Welcome, Little One

The agony of late pregnancy is underrated. My ribs were bruised from her leg extensions, and each day was a fight against heartburn, where eating or not eating ended in the same digestive misery. My pelvis hurt in ways I didn’t know a pelvis could hurt, and shooting pains randomly coursed through both my breasts and my cervix at unpredictable times, leaving me doubled over in the middle of the grocery aisle. Strangers no longer politely asked if I was expecting, but instead exclaimed, “wow, when is the baby due?” as I waddled through the aisles, belly-first. The same convenience store clerks who refused to let me use the toilet a few months ago now said, “absolutely,” and no sleeping position afforded a comfortable or full night’s sleep.

In the last week of my pregnancy, I learned about “prodromal labor,” a fate reserved for only a few of us, who experience the onset of painful labor contractions which come and go intermittently. This is not the same as so-called “Braxton-Hicks” contractions, which are uncomfortable (but not painful), and which were also taking place. I went to the hospital multiple times to ensure I was not, in fact, in labor, and put myself on bedrest for the final days leading to our already-scheduled c-section. Due to a major surgery I had 15 months ago, in which 17 fibroid tumors were removed from my uterus, the plan was to not let me go into labor so as to avoid risking uterine rupture, a devastating condition whose chances of occurring are increased with any incisions to the uterus.

The very last night before her birth was the hardest. I laid awake much of the night, knowing I needed rest but unable to quiet my mind. Despite my weariness of being pregnant, at least I knew that she was safe and warm and fed, on the inside. The baby’s growth was off the charts while in utero, and the obstetrician predicted she would be eight and a half pounds at birth, despite being delivered at 37 weeks, three weeks before the traditional full-term due date.

In the quietness of that last night, I tried to imagine what it would be like to finally meet this tiny person, whom my husband and I have worked for years to bring into the world. For a variety of reasons, she was necessarily conceived using in-vitro fertilization (IVF), an extensive, painful, and expensive process wherein embryos are created in a lab under controlled observation. For couples like us, who cannot conceive in the traditional way, IVF is a necessary but difficult pathway to building our families. My husband, an acupuncturist, took on a part-time job at Starbucks to utilize their IVF benefits, which otherwise would be out of reach for us. Not a single part of her conception (or my pregnancy) was easy, or something I could just “enjoy.” The experience of prior miscarriages taught me that nothing can be assumed or taken for granted in the efforts to bring our children into the world. My heart held on to hope with a single thread, and now we were perched at the doorway which connects the world beyond with this one.

When you’ve had babies die before they cross that threshold, you learn to protect your heart. In my case, pushing off my imagination became a key strategy to cope with the uncertainty. I hoped to see and hold this child, but still held on to “if,” and not “when,” that would be possible. As I lay in the dark, feeling her moving and kicking and hiccupping against my edges, I still knew that getting to carry her home in my arms was still an “if.”

The long waiting of trying to conceive and waiting through the pregnancy and all of the medical appointments, along with the fear and anticipation, came to a rather quick end the morning of her birth. Cesarean deliveries are quick and efficient, especially compared to their traditional counterpart. Within minutes of being wheeled into the operating room, my baby girl was taking her first breaths.

So much of the anxiety I had been carrying up to this moment flooded away in a torrent of tears. I have attended many births in my life, but nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming emotion of finally seeing and hearing that my baby had made it.

Birth itself is an initiation. Not just for the new infant who is leaving the safety of the womb, but for the birthing parent as well. This initiation extends to the larger family – to other parents, caregivers, and relatives. The world is not the same, after we are joined by the new souls of our children. I’m still in the throes of this initiation, and I can’t be sure of what will happen on the other side. There is much I could say about the experience of the hospital; the fear and worry as it took six days for my milk to come in; the complete reworking of my home and sense of time and ability to sleep more than exactly one and a half hours no matter how bone tired I feel. But there is time enough for that. For now, I am deeply grateful for the chance to be here, to start getting to know this person we made. Bozho, shke penojes.

Mickki Garrity (Bodewadmi) is an enrolled in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a Cobell Scholar, a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, and is pursuing a BS in Native environmental science at Northwest Indian College.

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