How a near-death birth experience taught me to let go
By Ashley English
Photo by Naomi Johnson
I’m the sort of gal who likes a plan. A plan for the coming work week, a plan for pending house repairs, a plan for what’s for dinner — when it comes to planning, I’m an equal-opportunity fan.
Naturally, then, when it came to the birth of my first child, I had plans a’plenty. Plans for how I’d handle the pregnancy. Plans for how we’d decorate his nursery and where he’d sleep and what brand of cloth diapers we’d use. Above all of those details, however, what reigned supreme was my birth plan. While I never wrote it down, I ruminated on it daily. I cultivated in my heart just how it would feel, up to the last weeks of my pregnancy. I had a plan, and it was ironclad.
Until it all went out the window and I watched this carefully constructed, closely considered plan fall through my hands like sand.
This month marks my son’s 2nd birthday. All of those clichés I heard for years about childhood happening so quickly from the parents’ perspective are proving to be remarkably, painfully true. I’m astounded that this child of mine will soon have been enjoying sunrises and sunsets with his father and me for 712 days. It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that he was just this helpless being, looking very much like a wrinkled, plucked chicken. Nowadays, he’s banging on his toy drum with awesome precision, correctly identifying both asparagus and rhubarb in our garden, and creating finger-paint masterpieces, which I proudly display, like any proper parent, on the refrigerator.
These are the high points of the plan I’d devised, and prepared for, and even spent money on: I’d go into labor naturally, I’d call our midwife, and, a bit later, in our big garden soaking tub at home, our little guy would make his debut. What actually happened couldn’t have diverged any further from this nuanced, mentally rehearsed version of events.
It was discovered towards the end of my pregnancy that I had pre-eclampsia, a dangerous condition both my mother and her mother experienced in their own pregnancies. Accordingly, a home birth was ruled out by our team of midwives. So, I let that part of the plan go. The night after our last birthing class, as I was about to lie down for the night, I began to experience a strange, new pain. Within 15 minutes, I couldn’t stop vomiting. We called the midwives and raced to the hospital. By the time we arrived, I was moaning in agony. However, I wasn’t in labor. Something was very wrong, but it would be three days until it was discovered.
In the meantime, I was administered an epidural, given Pitocin to bring on contractions, and, after 6 hours of labor and 45 minutes of pushing, naturally birthed our son. Which was amazing, and beautiful, and glorious — although it wasn’t at all what I’d planned. What I’d also not anticipated was that, a few hours after Huxley arrived, the relentless pain that had initially brought me to the hospital would return, and worsen. Over the next day and a half, a round of tests were given, and it was discovered that my right ovary and fallopian tube were twisting around one another, cutting off blood flow to those organs and others.
I’d started to die. Immediate surgery removed the injured organs, saving my life in the process.
So, there’s the plan, and there’s the reality. What Huxley’s birth taught me, a lifelong planner, is a lesson I’ll hold with me until I do finally leave this mortal coil. Plans have their place. But they’re simply ideas. I could never have conceived of a plan that involved the loss of two reproductive organs. That’s what happened, though, and that’s all right.
I might have lost some organs, but I’ve gained an ability to step into the river of life, set my intention of eventually making it back to the shore safely, and then just enjoy the ride, wherever it takes me.
Ashley English is author of four books in the “Homemade Living” series from Asheville’s Lark Books, including A Year of Pies. For more of her writing, check out her blog, Small Measure, at small-measure.blogspot.com.