Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday my sweet, smart, handsome son.  Exactly nine years ago I gave birth to you and the experience gave new definition to the word miracle.

The day your child is born is the day that will change your life forever. And no matter how many children you have, any mother will tell you, each one is a gift from God.  You feel the earth move under your feet as you gaze upon their smushed up face, hear their first cry, marvel at the tiny little fingers in the palm of your hand and feel them nuzzle and inch their way on your body looking for food and warmth.

I gave birth for the first time eleven years ago to my beautiful daughter and if that wasn’t life changing enough, two years and ten days later – on January 29, 2003 – I did it again.

But the second time around pregnancy/birth was very different.  One would think having been through pregnancy and labor once, I’d be more prepared and calmer.  But my nerves were at a fevered pitch because my life, and that of my unborn son, were hanging in the balance.  Five months in, I was branded a high-risk pregnancy.  No one was sure I’d actually survive – and in fact, I almost didn’t.

Battling my fear of death, I also felt deprived because my body wasn’t doing what it was supposed to and angry, for being in this situation in the first place.  Instead of researching natural birth plans, I spent time looking up medical terms to understand what placenta previa really meant.  The fact was my placenta had grown in the worst possible place and wasn’t budging.  On top of that there was scar tissue from the first C-section that had grown into the uterine lining along with the placenta.  This condition was called called placenta acretta.  I was not only facing a massive blood transfusion but a hysterectomy and quite possibly, death.

I was told to bank blood, write a living will and stay off my feet, as well as my back.  Nothing was allowed to disturb my uterus which did not endear me to my future ex-husband.

Honestly, the birth of my baby boy was easier with the man I would come to call psycho-ex3 not around, because God knows his volatile temper and chronic depression were more frightening and tougher to handle than making my way alone.

I needed support but my family was on the other side of the country and I only had a small cadre of people with whom I could share the burden of my condition.  I was a full-time Cantor, a leader in my synagogue so I knew lots of people but couldn’t talk to most of them. I suffered in silence the complete paradox of my situation.  After all, how could I be a spiritual leader when my own life — in this case my health, my body and yes, my marriage, were in crisis?

Also, and this is for a different story, it should come as no surprise that most organized houses of worship — churches, synagogues, etc., — are extremely political and it was impossible for me to communicate this kind of private news with congregants or even my fellow clergy members as it would require me to uncomfortably blend my professional and personal lives.  And that has never gone well before or after . . .

No, it was best that I manage alone, relying on a few close friends, a lot of private prayer and meditation and an almost endless replay of the title-track-turned-mantra of my favorite cabaret CD: Grateful, by pianist/composer, John Bucchino.

My pregnancy was also challenging because I had a toddler and staying off my feet was near impossible, so I did everything I could to support my body, my spirit and my brain from sinking into an abyss of fear, loneliness and despair.  The “what-ifs” were terrifying so I decided to not go there.

I committed then and there that nothing would take me off this earth at this time.  It didn’t matter what the doctors said.  It mattered what I believed.  It mattered how strong I felt my son’s heartbeat within my body. It mattered how adoringly my daughter looked up at me.  It mattered that I be here – be strong – for both of them and for myself.

And that’s exactly what I did.

At 2:30 pm on January 29, 2003, the head surgeon glowed as he showed me the amnio results.   The vial with the vernix in it was cloudy, which meant my baby’s lungs were mature enough.

“Yup, he’s ready, let’s go.” It was a month before he was due, but the growing risk of false or real contractions, anything that could prompt a bleed, wasn’t a gamble my doctor, midwives and doula were willing to take.

It didn’t go well.  Once in the O.R. they couldn’t stop my bleeding and I almost hemorrhaged out.  Then there was the added shock of discovering that my uterine wall was paper thin.  Gravity alone should have ruptured me, but it didn’t.  I defied medical science.  At 3:25 pm he was pulled out through a complicated procedure that required a double incision and despite the heavy anesthesia to my lower body, I felt a fair amount of highly uncomfortable sensations.  It’s going to be Ok.  It’s going to be Ok.  I kept telling myself since all of my doctors were too busy trying to save my life to offer many words of comfort to me, the fully conscious and terrified patient.  Finally, believing they had stopped the bleeding, I was sewn back up and wheeled back to my room.  Through my hazy and exhausted brain, I could somewhat register the whispers around me “how did she walk around with her uterus in that condition?”  “It’s a total miracle.”

I drifted off to sleep with the false illusion that the worst was over. Two hours later, as the attending making rounds checked my fundus, I tried to raise my head up and make small talk.  Unbeknownst to both of us, I had been bleeding internally and the pool of blood and God knows what else that accompanied it, exploded out of my body with a ferocity that stunned the unfortunate nurse whose scrubs were now covered with more color than a basic floral print.

My head fell back against my pillow as my blood pressure crashed.  I vaguely remember the distant call over the loudspeaker – code blue – STAT – fading lights – all white… then nothing.   I could hear what was happening around me but wasn’t connected to any of it in a way that would make a difference.  And yet I felt strangely calm.

No-one could hear me and I wasn’t sure where I was, but I knew it wasn’t in my body, which by this point lay pale and unmoving on the bed in the midst of the fast moving doctors and nurses, beeping machines and glaring lights.

I slipped away – twice that day – but I came back.  By the grace of God, I survived though I didn’t even know what had happened to my son for many hours after that.  Battling his own challenge, he had been born with a burst air sac in his lungs and had been whisked off to NICU where he would remain for the first few days of his life.

