52 Weeks – Week 8 – The Community

Digital art Rat by Anna Loscotoff, Geometric Rat in Blue and Orange

8. A wild animal loose in the house

Include: pregnant, community, logo, statistics, democracy, honesty, criminal, ankle, orange, comment

Read my writing partner Bridgette’s story here.

The Community

A rat is neither good nor evil. It does what a rat has to do.

Jo Nesbo

“Please, come quickly,” the man whispered.  “There’s something wrong.”

“I’m going to need you to give me more information, so I know who to send. What specifically is happening?”

“When I woke up this morning, she wasn’t in bed.  I thought she was probably out on the porch, drinking her tea.  But she wasn’t there either.  I called through the house, but there was no answer.”

“Is she just gone?” asked the voice on the phone.

“No, I found her… but it’s not her.”

“What do you mean it’s not her?  Where was she?”

The man’s voice became softer, “I found her, hidden in the corner of the closet.”

There was silence for a moment on the other end. The man waited.

Finally, the voice returned.  

“I’m sending out the midwives.  Before they arrive, I need you to pull all the curtains so that the house is dark.  No TV, no music, no light, until they arrive and they will advise.  I can stay on the phone with you until they arrive, if you want.”

“No, she hasn’t moved from the spot.  I just don’t,… I don’t know what’s happening.”

“Perhaps, while you wait, you could talk to her?” asked the voice.

“I tried, but she growled at me.”

Again the voice was silent.  Finally it said, “The midwives will be there soon.”

The man went to the closet door and cracked it open.  It was a large closet, a walk in, with clothes hanging on three of the four wall.  Above the clothes were shelves stacked with boxes, all labeled for different seasons and sizes.  The lights were out and the man could just make out her shape, crouched in the corner.  Her breathing was heavy and he could see the roundness of her pregnant belly.

“Honey?” he asked quietly.

Her breathing became a bit more labored, but she did not respond.

He started to take a step in, when a low growl rumbled from her.

He froze and then stepped back to the door.

“The midwives are coming, they’ll be here soon.”

Her breathing paused and a low growl started again, deep from inside the woman.

“nnnnNNNOOOO, not here.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know what else to do,” he whispered.

She moved forward a bit so that the ambient light from the open door caught her features.  Her hair was tangled and warlike about her face.  Her face was tight and when she looked up at him, he caught a feral gleam in her eyes.

“On.” Breath. “My.” Breath. “Own.” Breath, … Breath. “Out.”

The man stepped quietly out.

The man sat on the quiet blue sofa.  The curtains had been drawn and only a low lamp glowed in the corner.  Every once in awhile he heard a groan coming from the back part of the house.  It frightened him, the rawness of it.  He wanted to be with her, but she scared him more than the sounds did.  The way she had growled at him.  It made him feel cold and fragile. 

He heard the sounds of wheels in front of the house and peeked out.  A white van with the logo on the side, three orange circles stacked inside each other; the child, the mother, and the Community.  The midwives, three of them, stepped from the van in their crisp white uniforms.  He could see the three orange circles on their shoulders.

He opened the door before they could knock, ushering them into the quiet of their small home.

“Where is she?” asked the oldest, a woman deeply lined with white hair that braided and twisted about her head. 

He led her to the closet, but he refused to go in.

“She’s there, back in the farthest corner.”

The old woman slowly opened the door and saw the woman’s form, now on all fours, stretching her back up and around in circles.

“Aeron, I’m here to help,” said the old woman.

The woman on her hands and knees ignored her until the oldest took a single step into the closet.

The pregnant woman screamed in indignation, guttural and wild. 

The midwife stumbled back against the closet door and then out.  The man stood just beyond the door, his face pale and worried. 

“Let’s go to the other room,” the old woman whispered.  Her hands trembled. 

The two younger midwives were in the kitchen.  The youngest looked barely out of her teen years with her clear freckled skin and red braids arranged in a crown about her head.  The other was older, her skin and hair dark, also braided in the style of the midwives.  

They had water boiling on the stove and pulled glass bottles filled with teas and honey and lined them up on the counter. There were tubes and vials, lubricants and syringes; oxygen sat in the corner.

“What’s all this for?” asked the man.

“Just precaution,” said the youngest. 

