When I found out I was pregnant for the third time, I knew I wanted a natural birth like the one I’d had with our second baby, but I wondered if I needed a formal hospital setting to do so.
With my last birth, I hadn’t even gotten an IV and the only thing the doctors and midwives had even done (or been allowed to do) was literally catch Bambina and hand her to me. It dawned on me that I was spending a lot of money for a doctor or midwife to watch me do what my body knew how to do naturally. Granted, there were advantages to the hospital setting in case of complications or if the baby or I needed help at any point.
I decided this was a topic worth investigating at least, and became rather psychotic about doing so. I checked out 43 books from the library on natural pregnancy and birth and read them within a month. I read about everything from the highly medicated “twilight births” that were popular at the beginning of the century to “unassisted births” which were gaining popularity in the last few years (unassisted birth is basically the mother/father and her chosen team delivering at home without the assistance of a trained professional like a doctor or midwife). I could quickly determine that neither of those options was right for me at this point, and had a lot to think about in what kind of birth I wanted this time.
Another factor I had to consider during this process was the fact that we had switched to a high deductible insurance plan several months before and it did not offer maternity benefits. I knew that it was an option to pre-pay for labor and delivery and get it at a discounted rate, but I questioned if I even wanted to pursue this option. I also started researching midwives in our area.
To my surprise, there were over a dozen home birth midwives within driving distance of us. I poured over their websites reading birth stories and their outlooks on birth. I had enjoyed the experience of a midwife with Bambina’s birth, but there were still aspects of the hospital stay that I didn’t like. I didn’t like the food (can anyone blame me for that one?), the bed, having to stay in bed, not being able to walk around carrying Bambina, not being allowed to sleep with Bambina in my bed, etc. Overall, I always felt like I was playing defense in the hospital.
I thought about the idea of a home birth. I wouldn’t have to worry about the stress of traveling to the hospital in labor. I wouldn’t have to leave my other kids. I would get to sleep in my own bed. I could nurse when I wanted, where I wanted, and how I wanted. I could eat my own healthy, homemade food rather than the processed food-look a like I was served in the hospital. Most importantly, I realized that I would be in charge of my birth and that I could decide the atmosphere, how I moved, how I coped, etc.
After much deliberation, I decided a home birth was the right option for me. Then I had another decision to make… which home birth midwife did I want? To preface this part of the story, I should tell you that we were in the process of moving (can’t I ever have a relaxing pregnancy?), selling a house, and a possible career change. I didn’t exactly have time to interview each midwife and see who I connected with, so I made a spreadsheet. You will soon learn (if you keep reading this blog, and please do!) that I make a lot of spreadsheets, and that I hate spreadsheets… a lot! I make spreadsheets for meal plans, budgeting, storing kids’ clothing by size, my daily routine (I really should post this one!), my water intake, my vitamins, etc. Nothing in the world makes me quite as annoyed as spreadsheets, but I digress.
I made this spreadsheet and sorted by top choices. I eventually decided on one midwife because she was cheapest, and that seemed like an important factor considering the move, selling a house, job change, etc. I called her, left a message and forgot about it until she called back several days later… to tell me that she didn’t take clients during December because of the possibility of missing Christmas with her family.
Back to the spreadsheet…. I did ask that midwife who she recommended when she called me back and she gave me the name of another midwife who she highly recommended. I checked the spreadsheet and this other midwife had been my second choice. I was a little worried at this point that she wouldn’t take clients during December either, but I called her, left a message and forgot about it until she called back.
This midwife, who I shall call Dr. Homebirth, Medicine Woman from now on, called me back on our actual moving day as I was packing the last of our boxes into the truck and letting the buyers into the house for final inspection.
She introduced herself, and it took me several tries of explaining my situation while out of breath from carrying boxes before she could finally understand me.
Dr. Homebirth: Hi, this is Dr. Homebirth returning a call to Wellness Mama (names changed… in case you were curious)
Me: Hi, (out of breath), I was just calling because the other midwife doesn’t take clients during December (deep breath) and we are due in December, (deep breath) I think, but not sure (breath) because I was still nursing our last baby (deep breath) when I got pregnant, but early December is my guess. I was wondering if you take clients in December (finally deep enough breath to get oxygen!)
