It’s nearly a year late (I can’t believe I’m going to be the mother of a one year old in three short weeks). And the reason for the delay is simple. Thinking / typing / talking about the day that Clara was born still scares the pants off of me. Even 11+ months later. This little lady made quite the dramatic entrance.
Yup, the day that Clara came into the world was the most amazing life-changing day of my existence, but it was easily also the single most terrifying one. I’ve mentioned some details a few times in comments on other Clara-related posts (many readers wanted to know all about the bean’s birth right away) but I think now that she’s almost a year old I’ve processed that day enough to really share it fully with the interweb. By no means am I over it (don’t really know if I ever will be), but I can talk about it now without crying. So that’s a start, right? A few friends of mine have actually recommend that I write this post as part of the whole healing process (a lot of the posts that we write are actually for our own benefit since this is just an online diary to document our lives for our own selfish purposes, haha). So I thought it made sense. I know that how Clara came into the world will affect future pregnancies and how nervous/anxious/wary/afraid I’ll be if any of the same complications pop up again, so perhaps talking about it after processing it for almost a year might help me come to terms with it a bit more. So here it goes (deep breaths, deep breaths).
I had an amazing low risk fabulous pregnancy. No high blood pressure. No weird pains. Over 100 days of morning sickness (yes I counted) but that’s to be expected. Or at least tolerated in the name of baking a human. Other than that (and once that ended) it was amazeballs as my girl Bethenny Frankel would say. I felt great. I loved feeling my little bean kicking around in there. I basked in the glory of being prego. I told John I could do it ten more times. Life was good.
My tiny 4’11” mom had two natural (and very fast) child births, so I had high hopes of a normal (if not very quickly progressing) delivery. Maybe without drugs, and maybe with them. I wasn’t going into it with any strong feelings either way, but I had taken some classes on pain management and learned about The Bradley Method so I was actually feeling very bring-it-on by the end. Either way I kept telling myself “in the end the baby will be out and I’ll get to meet her, so no fear is allowed – it’s going to be a happy day – with drugs or without them. No pressure. Just try to go with the flow and relax.” I had orders to “run, don’t walk” to the hospital if I had any signs of labor (my mother had me in four hours and my brother within two) so that had me a little on edge, but the only thing I worried about was having the baby at home or in the car since I feared it would all happen really fast because that runs in the family.
John was working downtown at the time and I was at home without a car (we’re a one car family, so he’d take the car during the day and after he came home we’d run any errands I needed to do). So admittedly the whole being at home without the car thing was kind of scary but I knew about fifty neighbors who volunteered to drive me to the hospital if things got crazy and John couldn’t make it home to get me in time. The funny thing is that he answered his cell phone on the first half-a-ring for the last two weeks of my pregnancy, so I knew he was on high alert and was confident that he’d hightail it home in time (it was only a 15 minute drive).
I never felt a single contraction (not even Braxton Hicks) until the day I went into labor, but I knew I was dilated to a 3.5 at 39 weeks (yes I walked around at a 3.5 without going into labor with my first child, which I hear is really uncommon). Clara must have been holding onto the walls in there. So although I was still about a week “early,” my doc said I was going to have the baby any second. Hence John being on high alert. Oh yeah and my belly looked like this. I was officially ready to pop.
I noticed on the morning of May 14th (it was a Friday) that I was having some pretty intense contractions. My first contractions ever (well that I felt). At first they were oddly irregular so I thought it was just prelabor (didn’t even tell John because I didn’t want him to get all crazy and come running home for a false alarm). But slowly they started to establish a pattern and by the time I started timing them they were just four minutes apart. And they were an 11 on the pain scale. I felt like my insides were ripping apart and my back was killing me. I called John who was out to lunch with all of his coworkers to celebrate his very last day at the office (he was resigning to come on full time as a dad/blogger) and told him to get the eff home. He laughed about how good my timing was because he was just finishing his burrito. I groan-cried in the middle of a contraction and he knew I meant business. So home he
By the time we got to the hospital my contractions were already two minutes apart. I remember having a hard time even walking from the car to the door because they were just coming nonstop and they were bring-you-to-your-knees painful. I thought I might have a baby right there in the parking lot. They sent me straight into labor and delivery. As we waited for the doctor to arrive and check my progress my water broke in the hospital bed- but instead of being clear it was red. So much blood. Very scary. I didn’t even see most of it (thanks to my giant belly and the sheet over my lower half) but John did along with my OB who happened to be in the room. John’s face went white and the OB snapped into hyperdrive.
Immediately the room filled with frenzied nurses and doctors and they explained that I was having a placental abruption, which happens when the placenta has inexplicably detached from the uterine wall. This is very bad news before the baby is born. And it explains the feels-like-my-body-is-ripping-apart pain I’d been experiencing. It’s an extremely dangerous complication for the baby (since they get their nourishment from the placenta and can go into shock and die) and the mother can hemorrhage (and can also die in cases of extreme bleeding). So it was a pretty dire situation all around (although nobody stopped to explain it, the look on the doctor and nurse’s faces kind of said it all).
