I wrote this a while ago and finally got the nerve to post it:
Our three is now four. We welcomed our second bright-eyed little man (M) at home at the end of May. The labor was just over three hours, with our midwife getting here just 25 minutes before he was born. We waited a little too long to call her – I thought I had at least another 10 hours ahead of me until I suddenly recognized the feeling that I felt just before T was born and knew we needed her pronto. It was a joyous morning as I listened to the hubbub out in the kitchen while I snuggled in bed with our new bug: midwives chatting with the family, the smell of breakfast cooking, the sound of books being read to T, a wind-up ‘happy birthday’ contraption playing off and on all morning.
Now I know this is supposed to be a blog about farming, but sometimes it is my space to interpret my life as it comes; to make sense of things that happen so bare with me.
Our midwife came to check M the day after he was born and we had noticed some rapid breathing so we asked her to check that out. She agreed it was quick but didn’t seem too concerned because he seemed so healthy otherwise. The next day the rapid breathing was still there, but he also had a relatively slow heart rate (about 80 bpm). Since these things were outside of normal, our midwife was a little concerned and called our other midwife for her thoughts. We also called our pediatrician, and all three agreed it would probably be best to take him in to have him checked out. Our only option, it being Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, was the emergency room. So after a small panic attack on my part, we took him to the ER and were told that the protocol for any infant that came through the doors with such symptoms is an IV, blood tests, a catheter, broad-spectrum antibiotics, and a spinal tap. All this required a minimum stay of 48 hours. A spinal tap on a 2-day old who was exhibiting no strange symptoms otherwise (no fever, he was nursing and peeing and pooping and sleeping, he had good color, he was getting oxygen in his extremities, hadn’t ever turned blue or stopped breathing, had normal blood pressure, etc). We asked to take baby steps in all this testing because it seemed pretty drastic without some significant symptom to justify it but they said it was a package deal for various reasons. The ER folks didn’t see anything abnormal while he was there, but were bound to follow protocol based on what we said we saw.
We sat in a small room in the ER for over an hour trying to decide the best course of action, asking the nurse and doctor tons of questions, talking to our midwife on the phone. We decided we couldn’t subject him to these tests on the basis of ‘protocol’. We asked if we could just go home and wait to see our pediatrician that week, if we could do observation for a few hours, but the least they would agree to was 24 hours observation or they threatened to get social services involved. This is where the record scratched and the music stopped. It had become a hostage situation; the very place we had brought our son for help and medical advice was now threatening to deem us as unfit parents and got to call the shots. What is a parent to do in this situation? Relinquish our right to direct care for our son and submit to this extreme testing that could introduce additional risk of illness? Run screaming from the place? While we were leaning toward the latter, we gathered what frazzled senses we had left about us and agreed to the 24 hours of observation.
By this time it was about 9pm, and they lead us to a room where I probably slept 30 minutes the entire night. E and I took turns holding M in our lap on a pillow all night. Other than us fussing with the monitors attached to his chest and toe, he slept like a baby. Like a beautiful, sweet, newborn baby. The monitor alarms went off probably every 15 minutes or so – every time he moved, cried, nursed or farted. All this with my milk painfully coming in, having not even gotten to say goodbye to T before we left the house, without sleep, and the threat of having our brand new son taken away looming over our heads. It was hell. One nurse had the audacity to write me off as ‘postpartum’ when I got emotional, and I lost it when another nurse told me they only had his best interest in mind implying that we didn’t. Postpartum?? Duh! Exactly 2 days postpartum and I was fiercely emotional and protective as I think all moms should be. If anyone in that Godforsaken place had his best interest in mind, it was us.
We were ignored nearly the entire night and next morning. A nurse’s aid came in less than every four hours to take his vitals, which amounted to less than 5 minutes of true “observation” each time. I have to ask: is this true medicine? Is this health care? Is this how we expect to heal each other? If taken out of the hospital paradigm, would anybody in their right mind think this is how a 2-day old baby should be cared for? Hooked to monitors, ignored, his care reduced to protocol? Did this justify the gigantic bill that we knew was to come? It was a loud, “sterile” yet terrifyingly germ-infested place clamoring with people claiming to have our child’s best interest in mind but wouldn’t take the time to pay close attention or spend any time actually looking at and listening to him. More than a dozen stethoscopes touched his chest, and only one angelic nurse spent more than 5 minutes genuinely observing him. They all wanted to check their box, enter their data on the computer and move on to the next patient. Did I say it was hell?
