8/17/2002 – 8/19/2002
Ten years ago today I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy: Zane Brodie Hampton. He was 10 lbs, 10 oz, 23” long, five days late, and, oddly, still covered in vernix. He didn’t breathe right away, but it wasn’t long before he pinked up properly, receiving pretty decent Apgar scores. This is his story.
My older brother Tom, our designated “guardian” should anything happen to both myself and my ex-husband, called shortly afterward to “share our joy.” Only as I talked to him, I realized I didn’t actually feel joy. I didn’t even feel the profound sense of relief I thought I would feel at this point.
You see, the last weeks leading up to Zane’s birth I was a basket case. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something awful was going to happen — something that I could not prepare for. I had a home birth planned, but couldn’t imagine how I was going to manage my demanding three-year-old daughter while in labor. Every evening as my husband got home I hoped and prayed I would go into labor while he was there, so I didn’t have to worry about him getting home or being on my own. My friend Jennifer, who was to be my doula, was having a birthday. Her husband planned a surprise party, and I obsessed about her ability to be at my birth and her birthday party, until her husband told me it was canceled. (Turned out, she got wind of the party and made him cancel it.)
The week before his birth, in the wee hours of August 10th, I briefly thought that my water had broken. I called my midwife, Miriam, and she told me to “sit on a towel for ten minutes” then call her. I did. The towel was bone dry. If there was a leak, it sealed up freakishly fast, which should be a good sign, right? Then why did I feel so damned anxious? I sat on that towel in the middle of the night for two hours with contractions six minutes apart willing them to escalate into real labor. Part of me was convinced that that was my window. If I didn’t go into labor then, something awful was going to happen. I sobbed when I realized the contractions were slowing. Finally, I admitted defeat and went back to bed.
A whole – incredibly anxiety-filled – week went by before a great deal of discomfort kicked me out of bed on Saturday morning, August 17th. I took a bath to see if that would help. When I got out of the tub, water gushed all over the floor. This time it was obvious. My water had broken. This baby was finally going to come.
I threw up for the first two contractions, which were about 20 minutes apart. Then Jennifer arrived and fixed me a drink to cut the nausea. Whew! No more throwing up. The contractions sped up rapidly. Within two hours, they were two minutes apart. I was shaking like a leaf as I got into the birth pool, which felt too hot. I had back labor with my daughter, which was as painful as they say, but the pain was alleviated by pressing on a certain part of my back. Nothing alleviated the pain of Zane’s birth. It was grueling. I had about five hours of hard, dry contractions approximately two minutes apart, broken up by an hour or so of less frequent contractions, which I expect was my transition period.
I go through transition wicked fast. When my daughter’s midwife announced that I was six centimeters, I thought I was a goner. I just didn’t have hours and hours left in me. Fortunately, she was born an hour and a half later. With Zane a bit of cervix was stuck in the way slowing down the transition a bit, and Miriam had to physically manipulate it out of the way so I could push. OUCH!!! Finally, I could go back to the birth pool to have him.
He was born at 3:21 PM on August 17th, and, yes, it was indeed Jennifer’s birthday. If her husband had had the party, she would have had to send her back-up (whose last name, coincidentally, happened to be Brodie) or miss her own party.
Zane’s birth was hard. There was no doubt that I could not have handled any part of it alone with my daughter. So my intuition seemed on target about that, but the difficulty of his birth didn’t seem to justify the extreme anxiety I had around it. Nor did the fact that he didn’t breathe right away.
He seemed aware. He pooped. He nursed. He was big and healthy. All was well. So the professionals left us alone with him as I waved good-bye with a spoonful of lemon sorbet in my mouth, the first thing I had eaten all day.
Later that evening, when he was nursing, I noticed that he was a little blue. I called to my husband and told him I wasn’t sure he was breathing. He whisked him up and tried to get him to wake up. I had enough time to get the midwife, and then 911, on the phone before he got him awake. He seemed okay, so we canceled the ambulance. Then Miriam told us that sometimes big babies get hypoglycemic after birth and pass out so to try and make sure he eats frequently. Well, he didn’t. After that first latch on, he showed no interest in nursing. We actually broke out the free case of formula that we’d been mocking when it arrived.
As you might imagine, I was a wreck. I don’t know how I survived that night. I don’t think I got any sleep. The next morning, Miriam came over to check him and said that he seemed fine. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was working too hard to breathe. I’ve had asthma since I was 13, and I know what it’s like to have to use all your energy just to breathe. She said if I was still worried I should have him checked by his pediatrician. Only it was Sunday; the pediatrician’s office was closed, and the emergency number for the pediatrician was a cell phone that was out of range.