Within about a minute they had me in the OR and within three minutes they had sweet baby Clara out thanks to an amazingly fast emergency c-section. They saved her life by acting so fast.
It was a blur. All I remember was them running my gurney into the walls while turning corners in the hallway trying to get me into an ER as fast as possible. They looked panicked. And it scared the heck out of me. I didn’t care about me or my body – just the baby. I remember screaming inside of my head “just cut her out of me, cut and I don’t care if I feel pain or if I get hurt or if I have scars all over, just save her. Do it right here in the hallway if you have to.” Of course my lips weren’t moving. It was one of those out-of-body mind screams that nobody else can hear.
John suddenly wasn’t with me. They just left him behind and ran with me down the hall calling up to get emergency doctors and nurses on hand since the main OR was already in use for a scheduled c-section. I remember people popping out of doorways saying “I’ll help” and joining the frenzied mob and going over all of my stats (blood type, number of weeks prego, etc) while saying things like “baby in distress” and “profuse bleeding.” I couldn’t have created a scarier nightmare scenario in my head if I tried. Lots of people swarmed into the OR in the next thirty seconds. But no John. I could barely breathe at the thought of something going so wrong without him by my side. Once they had me fully prepped for surgery (which happened within less than a minute, they were so amazing) someone must have run off to get him.
I wish I could say it was thanks to me calling out for him but I was in shock so I couldn’t talk or even move. I was frozen. It almost felt like I wasn’t even there and I was watching it all happen to someone else on TV. John says he remembers standing in the hallway as everyone ran off with me. So freaked out and completely alone. Just waiting. That always makes me cry when I think about it. I didn’t know it at the time because of the chaos, but someone had tossed scrubs at him when I was being wheeled out (he would need them since it had to be a sterile environment for the c-section) so he was just standing there in the hallway wearing his scrubs and waiting. And going crazy. Finally someone came out to retrieve him and he was allowed to come hold my hand right as they started to cut. I just stared at him. I was frozen. I didn’t cry. I didn’t talk. I was just in shock at how quickly everything was happening.
Once they opened me up they saw that not only was Clara in distress from the placental abruption, but the umbilical cord had somehow been pinched (which is called “cord prolapse”) so she was without oxygen while fighting to make it through the abruption. I heard them toss out the word “cord prolapse” (they didn’t have time to explain what was going on, so I learned the details later) but in my odd state of panic and shock I thought they were talking about someone else. I was the one with a placental abruption. The scariest page of my birth book at home. The one I didn’t even read because it wouldn’t happen to me because I didn’t have high blood pressure or any of the other risk factors. My baby couldn’t also be dealing with cord prolapse. How could that be? Who could be that unlucky? Then they said “she’s not going to cry ok – don’t wait for her to cry just try to stay calm and breathe slowly.” That was when my heart broke and I started to cry. I guess I was crying for her.
I couldn’t see anything thanks to the screen they threw up before cutting into me, but they were right. She didn’t cry when they yanked her out with all of their might. All I remember was extreme pressure but no pain. Well, no physical pain. Emotional pain = off the charts. They had NICU specialists standing by, and when I heard them say “NICU” out loud that it was the first time I actually thought “what if this doesn’t end the way I thought it always would? What if all those pep talks I gave myself about it being a happy day because “drugs or no drugs I would get to meet my sweet baby girl” weren’t going to be true?
John later admitted that thought had hit him a lot earlier than it had hit me. He said he knew something was very wrong when he saw all the blood before they whisked me away. And when he was standing alone in the hallway after I got wheeled off to the OR he wondered if things were about to end badly. See why that visual of him in the hall makes me cry? It was just so surreal and terrifying. John later confessed that once he was allowed into the OR to hold my hand that he couldn’t really watch as they pulled her out of me, even though he was much taller than the screen they had set up to block my view. Not because he was afraid of the blood or passing out, but because he didn’t want to see our baby “not make it.”
But after about one felt-like-eternity minute they got her to moan. Kind of like a kitty meowing. It was so soft and weak and just heart breaking. I remember thinking “I want her to cry so she’s ok, but I don’t want to hear her if she’s not going to be ok because I’m falling in love already. I can’t hear her moan and then fall silent- she has to start wailing. Right now!” But no dice. I remember thinking that all the silence felt so loud. Like it was almost deafening to listen so desperately for some sign of a cry. Clara got a 4 on her initial Apgar test, which we later heard is usually the lowest score you can get before permanent brain damage if things don’t improve by the five minute Apgar retest. They didn’t announce the time of birth or her weight very loudly or say anything like in the movies, you know like “it’s a girl!” or “happy birthday!” or “what’s her name?” and she didn’t come lay on my chest. I still couldn’t even see her thanks to the screen they had put up to block the surgery. They were all just working on this baby that I couldn’t even see. My baby. And I just stared at John in a silent freeze, tears in my eyes but nothing coming out of my mouth. At some point after closing me up the doctor said “she’s bleeding – she reopened, get over here” and half of the team ran back to work on me. My incision which had been sewn and stapled shut had reopened and I could hear from the doctors tone that it wasn’t an ideal situation. But I still wasn’t scared for me. In any other scenario it would have been intensely alarming, but I had a one track mind: the baby. I want to hear the baby cry.
