Today we share the birth story of Claire;
Beautiful and a very sweet account of the feelings of having a preemie,
even long after birth.
(This is shared with permission and written by Claire's mother)
I am a few days shy of 18mo postpartum with my first child, Claire.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about the circumstances surrounding her birth, and it hasn't led me to more answers, as much as more questions and some regrets.
You see, I'm also 8 months pregnant with my second, and trying to prevent all the same things from happening again.
I'd love to start with a little background: My husband and I married when we were 21. I wanted to be a mom more than anything in the world, so we stopped using any kind of birth control after two months of marriage. I was so excited at the prospects of being a mom, but month after month we had no luck. Those months became years, and I started seeking out natural remedies to irregular cycles and infertility. We finally saw a doctor who threw Clomid at me and assured me we'd be pregnant in no time. The side effects were so bad, I had to stop after three months. I ovulated my final month on it, but we missed our opportunity. Finally, after five years of trying, we found a doctor who wanted to find out why I was having problems. I was diagnosed with PCOS with insulin resistance and treated for it. I still wasn't ovulating, so we tried Clomid again. This time, with next to no side effects, I ovulated and we conceived – first cycle! It was the answer to years of prayers.
I never thought I'd see the day when there were two lines on the stick.
My whole pregnancy was difficult – I couldn't understand why pregnant people didn't act miserable all the time, because I felt absolutely awful. I thought that was how you were supposed to feel, so I tried not to complain. Clinically everything looked normal. I saw a wonderful midwife group, and I was looking forward to a natural labor and delivery after such a medical approach to conception. I risked out of their birth center because of the drug I was taking for insulin resistance, but they also practiced at a hospital nearby, and I was assured that a natural birth would be achievable there too!
I was so excited, and started preparing as much as possible.
Around 30 weeks, I started having chest pains off and on. I called the midwife on call, and she suggested taking some Tylenol and seeing my chiropractor. I did both and it went away. Around 31 weeks it returned, and nothing would relieve the pain. It got so bad my palms would sweat, I couldn't sit or lay, and the pain radiated down my left arm. I thought I was going to die...and I wasn't opposed to the prospect. I had my husband come home from work and take me to the little ER in our small town. After an EKG and a couple of labs, they told me to go home and take a Tylenol. They weren't going to “give me narcotics.”
When I left, my BP was 144/117, and the pain still hadn't subsided.
Thankfully I saw my favorite midwife that afternoon, and she took more labs and suggested some natural methods to relieving the pain in the meantime. She called the next morning and asked me to come be admitted for a 24-hour monitoring session based on my labs – the same labs that our local hospital drew the day before. “Just in case,” she asked me to bring my hospital bag as well.
I got some stuff around, and went to the hospital. Once I arrived, it became clear that this was not 24-hour monitoring. It was just to get me hooked up to anti-seizure meds before they transferred me to a bigger hospital with a NICU. I was warned that the meds would make me feel awful...no one could say what awful meant, but they weren't wrong. Before too long, my eyes felt funny and it was hard to focus on anything. I was tired but not sleepy. It was hard to think straight. When I asked questions about my child's prospects as a potential preemie, everyone said things like, “Oh, typically 32 weekers do really well.” But no one would tell me how my preemie would do. Not that they could have if they wanted to because the NICU is such a roller coaster ride no matter why your kiddo is there. But I didn't know anything about what was happening. I hadn't prepared for this. I had only prepared for a normal, natural, med-free, full-term birth. I was given steroids to help Baby's lungs develop, and told we'd be in the hospital “until it was time for Baby to arrive.” Again, no one could give an answer to my question...this time it was, “When?” For the next two days I laid in bed, NPO until dinner, and then so nauseous from the seizure medicine that dinner either came back up or sat unsettled in my stomach all night. It continued to be increasingly difficult to think straight, or to plaster a smile on my face when really I was beyond worried about my child.
My doula came to be with me, but I didn't even feel like I could talk to her about what was happening. I was so thankful for her presence, but I was trying hard to be in denial about what was happening. Sunday afternoon we had an ultrasound. The tech estimated her weight between 3.5-4lb, which was right on for her gestation.
Everything about her looked healthy.