He and I didn’t get to meet each other in person for hours, because of all the drama.

And yet, at the end of that very long and very frightening day we were there, together, connected through the miracle of his arrival.

Later, when I was stable, I held my infant in my arms and despite being told that I should never try again to have children, I knew I had been blessed with something more precious than rubies;  I was blessed with two children, and was given the chance of a lifetime to experience a miracle, first-hand.

Since then I’ve had a few more miracles in my life, but none like the one I experienced that day, when I almost died giving birth.

So, with all my heart and soul every year I wish my son a happy birthday.

It wasn’t just he who was born that day.  It was me who was reborn.   My son was more than a gift, he was the catalyst for the understanding, gratitude and passion that would awaken in me and change my life, forever.

20 Responses to Happy Birthday
  1. Amanda Seligman
    January 30, 2012 | 6:31 am

    What a story. I am so glad you lived, old friend.

    My own birth story is not nearly so dramatic, but it did teach me that it is far too easy to take pregnancy and giving birth for granted in the 21st century. We really do take our lives into our hands with our pregnancies.

    • DivaMama
      January 30, 2012 | 11:40 am

      Thank you, Amanda. It’s true – as women in modern society we have gotten far away from feeling attached to the fundamental and deeply miraculous nature of birth.

  2. Melissa Foster
    January 30, 2012 | 12:15 pm

    Wow, Shira, there are those moments of our lives that are almost too powerful to comprehend. I’ll bet you revisit those moments every day. Hugs to you, sweetie, and I’m so blessed to be your friend.

    • Diva-Mama
      January 30, 2012 | 12:30 pm

      Thank you, Melissa. I do, and feel blessed every day. I appreciate the support from incredibly powerful and creative women like you, who teach and remind me that in sharing our stories, we not only find our truth, we make the world a better place for it.

  3. Jenn Deutsch
    January 30, 2012 | 3:28 pm

    Happy Birthday to your amazing son. Your story reminds me never to take life for granted. I am glad you are here and who you are because you are amazing.

    • Diva-Mama
      January 30, 2012 | 6:37 pm

      As always Jenn, I appreciate your kind comments and am grateful that what I write resonates so strongly for you.

  4. […] Click here to read more… […]

    • Diva-Mama
      January 31, 2012 | 10:39 pm

      Thank you MamaBlogger365 for posting this piece. I hope it inspires women to share their birth stories!

  5. Jan
    February 1, 2012 | 7:07 am

    Shira, to think I was one of those unknowing congregants! I knew you were having a difficult pregnancy, but that was about it. I remember you being on bed rest, and coming back briefly to share your sweet and lovely voice. I loved that voice, I hope you are still able to share it with others. So, glad you had supportive friends during such a frightening time. You have managed to rise up, and continue your journey. You go girl! ~ Jan

    • Diva-Mama
      February 1, 2012 | 8:33 am

      Thank you Jan. The receptivity of kind hearted people like you allowed me to share my voice so fully and honestly. Thankfully, I am still doing that, and sharing my story is one way I share my voice. I appreciate your following me as we continue the journey.

      Blessings,
      Shira

  6. Eve Fogler
    February 1, 2012 | 7:08 am

    Through tears I read your story of heroism, miracles and blessings. I am so grateful you are here and a part of what makes the world beautiful. There really aren’t words to fully express…just Thank You for sharing your story with us. xoxo

    • Diva-Mama
      February 1, 2012 | 8:30 am

      Thank you my sister Eve! How blessed am I to know women like you. Each of us gives new, inspirational meaning to the word survivor!

  7. Jennifer Dembo
    February 1, 2012 | 7:32 am

    Absolutely stunning. Eternally grateful that you and your son are alive and well. Your perseverance and strength are above and beyond!

    • Diva-Mama
      February 1, 2012 | 8:29 am

      Jen, you are lovely and amazing and not just because you have a deep understanding and appreciation of my story from a professional perspective, but because you offer support in a soul sister kind of way.

      However, since you ARE a doula I just want to say on behalf of all the women who go through the kinds of birth experiences that I did, thank you. I would have chosen you as my birth support coach in a heartbeat and encourage other women to visit your website: http://www.hudsondoulapartners.com

  8. Pamela
    February 1, 2012 | 8:12 am

    Shira, inspirational and beautifully written… thanks so much for deepening the knowing of you. Blessings and love to your whole happy family- Pamela

    • Diva-Mama
      February 1, 2012 | 8:26 am

      Thank you, Pamela. When women speak our truth, the world is a better place for it. My only question is why did I wait nine years to do so? Ha! I wish I had known you my dear astrological goddess back then. But I am eternally grateful I do now.

  9. Deidrea
    February 25, 2012 | 9:08 pm

    WOW…just WOW! You..and your children are *truly* blessed! How amazing it must feel to KNOW that you are here for a reason, and perhaps many reasons! THAT is amazing!!

    • Diva-Mama
      February 28, 2012 | 8:01 am

      Hello Deidrea and thank you. I appreciate how much you enjoyed the post. Yes it is amazing to know that your purpose and passion can line up in life. You know all about that too Ms. Hot Mama!

  10. Near Death = New Life | divamama
    October 9, 2012 | 7:30 am

    […] second pregnancy we were all but done and I was beyond stressed.  Add to this lovely picture that my pregnancy was super high-risk, and I was in […]

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