Dr. Homebirth: I do take clients during December, have you had a homebirth before?
Me: No… I had a bad experience with a hospital birth and a hippie doctor with our first child, which led to a better experience in a hospital with midwives for our second child, which led me to you. Yes, please go right in and excuse the mess, we haven’t had a chance to sweep yet (to the buyers who were there to see the house).
Dr. Homebirth: explained about fees and her practice while I carried more boxes to the truck.
Me: Sounds great.
Dr. Homebirth: Ok, wonderful, well for new clients I offer a free home consult so that we can get to know each other and you can decide if you want me to be your midwife. (Definitely a step up from any other health care professional I had ever met!)
We scheduled the home visit for a couple weeks later once we had gotten moved in. The rest of the night we, and my husband’s brothers, moved all of our stuff into our new place just in time to get the U-haul back by 7 a.m.
I was so busy unpacking that I forgot about the home visit until the day before and tried to tidy up the house some from the unpacking so that Dr. Homebirth wouldn’t deem our house unfit for a child to enter!
Dr. Homebirth arrived on time the next day and I felt like we clicked instantly. She noticed a picture I had painted on the wall and asked me if it was Our Lady of Guadalupe, which it was. I was impressed that she knew that, and it cued me in that we shared our Catholic faith, which was another plus. There was just a different connection even than I had with the nurse midwives in the hospital. I had a three-page list of questions prepared for the interview with her, and once we sat down, I started firing away.
After the first couple of questions, she stopped me. “You can stop using the term ‘allow,’” she said, “this is your birth and I am there to assist. You won’t have to ask my permission to move around, get a shower, eat, or anything else. It is your birth.”
At this moment, I knew she would be our midwife, and I was able to cross off almost every other question from my list. We couldn’t think of any other questions for her, and she asked us a few about my medical history, views on birth, etc. She told us that she generally did not ask for an answer at the home visit, but asked clients to think and pray about their decision of her as a midwife for 24 hours before deciding. We agreed and she left.
24-hours later, I called Dr. Homebirth and told her we did indeed want her to attend our homebirth (finally adjusting to the terms “attend” and “our birth” rather than her “deliver” the baby for me!). We scheduled our next appointment and an ultrasound to help narrow down due date.
At the ultrasound appointment, the technician revealed that we were 11 weeks and 4 days, making our due date December 12, which is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (another cool connection).
With two kids running around, I didn’t have much time to revel in the glow of being pregnant, but I did manage to read a lot of books about home birth, usually while watching the kids play outside so we could all get our Vitamin D. Overall, this pregnancy felt like my healthiest one yet. I was careful to get enough protein (70-80 grams per day), which I read was important in preventing complications like preclampsia. I drank veggie smothies every day and never had cravings or felt nauseous much (probably because of all the great nutrition).
My attitude about birth was the best of all my pregnancies also. Each month, I drove to Dr. Homebirth’s house where she held her pre-natal appointments. Such a change from the gynecologists of old. Her appointment room had a double bed with down pillows. Since some women labored at her home, attached was a large bathroom with the biggest whirlpool tub I had ever seen for water births. It was in this bathroom that I peed in a cup and weighed myself each month.
She took blood one time (rather than the normal 5 at a gynecologists office) and confirmed that my blood levels were great. I got to monitor my blood glucose levels at home with a blood sugar monitor rather than drink the disgusting syrupy gestational diabetes screen (which, I am convinced, is probably enough to cause gestational diabetes itself).
A normal appointment with the midwife lasted about an hour. When I got there, I would go straight in (no wait time!) and we would talk, go over nutrition, exercise, etc. She would listen to the baby with a Doppler monitor and give some advice about preparing for birth. She even had a bookshelf full of natural birth books (did I ever mention I love books!) that patients could borrow each month (I had read them all by the end).
