Monday, October 4, 2010

40 -years? Really?

The morning of September 30, 1970 was a rough one for my mother. I don't have a lot of details, but even with the drama of my mother's telling cleared from the picture she painted, she was not well. I was her first child. I was two weeks 'late' and she was extremely hypertensive. Being a midwife myself, and knowing the structures of healthcare around here, I can tell you her care was not up to the standards of the day. That she was blind, well educated but unemployed, ferociously unliked by her in-laws, and quasi-abandoned by her husband were qualifiers for her quality of care, but the 'that she was blind' at the beginning of this sentence tells volumes by itself.

My growing-time was misery for her. She was a hurling dervish for most of her waking hours. My eating habits were limited to strawberries, chilidogs and occasional ice cream. I expressed an early interest in dance, which she managed with regular daily 'beer therapy' to calm me down. I don't think there was a time during my stay in her womb that a competent care provider would not have seen her situation as anything but high-risk. From her telling, I would have found -then- toxemia (now it's called pre-ecclampsia) at the start of her second trimester. She had no interventions.

My last day in there, I was making her life particularly unhappy. She'd been to her OB once a week for months by then, and that day, they'd taken her blood pressure and told her to lay still for half an hour and they'd try to take it again. The nurse said she was going to turn the lights off so mom could rest. Mom admitted being terrified at overhearing the nurse tell someone "I can't get a pressure. It's too high to read."

I'm not clear on the sequence of events after that, but she was admitted when they discovered she was having contractions. I think she'd been having them off and on for a week or so, but she was never clear on that with me. I'm sure the 'beer therapy' was interfering with that, too. She remembers having 'two shots' for 'ecclampsia' and a 'saddle block' during the evening. She used to describe well the stirrups, her positioning and her eventual decision that she didn't care who walked through, that she was there to have a baby, and nothing would deter her from that activity.

Somewhere amid that, she had a confrontation with her OB about 'when' she would give birth. She told me she felt I was coming and the OB told her he'd be back 'tomorrow.' It was very late in the night when she told the nurses they 'really should get somebody in here' to which they scoffed, saying "Why don't you let us tell you when things are happening?" Nobody would tell her what time it was. The closest she got to knowing when I was born was mentioning a confrontation with a nurse when she took her hands out of the wrist restraints to read her watch. The nurse was furious and warned my mother she'd be 'tied down' if she did it again. It was 11:45 at that time. I was born a short time after that, to the outspoken anger of staff, who said there was no doctor present and made no effort to shield my mother from their distaste with her, or discomfiture with the situation of having to be alone with a 'difficult patient'. The OB was in time to cut my cord, I think. Mom remembered him cursing upon entering the room.

My mother, and various astrologers along these 40 years insist my birth chart is incorrect. My birthday is 'supposed' to be 1 October, some few minutes after midnight. Mom didn't make a move to find out what time it was for obvious reasons. One theory was that staff changed it so I'd fall before the delay entry date for school. October 1st meant waiting a year. If this is so, I owe them a debt so humongous it fails description. I was miserable enough in school as it was, waiting another year to start would have gotten me committed. That's another blog, though.

There are a million directions possible with this, but the one I'm going with is that a woman's birthing experiences tell us so much about our society. They reflect the social mentality toward women and birth, yes, but the qualifiers of economic status, race, education, geographic location, ethnicity, religion, and disability all play into that framework. Therein comes the complexity, and to our shame, the disparity of care. Any woman with a disability is going to fall below any non-disabled woman in assessment of value of outcome or ablility to participate in her birthing, for example. My mother, for example was first and foremost, BLIND. Her education and determination to participate in her pregnancy/birth were ahead of her time in that being blind was a reason to not have a family in the first place, but she was vocal about wanting a better experience than her mother had, even if classes weren't open to her, or her family didn't support her choices. Certainly, no one was looking to her for guidance on where birth could be re-shaped into an experience more acceptable to moms of the day. Mom's intention to simply know the time was distressing to her care providers. Any other mother would have been stripped of jewelry, etc, before entering the delivery room. They hadn't thought of checking for her watch, so she still had it on. (Apparently the clock was hung above the head of the delivery table, so no mother would be able to see it.)

She was an enigma to hospital staff, wanting her baby with her after I was born. For that matter, wanting her baby at all was a point of distress. A nurse from cardiology summoned social services when word got out that a blind woman had 'successfully' delivered a baby, and was planning to take her home.

For all that attention, her physical care was extremely lacking. No attention was paid to prolonged bleeding, persistent fevers and severe anemia. Her recovery was not complete until after my brother was born two years later.

Have things changed? Women with disabilities are still greeted with skepticism -even outright resistance- when they choose to have families. I suppose mom was lucky in that she had private insurance and was married, if only on paper, when I was born. Disability is always first in the ranking of 'marks against' a person, but those other issues would have doomed her to death, rather than the lifetime of intermittent suffering she endured because she chose to become a mother.

So, on my 40th birthday, I consider whether I've done anything useful in gratitude for her suffering. On an empiric level, has my life merited her trials bringing me across? I have tried, at every opportunity, to make a difference in the lives I touch. I don't keep a count of those I've saved, or lost for that matter. I am certainly not complacent with the status quo, nor will I be, if I find it lacking. I will never ignore degradation of dignity or propogation of fear. I will never allow someone to suffer in silence if I can do something to change the situation. Someone greater than me will have to decide if that's a fair trade.

My next question is whether I've done anything to change the situation for women like her -and myself, for that matter? I can say, definitely, yes, I have. I am not a shaper of the world by any means, but anyone who knows me has seen me speak out for moms, babies and safer or more satisfying birthing. I'll continue teaching, healing and empowering women and their families. I'll always be a midwife, no matter how I womanifest. :)

Thank you, mom, for your hard work, determination and cooperation with the Divine. I'm still here, and grateful to be so. Blessed Peace, Edna Mae.

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