Monday morning came, and we met the new on-call OB. He seemed very respectful and confident. He suggested we induce that day. The on-call perinatologist was also supposed to see me that day, so I requested we wait until we see him too. He obliged, and they both returned an hour or so later. We talked about what was going on. I don't remember a lot of that conversation... I was afraid for my daughter. They both agreed that Baby was safer out than in. We talked about induction, but something in my gut told me that it wouldn't go well. Something was wrong, but I didn't know what or how to find out what it was. Not only that, but I was hungry and would be stuck in the bed, two ingredients I knew could lead to a c-section. My body was already exhausted from lack of sleep and those awful meds. I told them I wasn't comfortable with an induction, and so we talked about what had been my biggest fear during my whole pregnancy: a c-section. See, I am allergic to skin adhesives and vicryl sutures. Which are two things they use to close you up after surgical procedures. I was terrified that someone would make a mistake and use one of those two items and cause all kinds of problems. The former caused necrosis of my skin following a knee surgery...the latter was just so painful...even after the wound they stitched had healed, they never dissolved, and I had to have them removed in office. I made sure the OB knew, the nurses knew, my doula knew. They assured me there were plenty of other options available, and they would ensure they used only hypoallergenic options.
I also mentioned that I would really like BOTH my doula and my husband in the OR with me. The perinatologist laughed at me - “Let me give you some advice...this is not a doula birth.” I was taken aback, but I retorted, “Well, she's already been paid, so I plan to use her.”
The OB was very kind and defended my desire to have her. He said he would double check with the anesthesiologist, but he thought it would be fine if she was with us. The perinatologist warned me that once Baby was born I wouldn't be able to see her until the next day. I would be returned to my room on L&D and reconnected to anti-seizure meds for another 24 hours. I accepted that, and we planned surgery for noon that day.
Once my doula arrived, we talked about the surgery facing me. She suggested we speak to a lactation consultant and ask some questions about what to expect with a preemie and a c-section and pumping. So, we did. We also talked about my desires during surgery. I decided I didn't want to watch Baby be born – no mirror, no lowered drape. I was too afraid I would see something I didn't want to see. I also wanted to be distracted...
I didn't want to think or talk about what was happening until after she was born.
Some friends visited before surgery...
we prayed together and everyone wished us well.
I pretended to be calm and confident and strong, but inside I was falling apart.
I was afraid God was going to take her from us. I was mad that He would put me and my child through this. I had done everything “right.” I avoided caffeine and sushi and lunch meat. I exercised regularly. I saw my midwives at all my scheduled visits. I loved this baby. Why was my body trying to kill us? Why couldn't I bring her to term and deliver her naturally? What was wrong with my body that it just couldn't get anything right?
They wheeled me down to the OR, and moved me to the operating table. It was really cold in there. While the anesthesiologist administered my spinal, I broke down and cried in a nurse's arms. I wish I could remember her name, because she hugged me and assured me everything would be alright. I want to thank her...I hope she knows she's appreciated. My spinal was perfect – no nausea, no sensation. I was cold and shivering, so the anesthesiologist gave me a bear hug. Not a literal hug. But a piece of plastic that they run warm air through. He was very kind.
My husband and doula were allowed in after the spinal was placed. It was so good to have them both by my side. It really didn't take long. We talked about my favorite wings restaurant, because I love food, and I had been craving wings for a really long time. One of the docs really likes it too, so he told the anesthesiologist he needs to try it out. They like the one on the other side of town though (where rich people live, haha), and I prefer the one that's more inner-city.
Before I knew it,
the OB held the tiniest little baby I'd ever seen up over the curtain.
My husband said it was a girl, and I said, “She's so little.” I didn't cry...because she didn't cry. I had to be quiet and listen. They took her over to be examined by the NICU nurses, and my husband followed. I asked him to get some pictures...because she was in a corner where I couldn't see. My doula talked to me...she told me what they were doing to her. Before too long she cried. My doula asked if I heard her, and I nodded while I cried. They wrapped her up and let me give her a kiss before they took her upstairs to the NICU. My husband went with her, and my doula stayed with me.
I don't know what I would have done if I had to be alone.
Another nurse asked me if I wanted to see my placenta and I said sure. It was kidney colored and kind of gross, but I think that stuff is cool, so it wasn't a big deal.
