Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tales: Frankie's Birth Story- Just In Case

I got pregnant with Frankie less than a year after I opened my paint-your-own pottery business, Thoreau 'N' Clay, in Concord, MA. I was working long hours, lifting heavy objects, standing on my feet all day, and walking a lot. We live car free so I was walking to work everyday.

I had read Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin and had decided to have a midwife attended birth this time. My insurance would not cover homebirths. My local hospital, Emerson Hospital, did not have midwives so I found a midwifery practice at a nearby hospital on my train line.

When I was 32 weeks pregnant we took a trip to New York to attend a friend's wedding. It was a tough trip by public transportation. My husband was in the wedding party so he had a lot of obligations. I was left on my own a lot.

After the wedding, just as we started to head home, I started bleeding. We didn't know if I would make it all the way back to Massachusetts by public transportation, about a 6 hour trip.

Carle Place, NY train station
 As we stood at the Carle Place, NY train station, we thought about going to a local hospital. In the end, I decided I just wanted to get back to my midwives as soon as possible. We made it back home and the bleeding and cramping stopped.

[Side note: Thirteen years later we moved to New York a couple blocks from the Carle Place train station, and about 1 mile from this wedding venue]

I started taking prenatal exercise classes and found out about Bradley childbirth classes there. I decided to take Bradley classes even though I had already given birth once. By the time I found a class I could get to by public transportation, there wasn't enough time to complete the 12 weeks of classes before my "due date." We started taking the classes anyway and the instructor said she could do an accelerated version. Still, we spent one whole class discussing the benefits of eggs. That was our last class before I started having bloody show at 35 weeks.

I went in to see one of my midwives to get checked out. It was determined that my water hadn't broken but she was concerned about the bleeding. She put me on "house arrest" also known as modified bed rest. I skipped my Bradley class that afternoon and later that night I had some contractions. I spent the entire time I was having contractions trying to convince my husband things were really starting. They weren't at all painful but I could tell that we were having a baby sooner rather than later. My husband still thought it wouldn't be for another month.

By morning the contractions had stopped. It was Patriot's Day in Concord. My oldest son was marching in the parade with the Concord Museum. I got a ride to the parade so I didn't have to walk.

I had loose ends I needed to tie-up. I made a bank deposit and took care of some important business at my store. My parents and brother were in Concord for the parade and they made a trip to Kimball's Farm for banana splits. I went along for the ride and split a split with them.

I was extremely tired when I got home. I could barely eat dinner. I went to bed early. I woke up abruptly at 3:15am when my water broke. I wasn't having any contractions, at least none that I could feel, but I was shivering uncontrollably. We called the midwife on call and she said that I should stay home for a while since I wasn't having contractions yet. I said I was nervous since the baby was early and I wanted to get to the hospital "just in case." I wanted a chance to get settled in too. She said it would be okay for me to come in.

Since we don't have a car we had planned for my aunt, who is also an RN, to give us a ride. She was about 20 minutes away. I got ready to go while waiting for her. I started having contractions at around 3:45am as I got dressed. Every time I moved at all I would have another contraction. They were already strong enough that I couldn't talk while I was having one. I had to breathe slowly and focus inward to get through them.

There was a light rain as we left for the hospital, a 15 minute drive away. The contractions continued in the car. At one point I asked my husband and aunt in the front seat why the contractions were so close together. I didn't get an answer.

We got to the hospital and went to the check-in at the ER. There was a man ahead of us with a toe injury. I sat patiently in a wheelchair waiting to be checked in. I was pretty fully in "labor land" by that time and very inwardly focused. Eventually the woman at the check-in figured out how far along in labor I was by how close my low moans were coming. She said that we should go straight up to labor and delivery "just in case." She called up and said that she was sending up a woman in "hard labor."

We tried to get on the elevator but it was broken. I don't actually remember how we got upstairs but I'm guessing we found another one that was working.

I was given a hospital gown to put on but I preferred to stay naked. The nurses ended up just draping it over one knee. I was examined and found to be fully effaced, 8cm dilated, and the baby at a zero station. It was now 4:30am.

I had wanted to have a water birth but they said we didn't have the 45 minutes to fill and heat the tub. It was the day I turned 36 weeks and I hadn't yet gone over my birth plan with my midwife. She read it while I was getting settled in. I did not want to have an IV but they said that because I was only 36 weeks I had to have one "just in case." And even though my beta strep was negative they said I'd have to have antibiotics too "just in case" an infection was causing the early birth. I was also hooked up to fetal monitors which I didn't want.

In the midst of all of this one of the nurses approached me with paperwork to sign giving permission to immediately give my baby the Hepatitis B shot. I have zero memory of the conversation because I was so far into labor by this point. It wasn't until I watched the video later that I found out about it. I was appalled! The nurse said something like "all the babies are doing it." Then to my horror, I saw myself sign the paperwork.

