One twin was out. She was surrounded by and being cared for by multitasking hospital maintenance/pediatric personnel. She seemed small but fine. The other twin was lost. Or more accurately – hiding – somewhere in my daughters uterus. A short stocky famously dedicated Asian obstetrician sat on a stool between my daughter’s thighs muttering “Why I can’t find the feet?” Her hand had slid into my daughter’s vagina and kept on going. At this point in the story her arm was buried up to the shoulder while she visibly fished around my daughters female cavity bemoaning the loss of baby number 2.
The doctor kept saying she needed to get a hold of the feet before the uterus closed and I held my breath afraid that our fiasco might end with a dead from hemorrhaging daughter of mine. Sure I wanted to scream “JUST GRAB THE FUCKING TWIN BY WHATEVER APPENDAGE YOU CAN FIND AND PULL!!!!!” But more than that I wanted to push her aside and do the job myself. Fortunately I have healed my frontal lobes enough to maintain at least an essence of impulse control. So, I didn’t. I was good. Because I knew my daughter was best served in this moment by my decorum and a lack of attention seeking behavior. I instead tightened my muscles into non-reactive behavior and almost passed out. My head swirled with the hypertension of the moment as one thought spun around me “NOT MY DAUGHTER! Not My Daughter! not my daughter.”
Let me back up.
Brandessa had almost reached her due date when a team of doctor specialists decided that the littlest twin was at risk and they had to induce. No one was surprised. We had all been watching these adorable bunk mates grow molecule by molecule via high tech ultrasound from day 1. Hers was a high-risk pregnancy that began with bed rest to heal a torn and bleeding placenta. At one of her weekly visits the doctor diagnosed her as officially having a ‘shitty’ placenta. The pregnancy remained complicated for the duration. Near the end what the doctors were most concerned about was any quickly grown chasm in size between the twins. (A speedily created gap would indicate twin-to-twin transfusion and put them both at risk.) The chasm had begun to spread apart like the two halves of a separated train so the twins were induced.
Brandessa’s two older daughters were with their dad (Brandessa’s previous husband) for the night because due to swine flu fears of the day all children had been disallowed from attending hospital births nationwide. Thus there were five of us in the lovely pseudo bedroom furnished with a bed a couch and two chairs.
On the couch Tsara, Brandessa’s older sister, was horizontally spread out while Brandessa’s dedicated doctor slept vertically at her feet. The room relaxed into the gentle pace of support as the soft snoring of the two synchronized into a deep and rhythmic message signaling the undulating flow of life. Brandessa’s husband and I moved in and out of the main support position rubbing, fetching, helping, talking, waiting.
Brandessa reluctantly received her epidural (our family does it drug free) only because her doctor said that was the only way she could ensure that the muscles of the uterus would stay relaxed enough for her to get the second twin out vaginally. Brandessa didn’t like the way it left her feeling separated from the event but the epidural turned out to be an important choice given the amount of time the doctor was about to be shoulder high and searching in my daughter’s womb.
Every detail of the ensuing hour left me feeling incredulous, terrified, relieved, amused and filled to overflowing with admiration. I will share some of the highlights:
1-Brandessa’s doctor woke up checked the cervix and said “Only eight fingers!” She then plopped back onto the couch and back into sleep. She fell into her dreams even as I explained that in our family eight fingers means we have about eight seconds before the pushing begins.
2-Eight seconds later Brandessa said she wanted to push. I woke the doctor “She wants to push. “ I offered to deliver the babies (I have been midwife to four of my ten grandkids.) but there was no need as this funny yet wonderful doctor popped awake as easily as she plopped into sleep.
3-“No Pushing! No Pushing!” The doctor wide-awake insisted. My daughter was wheeled into the OR as a precaution and we – her entourage of three – followed.
4-The three stooges comedy of cooperatives ensued. As we entered we were told to leave, as we left we were told to enter, as we gowned up we were told to gown down, as we gowned down we were told to gown up and all along we followed where we were led in the hopes that a non combative stance would ensure our presence at the monumental moment (or in the case of twins: moments). After several misguided attempts we made it into the right gowns and into the OR where we took positions of support around Brandessa.
