When she was pregnant, she never had any doubt that she wanted an out-of-hospital birth. She picked out a great midwife, a great birth center, a doula, made a birth plan. We went to out-of-hospital birth classes with the guru of home-birth doula-ing. We even both took hypnobirthing sessions to learn more about pain control.
She sailed through the first and second trimesters without a hitch. She took prenatal yoga classes and got lots of sleep. She went swimming at the outdoor pool and swore the baby loved the feeling of being in the water. She was glowing and happy as the third trimester neared its end. She'd had three ultrasounds, and everything looked great; we wanted to know the sex and the ultrasound technician said for sure this was a girl. The baby was due on August 15th. Or maybe 18th. Or 16th. Depending on how you counted. But in any case, RW was sure the baby would be born on the 16th; she just had a feeling.
August 15th came and went. And the 16th. And the 18th. The baby was fine, moving, wiggling around, but apparently not in any hurry to go anywhere.
On Friday, August 25th, a week past the latest possible due date, RW went in for one more ultrasound to make sure her fluid level was okay. She lay down, got greased up, and we prepared to see our fuzzy gray baby on the screen.
"Well, your fluid level's fine," said the tech, sweeping the wand across RW's belly. Then, chattily, as if this were nothing new, "The baby is breech, but the fluid's fine."
"What?" I sat up in my chair. RW's head snapped over to the right. "She's not breech!" we protested in unison.
"Oh, sure she is," said the tech. "See, here, how her head's up at the top?"
Somehow, in the few weeks since RW's last exam, the baby had turned around. We rushed home and pulled out our half-dozen pregnancy-and-birth guidebooks, combing the indexes for "breech." The topic was always in the second-trimester section, accompanied by soothing text along the lines of, "If your baby is breech at this point, don't worry; s/he will probably turn around by your due date..." Not one word about a baby who turned from head-down to breech after the due date.
We called the midwife. She was on another birth and said she'd call us back as soon as she could.
We spent Friday night and Saturday waiting by the phone, and trying to coax the baby to go head-down again. RW lay with her head down and her bottom propped up. I sang to the bottom of her uterus, hoping the baby would be attracted to the sound. We called the midwife again, we called the doula, we called the birth class instructor. We waited, and waited, and worried.
The midwife called back. "We'll try to get you in for a version at one of the hospitals," she said. "If the baby won't turn around, you'll have to have a C-section. There's no doctor in Washington State who'd do a vaginal birth for an 8-pound breech baby who's a week overdue."
A version is when they push on the pregnant woman's stomach to try to get the baby turned around. It's not the most pleasant experience, but we were getting desperate. "The only thing I have to give, to make you smile, to win you with, are all the mornings still to live in Morning Morgantown," I sang pleadingly to RW's stomach. But the baby was stubborn.
We went in for the version on Sunday night. The doctor shook our hands and introduced himself. He was casual, funny, and flamingly gay. RW and I have very similar names, and he found this hilarious. So much so that I wanted to slap him after a while.
The doula went in with RW for the version, and I waited in the hall. We both felt like she'd be too worried about my reaction to focus if I were there.
The doctor came back out before long. "Well, the baby didn't like that," he reported jovially. "We almost had her turned around, but her heart rate went down and she popped right out from under my hands." He gave RW a choice: come back in the morning for a C-section, or wait until she went into labor and then have a C-section.
So we went to the hospital the next morning, after staying up half the night talking with the doula, packing, calling all the relatives, and revising the birth plan. As RW said then, "No way is this baby being born on September 2nd and waiting a whole extra year to go to kindergarten." RW, hater of hospitals, walked into the O.R. on her own steam, and stood her ground with the anesthesiologist until he agreed that her doula would be with her while he put in the spinal. Mermaid Girl was born via C-section at 10 in the morning, with "Greensleeves" playing in the operating room, and with the doula, me, and about a dozen unidentifiable masked and gowned people in attendance.
The nurse midwife we'd worked with all along did the actual delivery. She pulled Mermaid Girl out by her foot. "Oh, she's beautiful!" she said, and RW and I both thought, ah, she says that about every baby. But it was true. She was radiant.
The midwife told us later that the umbilical cord was short and not stretchy enough, and that that was probably why the baby had turned around, so she'd be able to get oxygen. I thought of the advice I'd read somewhere about what to do if you're caught in a snowstorm: don't try to outrun it, but make a little cave in the snow and hole up until help comes. That was what our baby had done, while we were trying to coax her out: holed up where she was safe, and waited for help.
"Smart baby," I praised her, as she nursed ravenously and clutched the arm of the hospital rocking chair with her long, prehensile toes.
That was five years ago this morning.
And in a week and a half, that little baby with the prehensile toes is indeed starting kindergarten.