It’s been over five years since the birth of my fifth child, the child I never thought we’d have. Before we married, my husband and I agreed that we would like to have at least four kids, and after that, we’d see if we wanted more or not. Once we started having kids, it seemed to make sense to have them as quickly as possible, since I was already 28 years old at the time. For us meant that we had 3 kids in 44 months.
I know some moms have children even closer together than that, and I have so much respect for them! As it was, I felt completely overwhelmed by having an infant and two other kids who still needed help with so many things. But even though I felt ready to stop at three kids, I never considered going back on my word to my husband. However, we did wait two and a half years before adding the fourth (and supposedly final) child to our family. After the newborn stage was behind us, we settled into a comfortable routine with our four young boys, and then one day, after our youngest was already 2 ½, my husband said wistfully, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a daughter?” I laughed and said with amusement that we could try. And that’s how we got our fifth son.
For children numbers three and four, we had opted to have home births in Ukraine, one attended by a licensed midwife, the other attended by a friend who was in her final year of medical school and had assisted an OB-GYN during the summers for several years. While we had no complaints with our home birth experiences, home birth seems to fall in something of a legal gray area in Ukraine, and as a result, it was a hassle to get our fourth son’s birth certificate, and some of the medical personnel with whom we had to deal were deliberately nasty to us because we had chosen to give birth at home. It made us question the wisdom of another Ukrainian home birth, and there were a number of reasons for us to make a trip to the United States at that time. The most compelling was that I had a close friend in California who was in the final stages of terminal cancer whom I dearly wished to see. So we chose to schedule a furlough and have the baby with the same midwife in Indiana, U.S.A. who had delivered our second child.
We had a full schedule leading up to our trip to the States. We had a family reunion in Hungary to attend the week before we flew, and we made the 2-day drive back to Kyiv with only a day or two to spare before our flight. During the hours of driving, I had started to experience frequent, strong Braxton-Hicks contractions, and I was genuinely worried about going into labor on the airplane, as it was only a month until my due date. However, we made it to Indianapolis, Indiana without incident. Once there, I called my midwife to schedule an appointment. I wanted to check in with her as soon as possible to find out if she could give me the okay to go to California to see my friend on her deathbed. However, my midwife’s office told me there had been a mix-up with my government healthcare, and I would be unable to become their patient until the first day of the next month, which was August. Since the due date was in early August and none of my babies had ever been born more than a few days early—one had actually been a whole week late—it seemed likely that this baby would wait until my healthcare coverage switched at the beginning of the next month. I filed a request to be allowed to see my midwife sooner and waited to see if it would be granted.
In the meantime, I went into labor two weeks early.
It was the morning of July 18. I had a sister-in-law who had gotten pregnant shortly before I had, and she had actually already been in labor herself for over 24 hours. She was using the same midwife I planned to use, and at any moment, we were hoping to hear that she had finally given birth. While we were waiting, I started having signs of early labor. I called my midwife, and then my mother-in-law, her youngest daughter, and I started the two-and-a-half-hour drive to the hospital where my midwife worked. My husband would follow later with our kids after he was able to pick up the seven-seat loaner vehicle that we would need to accommodate our family after the baby was born. While we were on the road to the hospital, we got the news that my sister-in-law had finally given birth to a healthy boy!
I was timing contractions during the drive and started to get a little worried when they started coming five minutes apart. I’d packed large plastic trash bags to protect the car upholstery, just in case the baby didn’t want to wait until we got to the hospital, but I hoped it wouldn’t come to that. I tried not to let my mother-in-law know how often I was having contractions so she could focus on driving without worrying about me.
We did make it to the hospital without incident, and I checked in through the emergency room. This gave my midwife the legal right to treat me under my government health coverage even though I wasn’t officially her patient yet. There was one inconvenience caused by my not having had any prenatal care in the United States, however, and that was the lack of one lab test that is done routinely in the U.S. but had not been done along with all my routine tests in Ukraine. It tests for the presence of staph bacteria in the birth canal. If present, the mother is given intravenous antibiotics during labor to protect the baby from possibly developing meningitis. Although it takes a few days to get the results, my midwife did the test right away and sent it to the lab, just in case my labor stalled and I was sent home to wait. Since I had tested negative for staph prior to the birth of my second child, she said I could forego the IV.
I don’t remember many details about that labor except that it was long. I checked in during the day on July 18 and ended up in a room right next door to my sister-in-law. I actually went to congratulate her and see my new nephew before getting settled into my own room. At first I assumed the cousins were going to have the same birthday, but as the day wore on, I began to doubt that. The contractions that had been so close together during the drive tapered off. Labor was too well established for me to drive two-and-a-half hours back to where we were staying, but birth was clearly not imminent. At some point, my husband arrived with our four kids. They must have been in and out of the room throughout the day in the company of my husband, mother-in-law, or her youngest daughter.
One thing I do remember clearly are the long and lonely hours of the night. My mother-in-law was next door, helping my sister-in-law with her newborn, and my husband and kids were all sleeping soundly, sprawled out in various places around the hospital room: on the queen-sized bed next to me, on the couch, and on the roll-away cot a nurse had brought in. I, however, was tossing and turning, unable to sleep and leaking fluid in little gushes with each contraction because my water had broken. There was a hot tub in my room, and I alternated between relaxing in its soothing warmth and trying to rest in bed, sensing that this would be a long labor, and I needed to try to sleep while I could. What is foremost in my memory is not the discomfort of the contractions, but rather sleeplessness, boredom, and a desire for the pace of labor to pick up.
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