R.I.P. Sir Robert Edward

By chance, I was in the car listening to NPR today, and I heard the newscaster report that Nobel Prize winning scientist, Sir Robert Edward – the father of IVF – died today. I was soon overcome with emotion and in tears, for a man I never knew, but who changed my life completely. I owe him so much. I am so grateful. My whole family is so grateful. How can you thank someone enough for giving your life meaning and purpose? For making all your dreams of motherhood come true? For making me the happiest, luckiest woman alive? For my beautiful, beautiful daughter?

I came home and Googled this wonderful man. I learned that by the time he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010, he was too far gone with dementia to appreciate the honor. The same goes for him being knighted by Queen Elizabeth the following year. I read about Louise Brown, the first “test tube” baby and how Robert had become a part of her family.

He started research on IVF in the Fifties and was driven by the belief that people had the right to receive help in having a family.

He once said: I have seen how infertility is a cause of great and lasting human sadness. It demands treatment. The most important thing in life is having a child.

What an incredible man… and what a huge debt our family and countless other families owe him. In one of the articles, I read that – among many tributes written to him – the most profound was from a young man whose note simply read, “Thank you for my life.”

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The Birth Story… [Part 1- Long]

(By the way, I did post a couple of pictures on the Pix page, if anyone is interested in seeing what our bundle of joy looks like!)

Let me just start by saying that almost nothing went as planned, despite my best efforts. I’m keeping my birth plan in our keepsakes as a monument to everything I didn’t get – minus the dim lighting – woo hoo!

So, our baby girl was due on Friday, October 12th. We went in the Monday of that week, October 8th, to see how everything looked. My amniotic fluids were measuring at 12 cm (they like to see 10 cm at least) and everything looked good with me and with the baby. My doc suggested we induce on Friday, the due date, because the baby was measuring at 41 weeks and she was concerned that the head might be too large for a natural delivery if we waited past the due date. Also, at 2 cm dialated and 80% effaced, she was pretty sure she could just jump start my own labor with a small dose of Pitocin. I was hesitant, but made an appointment anyway, figuring I could always cancel if I changed my mind. I mean, they couldn’t force me to deliver my baby… could they?!

I spent the next few days very conflicted, trying to weigh the pros and cons and trying EVERY conceivable way to “induce” labor on my own: painful acupuncture treatments, walking like a maniac, evening primrose oil, and even sex! (Trust me, when you’re that huge, sex is the last thing you want to engage in – lol) Nothing seemed to be working, but the more I tried, the more my resolve to go into labor naturally grew. Ultimately, it came down to one question, who did the induction benefit? It seemed pretty clear that the induction was being suggested for my benefit since there was no medical need to induce. Once I came to that conclusion, cancelling the appointment seemed like a no brainer. My doula and husband were on board and I felt so good about that decision. The baby would come when she was good and ready!

What I naively failed to realize was that my doctor had other plans. As nice and caring as she is (and she really is) I think she must have felt strongly that I was making a mistake, since she seemed pretty irritated when she found out I cancelled the induction. When we spoke on the phone, she rattled off dozens (literally – dozens) of reasons I should induce and started to scare me, so much so that I asked to see her on my due date so we could measure the amniotic fluid again and assess my and the baby’s health. I was trying to buy time – the weekend, at the very least – to give my body a chance to go into labor on its own.

When we measured the fluids on Friday, October 12th, two of the pockets (in the ultrasound) showed the umbilical cord, and thus, could not be counted toward the total fluid levels. Regardless, my fluids measured at 4 cm – down from 12 cm a few days earlier! That sent everyone into a panic, as the cut-off is 5 cm. Combined with the baby’s size and the +1 protein in my urine, hinting at pre-eclampsia, my doctor ordered us to go home, eat something, and pack our bags to go to the hospital that very evening. {Gulp!}

I’ll skip the rushed, panicky getting ready to go to the hospital. I was fine, mind you, my husband was the one freaking out. At one point, I gently held him by the shoulders and told him that I needed him to calm down. (It didn’t work!) Anyway, we finally made it to the hospital some time around 6 pm and were promptly escorted into the room where I was to deliver my precious bundle.

I was dressed in my own nighty and ready to but my self-hypnosis techniques to good use. I think they started the Pitocin around 7 pm, and increased it by 2 (ml?) every 30-40 minutes. The contractions were mild and I could see them on the monitor and compare them to the other women in labor – some of whom were having contractions that were quite literally off the charts. I was calm and confident, though. At 80% effaced, I was sure mine would be a speedy labor, even though all the nurses, upon finding out that it was my first child, put my labor odds at somewhere between 24 and 36 hrs. I smiled and gently brushed those silly estimates aside. I was going to have a quick and close-to-pain-free delivery!

