Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What a difference a year makes...

Two years ago, my little sister Ellen and her husband, Grant hosted my entire family for Christmas. This was no easy undertaking. My family is really big and when you add spouses and my two tiny but boisterous baby girls, you have quite a party. How generous (and daring). True to form, Grant and Ellen surrendered their bedroom to my husband, girls and I. They slept on tiny sofas in the living room.

The week was perfect. We got snowed in: beautiful clean, fluffy snow you could play in for hours without freezing to death because you were in Colorado rather than Chicago or Detroit. They had homemade fudge and peppermint sticks for our hot cocoa. We laughed until we couldn't breathe playing B.S. (some crazy board game) and everyone brought gifts for my daughters. We even got to go skiing for a day. In fact, by the end of the week, I think my oldest daughter (then not quite three) thought that Grant was Santa Claus - I know my husband did!

Then came the climax. As we gathered around the kitchen snacking, drinking, and talking, Grant and Ellen told us that Ellen was pregnant. My sister's face was mix of modesty and mild panic, but I could see behind the fear a confidence developing. She was ready and excited.

Well, I returned home daydreaming about cousins playing. I was excited, too. In fact, I was beside myself because they had asked me to be an advocate for them in the hospital. They decided to have a natural childbirth and constructed a birth plan with the assistance of their Bradley coach. I reread articles from Mothering Magazine in preparation.

As the nine (or ten - whatever) months drew to a close, My husband, girls and I prepared for our visit. We humbly accepted Grant and Ellen's financial assistance for our plane tickets and I packed Jane and Isabelle's impossibly small baby clothes to pass on to the new tiny.

Ellen's labor started beautifully. Mild contractions gradually intensified throughout the day. My sister is stunning to look at. At 5 foot 9, she is slender (the perfect kind of thin - not bony - just naturally a size two - no hard feelings) and always impeccably dressed. That afternoon, though, she looked absolutely breathtaking as she quietly weathered one contraction after another, gathering strength for a long night ahead. As we moved "the party" to the hospital, I proudly watched my shy little sister rise to the challenge. She endured each pain with quiet resolve, although I do think I heard her whisper to our youngest sister, "You don't want to do this."

Before I thought possible, (although I'm certain Ellen felt plenty of time had passed) she was dialated to a ten. "You can go ahead and push," we heard the nurse say. The precious couple wanted a bit of privacy at this point. We were ushered into the waiting room with the rest of the Grant/Ellen cheerleaders. I bit my lip in anticipation. A new baby was soooo wonderful.

And then, at least in MY mind, something went terribly wrong. Thirty minutes passed, and then an hour and then two. My mother and I exchanged glances. What kind of pain must Ellen be in - pushing for two solid hours?. The coffee in the waiting room tasted like dirty water and I remember wanting to make a quick jaunt to the Sarbucks at the next exit. How could I advocate properly without a decent cup of coffee? I was beginning to feel nauseous. After the third hour, the waiting room phone rang. It was Grant. "What's going on?" I demanded, (my panic stricken voice fortelling the type of "advocate" I would become that evening/morning). "They're going to do a c-section," he said calmly, "Ellen's doing ok, but she's really tired. I'll let you know more as soon as I can." He hung up. My mind took off, "Damn hosptal...did they read her birthplan? Did the doctor let her move around/change positions? All that time suffering through contractions..." My heart pounded.

"What did he say?" The entire waiting room, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, sat looking at me. "They're going to do a C-Section," I stuttered, trying to talk over the lump in my throat. I had to do something, I mean, I was the advocate! So I started to sob.

The next couple of hours were a blur. I remember snapping at my sister, Erin, and formulating vague schemes of overthrowing the hospital staff. I also recall a lot of crying. Would the baby be able to nurse? Would Ellen recover? My questions were endless. Towards the end of the morning, even my ever patient mom seemed tired of me.

"It will be ok, Paige," Grant's father reassured me, "as long as the baby's healthy." Wait, was he helping me? Yes, he was trying to calm and comfort me! What kind of crappy Doula would I make? As I looked around the waiting room, I saw my reflection in everyone's eyes. I was not Norma Rae, I was hysterical Harriet Oslen from Little House on the Prairie. I was out of control.


Lucien Elise Demers was born August 19, 2007. She was perfect. Because of the C-section, her head didn't have the smashed birth canal head that most newborns have. She breast fed without missing a beat. Because of the C-section, her father, who would have to work long hours in the weeks and months ahead, got a chance to bond with little Lucie from the start. When we were allowed to see Ellen, she looked as calm and peaceful as she had the days before. "Lord grant me to greet the coming day in peace..."

As we drove back to my parents home after the birth, I felt exhausted and weak. In the movie, "When a man loves a woman," Meg Ryan struggles to parent her daughter while combating a hangover. Her husband, played by Andy Garcia calls it like he sees it, "Honey, I think you've got all you can handle with your coffee and your little spoon." I felt like a joke. I began to mope in my powerlessness. The rest of the trip was painful for me. I tried to support Ellen, but I felt I had let her down. On some level I was embarrassed to be around them all.

It wasn't until several months later, that I began to see things differently. Ellen and Grant merely wanted me to support them . They didn't expect me to interface with the doctors! What sort of grandios lens was I viewing myself through? As soon as I jumped off that pedestal, I experienced immediate relief. It wasn't my fault that Ellen had a c-section any more than it was my fault that Tiffany started drinking or I became sick. "In all unexpected occurrences do not let me forget that all is sent down from Thee." My own responsibilities became more clearly deliniated. "Oh Lord, grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it." It became easier to monitor what came out of my mouth (or what went into it, for that matter). For the first time in years(?) I felt peaceful.

Lucie will turn one next week. Like her parents, she is beautiful and well adjusted. These days, I still try to control others and my surroundings, but it's out of habit rather than responsibility. In fact, it's something I confess! Each morning, I pray the Last Elders of Optina prayer with desperation, "...Direct my will. Teach me to pray, to believe to hope to be patient, to forgive and to love," and I am happier than I have ever been.


Molly Sabourin said...

Ellen is my hero!

Thank you for sharing these stories, Paige.

bethany said...

she is very amazing. i love this story. and paige caring is not so crazy. i loved your passion that day

paige maddex said...

Thank you sweet Bethany - your feedback means so much!