June 29, 2017…that was the day my little guy was born! It was also the day that changed everything.
When I had my daughter in 2013, everything about the pregnancy and birth went the exact opposite way as I had hoped. It started with bleeding around 6 weeks, then placenta previa, then something on her kidney, then I had high blood pressure, which meant weekly stress tests, and being regularly threatened to be put on bedrest. It finally led to an appointment to be induced, pretty much knocking out my natural birth plan with contractions that came on so quick and an epidural that could not be avoided with my blood pressure numbers. 3 hours of pushing with no success and I ended up with a c-section.
This birth may not have been what I had planned, but our baby girl was healthy and I tried to focus on that. I was able to breastfeed, and things were going relatively good, or as good as they could for two first time parents!
When we got pregnant with my son, I was excited. I was excited for the pregnancy (I was going to be working out, eating healthier, and doing everything right!), I was excited about the birth (VBAC, here I come!), and I was excited to have a new addition to the family.
My pregnancy with my son was much easier and I felt much better, plus I was so much more active. But I still ended up with high blood pressure and weekly stress tests during the last month. I was still optimistic about the VBAC, even if I needed an epidural, I wanted to try…and try I did!
I went into labor early June 29 (my son’s due date), after having an induction massage the day before. To me, this was SO exciting since I was induced with my daughter. I timed the contractions, did my breathing, would think I couldn’t do this for hours during the contraction, then after the contraction was over I would think, “that wasn’t so bad.”
The time arrived when we needed to go to the hospital. They checked me and I was 4cm when I arrived, which meant I could stay, in the hopes that baby would arrive soon! Things seemed to being going the way I had pictured it in my mind!
I labored for a bit, but my blood pressure was high, so we decided an epidural was best. They ended up giving me pitocin after the epidural to speed things up and I was ready to push a few hours later.
I pushed…and pushed…and pushed. We could see the head moving down, but he was not coming. I knew with every minute passing by without progress, I was getting closer to having to have another c-section. I just knew it was coming and I was getting discouraged. And then, two hours into pushing, everything changed.
My epidural wore off. I could feel every contraction coming fast, seemingly out of nowhere since I hadn’t really been feeling them for hours. I didn’t know what to do and the nurse in the room was, well, useless. My birth photographer came to try to help me breathe. Another nurse came in to help me breathe. I tried to push through the contractions, but I was SO discouraged by this point. They tried to fix the epidural, but it wasn’t helping.
And then, through screams of pain, the call to go for the c-section was made. They wheeled me into the operating room and I knew that I would be put under anesthesia for this birth. My husband couldn’t be there to see him born either. My husband first saw our son on a camera screen.
Once I woke up and was able to meet my little guy, I was still so groggy and just felt weird. I don’t really remember the first moment I saw my son or even held him. I do remember them pushing me to my postpartum room though, and they had me hold my little guy while they rolled me down. I remember thinking, “I don’t feel ok enough to be holding this baby, but if they think I’m ok, I must be.” And then I held him tighter just to be sure.
In the postpartum room, things were a blur. I breastfed my little guy and he latched like a champ. I was so excited about this because the one thing I was MOST excited to do was breastfeed my baby. My daughter and mom came to see us and it was so fun to see my daughter become a big sister in that moment.
The doctor came in to check on me and noticed that my urine output was low and my heart rate was high, two things that had really been happening all day. Except now, it was more serious. These were indicators that I was bleeding internally. I needed to go back in the operating room so they could figure out what was going on.
I vaguely remember being in the operating room and them giving me the anesthesia, but then the next time I woke up, I had no idea where I was. There were several people around me and there was a tube down my throat.
I remember saying something about my contacts still being in my eyes (or trying to anyway, the best I could with the tube there), but ended up having to write it on a dry erase board. “Contact.” “Glasses in pink bag. ”I was in the ICU, in pretty rough condition, and my first thought? My contacts are in my eyes and they are not supposed to be. My second thought? Don’t feed our baby a bottle.