That evening, hubby went home to grab a few DVDs (and a few beers for himself, which he sneaked back into the hospital), and we munched on saltines and nuts… and at one point, when I was starving, I had a veggie sandwich from Subway – without asking the nurses – why bother! The whole thing was pretty uneventful. Hubby slept for a bit and I just concentrated on trying to be in the moment and use the birthing ball as much as possible to help open my cervix and bring the baby down. A variety of really lovely nurses came in from time to time to adjust my monitors, take my blood pressure, increase the Pitocin, and marvel at the fact that I had opted for a drug-free birthing experience. I was feeling pretty damn good.

At 11 am on Saturday, I had reached the maximum dosage for Pitocin, yet was still only 2 cm dialated. Apparently, my contractions were “non-productive” and at that point, my doctor suggested giving me a break by taking me off the Pitocin and letting me eat and rest for an hour. After the hour was up, she ruptured the amniotic sac in an attempt to speed things up, and she re-started the Pitocin. We were all pretty sure things would get moving now… and true to form, my contractions started to come every few minutes and were definitely increasing in intensity.

We decided it was time to call the doula. She showed up around 3:30 pm (and started taking notes, which is how I know what happened when, for the most part). She started to make a really annoying “Ahhh” sound during my contractions, I think in an attempt to make me feel comfortable making the same sound. I was not amused. There was something I really enjoyed about being completely silent during my contractions. For some reason, I felt like it would make them hurt more if I acknowledged the pain with my voice. Luckily, after a few rounds, she clued in and stopped!

Around 4 pm, the Pitocin was at 14 and my contractions were every 2 minutes apart and they hurt like hell. I definitely could not speak during a contraction and was squeezing my poor hubby’s hand until there was no blood left in it, I’m sure. The one thing that made my contractions somewhat better was the travel DVD hubby had on about Angkor Wat (one of our honeymoon destinations). The narrator (and captions) were in such bad English that we frequently had no idea what they were trying to say – it was hilarious! In fact, I made him play it twice because it was making me laugh and helping with the pain… for a while at least.

At 4:45 pm, a nurse came in to check how far along I was. I hadn’t been checked since my waters had been broken and my contractions were reaching the threshold of my pain tolerance. I thought, for sure, I must be around 8 cm dialated by this time – I was in so much pain! When the nurse checked me and pronounced that I was 4 cm dialated, my heart just sank. I had been in labor well over 20 hours and was exhausted and near the peak of pain tolerance…. I didn’t know how much more I could take. I became pretty upset and saddened. The doula tried to tell me that it was good progress, but I knew better. You can’t help but do the math. I wasn’t even half way to the requisite 10 cm, and I didn’t know how much more I could tolerate. It was one of the lowest personal moments for me. I didn’t want to give in and ask for drugs, but I also knew I was reaching the end of my reserves.

One of the nurses said that the baby was in a posterior position, so they tried to get me into a side-lying position and told me I couldn’t use the birthing ball anymore. Shortly thereafter, my doctor came in and said that my blood pressure was reaching dangerously high levels (due to my pain) and that she would have to give me blood pressure medication if it didn’t go down. She also warned that the medication could cause its own complications… so she presented me with an ultimatum: narcotics or epidural. I had to choose one. I’m not going to lie. At that moment, I was ready for pain meds. I knew I had given it my all and that I couldn’t take any more pain.

The 30 minutes it took for the epidural to kick in must have been the longest and most painful of my entire life. I was shivering from the pain and in a dream-like (more like nightmare-like) state. People’s voices seemed far away and my pain was magnified.

Once the anesthesia kicked in, I felt human again. In fact, it may have worked a little too well… because soon, I could neither feel nor move my legs at all. I actually couldn’t feel anything below the waist, which is a really weird feeling – especially, when nurses come to examine you and stick their hands inside you, and if it weren’t for you seeing it, you’d never know. Since I was doing much better, hubby decided to dash home for a meal and a shower (and a beer!)

At around 7:25 pm, they checked me and I was 6-7 cm dialated and baby was at a -1 station. Every now and again, the baby’s heart would decelerate (what the hospital staff refers to as a “decel”) and nurses would come to move me into a different position to see if that would return the heart rate back to normal. The baby seemed to respond well to me laying on my right side, so that was the side I was on most of the time.  Hubby returned to the hospital after going home, taking a shower, eating something, and cleaning the house! (Who does that?) My doula actually thought he was kidding, but I assured her that he wasn’t. I could tell she was impressed.

