By Gabrielle. Helvetica Hi Blanket via Yarning Made.
A lot of pregnancies have a false start or two. (Mine with June did!) But sometimes those false starts turn into very real, very surprising beginnings, and what in the world do you do then? Melissa has some experience, mistaking her early delivery signs as lingering flu symptoms and perhaps a little constipation. I’ll let her tell you how it all turned out. Enjoy her story, Friends!
My husband, Aaron, and I plopped onto the couch after getting the kids to bed on a Sunday night. Our Valentine’s weekend hadn’t gone at all as we had planned. Instead of date night and playdates, we dealt with barf buckets and Gatorade. I had spent the previous Friday night experiencing some of the most violent vomiting ever.
We spent Sunday recuperating. We made cinnamon rolls and spent a wonderfully relaxing day together. That night we snuggled on the couch as my two oldest boys picked Aaron’s brain for stories about his time as a Temple Square security guard. “Did you get to carry a gun!?” “What does getting sprayed with pepper spray feel like!?”
The Drunk Indian and January Pond Wader are among the favorite stories that were told that night. Our family room felt like a happy little cocoon. I felt a few strong contractions as I put the boys to bed that night, but didn’t worry. I was only 30 weeks pregnant.
Our lazy day left me feeling nostalgic. After getting the kids down, we talked about my weekend plans of flying to Las Vegas to visit friends. We finally got around to talking about baby names. Aaron liked Max. I liked Noah. We brought up the name Grant for the first time.
I said, “Things are probably going to get really hard after the baby comes. But we just need to remember days like today. That will get us through.”
I didn’t sleep well that night. I woke up several times with back pain and worried that our stomach flu was coming back in the form of some kind of gastrointestinal distress. Or, I wondered if my iron supplements, combined with two days of no food or water, were causing some plumbing problems.
The next morning the back pain wouldn’t go away. I took a bath, which eased the pain, but it returned and intensified the moment I stood up. Still sure that these pains were related to our stomach flu, I called my sister who recommend Miralax and a lot of water. I followed both of those instructions. The pain got so intense that I lay on my side and practiced my hypno-birthing prompts. I struggled to relax through each surge.
I decided to use the bathroom. I felt the pressure reduce as I sat down. After a couple of pushes I saw something come out and was sure that I was about to feel some relief. But instead of relief, I felt panic as I noticed a purple swirly bag beginning its departure. My heart stopped and my mind stuttered in catching up to what my eyes had seen. There’s no way, I thought. I felt my mucous plug in my hand.
I called Aaron. “Aaron you need to come home right now! I think something started to come out of me that wasn’t supposed to…it couldn’t have been my bag of waters could it?” He left work immediately as I composed myself and called my midwife.
“Hi Kara,” I said, “I thought I was constipated, but…I just tried to use the bathroom, and…I thought I saw my bag of waters start to come out. I had to push it back in! My mucous plug was in my hand! It probably wasn’t that. I mean, it couldn’t be that, right? I’m only 30 weeks. But could you come and check me out just in case? I’m probably still messed up from our stomach flu.”
She assured me that I was probably okay, and said she was on her way.
As I lay back down on my bed I texted a friend to come and get the kids. I started to realize that this pain was probably much too intense to be related to the flu.
Panic and denial started rising in my chest.
After calling Aaron and my midwife, I didn’t sit still long. I hurried around the house, finding shoes and getting kids dressed to go to their friend’s house while fighting back tears. I told the kids that my body was possibly trying to have the baby, but that it was too early. Our friend arrived and shuttled them into her car.
My oldest son shot me nervous glances and asked me if I was going to die as he walked out the door. “I’ll be fine, honey,” I answered, hoping it was true.
I lay down on my couch and relaxed, waiting for the contractions to stop. They didn’t. Wave after wave rippled through my body. I breathed and counted and waited, sure that they would go away. I had spent weeks prepping for an unmedicated birth, and my work paid off in helping me to relax and focus. But the contractions didn’t slow. They intensified.
Aaron got home and gave me a Priesthood blessing. I was promised peace and a clear mind.
My midwife arrived shortly after. She offered me some medicine, but I didn’t turn to look at her because the pain was too intense. Kara, ever calm and steady asked, “Melissa, do you think you could be having this baby?” I nodded and said yes, believing it for the first time, as I said the words out loud.
We sped to the hospital. I curled to my left side, breathed, and cried as question after question stumbled out. Will they be able to stop this? Can babies survive at 30 weeks? Why would my body do this? Why is this happening!? They could probably still stop this, right? It felt as though reality had jumped 10 miles ahead and our minds were racing to catch up.
