My dear baby girl was born a year ago, six weeks ahead of schedule. I’ve tried to process and type up the story many times over the past year, but between illness and insomnia I never had the mental energy. But today I am making the time, because it is a story that needs to be told, a story of miracle and grace and serendipity. It is not the birth story that I wanted. But sometimes when everything goes wrong, everything goes just right.
Last March my biggest pregnancy complaint was insomnia. I spent hours in bed trying to sleep, but it was hard to find. We actually went to our childbirth classes on Saturday mornings and I remember sitting on the birthing ball, falling asleep as Jer rubbed my shoulders while we practiced relaxation breathing techniques. I think I had slept about two hours that night. St. Patrick’s Day weekend we went up to Vancouver BC for a little babymoon and to celebrate the third anniversary of the day we met, March 21st. It was a wonderful relaxing time. Our plans for the following weekend included a baby shower that my parents were hosting for our family and friends. But things changed on Thursday when I went in for my regular midwife appointment.
A few weeks earlier at my regular checkup I had elevated blood pressure. I was sent to triage and tests were run and within a few hours I was sent home with a clean bill of health, instructed to drink more water and get more sleep (hah!). I had been perfectly fine since then, but this Thursday I had elevated numbers again. There were a couple of other warning signs that popped up and so my midwife requested that I go to triage again, and she got on the phone to schedule an ultrasound for the next day. Again I experienced the stress of going to the hospital, Jer rushing home from work, and being strapped to monitors. However, this time the blood pressure didn’t come down. After a few hours the midwife on call decided to send me home. Get some rest, she said, and come back before your ultrasound to get checked out again. So home we went, praying that tomorrow things would be okay.
But Friday morning at the midwife’s office my blood pressure was even higher. The staff was starting to get very concerned and began ordering more tests. We headed to the ultrasound unsure of what we would find. The tech completed the scan and left to take the info to the doctor, who would call the midwife to discuss our next steps. After what seemed like forever (45 minutes) the tech came back and told us that we had to go back and see the midwife. And I felt that horrible sinking feeling, the knowledge that everything wasn’t okay, that something had gone terribly wrong.
Jer and I sat in the midwife’s office, holding hands as she told us that my amniotic fluid was low and that our baby was showing signs of distress. She said that our girl had asymmetric growth-her head was normal size but her body was small-meaning that she was probably not getting enough nutrients. The placenta was breaking down, and so she was not growing correctly, and I was developing preeclampsia. I needed to be admitted immediately and the midwife was turning my care over to the OB team due to my high-risk situation.
I lost it. The moment she said that my baby girl was being hurt by the situation and was in danger I buried my face in Jer’s shoulder and wept. Even now as I type this the memory of the fear and overwhelming love for my daughter gets me choked up. Up until that point all the symptoms and troubles I had only affected me, and she was perfectly healthy. Hearing that she was no longer happily growing without a care broke my heart.
So within a couple of hours I was admitted, stuck in a hospital bed and hooked up to IVs and fetal monitors, with a blood pressure cuff automatically checking my pressure every ten minutes. We were hoping that with fluids and rest they might keep me pregnant for a little longer, but the OB on call wasn’t convinced that was a possibility. Preeclampsia comes in two kinds, she told us, the gradual kind and the sudden kind, and I seemed to have the sudden kind. The only cure for that is delivering the baby as soon as possible. Friday night she recommended that I be given a dose of steroids that would help the baby’s lung development in case we had to deliver quickly.
As it turns out, that was an excellent prescription, for on Saturday they did another ultrasound and despite the night of IV fluids and rest my amniotic fluid level was even lower. The decision was made to start inducing labor that evening, after the second steroid shot could be given. I was also started on magnesium sulfate to help prevent seizures or stroke due to my high blood pressure, which was now running in the 160/100 range.
I won’t go into all the interesting particulars of the methods of inducing labor they tried on me, but suffice to say that the initial estimate of 12 hours by one OB was woefully ambitious. All told my labor took 48 hours. The first 24 hours of less intense methods led to very little activity, just a lot of discomfort, sleeplessness, and progression to only about 2cm. All day Saturday night and Sunday I stayed in that hospital bed, with Jer beside me, people coming and going-nurses, doctors, my mom, our doula Nancy, our friend and priest Jen. Finally on Sunday night they started the pitocin.
