Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Falling in love with life part 4

An Unexpected Arrival

There I was, on the verge of going into labor...

     This isn't just a story of life making its grand entrance into the world, though that in itself is enough to write whole chapters about. No, this is a story of people coming together for the love of a child and the support of one very lucky woman. Me. 

     I have this little sidebar from parenting that revolves entirely around women and birth. If I were to pinpoint my life altering moment that thrust me onto this path, it would have to be the birth of my darling Gwenyth Christian, better known by most of you as Winnie. After 2 horrifying hospital experiences where I endured everything from being shaved, to having my vagina cut open in order to make more room for a baby (if you haven't had the pleasure of an episiotomy, you haven't lived) to being whisked out a mere 12 hours after delivering without once being taught how to breastfeed my child, I turned my attention to home birthing. I'm not sure why, but there was a hole in my life from not having experienced birth the way I truly wanted to. Completely naturally. It was May 8 1998 when Winnie made her way (painfully) into the word at 12:22 am in my house in Burbank, California, and my life would never be the same. 

     Aside from the obvious wonderment of having a new baby, something inside of me had completely changed. I felt like a warrior; like the most powerful amazing human being that ever walked the planet. It was pure euphoria and it lasted for weeks after her birth. It was as if someone removed the fog from the lens and I was seeing myself with raw clarity. There were several people in my life who supported me in that incredible moment. The midwives from Home Birth Services and our childbirth educator, Julie, are at the top of that list. Apart from the surge of emotions running through me, another thing happened in the weeks following Winnie's entrance; I realized that I wanted to help women who were on, or wanted to be on, that very same journey. And so began my life as a childbirth educator/doula and lactation specialist. Though I haven't yet had the opportunity to put my skills to use in the way I really want to, I hope to one day open a business here in the bay area solely for the support of a woman's journey through birth. A place you can go to find classes, massage, photography and friendship, but alas, I am getting sidetracked. This story is about Avion Blue and the incredible people that stood by my side as I brought him into this world more than 2 weeks before he was expected.

     Note. You need to know here that I have never delivered early. Not one day. In fact, Taren thought it was so nice and cozy in my belly that she stuck around a whole 3 weeks beyond her due date.
     Ugh- Camber just got into a jar of peanut butter and painted the baby with it. Why do I blog during the day???

     Ok- all clean. Where was I? Ah yes, the beginning, I believe. Let's review.

     I had moved from Chicago Friday, the 21st of May and was now literally homeless and stuffed into my parents 2 bedroom house in Lake Elsinore (about 75 miles outside of Los Angeles) with 6 of my kids and an enormous belly. I had a game plan, though, and that game plan involved making it to San Francisco on the 6th of June (4 days prior to my due date) with a yet undelivered baby Blue still inside. We had a midwife from Alameda on call from the 6th of June until I delivered and I felt extremely confident that we would make it to that date just fine. In addition, just for added protection, I had a midwife near my parents ready to go just in case. But I wasn't going to have a "just in case." I was making it to San Francisco, dammit! On Monday, the 24th of May, the kids (minus Ashley who was now living in Biloxi with Nick and minus Taylor who was still acting like a piece of shit from being forced to move) and I went down to Redondo Beach to stay with one of my best friends, Jeff, for a couple of days. I love southern California with a passion. In particular, Redondo Beach. I grew up there, and everything about it still feels like home. It was a very welcome feeling during a time when everything was unsettled and home no longer existed for me. I spent the following few days running around the South Bay, visiting friends, and introducing my kids to the magnificence that is the Pacific Ocean. 

And of course, Mama and her big belly...

