By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
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By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
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By Melanie Asmar
Elizabeth knew that it wouldn't be bad if they left the umbilical cord attached for a little while, at least until it stopped pulsating. A few minutes later, out came the placenta at the end of the cord like a deflated volleyball. Elizabeth couldn't believe how big it was. She put it in the bucket. The tub water was murky with blood and other fluids, and they noticed it getting darker red. Elizabeth was still bleeding.
She stood and climbed into the shower with Ani to rinse off so that she wouldn't drip blood on the carpet. Then she passed out. When she came to, she was lying flat on the living-room floor, wrapped in a sheet. Jason was running around the apartment frantically. Elizabeth saw that Ani was on the couch, wrapped in a towel -- Jason must have grabbed the baby when she blacked out. The placenta was in a bowl on a cushion next to the baby.
"Why are you freaking out?" Elizabeth asked Jason.
"We're going to the hospital," he answered.
She told him he was overreacting. She couldn't see that the sheet was becoming increasingly stained with blood. Jason thought she might be hemorrhaging. He was terrified. So he carried Elizabeth to the car, then went back for Ani and the placenta bowl. He sped along the dirt road to the interstate, then turned north, flying through the left lane, toward Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree. Drifting in and out of consciousness, Elizabeth looked over at Jason and saw that he was sobbing. It was the first time she had seen her husband cry.
Jason pulled up to the emergency lane, and the attendants came out with a wheelchair. Elizabeth was still swathed in her bloody sheet.
Nurses examined her first; they were calm and said there was nothing to worry about. Elizabeth had just torn a bit, and the blood loss wasn't dangerous yet. They put her on an IV. The relief that Elizabeth felt at being told she wasn't going to die was replaced with a deep disappointment that after all her planning, she'd still ended up in the hospital with her baby.
The nurses took Ani away to clean her up.
"Don't give her any shots!" Elizabeth screamed.
Once the nurses found out that the out-of-hospital birth wasn't a surprise but a planned, unassisted delivery, Elizabeth says, she could feel their scorn. As the doctor stitched her up, she told him that she knew she'd done it wrong. She'd pushed too hard when she should have waited. "I know what it was," she said. "It was my fault that I did this."
The doctor didn't seem judgmental. In fact, he seemed a little impressed that she'd given birth on her own.
And everything looked better when Ani was back in her arms.
Elizabeth and the baby stayed in the hospital for two days. "It was a really great time to be in the hospital, because you could just relax afterward," she admits. "Like recuperate."
Laura Shanley knows firsthand that not all unassisted births are successful. In 1984, her fourth baby was born two months premature while she was taking a bath. The child's skin was gray and it wasn't breathing. She breathed into the newborn boy's nose and it began to cry. Two hours later, he stopped breathing. David called the paramedics, but it was too late.
"If I were at the hospital, could they have saved him?" Laura asks rhetorically, while the women at the ICAN gathering listen, spellbound. Laura says that when she spoke to the coroner, he told her that the baby had congenital heart defects as well as other malformations and would likely have died regardless of medical attention.
"So I feel that some babies just don't make it," she says. "I did grieve that baby, but life went on. And I didn't look at it as a horrible tragedy. My other kids were one, three and five, and it was very stressful. And I think my body responded to the stress."
Three months after the birth, Elizabeth stands in her living room, bouncing Ani on her hip. She glows with pleasure in her child. She makes Ani's food from scratch.
Elizabeth still surfs the mothering and childbirth forum boards. Even with the complications, her unassisted birth was "definitely an awesome experience," she says. She feels like she has entered an exclusive club.
Still, she'd probably use a midwife next time. "Things didn't go the way that we had planned," she says. "We should've just known, because you can never expect what a birth is going to be like. You can read up on the subject as much as you want and feel that you know it..."
Ani's pacifier pops out of her mouth and lands on the carpet. Elizabeth stoops to pick it up and heads to the kitchen, where she washes it off in the sink.
"But until you've experienced it several times, just like a midwife experienced it several times, you just don't ever know. She would know you're bleeding because you're tearing, not that you're bleeding because you're hemorrhaging, and fix the tear rather than rushing to the hospital because you're bleeding."