When you see the title – My Birth Journey – what do you imagine? For me, it’s a story of waking up in the middle of the night to your water breaking, telling your husband to grab your bags, rushing to the hospital and laboring through the night all to welcome a tiny baby into this world on your chest hours later. This expectation can be crushing when what you envision is not what you experience. And the more I hear others stories, the more I realize that I am not alone. Birth is a crazy thing. It’s so different for every person and you can’t diminish any type of experience someone may have or the feelings that come along with it. Birth is unique, emotions are unique, people are unique, but I do think it’s important to open up the realm of possibilities. Not everyone has a movie-worthy experience with birth. Many of us are thrown through the fire. We experience trauma, we experience fear, we experience chaos and doubt and guilt. But we are not alone, and that’s why I wanted to share my story.
Part I: The Calm Before The Storm
It’s a Wednesday night, I’m 32 weeks and 2 days pregnant. My husband and I are so excited to be getting closer and closer to the birth of our sweet baby girl – two more months to go. We decide to go to the movie theatre that night. We won’t be able to go to the movies for a while after baby gets here so we want to take advantage of the freedom now. We’d been doing that pretty frequently during my pregnancy. We took a trip to Hawaii a month before and had just gotten home from our annual week-long camping trip the previous weekend. During the camping trip I had started to experience swelling in my feet and ankles and terrible nighttime heartburn, but even so, the trip was exactly what we needed. The heartburn was back tonight at the movies. I attributed it to the pasta dinner we had before we left and took some Tums to try and ease the pain. This heartburn was excruciating. We finished the movie and went home and almost immediately went to bed. My energy levels had finally started to feel like they had diminished some in my third trimester. I was finally starting to feel pregnant. We laid in bed and talked about the movie and the trip to the theatre – something we hadn’t done in over a year because of the pandemic. We even planned our next trip to the movies before baby – a movIe we wanted to see was being released July 9th, still almost a month away from baby. With excitement and a belly full of mylanta, I went to sleep, not knowing that what would happen next would change my life forever.
Part II: It’s Too Soon
I woke around 2:30am to a warm, wet feeling between my legs. Something was wrong. Had my water just broken? That was impossible, wasn’t it? I went to the bathroom and realized that there was blood, lots of blood. I immediately became so afraid. Was my baby okay? Would she be okay? What do I do? I gently woke my husband, who upon hearing of blood raced to get ready to take me to the hospital. I called my doctor’s office, although now I’m not sure why I did. I guess I wanted confirmation that speeding off to the hospital was the right thing to do. But my husband wasn’t about to wait for a call back. I got dressed and stuffed my underwear with paper towels. I hadn’t had a chance to make myself a postpartum kit yet. Luckily, I had packed my hospital bag two days before, the same day I made an appointment to tour the hospital where we would be delivering. Needless to say, we wouldn’t be needing the tour. My husband drove as fast as he safely could to the hospital. I tried telling him to be careful but on the inside I wish he could’ve gone faster. I could feel the blood filling the paper towels. I could feel myself panicking. I just wanted to know that everything would be okay. I was only 32 weeks pregnant, and I wasn’t sure what that meant yet. We arrived at the ER, which I knew was where we should go because of the hospital tour video I watched, and hurried inside. When we arrived, the girl behind the check-in desk seemed to be moving at a snails pace, or at least that’s what it felt like. She offered us a seat, and I remember telling her I didn’t want to bleed all over their furniture. At this point, I had blood running down my leg. I don’t think she realized how serious I was until she came around the desk to offer me a wheelchair. Apparently, many women come in saying that they’re bleeding during pregnancy. Apparently, not many of those women happen to be gushing blood like I was. She rolled me back to a labor room as my husband followed beside me. I could feel myself becoming more nervous – I had no idea what to expect. Once I got to my room, two nurses were there to offer me a gown and get me settled into the hospital bed. At this point my memories start to get a little foggy…
Part III: A Room Full of Panic
There was still so much blood. The nurses put pads underneath me on the bed and put a fetal monitor on my stomach. I was then checked for dilation – 1cm dilated. How was that even possible? I didn’t think I had felt any contractions, but they were happening nonetheless. Everything from here got a little chaotic. They checked my blood pressure, and I guess they saw something they didn’t like, although no one alerted me to the dangerous levels they had found. Instead there were talks of transferring me to another hospital, the one right around the corner from my house (we had driven 20 minutes to reach this hospital and hopefully my OB). This hospital did not have a NICU and in order to provide the best care for my baby, I would need to be stabilized and transferred via ambulance. Unfortunately, things accelerated quickly and soon the idea of being stabilized was no longer an option. I was declining rapidly, as was my baby’s heart rate. The baby needed to be delivered, not only to save her life, but also to save my own. I was becoming more and more afraid by the second. I had no idea what would happen, and luckily the nurses weren’t extremely forthcoming about my condition – that would have certainly made me panic even more. Unfortunately, my husband noticed the panicked glances that the nurses were shooting each other. At one point he later said that one of the main nurses looked at him with utter fear in her eyes. My husband and I were both thinking the worst, even though we wouldn’t tell each other that until later. I didn’t care much what happened to me at that point, but I later learned my husband was afraid he might lose us both. I was put on oxygen and visited by an anesthesiologist. The plan now was to put me under completely, deliver my baby and transfer her on her own to the NICU. This option filled me with sorrow. Not only would I be asleep for her delivery, but I wouldn’t be able to see her before she left. To make matters worse, of course my husband would go to be with our baby, and I would wake up in the hospital alone. The thought of this possibility made me incredibly sad and afraid. I could only hope and pray that there was another option.
