On Wednesday, October 4, 2017 at 6:49pm, our son Bennett was born.
When I left the house that morning around 8:30am, I had zero idea I’d be having a baby that day (ironically, I even published a bumpdate that morning and asked for suggestions on dealing with back pain – more on that below). I hadn’t written a birth plan because frankly, birth was going to happen whether I made a plan or not and I didn’t want to be disappointed if things didn’t go to plan. But I assure you, it never crossed my mind that this is how we’d bring our boy into the world.
Starting about Friday night the weekend before, I’d been having pretty bad lower back pain. I kind of thought I was being a wimp about it and that I needed to toughen up but by Sunday, it was excruciating and left me incapacitated and lying on a heat pad constantly. I still managed to make it to work Monday and Tuesday, back brace on and heat pad plugged in under my desk. I spoke to the nurse at the OBGYN on Monday and she basically told me that yeah, the last part of pregnancy is super uncomfortable. She told me to keep using the heat pad but that was about it.
On Wednesday I had a doctor’s appointment at 9am. I walked part of the way and grabbed a taxi for the last 8 blocks or so. I hopped out a few blocks early because there was so much traffic. Turns out, the traffic was caused by road closures from an underground fire in center city. When I arrived at my doctor’s office, the building power was out due to the fire (as were many other buildings on those blocks in center city). I decided to sit and wait to be seen. My back pain was still bad and frankly, I just wanted someone to look me in the eye and tell me it was okay to take Tylenol.
Someone from the office came around and told me that my appointment would be rescheduled and I insisted I’d wait, that I wanted to be seen that day. She said they were canceling all appointments that day. When I teared up, she told me I really should just got to the PETU at the hospital 2 blocks away and be checked. She assured me it wasn’t a big deal and if I was in pain, there was no harm in a quick check. The PETU is just the unit where pregnant women check in before labor and delivery or go to be checked out for any pregnancy related things (but you get to bypass the ER). I knew I couldn’t sit at my desk at work that day so I decided to go to the PETU. I sent my boss a text that I’d still be in but I’d just be a little later than I thought (LOL, 4 months later).
On the way to the hospital I called Nav. This was only the second appointment he’d missed the whole pregnancy. He assured me that everything was fine. I told him not to come quite yet because I was just being checked and I’d call him when I was done. I checked in at the PETU and told the woman at the front desk that I felt silly coming in just for back pain and that I was totally fine, I just wanted to be checked. I assumed this was typical first time Mom worries that they see all the time.
They brought me back to a room and told me they were going to start an IV, just to give me some fluids. I hate needles but at this point I figured nothing could be as bad as my back pain. I was right. The IV didn’t bother me at all compared to the back pain. They strapped on monitors to my belly that tracked the baby’s heart rate. A midwife came in and checked me and I was 2cm dilated and some amount effaced (but I can’t for the life of me remember what she said). I thought that was odd, given I was only 34 weeks 6 days but she said it was normal and many women are dilated for weeks before giving birth and still go past their due dates. I was still assuming this would be true for me.
After she checked me, I just sat in bed and watched Grey’s Anatomy on my phone. When I got up to use the bathroom, I noticed I was sitting in blood. I thought this was due to the cervical check (which was unpleasant, to say the least). I laid back down and a nurse came in and told me that I would be checked again at 1:45pm to see if I was progressing. If not, they’d probably send me home. I was still not super worried but now knew I’d be there for several hours so I called my husband to come to the hospital. The trains from where he works back to Philadelphia are few and far between during the day so he actually had my Dad pick him up and drive him to the hospital.
When Nav arrived I was still pretty chill. He noticed that the baby’s heart rate went up and down but I told him I thought it was just when I moved around that the sensor had a hard time picking it up. I was wrong.
At 1:45pm another midwife came in and checked me and informed us it was definitely abnormal for me to be bleeding still and they found it concerning. Then she said this, “and has anyone talked to you about how the baby’s heart rate keeps dropping?” Um, no. At this point she tells us that because of the bleeding and the heart rate issues, I’d be staying at least 3-4 days for observation and they were going to move me over to labor and delivery. I was a little wide-eyed but I’d much rather play it safe. I think Nav and I just nodded a lot and freaked out in our heads a bit.
A few minutes later the midwife rushes in and says “You know the baby isn’t liking how you’re laying, maybe lets roll over to your side” and immediately starts helping me roll. Suddenly two nurses appear and an OB and I realize things are serious. The put an oxygen mask on me and literally someone starts wiping down my pelvic area to prep for a possible immediate emergency c section. It just felt like a flurry of activity and I started shaking wildly from the adrenaline and general terror of the whole thing. Several of them kept moving me in to different positions to try to get the baby’s heart rate back up and they kept telling me to take deep breaths but that’s really hard to do when you’re freaking out that your baby is suffocating inside you.
Within a few minutes, his heart rate came back up and things settled down and they insisted that I not move at all because “he likes how you are right now”. Except my back is still killing me at this point and I’m laying in the most uncomfortable position but am terrified to move for fear that his heart rate would drop again. Two nurses came in and said they were going to give me a steroid shot to help his lungs develop, should he come early. They warned me it was a painful shot and asked me if I wanted it in my butt or thigh. I asked which they thought was better and the nurse replied, “Well, you don’t sit on your thigh”. Fair point. I opted for the thigh and although it burned a lot more than any other shot I’ve ever gotten, it still wasn’t as bad as the back pain and my adrenaline was still pumping so much that it just didn’t seem like a big deal.
I lay exactly like that, face away from the monitor, asking N every 10 seconds “Is he okay?”. N had his eyes glued to the heart rate monitor basically the entire time after that until Bennett was born. Soon after this, a nurse came in and helped move me to the labor and delivery unit (again, we still thought this was just for observation). Harry Potter was on the TV in my room but I couldn’t even tell you which movie it was because we just sat there and listened to his heartbeat on the monitor. At one point I got up to use the restroom and when they reattached the sensors when I returned to bed, his heart rate had already dropped significantly, in the minute I was standing. Again, we found a position the baby liked and I laid as still as I could.
I also remember that every midwife and nurse who touched my stomach over these few hours asked me “Is it always this hard?” or “Are you having a contraction right now?” My stomach had felt like that for weeks and frankly, I didn’t think I was having contractions. A few suggested that maybe my stomach was so hard because I had a very strong core before pregnancy. LOL um no. The midwife and OB told me that they couldn’t figure out based on my pain and the monitor if my back pain was me experiencing back labor, if the pain was correlated with a contraction. I wasn’t having contractions necessarily but my body also wasn’t doing nothing. They were also trying to tell if my pain was correlated with his heart rate dropping.
At this point, they start sending in more doctors. First, they send in a neonatologist to talk to us about premature babies and what to expect, should we deliver. I don’t know that it was quite real for us that he might actually come that day until the neonatologist is explaining common problems with a 34 weeker. I realize it seems crazy but at this point I still wasn’t thinking I was going to have a baby that day.
Next the OB comes in and says, at this point we wouldn’t be able to send you home, even on bed rest, because realistically you can’t just lay in the exact same position for 5 more weeks. I realized this but again, it just didn’t seem real. I was totally fine (or so I thought) when I woke up that morning. She tells me that they think his heart rate is dropping because I have a possible partial placental abruption (i.e. the placenta is detaching in a small section). She says she’s asked for a consult from the high risk OB but they were looking to move forward with delivery today. They were going to discuss as a group whether they should induce me or if a c-section would be best. I remember thinking that inducing me just didn’t seem like a good idea. Like breathing and pushing and whatnot would just be too much for his little heart.
A few minutes later his heart rate dropped again and once again, the nurse comes in and helped re-adjust my position in bed until it went back up. The high risk OB suddenly appears at the foot of the bed, along with the OB and another nurse. She says “we’ve decided that at this point it’s safest if we move forward with a c-section” to which I reply “okay, when?” and she says “in about 20 minutes”. I’m sure my eyes got super wide at this point. Okay, I thought, we’re having a baby in 20 minutes.
Moments later someone hands N a white paper/cloth jumpsuit and a blue surgical hat. Someone puts one on my head and moments later, they’re rolling my bed to the operating room. N is walking with us, holding my hand but as we go in to the operating room, they tell him to wait outside and they’ll get him in a few minutes. The whole thing was completely surreal.
In the operating room, I’m moved over to the operating table. The anesthesiologist comes in and he says abruptly “can someone tell me what’s going on here?” It’s apparent that he, along with about half the staff buzzing around the OR, just got on. It’s shift change so half the staff are at the end of their 12 hour shift and the other half are rushing in, trying to do the hand off so that they can take over. It is clear that the anesthesiologist is not the warm fuzzy type, which kind of terrifies me.
My nurse from labor and delivery had come with me and the anesthesiologist has me sit up and starts drawing on my back with pen. My feet are hanging off the OR table and the nurse has me lean forward and put my head on her chest. I kept thinking that it should be N who held me as they gave me the spinal block but I was so grateful for the kind nurse who let me literally stick my head between her boobs and held both of my hands. I feel some needles go in my back as the anesthesiologist numbs the area before doing the spinal block. I’m telling you, I hate needles but I barely felt any of this. The anesthesiologist steps away to prep the spinal block and the nurse whispers in my ear, “He’s an odd one but I promise, he’s really good at what he does”. This made me feel worlds better, since he was about to stick a giant needle into my spine.
Moments later he does the spinal block and my legs get really cold, then tingly, then numb. They have me sit up for a minute or two after because they want to let gravity help it go downward, not upward towards my heart. My nurse then moves my legs and places them back on the table and I tell ya, not being able to feel your legs at all and watching them be moved around is the strangest thing. I lay down and there is a flurry of activity as they start prepping me. They start to hang the drape and finalize the surgical prep work.
At this point my nurse places the monitor on my stomach (there had been no monitor on me or the baby for a few minutes while this happened) and starts moving it around. Nothing. Panicked, I say “is there a heartbeat?” and she calmly replies, “yup we’re just finding it”. She keeps moving it around and after what felt like 100 years (but was actually probably 15 seconds) she finds the baby’s heartbeat. It’s slow. Ridiculously slow, even for an adult. It’s supposed to be 130-150. It’s the most terrifying sound. I see her turn her head and mouth something to the other staff in the room, trying not to let me see and so as not to scare me. People suddenly seem to be moving faster.
A nurse appears at my head with a small cotton pad.
She says, “Let’s make sure the spinal block is working. She rubs the cotton pad across my forehead. It smells of alcohol. She asks ” Does this feel wet and cold?”
I reply, “Yes.”
She moves to my collarbone and swipes it across.
“Does this feel wet and cold?”
She moves to my abdomen, “Does this feel wet and cold?”
“Um, kind of.”
And once more right below my belly button, “Does this feel wet and cold?”
“No, but I can feel that you’re touching me.”
She turns to the OB and says “We’re good”.
ARE WE GOOD?! That’s all you’re doing to make sure I’m numb enough?!? I expressed this somehow, panicked and I hear the OB say that we need to get him out, to which I reply, “just get him out” suddenly unconcerned if I’m numb enough or not.
Three nurses appear around my face and start telling me what’s going on, things like, okay they’re just prepping your stomach and are going to start in just a minute. I asked them not to tell me what was going on, and to talk to me about something else, ANYTHING else. I do not want a play-by-play of someone cutting in to my body. I ask them to tell me about what shows they’re watching. I remember one nurse telling me she just finished the Handmaid’s Tale and I tell her I watched the first episode but am saving the rest for maternity leave.
I feel tugging or movement in my pelvic area and I realize they’ve started. I say to the three nurses hovering by my head, “Um, is someone going to get my husband?” One of the nurses rushes out the OR door and seconds later, N appears at my head.
N says that the nurse came outside and said, “Whatever you do, do not look at your wife. Just look at me until we get to the other side of the curtain.” They’d already started and my cut open body was in full view from where he walked in the door. Thankfully, he listened.
Moments later I feel tugging and I hear the OB say, “here’s your baby boy!” N looks over the curtain and sees our Bennett for the first time. N had literally been in the OR for 30 seconds total and it had only been maybe 4 minutes since the nurse had found our baby’s heartbeat to be so slower. It probably took you longer to read these last paragraphs than it actually took in the OR.
The nurse carries Bennett over to the side to clean him off and the neonatologist (who I now realize is in the room with a whole team of NICU nurses) starts checking him out immediately. I hear him cry and it’s the best sound I’ve ever heard. I tell N to go over to him and stay with him. I couldn’t see him at all since there was a flurry of nurses around him so I proceed to ask “is he okay?” 400 times, literally every 15 seconds. N keeps answering, “yes, he’s okay”.
As they kept working on me (still feeling that tugging but barely noticing it), the nurse noticed that sometime in the last minutes, I had started shaking pretty uncontrollably. She asked me if I wanted something for that and I guess I replied “sure” because she adds something to my IV and started to feel really relaxed. She also put a warmed blanket across my upper body and I can’t even tell you how wonderful it felt.