Aaron wheeled me into the Emergency Room and they directed us up to Labor and Delivery. They stopped us halfway there, and flagged down a nurse to ride up with us. Just in case I delivered in the elevator.
Labor and Delivery took approximately two years gathering my insurance and driver’s license information and handed me a dozen forms to sign. I closed my eyes and breathed through each contraction. I don’t think they believed me when I told them we needed to hurry.
I’ve had three fulll-term deliveries, all healthy, no complications. Yes, we have insurance. I’m 30 weeks.
I was finally wheeled to a triage room and checked by a nurse. “Wow…it looks like you are having a baby today. You’re complete. The baby is right there.”
After transferring again to a delivery room, the on-call doctor didn’t waste any time explaining things.
“You are in preterm labor. There is nothing we can do to stop it at this point. At 30 weeks, premature babies have higher risks of cerebral palsy, blindness, meningitis, brain bleeds, and chronic lung problems. We are going to do everything we can do to slow this down so that you will have some time to get some steroids that will help your baby’s lungs. We want to give you two doses. One today and one 24 hours from now. Any questions?”
The pain was constant at this point, but I felt calm as I asked question after question in between contractions. The hospital bed was tilted upside down to take the pressure off of my cervix. A nurse started an IV. “This is magnesium sulfate. It will make you feel like crap,” she explained. “You’re going to feel like you have a bad case of the flu…hot flashes, nausea, blurry vision, and slurred speech. This will help your baby’s brain and slow down your contractions. I’m also going to start a penicillin drip, just in case you are GBS+.”
Another nurse gave me a shot of steroids. My blood was drawn for labs.
I kept waiting for the part where I would pass out and wake up after the drama was over. I didn’t think people stayed conscious during intense medical situations like this. Everyone passes out in the movies, right!? Hollywood, you all are a bunch of liars!
The doctor hooked me up to an ultrasound. I heard him mumbling about seeing hemorrhaging on my placenta. He confirmed that the baby was head down and that my cervix was, indeed, completely dilated. The doctor said an epidural wouldn’t be a good idea, but then later changed his mind. I was so relieved. The thought of laboring with the Magnesium for two days was unbearable.
“Hooray for a drug-free childbirth!” I joked as I counted up the drugs I was on. Wonderful life saving drugs!
I was very worried that I had done something to cause this. I asked if I should have come in the night before. Or was it the Miralax? The doctor reassured me and said no activity on my part could have caused this. Then I mentioned that I have a bi-cornuate uterus. The doctor explained that this baby must be in the other, smaller, side of my uterus and that’s what caused my cervix to give out.
After the initial flurry of chaos, Aaron and I had a minute alone. The magnesium started to kick in and my contractions slowed. What the doctor said struck us hard. This could have happened with any of our babies, yet I had had three healthy pregnancies. Miracle.
When I was 36 weeks pregnant with Charlie I packed up a house and moved from North Carolina to California with no problems. Miracle.
When we arrived in California, we knew no one. My mom randomly picked a day on the calendar to come and help and I prayed that I wouldn’t go into labor early. I didn’t feel a single contraction until I was on the way to the airport to pick up my mom. I had the baby four hours after she arrived. Miracle.
I started crying again. Half marveling at Heavenly Father’s care of us, and half nervous for what was to come. We had been prepared for this, without even realizing it. I almost picked a doctor that was 45 minutes away (because the hospital had a better setup for natural childbirth) but I didn’t feel good about it. I felt really good about the midwife here in town. She helped me prepare for my first natural birth, and that was turning out to be another huge blessing. I felt a very strong connection to this baby. (Something I never really experienced early on with my other pregnancies). I knew he was strong and felt a closeness to him.
Now, for reasons I can’t completely explain, I was sure that I wasn’t going to live through this. I think this was partly due to the fact that my friend had lost her husband to flu complications a month prior. Yes, I realized people have babies early all the time and do just fine. But people also get the flu all the time. Death was on our minds.
I wasn’t being dramatic, and I wasn’t afraid. I felt peace. I knew everything was in Heavenly Father’s hands, and that knowledge comforted me. But I was sure that either the baby or I was not going to live. When I realized how God had prepared us for this moment, I was sure that it was because He was preparing us for a devastating trial.
Every time I looked at Aaron I was filled with joy and peace and a panicked need to tell him how incredible he is. To tell him how much of a joy the past 10 years have been with him. He never let me finish these trains of thought, because he thought it was best to focus on us all living, for some reason. Right. Living. Good idea, Aaron.