“But she’s supposed to have a C-section.  Tomorrow.  You don’t think…”

“That she’s in labor?” asked the dark haired woman.  “Possibly, although statistics would say no.  Women haven’t gone into labor on their own for hundreds of years.”

“In all my years, I have seen only three,” said the oldest.  “And only one of the mothers lived.”

“And the children?” asked the man.

“The children all survived,” said the old woman.  “Raised in the Community, as we all were.”

Suddenly the red haired girl gave out a squawk, dropping a glass bottle full of amber liquid.  It shattered on the tile floor.

“Vesta!  You must be more careful!” admonished the old one.  But the girl stood frozen, looking into the corner of the kitchen.

“What is it then?” asked the dark haired woman.

“I thought… something moved… it looked like a…”

At that moment, a cry of agony rose through the house, filling every corner with its anguished sobs.

The old woman turned and ran to the back of the house, to the closet.  The man was close behind.  When they arrived at the closet, tearing the door open, they were met by the woman, squat in the center of the closet, bearing down.

In front of her, a white rat, staring at the door. It was the size of a small cat, it’s teeth bared at the intruders. 

“Shoo! Get out of here beast” cried the old woman, waving her hands.

The rat, however, had no intention of moving.  It stood its ground.  Behind the rat was the woman, wailing in the agony of transition, her powerful legs keeping her in the squat position, her hands reaching between her legs.

“You have to help her!” cried the man, and tried to step past the old woman.  He immediately stepped back as another great rat emerged from the darkness; it’s eye’s glimmering as it paced in front of the woman.

“I don’t understand,” said a shaking voice behind them.  The dark haired woman watched over their shoulders as yet another white rat came around from behind the birthing woman. In the dark of the clothes of the closet, tiny eyes began to open and reflect back.  

More rats moved into the closet, circling the woman like impenetrable walls of a castle.  

The woman howled again as she bore down, the head of the infant moving into her hands.

“You are almost there,” whispered the old woman.

With a final cry, the baby slipped into its mother’s hands and she raised it up to her chest, pressing it against her naked breast, the umbilical cord still tying them together. Cries of exhaustion echoed through the room, turned to tears as the mother looked upon her child.  

“No one will take you from me,” she said to her infant as the midwives stood at the door in silence.  She pushed back into the corner of the closet, into a nest of clothes she had made.

The rats continued to pace between her and the others. She held the baby in her arms.  Her child.  She rocked it back and forth, all the while keeping the midwives in her stare. The rats twisted around her ankles, and she reached out to pet them with delicacy and love.

“We’ll need to take you to the hospital, to be sure you and the child are all right,” said the old woman.

“When did women first lie to each other,” the woman growled low in her chest.  “When did we we lose our honesty? You will take her from me.  She will be raised by the Community and I will never know my daughter.”

“This is not a democracy, child,” said the dark haired woman.  “You have birthed in the old ways and you need to be checked.”

“You will not take me like a criminal and the child is mine.”

“Stop this nonsense!” came a high voice from behind them all, surprising them.  Vesta with her red braids spoke brazenly.  “All children belong to the Community and you are being selfish and cruel!”

At this, the woman, now a mother, once again began to growl. In response, the rats began to growl with her.  They stopped pacing and turned to face the small crowd at the door.  

“Keep you comment to yourself, Vesta,” said the old woman, but it was too late.  The rats dove at them, moving much faster than anyone thought possible. 


The old woman helped the mother and the child to the van with the three orange circles.  She didn’t know why the rats had chosen to spare her, but they had.  The creatures road with them, nesting in a pile of clothes thrown into the back.  The child was secured in a basket and the mother went to sleep.  

“I wish you could tell me where you want to go,” said the old woman.  A rat, this one a bit round, climbed onto her shoulder and curled into her neck.

“Hello my friend,” she said.  “Will you guide me?”

The rat let out a squeak.

She started the engine and began to drive.

“I’ve heard, long ago, when I was a child, about the wild lands far beyond the Community. Do you think they are real?”

Again the rat squeaked and she felt its whiskers tickle her cheek.  

“Well then, we should start driving, before they know we are gone.”