After a few minutes, they swaddled Ben and brought him over to me. I could barely see him but I gave him a kiss on the cheek. They assure me he’s okay and tell me he’s 5lbs. 6oz. Then they put him in the uncovered incubator and tell us they’re taking him to the NICU to be checked out. I tell N, “go with him, stay with him” but they tell us that he can’t come and they’ll let us know as soon as he can visit. And then they wheel him away.
N came and sat by my head and I keep asking him, “are you sure he’s okay?” and N assures me he is in good hands and he looked good. The rest of my surgery is a blur. I was wheeled to recovery and I had yet another wonderful nurse. I kept asking her when N could go see Ben because I can’t believe we just had a baby and we aren’t with him. It’s very disorienting to have your baby suddenly out of your body and to then have no idea where he is. I knew he was in the NICU but I couldn’t tell you what floor I was on or what floor he was on or the names of the people actually caring for my child. Fortunately the anti-anxiety meds they gave me in surgery kept me from fully freaking out.
About an hour and a half later, the nurse finally tells us that N can go visit him in the NICU and explains how to get there. He asks me many times if I’m sure I’m okay with him leaving and I assure him I am. He heads down to visit Ben and I’m suddenly alone in recovery, curtain pulled around me. Naturally I can’t sleep and there’s no TV or anything so I Facetime my best friend Kaylin (my Mom was on a plane at this point). Again, it’s super weird to just be laying there with no baby. I don’t even remember what we talked about. I think I may have been in shock.
Some time later they take me up to my hospital room and N meets me there. He shows me pictures of Ben, who is hooked up to a lot of monitors but N insists is doing well. I keep telling my nurse that I want to go see him and she says I can’t go down to the NICU until I can feel my legs again. I’ve got these pressure cuffs on my lower legs, filling with air and deflating to keep me from getting blood clots. The nurse tells me that I can probably go see him sometime after 3am, if feeling has returned to my legs. It’s probably around 9pm at this point. It sounds like an eternity to me.
I start feeling nauseous. The nurse adds some medication to my IV to help with the nausea. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline wearing off or the anti-nausea medicine but soon after, I pass out, alarm set for 3am.
A little after 3am the nurse comes in, gives me IV pain meds and starts checking my vitals, making sure feeling has returned to my legs, etc. This process seems to be taking forever. Apparently standing up out of bed after a c-section is super painful for most people but I wanted to see Ben so bad that I didn’t notice any pain. I hauled ass to the wheelchair and insisted N walk faster, pushing me to the NICU.
At 4:15am on October 5th, I got to meet our son.
He was on a warmer bed (like an incubator but without the acrylic top) with a CPAP machine on his face, cords coming off all parts of his body, IV in his hand with a splint taped on so he couldn’t bend it. I couldn’t really see his face and his eyes were closed (I didn’t see them for about 4 days!) but I was just so overjoyed to finally meet him. The whole thing felt like a weird fever dream and here I was, 4am staring at my son for the first time. Most people say that the moment you have your baby is one of the best moments of your life but for me, this was it.
It still seems crazy to me that I had a baby and then immediately didn’t see him for 9 hours. I didn’t know at that time that this was the beginning of a two-week NICU stay.
This is obviously not the birth story I thought I’d be telling. I had a completely uneventful, healthy pregnancy until it came to such an abrupt end. I didn’t get to do so many things – I didn’t push a baby out of my body, we didn’t do skin to skin after birth, I didn’t breastfeed him immediately, we didn’t do a delayed cord clamping, our cord blood was not saved or donated. I didn’t even pack my own hospital bag (our friends went to our house and packed it for me the next day). But the important thing is that we are both safe and healthy. As I hit publish our baby boy sleeps on my chest and I don’t care at all that things didn’t go as planned. We just feel like the luckiest people on earth.
Note: I realize the tense of this post goes back and forth a bit between present and past. I wrote most of this post in a complete daze in the NICU family lounge on the shared computer, while drinking my coffee (because you couldn’t bring coffee in the NICU itself). I initially wrote it in Evernote to make sure I didn’t forget any details. I wrote it just for me and do not want to over-edit my original writing. A few days ago I asked on my Instagram story if people liked reading birth stories (I love them) and the answer was a resounding yes, so I decided to publish this here. Birth stories are incredibly personal and I thank all the women whose birth stories I’ve read over the years. It’s because they shared their stories that I felt more informed about birth and am comfortable sharing my story here in hopes that it helps another woman paint a realistic picture about what the experience might look like for her.