At week 30, her manual exam of my stomach (which midwives are excellent at, by the way) and the position of the baby’s heartbeat made her realize that little Tre (Italian for “three”) was breech. My heart sank. While midwives can deliver a breech baby at home, especially when it is not a first pregnancy for the mother, I knew that this complication could make birth more difficult. I had read enough to know that there was a higher risk of complications, that birth can take longer and that emergency intervention can be necessary during the pushing stage. We hadn’t discussed if she would even deliver a breech baby before, and I was worried that she wouldn’t be willing to deliver it…..
Dr. Homebirth told me not to worry, that a good percentage of babies are breech at this point, and that the majority flip on their own well before D-day. Being the Type-A personality that I am, I was not just content to just sit around and wait for this to happen, so I asked how to flip a breech baby. She recommended exercises, the breech tilt, swimming (to take the weight off baby) and handstands in the pool.
I drove home (calling my husband, my mom and my MIL on the way) determined to get little Tre to flip. Once the Bambini were asleep that night, I drove to the gym where I proceeded to swim laps and do handstand down the length of the pool. I can only imagine what this feat must have looked like to the over-80 crowd that swims each night at 8 pm, but I didn’t care, I was going to get that little one to flip.
I elephant walked to the locker room, another interesting feat for a pregnant woman. I felt Tre through my stomach as the midwife had taught me, and could tell that baby was still breech… stubborn little one!
I repeated this pattern every day for several weeks, along with some leg exercises that would strengthen my core and legs in case I did have an extended breech labor. About two weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sensation of my stomach turning over. I felt my abdomen and realized that baby had flipped. I didn’t move for the rest of the night, afraid that any movement would make Tre flip back. For the next two weeks I did the exact opposite of what I had done the weeks before… I didn’t swim, I didn’t walk on my hands and feet, and I didn’t even bend over a lot.
At my 34-week appointment, Dr. Homebirth confirmed that Tre had fipped. Joy! Homebirth back on track. She informed me that I was a stellar patient and that baby and I both looked wonderful. We scheduled my 37-week appointment with her backup doctor, which was required by law in case we needed to transfer to a hospital. I also rented a water birth tub, which I planned to use. I was confident, peaceful and prepared for labor.
I was so excited about the idea of a homebirth! My excitement grew as my due date got closer. I had researched this option carefully and knew that in low-risk pregnancies homebirth was often times safer than hospital birth with much less risk of interventions. I firmly believed that birth, in most cases, is a wonderful, and natural experience that a woman’s body is made for. I knew from my last birth that I was able to do this, and I relished the idea of feeling, once again, the euphoria of natural birth. I was even more excited to do this at home where I would be able to relax in my own bed with my beautiful baby right after birth. Hubby was supportive and excited at the idea of not having to hang out in the hospital for a few days.
During my 34th week of pregnancy, we finally found a minivan. We realized that we would no longer fit into our car, and needed a minivan. We purchased it on Thrusday of that week. I must admit, I felt like a real mom now that I had a minivan! As everything in my life seems to happen last minute, I was surprised that we had actually done something 5 weeks early!
Friday of week 34 of pregnancy, we had a picnic in a local park with my sister-in-law and a friend. It was such a relaxing time, but I couldn’t get comfortable sitting on the ground. I thought this was odd, since I usually sit rather comfortably on the ground playing with kids each day. I also noticed I didn’t feel like walking much, though I was restless and I wasn’t very hungry. I remembered that I felt sluggish and was slower than normal (for a pregnant woman!) when I had worked out that day. I resolved to call the midwife the next day and dismissed it from my mind.
After a great evening playing outside, we took the kids home, I bathed them and got them into bed. I was unusually tired so I went to bed around 10 myself. Our oldest was still waking up several times during the night to “potty” and he usually woke me up to tell me. This particular night, he came in around 2 a.m., and I awoke to a small voice, “Mom, I gotta go pee-pee, come with me!”
I groaned and rolled over to get out of bed. I felt a sudden gush and my pants got warm. Immediately, a million thoughts rushed through my head. My water must have broken! It was only 35 weeks, not the 37 required to be full term and birth at home! How could my water break this early? I woke up and waddled to the bathroom, slightly encouraged as I felt little Tre kick me on the way…. At least he was still ok!
