The Birth That Changed My Life: Part IV: THE BIRTH

This week in our Delmarva Community Birth Stories series, we're doing something a little different.  This story is shared by Thrive owner and doula, Maria Mengel.

If you haven't read Part I , Part II, or Part III yet, hop on over and check them out now.

When Meghan went into labor, our hearts all sank.  

We spent that day texting and talking.  She told me she wasn't ready to do it.  My stomach was in knots and I was nervous all day.  Wes was having a rough time and didn't really know what to do with himself all day.  It wasn't like my other clients.  When they call and say they are in labor, I congratulate them, tell them to keep in touch until they need me, and we talk about how they should try to rest even though they're so excited.  This situation just felt like pure dread.  

My family was in town for a vacation and thank goodness, too.  I was distracted all day while Meghan's labor slowly increased in intensity.  Even though things were moving slowly and contractions were still pretty far apart, their care providers assured them that if they made the 2 hour trip to Annapolis, they would not be turned away for not being in "active labor".  To be on the safe side, we headed to Annapolis that evening.

Meghan's contractions were still pretty far apart and manageable.  We were all trying to be our normal selves without thinking about the inevitable.  Sometimes we were joking and laughing because really, what else is there to do?  The staff at the hospital was FANTASTIC.   They gave us a very large labor and delivery room in the corner so as not to be interrupted or distracted by crying babies, labor sounds, or the general hustle and bustle of a hospital.

In some ways, the regular "rules" of the hospital Labor and Delivery department didn't apply to Meghan.  She chose to never have electronic fetal monitoring.  EFM are those bands that you see around women's bellies in the hospital.  They have sensors on them to measure both your contractions and the baby's heart rate.  Most of the time, hospitals have policies about wearing them so that they are able to monitor the baby's heart rate and the length of your contractions.  But, we knew that it was a possibility that Charlotte, who was still alive and kicking at the start of her labor, would not make it through the stress of labor and pass away before she was born.  Meghan chose not to do any monitoring of her heart beat so that we didn't know if and when that happened.  The goal of this labor was very simple: focus on making it through labor just like any other pregnant woman would.  I learned in my bereavement training the importance of encouraging your client to take it one contraction at a time and focus on birth first, then baby later.  It makes sense, right?  How could a woman possibly push a baby out knowing that the baby may not come out alive or if it does, know that she will likely die in your arms moments later?  The hospital did a fantastic job at sending us the perfect nurses for a situation like Meghan's.  

Truly, our nurses were like gifts from Heaven.  

They read her multiple birth plans over and over and worked hard to create the exact atmosphere that Meghan and Wes wanted.  They were compassionate, attentive, funny when we needed to lighten up stressful moments, encouraging, helpful, and the most wonderful nurses I've ever had the privilege to work with.  They, along with their doctors and a midwife, inspired this blog post about what I call the Birth Dream Team.

When we arrived at the hospital, Meghan was admitted right away and the midwife on call checked her and determined that she was about 3 centimeters dilated.  She had been having contractions for nearly 24 hours at that point and they were still manageable and far apart, so we all got settled in the room and decided to try and get some sleep.  It was around 1:30am at that point.  In the room for the entire labor and birth was me, Wes, Meghan's mom Mary Ellen, and Meghan.  We all got comfortable and turned out the lights.  Before we were able to doze off, Meghan's labor began picking up.  Mary Ellen, Wes, and I took turns for the next few hours rubbing Meghan's back, holding her hands, helping her to the bathroom, and breathing with her through contractions.  She truly seemed in complete control.  Her labor was definitely becoming more intense, but she was doing a fantastic job breathing through each wave.  When the midwife came back in to check her again, she was already to 5cm.  That was reassuring.  It's a strange place to be in, though.  You wish for it to go quickly for her sake, but at the same time, it's impossible not to think about what is coming when labor is over.  And then you wish it would never happen.  

meghan and wes breathing through contractions together

meghan and wes breathing through contractions together

Their goal was an un-medicated birth, not matter what.  It was their original plan before diagnosis,  but now that they knew that Charlotte was so compromised, they didn't want to make the experience any more stressful for her.  They declined all drugs and interventions so that Charlotte would be most comfortable. Meghan was completely educated and prepared about what to expect and how to make it through labor and she was a complete rockstar through the whole experience.  