Digital art of a pregnant woman, sitting at the back of a closet.
Her breathing was heavy…, Anna Loscotoff, 2022

Notes

Many years ago, when my daughter was still little, I had a terrible dream. I dreamt that I was in my grandmother’s home and I was pregnant with my daughter. I was all alone and in labor. I went through the full labor, birthing my daughter, and feeling so full of love for her. As I held her in my arms and brought her to my breast, she turned into a rat and ran away. I was terrified. Not that she became a rat, but because I had lost her and I had no idea on how to find her again. Beyond that, I was terrified that someone would set out rat poison or traps and my sweet baby would be killed; confused with the other rodents in the walls.

Upon waking, I felt horribly that my brain had turned my child into a rat. I was embarrassed to even say it, it was too terrible. The reality of my dream was less about her being a rodent, and more about my fear of losing this child who was so precious to me; of her leaving in a way that was completely out of my control and that she was now in danger. It was a dream of anxiety and fear and confusion.

But, still, the idea that I had turned her into a rat bothered me. Rats are often considered dirty. They are the plague bringers. However, in many cultures, rats are also creatures of intuition. The are brilliantly smart, wild, and are known to warn sailors of a sinking ship. They can be considered the spirits of our ancestors, wise judgement, and total destruction.

For clarification, I have absolutely nothing against midwives. I believe they are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met; they provide a service that is so vital to women at one of the hardest moment’s in their lives. It is a true calling. One of the greatest honors of my life was attending the home birth of my friend. I did not know that people birthed at home when I had my daughter (you can read her birth story part 1 and part 2 here), but planned to birth our second child at home. Our second baby, a boy, didn’t make it to his birth. The day that I knew his heart had stopped beating was the day my friend’s child was born. Watching her son be born into this world, in the quiet of their home, with the midwives looking on, took a huge step in healing my own loss.

I wanted to use the term “midwife” here, in this story, despite the idea that the women don’t have natural births anymore. What is a midwife to do in this world? I saw her as one who helped a woman in “The Community”, most likely in preparing a woman before induction and after. Probably caring for the newborns before they are taken to be cared for in a communal setting; one who would care for the mother after their children are taken from them.

If you liked this story, I hope you will share it with someone who will appreciate it. If you are curious about my other stories, you can sign up for my newsletter here. I sent out one email a week with links to any new posts. Thank you, dear reading, for sticking with me to the end.

Logo for the Community, Loscotoff 2022
Logo for the Community, Anna Loscotoff, 2022

Links

Rat Symbolism and Meaning

Tender Beginnings – Equipment for Midwives

My daughter’s birth story

My 52 Weeks


What is the 52 week short story challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Next Week’s Prompt

9. A midlife career change

Include: chef, upgrade, monkey, turkey, fashion, team, harden, noon, elevator, baste

Sweet 16

The birth – Part Two.

We waited.

It was the first week of October. I was around 37.5 weeks along in my pregnancy.  I had already been to the hospital, been told I was in labor, and that it wouldn’t be long.  As medication stopped my vomiting, my contractions slowed.  I never dilated past 1 centemeter and was sent home to wait. 

Over the next week, we walked along the Sacramento River.  We ate out.  We rented one of those covered bikes where you sit side by side and ride.  I had so much extra water in my body at this point, my skin would turn bright red and itch unbearably.  One day we went to PF Chang’s downtown and a bee crawled through the hole in my crocks. (Crocks were literally the only thing my giant, swollen feet could fit into.)  It stung me right on the tip of my toe.  (This was my second bee sting during my pregnancy and a part of me wants to think there is some sort of symbolism to it, although I haven’t figured out what. I haven’t been stung in the 16 years since.)  

The second week of October, I was back to my weekly appointments on base.  The doctor who had worked with us through our fertility issues basically said, “Hey, I have nothing going on on Friday.  Why don’t you come in and we’ll induce you!”  Me, knowing absolutely nothing about risk factors, anxious to meet our baby, and tired of being pregnant was like, “Sure, that seems like a great idea!”  He explained they would use a pill, Misoprostol, which would be put against the cervix.  He thought it would help me along.  I would be approximately 39 weeks. 