As I waddled, I called out to my husband, “Ummm, Honey, come here!” I guess my tone was enough to signal that something wasn’t right, as he bolted out of bed and got to me before I reached the bathroom. Poor little Bambino still had to go potty at this point, and had picked up on my fear and was crying. My husband took him to the other bathroom, and I say down on the toilet so I would stop dripping on the floor. (Such déjà vu of my first pregnancy!)
I was completely unprepared for what happened next….
I looked down and saw bright red blood covering my pants, underwear and the floor. Not just a little blood, but a lot! I panicked! I knew this was not a good sign. I screamed for my husband and when he got to me, I saw the fear in his eyes as well. I tried to gather my thoughts…. “Call the Midwife, she will know what to do!” I blurted. Where the heck was her number? He bolted downstairs to get the folder with her number. I called her… no answer. I called her cell… no answer. I paged her, and waited. Still panicking, I called my MIL, figuring that, as a nurse practitioner, she might know what to do. Should we call 9-1-1? Go to the hospital ourselves?
As much as I wanted a homebirth, I realized that whatever the problem was, I wasn’t giving birth at home now! Finally, Dr. Homebirth called back. In a rushed tone, I tried to explain to her that I thought my water had broken, but it was blood, and now I was cramping pretty bad, but the baby was still moving and seemed to be fine.
“I will meet you at the hospital as soon as I can get there,” she said, “Go right now, and try to calm yourself down.”
Calm down! Calm down! How the heck was I supposed to calm down. I didn’t know what was going on, but I guessed it might be placenta previa, which I had only briefly read about it all my pregnancy books. I didn’t read those sections completely, because after reading that “placenta previa is a rare condition that affects a small percentage of pregnant women,” I didn’t feel it necessary to read the rest, as I thought for sure I would never be part of this small percentage. All I knew was that this was a condition when the placenta implants right over the birth canal, making vaginal delivery impossible.
I folded several washcloths and put them between my legs, put on some pants and a hoodie and my slippers. We woke up the Bambini, since we were an hour from family and had no one to watch them. We packed everyone in the car, not bringing anything else with us.
On the 15 minute drive to the hospital (that we managed to do in under 10 minutes) I felt very weak and overwhelmed at the situation. We sped past 5 cops, but they must have known by the flashers that we were going to the hospital, because none of them stopped us. My husband called my parents and explained to them what was going on while we were driving. He also called several friends, trying to find someone who could come to the hospital and pick up the other kids and take them back to bed.
We got to the hospital, he dropped me off, and went to park and bring the kids in. I waddled in, dizzy because of the blood loss at this point. I told the lady at the front desk, “I was supposed to have a homebirth, I am 35 weeks today and woke up half an hour ago with a lot of bleeding. I feel really weak…”
The rest is a bit of a blur. I remember a nurse with a wheelchair coming to get me, and taking me to another floor. I remember my phone ringing when my husband called to see where I was and again when Dr. Homebirth got there. I remember the kids looking afraid as they hooked me up to fluids and multiple monitors.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, both of our families were worried and mobilizing. At my in-law’s house, his mom had woken everyone, telling them to “Get up and pray, they are going to the hospital and she is bleeding a lot.”
As with any large family, news like this starts an immediate bustle of activity and a lot of questions. As my MIL gathered her medical stuff, natural remedies and some clothes, everyone asked questions about what was going on. She explained in more detail. Unfortunately, a couple of my brother-in-laws don’t handle blood well. Just hearing about what was going on and that they might be cutting me open for a c-section was enough to make them woozy. As one brother walked back to his room, he suddenly felt very lightheaded and watched as the ground got closer, and closer…
They all heard a loud thump and found him passed out in the hallway, having fallen hard enough to hit, and break, an electrical plug cover on his way down. Seeing him passed out was enough to send another brother over the edge, though luckily he made it to his bed before collapsing.