After a few more hours of intense labor, we were all beginning to feel very tired.  Meghan had been in labor for nearly 24 hours total, no one had slept in about 24 hours, no one had eaten in about 12 hours or more, and we were so emotionally drained.  When the midwife entered again and offered to check Meghan, she was hopeful that her labor would be almost over.  Her midwife's vaginal exam was very uncomfortable for her.  And when another contraction started, the midwife did not remove her hand.  Instead, she left her hand where it was even though Meghan cried out in pain.  

When the midwife still didn't move her hand, Meghan yelled "no. no. No. NO!" and literally grabbed her hand and pulled it out of her.

I was in complete shock.  I could not believe my eyes and what I just witnessed.  It is worth mentioning that this midwife also attended the birth of my first daughter and I wasn't so pleased with her care back then either.  We were all silent and in shock and very, very angry.  The midwife proceeded to stand up, look down on my friend, and tell her that she was still only 5cm after all of those hours and all of that work.  She told her (in a polite voice) that if she was not progressing faster by the next time she came in, she might consider augmentation with pitocin and even mentioned that it could lead to a cesarean.  She was the only person in that entire experience who did not respect Meghan and Wes' wishes by honoring their birth plan.  After she left, and I realized how upset everyone was, I told them that it wouldn't be unreasonable to request another midwife.

It was just coincidence that the best midwife to ever live happened to come on shift shortly after.  Our nurse told us that they had the option to switch midwives and they jumped on the opportunity.  In the meantime, the nurse on shift took over all of Meghan's care and was absolutely fantastic, compassionate, and respected every wish.  

After another few hours and another vaginal exam, Meghan was still at 5-6cm.  That was really heartbreaking for her because she was working so, so hard.  Everyone in the room was physically exhausted, emotionally exhausted, and our bodies were beginning to fail us because we were all working hard, especially Meghan.  My arm was so sore from rubbing Meghan's back during contractions.  At one point, I woke up from a dream, looked around, and realized that I was still standing where I was a moment ago. I actually fell asleep while standing up right next to her hospital bed.  

Meghan preferred to be laying on her side while laboring, but after that last check I could see that she was wearing thin.  We all were.  I suggested that she be upright for contractions to take advantage of gravity and help her baby move down.  She hesitated because it was so much more uncomfortable that way.  When the nurse came back in, she finally asked for an epidural.  It felt like time was standing still.  The nurse understood and said she would grab the anesthesiologist.  It was only a short time later when the nurse said they were ready.  Meghan had been standing for about 40 minutes.  I mentioned that it was a possibility to get another check to see if things had progressed before she was ready for her epidural.  She agreed and was already at 8cm!

mary ellen and meghan. Mary ellen was the most fantastic support for meghan. she should be a doula.

mary ellen and meghan. Mary ellen was the most fantastic support for meghan. she should be a doula.

She held off on the epidural and we kept trying to do what seemed to be working.  Standing, swaying, on hands and knees, and generally upright.  After just a few more hours, a new nurse on shift, and the most supportive midwife ever, Meghan was making grunting and pushing noises.  Sure enough, 10 centimeters.

That's when the energy in the room shifted.  

Everyone was scared for the moment of birth and now that we knew it was closer, we were all noticeably anxious.  Meghan requested to see her affirmations again to help as the fears were cropping up.  But, in the end, the affirmations were too hard to read in labor. 

I spent a lot of time holding Meghan's leg up while pushing, breathing with her, and holding her squeezing hand.  Meghan's mom was often holding the other leg.  And Wes was holding her hand and helping hold her head up while talking to her.  I cannot imagine that experience without the three of us.  Almost always, we were all actively and physically involved in supporting Meghan and I don't know how it would have worked without any piece of the puzzle.  It was so, so, so intense, painful, and scary.  During my lowest of low moments at that birth, I felt 100% sure that doula work was over for me.  I was terrified that I would never be able to attend another birth again.  

