Today is August’s 3rd birthday. As a sort of ‘therapy’, every year I rewrite the story of his birth as a way to see things with new perspective. I am still working on healing from his traumatic birth and its consequences, and it has been amazing to see the story evolve through the years from something very negative to something with a more positive light. This year, after I wrote it I surprisingly decided to post it. This is a big step for me because it is a very vulnerable story. Up until now, I haven’t been open about the details of his birth.
I have kept the details to myself for a lot of reasons, but mostly to protect those involved, including myself. My hope is that this is tasteful and as honoring as possible to everyone. I don’t intend to cause harm to anyone or to imply that home birth is bad or wrong. I simply wish to tell my story and August’s story as it happened.
August’s Birth Story
It was 1:00 am the morning of January 2, 2016. We had celebrated New Years the day before with Greg’s family, and we were tired after a long week of celebrating the holidays. Everyone was asleep, including me, when -POP- my water broke. I felt it pop, and jumped up to see if it was true. Sure enough, there was a big gush. This was such an exciting moment! I was exactly 38 weeks along, and I was so happy to get to meet my August earlier than I imagined might happen. Two other times my water broke at exactly 38 weeks. I didn’t realize then that was a sign that August has vEDS. I didn’t know it meant his birth was a high risk one. I didn’t know that it wasn’t MY body saying it was ready to give birth, but August’s faulty collagen that caused the water to break. Labor didn’t start until that evening, and only after lots of work to get it going.
I had planned a beautiful birth at home. I did not make this decision lightly. A lot of time and effort had been put into visualizing, practicing relaxing, preparing to have a natural birth, and getting the house ready. I had hired a doula and a knowledgeable midwife. For many reasons, I felt that having August at home was the best place for everyone. It was going to be peaceful and beautiful. I felt good about this decision, and I was excited for the experience.
It wasn’t until late that night that my labor had progressed to the point that we knew August was coming very soon. We had filled up the birthing pool, and I was in it in intense labor. It seemed like it took a long time for his head to emerge. I knew it was coming long before it actually did. August is my 6th baby, and this was very unusual for me. It was taking so long. My babies usually just come out. I could tell the midwife was getting concerned.
My doula and midwife talked me into turning around, and when I did, August’s head finally emerged. Everything from that point is a blur, and I question the accuracy of what really happened, even though I have replayed it in my mind countless times.
When Things Took a Turn For the Worse
Suddenly, the midwife was telling me I had to stand up. Ha! Yeah right! I told her I couldn’t, but she and the doula pulled me up anyway. After that, the midwife came up behind me and pulled August out by the head. I am unsure what gave her the knowledge that something was off, but I don’t think his head was all the way out when I was in the water. That caused the midwife to think his shoulder was stuck, which can be an extremely dangerous situation, especially in a home setting. I have gone over and over this moment in my mind, asking questions. What could have been done differently? Was such force necessary? Was his shoulder really stuck? Or was it just panic that his shoulder could be stuck? What caused such panic? Did the midwife save his life? Did she cause more damage than was necessary? I don’t know, and I realize now that it doesn’t really matter.
The first word I remember being said after he was born was a swear word (I don’t remember what it was). I turned around and saw August, completely disconnected from me. His cord had ruptured (a huge red flag that he has vEDS). He was not breathing, and he was unresponsive. We don’t know how long the cord had been ruptured before he was born, and he was without oxygen for however long that was. The midwife started smacking his feet and doing CPR, and 911 was called. This was around 11:00 PM. No one knows the exact minute he was born.
Calm In the Storm
There were so many emotions swirling around. Panic, fear, shock, etc. It was chaos. But the only thing I felt at the time was PEACE. Amazing, right? I felt such unimaginable peace. I knew he was going to be okay without a doubt. That is a miracle to me, and one of the reasons I can look back at this memory with gratitude. I know that there were angels surrounding us, providing peace and comfort and help.
The midwife told me to talk to August, and when I did, he started to respond a little bit. She put him in my arms while she blew oxygen into him, and I talked to him. He was so limp and lifeless. This wasn’t the beautiful moment I envisioned of me holding him for the first time. But still, I had peace. We had a connection, and I knew of his strength and determination. I knew he was going to be okay. The EMT’s showed up, and took him away in the blanket I had chosen for him to be wrapped in the first time.
While the EMT’s were at my house, they asked me if I was okay. I honestly didn’t even know. I was sitting in a pool of blood, the placenta still hadn’t been delivered, and I was definitely in shock. My doula told them I was fine, and I decided I would believe her. She was right. I was totally fine, and strangely this was the easiest recovery I ever had.
Oh, how grateful I am for my doula. Without her, things would have been so different. I can’t thank her enough for her calming influence that night, as well as her help processing the trauma later on. Because even though I felt peace during this scary event, after the birth was different. Every time I would think about August’s birth, I would feel the other emotions that were swirling around me, not the peace. The trauma affected me very deeply, and for a good amount of time it consumed me.
I took a quick shower, and the midwife, doula, and I went to the hospital (Greg had gone in the ambulance with August). August was on a ventilator, and in pretty rough shape. They had considered cooling his brain to protect it from further damage, but he had tested borderline, so they didn’t do it. He was very bruised. It was hard to see my baby in this kind of condition, especially when we didn’t even plan to set foot in the hospital. After visiting August for a little while, I was taken home to get some sleep. I didn’t get much sleep that night, as I relived the birth over and over and over, trying to make sense of it.