While my sister-in-law was trying to revive the brother, her friend who was visiting came down from upstairs, having heard all the noise. Seeing everyone passed out and hearing all the rapid talking, he asked “what is going on, what should I do?” My sister-in-law replied “Katie’s in the hospital bleeding badly, probably going to have the baby tonight, the boys passed out, and we have to get there to help! Go pray!” The poor friend was from a family of only a couple kids and wasn’t used to the commotion that happens when a big family mobilizes so he just went upstairs and prayed!
At this point, my MIL had gone out to the car to load her stuff and was waiting for my FIL to come so they could drive to meet us at the hospital. When he didn’t come out, she went inside to hurry him up and found two of her children barely conscious. With all this to worry about, she didn’t know what to do! Should she go, should she stay? Who needed her more?
In an act of valiance that I will be forever grateful for, my brother-in-law woke up and raised his head briefly to say, “Mom, GO, I’ll be ok!” My MIL ran to the car and they raced to meet us at the hospital. We later found out that my brother-in-law had a minor concussion from his fall and a bad cut on his face.
While they were driving in, a friend of ours made it to the hospital to pick up the kids. It was a huge relief to know they would be taken care of and could leave the hospital, but still unsure of what was going on, I cried as I said goodbye to them.
The on-call doctor (who, ironically, was my doctor with our first child) finally made it in to see me, and requested an ultra-sound to see what the problem was. It took an hour for the ultrasound tech to finally make it in after several very annoyed calls from the doctor. As soon as I saw the ultrasound, I burst into tears….
Even for my untrained eyes, it was very obvious that the placenta was covering the birth canal. I sobbed as I realized any hope for natural birth was gone and that I was going to have surgery. I was filled with concern for little Tre who would have to be born so early. I just wanted to cry and let my husband hold me, but would have no such luck.
Within minutes, nurses were coming in with a thousand consents that needed to be signed before the surgery. I asked if it had to be right away or if we could try to wait to let baby get bigger.
“We seem to have stopped the bleeding for now,” the doctor said, “If you stay, you will have to be monitored at all times and will most likely end up with an emergency c-section, possibly under general anesthesia if anything goes wrong.”
I asked the head nurse to contact the Catholic Priest who came to the hospital to give sacraments, and knew that if possible, I would want to see him and receive the sacraments before going into surgery. I was shaking I was so upset, and asked to be alone with my hubby and Dr. Homebirth to make a decision.
Dr. Homebirth, whose role had just gone from midwife to doula, helped us weigh our options. If we went ahead with the surgery now, we would have less of a chance of an emergency c-section if things got worse, though Tre might have to spend time in the NICU. If we waited, he would stand a better chance of avoiding the NICU, but there was more potential for problem.
“What would you do if it were you?” I asked her.
“I would opt for the surgery in the morning. The doctor on call then is the best obstetric surgeon in the city and has 40 years in experience. He specializes in double closure sutures, which will maximize your chance of future healthy pregnancies,” she said.
We talked it over and agreed that this was the best option, as babies born at 35 weeks have a very high chance of being born healthy with no long term problems. It was now 5 a.m., and they scheduled the surgery for 9 a.m. This gave us only 4 hours before we would be parents again! I laughed as I realized that finding our minivan hadn’t been very far in advance after all.
My husband left to go check on the kids and get clothes, toothbrushes, and all the things we hadn’t had time to get. Dr. Homebirth said I should get some rest, but there were so many thoughts going through my head, I knew this wouldn’t be possible. She went to get some coffee and breakfast at about 6 a.m., and I laid there, listening to Tre’s heartbeat on the monitor and mourning the loss of my homebirth, and sobbing softly as I thought of all the things that were going to happen that day.
At 7 a.m., the priest arrived, and I was able to receive the Eucharist, go to confession, and be administered the Anointing of the Sick before the surgery. When he offered to do the sacrament of the sick, I was a little worried at first as I remembered the days, not long ago, when this was called “Extreme Unction” or “Last Rights.”
This made me realize the potential for complications was higher with a c-section and I prayed for my safety, for the safety of Tre, and for the grace to trust in this situation.