Meghan pushed for hours and hours.  She preferred being on her back, but we tried many positions to get Charlotte to move down.  Hands and knees, squatting with the squat bar, squatting without the squat bar, on her side, etc. Meghan told us that she knew that Charlotte had not moved down at all.  And she was right.  The midwife told us that Charlotte was stuck under Meghan's pubic bone.  After four hours of pushing and absolutely no progress, the room felt flat.  The midwife, who was so calm and reassuring, told Meghan that her only options were to keep it up, receive an epidural, or have a cesarean.  Meghan consulted her family and decided in the end to receive an epidural so that she could get some sleep and hopefully push her baby out after she gained some more energy.  I knew that she was feeling defeated and weak.  I tried to reassure her that she was strong and that Charlotte knew that.  I told her that it's totally okay to accept her epidural so that she could take care of herself and that she was making a good choice.  

It didn't take long after her epidural was placed for her to relax.  The energy in the room shifted again.  It was light, happier, and so much more calm.  We had all been on edge and anxious for so long. Meghan's dad and Wes' parents had been in the lobby sleeping and waiting for nearly 24 hours so Meghan's mom went to get some sleep, some dinner, and to update them.  Wes and I got Meghan settled in her bed, covered her up to keep her warm, and got her some jello and water.  A new nurse came on shift again and was, once again, the perfect nurse.  This woman was spunky, upbeat, warm, inviting, and was excellent at her job.  She brought with her the exact type of energy that we needed at the time.  Wes went to get dinner and during that time Meghan and I were alone.  We reflected on the events of the past day, we laughed a little, we cried a little, we talked about how we didn't ever expect this to be the route that this birth took.  Meghan was now hooked up to many wires and machines and just two weeks ago she was planning a quiet out-of-hospital water birth.  We got her set up on her side with a peanut ball between her legs to give Charlotte some room to re-position and move down.  Finally, Meghan was able to fall asleep.

Wes and I went downstairs to eat dinner in the lobby.  I was still so sick to my stomach that I couldn't eat more than a few bites.  Everything felt surreal.  I couldn't eat.  I hadn't slept at all in over 36 hours.  I had been there for what felt like forever and the moment that I was most terrified of hadn't even come yet.  

I think it's worth mentioning that what I was most scared of wasn't seeing Charlotte.  We knew that her features would likely be different or strange, as many babies with her diagnosis were.  We knew that if she was born not alive, she would look a little different.  And we knew that if she was born alive, that her  physical features could change quickly after her death.  Watching a baby die isn't exactly what I was scared of--although it was certainly sitting in the pit of my stomach.  I think that what I was most afraid of was watching my best friend have to go through all of it.  I still get tears just thinking about how badly my friends were hurting.  

When the originally got the diagnosis, I bought Meghan a tree of life necklace to wear at her birth.  I wore one, too.  It really helped to keep us connected and moving toward her goals.

We went back to Meghan's room and she was stirring.  We all got comfortable to take a good nap.  It was about 10pm at this point and we had been at the hospital for nearly 24 hours.  Meghan's mom was asleep on a little cot/bed, Wes wrapped up in a chair sitting up, and I was sitting on a birth ball, leaned over Meghan's bed.  I slept with my head on pillows on her legs. I was only asleep for about 45 minutes when Meghan told us to head downstairs to get some rest in the lobby since no one was really resting well.  Her mom was with her in case she needed anything.

It was then that Wes and I had a real heart to heart conversation.  We made make-shift beds in the lobby of the hospital by pushing a bunch of chairs together.  We spent some time talking about what had happened and what was to come.

Wes told me that he had already grieved the loss of his daughter and that he knew that Meghan had not yet.  We discussed how we would have to be supportive of her afterward so that she could have the necessary time and space to grieve.

We talked about the birth plans again and what each of our roles would be in each of the scenarios.  We knew that the midwife would be back at 1:30am.  It was 12:30.  We set an alarm for one hour from then, and curled up in hospital sheets on chairs.