At 8:15 pm, they increased the Pitocin to 20 (which is the maximum dosage) and my contractions were 4-5 minutes apart. I have to admit, it was kind of nice not to feel them for a change! By 9:40 pm, I was a full 10 cm dialated and at zero station – woo hoo! The doctor said we should wait for the baby to come down a little further and as soon as she did that, I would be ready to push.

Suddenly, somewhere around 10 pm, there was a rush of about five nurses to my bedside. They didn’t address me, but were clearly displaying a sense of urgency as they moved me from one side to another and feverishly adjusted the baby monitor. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but wasn’t too worried until both my husband and my doula hovered over my bed, continually saying, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be okay!” with a panic that belied their words. That was my first clue that something was very wrong….

Who the heck is Betsy?!

Last night something strange happened. My husband woke up three separate times during the night (and woke me up twice in the process) by yelling. This has never happened before. The one time I was awake and breastfeeding in the nursery next door, he shouted “Yes!” as if I’d called his name. I told him I hadn’t called him and he said, “Oh, sorry. I thought I heard you call my name.” I thought he must have been dreaming… although it still struck me as odd.

I don’t remember what the next thing he yelled was (as I was asleep) but I do remember the last thing. Out of what seemed like a dead sleep, he yelled, “You stay away from her!” and jumped towards our baby, as if to protect her. It was startling to say the least and he apologized for waking me up. But he also took the unusual move of grabbing pillows and blankets and sleeping on the floor next to our daughter in her rocker (which was already near our bed). Had I had more sleep, I may have paid more attention to this… but being severely sleep deprived, I drifted quickly back to my dreams.

When morning came and we were both up for the Samantha’s next feeding, [Did I mention that we named our daughter Samantha? ;-)] I asked him what had happened and why he had bolted awake so many times. (Let me also preface this by saying my husband claims not to believe in anything supernatural or occult.) He said, “Didn’t you hear the voices?” I assumed he was talking about loud neighbors of some kind. “No. What voices?” I asked.

“They were talking about her,” he said. “About who?” I asked. “About Samantha,” he said. “Who was talking about Samantha?” I asked… starting to get goosebumps. He went on to explain that he heard voices talking about our daughter all night long. He was in an alpha state, between sleep and wakefulness, and could hear two distinct voices although he couldn’t make out everything they were saying. He did identify them as being clearly black voices. When pressed, he admitted the speech wasn’t exactly from present day, but from the last century. He heard them laughing and referring to our daughter as “Betsy.” He heard one of them making fun of her and saying, “Sam, Sammy… they should have named her Betsy!” And then he heard one of them say, “I’m just fucking with Betsy!” and that’s when he yelled, “You stay away from her!” and went to sleep next to Samantha.

I don’t know the tone of the voices, but he clearly perceived a threat, otherwise, he wouldn’t have reacted the way he did. He seemed rattled by the events and tried to shake them off by saying he was probably dreaming. I told him if he really believed it was a dream, he wouldn’t have gotten pillows & blankets and slept near Samantha to protect her. He never wants to admit what he knows. Something – some entities – were clearly in our space and aware of our daughter, if not toying with her somehow. I know it sounds creepy, but I believe that what he heard was real. I don’t know what it was or who the voices/spirits were.

My best guess is that they were relatives or loved ones from a past life. Regardless, I don’t like the idea of anything approaching my daughter without clearing it with us first. I have no way of knowing what their intentions were/are. I do know that they seemed to go away when my husband told them to… it was also near daybreak, so that could have had an effect as well.

It’s crazy to think that there’s possibly something we can’t protect her from. Our entire lives revolve around meeting our daughter’s needs and protecting her. I contacted a few of my spooky friends to see if they could help me figure out who these spirits were and how to deal with them. In the meantime, I had a word with them – or at least, I addressed them and explained that Samantha is our daughter and they need permission from us to communicate with her. I also prayed, mainly to Archangel Michael, for his protection. (I may not be religious, but I have had direct experience with angels saving my life, so I really do believe in their power.)

Samantha seems unfazed by the whole thing. I’m a little unnerved and I know my husband is, too, although he’ll just act like it never happened. I want Samantha to remember who she was before this life… and I don’t mind if her relatives want to keep in touch… I just have to know for sure that that’s what this is – otherwise, I will have to make sure it never happens again.

In Memoriam

As I write this, too early on a morning when I can’t sleep, my uncle is still alive. But today is the day the decision will be made to stop giving him medication (other than painkillers) – I think they call it “compassionate care” – and he will pass away anywhere from one to several days from now.

Naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about him lately and wanted to jot a few memories and impressions down, since our daughter will never know him, and the contrast of life within me and death outside me feels too poignant at the moment to ignore.