Gratefully, the universe had other plans.  The doctor called me Thursday, apologizing.  The base was having an air show on Friday (the 14th) and they weren’t doing any non-emergency procedures.  This baby would come when she was ready, and I think had we induced we would have had a very different experience.  While the information is mixed, there is generally the  opinion that induction can increase your chance of C-section. I didn’t want a C-section.  I really wanted to have her as naturally as possible.  (And yet, and yet, I thought this would all happen magically and my body would know exactly what to do.)

The third week of October, around 4 a.m. on October 17th, I woke to contractions.  These weren’t at all like those 2 weeks earlier. Thankfully, no vomiting with each squeeze.  This was steady and consistent.  We lived an hour from base and I kept thinking about the mom who can’t get to the hospital in time.  The mom who is birthing on the side of a road or in their passenger seat as the husband drives.  I was terrified I would be one of those which really didn’t help my anxiety. The hospital told us to wait until four minutes apart, but would that be enough time for the hour drive?  What if there was traffic on the freeway?  (This was Sacramento, there was always traffic on the freeway.)  I left my husband to sleep and went downstairs.  Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” was playing on TV and I used it to pass the time, recording minutes, walking, debating on when to wake up my sleeping husband, watching Madonna be Madonna.

I let him sleep and somewhere around 8:30, with my contractions coming closer, I woke him.  We packed and headed on our hour drive.  We had missed morning traffic and made it to base.  I was ready.  So ready.  My contractions were around 4 minutes apart.  We headed upstairs for them to check my cervix… 2 centimeters.  

What did they mean they wouldn’t keep me at 2 centimeters?  I just drove an hour to get here.  My contractions were 4 minutes apart.  I was NOT driving an hour home just so that I could drive an hour back.  But they wouldn’t let us stay.  They made us leave.

I sat in the car with Fred and started to cry.  Hysterical crying. The pain at this point was intense.  I couldn’t stand during contractions.  I couldn’t talk or walk during contractions.  And with my emotions came the vomiting.  It’s kind of my thing; get stressed, throw up.  Fred started to drive out of the parking lot with me crying.  He fully intended on driving us all the way home.  I told him I wasn’t leaving.  I was sitting in that parking lot until they let me in.  At this point, I was doubling over with each contraction. I was vomiting. Anxiety and fear were my companions.

Fred parked the car and up we went, back to labor and delivery.  In the time I spent crying in the car, I had gone from 2 centimeters to “almost” 4.  Despite their rules on only admitting at 4 centimeters, they let me stay.  Probably something to do with my propensity for throwing up.  

Art by Anna Loscotoff, 2008

They didn’t even ask if I wanted an epidural.  I guess my pain levels screamed “get this woman the anesthesiologist!” They got me checked in, and within minutes, the anesthesiologist was at the door.  They checked my spine, immediately noted the slight twist, and unlike every other spinal tap I’ve had, they easily got the epidural in place.  It was like a wave of peace floated down over my body.  The vomiting stopped.  The pain stopped.  I could speak and breath.  What I couldn’t do was walk.  At this point I was confined to a bed, but my body could finally rest.  

I think I was lucky on my epidural.  I could still feel my legs, nothing was numb.  I could still feel every single contraction, but there wasn’t pain associated with the epidural, just squeezing and pressure.  Checking my cervix, however, was still tortuously painful.  

At 7 centimenters, my labor began to slow.  Apparently this is a thing with getting an epidural too early, it can cause issues with the progression of labor.  And as I know now, one intervention almost always leads to another intervention which then leads to another.  My first intervention was the epidural.  My second intervention was their need to give me Pitocin to get my labor moving again.  But labor with Pitocin is stronger, the contractions are harder and last longer.  The stress on the baby increases as the contractions are medically strengthened.  Suddenly, I’m starting to hear comments about stress on our baby and the possibility of C-section.  They are telling me she needs to come soon, as if I’m somehow not birthing fast enough? As the hours had passed, the sensation changed.  The overwhelming pain in the upper part of the uterus was numbed by the epidural, but the sensation moved lower and lower until the contractions became sharply vaginal, perhaps pain within the cervix itself.  

We had arrived at the hospital that morning around 10 a.m.  At midnight, as the 17th turned to the 18th, they finally wanted me to start pushing.  “Am I at 10 centemeters?” I asked.  “No,” the nurse responded.  “You’re about 9.5, but the doctor wants you to start pushing.”  Wait, don’t you push at 10 centimeters?  Another thing I have come to learn is that the rate of C-sections increase as doctors come to the end of their shifts, and midnight was the end of his. So he wanted me to start pushing, regardless of what my body was ready to do. 

Laying on my back, our baby was also still really high.  She hadn’t dropped the way one would expect.  And so, with every push, you could see my belly lower, and on every break, she would move back up into position. The nurses commented that I didn’t seem to be making much progress and she seemed really high.  This is where laying on my back probably didn’t make too much sense.  Gravity would have been my friend.  A birthing chair, walking, squatting, these all would have helped.  But I lay on my back, pushing with each contraction, my energy fading.  My husband held my left leg, but no one held my right.  I had to hold my right which felt really lopsided and horribly exhausting.  Isn’t it enough to push?  Do I also have to hold my right leg continually up by my ear?

The first photo, October 2005

Some people might say labor feels like it lasts forever.  I started pushing at midnight, my contractions were right on top of each other due to the Pitocin, one on top of another on top of another.  My nurse monitored me the whole time, talking me through every moment.  Fred holding my left leg, me holding my right.  Finally, after 2 hours and 10 minutes of pushing, she was born.  (The male doctor literally walked in for the last 2 minutes and caught her, had Fred cut the cord, and the doctor walked out.)  I don’t know if you remember me saying that I first suspected I was pregnant on my birthday?  February 10th, 2-10, 2:10, the time of my daughter’s birth.  She was always going to be born at this time.  It didn’t matter if that doctor started me pushing at 2am, 2:10 is when she had decided.  While I certainly never questioned that she was my baby, that somehow cemented the idea that she was my daughter, the one we had been waiting for.   She was born on a full moon, and if you go back to the day I was born, so was I.  

First time holding my baby, trying to nurse. October, 2005.

Through all the pushing, she had passed meconium (the first bowl movement) and so they rushed her to another table to vacuum her mouth and nose.  Meconium, if inhaled, can lead to lung problems and even death in newborns.  She was strong, healthy, and had a beautiful wail of rebellion being pushed into this world.  7 lbs, 5 oz.  19 inches long.  A birthmark by her left eye.  Thick, black hair.  They cleaned her up and gave her to me, and almost immediately she tried to nurse.  So that one thing I actually researched and planned, it happened naturally. 

Sleeping at the military hospital, October 2005.

A few notes on our experience… Despite being 7 lbs, 5oz, the military hospital seemed to think she was heavier than she should be and were concerned about diabetes, pricking her foot to check her sugar.  I think maybe this was just their go-to to draw blood.  In the United States, the average birth weight is exactly 7.5 with normal being in-between 5.5 and 10 lbs and boys often being a bit bigger.  Because of the meconium and their concern on her weight, we had to stay an extra night, which was fine, she stayed with us in the room.  Within 24 hours, my milk was already changing from colostrum to mature milk.  Normal is usually 2-5 days.  Fred, after 2 weeks of waiting, had to go in to work on the 18th, which is why we have photos of him asleep in his flight suit.  As for me, despite the labor and hours of pushing, I wasn’t tired.  I must have been riding an adrenaline high for a few days.  All I could do was look at our beautiful daughter, mesmerized by this human I had been waiting to meet.

It’s 16 years later.  I had a daughter.  The one I envisioned and the only child I would ever bring to term.  She’s amazing.  And terrifying.  And smart, and honest, and complicated, and loving, and funny, and sarcastic.  I love seeing her everyday and know as she prepares for her life, the one where I don’t get to see her everyday, that I’m going to miss her desperately.  At the same time, I’m so excited for the life she gets to have, whatever direction it takes her.  One of the things that I was told when she was little, something I still hold on to is, “It’s all a phase.  The bad stuff, the good stuff.  It’s all a phase.  Know that the bad stuff won’t last forever, but the good stuff won’t either.  Appreciate it all.”

Happy Sweet 16. October 2021.

I have a passion for birth stories. I love hearing the experience that other women have gone through.  I think it’s important that we support each other through this process, whether it is natural birth, C-section, home birth, hospital birth, birth centers, the grief of miscarriages, the experience of abortion, menopause, hysterectomies, first periods, and every other aspect of our reproductive rights and experiences. I wish to add the stories of other women to honor the collective experience and help us to learn from and honor each other.  

Are you interested in telling your birth story?  Are you interested in sharing the experiences you have around reproduction, from your first period to menopause and everything in-between?  Please contact me at anna@loscotoff.com and title “Birth Stories” in the subject line.  I will happily share your biography through the blog and whatever you happen to be working on.

Links

Part One of my Birth Story

More about me

The Business of Being Born

La Leche League International – Breastfeeding Support

10 Ways First-Time Moms Can Avoid a C-Section Delivery

Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Birth Stories

Drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2008

Sweet 16 – part one

I always saw myself having a daughter.  When I was in high school, I could see her in my imagination standing on a hill. Her back was turned to me and I could see her long dark hair.  When the time finally came in my life that I was ready to be a mom, it wasn’t as easy as it was for so many others.  There was a lot of testing, a lot of procedures, but nothing magically allowed an answer as to why conception was so difficult.  I would cry when I saw other women with their little girls and my husband would tell me, “you’ll have your little girl someday.” Eventually we decided to try a round of Clomid, a medication that tells your body to ovulate.  In today’s medical world, there are oral prescriptions.  For me, it was shots into my belly.  We only did the one month.  It felt too artificial for me, forced and scheduled.  Something about the process allowed me to take a step back, to be okay with the fact that this little girl was not ready to come into our lives. 

That month after Clomid (which wasn’t successful), I was acting in a children’s theater production near Sacramento.  I’m sure you can imagine the type; get dressed in a very silly animal costume, meet waves of buses as they drop off hundreds of children which fill the auditorium.  Ironically, I played the mama bird, sitting on my giant egg, singing to her, waiting for my baby to hatch. There were cages and kidnappings and silly dance numbers. I’m not sure I even saw the connection between the role I was playing and my own life.  If I did, I wasn’t affected by it.  The play had become a distraction.  

Me as “Mama Bird” in a Sacramento Children’s Theater. January, 2005.

On our final day of acting during the first week of February, the woman playing my baby bird brought in a chicken salad.  The smell of it was offensive, the look of it made me want to gag, everything about the chicken had my system on high alert.  My cycle wasn’t late, and I didn’t see it as some sort of clue that our lives were about to change.  On my birthday, February 10th,  my husband took me for a motorcycle ride.  I felt myself cramping, different cramping than I was used to, and that was my first thought that maybe, possibly, could it be?  The repulsion of chicken hadn’t gone away, was it a possible sign?  I didn’t want to get my hopes up and guessed it might only be my cycle which was due right around that time.  So I waited a few more days.  Finally on the morning of Valentine’s Day I decided to take the test.  For the first time ever, it was positive.  I gave my husband a Valentine’s Day Card which announced the news that I was finally, after so many tears, pregnant.  

Our baby’s right foot. 2005.

Anyone wanting a pregnancy knows the anxiety and fear that accompany the process.  Do you tell people when the risk of miscarriage is so high?  Do you choose to keep it a secret, knowing you’ll be alone through the process if something goes wrong?  I chose to tell. I knew that if something happened to this pregnancy, I would need the support of my family and friends to help me move through the grief. 

Nothing bad happened.  I told everyone she would be a she. I had seen her standing on that hill for so long, I just couldn’t imagine a boy.  My husband liked to tease me though, telling me he was pretty certain we were having a boy.  Even after the 22 week ultrasound, in which they said “most likely a girl, but not a perfect view”, he continued to sew doubt.  (He said after she was born that he knew she was going to be a girl, he though I knew he was joking.  I didn’t.)

Before I met my husband, I had an amazing 140 lb Rottweiler.  That dog was my everything.  Sweet and loving, basically my big baby.  People would cross the street away from us when they saw me walking him.  I had photo processing people ask if he was a bear because he looked so massive in pictures of him at a distance.  He was just so much love, even if he came is a scary looking package.  But I worried about a newborn baby and a 140 lb dog.  How would his life change and would we need to worry about our babies safety?  Would there be gates and separation? At about 4 months into my pregnancy, we noticed his right knee was swollen.  It was a rapidly growing cancer.  He needed his leg amputated along with chemotherapy.  His left leg and hip, however, were arthritic and he often struggled to move from sitting to standing with both legs.  We knew that amputation wasn’t the right choice for him.  We chose to give him as much love as was possible in his time left.  We promised to give him a humane death when the pain became too much.  But what is too much in a dog?  They hide their pain so well.  He walked me through much of my pregnancy, quite literally along the Sacramento River, past Old Town and under the I street bridge.