At 1:30 we went back up, checked on Meghan, and they had started the pitocin.  It wasn't in her original plan, but her epidural was slowing her contractions way, way down.  Her pitocin started at the lowest amount possible.  She was still relaxed and not feeling contractions.  After a while, Meghan convinced me to go back to the lobby to get more sleep.  I finally relaxed enough to get two hours of good sleep.  I knew that the midwife would come back in around 5am so I went back up around then. Everyone was just waking up and the midwife came in to check Meghan again.  Our nurse had been slowly upping the pitocin over the past few hours.  When the midwife checked Meghan, Charlotte was still high and above the pubic bone, but still at 10cm.  Everyone agreed that it was time to push this baby out.  

Pushing this time was much different than it was the night before.  It was so much less intense.  Meghan wasn't in pain, she wasn't exhausted, and we were all feeling much better.  But, baby still wasn't budging.  Liza, the midwife, was so, so encouraging.  She was doing all she could to get Charlotte to come down under the pubic bone.  We tried different positions, which was really hard to do while Meghan had an epidural. But we all worked as a fantastic team to support her.  Everyone's role was needed and important.  We all found a way to come together to facilitate this birth: midwife, nurse, Meghan, me, Wes, and Mary Ellen.  A new nurse was on shift now and once again, was the perfect fit for this new phase we were in.  Finally, after a few hours of pushing and no descent, the midwife asked if she could invite an obstetrician in to check things out and give some input.  

When the OB checked Meghan, she was very honest and open.  She said that she thought there was plenty of room for baby to come down and out and that she surely would do that, but it was just taking a lot of time.  She encouraged Meghan to keep pushing (both literally and figuratively).  So, that's what we did.

Sometime during this time, Meghan stopped feeling Charlotte move.  Charlotte had been really active throughout the duration of the labor and then there was nothing.  It's not uncommon to not feel your baby move in late stages of labor, but since Charlotte had been moving for the last two days so much, Meghan started getting really worried.  She wanted to meet her baby alive.  But she knew it might not happen and she was starting to lose hope.  In-between contractions, she would poke her belly and call Charlotte's name and there was no movement in return.  No one said definitively that they thought Charlotte was gone, but I could see it in everyone's eyes.

When someone mentioned to me that it was Monday, I realized that I had no clue what day it was.  We drove to the hospital on Saturday and I had completely lost track of time.  I told them that I needed to leave to go cancel my plans that day.  I was scheduled for an online training and had an appointment that day.

Back in the room, after about two more hours of pushing and absolutely no progress, we were all wearing thin again.  We called the OB back in.  She was not as hopeful this time.  Meghan had been pushing for over 8 hours total over the course of the last day.  We had been in this hospital for over 36 hours.  She recommended a forceps delivery.  She called in her supervising OB to confirm that this was the right course of action.  It was unanimous.  After asking a lot of questions and hearing about benefits and risks, Meghan finally made the hard decision to consent to a forceps delivery of her baby.

That's when things started really picking up pace. People started entering the room and poor Meghan was still pushing with all of her might during every contraction just in case she could get Charlotte down under that bone before the OBs came back with forceps.  

We had tried to retain the services of a Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep photographer to photograph the birth and Charlotte afterwards with her parents, but no one was available.  So, another nurse on shift came with a camera to take photos.  The midwife was still there, but stepped out of the way.  Our nurse was still there for support.  An entire NICU team came in to evaluate Charlotte immediately if she was born alive.  It was in their birth plan that if Charlotte was born alive, they wanted absolutely no intervention or resuscitation--only comfort measures.  In the super rare case (less than 1% chance according to the specialists) that she was born breathing on her own, with vigorous crying and no intervention necessary, she would be transported to Children's National hospital in DC to figure out if medical treatment of her renal system issues was a possibility.  So, the NICU doctors and nurses were there to evaluate what Charlotte's condition was and then make a plan for either comfort care or transport.  There was a Catholic priest waiting in the hallway to baptize Charlotte immediately after birth and give her Last Rites. Immediately surrounding Meghan was still me, Wes, and Mary Ellen.  Then, the two OBs came back in the room as well with the forceps.  

