Before I tell you about my birth, I want to begin by sharing that having a birth doula was the best decision my husband and I could have ever made about the birth of our son. Heidi was amazing (before, during and after the birth). Even though my pregnancy went as planned, the birth was far from it. Heidi was there every step of the way – to provide knowledge and comfort not only to me but also to my husband during the traumatic birth.
During the pregnancy, my husband and I discussed having a birth doula. Honestly, in the beginning, he wasn’t crazy about the idea. His background is in massage and he thought that he could provide the support that I needed. So it took quite a bit of convincing. Thankfully some good friends of ours had Heidi as their birth doula and they helped to sway his decision! Hindsight being 20/20, my husband wonders why he ever doubted having a birth doula!
On to my birth – I wrote this in my blog after Woodrow was born so it has some very personal information in it and it is a little lengthy. I was going to cut some of it out, but I really think that it deserves to be shared in its entirety. Here it goes…
So many of my friends were pregnant when I was and I always looked forward to reading their Birth Stories after the baby was born. I was eager to see how each child chose to make his/her debut into this world. Our story is a little different – instead of it being a Birth Story, I see it more as a Circle of Life Story…
Most of you know that my Parren Tony (Woodrow Anthony Gisclair) passed away about 18 months ago (two short weeks after our wedding). I was very close to him and his sudden death was very hard on our entire family. We all felt like he was looking down on all of us during the Saints winning season and especially during the Super Bowl (they have had season tickets for over 30 years I believe… true members of the Who Dat Nation!). So when Jeffrey and I figured out that we had a true Super Bowl baby, I was praying that the baby would be born on his birthday (November 15th). I thought, “This baby is meant to be born on my Parren’s birthday,” even though my due date was November 6th… I was willing to hold out.
Towards the very end of my pregnancy, my Papa (my mom’s father) started to not feel well. He had been on dialysis for the past 5-6 years and had been a real trooper. But we could tell that something just wasn’t right…and he could too. Due to some very serious health complications, his health declined very rapidly. He was sent home from the hospital and my mom and aunt set up Hospice. Our last weekend together as an entire family (my sister and cousins were all there) was so special. My Papa was still able to enjoy that time with everyone even though he was slowing down and was very tired. Within the next week, his condition changed dramatically. With everything that my Papa had been through in his lifetime, I don’t think he ever knew pain. At the end of his life, with everything that was happening inside of his body, he never showed signs of being in pain. Over that week, I tried to spend as much time with him as possible – driving back and forth from New Orleans or spending the night when I could.
During the end of that week, I started not to feel so good. The stress of everything going on was beginning to take its toll on my very pregnant body even though I was trying to be strong. I started having some really bad heartburn. After I had taken the daily maximum of Tums and was still having major discomfort from the heartburn, I had Jeff call the doctor on call that Friday night (October 29th). He told me what to get over the counter and said that gas bubbles can get trapped around the diaphragm and it would result in the pain that I was describing. So I took the recommended medications and had a little relief. Saturday morning I had a slow start from not sleeping well the night before. I planned on staying home to rest, but something in my heart told me that I should go down the bayou to be with my Papa and my family. So that afternoon I pulled myself together and Jeff and I headed out. From talking to my mom and seeing the rapid decline in my Papa’s condition, I knew that the end was very near. When Jeff and I pulled up and walked up to the back door, my mom met us at the door. I could tell from the look on her face that the time had come – my Papa – the patriarch of our family, the WWII veteran, the shrimper, trapper, business owner, craftsman and all around lover of life for 91 years- had passed away. Throughout my pregnancy, my Papa and I had talked about the baby in my belly often and he was looking forward to finding out if it was a girl or a boy – he knew that if it was a boy, it would be named after him and my Parren Tony. His favorite saying was “Look at Kasey – you know, she looks pregnant!” – he was such a kidder and his sense of humor was present until the very end.