     I remember feeling slightly out of sorts and contracting a lot during this time, but mostly Braxton Hicks (practice) contractions and nothing too painful. I figured I was dehydrated and just started increasing my water intake. That evening, I met another best friend of mine, Darren, and his wife for dinner at Islands (yum yum yum, try the teriyaki burger. Vegetarian? Just ask for a meatless patty!) in Manhattan Beach. I remember really feeling out of sorts now. I think I even mentioned to him that I was concerned about "making it" much longer. We cut our night short, due in part to how I was feeling, but mostly because the kids were acting like completely unruly little assholes and the entire restaurant was giving me that "You're a shitty Mom" face. As we left, Darren said "If you need anything, I'm not working tomorrow. Anything at all." Let's pause at this moment, friends. These are things we say to each other all the time, but here I was... about to need this man more than I think I ever have in my life. I don't know that I would have called him if he hadn't said this. It's nice just to reflect. It makes me smile. 

     Ok- TMI- but then again this post is about a birth so if you've gotten this far you must know what you're in for. I got back to Jeff's by about 8pm and got the kids settled in for the night. I would be going back to my parents place the following day and Jeff was headed to Texas with his cousin. Once the house was quiet, I hopped in the shower and noticed that I was beginning to bleed a little bit. Uh-oh. Now, I never knew what kind of denial I was capable of, but even at this moment I was thinking "I could still have weeks" which, in general, can be true. But not for me. The only time I see anything like that is when labor begins. I decided that just in case, I would go online and find a baby friendly hospital nearby. I tried contacting the midwife near my parents. She never returned my calls. 

     So... where's Mark? At this point I hadn't seen Mark in over a month. He was still living in the Bay Area, and even though he had plans to come fetch us in SoCal, it wouldn't be for another 2 weeks. Instead, Mark had traveled to Chicago on Saturday, May 22 to oversee the move. He had just returned to San Francisco the evening of the 25th right around the time I was getting out of the shower at Jeff's. It was at that point that I texted him to say that I wasn't too sure I was going to be pregnant much longer. He brushed it off telling me to get more rest. After all, we have never had a baby early. Not one day.

     It was about 6am the morning of the 26th when I knew it. Real labor is one of those feelings you just never replicate in life. I always tell people that if they have to ask "Is this it?" it's not. I remember trying to force myself to sleep more because it was going to be a long day. One of the unfortunate things for me is that despite my enormous family, labor tends to be long. In fact, it seems the more I have the longer it lasts. Days usually. Never really kicking into gear, so to speak. My wonderful midwife in Chicago, Sarah, once said to me that labor is like a marathon. The last month is the steady running, while labor is just the final sprint. I like that analogy. This was feeling a little different, though. By 9am I was starting to panic. It seemed pretty obvious to me now that getting back to Lake Elsinore to have a home birth at my parents place was going to be out of the question. Furthermore, the midwife in that area still had yet to return my calls. I now needed to actively look for a hospital. There was one nearby that I trusted, but without a shred of paperwork on me (labs, prenatal visits, ultrasounds etc.) I was going to be treated like I had the plague and not given many options in terms of low intervention. I was gearing up mentally to fight the system when I had an idea of who I could turn to. My childbirth educator, Julie. She would know where I should go. 

     Julie and I had been in touch on and off over the 12 years since Winnie's birth. By this time she had become more of a mentor to me, helping me make decisions on where to study childbirth and how to teach a class. I leaned on her from time to time for advice and support as I continued my education toward becoming a professional. We talked for a brief moment that morning about hospitals in the area, doctors we both knew, and people who might allow me to be drug free in birth. We were both concerned. Julie settled on Cedars as my best choice. Even though they weren't technically a baby friendly hospital (hospitals that believe in the mother/child bonding experience - for more- they did have many doctors on staff who supported natural childbirth and mother/infant bonding. Then Julie paused. 

"Dia, you can have your baby here.
If you can find a midwife, you can have your baby in my home."

Did someone just offer me her home to give birth in? Yes. That just happened. There was only one midwife I knew. Leslie Stewart. 

      "Good morning, Home Birth Services, Cheryl speaking."
"Hi Cheryl. I'm not sure if you remember me. This is Dia Smith."
"Dia Smith. Oh, I think you had me in your files as Dia O'Brien."
"DIA! How funny. We were JUST talking about you a week or so ago and the video you made for us of children at birth. How are you?"
"Well, actually, I'm in labor." 

