Disclaimer: Please note, this post is quite lengthy and detailed. If you are not into birth stories, then this will likely not be an enjoyable read for you.
With Canadian Thanksgiving upon us, it is a wonderful time to reflect on the many, many things for which I am thankful. Perhaps this is also the time to share my birth story with you, seeing as I am most thankful this Thanksgiving for
a) for my beautiful baby girl
b) to be alive to share the world with her
As you may know from an earlier blog, this pregnancy was achieved after I had experienced an ectopic pregnancy. It took healing, time, the proper medical and naturopathic medical care and guidance, and some BIG life changes for the circumstances to be right for our baby Grayson to be welcomed into our lives. I believe whole-heartedly that the timing of her arrival was meant to be.
During my pregnancy I learned that I had a low PAPP-A - pregnancy-associated plasma protein A. Basically this means that the placenta didn’t form quite right upon conception. As such, my little developing fetus wasn’t getting enough blood and her growth had to be watched closely during my pregnancy. It could also lead to preeclampsia, and/or pre-term delivery. We knew there was a great chance that I would have to be induced in order to bring Grayson into the world without risking her growth and development. Throughout my pregnancy I had weekly and biweekly ultrasounds to watch her growth.
At exactly 36 weeks my ultrasound revealed that Grayson’s growth had started to decline, but the maternal and fetal medicine specialist deemed it okay for me to be released, but asked me to return in 2 weeks time. I spent those next few weeks doing everything I could to bring on my own labour - herbs, acupuncture, exercise, evening primrose oil, (sex), meditation, visualization and more - I was regularly talking with my acupuncturist and doula! But baby Grayson was on her own schedule. I had a few episodes of false labour, but nothing that developed the real deal.
At my next ultrasound I was exactly 38 weeks. Thankfully we had achieved a full-term pregnancy, but I was also concerned that an induction might be required. Upon assessment it was determined that Grayson’s growth had greatly declined and that my placenta was beginning to "look old" (that's how the ultrasound technician put it). It was time for our little girl to come out and an induction was recommended.
My midwives scheduled the induction to begin that evening. We went to the hospital to have the assessment done. It was during this assessment that we discovered I had developed severe preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension that was also affecting my liver and kidneys). The likelihood of this happening was quite high given my low PAPP-A condition, but it had not presented until the very end of my pregnancy. Oddly, I had no symptoms of my elevated blood pressure, so I was completely unaware of this issue. My blood pressure was extremely and dangerously high (nearing 195/100mmHg at one point), and I was immediately transferred to the care of the OB/GYN on call.
Often, severe preeclampsia results in an emergency Caesarean section, but thankfully the OB/GYN on call felt that I could attempt to deliver vaginally.
All decisions from here on out were very much out of my hands because this was an emergency. I could have a seizure at any minute.
I was immediately put on a magnesium sulphate drip, a ringer’s lactate drip, and a Pitocin drip. I was also hooked up to a blood pressure monitor that tested my BP every 15 minutes, as well as a fetal monitor to watch baby’s condition. I felt like I was restrained on the hospital bed. I even had a nurse by my side for the entire night, as well as one by the door who was keeping any extraneous people out of the room as I was not allowed to be stimulated in any way. No family members or labour supporters (like my doula) were allowed in the room either. The room was dark and quiet. My husband and I were told to sleep as best as we could.
By 11pm it was time for the mandatory epidural - I would have preferred not to have it, but with such intense pain levels from the Pitocin, it was required to keep my blood pressure from elevating further. My husband helped me through the lengthy insertion process by holding my hand and pressing on Yintang (a calming acupressure point). After about 30 minutes, I could feel the epidural starting to take effect, which was a good thing because the Pitocin drip was certainly activating contractions. It was interesting lying there in the dark, trying to stay calm and to sleep, I just kept thinking “dilate, cervix, dilate”. The last thing I wanted was to wind up with an C-section, and I knew that would happen if my cervix didn’t dilate. This was certainly the benefit of the hypnobirthing work I had practiced. I was able to really focus on the affirmations and the breathing techniques I had learned.
By 3am the OB/GYN came back to check on my dilation. I was only 3cm at that point. She broke my water and left the room. After breaking my water the contractions really started to pick up. It was at this point that I realized I must have an incomplete epidural block because I could true, strong contractions on the left side of my abdomen, but only pressure on the right. I also felt the sensation that I couldn’t keep my legs together as if something were making its way into my pelvis. I told myself that this meant I was dilating appropriately. I just kept keeping my headspace as positive as possible so as not to wind up with a C-section.
By 6am, the OB/GYN returned. The lights were flicked on and she immediately checked my cervix. She announced I was 10cm dilated – a textbook case in her experience. She informed my husband and me that in cases of preeclampsia, the body wants to get the baby out as swiftly as possible. I had dilated 7 cm in 3 hours – pretty remarkable! I was proud of myself for knowing and trusting my body. I knew I was dilating. I knew my baby was making her way down thanks to the combination of medications and visualizations.