I called my cousin Jeanine, who is a lactation consultant, and asked for some advice. She gave me some tips that resulted in success later that evening. He nursed beautifully for about a half hour, one of the most beautiful interludes of my life, and I’ll always treasure it. The love in his eyes as he stared into mine was palpable. I could feel it melting the anxiety I’d been carrying for weeks. I thought he must be getting better, but I had resolved to take him into the doctor in the morning anyway.
Later that night, I got worried again and woke up my husband, and the two of us were watching him when he stopped breathing. It was obvious this time. My husband did CPR and I called 911. Police came quickly and took him down to the ambulance. We waited in the police car barefoot and in night-clothes as they worked on him. Finally, they drove us to the hospital and stashed us in the waiting room.
A long time later, Dr. Sunshine (Yes, that was his real name. Have I mentioned that irony is a hallmark of my life?) came out to tell us that they had gotten a heartbeat, but he was on oxygen and was quite blue. He was going to die. They were going to send him up to the NICU where we could wait. We went with him in the elevator, while the nurse accompanying him pumped him with oxygen. She noticed our bare feet and went off to find slippers for us. That random kindness touched us deeply and will never be forgotten. While we waited, we called my sister who got my mother out of bed and drove the hour and a half or so to the hospital from her house. Before they got there, someone arrived to tell us that he had died, and we could come and hold him. There he was surrounded by all those preemies: Zane, the giant in the NICU. Someone got me a chair (another person whose kindness will never be forgotten), and I sat with tears streaming down my cheeks as I held the little boy that I’d known for such a short time and told him that I loved him so, so much and I was so, so sorry that I didn’t keep him safe. Could he ever forgive me?
Because that’s our job as parents, isn’t it? Above all, we’re supposed to keep our children safe. And our intuition is supposed to help us with that. But what happens when intuition fails? When we don’t get all the information — or the right information– and something awful happens as a result?
After Zane died, I ran into a mother I knew and told her what happened. She then told me her daughter’s story. She had planned a home birth with the same midwife, and was getting close to her due date when she woke up from a dream one afternoon. A little girl had been calling, “I’m sick and I’m tired, Mommy!” This woman had two boys, so she knew the child calling was the girl she was waiting for. She called Miriam and told her about the dream. Miriam told her to go to the ER. She went, feeling silly, but they told her they had to do an emergency C-section. She said, “No, you don’t understand. I’m having a home birth.” They said, “No, you’re having this baby right now or she will die.” Despite her rocky beginnings, her daughter soon recovered full health. Where was my dream? Why didn’t Zane tell me what to do?
I was strep B positive when I went into labor with Zane, but Miriam said that antibiotics are overused and I didn’t have any of the high risk signs: more than three weeks early, fever in mother, or labor that goes on for 18 hours or more after membrane rupture. My labor had lasted a whopping eight and a half hours, start to finish, and Zane was five days late. There was no reason for antibiotics. But I had a distinct twinge of discomfort with that decision. I was sure we were going to find out that Zane had died of a strep B infection.
I spent the next twelve weeks berating myself for every decision I had made around his birth. I thought of a good six ways we could have saved his life — until we got the final results from the medical examiner. According to her, Zane died of a strep A infection, and antibiotics within five days of death would not have done any good. You’ll recall that he was only about 39 hours old when he died. How could this be? My husband told the medical examiner about the incident the week before his birth, when I thought my water had broken, and she said it was likely that that was when he got the infection. He was so sick by the time he was born that death was inevitable. All the ways I had thought of to “save his life” would have done nothing of the sort. They would merely have extended the time he’d spent in the hospital, or, worse, meant we didn’t get any time with him to ourselves.
For a while I was obsessed with playing Mah Jongg online. There was a version where you could replay a game you had lost. (You can see why this might appeal to me…) Anyway, I replayed a lot of games, and I found that for some games, no matter how many times I replayed them, I still lost. Sometimes you’re just dealt a losing hand.
I have come to believe that what seemed like a failure of intuition was not really a failure at all. I received messages; they just weren’t messages I could act upon. And I think that’s because there wasn’t anything I could do about what was to come. This is my own personal belief, but I think there are certain challenges that are determined ahead of time — whether we ourselves determine them, or God, or fate, or providence, or whatever you want to call it. There are some things where the outcome is already determined and, no matter what you do to try to change them, they will still happen.
The true test of a parent is how you handle these challenges. Make no mistake: they can break you if you let them. Or you can accept what has happened, pick yourself up, and look for ways you can change the future. I’m not going to kid you; it could be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. But it could also be the most important.
My deepest wish for you all is the serenity, courage and wisdom you need to accomplish miracles.
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