As I approach my eighth Mother's Day, I swore I'd finally share the birth stories of my kids. For those who may not know, sharing a birth story is a thing in the blogosphere and has been for a long while. So, as a mom of two little humans, a fertility nurse, and writer for clinical content and patient education, you'd think I would've done this ages ago. I've tried to write it tons of times but can never seem to get it done. Every time it doesn't feel like something I should share. It never started with a glowing pregnancy, and it wasn't real pretty -- all the way through -- BOTH times. No glow zone, ladies.
I don't want to scare women looking for encouragement and reassurance. It goes against my grain to share potentially alarming stories of how giving birth may not go as one plans even though that is absolute reality. That birth plan may need to be tossed along with every other piece of advice you receive. After a small epiphany, I realized that maybe a public service announcement on my no-glow pregnancy and unexpected birth story is just what someone out there needs to hear around this Mother's Day. It's not meant to freak anyone out, but I'm over sharing because I've realized others may be feeling this way, so I'm going for it. If you're looking for a sweet birth story, now would be a good time to turn around.
The whole pregnancy glow thing? You've seen on the magazines or the glossy celebrity? I call bullshit. Not that it doesn't exist -- I have seen glowing pregnant ladies, and you probably have as well who can rock stilettos strolling on down Madison Avenue in their last trimester, while growing a human, without breaking a sweat. I have also witnessed the miracle of a woman who practically sneezed while giving a half-cough and pushed out a life form with a smile. I've seen women who have pushed out a baby and are up and eating within a few hours or had a Cesarean section and called it "easy." That was just not me, and that may not be you, but if you can take with you one message from this post, it would be that it is okay. It may not be pretty or glossy, and it may be downright scary ugly, but it is okay.
My birth story with my son begins with my disbelief that I could conceive. I was so certain, that I told the reproductive endocrinologists I worked with that I'd start trying and likely need treatment, hoping they'd offer an employee discount. Nope, I was peeing on a stick with the first try. Bingo... my son's nickname. Lucky. Thankful.
The rest would be easy, right? I knew a lot clinically, I read a ton, had friends to guide me, and I was in good shape. But I just felt lousy. All the time. I didn't understand because I was doing everything right and my plan was to work until my due date. I consider it my first parenting lesson that plans do not always work out and sometimes you just have to wing it.
Around ten weeks, a trusty friend sat me down and said she was surprised at me. I'd been complaining for eight weeks, and she thought I was tougher than that and advised me to suck it up. I thought she was right, and I was really hard on myself. Standing in the NYC subway and swaying after 10 hours of work one day, I just stared at myself in the reflection of the subway window. I looked worn, tired, with a gray color that was the opposite of a glow. Know what I should have done at that moment? Listened to my body and cut myself some slack because it takes work to grow a human.
Now I've painted the picture, so let's just add on a lot of pounds, a sore back, uncomfortable boobs that seemed to be growing at an unreasonable rate, and hormonal changes that rival a ferocious animal. I was serious about the no glow. Aside from a partial placenta previa though, the pregnancy was going fine...until 30 weeks.
You've heard this before, but I just didn't feel right. I was at work and tried to decide how I was hungry and nauseous at the same time. Why was I shaky and felt like I had to sit and lay my head back or I'd turn from a solid to a liquid? My sweet co-workers gave me orange juice which helped for about 90 seconds and the physician I worked with took my blood pressure which always ran low. After a phone call to my OB and a scolding for drinking orange juice because it "likely just spiked my sugar and that's why you probably feel funny," I walked across through Lenox Hill Hospital to MFM (Maternal Fetal Medicine) where I got monitored all afternoon.
A little uterine irritability, probably dehydrated, some shortness of breath, the baby was fine, so I was given some IV fluids and went home to rest. That night, I woke up suddenly, with no pain at all, but the bed was wet. While assessing the situation to see if I had just achieved a new status in pregnancy of peeing on myself, I realized I was bleeding. My husband and I took the quietest cab ride ever to Lenox Hill Hospital. Total silence as we flew uptown with no traffic and I found myself hooked up to a lot of monitors and had a few ultrasounds. It wasn't until morning that we met with the MFM/high-risk group, and I learned it was a partial abruption. Think of the placenta as the docking station to the mothership. It had partially separated from the wall of the uterus, so I was okay, and so was our baby, but I was awarded bed rest and frequent monitoring. Lucky again and so very thankful.
Now, a word about bed rest. When many others are going through a "nesting" phase, the bed rest warriors are being driven crazy by inactivity and one goal: to keep that baby in the mothership for as long as possible. All one can do during bedrest is think about that one goal and lay uncomfortably. Over a few weeks and at least 13 ultrasounds, it was determined that I had oligohydramnios (low amniotic fluid), and the goal was to get as far along as possible while watching us closely.
At 37 weeks pregnant, I was scheduled for a Cesarean section, and I was ready. After all, I heard this would be easy! I was reassured by an amazing L&D nurse, I had an awesome anesthesiologist, and it was time! My OB asked if I had been taking my prenatal vitamin plus two doses of oral iron because my pre-op blood work came back with a persistent low hemoglobin level. I had religiously taken them as instructed, so we both shrugged it off, and I walked into the cold operating room, and they started playing some music. It was time to have a baby!
Full of gratitude and knowing how lucky I was to be able to do this, I gave myself a mental pep talk. Spinal block went smooth; I'm in good hands, time to relax, and be weirdly awake as part of me is opened up to welcome a new life. My husband was in position and did all the things they are supposed to do, but it was hard to talk and concentrate. While I appreciated the music in the background, I was shaking uncontrollably (very common). I remember waiting and finally heard the cry, but our "it's a boy" celebration got cut short by the anesthesiologist repeatedly asking me how I felt. My son was born, and I did my job, but the music abruptly was turned off. I heard a lot of talking, and my OB commented that she thought we were okay. As I told myself a joke about how I'd hope we were all okay, I felt the mood change, and everyone got a bit more serious. My husband had left as they were stitching me up and I had no idea who had my baby boy. The rockstar anesthesiologist rubbed my head reassuringly and explained that I needed to calm down because my blood pressure was all over the place. It struck me as odd because aside from being awake on an operating room table, I didn't feel like I was in a panic.
It turns out I hemorrhaged on the table and had lost a significant amount of blood. This is where that low hemoglobin and the vitamins become important because my level was low to begin with, so I tanked. In the recovery room, I was dripping sweat, shaking, had oxygen on, and my heart was racing out of my chest. My nurse was managing the situation as I got pumped full of IV fluids and I was told that I may need a blood transfusion. Honestly, I wasn't phased by this news because I could barely hold onto my son and could not believe how weak I felt.
My postpartum experience was not what I expected. Thankfully, I received two blood transfusions with my hemoglobin of 6, and we eventually left that hospital after a lengthy stay, but as a family. It did not go as planned, not even close, but all that mattered was that we had a healthy baby boy. The sad part for me? We have no video to look back on and share with our kids. There are few pictures of me holding my new baby in the first few days because I could barely hold him. When my daughter was born three years later, I ended up having four blood transfusions, so there is no video of her as well. What I do have is two healthy children, and I'm so thankful. My birth stories don't make me stronger or weaker as a mom, they are just unique, just like our children.
If my kids ask me this Mother's Day to tell them the story about when they were born, I'll just tell them the truth. Things don't always go as planned and they are the best experiences of my life.