     It took Cheryl (lay midwife) and Leslie about 15 questions and 15 minutes to say yes, citing the amount of home births I had since last seeing them, the fact that I was a previous client, and most importantly, Julie's willingness to allow me to use her home. If she was on board, so were they. Now I needed to ditch the kids and hitch a ride 25 miles north to Hollywood in labor. 

The very next phone call I made was to Mark. 

"You need to get on a plane to Los Angeles."
"What? I haven't even gone to work yet."
"Mark, this is happening."
"Ok- tell me how long we have. In terms of days."
"DAYS? Are you crazy!! Get your ass on a plane NOW!"

The next call was to Darren.

"Hey. Remember how you said that if I needed anything I could call?"
"I need you."
"I need you to go sit on the tarmac at LAX and wait for my husband. He may not make his son's birth."

     I spent the next few hours getting things in order. My parents were driving in to pick up Declan, Shaylon and Camber. Winnie and Taren would be going to Julie's with me to be at the birth. My girlfriend, Sam, was driving in from Los Angeles to pick me up and get me out to Valley Village. And I was progressing. Fast. 

     Mark had booked a 3:30pm flight. I don't think he quite understood because he said he needed to go into the office to talk to his team. Thankfully, when he got there and told them he would be cutting out early due to his wife being in labor, one of the designers said "What the hell are you doing here?" This seemed to knock some sense into him. He booked a 12:30pm flight. He was due to arrive at 1:45. 

     By 11am my parents had arrived, the kids were packed into their car, and Sam was on hand loading my bags and girls into hers. Getting down the stairs was difficult. I said goodbye to Jeff and thanked him for his hospitality. We laughed. Only me The drive was thankfully uneventful save for a few really hard contractions that sent me spinning. Los Angeles was being kind and saving its traffic jams for some other pour soul that day. 

     We arrived at Julie's at 12:30. After 12 years, she looked exactly as I remembered her. We embraced and laughed a little, then she took me into the bedroom she had now set up for giving birth. It was incredible. I literally had everything I needed from supplies and diapers to blankets and outfits for avion. The only thing I had with me for this moment was a hat I purchased in Barrington with a little airplane on it which I had been carrying with me since I left. But Julie had the rest. The room I was to give birth in was special. It had seen birth some 20 odd years prior when Julie herself brought her daughter, Jennifer, into the world. Everything was perfect. And so now, we waited.

     Cheryl arrived at 1pm and checked me. 4cm. For those of you who don't know, you need to get to 10. Usually 4 means you have a long wait, but I could tell. Things were moving. The contractions were monsters. It wasn't going to be long.



     I couldn't have been more right. By 1:30 when Mark checked in from the airport, I was 8cm. He wasn't going to make it. It was at this moment that I laid down on my left side and didn't move. I wasn't going to have this baby without Mark. Period. So I stopped "working". I became very still and kept my body as relaxed as possible, thinking to myself that Mark would make it; willing Avion to slow down.

     What I didn't know was that while I was busy holding that baby in, Darren and Mark were busy getting lost. Even with a GPS, these two managed to not find the house. It seems that Julie's address exists in 2 separate parts of Los Angeles. One being the Wilshire district and the other being Valley Village. They chose to follow Darren's GPS which directed them to Wilshire rather than Mark's which would have taken them to Valley Village, and Time was ticking by.

     My efforts were working. After dilating 4 cm in one hour, I had managed to slow it down to only 1 cm between 2:15 and 3:15. I was now at 9. Everything was challenging. The fast and furious nature of the contractions were wearing me out. I wanted to get up, to walk, to let my body do what it knows how to do and get this baby out! Only 1 thing was missing. Mark.

     He landed at 1:32 and it was now 3:15. What the hell? Every few minutes I would hear someone update me. "He's almost here." "They're 3 miles away." And yet, nothing. Leslie was allowing me to lie there in pain as long as I wanted, but it was beginning to get the best of me. Finally, I had had enough. It was time to get this baby out.

