Friday, 13 April 2012
No new mom ever feels completely ready for the birth of their first child, but I was feeling pretty good about myself by the time I hit 30 weeks. My husband and I had finished our childbirth class and our childcare class, and had signed up for a breast feeding class (he was really excited about that). The nursery wasn’t ready, but the crib was together and the rest of the furniture was on its way. All that and I still had lots of time before the baby arrived! Boy, I was good!
At 31 weeks 4 days I had my monthly check in with my OB/GYN. I heard that beautiful heartbeat again and left feeling excited about my 3rd trimester. He did recommend that I get another ultrasound, just to check in, and I was elated to have another chance to see my little girl. Looking back, I know that he had a feeling that something was not right, and that his instincts saved my baby’s life.
The following Monday I was 32 weeks exactly going in for the ultrasound with my husband. We were both very excited to see our little bean again. The technician told us she was measuring small for her gestational age, but that she looked healthy other than that. The doctor reiterated that opinion during his follow-up phone call though he said she’d have to be monitored by ultrasound every 2 weeks because she was in the 3rd percentile for size. The next morning I got another call from my OB/GYN saying that he and the perinatologist had been talking and would like me to get the follow-up ultrasound the same week. However, he was very emphatic that they were not concerned. I didn’t believe him.
The appointment was scheduled for 2 days later, 32 weeks 3 days. I woke up that morning with a very strange feeling. I had barely slept during those 2 nights because I was so anxious. I hadn’t felt that nervous about an ultrasound since my very first one when I was terrified I would see nothing. The baby hadn’t been moving a lot in those 2 days either, which I attributed to my own stress affecting her. The day of the ultrasound, however, was different. My belly just felt different, almost tingly. I waited for the baby to move all day and each time I felt her I felt a moment of relief followed by the continued agony of waiting for the next small bump.
My appointment was after school and the perinatologist I had seen before was out of town, so I saw his partner instead. Of course, as is usually the case when you see a doctor, I first saw a technician and nurse. I felt much better once I was in the room and seeing my beautiful girl’s heart beat. She was okay! I sat and stared at the screen, crying, relieved that all my worry had been for nothing.
After about 20 minutes with the technician, the doctor came in the room, silently viewed the screen and told me, without looking away from the screen, that I would need to go to the hospital. I stared at him, thinking I had misheard and just said, “I’m sorry?” He said again that I had to go to the hospital and I would probably have the baby that day. My head began to spin and I thought I was going to throw up. He began to tell me that I needed to go straight to the hospital. I was not to go home and pack a bag or to the store to pick up one last item for the baby.
I called my husband, whose phone was, for the first time ever, not on. He was at a track meet and I had no way to contact him. Panic set in. Was I going to have to go through this alone? I was on the phone with a secretary at his school when he called on the other line and I promptly hung up on her. All I could tell him was that I had to go to the hospital and that my precious girl, who wasn’t due for another 53 days, would likely be born that day. I still didn’t know why myself.
On my way out the doctor found me and explained what was happening. Basically, the placenta was no longer supporting my baby. The umbilical cord was showing a reverse wave on the ultrasound which meant that instead of blood flowing to the baby, at least some of it was flowing away from her. This is life threatening to her. He said that in nearly every case like mine the baby is far safer outside the uterus than inside.
They were waiting for me at labor and delivery and a very nice, calming nurse took me to a delivery room. I was hooked up to monitors to track the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. The OB on call explained that they were looking for the baby’s heart to occasionally accelerate which would indicate movement. After 10 minutes they did not see any accelerations, but they didn’t see any decelerations, either. Just to be certain she wasn’t in an extended sleep cycle, and to give my husband time to get there, they continued monitoring. It was increasingly clear, however, that she was going to be delivered very soon.
Once at the hospital I felt much more secure. I didn’t know what was going on, but my girl was being constantly monitored, so I could relax a little. Nurses came in every few minutes to check on the monitors, but I took the time in between to try to relax. I knew my life was going to become a whirlwind very soon.
A few minutes later the doctor and nurse came in and a flurry of activity began. No one had made an official statement yet, but it was obvious that the c-section was a go. The anesthesiologist came in to explain his procedures. He was trying keep the mood light, making corny jokes that normally would have me giggling like an idiot, but they were going right past me. Finally my husband arrived and tried to catch up on what was going on. Everyone’s attention was on me and mine was on them, leaving him standing and watching. He got to work trying to find someone who could help take care of our dog until I was wheeled into surgery. Meanwhile, my head was spinning. I was being told what was going to happen and wasn’t hearing any of it.
It’s a surreal thing to be wheeled down the hall on a gurney. Scenes from old cheesy movies are actually pretty accurate, as it turns out. Every so often the gurney would bump up and down when we hit a door or a seem in the floor, each one making me feel more and more nervous.
In the OR chief OB resident was the angel on my shoulder. He talked me through every step and rubbed my arms while I was getting the epidural. The anesthesiologist asked what kind of music I wanted to hear and proceeded to find as much Billy Joel as he could. This was much more comforting than I would have imagined. When I was numb and laying down my husband was brought in. He was talking a mile a minute about nonsense things and we’ll never know if it was more for his benefit or for mine. Either way, it was just what we needed while we waited to hear those magical words, “It’s a girl!” At first I didn’t understand what that meant. I thought, “Of course she’s a girl! We already knew that!” Then it hit me. I was a mom.
Olivia was born at 4:57 p.m. A few minutes later we heard her first little cries and a few minutes later they brought her to us for a quick moment and a kiss on the forehead before whisking her away to the NICU. I remembered from what was told to me before surgery that this was a good sign because it meant she was stable enough to spend a few moments with us. The doctors took a couple of pictures for us and then my husband went with Olivia while I stayed behind to be stitched up. I don’t know how long that took, but it seemed like forever. I was shaky and cold and stuffed up, and I just wanted to be with my baby.
Finally I was wheeled into recovery and my husband came to greet me and tell me how beautiful our sweet girl was. Still shaking and feeling very groggy we started making phone calls to spread the happy news. We heard lots of shocked voices – the most common first response was, “What?!” – but lots of congratulations.
Olivia Bell was born 2 lbs, 5 oz and 14 ¾ inches long. Her head was lightly covered with fine, dark hair and the most beautiful little fingers and toes. She didn’t need assistance breathing and she was put on IV sugar water to help stabilized her blood sugar. I got to spend about half an hour with her before collapsing into bed, feeling slightly dazed and incredibly happy that my baby was safe and sound. In the end she spent 54 days in the NICU, coming home the day after her due date.