Once I was wheeled into recovery, I immediately felt relief. I didn't feel ill anymore. I relaxed...so much so that the alarm kept going off, because my breathing was so slow. They gave me water and I drank it. My doula held it when I wanted to close my eyes. I don't think we talked a lot. I remember when they asked me to try to move my toes, and I did – just a little bit. The nurse called me an overachiever.
My husband returned because they were still examining our daughter.
I asked him questions he didn't have answers to.
He isn't much for medical knowledge...he's an engineer.
I was returned to my room after an hour in recovery and reconnected to the anti-seizure medicine. They did let me eat before too long, and that made me feel better too. I also wasn't strapped to the awful monitors, nor did I have an annoying nurse telling me to lie on my left side.
I feel guilty about it, but I felt so much better. So relieved. So relaxed.
I didn't feel like a new mommy...just a woman who had had surgery and was recovering in the hospital. I didn't have a baby in my arms. I did, however, begin pumping. The same lactation consultant we spoke to earlier came to see us, and showed us how to pump. She was wonderful, and so encouraging when I actually got the tiniest amount of colostrum. She told us not to expect any at all. Finally, my body was doing something right. Visitors came in and out. I was congratulated. I was shown photos of my daughter. And I laid in bed until the next morning. I felt alone, but didn't know what to do about it.
I was finally disconnected from the anti-seizure medicine the next morning at 7am.
They moved me to a postpartum room, and I began to be treated like a mommy.
I was finally allowed out of bed – though not without plenty of pain. I got my pain meds and my husband wheeled me up to our daughter's private room in the NICU. My tiny little girl was connected to a ton of tubes, but she was no longer getting assistance breathing – just a nasal cannula with oxygen. At some point I learned that she was born at 2lb 12 oz, and was the size of a 27 ½ weeker. Her growth was restricted in the womb, something they referred to as IUGR. I was also visited by the perinatologist at some point and he said after looking at her size and examining her placenta, we made the right call with a c-section...IUGR kids don't tend to tolerate labor well. Whenever I question that decision, I remember those words... I still get that feeling in my gut that tells me I was right sometimes too. It's scary to think that we're born with so much knowledge about our kids before they're even here.
Our daughter is now 18 months old, and still quite small. Many IUGR kids remain small and struggle with other metabolic disorders as life continues. We're aware of them, and I'm ready to advocate for her should I need to.
She spent 30 days in the NICU before coming home at 4lb 3oz.
I didn't handle the NICU well either, but that's another story. At the time, I was just trying to get through it all. And we did, and I'm so thankful we did.
Being 18 months postpartum and expecting our second, I know there are some things I would change. But the decisions I made were respected and I appreciate that. I regret not watching my daughter's birth...I'm ashamed that the fear I felt kept me from witnessing her first moments and breaths. I wish I would have pushed for them to wheel my hospital bed up to her on her first day. Just to see her. Just for a moment. No mommy should have to be away from her newborn. I wish I'd been more open and honest about what I was feeling instead of pretending I was ok. I wish I'd trusted my instincts far earlier, and insisted to my midwives that something was wrong when I was feeling so awful. But I didn't know. I thought you were supposed to be miserable when you were pregnant.
I didn't want to look like a wimp.
I can tell you, this second pregnancy has been a breeze. This is what pregnancy is supposed to feel like. I have energy, my head doesn't feel like it's going to explode, my chest and stomach and arms don't feel like they're being squeezed beyond the point of what any person could survive.
I feel confident and happiness and excitement at the prospect of bringing a new life into this world. This is the first time I've looked back at my daughter's birth and really dug into what happened. I know I have a lot of healing to do. I still feel guilty that it all happened the way it did, but I really tried to do my best with the situation I was given.
I do not regret her passageway into this world one bit.
I believe it saved her life...or at the very least prevented a dire situation.
I am thankful I was given respectful care.
I am thankful my doula dropped everything to be with me 8 weeks early.
I am thankful that my husband, even though he was scared too, remained strong for me...
he may have been the only one to know how I was feeling, though we didn't talk about it.
I am thankful for the experience,
as it has taught me so much about life and death and faith.
Jessica Anne Dill