Today seems like a good day to share this story. I’ve ben holding on to it for 2 years, learning it inside and out, telling it to myself over and over again. I never had any intention on publicly sharing this story. I’ve always seen it as mine and it doesn’t really serve a purpose to others. But as an advocate to tell our stories, I suppose it’s time to tell mine on this International Women’s Day. The story that reshaped my entire being and brought to life the woman I am now.
I had difficult pregnancies. My pregnancy with my son was a wonderful experience until 35 weeks when I was diagnosed with prenatal hypertension, then at 37 weeks was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and induced. Pre-eclampsia is a serious complication of pregnancy and can be life threatening to both mother and baby. It was a good labour followed by 2 blissful hours with my sweet boy placed directly on my chest. With my first daughter, my pregnancy was monitored closely and when my blood pressure spiked at 36+5, my doctors made the decision to do a cervical sweep to attempt to start labour at 37 weeks. I had a long, hard labour with her. First contraction to birth was 27.5 hours, with 1.5 hours of being told I couldn’t push. It was physically and mentally draining being told I could not push when my whole body was shaking and pushing on its own. When she was born I had about 20 minutes with her before she was taken to the NICU for a high heart rate and a high temperature. I was upset about the hard labour and little time I had with her after birth, and I was determined to have a better birth with my next baby. This brings me to my second daughter and final baby.
May 25, 2018; I find out I’m expecting again. I’m overjoyed but worried. 27.5 hours was a long time to labour. I don’t know if I can do it again. The research started. I had to keep moving this time, get an exercise ball, make a playlist. I can do better. 3 weeks later, the bleeding started. I never experienced any with my first two, so it was a huge shock. Baby’s gone. A few days later, I laid on the ultrasound table waiting to be told there’s no heartbeat. Instead, the screen turned toward me, and I was told “heart rate is 151”. Perfect, absolutely perfect. I cried, the panic eased momentarily but they still had no idea where the bleeding was coming from. It was concluded that it was normal first trimester bleeding until it continued into my second trimester. Since I have a history of pre-eclampsia and placenta issues, the decision was to start a regiment of meds and I began seeing an obstetrician in addition to my prenatal doctor and would be getting ultrasounds once a month until my 3rd trimester and then they would be bi-weekly. I would have regular blood work to watch my liver levels and NST appointments at the hospital. They would start sweeping at 37 weeks to hopefully start labour. It was a little overwhelming but comforting to know I had such a great medical team watching over me.
Fast forward to 36 weeks. My grandma had a stroke and died a few days later. My blood pressure spiked to 150/108 and my doctors decide to sweep a day earlier than planned. I went into my appointment and my doctor performed a sweep. I waited and nothing. Nothing came of that sweep, or the next one, or the one after that. January 24th, I was at my last prenatal appointment at 38+2 and receive the 4th sweep.
I spent that afternoon bouncing on my exercise ball and trying to make dinner through intense back pain. The back pain continued into the evening until I started having irregular contractions at 8pm and by 10pm the contractions had become regular and time-able. 10 minutes apart, 30 seconds long. 7 minutes apart, 30 seconds long. Finally, 2 minutes apart, 45 seconds long. We made our way to the hospital at 3:30am for my first assessment. In the time it took to get ready and get to the hospital my contractions started to space back out and I was assessed at only 3cm. I was offered Gravol and a morphine shot, which I declined and we were sent home to continue labouring. I spent the morning trying to rest and bouncing on my exercise ball. My son cried for me to hold him, I told him no and the guilt of this ate me up later but I didn’t know I wasn’t going to pick him up again for 6 weeks. By 10am, my contractions were about 4 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute. We headed back to the hospital. This time I was assessed at 5cm and admitted to labour and delivery.
The nurse had asked what I was wanting for pain management and as much as I would have liked to have a natural labour, I was already exhausted. I told them I wanted the epidural. The nurse placed my IV and couldn’t get it quite right, so blood poured out and dripped down my fingers and onto the floor. I remember thinking this was probably going to be the most painful part of my whole experience. While waiting for my blood work to come back, the medical student was asking questions which I answered between contractions while I swayed back and forth. We joked and laughed while I walked around and swayed side to side. The anesthesiologist came into the prep me for my epidural. “Okay, hunch forward, breathe, don’t move”. Once it was placed, I finally got to try and rest since I had been labouring for over 13 hours now and awake for 30 hours.
