Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On Hatching Chicks and Birthing Baby Humans

How hard it is to know when your well-intentioned efforts to help are actually an intervention into God's plan for bringing new life into the world!

This point has been driven home to me during the last few weeks as we have lived with an incubator full of eggs which are at different stages of gestation.

For the first day of hatching, we had four chicks pip first thing in the morning. It is a great way to start your day, as we have learned that they chirp loudly in the shell. When it seems quiet, you can pick up the egg, hold it to your ear and hear quiet chirping and a kind of Morse code being tapped out: I think they are saying L-I-F-E--I-S--G-O-O-D! Holding an egg to your ear is a vast improvement over a seashell. We have all started following Emma's lead and now talk to the birdies inside their egg cocoons, sending them words of encouragement and love. Emma tries to play soothing music for them as well and insists that hers be the first face the newly-hatched chick sees.

Back to the first hatching: We all watched as the first egg rocked on the bottom of the incubator and chipped away at his shell. It was a long ordeal, and I kept thinking how easy it would be to help him make a speedy exit to freedom. I didn't, though. He did it all by himself, and he was obviously exhausted when he finally emerged completely.

It was several more hours before the next one freed himself from the confines of his shell. This time, Emma and I were at ballet, so Herb and Nathaniel witnessed the struggle.

Then it got to be 10 p.m., and we still had two chicks which had not hatched. Emma read that chicks should hatch within 1 to 6 hours of pipping. Now we had a dilemma, part of which resulted because we "helped" Zsa-Zsa. Zsa-Zsa started setting on a reasonable number of eggs but was confounded daily by bigger hens kicking her off the nest and laying more eggs there. So when Emma robbed the nest and put all the eggs in the incubator, 25, I think, we knew there was going to be a spread of hatch dates. This presents a problem because each egg is placed upright inside four plastic posts which turn the egg regularly. Normally, all your eggs have the same hatch date, so you take out the egg turner a day or two before hatching. Otherwise you run the risk of a chick hatching and getting crushed by the turner. Emma could not remove the turner because she had younger chicks which still needed to be turned regularly. This meant that she and I hovered over the incubator to be able to remove each chick as quickly as it hatched.

So, like I said, it got to be 10 p.m., and we wanted to go to bed. We had two eggs that had good-sized cracks in them but did not seem to be making any speedy progress. We couldn't leave them to hatch on their own because they might get crushed in the turner. We began to worry that since it had been way longer than six hours, maybe the chicks were weak and would die in the shell. The clock ticked as Emma and I stood over the incubator. Finally Herb told us to help the chicks finish hatching. Emma carefully enlarged the open "seam" around one of the eggs and put it back in the incubator with no noticeable result. She waited a few minutes and helped it some more. Nothing. Finally she took off half the shell and put him back in the incubator. About ten minutes later, he finally pushed off the remainder. He looked good and seemed not to have suffered from our assistance.

Herb had gone to bed by the time we turned our attention to the last egg. I won't go into all the details of trying to help him. Emma basically had to pull him from the shell; there was a lot of blood in the shell and still uneaten yolk. The chick lay flat on the bottom of the incubator, and we thought that it was going to die. We felt HORRIBLE! Clearly, this chick was not quite ready to hatch, despite the 1-6 hour rule. It did recover completely, but all I could think of was my own birth experience with Nathaniel, when one intervention led to the next because of a stupid hospital rule mandating that I had to produce my offspring within a certain time limit.

I had a midwife and was planning a beautiful, relaxed home birth. My water broke, and nothing happened for 24 hours. At that point my midwife informed me that I had to go to the hospital, not because the baby was endangered but because her relationship with obstetricians required it. They would not provide back-up for her if she didn't follow this rule. Actually, I think their rule was 12 hours, and she fudged it for me. So off I went, crying, to the hospital where they immediately intervened with an IV of Pitocin to get my labor started. They set it on the maximum dose, because in the doctor's eyes, I was already "behind schedule". I refused any painkillers, so basically I was unaware of anything other than my own body. This went on for hours with little progress. The doctor, who was a really nice person, finally told me that he thought my refusal of anesthesia was preventing my labor from progressing, that I was fighting the labor because of the pain, which is much more intense with Pitocin. So finally I gave in and allowed the epidural. Suddenly, I was aware of everything and everybody in the room and had an overwhelming desire to read a ladies magazine and plan home decorating projects. The Pitocin still dripped away, but it caused me no discomfort. However, I made minimal progress in my labor. Finally, the doctor told me that he was sorry, but I had run out of time. The hospital had rules, and I was now confronted with having to have a c-section, which was speedily performed. The doctors could not understand why I cried through the whole thing. Nathaniel was thus brought into the world exactly on his due date. I was released three days later, an emotional and physical wreck.

I found a different doctor and hospital for Emma's birth. When I explained to the new doctor, Dr. Burch, what had happened the first time, she told me that she would have taken me off the Pitocin when my labor didn't progress and put me into a regular hospital room to rest. She said that the uterus can become completely overwhelmed by Pitocin and basically not know what to do. I firmly believe that if Dr. Burch had delivered Nathaniel, I would not have had a c-section. Dr. Burch agreed to let me labor without the customary IV and fetal monitor belt. Those two things made me miserable with Nathaniel. I told her that I wanted to be left alone as much as possible, and she agreed to that as well. The nurse only came in occasionally and held the fetal monitor on to check and then went away. It was a great relief to me. I was in and out of bed, and it was so nice not to have to deal with an IV. I was relaxed and happy. Emma was born with no interventions whatsoever and placed in my waiting arms. At that moment I could easily have named her "Euphoria". It was three weeks past her due date. I felt fabulous, physically and emotionally. I am reminded of one of my favorite silly songs, "Chug-a-lug, Chug-a-lug", by Roger Miller. It describes a young teenage boy's expserience with drinking moonshine. He takes a sip and says he "done a double backflip" and that it "makes you want to holler Hi-De-Ho!" Birthing Emmaline was like that.

There is another old song that I am reminded of as I sit here and listen to exuberant chirping. I never understood it completely until now. Today it is obvious to me that it is a song about incubating chicks. I don't know how I didn't get it before, because the song title and even the group's name make it clear:
Listen to this YouTube video, and you'll know that I'm right.


Emily G. said...

Hearing about the chicks hatching is so fascinating! I raised chickens for years growing up but despite that I've never felt much affection for the critters. I wonder if it is because mine always arrived in the mail in a box. Perhaps if I had been with them from the egg stage I would have developed more of a bond, like Emma.

Emily G. said...

Oh, and as far as the story of Nathaniel's birth goes...I will always wonder if I could have birthed Maria without any help. I would like to think that I could have, but I guess I'll never know. At least I didn't get pushed into a c-section. I hope that my second birth experience is more like yours with Emma. That's what I wanted with Maria.

Wendy Haught said...


We used to get chicks in the mail, and we never got too attached to them. Caring for the eggs and watching them hatch definitely makes a difference.

Wendy Haught said...

I probably shouldn't have said that my c-section was unnecessary, even though I have always believed it. Every birth experience is different. We tried to plan for all possibilities but somehow missed the time limit rule. I am grateful that I got a beautiful, healthy baby boy despite all the unpleasantness. Experience is a great help, and I expect that your next birth will go more like you want it. I'll look forward to reading about it on My Song of Joy!