The next day, M was still a beautiful, sweet, newborn baby who breathed a little fast but exhibited no other symptoms. An attending with the authority to release us (sounds more like jail than a hospital, doesn’t it?) came on duty and came in with two residents behind her. Like a little medical gang. She said how pleased she was that we had established this good history of him not developing an infection since we’d been there, and we eagerly thought this meant we would be allowed to go home. Oh contraire! She said she was now concerned it was something mechanical that was causing his symptoms, so she wanted to do an EKG and a sonogram on his heart. Because those were non-invasive, because it seemed logical, and because (of course) we wanted to make sure he was okay we agreed to the tests. E asked if we would be allowed to leave if those tests came back okay, and she agreed. After waiting for and having those tests done, she came back again to say that she was concerned he might be bleeding in the brain because he didn’t have a vitamin K shot at birth and wanted to do a brain scan. What??!!? A now 3-day old baby born peacefully at home with no other symptoms who has been bleeding in the brain since birth? We told her that it was all getting out of hand, and that we wanted to go home. That we needed to take our son home. She backpedaled and got us our discharge papers within an hour.
Coming out of the twilight zone of the hospital, we were delirious. Delirious with exhaustion and anxiety, delirious with joy to have escaped with our child unscathed. They didn’t break his skin, they didn’t take him away. The next month was riddled with severe anxiety for me – every sneeze, every warm touch, every booger caused a panic attack. The thought of having to go to the hospital with him again was more than I could bare.
We went to our pediatrician the day after we were released, and initially she gave us a hard time about not submitting to the tests. I had to stop her and tell her that all we wanted was some prudent health care, and that if she took a good look at him and saw something that was concerning we would take him immediately and run additional tests. She looked, listened, touched for more time that anyone at the ER ever did and said he looked like a normal, healthy little baby. I told her about the fast labor, and she said that may have been part of the cause. During quick labors, an infant’s nervous and respiratory systems don’t always have time to mature. There is thought that the stress of a long labor actually causes these systems to regulate, and he didn’t exactly get that. Only one person in the hospital asked about his birth, but she quickly typed it into a computer and we never saw her again.
Just writing this post has caused severe tension in my shoulders, an increase in my blood pressure, and a serious hankering for a bowl of ice cream the size of my head. It’s been difficult for me to work through this event and process what happened. What could have happened. To draw a clear distinction between the beauty of his birth and the ugliness that happened at the hospital. E made the observation that we absorbed the stress in the hospital so that he didn’t have to, and that’s what parents do and for that we can be proud. While we were starving, stressed and exhausted, he slept peacefully on our lap. We paid close attention to him, protected him, and saved him a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.
Now one might ask, didn’t you want to make sure your baby was ok? Why wouldn’t you just have the tests done and rule out all of those terrifying illnesses? Of course I wanted to make sure my baby was okay – that’s the whole reason we educate ourselves about everything from vaccines to the ingredients in pillows, the reason we opted for a home birth, the reason we know about the slippery slope of western medicine. They were ready to run every test under the sun on our son if we hadn’t pushed back. We have insurance, they have protocol. It’s a sweet combination. But we wanted prudent health care. Is that too much to ask? That’s really what it came down to, and we weren’t getting it. Had a doctor actually ever told us that what they were observing was of great concern and tests X and Y are important, we would have done it. But the only justification we had was ‘protocol’ and we don’t parent based on protocol. We were parenting based on M.
A card from my friend S included a quote from Elizabeth Stone: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” That was almost how I felt in the hospital, except that I know that my heart is old and crusty compared to the purity of the newborn baby boy who was asleep on my lap.
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So it’s now November, and M is now almost 6 months old. My panic attacks have subsided substantially; he even got his first cold and it felt anticlimactic compared to how big it had become in my anticipation. Smiles, first teeth, and those good old sleepless nights have faded the sting of that hospital stay.