     Mark walked in the door at 3:40, just as my resolve was made to start pushing. Julie and a few other people had waved them in like a 747 coming in for a landing from a few blocks away. It was a sigh of relief to see him.

"You beat the baby!"

     10 Minutes later...

Avion Blue 3:52pm 5lbs 13oz


So glad he made it!

The man who got him there

The woman who got ME there

The women who got Blue there

And of course, the woman who so generously gave me the opportunity to have a home birth, who took us in for 3 days, cooking and cleaning and never once asking for anything in return.. 

     It just so happens that Avion arrived in her home during what would have otherwise been a very difficult time for Julie. 11 years ago her son was taken from her brutally and she has missed him terribly since. Avion would arrive on Terry's birthday making Julie's home a happier place than it may have otherwise been. The universe rocks!

     And there lies the story of 5 beautiful people who rallied to our sides the afternoon of May 26, making Avion's birth a reunion, a gathering, an a true homecoming. In a way I never imagined, my life had come full circle. I left Los Angeles months after giving birth to Winnie and came home to have Avion. Chicago and the 2 years of darkness were behind me. Almost.

     As it so happens, the 2 years of living apart would make it more challenging to put "us" back together than I could have imagined...




Thursday, November 4, 2010

Falling in love with life part 3

The In between Days

I'm on the verge of falling in love with life... again...

     And right now "on the verge" feels very appropriate. Today started off so well. I felt rested and got a lot of my housework done before 11am. I had just finished cleaning up after lunch and was about to sit down to continue this part of my blog when the doorbell rang. A man I do not know stood there with two huge stacks of paper. "Mark or Dia Smith?" He asked. I knew it instantly. I was being served my foreclosure papers. 

     The weight of this moment is enormous. It is sad, and helpless. It's really going to be gone. A waterfall of tears just ran down my face and I can hardly see as I type right now. My home. Gone. The birth place of Shaylon and Camber. Gone. Our life's work. Gone. I have few words at the moment. Just sadness. I know we did the right thing. I know a home is where these people are, but any words of comfort you may have for me are lost. This is real, and part of me is ok with just being in this sadness and really grieving what is happening to us. 

     So right now, as was oringinally planned but has now become a very welcome distraction, I am going to continue with this post and tell you all about the in between days. I suppose I am in the right mood for this, the very last of my darkness before the world finally turned, giving way to a sunshine I had almost forgotten existed.

     May 20th was a clusterfuck. We were to leave our house at 5pm and fly out of O'hare somewhere around 7:30 if memory serves. I left Ashley behind in what I can only describe as a mix of joy and sadness. Joy that she would be starting her new adventure which would soon land her across the world, and sadness that I had no real idea as to when I might see her or my grandson again. 6 humans, one human on board, 2 dogs, 3 car seats, 1 pack and play, one Nintendo Wii system, and a thousand bags took up all of 2 minivan cabs we ordered. Traffic was terrible. I should have left earlier. But the real ordeal came at O'hare when we tried to check the dogs in. I have no clue what my $500 paid for, but no one seemed to know what to do with these animals. It took forever just to get someone at the counter. When it came time to pay, Bank of America decided someone had stolen my card and was on the run, thus disallowing the charge to go through. Another 30 minutes on the phone with them to get it approved and now, the lovely people at United Airlines refuse to process our dogs stating that it is too late to get them on the flight. 2 choices arise. Leave Taylor with the dogs to get on a flight the following morning or go back to Barrinton with everyone and try again tomorrow. I should have chosen the latter. 

     Now you have to run this part of the story in fast motion in your mind in order to understand how chaotic it was. 15 minutes til take off. Our flight is in concourse 'C' which is a half mile away. 

Aaaaaand GO! 

