Over at MOMocrats.com, we're asking our readers to participate in a blog event for Mother's Day to promote Mother's Day Every Day, a campaign by the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and CARE to raise public awareness about maternal mortality worldwide.
Every minute, somewhere in the world, another woman dies due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth. But it doesn't have to be that way. Many of these deaths could be prevented with the most basic medical prenatal care, or with the assistance of a skilled midwife, nurse or doctor during delivery.
To help promote safe motherhood worldwide, MOMocrats is asking readers to share birth or adoption stories that have meaning to them in honor of Mother's Day, and link back to the Mother's Day Every Day site. For more information on this event, please read my post at MOMocrats.
This is part one of my contribution to Mother's Day Every Day. I'll be posting the second half of my birth story tomorrow.
Seven months into my pregnancy with my son, I started having contractions that were strong enough to stop me in my tracks. They would come every couple of hours, every day; at times they would wake me up at night. My doctor dismissed them at first, saying they were "just" Braxton-Hicks contractions -- practice for labor. But they didn't feel like "just" anything. They felt like someone was squeezing my entire midsection with iron bands.
Then one morning, at about seven and a half months, I woke up in the morning with contractions ten minutes apart. By the middle of the day, I was headed to the hospital for a pre-term labor evaluation.
Up until that point, during my entire pregnancy, I has been working more than 50 hours a week at two different jobs. Many mornings I walked to my full-time job, two miles from my house, and then stood or walked for much of the day. I worked for a small business that served customers in-person in a store at the front of the building while simultaneously running an international internet and telephone operation out of the stockroom in the back. As a low-level manager, I was expected to supervise employees, sell merchandise to people inside the store while simultaneously taking shipping orders over the phone, track orders that came in through the website, and answer company email. There wasn't much time to sit down and put my feet up. After eight hours of this, I sometimes walked to my second job another two miles away to stand for another three or four hours.
That's a lot of walking and standing for a pregnant woman, and in the weeks I'd been having contractions, I'd noticed that walking and standing for hours at a time made the contractions worse.
But working so much was what I felt I had to do. I had discovered that I was pregnant (Surprise!) one month after my husband had lost his job to a company bankruptcy so severe his last paycheck had bounced. Now he was working two part-time jobs while he looked for a new employer, and I was staying at a job I'd meant to quit, and working a second job to try to save enough money that we could move out of our one-bedroom apartment with the leaky sink and broken door to a place that looked something more like a home for a baby.
Now I was in the hospital, a month and a half pre-term, wheezing in pain every ten minutes, with a beeping monitor strapped to my belly, and a pleasant also-pregnant nurse beside me clucking wordlessly over printouts I did not understand. And guilt was choking me. Was I about to go into labor six weeks early because I hadn't been able to slow down and take care of myself -- take care of the child inside me, my child?
And that was when I started really talking to my unborn baby for the first time. "Stay in there," I said loudly, sternly, to my belly, ignoring passing doctors' odd stares. The baby started kicking in response to my voice. "This is your mother speaking," I continued, "and I am telling you, you need to stay inside. I know it's probably very boring stuck floating in the dark, and I know I've been working too much and I haven't been resting enough for you, and I'm sorry. But we're just not ready for you to come out yet. I haven't even gotten your crib. And I don't have any preemie clothes. I've only bought newborn outfits. If you come out today, you'll have to be naked. Naked! Naked and cold. Did I mention it's cold out here? And bright. Very bright. And it's loud. So you'd better just stay in there for a while yet. At least stay in there until I have your crib set up."
The contractions slowed over the next hour. After instructing me to drink half a gallon of water and rest, the hospital sent me home.
And my doctor told me to cut my work hours in half, start taking breaks at work every couple of hours, sit down whenever possible, stop climbing on ladders to retrieve merchandise, and stop carrying around heavy things. He also told me to lay down as much as possible while at home, and leave all my housework to my husband. I brought my doctor's instructions into my male employer, who somewhat reluctantly complied. He had never had a pregnant employee before.
("Why doesn't he want you climbing ladders anymore?" my boss asked, genuinely perplexed.
"Because I'm having contractions on a regular basis and might fall?" I replied. "And anyway, have you ever tried climbing a ladder with a baby strapped to your stomach? It's not an easy task."
"Well, I just hope everyone else doesn't start wanting a chair behind the counter," he grumbled as he brought in my new stool.)
The contractions never stopped, but they stayed half an hour to an hour apart, and I stayed out of labor.
Several weeks later, early in the morning on Mother's Day, two weeks before my due date, I spent the morning helping my husband finish the assembly of our new crib. Fierce contractions gripped me every 20 minutes or so, but I'd grown so used to them at that point that I continued working through them. I wasn't supposed to be lifting heavy things, but there were no restrictions on my use of screwdrivers, and my husband being rather infamously incapable of hanging curtains in a straight line (despite his uncannily good skill at wiring outlets, fixing broken computers and saving dead cell phones), I felt my oversight of this project was necessary.
Once we had the crib built and in the right spot, I felt a sudden, overwhelming, irresitable urge to buy a crib mattress cover. It was the one part of the crib bedding we didn't yet have, and I suddenly felt that not having one was a serious emergency. "We're going to Babies R Us now. I want the cover today," I said to my husband. It was not a request.
(Those experienced with childbirth will realize that this was the moment I should have realized that I was really in labor. But after a month of daily intense contractions, I had no idea.)
So my husband drove me to the baby store, and as I walked through the aisles snatching things that I suddenly realized I must have and have immediately with the all the deadly calm intensity of an Olympic sprinter, stopping every several minutes to double over in silence breathe through another painful contraction, other people in the store stopped to stare at the woman who was CLEARLY SHOPPING WHILE IN LABOR. When I got to the checkout, the woman behind the counter took one look at me and turned a sickly shade of imminent-insurance-disaster green.
"Are you . . . all right?" she asked me as I breathed Lamaze-style while calmly piling my purchases on the counter.
"I'm fine, thank you. And I also need this hairbrush," I said, practically tearing it from an endcap display.
And then I went home and calmly put all of the crib bedding together. The moment I had the crib assembled and ready, my contractions moved to five minutes apart.
My son always has had a habit of taking my instructions literally.