It was going to be over in a matter of minutes.

As the doctors talked Meghan through the process, they were calm and supportive.  Everyone was waiting quietly.  It was like time stood still.  The moment was finally upon us.  The doctors put the forceps on.  The plan was that with the next contraction, Meghan would push with all of her might to assist them with pulling.  They would use the forceps to pull Charlotte down under the pubic bone, take them off, and then assist Meghan with pushing her out the rest of the way.  I had seen forceps deliveries in videos before and knew that it wasn't always gentle and easy, so I encouraged Meghan and Wes to focus on each other and keep eye contact so that they wouldn't have to watch the process.  Every 30 seconds or so, Meghan would begin to cry and shake her head no (as she was clearly anticipating the birth), but it was our job to keep her focused and encourage her that it was almost over and she was strong enough to do this one last push.  As we were waiting for the next contraction, the minutes went on and on.  Meghan later told me that she believes the reason why her body couldn't push Charlotte out and why that last contraction took a good 15 minutes to come was because she didn't want to have to go through what was coming next.  In the birth world, that's sometimes referred to as emotional dystocia.  And it's so, so real.  

I had the important job of holding Meghan's leg up and holding her hand while she pushed.  I told Wes, who was standing right beside me, that I would wait until baby came out and then get out of the way so that he could see better and get close to Meghan and Charlotte.  He said "no, that's okay."  I told him it was fine and that I would let them have the very first seconds together.  

He held my arm and said "No. I want you here."  That was truly a defining moment for me and when I realized that my presence was necessary, appreciated, and worth every second.  I'm crying just remembering how important I felt and how vulnerable I realized everyone was.

Finally, a contraction was starting.  The OB told Meghan to push.  She closed her eyes and pushed with every bit of energy she had.  The OB pulled so hard that Meghan started scooting off the bed.  I was pulling back against the pressure on Meghan's leg and trying to keep her from sliding off the bed.  It was only a few seconds before the OB was taking the forceps off.  They encouraged Meghan to push hard one last time.  Meghan pushed and I looked down.  I had it in my mind that if I was able to see Charlotte first (especially if she was already gone, which I was pretty sure of at the time) that it wouldn't hurt as bad to watch Meghan see her.  I don't know why.  Charlotte's head came out facing down.  I told Meghan to reach down and get ready to grab her baby.  As Charlotte's body turned upward, Meghan was reaching for her, and the OB began to pull her out, one of her eyes popped right open.  My jaw dropped.  I was not expecting her to be alive.  An immediate rush of dread and adrenaline filled every part of my body.  The picture below is of our faces (Mary Ellen, me, and Wes) as Charlotte was placed into Meghan's arms.

the looks on our faces the moment charlotte was born.

the looks on our faces the moment charlotte was born.

Then, the defining moment.  Charlotte let out a huge, loud, and healthy scream.  

The only word to describe what I did at that point was WAIL.  We all did.  Everyone in the room wailed.  There was such a minuscule chance that Charlotte would ever cry.  I backed up from the bed and all of the emotions of the last two weeks overwhelmed me.  I leaned against the wall behind me, slid down to my knees, and just cried.  I cried for Charlotte, who so clearly wanted to meet her parents; I cried for Meghan and Wes, who wanted nothing more than to meet their daughter alive; and I cried a release of emotions.  It was so hard, but I forced myself to stand up, shake it off, and take some photos for them.  Charlotte was on Meghan's chest.  She was alive and she was breathing.  It was a complete shock.  The head NICU doctor was observing closely, but respectfully allowing Meghan and Wes to meet their daughter.  

As Charlotte started showing signs of difficult breathing, the doctor asked Meghan if it would be okay to take her to the warmer to check her out more closely.  Meghan said yes.  Wes cut the cord and Charlotte went to the warmer.  The doctor was checking her heart rate, giving her some blow-by oxygen (as was indicated in their birth plan), and observing.  Wes joined Charlotte and after checking on Meghan, I hopped over to take some photos.  It was clear to me that she was struggling to regulate her breathing (more than the average newborn).  