Oh the pitocin. One of the things I had passionately desired to avoid in my labor. I had heard the stories of what it does to your contractions, and despite the OB who insisted there was no difference between pitocin and regular contractions (complete lie), I knew it was the last thing I wanted. But we had to get this labor moving, and so on it came.
And I was right to not want it. The contractions came every two minutes for hours on end, no break, no breather. I could manage the pain just fine-I sat up in my bed and watched Battlestar Galactica on the portable DVD player through the night, swaying and humming as wave after wave rolled over me. After a few hours I had to lie down because my blood pressure was too high again, and I curled up in a fetal position and rocked and hummed through Monday morning. By 11am I was exhausted, and I did something I didn’t ever think I would do-I asked for the epidural. I didn’t need it for the pain, but I was so weary, and hadn’t slept for almost two days, and I knew that if I didn’t get some rest I wouldn’t have the energy to push the baby out. I was only about 4cm, and they wanted to increase the pitocin and get things moving. So I let them stick that needle in my back and as the pain medicine rushed through me I said, “so this is why women get these!”
Four hours of blessed, oh-so-needed sleep followed. When I woke up they broke my water and I quickly progressed to 6cm. Everything started to move very fast. Around 7pm as I was in transition my epidural stopped working. I could feel everything, and while all around me alarms were going off as my IVs ran out and they called the anesthesiologist to come fix my pain medication I descended into myself, focusing on the waves of pain and the pressure building as I started to feel the desire to push. Nancy had sent Jer to the waiting room to get some food, expecting a few more hours of labor and pushing but suddenly the baby and I were ready for her to be born, even if no one else was ready! Doctors and nurses appeared out of nowhere, bringing in NICU equipment, not knowing what shape the baby would be in. Someone went to pull Jer back in the room and I grabbed his hand and got ready to push.
Then they started to lose the baby’s heartbeat. She was so tiny, and down in the birth canal the monitor on my belly couldn’t find her. In my fog of labor I could hear the doctor talking to Jer, asking about putting a intrauterine monitor in, a catheter that attaches to the baby’s head so they can monitor her. I could feel myself getting weaker, and in all the confusion I had a moment of clarity, and all I could think was, I NEED TO GET THIS BABY OUT. Somehow my body communicated to me that I wasn’t well, that I didn’t have much left, and on the strength of all the prayers being said for us I pushed and pushed and there she was. 48 hours of labor, 7 minutes of pushing, and she was born, coming into the world crying, showing us that her lungs were just fine.
She was so tiny, and so perfect, and they let me hold her for a minute before taking her away to the NICU. The moment she was in my arms I knew that the name we had chosen was right, that this was my little Elly. She had her daddy’s blue eyes and my mouth and she looked at me and my heart exploded in love.
Jer went with her to the NICU while my mom stayed with me. I was exhausted and wanted to sleep, but I was having trouble breathing. All of that magnesium to prevent seizures had kept me safe but caused fluid to start pooling in my lungs after days lying in bed. For the next 24 hours I was watched very closely, wearing an oxygen mask and getting pumped full of drugs to bring down my blood pressure and evacuate the fluid in my lungs. (I was on restricted fluids for a couple of days and it took several days for them to discharge me.) But the next evening they let me get out of bed and be taken in a wheelchair to see my little girl, safe and warm in her isolette. They were feeding her the breastmilk that I had pumped (thanks to a great lactation consultant) through a little tube down her throat. I would end up pumping for six weeks until she was strong enough to nurse, but she was healthy and thriving. Two and a half weeks later we were able to bring her home.
So many things could have gone wrong with Elly’s delivery and the months following, but she has been the most perfect, healthy little girl. She eats and sleeps so well, avoided all the illnesses we were warned she was at higher risk for, and is developing right on schedule. And while my recovery was long and complicated, the timing of everything that happened and the care we received was nothing short of miraculous. Preeclampsia can cause your liver and kidneys to shut down, and when that happens an emergency c-section is usually the only option. My blood tests were fine all through my long labor, until the last test right before I gave birth. If she had not been born that night I would have started having major trouble, but because I went in that particular Thursday afternoon, and my midwife scheduled that ultrasound and I was admitted on Friday, I was able to deliver my daughter and avoid surgery. It may not have been the beautiful natural birth I wanted, but it was still a birth full of joy, and all I can do is praise God for how He took care of us through it all.
A few pictures of that weekend: