I started writing this shortly after being released from the hospital. I was very surprised to realize just how emotional it was for me. I hadn’t thought that Eden’s birth and our hospital stay had been as hard for me as it was coupled with a very difficult pregnancy and I guess it was just a little much. As I began to write I found that I would need to stop and come back to it several times because I just didn’t have the energy to revisit the experience. I persevered though, mainly because I don’t want to forget these details – as hard as they are. I want to remember it all – the beautiful moment they took her out and announced she was a girl, the difficult moment of being wheeled away from her – I want to remember everything.
So without further ado – our birth story.
We walked into the hospital to check in for our c-section and my husband looked at me and said:
You look so relaxed, so fresh!
He couldn’t believe that on such a big day I was acting so calm, he most certainly was not feeling calm. Several people after that asked if I was nervous, and my response to them – not at all. I was all in, 100% ready to meet this miracle baby that my body fought both for and against. I was eager to be on the other side of pregnancy, ready to take on life with a newborn. Besides, I’d been through this before and although there were some “complications” for lack of a better term, I was determined that regardless if the same complications happened I would be ready for them and they wouldn’t catch me off guard.
We checked in and the nurses did a non-stress test and gave me my gown to change into. Carlos and I talked and laughed and decided on names (can you believe we hadn’t even discussed names before that day?!), took some pictures and he changed into his white coveralls, head covering and booties. We were ready, and they were ready for us.
Our nurse walked us up to the OR and we waited in the holding area surrounded by patients and family members there for various procedures. Each one being visited by their anesthesiologist and surgeon as we waited for ours. Finally our anesthetist came out to chat, immediately I saw the kindness, care and professionalism in this man and I breathed a sigh of relief. He was going to be a major player in this surgery and I knew I needed a kind, caring individual. I saw that he cared about every single detail, most importantly he cared deeply that this went as smoothly and as closely to my wishes as possible. I have since spoken with my OB and she said that he is one of her top two anesthetists and if she needed any procedure done she would want him – this just confirmed what I was feeling that day and I’m so thankful for him.
We talked for what seemed like an eternity, we went through every single detail and possible complication. He had already combed through my file and taken in all the important details. He explained our options for anesthesia – spinal, spinal/epidural, or general anesthesia. I made it very clear that a general was my worst nightmare and I wanted to do everything possible before going down that road and he promised that he would exhaust all options before doing that. We talked about my last section and the excruciating chest pain that I experienced. I explained that I was 100% sure that this would happen again since I had been having chest pain on and off from 19 weeks that despite everyone’s attempt at trying to explain, could not be explained. I told him that I wanted to try to get through the pain without too many narcotics so that I wasn’t drowsy afterwards. I could tell that the whole situation concerned him and I could see the wheels turning in his head. We decided together that we would try a spinal first because an epidural carries a higher risk of complications post and because of my Marfan Syndrome those risks are even higher.
Next my surgeon came out – and I was surprised and slightly disappointed to see that it was the physician that I wrote this post about. I knew from speaking with many nurses and admittedly browsing reviews that in fact he was an excellent physician but just one that I didn’t particularly “jive” with. Although disappointed I was also grateful to have someone who was slightly aware of my case and someone I had met before and I knew that we were in good hands. In the end I was so grateful it was him, he was nothing but kind, professional and perfect for this birth. We talked briefly and he returned to the OR and I followed with my nurse shortly afterwards, leaving Carlos in the holding area until I was draped and ready.
When we walked into the OR the anesthetist said that he had thought it over again and reviewed things one more time and thought we should try a spinal/epidural. His rational was that with an epidural we might have a chance at getting a block high enough to control the potential chest pain. I was agreeable to whatever he thought would be best. Next he prepared me and attempted the epidural a few times all of which caused extreme pain in my hips and down my legs. After three attempts at inserting the catheter he said that due to the curvature and nature of my spine an epidural was proving to be far more difficult. So we abandoned that and tried a spinal. I was a bit nervous that the spinal wouldn’t work either, but he gave me a higher dose than normal and after a long wait it finally worked. They prepared me and draped me and brought Carlos in – he had been pacing holes in the floor because the first part had taken a good 20-30 minutes.