The magnesium started making my face and chest burn. I felt nauseated. Being upside down made the burning in my face and chest worse. I vomited, but did it as gently as possible so that I wouldn’t break my water. I was given Zofran through the IV. Because I was tilted back, the epidural started going too high up my chest. Apparently it’s not good for your heart to go numb? Who knew! So my chest was propped up.
The combination of my pelvis up and my chest up made me look like a large pregnant taco.
I stopped being able to track with my eyes. I felt like I was looking at everyone from inside a snow globe, which made me more sick. My blood pressure kept dropping into the 70s and at one point hit 70/24. I was put on oxygen and given epinephrin to help bring it up.
I hung out like this for over eight hours. My nurse continued to adjust my position to keep my blood pressure up, yet prevent my epidural from rising into my chest. She checked my breathing. “Cough.” she ordered, stethoscope in hand. “Wait, don’t cough! We don’t want your water to break!”
She left after instructing me to call her immediately if I felt any fluid.
Finally, at 7:30, I felt a gush of fluid and called the nurses.
“I think my water broke,” I announced. One nurse lifted the sheet to check and let out a little gasp.
“It’s not fluid, it’s blood!” she mumbled to the other nurse. “Go get the doctor!”
The doctor rushed in and the room fell silent. He checked my contractions on the monitor and watched my bleeding.
“You’re hemorrhaging with every contraction.”
He waited another minute. Another gush.
“At this point we need to decide if we should let you continue like this, so that the baby can get the added protection from the second dose of steroids. But doing that will risk you losing to much blood. Or, we deliver the baby and deal with the risk of him having immature lungs.”
He stood still for what seemed like several minutes. Another gush.
“I think we need to deliver the baby,” the doctor finally announced. “He’s had one dose of steroids, and we can’t have you losing any more blood.”
Everyone left to prep the room for delivery. I felt more gushes of blood. I started praying. Please, Heavenly Father, please. Carry us. Please send your angels. Please help my baby. Please carry us…Please…
At this point, Aaron had texted our family and also asked our Facebook friends for prayers. We felt them, you guys. We probably should have been scared and wailing at this point, but we were calm. I felt nothing but peace. Your prayers carried us. Our situation was terrifying, but it also felt holy. Like walking on sacred ground.
“Aaron, if anything happens…” I sobbed.
“Stop…don’t…” Aaron cut me off again. Because, LIVING. Yes. Focus on living.
Armed with the knowledge that Heavenly Father had this thing, I breathed.
The delivery team arrived. Several people introduced themselves to me. The NICU team, the Neonatologist, I really can’t be sure because I couldn’t focus on any of them. My vision was completely blurred at that point. So I nodded as they talked, and pretended like I could make a face out of the swirling blob in front of me.
“Give me one small push,” the doctor ordered.
I pushed the tiniest push in the world and was told to slow down. The doc eased the baby out and held him up.
Pink skin. Tiny. Like a miniature version of my other boys. I heard a cry! They put the baby on a towel on my stomach for a few seconds while they cleaned him off, and then whisked him under the heat lamp to evaluate him.
“He looks good, doesn’t he!?” I asked, hoping for validation. “He looks good!”
“He does, he looks great,” the doctor agreed.
I relaxed my head back into the pillow crying tears of shock and gratitude as my baby was rushed to the NICU. Nothing could have prepared me for seeing Grant for the first time in the NICU. After the epidural had worn off, I asked Aaron to wheel me down to see him. Aaron showed me how to call into the unit and then scrub in. I put on a scratchy blue hospital gown and entered the quiet room. My heart dropped the moment I saw him and I fought back tears.
Tubes, wires, beeping monitors, a mask, and the tiniest body I had ever seen, sitting perfectly still. His skin was shiny and fragile, stretched tenuously over the bones. A thin layer of fur covered his body. He weighed 3 lbs., 12 ounces.The mask and tubes were upsetting, but the listlessness scared me the most. His nurse propped him up so that I could take some pictures, and his jerky movements startled me. He didn’t have the strength to lift his arms and kick his legs smoothly like my other babies. When he tried to move, his movements were awkward and obviously caused him discomfort. His nurse kept reassuring me that he looked great and was doing really well, but I barely understood her. The magnesium was still in my system and made me unsteady and unable to focus. I didn’t dare hold him in such a state. I asked to go back to my room.
