Three years ago this coming Monday, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She just looked so perfect - blue, but perfect. Five days later, we found out she could not live without machines. She would need to be tube fed forever and intubated for quite some time. We had to make the hardest decision of our life, do we keep her or let her go?
Fiona Karen Fournier was born at home in Perth. I wrote the following note last year about her birth. My memory was very foggy, as most mother’s are from natural birth. I ran it by a few people who were there, and changed very little, as this is my memory of it.
November 14, 2008 is a day I will never forget - our oldest daughter was born on that brisk fall afternoon. Jason (my partner) took parental leave a couple weeks before my due date (Nov 21) and wasn’t at work. The weeks prior to my actual labour were filled with days of pre-labour - we’re talkin’ contractions every ten minutes for hours on end. I was at work when Jason ran home to get his equipment for Friday afternoon hockey. I waddled upstairs to do some paperwork and after five minutes, I was floored with a wicked contraction. It was 12:49. Another one came at 12:54 and another at 12:58. Focusing during contractions was out the window so I figured this might be it. Downstairs I went. I told Sheila and she called Jason, who thought it was a joke to get him out of playing hockey. He showed up, saw a contraction and panicked. Haha. “Oh my god, we have to call the midwives, fill up the birth pool. Are you okay? What can I do? Is it really coming? How long will it be?” I was totally lucid between contractions which helped him a bit.
We drove home (in the van with stinky hockey equipment) talking about how excited we were. “I’m going to have a BABY.” When we got there, I paged Christy (the student at our midwive‘s practise) and got a phone call back. I told her I was doing okay. Contractions were coming every 4 minutes or so and I was feeling them in my lower back. I got relief from leaning over tables, swaying my hips and moaning deeply, but quietly to relieve some pressure. Jason and Stacey (my sister-in-law) had inflated the birth pool and were filling it up with a little help from me. My mother-in-law thought I was nuts.
Karen (my amazing midwife) and Christy called when they were in Westport (coming from Kingston) to see if they should call Anita, the second midwife. I told them not to bother her and that this baby wasn’t coming in a huge rush. They called and told her to get a move on anyways (definitely a smart idea.)
When they got there Christy checked my dilation and I was 6 cm. An 8 would have been a nice number, but Karen reminded me that there wasn’t another midwife here and a 6 was good. The birth pool was topped up so I hopped in. I was offered anti-biotics for group B strep a few times and I repeatedly said ask me later, until I said “No, don’t ask me again.”
At some point between getting into the tub and giving birth, I mentioned something strange that happened on Tuesday night (this was Friday) - my belly was almost vibrating. I was sitting at the kitchen table playing cards with Jason and his parents when my belly basically started convulsing. It happened on and off for about 20 seconds at a time for an hour or so. After that night, it happened another couple times. I can’t remember if there was a vibration, then I mentioned something or if it happened after I explained it. But everyone saw my belly shaking. I remember Karen going “Hmm,” with a very concerned, puzzled look. She didn’t think it was nothing, but she didn’t know what it could be.
Within 10 minutes of that conversation, I started to get the urge to push. I was in the pool so Karen asked me to reach down to see if I could feel any cervix and all I could feel were bulging membranes - I was fully dilated. Jason actually got to feel the membranes too - he wasn’t as impressed as I was. Karen told me to go ahead and push for some relief and calmly reminded me that there wasn’t another midwife present - not as a threat, not as a “don’t push,” just so I understood the situation. Everything was going to be fine so I opted to get this baby out. Four contractions, 20 minutes and about 6 pushes later, Fiona was born into her father’s hands. Karen and Christy talked Jason through the catching process. I was on my hands and knees and when my water broke while pushing, I nearly shot Jason out of the pool (contraction 2.) During contraction three, they told Jason he would see her face when her head was born, but the beautiful back of her head was presented to him. To this day he still doesn’t remember - “there was so much going on, I didn’t even notice.” I flipped over and the rest of her body was born into his hands and mine at 3:50. We brought her to the surface and submerged her body (not her head) back under, and turn her around to unwrap the very long cord that was snugly wrapped around her neck and chest.
Karen mentioned that water-born babies often take an extra couple moments to take their first breath, as their bodies are still under water. I was so hopped up on natural oxytocin that her tiny limp, blue body just seemed wonderful. Everyone around me was waiting for her to wail. After a few seconds we were rubbing her to stimulate her lungs to work. I remember yellow gloves, a white towel and tears in Jason’s eyes. Karen found the cord and said “Casey, I have to take your baby. She isn’t breathing and it’s been a long time.” I reminded her that her cord was still pulsing and she was still getting oxygen. She very kindly said “Yes, she is. The blood she is getting will slow down very soon and we need to get her breathing now.” She gave Jason the scissors and “Jason, cut it quickly.” I have no idea how he did it while shaking and with flooded eyes. He doesn’t remember what it felt like, it was all just a fog.
