While I was pregnant I read a lot of birth stories on mom blogs. Some terrified me and others put me at ease. However, my biggest take away from all of it, which I found reassuring, was no matter your delivery experience, once you meet your baby, the fear, pain, months of morning sickness, swollen feet, sleepless nights and back pain cease to matter anymore. And now that I’ve been through it, this is true. I think most women who are uneasy and scared about the actual labor and delivery part of pregnancy feel nervous because it’s not something you can prepare for. Even if you talk to every mom you know, everyone’s experience is different and until you go through it yourself, it’s hard to anticipate what it will be like.At my 35th week doctor’s appointment everything seemed pretty routine. I was feeling fine, not having any unusual pain or symptoms, but my blood pressure was high. As a precaution, the doctor took some blood tests and said she would call me the next day if anything seemed concerning. Although it was the first time throughout my pregnancy that my blood pressure had been elevated, she didn’t seem too worried, so I didn’t think much of it.
The next day I had almost forgotten about the tests all together. Mike had gone to work from a nearby Starbucks. It was around 5:00pm and I was walking around the apartment sans pants (because when you’re 35 weeks pregnant, pants are optional), looking for something to snack on when my phone rang. It was my doctor. I can’t remember all the details of the call because somewhere after she said, “I don’t want you to panic, but I want you to pack a bag and head to the hospital,” I’m pretty sure I blacked out. But the gist was: due to the results of the blood tests, she was concerned that I may have preeclampsia and therefore may need to be induced, so she wanted me to go to the hospital for monitoring and more tests.
My immediate reaction was to hysterically panic and call my mom. I managed to relay the few details I remembered to her, the whole time pacing my apartment looking for things to throw into my hospital bag. I tried not to go over the laundry list of things I had planned to do in the next few weeks: putting together the bassinet, organizing the baby’s clothes, installing the car seat, lining up a newborn photographer, writing my baby shower thank you notes, wrapping up all the loose ends at work, and maybe most relevant in that moment, packing a hospital bag. Once she calmed me down, I called Mike. Taking a cue from the doctor I lead with, “I don’t want you to panic, but…” I left out the induction part though.
You know all those checklists of what to pack in your hospital bag? In that moment, all of those suggestions went right out the window. I threw the most random things into a bag and once Mike got home, we left for the hospital. We were shown to a room, I changed into a hospital gown, and the blood tests and monitoring began. Since our families are long distance, my mom called close family friends who live nearby and they met us at the hospital. It was nice to have some familiar faces to keep us company and take my mind off of the panic I was feeling. Turns out, other than the tests, nothing much happened that night.
I stayed in the hospital for the next 4 days. Although I didn’t have the typical signs and symptoms of preeclampsia, a condition in pregnancy marked by high blood pressure and swelling brought on by fluid retention, and my blood pressure had since returned to normal, my liver enzymes were elevated and continuing to rise each day. The doctors on call spent a lot of time trying to figure out what could be going on. The baby’s heart rate was strong and they kept telling me that he was doing great, but my liver was definitely a cause for concern. Since I wasn’t feeling sick, this made my situation even more confusing.
I spent the days trying to distract myself—napping, watching movies, texting friends and family, trying to relax and not get frustrated that I wasn’t quite sure what was going on with my body. I worried about the baby’s health and what the possibility of an early delivery would mean. In preparation for this, I was given a steroid to help the baby’s lungs develop more quickly. Towards the end of the week, although I still felt unsure of exactly what was going on, it seemed the plan would be to stay in the hospital, where I could be monitored, with hopes of reaching 37 weeks before I was induced. But in the meantime if my liver enzymes returned to normal, I might be able to go home and finish my pregnancy as normal. I held onto that hope.Mike was a huge help while I was in the hospital. He kept me company during the day, calmed my fears when I started to worry about the baby, brought me meals so that I avoided hospital food, ran home in the evenings to check on Riggins, and helped to cross a few items off that to-do list I mentioned—preparing the apartment for the baby’s early arrival.
I met with GI specialists and had an ultrasound to see if maybe it was my gallbladder. Once that was ruled out, I had another ultrasound to check on the baby. (They told me that he had hair, probably weighed 6 pounds and 8 ounces, and that he had a “good sized head.”) Each day it seemed the possibility of one thing or another was ruled out. Thankfully, I was still feeling fine.