2pm, I was resting when I felt a pop and gush. YES! My waters! Not long now! With each contraction more water poured out. No big deal, I’m known for having a ton of fluid. However, baby girl’s head was still very high. 3pm rolls around and she still hadn’t descended and contractions had slowed. My doctor decided to break the rest of my water. Then she decided to do a bedside ultrasound to make sure baby was still head down with no other concerns. Still head down, cord out of the way, no indictors of why she wasn’t descending. “Okay, we’ll give her some time”. Then with each contraction her heart rate started to dip. At first the dip was minimal but as the minutes ticked by the drop was becoming more significant for longer periods of time. I noticed the way my nurse stopped charting and did nothing but stare at the fetal monitor. She had me move from side to side, to keep me off my back but no change. With each contraction her heart rate continued to fall from 145bpm to about 50bpm. She had to step out of the room for a moment and told me that if I saw the monitor dip to hit the red button immediately. I saw the concern on her face but at this point I didn’t feel it. My son’s heart rate had also dropped during labour and my first daughter’s had risen.
At 4pm my doctor came in to speak to me about the decells and do a cervical check: only 7cm. She told me the baby was tolerating the change in heart rate, but they can only tolerate it for so long. In hindsight, this was her preparing me for the surgical outcome. By 4:30pm, the atmosphere in my room had changed. More nurses lingering in my room and my doctor was checking often. She did another cervical check, and I was still only 7cm. They decided to place an internal fetal monitor for more accurate readings. They couldn’t get the monitor to attach, and each attempt was painful. Eventually, they got the monitor in place and the screen was blank. Nothing. No response. Immediate panic followed. They quickly threw the external monitors back on my belly and found her heartbeat and realized the leads to the internal monitor were defective. It was a brief moment of relief. Once the monitor was in place, they started to move me again. Left side, right side, left side, finally settling in hands and knees position. They needed me to dilate as fast as possible so I could just deliver. At 4:55pm, my doctor told me she needed to get the OB on call to decide what to do. A couple minutes later, my OB came in. Thankfully it was the OB I had already been seeing my whole pregnancy and I trusted her. She did another quick cervical check: still only 7cm.
At 5pm, she very calmly walked up to the side of my bed, leaned in and said “I can no longer let you labour. Baby needs out now”. Don’t cry, don’t cry. This is best. Don’t cry. You can’t hold your kids. You’re a horrible mother. You’re failing her. My husband was standing on my right, I tried not to look at him but the moment I did, the tears started. I tried so hard to fight it. I put my face down into the pillow and broke down. The nurses had me turn back onto my back. My room was filling with people. People asking me questions; “have you had previous surgeries? anesthetics? Sign this”. People touching me. So much chaos. They started to move me towards the door and tossed scrubs at my husband that he barely had on before they took me out of the room. “Do you have any questions?” I had no questions other than “will I get to see and hold her?”. “Yes, of course” they promised. They started moving my bed again. They had me moving positions again until my OB said I needed to get back into a hands and knees position for the transfer. “Don’t worry, we’ll cover you up” my OB said since hospital gowns are far from modest. The position didn’t matter though, baby girl’s heart rate continued to fall and wasn’t recovering well anymore. The last time I looked at the monitor, her heart rate was 40bpm. I don’t remember much about the transfer. Sometimes I can still feel the sway of the elevator and I very vaguely remember being separated from my husband.
The OR was bright and cold. They pushed my delivery bed up to the OR table. They had me shimmy my dead weight from the bed to the table and kept correcting me. I felt like I was doing it wrong, I was doing everything wrong. I can’t do anything right. I got into position and my arms got stretched out. They started to drape my body, place the curtain, blood pressure cuff, heart rate monitor. So many wires. I’m cold. So cold. Nurses and doctors started to introduce themselves. I’m not going to remember, and I don’t care anyway. My anesthesiologist started to prepare me to go under general anesthesia, but the decision was up to my OB and if there was time. I stared at the bright OR lights. I’m going to die. I’m not coming back out of here. My kids will be alone. My husband will be alone. I’m dying. At least if we both die, we won’t be alone on the other side. Grandmas there. We won’t be alone. My OB decided on an epidural top up, but it was taking too long to take effect so I received several shots of local anesthetic in my upper belly so they could start. I’ll never forget the scalpel breaking the skin. Time was moving so fast that most of it is a blur of faces, colours and emotions but once the cesarean started time came to a screeching halt. I complained of pain and I was told it was just pressure. Yes, pressure but it was extreme and painful. It felt like my lower body was being pulled from the top like I was in some twisted magic show and I was the lady sawed in half. Finally, my husband was brought in to join me. I could feel their hands obviously inside me. They reached my uterus and “baby’s stuck”. I received medication to help relax my uterus, but they could not get her out. I got more medication and now a doctor was pounding on my upper abdomen. They’re going to break my ribs. Just put me out. I don’t want to be here. Just put me out. Make it end. Let me go. I wanted to beg and plead but I had no words. I started to shake violently from all the medication that had been administered.