Carlos came and sat down and then it was go time. I felt nothing at first other than the surgeons gently massaging my belly moving Eden down. At the same time they were cutting and also narrating. At one point the surgeon said – your baby is waving at us through the water bag, and in the next minute I heard “IT’S A GIRL!” During the prep the conversation revolved around Ezekiel and how he wanted a sister and wouldn’t be satisfied with anything else and so when Eden came out the whole room cheered. It was a moment I hope I never forget. They passed her by my head on the way to clean her off and make sure she was fine. I did here her cry when they took her out and wasn’t paying much attention to what was happening with her but she did have low APGARs initially but recovered well with suctioning.
The actual birth of Eden was everything I had hoped. I was relaxed and fully present, the physicians were gentle and communicative. With Ezekiel’s birth they were anything but gentle and I don’t remember any communication (though admittedly my memory could be foggy). I was so thankful for the way the birth went, it’s what comes after that makes this story interesting.
During the entire procedure my anesthetist was looking over the curtain then looking back to me and asking how I was doing. Up until this point I was doing fantastic and feeling great and he was very relieved. After she came out he even said – “we made it through!” I replied with – “not yet we haven’t.” Then about two minutes after that I said – “there it is!” The chest pain that I had been anticipating and he had been dreading had shown up. It started the moment they began cleaning out my uterus and removing the placenta. The more they worked the worse it got. I would get moments of a tiny bit of relief when the pain would go from a 10/10 (or more) to a 6/10 but from this moment forward the pain was pretty constant. They finished with my uterus and were moving on to my tubal ligation.
Interlude to talk about ligation –
Early on in my pregnancy I had begun thinking seriously about a tubal. I’ve only ever taken birth control for two months of my life and never wanted to restart – something about chemically altering my hormones that don’t function properly on their own just doesn’t feel right. Also I will never have an IUD, I’ve heard one too many horror stories both from doctors and friends who have had one. Trying to “be careful” obviously didn’t work out well for us – thankfully! My husband would die before being drug in to have a vasectomy. So if we decided that we were done I was pretty sure I would want a tubal. Then as the pregnancy went on it was clear that we were only going to have two children regardless of the outcome. Honestly, I’d do it all over again for another baby (probably to the horror of every doctor that cared for me during this pregnancy) but it’s not just the difficulty of pregnancy that I need to think about. My cardiac status thankfully stayed stable during this pregnancy but that’s just pure luck. Another pregnancy could be the one that killed me, literally and so after a lot of discussion with a lot of doctors I decided a tubal was the best option for us.
Back to the birth:
So they moved on to the right fallopian tube. The exact moment they cut the tube my pain skyrocketed. It was so bizarre, I could literally feel them cutting my fallopian tube in my chest and it was excruciating. I was trying my best to breathe through the pain, the anesthetist at one point had to remind me to breathe because the pain was so bad that I was holding my breath trying to get through it. I could hear the surgeons repeatedly saying “I’m so sorry Ashley, you’re doing great.” I could also hear, “just sew it up as quickly as you can.” It was very clear that although they deal with labouring women in pain on a daily basis they were very unfamiliar with a patient yelling in pain on the operating table, I kind of felt bad for them in some twisted way. After the right side was done the pain decreased slightly and they asked if I wanted them to continue. I adamantly said they better not close me up without making me completely infertile. They asked if I was absolutely sure and then said something about me being a trooper. The left side didn’t hurt nearly as bad but the chest pain never left.
Eventually they closed me up and then cleaned me up and it was done. The nurses were amazing and doing their best to distract both Carlos and I from the pain. Also, sometime during everything Carlos got up and went and got Eden and brought her over to me. He laid her beside my head so I could talk to her and kiss her. Although I can’t remember at which part of the procedure this happened I know it’s a moment I’ll never forget. It’s a moment that I really wanted in both of my births but with Ezekiel the room was frantic due to my chest pain and it just wasn’t an option. I love that I got to have this moment and I love that it’s captured in pictures.
I wish this was the end of my birth story, I wish after this everything would have been normal and not worth writing about but it only got more exciting after the actual surgery.
They moved me to recovery and my nurse got to work doing everything she needed to do – check vitals, check bleeding, check the spinal block, check on my pain, get baby skin to skin and to latch. Vitals and the spinal block were great, Eden latched and sucked like a pro right away and actually stayed there for 20 minutes or so. My pain was very slowly subsiding but my bleeding was picking up. Eventually they had to give me oxytocin for the bleeding. My pain only subsided for a bit and then all of a sudden picked up back to 8-9/10. The anesthetist came and checked on me a couple times, then the OB, they tried to get a hold of my cardiologist but couldn’t and eventually called the cardiologist who was on call.