Yes, you read that right. I told my husband not to feed our newborn son a bottle because I was SO committed to breastfeeding my little guy. In my mind I was going back to the postpartum room. In my mind things would be like when I had my daughter. In my mind, this whole ordeal had only be a short period of time. In my mind, I had lost all the time during the surgeries and really had no idea how much time had really gone by.
Don’t worry, my husband fed my son, but he finger fed him so it would (hopefully) be an easier transition back to the breast, as opposed to the struggle I had after I had fed my daughter bottles the first weekend after she was born, while I was waiting for my milk to come in. Thank God for the nurses that helped him through…through the first hours with a newborn. Through the hours where he didn’t know if I would be ok. Through the realization that he almost lost me in a crazy turn of events.
I’m honestly still not sure what happened in the operating room. From what I’ve pieced together, the doctor opened me back up, found a tear in my uterus and did what needed to be done to repair it. Then, I started losing a lot of blood (they had to give me 6 pints), I went into shock, and they had to intubate me in order to keep me breathing and alive. But I was asleep during all of this, so this is what I pieced together from my discharge papers, what they told my husband, and what the doctors told me the two times I asked them while I was still in the hospital.
After all of this (or maybe during, I’m not really sure), my body swelled up and my blood pressure rose. I had developed postpartum preeclampsia. I didn’t even know you could develop preeclampsia AFTER giving birth. This kept me in the ICU for three days so I could have a magnesium drip to help me not have seizures and so the preeclampsia would not progress further than it already had.
During my time in the ICU, I was only able to see my son when my husband could bring him up, but my little guy would have to be escorted by a nurse from the postpartum wing, who would have to stay the whole time he was with me. I tried to breastfeed him, but was also told I shouldn’t because of the medications they were giving me. So, I would spend most of the time snuggling him and doing skin to skin time. I would only see him once or twice a day though, which broke my heart. I never imagined that I would be separated from my son the first days of his life. I still have guilt about this, but I’ll talk about that another time.
Each day, I would hope it would be the day I would be released from the ICU. Each time I threw up or wasn’t doing what they expected me to, I would feel like a failure. I just wanted to get out of there. I didn’t watch TV. I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t text anyone. I barely looked at my phone. I slept sometimes. I didn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t want anyone to see me. The nurses would leave the curtain and the door open, which I asked them to close because I felt awful. I looked awful. I hadn’t showered since before going into labor, my hair was in knots from moving my head back and forth on the bed, and I just felt disgusting.
I eventually asked for a wet towel or something to just wipe myself off. Instead the nurses gave me a “sponge” bath and all I could think the entire time was how embarrassed I was that this was my life. I mean, childbirth makes you lose your modesty, but this took it to a whole new level. You know when you are having a baby that pretty much everything is going to be on show, but to not be able to clean myself, I just felt so helpless. People, there wasn’t a bathroom in my room. Nurses aren’t paid enough…and I’m pretty sure I was one of the easy patients in there at that time.
Once I was released to the postpartum area, I was SO happy. The amazing nurse who was there when I got there asked me, “What would you like to do first?” My answer, “Take a shower.” All I wanted to do was wash away everything that had happened the previous 3 days. And I had become so accustomed to not having any privacy that I didn’t even close the bathroom door…she came in and said I didn’t have to leave it open and (maybe it was the hormones) I about cried. I felt like I hadn’t been treated like a person while I was in the ICU (and this is not to put down the nurses in the ICU, there was just a different protocol there). There, I was just a patient, but this nurse saw me. She understood what I had been through and treated me in a way that made me finally feel like a new mom.
Birth in itself is traumatic, but I do think there are different degrees of trauma. This experience changed me. It changed how I look at the world, how I look at my family, how I look at my kids, how I look at myself. It made me grateful for what I have, but it also made me question so many choices I made leading up to that day. I will never know the answer to the questions I have, but I do know that my son is healthy. This whole experience made me take my health into my hands and change for the better.
“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing creates change you do choose.” -Michele Rosenthal