     Run through security, shoes flying everywhere. Unstrap Camber, take Camber out, fold his stroller, run it through the machine, unfold, re-insert child. Turn on my computer, turn it off. Shoes back on (almost) all of the kids and running through the terminal. Down an escalator. Count the kids. 1, 2, 3, 4... 4??? I left Taylor behind with the dogs, Ashley has moved with Nick.. I know I have 7 kids. Shit!!! Shaylon is crying at the top of the escalator because he is too scared to come down. Now people are staring with my very favorite stare. "Oh my God. Stop breeding. These poor kids. Look at that asshole Mom." Some stranger brings Shay down. I don't care. A quick thank you and we're off again. Running. Remember, I am 9 months pregnant. 3 of the 5 kids are now crying. The car seat meant for Camber to sit in during the flight weighs about 15lbs. It's starting to suck as it bangs hard against my shins. Up a flight of stairs because I can't risk Shay getting stuck again and around a corner. Almost there. Car seat slips, I trip, dumping the stroller with Cam in it. Luckily he is ok. I am going to have a bruise. Brush it off. Running again. Round the final corner to find....... no plane. No passengers. No moving on May 20th. Plop my tired, pregnant, sweaty self on the floor and begin to sob. People are really staring now and I think I snapped at someone at that moment. I waited 2 years to get on that fucking plane. I was going to feel sorry for myself and have a little cry right then and there. Ok. Breathe.Composure comes and we make our way back; slowly this time. I find Taylor who has already booked us on the 6:30am flight and we go through the process of finding a cab home. I now only have 1 of my 3 car seats as the other two actually made the flight along with Camber's bed which meant I had nowhere to sleep him. I decide to only pay for 1 minivan ($150) which really doesn't have enough room for us, but since I lack car seats, I double up a couple kids in the back and proceed to head back to Barrington in a completely unsafe and illegal fashion. 11pm. It takes an hour to get Camber to bed without his pack n play. Unable to find my phone from earlier that day, which is my only source for an alarm, I would end up pulling an all nighter watching repeats of Glee on Hulu in order to ensure we made our 4am cab. 

     4am. no sleep. Pack up another cab (this is our 3rd in 12 hours) Wake up sleeping kids who are now screaming and load them up. It's cold, it's black, and it's raining. I've never craved straight whiskey before in my life. Dogs, check. Kids 1-2-3-4-5-6, check. 

Aaaaaand GO!

     A second round of issues with checking the dogs in, and we barely make the 6:30 am flight. After so diligently choosing our seats for the flight the night before, our family had become subject to whatever was available that morning. Camber and I were together. The woman next to me refused to give up her aisle seat so that Taren could sit with us, so she got stuck in the middle of two huge men in the seat in front of me and was now crying her eyes out. The two boys were directly behind me, and the man next to them refused to give up his window for Taren as well. (What is with people?) Turned out to be a wrong move. I wouldn't sit next to Declan and Shaylon on a plane if it weren't for the fact that some law somewhere says I have to. The man would later find an empty seat somewhere else on the flight. Winnie and Taylor are nowhere near us, but instead, ended up in single seats somewhere nearer the front of the aircraft. They are big kids. I didn't sweat it.

     We finally made it to Los Angeles somewhere around 10 am where my parents met us and took us 65 miles away to their beautiful home in Lake Elsinore. Since I had last seen my Mom 2.5 years prior, she had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. I worried about how she would look, but it turns out she was doing better than I thought. The plan was to stay with them until the movers packed our house, loaded the van and hauled our stuff 2,127 miles from Barrington to Alameda; somewhere in the vicinity of 2 weeks. Mark would be traveling to Chicago for the weekend to oversee the move. Our reunion would have to wait. 

     And so there we were. A very pregnant me, Taylor (who is extremely rebelious and hates me for making him move) Winnie (who is homesick and cries a lot) Taren (who is missing her friends) Declan, Shaylon and Camber (who really don't care. They just want to chase the lizards outside my parents house) all packed into my mother and father's tiny 2 bedroom home. We were literally homeless. And just in case things weren't interesting enough, we were about to get an early arrival...