Quite quickly I had a couple residents at my bedside, they began to go through the motions of getting the story. They were only there for a few minutes before this small, young, feisty female physician literally barged in and interrupted them (as nicely as she could I’m sure) saying she wanted to hear everything and ask the questions. This started 2 hours of pure chaos, I’m not even sure I can recall it all because it was just so chaotic. She was lovely and very concerned, doing her due diligence to make sure I was getting the best care possible and I’m very thankful for her. They did blood work, an EKG, and chest x-ray to start. While that was happening the cardiologist was on the phone to the radiologist trying to get me a CT scan ASAP as well as trying to figure out who was going to take me there. She wanted me connected to a “life pack” – a machine that traces the heart and is capable of shocking patients out of arrhythmia’s. The problem was that my labour and delivery nurse was not trained on that machine and neither were any of the recovery nurses. They tried getting a cardiac nurse but there was no one available – so the cardiologist took it on herself to escort me to CT. She literally steered my stretcher to the CT, sat beside me and charted while we waited, sat in the CT control room while I got my CT and then steered my stretcher to the cardiac ICU. Yep you read that right – I had an attending cardiologist escort me personally around the hospital, if that’s not VIP treatment I don’t know what is!
My poor labour and delivery nurse was so great during this whole ordeal. When I say it was chaotic I mean it was just so over the top dramatic. I had cardiologists assessing me while my nurse was also assessing me and the baby, on top of that I had techs coming for all the tests. I just imagined myself in my nurses shoes and felt so bad for her!
Before going to CT we discussed that the cardiologist wanted me on the cardiac unit to be completely safe given that the postpartum nurses were not trained in cardiac complications and there was no cardiac monitoring on the postpartum unit. There was discussion with everyone – and many phone calls to both units – about Eden accompanying me or not. The cardiologist fought hard for Eden to be able to come with me but when I left recovery it was still up in the air. What I didn’t realize was that when she was talking about the cardiac unit she actually meant the cardiac ICU. I was very surprised to look up as they wheeled me through the doors and see the letters ICU. I knew that my chest pain was not cardiac related and I was certain this was overkill, yet in the same moment I was so grateful that despite my own intuition my situation was not being taken lightly. I also understood that even though they also knew that the likelihood of it being a cardiac incident was small that they had to take every precaution to be sure I was safe. What I didn’t know and wasn’t told while inpatient (and never asked about) was that on the CT my aortic root actually looked like it had expanded and so that fact coupled with pain gave them more cause to worry.
I spent 24 hours in ICU and although I am grateful, it’s also the part in my birth story that makes me the most emotional. I went through this pregnancy always thinking I was going to have a preemie and I prepared my mind and heart for not having my baby at my bedside just like with my first. Once I hit 37 weeks I let go of that and began to be very excited to have at least one aspect of this whole 9 months be “normal.” Once the c-section was over I was just going to be a normal mom with a healthy baby and I was so ready for that. It ended up that Eden was not allowed to be with me – staffing issues – and I had to fight to even get a nurse to bring her up to see me. What was worse was that they would give her formula before bringing her to see me instead of allowing me to breastfeed. At one visit I got pretty upset and made it clear that breastfeeding was incredibly important to me and I would appreciate them to at least bring me a pump so I could provide milk for her. I was crushed that once again I sat in one hospital room while my baby sat on a completely different unit. I was so disappointed that things still weren’t normal for us.
The 24 hours in the ICU were anything but restful, being in a room with glass doors that face the nursing station make it pretty impossible to get any sleep. On top of that I was up every couple hours to pump. The nursing was amazing though. My night nurse actually brought me down to see Eden overnight which I was so thankful for. The next morning the doctors made their rounds and everyone was happy to let me go down to the postpartum unit and I was elated to be able to be with Eden.
I could write and write forever about this I’m sure, but I think I’ve done enough rambling. I’ll save the rest for later. If you’ve made it this far – BRAVO!
Birth is rarely easy, and every woman is attached to their stories on different ways, this was harder for me than I thought it would be but I am so thankful for every moment. Thank you for reading and sharing in my story.