A neonatologist was called in to be at the birth "just in case." He was still half asleep and had some serious bed head going on.

As I started to push, the nurses started counting. My midwife asked them to stop and let me push on my own based on what my body was telling me like I described in my birth plan. At one point there was panic because the fetal monitor was picking up a slow heartbeat. Thankfully, my midwife figured out that the baby had just moved really far down and the monitor was now picking up my heartbeat. Still, they decided to give me oxygen "just in case," something else I didn't want.

The first part of labor was very fast but the pushing part slowed down to the perfect length. It was a nice, slow, controlled birth. Frankie was born at 5:14am on Tuesday, April 20th, my 2nd Tuesday birth. He was immediately put skin-to-skin on my chest. The neonatologist examined him on my chest and we delayed cord clamping and cutting. When the cord stopped pulsing, my husband cut it and the neonatalogist further examined Frankie a few feet away while the placenta came out.

He was 6lbs 5oz and 19" long. Since he was early he had a lot of hair in weird places- on his forehead, on the tops of his ears, on his back and shoulders, etc. Hair on his forehead was at first mistaken for a big bruise.

At some point his blood sugar was tested, something I wasn't aware would be done. I was told it was a little low and he would need some formula. The midwife suggested to the nurses that I nurse him instead. He nursed for a while and his blood sugar had come up just from the nursing. When they brought him back to me after testing his blood sugar again, they told me they had given him a bottle of formula "just in case." I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach!

The hospital had boasted about "rooming in" on the tour. In reality, this wasn't what they encouraged. They tried to keep Frankie in the nursery as much as possible and kept telling me that I wanted to get as much sleep without him as possible. I was too elated immediately after birth to sleep anyway and even later on I couldn't sleep while separated from Frankie.

At one point I went to get him from the nursery and was reprimanded for not having on my hospital issue socks with the safety treads. The nurses said I should know because it was right in the hospital policy manual. I said that I gave birth at 36 weeks, 45 minutes after arriving at the hospital and hadn't been able to read any policies. I was also reprimanded for walking holding Frankie instead of wheeling him in the plastic bucket.

The first night in the hospital Frankie was very agitated. He wouldn't just nurse and sleep peacefully. I had to get up out of bed with him and walk around to calm him down. Every time he heard one of the other babies crying down the hall he would cry too.

My milk came in quickly and Frankie was nursing well. I had noticed he was tongue tied and pointed it out to my midwife. He seemed to be nursing well in spite of it and it wasn't clipped.

Frankie was born on April 20, 1999; the same day as the tragic shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. I remember watching the news coverage while in the hospital. I get very sad and anxious in hospitals anyway, but the sadness of this tragedy was a strange juxtaposition with the elation of birth.


We were finally released from the hospital but Frankie was readmitted the next day for jaundice. The doctor felt his bilirubin level was fine but the nurse talked him into admitting him "just in case." I assumed mothers were readmitted with their babies and I stayed at the hospital in the broom closet of a visitors bedroom. I guess they didn't have the heart to tell me that I wasn't supposed to stay too. It took me a while to figure out that the other mothers whose babies had been readmitted for jaundice were travelling back and forth to the hospital.

Frankie was under bili lights and I pumped milk (a lot of it!) so they wouldn't be tempted to give him another bottle of formula. I made them write it in his chart that he was to get nothing except my milk. I asked that he be taken out of the lights to nurse, even if he used a wallaby to continue light therapy. At one point the nurse brought him to me holding him in her arms. She said he was so frantic that she couldn't bear to keep him the plastic bucket on wheels. She said she never seen such a feisty baby!

Frankie would soak his entire mattress under the bili lights with sweat and pee. The nurses couldn't believe it. His poop started to look like creamed spinach too. They said it was from the bilirubin leaving his body. They gave me some information to read on jaundice. Two pieces of irony hit me immediately- it was printed on yellow paper and it was produced by Ross Laboratories (which explained why it said that my breastmilk was a likely cause of the jaundice).

Finally we were able to go home! It was such a whirlwind birth. People's reactions were that I was lucky for having such a fast birth, but fast births are difficult because of the rapid physical and emotional adjustments.

When Frankie was just 2 weeks old he came to work with me to work a party at the store. I continued to work, both with Frankie and while he stayed home with my husband.

Today Frankie turned 17 years old. Happy Birthday, Frankie! It seems like it was just yesterday.

[Updated: 4/20/2016]


  1. Wow! Such a list of things that the medical people should *never* do! I'm sorry that they did all those unnecessary things to you and your baby. I'm glad he was healthy, despite them.

  2. Thank you Colleen! It would have been a lot worse if I didn't have the support of my midwife. I never had another baby in the hospital. I had 4 homebirths after Frankie. I wrote about 2 of my homebirths on this blog so far. I would have to have a very compelling reason to ever give birth in a hospital again.