I hardly know where to start. I guess the beginning would be best.
As my second son’s due date approached, I was worried about a lot of things. Worried I would have to be induced. Worried I couldn’t handle the pain of childbirth. Worried I would have to schedule a c-section. Worried my first son would be jealous of the new baby.
What life keeps teaching me is that the things you worry about don’t happen. It’s the things you never even think to worry about that end up happening. Which is scary, but also a strong case against worrying.
Even though I had already had a son, I was never in labor and needed an emergency c-section due to a placental abruption, so the whole act of going into labor was still a mystery. The night after my due date passed, I was lucky enough to go into labor spontaneously (worried for nothing). Once I figured out it was not a drill and I was actually in labor, I tried to relax as much as possible. I’d read all the books. Listened to so many birth stories. I knew this was just the beginning and it could be a while.
For whatever reason, things progressed quickly. I first started to question that I might be in labor at 8 p.m. and by 11 p.m. contractions were painful enough that I couldn’t lay down. I labored in the tub and it only took a few more hours for contractions to be close enough together to be officially allowed to go to the hospital (4 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute for 1 hour).
The drive to the hospital was torture as the contractions got closer together and were incredibly painful. There was no “breathing through the pain.” I know everyone feels pain differently and every labor is different, but for me, contractions on a scale of 1-10 were a 97.
I got to the emergency room (it was the middle of the night so this was our only option) and while I was being assessed, I started shaking and vomiting and only got a minute or less of a break in between contractions. I remember the books talking about the “transition” phase of labor. This was it. Baby was coming fast. I might have him right there in the emergency triage. The nurse checked to see how far I was dilated.
I was 1 cm.
ONE FREAKING CENTIMETER.
I couldn’t even be admitted until I was 3 cm so I had to labor and vomit and shake and scream and cry and cuss in the emergency room triage. A woman next to me was in labor with twins and she didn’t make a peep. Fortunately things progressed quickly again and I was at 3 cm after only an hour (of course, I say “only an hour” now, but it was the worst hour ever at the time).
Once I was officially a patient of the hospital, I labored in the tub for as long as I could and then tapped out. Hats off to you warriors who give birth without epidurals because I definitely could not.
But once the epidural set in, I was glad I got it. Not only was the pain gone, but I was actually able to enjoy the impending arrival of my son. Despite the lack of sleep, I was excited and happy. I was peaceful. I could take a moment to be glad that I didn’t have to be induced and I could celebrate the fact that I would definitely have the VBAC I wanted and it won’t be much longer until I’d be able to hold our new baby in my arms. (So, point epidural.)
After that things kept moving along. Even though I was getting close to 24 hours of labor, I was dilating at a steady pace. Everything was going well.
Until it wasn’t.
Since I had been awake for close to 33 hours, I started to drift in and out of sleep (again, point epidural because there’s no way I could’ve slept through contractions). After I had been checked and it was revealed I was 8 cm dilated, I drifted into sleep again thinking that the next time I woke up, it would probably be time to push and meet my baby.
The next thing I remember was two nurses and my doula quickly flipping me from one position to another. I hadn’t even realized I was awake yet, but I didn’t think much of it – maybe it was just time to rotate and they were trying to do it fast so as to not wake me. As I was a little drowsy, I don’t remember much of what they were saying, but I remember the tone of the room was… different.
I didn’t like the tension I was sensing so I started to ask questions. With some hesitation, and in as calm a voice as possible, somebody said to me, “we’re just having trouble finding heart tones.”
This made my stomach sink. I was in labor with a full term baby – why could they not find heart tones? And why were they calling them heart tones? The whole pregnancy it was a heart beat and now it’s tones? I knew a heart beat sounded more alarming so I sensed they were trying to keep me calm. But no matter what they said, I knew I could stick a Doppler on my stomach and find heart “tones,” no problem. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew one thing – my baby, who was just fine a moment ago, might be dying.
Before I could jump to any conclusions, my doula and husband commented on how weird my belly looked. They took a picture so I could see. I didn’t know what I was looking at, but it didn’t look normal.
Again time was a tricky thing to gauge, but in what seemed like just a few minutes my OB was in the room. It was hard to see or hear what was going on. All I remember was seeing some hushed conversations using words I didn’t understand and then a bunch of heads nodding. The next thing I knew my VBAC was off the table and I was getting an emergency c-section.
This is when things started to get intense, not just for me, but for everyone. I’m sure I was carefully wheeled into the operating room, but the tone and the atmosphere felt rushed. I kept asking questions and people kept ignoring me. I saw doctors and nurses moving quickly around me to get assembled. I’ve never seen medical professionals in such a hurry. Now I really started to panic. Why are they rushing? What clock are they trying to beat?
For whatever reason (anesthesia, labor, shock, terror) I started to vomit. Since I was laying down and being prepped for surgery, there was nothing I could do but turn my head to the side and vomit all over my face and my hair. I knew the doctors performing the operation had bigger things to deal with, but I was yelling for help, calling out for my husband or my doula, but they weren’t there. I felt very alone and also very alarmed – why isn’t my husband allowed in the room? What do they not want him to see?