Karen took Fiona to the resuscitation table (yes, they have those at home with suction, oxygen and all sorts of different things,) to work on her. I was still in my own little “Oh this is totally common and she’ll turn pink any second now” world. Karen and Christy worked on her for what seemed like a mere moment to me. They were rubbing her, trying to stimulate blood flow and breathing, but it wasn’t working. She was given oxygen and was suctioned to get any mucous out of her lungs, nothing. I vividly remember Karen saying in a calm, but stern voice “Casey, come talk to your daughter. She needs you.” I got out of the tub with much help from everyone, drying me off and holding bowls under me to catch the blood I was losing. I took the three steps to her little limp body and it clicked in. This is not normal and it is not okay. Still calm though, I gently rubbed her shoulder, told her I loved her and needed her to breathe. “You need to breathe and your heart has to work honey. Just take a breath. You can do it. I love you. Take a breath.” Who knew a kid would actually listen to her mother? Breaths came slow but they came. They stopped stimulating her, I started talking and touching her and she started to breathe. She was very mucousy. They wrapped her up in a receiving blanket and threw us both into bed, gave me some drugs to help me birth the placenta and we cuddled. She wasn’t crying or trying to get the gunk out of her airway, but she was breathing. The paramedics left and we enjoyed our beautiful little girl. We had a little girl.
We unwrapped her a little so we could enjoy some skin to skin while the midwives made sure nothing was majorly wrong with me. I lost a litre or so of blood (which is fairly significant) so I wasn’t getting out of bed. I had to adjust positions so Daddy took his new little girl for a cuddle. After a few minutes, he said she didn’t look so good. After a quick peek, Karen gave her back to me for more skin to skin and see if we wanted to nurse. Twenty minutes after she was born, when we were more or less settle, Anita, graced us with her presence. “The Baby Midwife” is what she is known as by her colleagues. She observed our attempt to breastfeed - something wasn’t right; she was pushing my nipple out of her mouth, not sucking it in. After a few more attempts and a moment to cuddle, Anita took her for a longer look. Within a few minutes she was dusky and wasn’t breathing. She still had the gurgle and still had not cried. It was like she couldn’t cough it up. Anita attempted to stimulate her, nothing. “Call the ambulance, something isn’t right.” She gave her back to me, and pink again. My skin, my warmth, my voice, my heartbeat was keeping her alive. As long as she was with me, she was fine.
Everything after that was blurry. I had to get clothes on and clean myself up a bit. Standing was a huge issue, as my blood pressure plummeted every time. I had to bend over to not pass out, so that is how I was walking. The paramedics were getting Fiona, who wasn’t breathing, into a damn car seat, a CAR SEAT. “For heaven’s sake, the itty bitty little baby is dying and you think she needs to get in a bloody car seat? Take her. Take her now.” I was still the optimist that I am, thinking “everything will be fine, but take her now.” While they were getting her ready, I was walking to the bedroom door ready to go when I was stopped in my tracks. “You can’t go,” Karen said to me. I lost my mind right then and there. “What? I have to.” “You’ve lost too much blood. If you need to go, I will call another ambulance for you.” Then it clicked in that I would have to send Jason with Fiona and I’d be alone (yet totally surrounded by people that love me - my entire immediate family was there, with the exception of my mother.) I started panicking, Jason started panicking. “Jason, you have to go with your daughter. Now.” A quick kiss and they were gone together. Jason left in the ambulance with Fiona and his mom. I collapsed into Karen’s arms begging for her to say “she will be fine.”
I quickly got myself back together (panicking is not something I do - ever,) told myself she was going to be okay, took a few breaths and said I had to go. I have no idea how long it was between the time they left until the time I walked out the door. I think I walked downstairs backwards, bent over with people on either side of me so I wouldn’t pass out. Karen drove me to the hospital. I remember getting in, turning the car around and getting out. Karen told me I was not allowed to pass out. Into the Great War Memorial Hospital I went.
I got into the trauma room (you know, the big room in the corner) and saw Jason and Nancy holding each other, looking at the crowd of people around our daughter. I was shocked - all she needed was a bit of suction (or so I thought) but she was intubated and there were things stuck to her everywhere - they even had a tube coming out of her umbilical cord - our connection.
A haze. I remember very few things. I remember being in the waiting room, with my head between my knees. I remember Karen and Anita discussing going to the car to get an IV started for me. I remember going in and out of that trauma room, wondering what to do next and when we could go home. I remember discussing what her name would be - looking to the future.
More may come in the next few days or weeks...