We didn’t sleep well that night. Every time I closed my eyes, my mind relived the days’ events in vivid detail. The fear, the excitement and the miracles played on a nonstop loop in my mind. I dozed off a few times, only to wake up in a panic – frantically feeling my stomach to check if I was still pregnant – and reliving the day all over again. I’m not pregnant anymore. I had a bay. He’s in the NICU.
“Grant has been misbehaving,” the Neonatologist explained the next morning. He started experiencing respiratory distress this morning. His right lung has a pneumothorax.” He went on to explain about fragile newborn lungs, bursting air sacs, and leaking air. “When we gave him the Morphine, he stopped breathing. We manually breathed for him until we were able to intubate him. A chest tube was inserted to drain the air. We’re hoping the lungs will heal themselves once the air clears.”
The next time we saw Grant, his tubes had multiplied. He now had a chest tube, a breathing tube, a feeding tube, two lines through the umbilical cord, along with the 4 lines for monitors. His chest tube needed to stay in place, so I wasn’t allowed to hold him. I was shocked to see how many machines were required to keep him alive. The oscillator hummed loudly, shaking his bed and making his body quiver. The monitors alarmed every time his oxygen levels dipped, or heart rate dropped, which was often.
We drove home from the hospital that night, and had another night of restless sleep. More nightmares and more panic.
And in the morning, more bad news. Another pneumothorax on the other side. One more chest tube. This time on the left side. Grant was very fragile and sensitive. Touch irritated him. Simply changing his diaper was too much stimulation, so his nurse stopped fastening it. Watching him struggle and not being able to comfort him was pure torture. And the added fact that my touch irritated him even more was heartbreaking to me. I felt useless. On day four, the air outside of Grant’s left lung wasn’t clearing and the pneumothorax had not healed. The doctor wasn’t sure what else they could do to get the air to go away.
My other boys were sick at home, so Aaron and I wore masks, and watched from a distance as Grant’s oxygen levels fluctuated. A nurse and a respiratory therapist never left his side. We watched as his oxygen levels repeatedly dropped, followed by an angry alarm.
99…92….90…85…82…79…beep beep beep! Every time this happened the respiratory therapist would prop him up, or his adjust his position until his oxygen levels went back up. And then it would start dropping again. Over and over. I didn’t like being at the hospital. All of the beeping monitors made me want to run screaming from the room. Standing next to him underscored my helplessness and I hated seeing the ups and downs first hand.
That night we sat next to Grant, watching his breathing – willing his lungs to heal. He was motionless except for an occasional grimace or a jerky kick. Aaron and I exchanged worried glances as we watched his oxygen levels go down and up and back down again. I ached to hold him and feel his warm breath on my chest. I wondered what his eyes looked like. After 4 days we still had not seen them open. We watched as some visitors entered the NICU. Grandparents, I guessed. They lifted their grandson out of his crib and smelled his head and stroked his hair. I watched them take turns holding him until tears blurred my vision. I swallowed the lump in my throat and left the unit to go cry in the hallway.
We left the hospital that evening heavyhearted and without answers. His doctor was still unsure as to why his lungs were still leaking. He was consulting with other doctors to see what else we could do. Seeing him so befuddled shook us up. Wasn’t he supposed to have all of the answers? To make matter worse, Aaron caught the boys’ stomach bug and spent all that night vomitting.
I woke the next morning feeling as though I had bricks on my chest. I was sure that I couldn’t handle a day in the NICU without Aaron.
I sobbed the entire way to the hospital struggling to read the street signs through my tears. I mumbled prayer after prayer and begged God for a sign that Grant would be okay.
I felt raw and exposed as I walked into the hospital without Aaron. Like I was missing a few layers of skin. I entered the busy NICU and leaned over Grant’s crib, wrapping his fingers around my thumb. I put a shaky hand on his head and hummed the song I had been singing to him every night while pregnant with him. It was a song I had made up to help my two year old learn our family members’ names.
And as I hummed, Grant opened his eyes and looked directly into mine. For a few seconds all of the chaos of the NICU faded away, and it seemed as though we were the only people in the room. It was as though he had been waiting for me to come wake him up.
I wiped away tears – happy tears this time – and found myself saying, “Mom is here, little one. It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.”
And I meant it.
Thank you, Melissa! Thank you for sharing your wild and lovely adventure with us – I am sure it will help at least one or two of my readers who may need the reassurance of your happy ending. My heart broke a little when you expressed your very real fears of dying during childbirth. I wonder how many moms and future moms have that same fear? Friends, would you like to chime in with your own experiences? Do your fears about this massive endeavor of making another person overtake your dreams to make another person?