Friday, December 31, 2010

Our Christmas Gift

Our little Christmas package
   Christmas is always a very special day, but this Christmas will undoubtedly be my most memorable. This Christmas Brian and I received our much anticipated gift of our first son, Caleb Sama O'Neill. For those of you who would like more details about his birth here in Mali, here is the story...

   Caleb was in no hurry to come out and greet the world, and with me being 41 weeks pregnant, my Doctor, Dan, was beginning to have concerns about letting me go too far post term. There were some concerns regarding the baby's size as I've been on the borderline for having gestational diabetes, as well as added concerns about avoiding any post term complications since we live here in Mali and medical help is limited. Brian and I tried many natural induction methods including walking for hours around the villages here (which led to us being followed home by a herd of goats one day), but none were successful.

   I really wanted the labor and delivery to be as natural as possible, knowing that pain medications such as epidurals are not available here, and medical interventions such as inductions can make contractions stronger and more painful than natural ones. When it was finally decided that labor should be induced, Dan broke my waters and then let me and Brian walk around for about 3 hours hoping contractions would kick in on their own. We walked and walked the hospital compound, and I was having contractions, but no different from the ones I had been experiencing for weeks, and they were not progressing any further. Eventually I was induced with oxytocin and my contractions quickly became very powerful. I was monitored for about seven hours on oxytocin and was making progress, but the baby's head was not dropping down. After about seven and a half hours of hard labor my back began to give out on me. It became really difficult for me to stand or even move my legs and I wasn't able to push at all. On top of this, my IV came out and the nurses on duty were struggling to get a new one back in, which meant the oxytocin stopped, and unfortunately so did the contractions. My body and the baby seemed a bit stalled at this point and I was pretty exhausted.

   At this point I had a hard decision to make. I really wanted to continue on since I had come so far, but I also knew that the pain in my back was limiting my ability to do anything. My Doctor was not convinced that the baby was going to drop down, especially without me being able to push, so we decided to do a C-section.

   Thankfully the team of doctors that work at the hospital here quickly assembled (in the middle of their Christmas evening) to prep me and complete the C-section. Things are a little different here than in the States as I walked myself into the operating room and sat down on the OR table. Before beginning, Dan and all the other doctors stopped to say a prayer before operating, which helped to calm me and made me feel so much better. Even with the C-section, Caleb still fought coming out into the world. It seems he was quite stuck inside of me and had to be suctioned out – a rare occurrence according to my doctor. The surgery went quickly and smoothly and I was able to be awake for the whole thing and see Caleb as soon as he came out. He took his first breath at 7:38 PM on Christmas Day. Brian was a great support the whole time and gave me a play-by-play narrative of what was going on. Caleb was quickly toweled off and checked over by a pediatric nurse, and he weighed in at 9 lbs 5 oz. and was 22 inches long.

   After the surgery, we were taken to a recovery room that was shared with 3 other women, and Caleb was brought into the room with us. After a few hours of observation, I was walked down the hall to own room and we got to spend our first night together as a family. I was pretty sore and couldn't move much, but Brian helped me take care of Caleb, and really all three of us slept pretty soundly that first night as it had been a long day.

   Several of the hospital staff insisted that we name him Emmanuel because he was born on Christmas, but we had already chosen Caleb, and Sama seemed like the perfect middle name as it means “gift” in Bambara – the local language. It especially signifies a gift that is brought back after someone goes on a journey, so it is symbolic of our time here in Mali.

   We spent two nights at the hospital and were taken care of by a great staff. We are now enjoying our Christmas vacation at home adjusting to being a family of three and all the joys of new parenthood. Although the birth didn't go as we had originally hoped and planned, in the end we were simply thrilled to have a healthy, happy baby and mom.

Many more photos over here on facebook (public link; no need to sign in):