At around 8, DH made it back to the hospital. We tried to call my parents, and left a message on their answering machine. I didn’t understand why they didn’t answer after we called multiple times, and in my exhausted and scared state, I didn’t realize that they were on their way too. My mom realized as soon as we called that it was a potentially life-threatening situation, and they left 30 minutes after we called on the 5-hour trip to see us. We finally called her cell phone, and updated her. She seemed worried that they wouldn’t make it to see me before the surgery, but assured us of her prayers.
By around 8:30 a.m., I was feeling some strong contractions and the monitor was showing them getting closer together. Probably a good thing we had decided to go ahead with the surgery.
At 8:45, a nurse came in to have me sign some final papers and talk about what would happen. I made it very clear to her that we would like to have more children in the future and that I wanted a double closure to help our chances of this. I also made it clear that of course it was first priority to get baby out safely, but that I also wanted everything done to make sure my uterus would be ok as well. They had informed me earlier that sometimes with a previa, there can be an accreta, where the placenta grows into the uterus, and an emergency hysterectomy can be necessary.
They rolled me out of the room about 5 minutes later. My husband came with me as far down the hall as they would let him, and we hugged tearfully and whispered “I love you” to each other as they pulled me away….
In the operating room for the c-section, they explained to me more of what would happen and prepped me for a spinal. They had a resident student give me the spinal and it took him several tries. I has having contractions and leaning forward for 15 minutes while he repeatedly poked my back was not fun at all. I was quite annoyed at this point, and upset that they wouldn’t let my husband in to hold my hand.
Soon after the spinal was in, I lost feeling and movement to my leg. They lifted/dragged me onto the exam table and put the oxygen tube in my nostrils. I was shaking at this point. I hated hospitals and I dreaded the c-section. I had always pictured natural vaginal deliveries and this was heartbreaking for me. The only consolation was that our little one’s heartbeat was still strong and that we would soon find out if “Tre” was a boy or a girl, as we had decided not to find out until now.
The doctor came in, and I felt more peace about our decision to go ahead with the c-section. He was the kindest doctor I had ever met. He assured me that he would do his best to sew everything carefully and that it would all be ok. His wonderful sense of humor lightened the mood and helped me relax. As he prepped, he said, “Now the most important, question… where are we ordering in lunch from?”
They finally let my husband in, and I realized… we don’t have a name for this baby yet!
As they scrubbed me with iodine and prepped for the incision, we talked about names. We decided on Gianna if Tre was a girl, but were having trouble with a boy’s name. As they made the incision and I felt pressure, we finally decided on two family names, the first name would be a name that ran on my side, and the middle name would be after his Italian grandfather.
I felt nauseating pressure, and heard a small cry. A cry! That was a good sign. This meant that baby’s lungs were probably ok! The doctor held up our little one for my husband to see, and he announced: it’s a boy!
Seeing my beautiful, tiny son brought so much joy to a tough situation. He weighed in at 5 lbs 7 oz. This was tiny compared to my other two, but a good size for his gestational age, according to the doctor.
Ironically, though he was due a month later, because Tre was born early, he was born during the month of the 20-year anniversary of his great-grandfather (and namesake’s) death.
I looked to my left as they weighed Tre and took his vitals. So far, he seemed to be doing good. He wasn’t on oxygen and he was crying. My husband took a picture and brought it over to show me.
Suddenly, the doctor’s tone changed and more nurses came in. His humorous talk faded and I realized something was wrong. The anesthesiologist who was by my head have me a shot of something in my shoulder, added something to my IV and prepped another syringe. I heard the doctor say something about hemorrhaging and then I became disoriented….
At the same time, the pediatric nurses called in the pediatrician and decided that Tre needed to go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) because he wasn’t absorbing enough oxygen. I was terrified and torn. I wanted my husband to stay with me, but told him to go with Tre and make sure he was ok. (I later found out that the anesthesiologist was prepping general anesthesia in case it was needed.)
What seemed like an eternity (and a whole lot of medication) later, the doctors told me that I was stable and that the incision had been sewn up. I was wheeled into recovery where I was able to see my parents and in-laws. The doctors told me that I had lost a lot of blood and that had we not decided to go ahead with the c-section then, baby and I would both have likely died.