That Sunday morning the doctor came in and announced that he was calling my symptoms an atypical case of HELLP, a form of preeclampsia, and that since my liver enzymes didn’t seem to be improving, but only getting worse, they would start inducing me at noon that day. I looked at the clock right away—that gave me two hours. Mike had run home to take care of our dog, Riggins, so again I had to call him with the news, “I don’t want you to panic, but…”
As planned, the induction began at noon. (Just as a side note, I’m not going to get into too many of the details, but I also totally understand if you’re not interested in hearing about things like cervix dilation—feel free to skip ahead if you need to.) First, I was given Cytotec to help soften my cervix and dilate to 2 or 3 centimeters. After that the Pitocin started and the contractions started to get more intense—2 to 3 minutes apart and lasting for about an minute. I felt the contractions mostly in my lower back. I had read that it helps to walk around, but I had to be strapped to the heart rate monitor, so I didn’t really have that option. Around 5 centimeters I was given an epidural. After that, I didn’t feel much. At one point the nurse told me I was in the middle of a big contraction and to be honest I couldn’t feel a thing. A few hours after getting the epidural, I noticed the effects were starting to wear off. I could feel contractions again and the discomfort had returned. I told my nurse and the anesthesiologist came back to check on me. He upped my pain medication and after that I felt much better.
When I was given Pitocin to move labor along, the doctor noticed the baby’s heart rate would drop and then they would have to move me around to help it come back up. Since I already had my epidural, it was really hard for me to move or use my legs—making this whole process really difficult and uncomfortable. They stopped the Pitocin for a while to see if I would continue to progress on my own. But the progress was slow. I was also feeling really nauseous, which made matters worse. This cycle went on for what must have been a few hours, until the doctor determined the pattern wasn’t safe for the baby and that a c-section would be necessary. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t panic a little. I didn’t really have a birth plan, but the past few days and labor certainly weren’t going the way I had envisioned.
After the doctor decided on a c-section, everything moved really quickly. Mike was given scrubs to change into, multiple nurses came into the room to prep me, and then before I knew it I was being wheeled down the hall to the operating room.
I honestly don’t remember a ton of details from the c-section. It was kind of like an out of body experience. I know that I didn’t feel any pain, just some pressure. I remember the anesthesiologist stroking my hair. He jokingly asked if I wanted him to let me know when the doctor started the incision. Call me crazy but I told him yes. Then he said, “Oh, he started a while ago, he’s almost done.” Mike was squeezing my hand and telling me I was doing a great job. And then a nurse from somewhere beside me told Mike to get his camera ready and that’s how I knew our baby had arrived.
Nurses quickly carried him over to a table slightly over my shoulder and then just a few seconds later I heard his cries. I was so relieved and happy. I wanted to hold him right away although I knew I wouldn’t be able to. Mike walked between the baby and me taking pictures and giving me updates. He’s 5 pounds and 11 ounces. 19 inches long. He has dark hair. He already peed on the nurses…twice. Before they took him to NICU, they brought the baby over to me. Even though the whole thing is a little bit of a blur now, that moment is still so clear. Ben’s eyes were wide open and we stared right at each other. I repeated, “Hi Baby, I love you,” until they had to leave with him.
The next day was a little rough. I was really out of it, very nauseous and missing my baby. Since I was sick, I wasn’t able to see him yet. Mike went to check on him a few times and would report back that he was doing well. Around 6pm that evening, after I was feeling better, I was finally wheeled over to the NICU. Just about that same time my mom and sister arrived at the hospital. We sat in a little room and I held him for the first time. Before I went back to my room that night, we worked on our first feeding.I won’t get into breastfeeding in this post. But, I will say, it’s hard! A lot harder than I was prepared for it to be. I went back to see Ben for a few more feedings that night and by the next morning, based on his progress, he was able to leave the NICU and stay with me in my room.
We stayed another two nights—working on feedings, napping, spending time with visiting family and really getting to know each other. I quickly learned Ben’s “I’m really hungry,” cry, decided that he looks a little like me and a lot like my dad, and discovered that seeing your husband, parents and sister hold your baby for the first time is probably the best thing ever.On Wednesday, three days after having Ben, we were finally able to go home. I felt ready, especially considering at that point I had been there a full week. Just in case this finds its way into the hands of a mom in Charlotte, North Carolina, I want to point out that all the doctors, nurses and specialists I met at CMC Pineville were truly amazing—especially the nurses. I actually still miss most of them! If it were acceptable to go by the hospital and just hang out with them, I would. They were so kind, warm and friendly, always making me feel comfortable and taken care of.Okay, this post got long but I guess there’s no quick way to share a birth story. I wanted to give an update on what the past month with Ben has been like, but I’ll save that for another day. If there are any expecting moms out there who searched “birth stories” and came across this post, I want to leave you with one thing. Yes, labor is not the most comfortable experience, parts of it were painful, and your experience in the delivery room doesn’t always go as planned. But, if you focus on each contraction, each step in the process, helping to get you closer to meeting your baby, it helps. And, once you’re in that moment, although the fear may not go away completely, you’ll find a little extra strength to do what you have to do, to bring that little one into the world. Also, ice chips, an epidural and a supportive partner make all the difference—but, that’s just my opinion.
See you next Friday! xx, Devon