My uncle (my father’s second oldest brother) is and always was a mass of contradictions. He was borderline schizophrenic. Incredibly intelligent in some ways and unbelievably naive in others. He was, hands down, THE most inappropriate person I have ever known (of course, most of that simply could not be helped). He was many things, but one thing he was at all times was unfailingly honest, which made him in turn a delight and a terror to be around. You could always count on him to say something cringe-worthy… it either embarrassed you or you thought it was hilarious. Sometimes both.

When I was a child, I’d spend hours watching National Geographic with him – or any nature/animal related show on PBS. He transferred his love of the animal kingdom to me early on… along with his passion for conservation. These things, I will cherish. He was also a bit obsessive about not wasting water or paper as well as recycling everything. [Some of that has rubbed off on me, too – I go crazy when people waste paper towels or Kleenex – just ask my husband!]

My uncle was a devout Atheist. No joke – it was like a religion to him and he was active in Atheist organizations. As soon as I could write, he handed me stacks of money and instructed me to cross out the word “God” in “In God We Trust” and write in “Atheism” above it. I have a vague memory of this annoying my parents, but I don’t recall anyone putting a stop to it. My favorite was when evangelicals of any kind would knock on the door of his Hollywood home: Christians, Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses, and the like. He relished challenging them and when they would try to hand him a pamphlet or book, he would immediately say, “I’ll buy your book if you buy mine!” and offer them a variety of materials from his Atheist organization. I have to admit, that still makes me chuckle. I’m no Atheist, but I have always admired the tactic.

A few days ago, when he was still alert, my dad told me there was a Korean priest who visited my uncle in the hospital and was trying to convince him to get “saved” before it was too late. He told me they’d been talking for hours and neither one showed any signs of changing their minds. I thought that was funny and kind of sad at the same time. Personally, even though I can believe it comes from a good place in a person, I think it’s the height of arrogance to push one’s beliefs on another human being, especially when they’re at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.

I remember when my husband first met my uncle. It was in Seattle, just over two years ago, when my favorite uncle (my dad’s oldest brother) passed away – some say from the cancer treatments that weakened his heart, but I think it was from a broken heart after the passing of his wife months prior. At any rate, I’d been telling my husband so many outrageous stories about my schizophrenic uncle that he couldn’t wait to meet him and see it all for himself. The afternoon my uncle flew in, I was with my dad, meeting with the real estate agents and attorney handling my uncle’s estate. We were at lunch. And I’ll never forget reading my husband’s text message letting me know my uncle had arrived: “The Korean woman sitting next to him on the plane was very nice, but she had no erotic juices.” I nearly spat out my Diet Coke!  It still makes me laugh to this day. That’s how my uncle talks… because that’s how he thinks. It’s crude, gross, funny, and always completely inappropriate – but the man has no filter.

Both of my uncles on my father’s side of the family, inherited their father’s “happiness gene.” (My grandfather’s tombstone reads “The happiest man in the world.” And by all accounts, he truly was.) My uncles were both happy nearly all the time, regardless of circumstances. My dad didn’t get those genes at all. He’s the worrier, the responsible one… and sadly (although I am grateful) the one left to take care of everyone else in life and death. So whether my uncle was ranting about religion, “Jew Judges” (a favorite topic of his after a difficult divorce and custody battle), sexual “hang-ups” (another favorite topic) or whatever was on his mind at the time, he was inherently jovial without a malicious impulse anywhere in his makeup.

I remember him once saying to me, over lunch with my dad and my other uncle, “There’s no reason for you to be so fat!” (I wasn’t fat, mind you.) But I was pissed off. And knowing that no one else was going to stand up for me or say anything, I quickly and sternly said, “You shut up! Nobody asked for your opinion.” There was a moment of complete silence at the table and then he smiled and laughed (even I was confused). And then he said, “I like that. I like that you put me in my place. I admire that.” And with that, all the tension was gone.

One of the saddest moments I had with him was in a conversation we had at the airport in Seattle. He was talking about his childhood and growing up and about some of his obsessive/compulsive behaviors, and it was obvious to me and my husband that my uncle was very aware of some of his shortcomings, and equally aware that he simply could not control his behavior or his thought process. I don’t know if it was a moment of clarity, or if that consciousness is always brimming under the surface, but it kind of broke our hearts a little. That’s quite a heavy burden for anyone to live with… to be aware, yet incapable of doing anything to change it.

In a few days at the latest, he’ll be gone and, I believe, for the first time in a long time, he’ll be free of all that imprisoned him here. He’ll be an amazing, happy, generous spirit. And someday, I’ll see him on the other side.