My first question once we got back to the recovery room was “How is Tre? When can I see him?”
My husband came back into the room at this point, as he was not able to stay with Tre in NICU until he was evaluated. He said that the nurses said he would be fine and that he just needed some oxygen. This made me feel a little better, but I badly wanted to see him. I was incredibly weak from the surgery, but was informed that I would not be able to eat or drink for several hours. It was now about noon.
The nurses told me that I would not be able to see Tre until I was able to get up on my own and into a wheelchair. With this goal in mind, I started wiggling my toes, moving my legs, and trying to get feeling back. It took me a couple hours, but I was finally able to get up and move to a wheelchair.
My husband wheeled me up to the 8th floor, where the NICU was. We had to check in and show our hospital bracelets to be allowed inside the locked area. I had heard of the NICU, but never been in one, and as not prepared for what we saw there.
Once past the locked doors, we had to scrub from the elbows down with a disinfectant soap and my husband had to put a hospital gown over his clothes (I already had the “pleasure” of wearing one!).
We finally got past all the sanitation and disinfecting procedure and a nurse took us to see Tre. We walked past little isolettes, special beds for premature babies. We saw tiny one and two pound babies and sets of twins hooked up to respirators and IVs.
We finally got to little Tre at the end of the hall. I cried when I saw him. He had several IVs including an umbilical IV and a respirator tube down his throat. He was crying, but no sound was coming out because of the tube in his throat. I have never wanted anything more than I wanted to pick up and comfort my baby at that moment. My chest was in physical pain as I ached to make him better.
“You can’t hold him as long as the umbilical IV is in,” the nurse informed me. “You can reach one hand in and touch his back.”
I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to explain to her that this was not enough. This would not make him better… this would not make me better. Didn’t she know that research shows that when moms hold babies skin-to-skin the babies do better? Instead, I just put my hand on his back. He calmed a little from my touch and it was like we could feel each other’s pain.
The next few days were some of the toughest of my life. The first three days I was confined to the hospital, and spent most of my hours in the NICU sitting next to my baby, touching him, singing to him, and just being there.
Each night, my mom would bring the two older kids to visit, and this would cheer me up some.
I wasn’t able to nurse because he was so small and because I wasn’t allowed to hold him. Luckily, hospitals now have breast pumps that could seriously rival an actual baby in suction power. I was absolutely determined to nurse him eventually and I pumped dutifully, every two hours around the clock until my milk came in. I would pump even just 10 mL of colostrums or milk and walk to the 8th floor to deliver it to him. My milk finally came in on the third day, just as they were ready to take him off one of the IVs and start feeding some by mouth. I had enough pumped to just barely stay ahead of him, so he never had to taste formula.
I felt that my pumping was a small way I could show that I loved him… it would be a gift that would hopefully help him gain strength fast and come home.
By day four of NICU life, my husband and I both had raw skin on our arms from scrubbing in so much to go see Tre. I hadn’t eaten much and I didn’t feel good because of the huge doses of iron I was on. I was ready to go, but I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving my baby. Also on day four, they finally took out the ventilator tube and I heard him cry! It was a painful raspy cry since his throat was raw from the four times he had pulled his tube out himself. He seemed so much happier though, just to have that tube out, and it seemed like he could see me better without the tube in. He still had a nasal canula, the small tube that delivered oxygen, though the nurses were hopeful that they could start tapering that down soon.
Since there was extra room in the hospital, the nurses offered to let me stay another night at as a “courtesy stay” so that I could be close to my baby. I spent most of that night upstairs with Tre, touching his back, talking to him and wishing more than anything that I could hold him.
The next day, I got discharged and headed home to see my other two. I felt bad for being gone so much and spent several hours reading to them and holding them. I had been told after the surgery that I was not allowed to lift anything over 5 lbs for 8 weeks. I laughed when they told me that. Both of my other kids were well over 5 lbs and my 17 month old still expected to be held. At one point, I tried to take a nap alone upstairs and broke out into uncontrollable sobs. I cried for my baby, who I wanted to hold so bad. I cried because of the homebirth I lost, and I cried with thanksgiving that baby and I had both survived a very difficult delivery.