When his health started rapidly declining and I was a week away from my due date and my body had not changed to prepare for labor in 5 weeks prior, Jeffrey and I discussed with my doctor the options for birth. I wanted to have a natural birth so bad and we even rented a birthing tub. But my doctor became concerned that the baby was continuing to get bigger with each passing day and might not be able to fit through my small pelvis (we were both hoping that I would have gone into labor a little earlier before the baby packed on the extra pounds at the very end of pregnancy). The stress was working against my body. But with the end near for my grandfather, I had to really weigh if/when to schedule a c-section and I had to get the timing just right so that I would still be able to make it to the funeral services. I was very torn and mixed up – it didn’t feel right for me to choose the day my child would be born. The dates we chose to try for an elective c-section did not work out and so my doctor and I decided that we would schedule it for November 6th (my due date…and my doctor was on call that day!). When my Papa passed away on Saturday, October 30th, I thought it was meant to be that we could not schedule the surgery sooner – that way I would be able to make it to the wake and funeral…and if my body went into labor naturally that week then we would work around it and it would have been meant to be for me to deliver naturally.
So that Sunday (the day after he passed away), I was feeling really bad again with this pain in my chest that I thought was heartburn. We tried the medications again that the previous on-call doctor recommended, but the pain was not going away. Needless to say, I got absolutely no sleep and the doctor on-call asked if I could hold out until the regular office hours on Monday morning to talk with my doctor…so I held out. Monday rolled around and Jeff made several calls throughout the day to my doctor who called in a few different heartburn medications. With each medication, the pain seemed to get worse instead of better. By mid-morning on Monday, I realized that I was in too much pain and that I would have to miss my Papa’s wake. In my heart, I felt ok about that because I had time to say my goodbyes earlier and I knew I had spent as much time with him as I could. By Monday evening, I was writhing in pain and finally told Jeff to call my doctor and tell him that I needed to go to the emergency room. I have a very high tolerance for pain – and it was not contractions that were causing the pain, it was something else that I just couldn’t put my finger on…I just knew that something wasn’t right and I was not able to control or handle the pain on my own any longer. My doctor said not to go to the emergency room, but instead to go to the Labor & Delivery unit at the hospital and they would admit and assess me. So that’s what we did.
We got to the hospital around 9 or 10pm. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity for a room, they got me settled in and hooked up to the monitors. It appeared that I was having some contractions that were kind of semi-regular and so I asked Jeff to call our doula. Blood work was eventually ordered and I was checked out by the nurses and resident on call. The pain was now in my chest cavity, under my right ribs and in my upper back…but the worst pain was under my ribs. It was decided that a c-section would be performed at 6:30am the following morning and they were going to get me an epidural and help to get me comfortable. Jeff and our doula, Heidi, were doing everything they could to help me to manage the constant pain. When the resident on call came in and told me the plan for the surgery the next morning, I asked what was going to be done about this pain under my ribs. She said it was contractions. I told her no, that I have had tons of Braxton Hicks contractions throughout my entire pregnancy and I knew what it felt like for my uterus to contract — this pain was constant and was not going away and it was getting worse. So she left and the next thing I saw was an anesthesiologist dressed in surgical attire, nurses with those paper hair net things on their heads, IV bags being hung, and people pushing paperwork at me saying that they needed consent for surgery immediately. My doula quietly whispered to me that I should ask why there was a change in the plan. I asked but I honestly don’t remember what the answer was. I was in so much pain that I was thrilled at the news that they were going to take the baby out sooner.
The nurses quickly gave Jeff some scrubs and told him to stay there and change clothes and that they would come to get him once I was prepped. Before that I could see Jeff and Doula Heidi passing their cell phones back and forth to each other after the nurses would come in and tell them what was going on. Part of me at the time was thinking, I really wish they would get off of their phones and help me…but I figured out quickly that they were trying to get information from the limited bits that the nurses shared and they WERE trying to help me as best they could with the information that they were looking up. They both knew the severity of my condition…I was the one that was clueless!