5:11pm, baby girl was born. She had trouble breathing and low oxygen levels. I felt guilty and so much shame because I wasn’t worried about her. I knew we were in an excellent hospital. We have great doctors and nurses in the NICU, I knew she would be fine. I was consumed with how I felt. It was devastation like I’ve never known. It was fear and pain. It was thinking I was dying over and over. It was the feeling of leaving my beautiful children behind, to never see them grow. I got one very quick glimpse and she was taken to be checked, weighed and measured. They brought her over to me, unbuttoned my gown and laid her on me. I never truly held her, and I don’t actually remember her in that moment. I was still shaking extremely bad; my arms were numb from being stretched out and the blood pressure cuff made it difficult to bring my arm to her. I felt nothing for her. I was numb. A nurse took some pictures. Please stop. I don’t want to remember this. We had about 2 minutes together before baby girl and my husband went to the NICU. I don’t really remember the end of surgery or leaving the OR. I remember begging in my head to just disappear. I needed it to end.
I spent the next 2 hours in recovery alone. Recovery was dark. I was placed in a far dark corner, alone. My tears continued to pour out silently and couldn’t stop. My doctor came in to say my surgery went great and I would heal great. She mentioned they would have taken my tubes if it wasn’t an emergency situation and recommended my husband get a vasectomy and finishing with, “and no more babies, right? No more babies”. The pediatrician came down to say baby girl was perfect. Nurses came back to check on how much feeling was returning in my body. I couldn’t feel my chest due to the local anesthetic. My upper abdomen was left so bruised that I couldn’t touch it without pain until 3 months later. With each person came congratulations and each one made me angrier than the last. This wasn’t a celebratory moment. Everything I had worked and prepared for was so quickly ripped from me. I was alone. I didn’t have my husband. I didn’t have my baby. I couldn’t move my body. I was a shell for grief, anger, fear and pain. No, this wasn’t a celebratory moment. The medical student came; “I saw how happy you were and how excited. Then I saw how strong you were when everything changed”. It was a lie. I was far from strong, I wasn’t brave. I was weak and broken but I appreciated the acknowledgment that something horrifying had just happened to me. He left and I was alone again. I watched the clock slowly change. 6pm, still alone. I couldn’t stop crying. Another doctor stepped in to asked if I was in pain. Physically, no. I told him I was fine. 6:30pm, my nurse stopped by and started fighting to have me moved to the NICU. Maybe he felt bad for me. Maybe he didn’t want to deal with me in that state. I didn’t care. I remember him fighting to have me reunited with my baby. 7:30pm, I was finally on my way to the NICU. I was scared I wasn’t going to bond with her, I was preparing myself to be distant. I was preparing for postpartum depression, not yet knowing that postpartum PTSD is a thing. I knew the experience was more than I could handle. When I arrived in the NICU, my husband was seated holding her. He brought her to me. Once she was in my arms, there was relief. I loved that baby as much as my 2 waiting for me at home. The overwhelming need to hold her and never let go was overpowering. It felt like it was finally over. I had no idea what was coming in the following months and that my ordeal was far from over.
The following day my OB came to check on me. She said I should heal perfect. Everything looked good and I was in great shape to heal fantastic. She then told me that the reason for my cesarean and the reason they had trouble delivering her was because I had developed a bandl’s ring. So instead of pushing her down and out, it was keeping her in and crushing her head, I would have never delivered her alive. My uterus was ballooning under the pressure of it all putting me at risk for a uterine rupture. It was likely a problem with my other 2 as well but because they were smaller, I was able to deliver. She told me that there were resources available to me if I was having trouble coping. Then once again, double checked that there were no plans for future children and left.
Yes, my baby is here and healthy, something I will always be grateful for but, it doesn’t erase the fact that she almost wasn’t. It doesn’t change the fact that she almost wasn’t and it would have been my fault. That’s not the kind of fear, guilt, and pain you just get over.
This experience left me cut, stapled and shattered. Over the course of the last 2 years and many hours of therapy, it still doesn’t make a lot of sense but I have found resilience, strength, and a fiery passion for postpartum support.
I’ve been cut, stapled but no longer shattered.