  

The tech had mercy.  After a butt-covering legal statement that he was not the doctor, this was just his opinion, etc, etc, he told me it was gastroschisis.  That there was a hole in his stomach that should have closed but didn't and that his intestines were sort of leaking out of it and developing on the outside of his body.  It was a little gruesome, but probably not lethal.  The rest of him was doing really well.  We got lots of cool pictures of all his bits and pieces.  In his facial shot, you could still see his skeletal structure and his skull was kind of spaced out and pointy.  Phillip said, jokingly, "Mira! Se mire como el diablo." which means "Look!  He looks like the devil."  We laughed and loved him.  Our little Diablo.   

The specialist came in a little bit later and confirmed everything the tech had told us, elaborating a little on the details and "where we go from here."  I would have monthly checkups at his office, monitoring how much intestine was visible and the rest of his development.  The biggest in utero risk was that his liver would start to peek out.  If this started to happen, his chances of survival diminished significantly.

So ended my perfect pregnancy.  I could no longer have him at a birthing center since he would have to be rushed to surgery at birth.  Instead I was switched to the "high risk" ob/gyn group associated with Brackenridge hospital.  The office smelled like antiseptic and there was not a water feature in sight unless you counted the cooler with little cone-shaped paper cups in the corner.  My doctor was nice but always in a hurry and there was no guarantee that he would even attend the birth.  The only other of his coworkers that I met was a woman with a bedside manner that evoked images of Nurse Ratched.  I was less than pleased.

I was flexible though and firmly back on the "everything is going to be okay" wagon.  Phillip and I went through the baby name book cover to cover and with very little argument El Diablo became Edward Diego Spain Espinoza.  We thought Eddie Espinoza had a ring to it that should not be passed up.  It sounded like a major league baseball player (and we both really like baseball).  I was more determined than ever to have a natural birth.  Although my doctor said any drugs in my system were unlikely to affect Eddie's outcome significantly, I was not willing to take any chances or compromise my little slugger in any way.  He was coming out with a couple strikes against him as it was.

And so the spring and summer of 2005 passed.  I grew ridiculously big because I was pregnant, newly sober, and craved chicharron tacos and chocolate cake with a vengeance.  I read more books, bought little tummy speakers so Eddie could listen to music and voices other than my own, and did lots of prenatal yoga.  In return, El Diablo gave me lots of heartburn and permanent internal damage by wedging his bootie firmly into my ribcage.  In August I floated around the pool at our apartment complex like a big, pink, pregnant whale.  We got to see Eddie grow, month by month.  Got to see his features develop and sharpen.  One day a few weeks before he was born, I was looking at the big screen projecting his image and, out of the aether, his little face was crystal clear.  He was frowning and fussy and the most beautiful boy I had ever seen.

Part of me could not wait to have him out of my tummy and into my arms.  But he was not going to go straight into my arms and I knew it.  He was going to go to surgery and then to NICU for recovery.  We had our surgical conference with a surgeon who needed to get together with my Nurse Ratched ob/gyn and attend an empathy training.  He informed me that I probably would not be allowed to hold my baby until at least six weeks after his birth and acted like I was a silly, hormonal child when that suggestion made me cry.  Still, Ed's prognosis was good and we were as ready as we thought we could be, but we knew there were a lot of ifs involved, a lot of complications possible.

So, another part of me wanted him to stay with me for as long as possible, safe and secure in my womb.  It was just the two of us in those days.  I get it when God describes himself as a jealous God.  I'm a jealous Mom.  I got to feel the kicks and elbows and it was so worth all the nausea and heartburn.  I talked to Eddie all the time, knowing my voice was the loudest and strongest he could hear.  I sang to him.  I made him promises.  Mostly I promised that I would let him be him.  That I was so grateful that he had come into my life and that I knew he was a unique gift from God, to be celebrated and enjoyed not corrected or molded into something different than what God had made him.  I promised to be a mother who hugged more than she scolded, who learned more than she taught, and who listened more than she talked (that, as it turns out, is the really tricky one).  I prayed with him and for him and I really thought everything would be okay.

Since you all know how this story ultimately ends, you know already that everything was not okay.  Things did not go to plan.  Eddie never grew into the little denim jacket that we had emblazoned with the words "EL DIABLO" in Old English, "Big Ed" in script beneath it.  But, then again, that really is okay.  In another way, everything is okay.  I lost my son, but gained a greater knowledge of my Savior.  Through Eddie's birth, I understand the grace Christ bought with His death.  I have a knowledge that goes beyond information, a peace that defies understanding.  I get to feel all the hope and joy and it is so worth all the grief and pain.  Eddie was always coming just as he was and I got to keep him for a little while, both in the womb and for a time after.  This life is its own kind of womb, where we get to grow and develop before being thrust into a new reality, one so different from these environs that we cannot begin to grasp exactly what it will be like.  We are all in utero.  But this I know, once the birthing pains are over and I cross the threshold, I have a little boy waiting for me and a bright, beautiful world to explore together.                               

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