As they started to cut into me, I quickly understood an emergency c-section under whatever circumstances I was under was a hell of a lot different than my first c-section. It was not a gentle surgery by any means. I was already letting myself deal with the fact that my son is either dead or dying, but due to the roughness of the surgery and the fact that I was being ignored, I started to wonder – am I dying too?
I felt my baby being ripped out of me and then I heard the worst sound I could possibly hear – nothing.
My first son cried immediately after he was born, so as the precious minutes went by and there wasn’t a sound to be heard, I knew things were not good.
My anesthesiologist, an older man who could be my father, was the only person I could see so I begged him for answers. I asked him repeatedly (and not very politely) why my baby wasn’t crying. After so much prodding he finally couldn’t ignore me. “They’re just working on him,” he said. “He’s okay.”
With an intense rage coming from who knows where, I responded with “You’re lying. Stop lying to me.”
He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said nothing. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew whatever was happening to my baby made this kind man, who had probably seen a lot in his medical career, speechless and sad. I stopped asking him for answers. Instead I started praying the only prayer I could think of.
“God, please don’t do this. Please don’t do this. Please don’t do this.”
I said it out loud. Over and over. I never pray out loud, but I felt like I couldn’t just be silent. I had to beg God, out loud, to spare my son’s life. I had to scream it so he’d hear. So he’d know I meant it. So he’d know I’d be completely ruined if my son were to die.
Time was still tricky, but it had been a very long time since the baby was out of me and he still wasn’t making a sound. After a while I really started to shake and they gave me some strong drug to calm me down so they could continue to put my body back together. I remember feeling a dark cloud wash over me and then I was unable to move. Finally my husband came in, but I was too paralyzed to do anything but look in his general direction. He had tears in his eyes and kissed me on his forehead. I hoped like hell he had some answers.
“They got him breathing! They got him breathing!”
I remember thinking I should be happy to hear this, but I was so out of it I wasn’t sure if I could believe him. When I didn’t respond, he realized I was under some heavy sedation so he kissed me again and thanked everyone in the room for saving our lives. I knew he couldn’t be lying, but I still had no idea what had just happened and things still didn’t feel okay.
It wasn’t until I was back in the delivery room that they tried to explain the pieces of what just took place.
“Baby was without oxygen…”
“Baby was born not breathing…”
None of it seemed real since things had been totally fine just moments ago. Then they hit me with the worst of the news.
“He needs to be airlifted to another NICU…”
At this point I still hadn’t heard him cry or even so much as caught a glimpse of my new son and they were telling me they were taking him somewhere else and I couldn’t follow him. I just had major surgery, so I was stuck where I was to recover. It’s hard to believe, but throughout the whole ordeal, this was the first time I cried.
I didn’t want my son to leave me for a second (no mom who just had a baby does), but I knew I had no other choice but to quickly come to terms with what happened, accept that he had to leave, and do my best to recover as soon as humanly possible so I could get to him. As hard as it was to accept, I knew it had to be done, but I wanted to see him before he went. I begged anyone who came in the room if I could please see him for just a second. A janitor could have walked in and I would’ve asked “what’s the status on seeing my baby?” After what felt like an eternity, the airlift team wheeled my precious boy into my room.
Seeing him with a tube going down his throat to help him breathe broke my heart into a million pieces, but I was somehow able to smile because he was so beautiful.
I wanted to pause time because I knew at any second someone was going to tell me time was up and I had to say goodbye. I did NOT want him to go. I can’t stress that enough. I had no clue what was wrong with him or why he needed to be taken to another NICU, I just really really really didn’t want him to be taken from me.
But after saying hello and touching him through a small hole in his traveling cooling cap, they wheeled him back out. I knew I was so grateful that he was alive, but I didn’t know for how long. I didn’t know if I would see him alive again. I told my husband to follow him to the other hospital. I did not want him to be alone.
On the night my baby was born, I remained in the hospital by myself, without my baby. Fortunately, thanks to the combination of a long labor plus medication plus shock and trauma, I didn’t stay up long that night to worry or to try to recap the events. I just slept and I slept hard.
I woke up the next morning hoping I had imagined or dreamt the whole thing. I talked to my doctors and tried to piece it all together. The major details were that my uterus had ruptured and my baby was born into my abdomen. He was without oxygen (or with limited oxygen) for an undetermined amount of time, but for as much as twenty minutes. His Apgar score was 2. He didn’t take his first breath on his own until 8 minutes after birth. He didn’t take his second breath until 17 minutes after birth. So the whole time I didn’t hear him crying, what was actually taking place was a team of doctors trying to revive our lifeless baby. I’m glad my husband wasn’t there to see that.
I’m also glad I don’t have the physical memory of my uterus rupturing (for those keeping score, that’s 50 more points for the epidural). I later found out that my son’s head was already out when they started the c-section, so that photo of my stomach looking weird was actually my son’s head in the very very very wrong spot.
What followed was a two week stay in the NICU (which is an entire other post in and of itself), but by the grace of God my baby boy survived, I survived, and we are both on the road to hopefully making a full recovery. Our wounds are still fresh, there’s still a lot we don’t know, but our son is truly a miracle baby. And our first is hopelessly in love with his little brother (worried for nothing).