The Journey Begins
The next morning, Greg and I cried together, and then he went to the hospital. He called me to say that the nurses were reporting that August’s right arm was completely unresponsive to stimulation, and it wasn’t moving at all. Just as I knew that August was going to be okay the night before, I knew that his arm didn’t count in the definition of ‘okay’. I knew we were in for a long road.
When I got to the hospital, I found that the nurses were right. No movement. Nothing. His arm was paralyzed. We were told that he had a Brachial Plexus Injury, but that it would probably heal on its own. A Brachial Plexus Injury is when the nerves of the brachial plexus (in the neck/shoulder) are stretched and/or torn. This injury is a result of him being pulled out by the head. August’s injury is global, which means it affects his entire arm. We would later discover that two of the nerves were completely torn and the other 3 were a huge jumble of scar tissue. His injury was severe, and it would not get better on its own.
The NICU doctors were saying that August would be in the NICU for about 2 weeks. August had lost a lot of blood and oxygen, and he was in bad shape. He had a blood transfusion, which helped a lot. He wasn’t allowed to eat for 3 days. My full term, 8 lb 9 oz baby was starving!!! When he was finally allowed to eat, the amount was increased slowly, which was so rough for all of us. August wanted more, and I wanted to feed him! It was also so hard to have to ask if I could hold him and only be allowed to hold him for a certain amount of time. Everything about having him in the NICU was just hard. August surprised all the doctors (but not Greg and me), and was released from the NICU after only 8 days.
To make a very long story short, August’s arm did not get better on its own. He has had two surgeries so far. The first one was a nerve graft where they took nerves out of his calves and grafted them in to repair the nerves that had torn. The second surgery was a tendon transfer because his shoulder had dislocated. I am quite sure more surgeries await, one most likely in the next year (when we can meet up with our surgeon in Philadelphia). August’s arm impairment is now moderate/severe. He has fair use of his shoulder, good use of his elbow, and poor use of his wrist and hand.
The effects of the lack of blood/oxygen have also started to show. August has severe apraxia of speech, which means he struggles to motor plan movements of his mouth to form words. He says only a few words functionally at this point. He is incredibly smart, and he understands everything that is going on. He has created his own little sign language to tell us what he needs and wants. August works very hard and has made amazing progress, but still has a very long way to go. I imagine that as he grows, we will continue to find things that he struggles with.
Some Important Lessons
August will always be affected by his birth. Every day of his life. It isn’t fair that he has to pay for the decisions and actions of other people. This fact has been hard for me to accept. It has taken me his entire life to be at peace with this. Sometimes I still am not at peace about it. I don’t think it was necessarily part of God’s plan for him to have such a traumatic birth. I think that we are given agency, and there are natural consequences for our choices. It is possible that if he was born in the hospital, his birth would have gone without a hitch. It’s also possible it would have been just as devastating. We can’t really say, and the what ifs and could have, should have, would haves are not worth it. They get you nowhere. I promise. I have done it over and over. I have tortured myself with the questions and beaten myself up more than I can express.
I have dealt with a lot of guilt about my decision to have August at home. I have blamed myself for what happened. And something important I have learned is that blame is toxic. We all want to do it. We want to know who is at fault so they can pay for it. But in the end, it doesn’t matter whose fault it is, and the finger usually can’t only be pointed in one direction. What happened happened. There is no going back. The best thing that can be done is to accept what is and make the most of it. We can find joy in the journey. I know I have been able to find a lot of joy in this very difficult journey with August.
I have forgiven the midwife. But forgiving myself has been the very hardest thing to do. I feel, however, that I have finally been able to do it for the most part. I think forgiveness is a process, and sometimes I have to go back and do a little more work. The truth is that I made the best decision I could with the knowledge I had. If I had known that Greg had vEDS (and that August had a 50% chance of having it too), I would have never had August at home. If I had had even one complicated birth previously, I would not have had him at home. I am human, I can’t foresee the future, and I didn’t have the very critical information about vEDS that I have learned since Greg and and half of my children were diagnosed (including August). We all make decisions that may appear to be ‘wrong’. Some have bigger consequences than others.
I recently had a very special experience that has helped me forgive myself more fully and given me a lot of peace about what happened to August. I won’t go into detail, but I will say that I know that August has been compensated for what happened to him. He has been given abilities and strengths that are amazing. Some of it comes from going through hard things, but not all of it. It is a gift from God. August has been given the gifts and tools he needs to make up for it all and then some. He can to still do what he was sent to Earth to do. I know this is true, and it gives me great comfort. August is amazing. He has already touched lives, and I know he will be a powerful influence in many other lives because of the things he has gained from his traumatic birth.
I have learned a lot through the experience of being August’s mom. August has taught me about true love. I have learned about healing and forgiveness. My faith has been strengthened, and I have witnessed miracles. They didn’t come in the ways I wanted them to, but they came just the same. August himself is a miracle. He has taught me so many things through his example of determination, perseverance, and patience. I am grateful for the ways I have learned and grown. I am a different person than I was on January 1, 2016 in so many ways.