Before the birth, the NICU docs told us that it would be pretty obvious right away if Charlotte wasn't going to be able to breathe on her own.  But, in reality, it seemed a little more confusing.  When Wes asked what her opinion was, the doctor said that she would like to do an x-ray to determine Charlotte's lung development.  It was already a shock that she was born alive and that her lungs were functioning at all, considering she was living in her mother's uterus with almost no amniotic fluid for so long.  They decided to go ahead with the x-ray and Wes could come along.  If anything changed or if it looked like Charlotte was struggling too much, they would bring her back to Meghan to be in her arms.  

But first, the priest came in to baptize Charlotte.  It was a deeply emotional and spiritual moment that Meghan and Wes did not think would ever happen.  Their Catholic faith is important to them, though, so their nurses were sure to have a local priest close by.  How many babies do you know that were baptized at only 12 minutes old?!

the catholic priest baptizes charlotte while wes is present.

the catholic priest baptizes charlotte while wes is present.

They brought Charlotte to Meghan and Wes before the x-ray to get some good bonding time for a few minutes and take some photos.  Then, Charlotte was put back in the warmer and Wes, Charlotte and the NICU team left to go to the NICU for the x-ray.

Just seconds after they left, Meghan said she didn't feel well.  She calmly and slowly laid her head to the side, closed her eyes, and stopped talking.  Mary Ellen was beside her calling her name "Meghan.  Meghan!  Meghan, answer me!", but Meghan showed no response.  The nurse quickly took her blood pressure.  It was 49/24.  Things started moving quickly.  They laid her bed down, hooked another bag of IV fluids up, and maybe a bag of medicine, I can't honestly remember.  All I remember was seeing the most postpartum blood loss that I'd ever seen at a birth and being scared.  Meghan's mom got out of the way of the nurses and came and stood with me on the other side of the room. I felt paralyzed.  Mary Ellen finally told me to go talk to her.  I think she was too scared to be over there.  I got my wits about me, walked to Meghan, and said "Meghan.  It's Maria.  I'm right here and I'm not leaving your side.  You're going to be okay."  I kept talking to her and I vividly remember softly brushing her bangs out of her eyes over and over. 

After a few moments, she started making small movements with her head.  Mary Ellen asked me to ask if she was okay.  Before I even got the question out, Meghan said (in a somewhat annoyed way) "I'm fine."  That gave us all a good laugh.  We knew she was going to be okay.  That was my first and only to date experience with postpartum hemorrhage and going into shock.  It was so scary.  Meghan ended up receiving two blood transfusions after that.  

During the next fifteen minutes or so, the OB who delivered Charlotte was repairing Meghan's severe tear.  Because Charlotte was born so quickly, and with forceps, she had some pretty severe damage that needed to be sewed by a surgeon.  While that was happening, a nurse came into the room and asked for Maria.  I identified myself and she said that they needed me in the NICU with Wes and Charlotte.  I was so confused.  I said "I'm the doula".  She said "I know."

I was scared and confused, but moved quickly.  I walked out of the Labor and Delivery room, through the hallways, and out of the doors of the unit.  I was headed across the hall to the NICU when I saw Wes' parents and Meghan's dad jump up and run up to me.  They asked what was going on. I told them I didn't know but that they needed me in the NICU quickly. 

Family: "Why the NICU?!"
Me: Because that's where they are.
Family: Who?
Me: Wes and Charlotte.
Family: Charlotte is here?! Is she alive?! What's going on!!!

It finally occurred to me that they hadn't even been updated on the birth yet.  So, I quickly told them that Charlotte was alive as far as I knew, that they took her for an x-ray, and that they asked me to come and I didn't know why.  So, I ran off but not before they asked how Meghan was.  I was vague and said "she's doing better".  I didn't want to scare them about what had just happened.