Part IV: A Silver Lining In a Storm
After what seemed like minutes – that were actually a couple hours – the amazing nurses were able to stabilize me using magnesium sulfate along with a couple other medications that I can’t quite remember. This magnesium was administered to prevent me from having seizures. My blood pressure was so high that this was a big possibility only minutes before – I didn’t learn this until later. The magnesium was one of the worst medications I’ve ever experienced in my life. I felt sick and light headed and out of breath, even while on oxygen. Fortunately, even with all the terrible side effects, I was stabilized. Once this was made known to me, my OB walked through the door. I felt an immense wave of relief. He explained to me that I was stable enough for surgery. They would administer a spinal tap epidural and perform an emergency c-section. A special team from the NICU hospital would be arriving shortly to prepare our baby for transfer and would accompany her to the other hospital where she would be monitored and cared for after birth. She would be taken to a place that I could not go and would stay there until she was stable enough herself to come home. This broke me. I didn’t get to have the golden hour with my sweet girl. I didn’t get to breastfeed her in her first few moments of life. I didn’t even get to hold her before she left me. This was not the birth and delivery I wanted, but it was the best case scenario considering the other options I had been presented. I was heartbroken but relieved at the same time. The dichotomy of both feelings was not lost on me even with the magnesium and oxygen making me feel like I was breathing on another planet. I just wanted my baby to be okay. The surgery was performed and my baby was safely removed from my body. The surgery was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced. The pressure and feeling of movement even while being completely numb is something I’ll never forget. This was the first surgery I’d ever had, and on top of that I was awake and mostly coherent even though I felt like a bag of hot garbage. My husband stayed by my side the entire time. When my baby was delivered, I remember listening for her cries. When I first heard them I broke down into tears. Half of my tears were happy, joyful, elated that my baby was alive and safe, the other half were tears of pain, sadness, grief. I could barely turn my head to see my baby. I could hear her crying but could not console her. I could not hold her. All I could do was ask my husband to take as many photos and videos as possible so that I could see her later on. I asked him to leave me and go with her and the NICU team. By that point I was being closed up and would be returned to my room alone to watch videos of my baby from a cell phone.
Part V: The Beginning of the Next Journey
I was finally wheeled to my room where I learned that my baby had not yet left the hospital and neither had my husband. My husband came to sit with me and show me videos and photos of our precious girl and to tell me how absolutely perfect she was. I cried. I cried for the same reasons as before plus an immense wave of guilt had started to fill my heart. Guilt for failing my child. Guilt for not being able to hold her inside me to term. Guilt for things going wrong. But that’s a separate post for another time. At this point the hospital staff came in to let us know that our baby was ready for transport. She was in an isolette (formerly known as an incubator), and they asked me if I wanted to see her, to which I replied, “Yes, of course, PLEASE”. They wheeled her into my room and got her as close to my bed as they possibly could. I was still numb from the waist down, but also starting to feel some of the pain from the surgery. I was also still on magnesium, so I still felt like a steaming pile of shit. But I would be damned if I didn’t use every ounce of strength I had to see my baby. I lifted myself as much as I could and even with her bed next to mine, I was barely able to brush her cheek with the back of my fingers. I looked at her little face and told her how much I loved her, and how terribly sorry I was. I stroked her beautiful cheek and thought how strong she must be to be so small and still so resilient. She was so brave and I knew I had to be too. From there they removed her from my room and took her to the hospital with the NICU facility. I told my husband that he should go with her. I didn’t want her to be alone. So he left and went with them. I sat in that hospital room for the next two days waiting to see her in person. It would be the longest two days of my life. But I was so happy that she was here and safe and so was I.