Gaïan was born with an irresistibly cute mucous-y cough. He sounded like a goose. Cough-honk, cough-honk. When it didn’t clear up and the midwives had exhausted their bag of tricks, they decided to call in a paediatrician. Just as a precaution.
Red flag. I have an inherent distrust of doctors. They never seem to look me in the eye. They’re always making me wait long hours in ugly waiting rooms, pushing drugs without explanation or trying to convince me that I’m anaemic (I’m not). So when the midwife wanted a paediatrician to look at our one-hour-young baby, my hackles went up.
The good doctor came in like a hurricane, ordering Gaïan’s immediate admission to the NICU (newborn intensive care unit), an x-ray and a 24-hour course of intravenous antibiotics. All this without so much as asking a single question to myself or either of our midwives. No mention of the fact that Gaïan had enjoyed a remarkably uneventful labour and birth, his heart rate steady and clear from beginning to end. Of course, doctors aren’t interested in that type of thing.
“And the first thing we’re going to do,” she said, “is remove this placenta.”
Ah, yes. The placenta. It was still attached. One of my more brilliant ideas during pregnancy.
There are some flashes of inspiration that refuse to die. For me, lotus birth was one of them. I read a selection of granola baby books while pregnant, and considered myself fortunate to have a partner who jumped right on board with nearly all of my plans, no matter how strange and unorthodox. A lotus birth was perhaps the most challenging.
A more recently evolved tradition in the area of childbirth, lotus birth involves leaving the placenta attached until it falls away naturally, usually anywhere from three to ten days after birth. Lotus birthed babies are said to enjoy stronger immune systems, and rarely lose the customary pound after birth.
Most importantly though, I just didn’t feel like it was for us to decide that this vital organ was no longer useful to our baby. It belonged to Gaïan, after all. It was the vessel through which all of his blood and nutrients had been delivered for roughly the last nine months. It was his first friend and ally. Cutting it off just didn’t sit right with me.
The placenta has energy beyond plain old blood flow. An osteopath can detect cranial rhythmic impulse (CRI) in the placenta up to four days after a baby is born. If an osteopath can detect a transfer of energy that doctors cannot, it stands to reason there they may be other forms of energy being transferred above and beyond CRI.
Mostly though, it just felt like the right thing to do.
We’d researched lotus birth carefully, discussed it with our midwives and read many books and personal accounts. Our midwives had also discussed it at their weekly practice meeting, and all parties had agreed it was a safe and acceptable practice.
The paediatrician not so much.
“This will undoubtedly lead to sepsis,” she said. “I must insist you cut it off or I’ll have to report you to Family and Child Services.”
Confident in our position, we stuck to our guns. We’d done the research; The doctor had not.
I get it. Really, I do. Dr. Sepsis had never heard of lotus birth until she met us. She made a judgement call using the tools her medical education and experience had given her. It’s hard for doctors to imagine that their patients know something they don’t.
Also, she looked it up on Wikipedia. She even printed out the article and attached it to our son’s file. It cited no medical studies, no empirical or even anecdotal evidence, only a statement by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG): “If left for a period of time after the birth, there is a risk of infection in the placenta which can consequently spread to the baby.”
This is not wrong. There is a risk of infection. A small risk. What that statement fails to mention is that cutting off that placenta carries a similar risk of infection. It’s there, but it’s so small it’s not worth mentioning.
In all my research, I never came across one story of lotus birth causing infection. If the placenta is properly cared for outside the womb (dried, salted and wrapped in a breathable cloth), the risk of infection is even further diminished. (Compare this with the practice of immediate cord clamping, which deprives babies of as much as half their blood supply. Wikipedia me that, Dr. Sepsis!)
In the end we agreed to the x-ray and eventually caved on the antibiotics, too. Gaïan’s white blood cell came back slightly above average and there was just enough pressure that we started to question whether or not our decisions were more ego-based than facts-based. Once the FACS worker arrived, we were sufficiently scared enough to compromise.
And compromise we did. At just a couple of hours old, we hovered over our tiny son and held his hand as he cried out with his helpless goose cough while an endless parade of hospital personnel poked him with needles, collecting blood samples and attaching wires to his little limbs. And for nearly three days we camped out in his room, sleeping in shifts while we waited for blood test results to come back.
But we stuck to our guns with Gaïan’s placenta. It was attached for about two days after his birth. In attempt to appease the doctor, we heeded her request not to salt the placenta and allowed one of the nurses to double bag it in plastic. Rather than a beautiful tribute to this bastion of life, after 48 hours we had a piece of rotting meat on our hands. We requested a pair of sterilized scissors and a moment alone to remove the placenta.
We cried together, singing “You Are My Sunshine” while we cut the cord with our babe in arms. We cried for our baby son and the seven wires that were monitoring his heart rate, respirations and oxygen levels. We cried out of anger at not being respected by our caregivers, and at ourselves for not going ahead and salting the placenta as planned, doctor be damned, and for agreeing to play along with this whole medical charade in the first place. But mostly we cried for the loss of the birth we had planned for our son, the one that didn't end in doctors and needles.
The tests came back negative. Every one. As we had known all along, our baby was in perfect health. There was never any infection, just a little water in the lungs – very common in newborns.
We made it home in time to see the year change over. We went straight to bed, where we had a sort of New Year’s Eve picnic. All three of us were sleeping peacefully long before the ball dropped.
In the morning we had a knock on the door sometime around 10am. Our FACS worker. A new one this time. He was friendly and polite, reminding us it was “C.Y.O.” at the hospital the same as it was with Family and Child Services. Cover Your Ass. He asked why we didn’t have a crib and where was our baby bathtub, as though such things lay the foundation for responsible parenting. Jay went down to the basement to try and find the plastic tub we’d stashed in the basement. Our case worker went down to his car to speak with his supervisor, then came back up to give us a lecture on safe sleep, which we politely decline.
Safe sleep, indeed. But we were too exhausted and too excited to be enraged.
Many lessons were learned in the saga that was Gaïan’s birth. This blog post was supposed to be titled, The 5-hour natural homebirth of our lotus-born, water-born son. Sigh. How cocky we humans can be. Our son chose to come into the world in a hospital bed after a long labour and an epidural that no one planned on, reminding us of the duality of modern health care.
There was much to celebrate during our time in the hospital. The OB, who left our midwife in charge during the labour, even though I was technically no longer under her care. Our friends and family, who kept us in fresh, healthy food for the three days we were in the hospital. Nurse Barbara, who found us a cot so that Jay didn’t have to sneak into my bed in the maternity ward for a nap at 4am. Our midwives, who moaned along with us at the pompous authoritativeness of our son’s doctor, validating our frustration.
But most of all we have our son Gaïan to thank, who humbles us daily in his complete surrender and teaches us the awesome power of unconditional love.