Between 6am and 6:30am things moved rather quickly. My husband and I had to wrap our heads around the fact that our baby was on her way - and fast! Our birth had been so very outside of what was “planned/expected” that I had to get my head in gear and bring out as much of our birth plan as we could. My husband called our doula and the placenta encapsulation doula. The nurses called our midwives. Our labour and delivery nurse was excellent, and I told her that I wanted to keep the placenta, delay cord clamping, and have skin-to-skin. She reminded me that this was an emergency situation so it may not be possible. I held hope. She also informed me that once the baby arrived, she would not be able to stay with me after delivery. They would take her to the NICU, and I would be in isolation for the remainder of the day, unable to have visitors, food or drink. I think the rapidity of events and the magnesium kept me in a calm enough headspace that I accepted what was and focused on the task at hand – getting our baby into the world.
By 6:30am, it was time to begin delivery. All doctors and nurses were present, except my midwives and doula, who were unable to make it in time. My husband and our nurse helped me deliver. Because we had trained in hypnobirthing I was planning on breathing the baby down and out rather than pushing, but because of the epidural I had to “push” instead. But, we still did our best to use our hypnobirthing practice. I “pushed”, but while doing so I imagined the baby traveling down the birth canal. In between pushes, my husband would remind me to focus on the colour blue (the birth colour I had selected) and to practice my calm breathing. I was happy to be able to incorporate as much of our hypnobirthing techniques as I could. It truly helped me stay extremely calm, focused and strong.
I pushed for 35 minutes – although it felt like 5! Soon, the nurse was telling me that it was time to deliver the baby’s head. She called in the OB/GYN into the room. And then, I did it - I delivered the baby’s head and then with the next push came her little body. I remember quickly glancing at the clock to see the time – 7:05am. Then glancing at my husband as she was held up and placed on my abdomen – all slippery and new. We shared a look of – “Oh my, she’s here. Our lives have now changed completely!”
By default she was able to stay with me for a few minutes before she was taken to be cleaned (I had forgotten to tell them not to wash her), weighed, measured and checked by the pediatrician. While she was being checked, the OB/GYN reached into my uterus and pulled out the placenta because it was too dangerous to let me try to deliver it on my own.
Our little babe was placed back on my chest for a few more minutes while the doctors and nurses buzzed around. At that time I called over the midwife and doula (who had finally arrived) to help me get the baby to latch - I was determined that we have a few minutes of latching before she was taken to the NICU, where I knew they would formula feed her for the first 24 hours since I was not allowed to pump or breastfeed.
And just like that, it was over. She was out. And I was left alone. Very alone. For 24 hours I laid there counting down the hours and minutes until I could see her and hold her and feed her again. I was visited hourly by the nurse who pushed on my abdomen to check my bleeding, checked my catheter and urine status, wiped me down, and checked my vitals. I was put on another blood pressure medication, too. And in between I had visits from my husband who would let me know about our visitors who were very upset they couldn't see me. He would tell me all about how wonderfully perfect our baby was. And he would let me cry and express my concerns about being able to bond and breastfeed once we were reunited, about the family I was missing, about the dramatic birth we had just been through.
At 3pm I was taken off the Pitocin, and my countdown continued. Twice the baby was able to visit me, albeit very briefly. She almost didn’t seem real. My life had changed so dramatically in such a few short hours. I almost couldn’t wrap my head around it. That night I had a fitful sleep as I anticipated 7am. When the time finally arrived I was taken off the magnesium sulphate, moved to the recovery room, able to eat and drink (it had been nearly 40 hours), and reunited with my baby... and so our new journey began.
Admittedly, the first two weeks of her life were quite hard. I was back in the hospital because my blood pressure was very high again, was placed on a new medication, and then had many doctors appointments, lots of tears, little sleep, physical discomfort, and the usual adjustments to life at home with a new baby. But she was angelic through it all. Completely.
Baby Grayson is a wonderful child. She is sweet, patient, kind, attentive, alert, strong, and so wise beyond her years. She has a beautiful little face. A perfect body. Cute little fingers and toes. And the most delicious milky smell. I love holding her in my arms. I love feeding her. I love watching her sleep and learn and play. I am completely in love! And while I do have my moments – tears, questions, uncertainty and more – I know we will teach one another what we need to know to make it through these early days together.
Sometimes I look at images of birth stories with doulas and midwives and water births and I have a small tinge of sadness that my birth experience was not like that - not that “normal” that is so glorified. But in reality, we have a story that is our very own. Our story is one of being alive. Many years ago there is the potential that I would not have survived preeclampsia. That thought scares and saddens me more than “missing out” on a natural delivery.
So today, I am beyond grateful for many, many things - the wonderful care we received from our midwives, doctors, nurses, and our doula, the loving support of our family and friends, the incredible strength of my husband, and, of course, I am beyond grateful for this new little person in our lives, and that I am alive to share in the magic of her new life.