When I went into the NICU, I found them quickly.  Charlotte was laying in a warmer and Wes was changing her diaper.  She had pooped twice already!  He told me that her x-ray hadn't gone so well, as her lungs were not developed normally, but that she seemed to be doing okay with the blow by oxygen.  He needed to go speak with Meghan about whether or not to transport Charlotte to Children's National, but didn't want Charlotte to be alone.  Even though no one was allowed in the NICU but immediate family, he convinced Charlotte's doctor to let me stay with her so that she wasn't alone.  I told him I would keep her company.  It was then that the emotions finally hit us and Wes and I shared a hug and cried.  

He left to talk to Meghan and Charlotte's doctor taught me how to hold Charlotte's blow-by oxygen and to cup it around my hand against her nose if her oxygen saturation went below 80 (which it did a few times).  For the next hour while Wes and Meghan were talking together, to their families, and to doctors, Charlotte and I were alone in the NICU room.  I considered it to be a tremendous honor and responsibility to spend that time with Charlotte in her first few hours of life.  I talked to her about how she was loved, how her birth was a roller-coaster, how her parents met, how we were all great friends, and about how my daughter Clara was so excited to meet her.  When she would get fussy, I sang Baby Beluga over and over again to her, which usually seemed to calm her back down.  She pooped again and I changed her diaper.  I sang to her until she fell asleep and her breathing really regulated.  She seemed calm and relaxed.  I couldn't believe that she looked like a normal baby.  We were expecting many different facial features, possibly club feet, spinal malformation, etc.  And that was only if she was born alive!  But she had none of that.  She was gorgeous.  I got the overwhelming feeling and message from Charlotte that she wanted to be here and alive on Earth.  I knew that she would be okay. Thinking about that still gives me chills. 

After about an hour, Wes and the doctor came back to take her to Meghan's room.  We strolled through the hallways with Charlotte asleep in her rolling cradle, oxygen tank and all.  We got back to Meghan, swaddled her up, and finally Meghan and her family got to meet and hold Charlotte in a calm and relaxed environment.  It was lovely.

skin to skin with mommy

skin to skin with mommy

After a little while, the NICU doctor came back in and told us that after sending the x-rays to Children's and updating them about Charlotte's condition, the specialists were very optimistic and wanted Charlotte transported immediately so that they could begin their own evaluations and care for her.  Meghan and her family said goodbye to Wes and Charlotte and they left to get in an ambulance to make the trip to DC.  

I stayed for a while with Meghan and her mom while we talked about how we couldn't believe what had just happened.  We were so happy, shocked, relieved, still scared for the future, and so, so grateful.  After a while, Meghan told me to finally go home to my girls.  It had been 45 hours since I had seen them, 50 hours since I had eaten anything of much substance, and 60 hours since I had slept (other than those tiny naps that totaled about 3.5 hours).  

I gave Meghan and Mary Ellen the best hugs of my life, grabbed my bags, and headed home from what seemed like a surreal and very long experience.  I was back in the sunlight after two days and walking to my car and just thanking God for Charlotte, for my friends, and for allowing me to be a part of that experience.  I drove the two hours home with so much adrenaline, energy, and love.  When I got home, my husband and daughters were outside in the August evening sun waiting for me.  Inside, my husband had the house cleaned.  We ate dinner together and I have never been more thankful for a dinner with my family.  I slept really, really hard that night.

This birth CHANGED MY LIFE because:

  1. I will never take my children's health for granted again.

  2. I realized that I treated Meghan differently than other clients since we were such great friends. Since then, I've found a way to connect with my other clients in a meaningful way during their births even though my clients aren't always life-long friends first.

  3. I am a much better doula. After supporting Meghan, Wes, and their family through such a long and overwhelming birth, I felt like I could do anything. I've supported some women with long and difficult births since and I feel so much more prepared, relaxed, and supportive.

  4. My best friends turned into my family. We share something really, really special and sacred. I wouldn't give that up for anything.

  5. I learned that miracles happen.

  6. I am so grateful for my husband and two daughters, because I've learned that not everyone has the privilege of bringing their healthy children home.

  7. Charlotte changed my life. In that hour that I spent with her in the NICU, my brain was re-wired. I had never been in the immediate presence of a miracle. Let alone with such a connection that would be the beginning of my relationship with her.

**Click to continue to Part V: An Update from Meghan and Wes!**