My constant companion. 2000.

About 6 weeks before I was due, he woke us at 2 a.m. in terrible pain.  For the first time in his life, he snapped at my husband.  He bit him. Not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough to understand how horrible this was for him. We loaded him into our car for his last ride.  Even now, the grief of that night weighs on me.  I felt like we waited too long despite the fact that we were watching closely for any and every sign.  We think the tumor finally grew to the point that it ruptured his knee while he slept.  I sat on the floor of the emergency vet, crying hysterically, 34 weeks pregnant at 3 a.m.  We said our goodbyes.  I loved him so much and I’m so very grateful for the time I had with him.

Us with our wonderful boy. 2001.

While his death came far too soon, and despite the fact of waiting one day too long, his death allowed me time to grieve.  Had our baby already been born, would I have been able to be as present with him in his final days? Would I have been able to fully grieve, knowing I would need to be present for her?  Had he died earlier, would I have had the anticipation of our child coming to allow me some sense of peace in his passing?  He chose a time that allowed space in grief while allowing time to recover and prepare.  

The weeks passed. I grieved.  My excitement and joy returned.  But, in all honesty, I knew nothing about birth.  My husband was military and so we did the one required military birthing class.  They made us hold a bag of ice to practice breathing through the discomfort.  My husband lasted far longer than I did.  I have struggled with pain my whole life and even the ice was unbearable.  I had wanted to birth at a birth center in Davis, CA, but our insurance didn’t cover it and it was more than we felt we could afford at the time.  So we planned for the Air Force Base.  

My mom had been a La Leche League advisor growing up and I would go with her when she would help other women.  I went to the meetings. I remember trips to other women’s houses to help them latch while she was nursing my sister.  I remember bits of a gathering at the State Capital.  She believed in extended nursing and I planned to do the same.  I read books, learned about the proper latch.  When it came to breastfeeding, I was prepared.  But birth, birth itself?  Nothing other than holding a bag of ice.  This was still 3 years before “The Business of Being Born” came out. How I wish that movie had been available to pregnant me.  I knew nothing about home births, did people actually still do those?  What I knew of a birth center is that is was basically out of our price range.  I had had many spinal taps a few years earlier, so I knew I could handle an epidural if I needed it.  I visited labor and delivery and their anethestiologist to be sure that my spine was safe for an epidural.  (For the first time I even discovered that my spine has a slight twist, which explained why my earlier taps where so complicated and so excruciating.).  

Four generations of women; my mom Jean, my grandma Helen, my great grandma Lillie, myself at 4 months. 1975.

And we waited.  I was due around October 21st but during the first week of October (around 38 weeks), I began to vomit.  I couldn’t stop, it just kept coming.  We drove the hour to the military hospital and they said I was in labor.  They checked my cervix and it was just barely open.  (By the way, I don’t know how many people experience pain when their cervix is checked, but for me, it was terrible.  It felt like my cervix was being ripped out each and every time.) With every contraction, I threw up.  With every contraction, my intestines spasmed.  They started me on anti-nausea meds and as my vomiting stopped, so did my contractions.

They sent me home, telling me it would be soon.  My husband’s job told him not to come in until this baby was born.  

Again, we waited.  

Waiting, October 2005

Click Here for Part 2, the birth.

I have a passion for birth stories. I love hearing the experience that other women have gone through.  I think it’s important that we support each other through this process, whether it is natural birth, C-section, home birth, hospital birth, birth centers, the grief of miscarriages, the experience of abortion, menopause, hysterectomies, first periods, and every other aspect of our reproductive rights and experiences. I wish to add the stories of other women to honor the collective experience and help us to learn from and honor each other.  

Are you interested in telling your birth story?  Are you interested in sharing the experiences you have around reproduction, from your first period to menopause and everything in-between?  Please contact me at anna@loscotoff.com and title “Birth Stories” in the subject line.  I will happily share your biography through the blog and whatever you happen to be working on.

Resources

The Business of Being Born (IMDB)

More about me