Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Our Birth Story (One Year Later)

This is a long, wordy post but I want to get it typed out for posterity before I forget even more than I already have in the year since it happened!  

One year ago today (a Tuesday) I was 31+ weeks pregnant. I was extremely uncomfortable, having a strong, squeezing pain around my chest/ribs. I had been experiencing the same pains over the weekend and was unable to get comfortable, or sleep.  Late Sunday and Monday I felt better, totally fine actually.  So when the pains returned on Tuesday I finally gave in and called my doctor.  I though maybe it was heartburn?  I've never had it, and know it's a common pregnancy complaint.  I was hoping she'd confirm that and tell me to take some antacids.  Instead she suggested I go to the hospital, just to get monitored and make sure everything was OK, and it wasn't pre-term labor or anything along those lines.  I'd been visiting the hospital (and the doctor) quite often. (I had horrible carpal tunnel syndrome, gestational diabetes, and high blood pressure.)  On top of all that my baby was measuring small so we were checking in on him with weekly ultrasounds.  My doctor suspected my placenta was not doing it's job as well as it should be.  The baby was regularly measuring in the bottom 10th percentile for size/weight.

So...I texted my boyfriend that I was going to get evaluated.  He asked me if I wanted him to come home and/or go with me and I declined, thinking I'd be home in a few hours. I didn't have a bag packed, I didn't have a birth plan, I didn't have a replacement at work trained.... Heck, we didn't even have a name chosen!

When I got to the hospital I checked in and got hooked up to the baby monitoring devices.  They drew my blood and I got out my Kindle to try to distract myself.  I was still pretty uncomfortable and hoping they would give me some suggestions (or maybe some medication) to help with the pain. The monitors kept alarming due to my blood pressure.  I wasn't too concerned since it always seemed worse when I went to the doctor (white coat syndrome!). Within an hour a nurse came in with some test results.  To my surprise (understatement of the year) she told me our baby would need to come out soon, within the next couple of days probably.  I had just had blood and urine tests done the week before and my OB didn't see anything alarming.  Over the weekend (apparently) I had developed pre-eclampsia with HELLP syndrome.  A lot of details get confused at this point, I honestly think I was in shock from that point on.  I do remember my platelet count was really low.  I think regular levels are over 100,000 and I was at 40,000 at that time.

I called my boyfriend and he was as shocked as I had been.  He headed down to be with me in the hospital, as I wasn't going to be released...until we had a baby!  The nurses explained that they'd give me another blood test in a few hours to determine how long we had until the c-section needed to be performed.  They were hoping to give me a round of steroid shots, to encourage the baby's lungs to develop more. They gave me one shot and I could have had another in 12 hours.  It turns out we didn't have that long, though. I was put on a magnesium drip to discourage a stroke (!!).

I called my Mom, who was in Yellowstone for the summer.  I told her the baby was going to be delivered very soon.  She told me she was leaving right then! (She drove straight through, arriving in San Diego around 5pm the next day.)  I also called my boss, letting her know the situation.  

My boyfriend showed up pretty quickly and we both kind of sat in stunned silence.  It was probably around 9:00pm by this time.  Luckily my Mom had thought to call my brother (who is a doctor and lives in Los Angeles).  He called me to say he was on his way down.  He showed up a couple of hours later, and I am so thankful he did.  He was calm, supportive, and understood all the medical lingo that was being thrown around.  (Later I found out that he knew how dangerous the situation was, and scared the crap out of my Mom when she called to tell him!)

Around midnight they did another blood draw, which would give us more of a time frame. They said it would take a couple of hours since the lab was busy, and nothing had come back by 2:00am.  At this point I sent my boyfriend home to sleep.  There was nowhere for him to lay down in my room and he and my brother were taking turns between sitting in the (uncomfortable) chair and on the floor. I slept for a bit but there was a constant stream of nurses checking on me so it wasn't very restful.  Of course, not long after he left they came back with my test results, which didn't look good. My platelet levels were even lower, around 25,000 and I was told they were scheduling me for 6:00am surgery.  I cried.  I was nervous, worried, and really just still in a state of shock.  There wouldn't be time for another steroid shot. Looking back on it now, I should have been more worried about the baby, but for some reason I wasn't.  I could feel him moving, hear his heartbeat on the monitor, and I guess I just had confidence in the doctors/hospital that things would be OK. (Or...I was just in shock!)

I called my boyfriend who wasn't really getting any sleep and told him to come back by about 5:30am so he could be with me.  I slept a bit, talked to my brother, tried to call my mother-in-law (who didn't have her phone nearby and didn't get my messages until the morning!) and just tried to get comfortable.  My doctor showed up sometime early in the morning, and we had a consult with the anesthesiologist.  He told me that if my platelets were too low I would have to be completely knocked out for the surgery, and nobody would be allowed in the OR with me.  Luckily that didn't turn out to be the case.  I tried to argue for my brother being allowed in the OR as well (since he IS a doctor and all, even though he is actually a psychiatrist!  haha) but only my boyfriend would be allowed. My doctor was wonderful, as always, and said she had been keeping such a close eye on me, because she just had a feeling something like this would happen!  Looking back on that I was amazed and thankful and... I just love her.

Fast forward to 6:00am.  My boyfriend had arrived and we were still waiting in the same room I had been in all night.  Finally, closer to 7:00am, they started prepping me for surgery.  We went into the OR, my boyfriend was left outside to change into scrubs, and my drugs were administered for the surgery.  I was given a shot in my back to make me numb from the waist down, but still awake (not sure what that kind of anesthesia is called...and don't remember now as I am sure they told me at the time).  There were probably 6 people in the OR (besides us).  I recognized my doctor (duh) and another doctor who had filled in for her earlier in my pregnancy when my doctor was on vacation.  There were also quite a few nurses and the head neonatologist for the hospital, who we would come to know VERY well and love.