The next few days got even tougher as I was in constant transit from home to hospital and back. The breast pump was at the hospital, and so was Tre, so I had to be there every 2-3 hours to pump and see him. When I was at the hospital, I felt guilty because I wasn’t home with my kids. When I was home, I felt guilty that I wasn’t with our baby.
Finally on day 6 of NICU, the doctor finally said that he was doing well enough and eating enough to take the umbilical IV out. I was going to finally be able to hold my baby! Several hours later, once he had the IV out and they decided he was stable enough, I cried as I finally got to hold him. Both of our bodies relaxed as I picked him up. I was shocked at how small he felt. He had gotten down to just over 4 pounds at his smallest, and he seemed so much more tiny that the other two. I held him close to me and kissed him and smelled his head. He reached one small hand up and touched my face and I melted.
Tre progressed rapidly once I was able to hold him, and I held him non-stop once I was able to. He soon got off the oxygen and was moved to a less intensive part of the NICU. He still couldn’t nurse because he was so small but I kept pumping enough to feed him.
The morning of day 8 we heard the best news yet. He would be coming home that night! NICU policy stipulates that you have to stay in the hospital with nurse backup the first night together to make sure baby does ok without any intervention. He also had to pass a car seat test, by keeping his oxygen saturation high when strapped in. He passed his car seat test and we packed to go stay with him.
I can’t explain the feeling of joy as they rolled him into our room and left us alone. I could finally hold him, touch him, change him and try to nurse him as much as I wanted. I didn’t sleep much that night either as I just sat in the recliner in the room and held him, in awe of God’s amazing and tiny creation.
As I sat, I thought about the time he had been in NICU and what an emotional roller coaster it had been. It was hard not only to see him hurting like that, but to see all those babies, some as little as a pound, some with no one visiting them or trying to hold them at all. It was all I could do to keep my mommy instincts in check and to keep from picking up each one of them. It also made me really think about the abortions that happen in our country. Some of those babies were born in the second trimester, at the age that abortions often happen. Those babies certainly felt pain, they had emotion and they were surviving. It seemed like such a disconnect that women pay for abortions on babies this same age while these parents spend thousands of dollars trying to keep their tiny angels alive.
The next morning, after a really bad hospital food breakfast, we were discharged along with several bags of preemie diapers, neonatal formula (which never got used), and finally, our baby!
Even his car seat made him look so tiny. We hadn’t been able to bring the other kids into the NICU because it was flu season, so this would be the first time he met them. My husband drove so slowly that other drivers honked, but we didn’t care. He was so tiny and seemingly helpless that we were like protective first-time parents all over again.
We finally arrived home and felt such joy at having all my babies in one place. We walked inside to find a surprise party our kids had planned with all the relatives in town. Tired as I was, it was so good to have everyone in one place that I barely notices my exhaustion.
There were several more days of sleepless nights while I was up pumping every couple hours until, at about 15 days old, little Tre decided to latch, and latch he did! Poor kid, it was like he had discovered, after days of IVs and portioned bottled feedings that there was a source of unlimited food. He nursed, and nursed, and nursed. It took a few days before we were both nursing with ease, but he caught on fast. I was proud, especially since the nurses had said that he might have trouble latching or might not get it at all.
Within a few weeks, I had gotten back into a routine, had the kids back on schedule and had adapted to life with three beautiful babies. It was still tough the first few months with not being able to lift anything, but we managed, and my husband and I grew closer from the challenge.
Looking back after the initial pain of that birth has faded, I am finding ways to be thankful for the whole experience. I am thankful, of course, because both of us came through everything so well with no long term effects. I realized that I am able to be much more charitable to other moms who have had to have a c-section, as I now can understand their pain and realize that they do it with the interest of their babies in mind.
I still believe that natural birth is the best way when possible, but now I have a much greater respect for doctors and the role they play when emergency situations makes their presence necessary and life-saving. It may take years before I forget the emotional pain of that birth, or I may never forget, but now I am able to be grateful for not only the good outcome, but the lessons and the pain themselves.