It felt like five years went by (in reality it was less than five minutes) but slowly the people working on me thinned out and the people working on Clara seemed to start moving more casually and slower. As if it wasn’t such an emergency anymore. I remember thinking “this is either a very good or a very bad sign.” Thankfully, by her five minute Apgar test she pinked up, cried a glorious and spirited cry, and got a 9 (we later learned that the five minute Apgar retest is the most important and revealing one). They said that a 9 was as close to perfect as it gets and that even super healthy children rarely get 10s. And they told us that it was so great that she rebounded so well and was looking fantastic. She was a fighter for sure. They even let John go over and see her (I was still strapped down so I had to wait).
She wasn’t out of the woods yet, but we didn’t know that at the time, so we started to rejoice and John even took some video on the iPhone to bring back over to show to me since I hadn’t even laid eyes on her yet (we were so lucky that the iPhone happened to be in John’s pocket before all hell broke lose, otherwise we wouldn’t have any documentation of Clara’s birth at all). We later learned they were somehow testing her cord blood to see if she was without oxygen for so long that she sustained permanent brain damage. Only when the test came back all-clear (indicating that there were no worries of that) did the nurses and doctors really seem to relax.
Apparently infants who live after a placental abruption have a 40-50% chance of complications, which range from mild to severe (and sometimes mothers who survive end up with a hysterectomy to control the hemorrhaging). Only then did it start to sink in how lucky we really had been. And what a miracle our baby girl really is.
Finally, after what literally felt like days, they wrapped her up and brought her over to me. My arms were strapped down from the surgery, so John held her right near my head and I just stared at her in disbelief. I was still in shock, and bloated with fluids from the IV along with fear and disbelief and unconditional love.
What did I do to deserve such a happy ending? How would I have survived coming home empty handed to a beautiful nursery that I shared with the world while being so confident that I was guaranteed a cute little baby to put in that crib? Basically it was the scariest day of our lives, and I still ask why. Why me (in that annoying “poor me” way) and why me (in the “why-was-I-so-lucky-she-was-spared” way). But the main thing I feel is full. Of relief. Of gratitude. Of love for my little fighter. My little miracle. I’m SO THANKFUL that the doctors and nurses worked so quickly to come to her (and my) rescue. I’ll never know for sure, but if another team had been on duty I don’t know that I would have had the same outcome. They were just so on it. So invested and so amazing. And I can’t even begin to think about what could have happened if I wasn’t in the hospital when I started bleeding.
Other nurses and doctors in the hospital dropped in to see us for days just to tell us how lucky we were (news of our complications were apparently the talk of the hospital). We even had a friend on another floor (coincidentally she was there on the same day that I went into labor for a pre-term labor scare) who had overheard nurses and doctors talking about “that woman who had both a cord prolapse and a placental abruption at the same time but the baby actually survived.” Only later did she find out that it was me they were talking about. I still get chills when I think about that. How lucky we were. How scary it was. And how gorgeous and amazing that little girl in my arms was. And still is.
So that’s the story of the scariest/best day of our lives. Whew. No wonder we’re obsessed with the girl.
As for if those complications are more likely to occur with any subsequent pregnancies, cord prolapse is totally random and can happen to anyone, so it doesn’t become more likely if you’ve experienced it before (but it’s rare, so if you’re prego and reading this story know that my combination of complications were about as likely as winning the lottery). However, placental abruption is more likely to reoccur (around one in four women experience it again) and it can happen as early as around twenty weeks (when the baby isn’t viable yet, which means the baby wouldn’t make it). So it can be devastating and scary. I have strict orders to wait at least two full years between pregnancies to let everything heal up nice and strong, which probably means over three years between Clara and her younger brother or sister, assuming all goes well. I’m fine with the wait since I’m happy to just enjoy Clara for a while and take that time to continue to process the whole birth experience and build up my courage. But I’m sure when I’m pregnant again I’ll be much less happy go lucky about it.
Which is really sad. John keeps begging me to let it be the same joyful and unabashedly exciting time as it was before. But I know myself. And I’ll be on high alert. Searching for any signs or symptoms that something’s wrong. And scared even if there aren’t any signs of trouble (because there weren’t any before I started feeling contractions with Clara- it just all came out of nowhere). I’m scared that I might even be afraid to get a nursery ready. You know, so as not to jinx things. So my plan is to know myself, and accept that I’m going to be scared. But to do my best to enjoy it as much as I can and remind myself that I now know what an abruption feels like (so I should instantly be able to identify it) and that I have more information than I had with Clara (plus the doctors also know about my history now that I’ve had it happen). So I’ll hopefully have just as good of an outcome should it reoccur, as long as it doesn’t happen before the baby is developed enough to be delivered.
But I’m not gonna lie. I’m going to be petrified.
I also might be a “high risk” pregnancy next time without any chance of natural labor (if signs of another abruption occur they’ll rush me to a c-section if the baby is old enough to live outside the womb). I’m ok with that. Anything for a healthy baby. Now not only am I open when it comes to drugs or no drugs, I’m totally down with a c-section too. Slice and dice, baby. Whatever it takes.