I don't remember much about the surgery.  The anesthesiologist kept chatting with us, and I tried to listen to the doctors/nurses but don't remember any of it in detail.  My OB let us know when she was going to take the baby out and then (at 7:42am)...he was there.  He was there in the room with us and he cried, and I said "Oh my god!" and cried and my boyfriend cried and we all cried.  They took him over to the scale and put him under the heat lamp.  He was 2lbs 12oz.  Small even for his gestational size, I realized after the fact.  My boyfriend cut the cord, they wrapped him up and we got one quick pic before he had to be taken away to the NICU (or Special Care Nursery as it was called at our hospital) to be given some care of his own, while I was sewn (stapled!) back together.

Oh, hello there, baby!
While I was in the recovery room my mother-in-law arrived, and my brother was there.  Once the feeling started coming back to my legs I got moved into a regular L&D room.  My Dad, step-mom, younger brother and step-dad arrived throughout the afternoon. My mom arrived in the early evening.  The neonatologist came by a few times to let us know how the baby was doing and get us to sign some release forms in case various treatments (or a possible hospital transfer) were necessary.  

I got to go see him a few hours after the birth and he was so tiny and hooked up to a million wires, it was a bit overwhelming.  But I never worried.  I had heard him cry at birth and just knew things would work out OK in the end.  I took everyone in to see him 2 at a time (max visitors in the SCN) and eventually everyone went to their hotels and my boyfriend and I stayed the night in the hospital room, which I had to myself and had 2 beds.  

That is a preemie diaper he's wearing!

Our little guy was one tough cookie.  He was extremely tiny and his lungs needed a little help at first, but overall he just needed to GROW!  He had a few surfactant treatments to help his lungs not stick together when he took deep breaths.  He was on (minimal) oxygen on and off for the first few days. I was finally able to hold him (a bit of an ordeal with having to get all the wires untangled and free to move) on the 3rd day.   That was a wonderful feeling.  :-)   

First time holding him. 
Every time I wanted to go visit him I had to call a nurse (or nursing assistant) to wheel me from my room to the SCN. I went basically any time I wasn't sleeping or eating or being checked on by nurses.  I sat for hours looking at him, touching him, talking to him.  

Staring contest with Mama.  I could never look away.
 My doctor kept me in the hospital for 5 days, since she knew we wouldn't be taking the baby home yet.  Leaving him there to go home (the first time and every night for those few weeks) was heartbreaking, but I got used to it eventually.  I spent the next 6 weeks going back and forth to the hospital twice a day.  I would go in the morning whenever I got up (after pumping, eating, dressing), and stay until early afternoon.  Then I would go home, pump more, rest, eat dinner, and go back until around 11:00pm or midnight.   

A few more pics of our time in the hospital...

Socks on his hand to prevent him pulling on his feeding tube.

Skin to skin with Daddy.

He loved getting on that scale every night!  (I thought he was SO BIG at this point, 3lbs 7oz! haha)

He gained, on average, an ounce a day. 
We finally brought our baby boy home on July 2nd, 
and he was a whopping 5lbs 4oz by then.  :-)  

The day we brought him home!

Those days at the hospital seem very surreal now.  But we loved the nurses and the doctors were amazing.   It's a time I will never forget but sure hope to never have to experience again!  I do regret not having a "normal" pregnancy sometimes.  I never got a huge bump.  (I only gained 14 lbs in fact.) I never felt a contraction.  When we recently visited babies R Us (for baby gates!) I got a little sad seeing the "expectant mom" parking, never got to use that!  Like my blogging friend Kelli said, though, I take some comfort in knowing that there wasn't anything I did (or didn't do) to cause his early arrival.  It was just my body reacting (negatively) to the pregnancy. (Her whole guest post reflecting on the preemie experience is written much better than I could express things! And her birth story here and here.) I thought about not having a great bond with him due to all the crazy circumstances, but I don't believe that has been an issue. I spent a ton of time (hours and hours) holding/talking to/singing to him in the SCN.  I just tried to focus on the positive throughout the whole experience and not let anything get me down.  I think that was the best thing for me and for the baby.  I rejoiced at each milestone he conquered (moving to an open crib, having his feeding tube removed, etc) and tried not to think about other things I missed (like being able to breastfeed right away). 

Home with (exhausted) Mama. 

Now we have been parents to this beautiful boy for almost a year and I can't believe how much he has changed our lives.  I'm looking forward to everything that will come in the future, but looking back on the past year with mixed emotions.  
Oh, and we did finally choose a name (3 days into his life).  
We love it, and him, so much. 


michaela said...

I find birthing stories SO fascinating! Your bub is adorable - that photo where he is staring into your eyes is just gorgeous.
I think it's probably a good thing that you didn't realise how dangerous the situation was, and that you just knew your baby would be okay. I can imagine having that extra stress would not have helped the situation at all.
Happy one year to bub!

Michaela //
Where is my mind?

Suzy said...

What an amazing story! I can't believe how small he was, 'specially seeing him now! Congrats: )

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Can't believe the similarities!! Loved reading this. I hope you can now reply to my comments. I hope to sit down and write you a longer email when I get a chance!

Unknown said...

Can't believe the similarities!! Loved reading this. I hope you can now reply to my comments. I hope to sit down and write you a longer email when I get a chance!

Unknown said...

Can't believe the similarities!! Loved reading this. I hope you can now reply to my comments. I hope to sit down and write you a longer email when I get a chance!