As they whisked me away for surgery, I remember that I didn’t even get to kiss Jeff before I was pushed into the hallway. It made me a little sad, but I knew that I was in good hands and that I’d see him in a few minutes once I was prepped. Everything happened so fast. My doctor was on-call (thank God) and was called in. Nice little me, not realizing what was going on, actually apologized to him for getting him out of bed in the middle of the night! As they were prepping me, I kept watching the door and waiting for Jeff. I didn’t want him to miss the birth and I didn’t know why it was taking so long for them to get him. Finally I heard the doctor say that they were ready for Dad to come in. I was so relieved when I saw Jeff. I knew it had to be tough for him waiting in the room … watching each second tick by and knowing what the nurses shared with him about my condition and not being able to help me or be there with me for that 15 minutes of prep. Within about 5 minutes of Jeff coming in I heard the doctor say that he saw a head full of hair…then he said, this is a big baby! I kept wondering…what is it, what is it?!?!? And then I heard it…the first cries of our son…our son, Woodrow Claude Bealer! Woodrow was born at 1:46am on Tuesday, November 2nd – the same day that my Papa (Woodrow Robert) would be buried. I started to cry when I heard it was a boy and I looked at Jeff and I’m sure there were tears in his eyes, although it was hard for me to see with the mask and garb he had on. In the midst of all of the sadness of losing my Papa there was now great joy that followed! Part of me was sad that I was never able to tell my Papa that we had a boy and his name would be carried on – but part of me knew that their souls had crossed paths before the time of Woody’s birth. I’m sure my Papa and my Parren Tony were loving on him before I could even set eyes on him – I’m sure that they were sharing with him about our special family and telling him about all of the wonderful things that he would encounter once he was born!
For a long time I was wondering if history would repeat itself in my life and that each time I would have great joy in my life if it would be followed by great sadness. When my Papa got really sick I thought for sure that life was playing a nasty trick on me. How could this happen two times in a row (first with my uncle then with my Papa). But I was wrong – the timing of my Papa’s death and Woodrow’s birth were written long ago. It was meant to happen this way. Woodrow’s birth was such a blessing at this really tough time for my family – you could say it kept some people going and gave others hope. This is why I called this Woodrow’s Circle of Life Story instead of his Birth Story.
The pain that I felt in my chest, that I thought was heart burn at first, turned out to be my liver swelling! Yep, my LIVER! I knew I wasn’t crazy when I told the resident on call that my pain was not from contractions! The diagnosis is called HELLP Syndrome (H=hemolysis…breakdown of red blood cells; EL=elevated liver enzymes….liver function; LP=low platelet count…platelets help blood to clot). Some say it is linked with Preeclampsia but it is still not certain. The symptoms often mimic other illnesses and it is often misdiagnosed (as it was in my case).
When the nurse started hooking me up to monitors and got the blood results back when we arrived at the hospital, they quickly saw that my liver enzymes were elevated, my blood platelet level was dangerously low, and my blood pressure was sky high. I was told that 150 is an acceptable number for the blood platelets and 20 is really bad and 17 is critical…my blood platelet level that night was at 18! My blood pressure shot up to 171/101. This was no joking matter and the doctors and nurses had to act quickly. I was immediately given Magnesium Sulfate which they told me was to get my blood pressure down (I also just read that it helps to prevent seizures, which is what happens if preeclampsia is not treated). The only way to treat HELLP syndrome is to deliver the baby. Thank God that I was full term when my symptoms came on.
After Woodrow was born, my symptoms were more under control, but did not immediately go away. I was hooked up to every machine imaginable and had about 3 IVs in my arms…I felt like a human guinea pig and pin cushion all at the same time! Because my platelet level was so low, they gave me 2 units of platelets and because I was borderline anemic anyway, I also received 2 units of blood (the blood was not 100% necessary but they said that my recovery from all of this would take much longer…like several months…if I chose not to get the blood). I was still hooked up to the Magnesium, which made me feel so flush and hot — I knew I was abnormally hot when my mom came to the hospital and SHE was freezing in the room! Because they were still trying to get my blood pressure under control, I stayed in the Labor and Delivery room for an extra day or two. I was not able to get out of bed for two days, which meant that Jeff had to care for Woodrow (all except for feeding him). It was the first time he changed a diaper, and I have to say that he did a great job! Those first few days were extremely stressful – trying to process everything that happened, hoping that the symptoms would get under control, and trying to take care of a newborn on top of it all! It was definitely not the unmedicated natural childbirth that I had prepared for, but in the end I had a beautiful, healthy son and my health was beginning to improve!
I asked my husband just the other day (almost 7 months after Woody’s birth) if during the next birth we could have a doula – and without hesitation he said absolutely