5-During this commotion the air-conditioning duct caddy corner from my daughter’s head broke. It was blowing contaminated air and snaking about like a pressure hose on the loose while all the pediatricians tried to grasp and fix it. Eventually there were four people taping the duct while the doctor between my daughter’s legs shouted for the ultrasound guy. He had apparently wheeled it into the room, dropped it out of reach and left. It was about this point that I first began to feel faint. Because I am used to taking over when things aren’t going well and since I knew that in this case my taking over would merely divert everyone’s attention onto dealing with me and that could be disastrous I contained my desires and increased my blood pressure. I quietly crouched to the floor and listened to the blood whooshing chants in my head “That’s my daughter. That’s my daughter. That’s my daughter.” As I stood up the maintenance folks turned back into pediatricians after taping the duct closed and the first baby crowned.
6-Daddy cut the umbilical cord and the doctor slipped her hand into my daughter’s vagina….
The people who were supposed to stay had left and the people who were supposed to leave had stayed. No one could find let alone run the ultrasound equipment so the doctor was blindly ferreting through my daughter’s innards in search of the second twin’s feet. She kept fretting about the uterus closing. My daughter’s eyes beseeched me as she mind over matter kept her muscles relaxed. She looked into me begging for me to be able to see something from my vantage point that she could not, “Mom is my baby ok? Can you see her?” There was no need to shake my head she saw it in my eyes, ‘No baby your baby is not here.’
This is the point at which I originally brought you into the story and the moment that I am writing about. It has been a hard won lesson embracing the expertise of other’s in order to gain more expertise of my own because I always believed there was some inherent compliment to having known without having learnt. It’s a childish belief I took many adult years to let go of. That is why so often in my life I have had had to reinvent the wheel. Thus, I would like to pretend that the reason for this blog is to share the importance of working together in trust and admiration of each other’s skills, I would like to say that having so many helpers cover so many areas of possible need created the inevitability of success because we worked as a team and pitched in to save lives. I would like to pretend that’s how it went because that is the lesson I try to teach in the world. But that’s not how it went. Some people goofed up and others were skilled enough to cover their mistakes with solutions. So I confess this blog has a different purpose a purpose of confession.
True I was blessed by the example of commitment as I adored the doctor for sleeping in my daughter’s labor room instead of in her own home too far away to help my child. Blessed by the lesson of being present to the moment when said doctor awoke into a burst of action. Blessed by the lesson of flexibility according to need, as she accepted help from me the laymen (I pushed the uterus until I was pushed aside by the usual uterus pusher). Blessed by the pediatricians that jumped into creative action with no concern for job description as they caught and taped the air duct. But those lessons were not the lessons I hadn’t already learned and so are not what I am writing to share. The lesson I am writing to share, or rather to confess is the one that surprised me.
In the past (when it involved me or a character in a movie or a mom in a news clip) I have always known that the absolutely right choice when picking between lives was the life of the baby. But, until that moment, it had never occurred to me that the baby might be mine, giving life to hers.
My heart had not been asked to feel its depth for one of my own children in a very long time. I embrace, teach and help other children daily and my life, as of late, is more filled with the children of the world than the ones in my home. I love all the babies and children I work with internationally. In many ways they are easier to love because I am always choosing what to do next with an unconflicted heart. I have been doing this for so long that I’ve gained a great deal of distance from the confusion of the front lines at home. I teach parents how to embrace and heal their children from a place of clarity. But in that moment of looking into my daughter eyes, in that moment of internally pleading that she live, that her shitty placenta not prematurely separate and cause hemorrhaging, I would have done anything, made any choice (assuming it were mine to make) as long as that choice kept her in my world to love, even if that choice steeled her heart into hardness against me. My own heartbeat filled the room with fearful anticipation, time slowed, and the question of outcome hung in the air.
Fortunately, no choosing of who, was necessary because the doctor found the feet, the baby was born, blue, and then pink, silent and then breathing. The mayhem moderated and all the extraneous onlookers went for coffee. Life began to normalize. Brandessa’s placenta took its time being delivered and as I said I even got to help a little. But in the end all went miraculously well and I never had to tell anyone the choice I would have made … not even me… until today.
Today I set the baby into the swing. I excused myself from holding that second twin who loves me so completely and cried buckets in the bathroom hidden from my family’s eyes.