Warning: Do not read this if you haven’t had kids! Or do, and remember you’ve been forewarned!
I never thought I wanted kids. I thought maybe I was missing the “mom gene” or something. I was in denial for a while when my friends told me they thought I was pregnant, until I threw up too many mornings in a row, and they forced me to go get a pregnancy test. Of course, it was positive.
That positive turned into a negative eight and a half months later.
When I first went to the OB, and they confirms that I really was pregnant, I told THEM that there must be a mistake. It had to be a false positive. “No, Courtney, you really are going to have a baby.”
Once I got it through my thick head that I was actually going to be a mom, I started to get really excited about it. Hearing the baby’s heartbeat inside me was the turning point for me. I wanted a boy and cried at my ultrasound when I found out it was a girl. Then, I felt guilty that night and went and bought her some pink outfits for when she emerged from the womb.
I have diabetes – acquired through an autoimmune disorder when I was 17. I knew stillbirths were pretty common for diabetic moms after coming to full term, but I didn’t know the extent of ALL that could be a complication for me during pregnancy with my medical condition. My OB slowly revealed them to me as we hit different stages and guided me in what to do to take care of myself and my growing baby girl inside me. (As an avid football/Tony Dungy/Peyton Manning fan, one highlight to all of this was that Tony Dungy’s sister was a fetal specialist in Indianapolis at the hospital my doctor was affiliated with, and she consulted on my case. I felt like a little bit of football-esque magic had its hand on us.)
I had about twice the amount of prenatal visits than a non-diabetic mom would have. I took excellent care of myself, monitored everything, and took the responsibility of creating a healthy baby girl very seriously. Everything went smoothly until I got to almost 38 weeks. I went in for my checkup, and my blood pressure had skyrocketed out of nowhere. I thought I had read up and prepared myself for anything that could go wrong – but I missed that one. I was also in the beginning stages of early labor, so I had to grab my hospital bag and head to the hospital two weeks ahead of schedule.
When I arrived at the hospital, they had to give me a mercury IV to lower my blood pressure. Then they also had to give me Pitocin, because the mercury was stopping the contractions. It was a pretty brutal cycle for about 24 hours, with them trying to find the perfect balance between keeping my blood pressure low enough and the contractions strong and consistent enough. A side effect to all that was extreme nausea. I couldn’t have an epidural, because I was already so weak and sleepy from the mercury, and they wanted me to be as alert as possible. Apparently, pain was supposed to keep me awake…
Once they got the contractions consistent enough, she crowned pretty immediately. But, then she got stuck. They tried twice to vacuum her out. Before the third attempt, my doctor said this if it was not successful, they would proceed with an emergency C-section. She was only 6 ½ pounds, but my pelvic opening was too narrow for her to come out as originally planned. They tried the vacuum one more time, and she finally came out. I was told by my family and friends that they heard my scream all the way down a hall, through the double security doors, and out into the waiting room.
It was the most excruciating pain I had ever felt in my life (remember the no epidural part), but all I wanted to know was if my baby was all right. No exaggeration, about twenty nurses ran in as soon as she came out. They had a NICU cart in there, and they were blocking my view of her. I kept trying to strain to see her, and I didn’t hear any crying at all. My father was in there with me, and he lovingly lied to me at the time. He told me she was fine, she looked perfect, and everything was great. I believed him and rested back while my doctor told me I had the worst fourth-degree tear he’d ever seen, and he was going to have to stitch me up immediately. It took about 2 ½ hours for him to be done with me. He kept apologizing with every stitch, and I finally burst out, “Stop apologizing, and just make it look good!” I can laugh about that now. By the time he’d worked on me for about ten minutes, my body went into shock, and everything felt numb anyway.
It took about as long for them to work on Adilyn on their side of the room. They finally got her breathing and crying, and I was able to hold her. She had three or four rips in her scalp that had been stitched up, but she looked great besides that. I thought the worst was over, but what happened over the next several days traumatized me for a long time.
All my family and friends had to return to work, and I was by myself from her first night in this world through the rest of that week. She became very jaundiced, and they wanted to run all sorts of tests on her, therefore she was up in the NICU a few floors above me. I wasn’t allowed to move, had a catheter in from all my stitches, and I had all sorts of IVs hooked up to me. They had a lactation consultant help me pump, and they would bring it up to her, but I couldn’t be with my child. I was all alone in a hospital room, without being able to hold my child.
After a few days of this, I “stole” a wheelchair from the hall outside my room, gathered up my catheter bag and IV pole, and slowly shuffled my way down the hall, to the elevators, and then down the NICU hall to her room. I finally got to hold her and breast-feed her. She was connected to tubes with bili lights on her and a mask. My heart was broken. Even as I type this six and a half years later, I am almost bursting into tears.
When I got back down to my room, my regular OB (a female) was waiting for me. She starting ranting at me about how my hemoglobin tests came back and were so low, I shouldn’t have even been able to lift myself out of bed, let alone make it all the way up there to be with my baby. She said that was not physically possible, but that it was proof of how strong a mother’s will can be – strong enough to defy science. She told me my hemoglobin levels were so low, I needed to get an immediate blood transfusion and I really could NOT leave my bed again until she told me I could.
Two blood transfusions, a lot of rest and a week later, I finally begged them to let us go home. They said she would have to come back two days later for more tests, and I had to go back to my OB a week later for more observation, but they finally agreed.
When we were “home” (we had to stay with my parents and two of my siblings, so I could have round-the-clock care), I clung to my baby. Every time she went to sleep (which was every couple of hours!), I would watch her chest to see if it was still going up and down, and I would hover my hand over her nose to feel the air coming out of those tiny nostrils. At the time, I didn’t know the extent of what had happened at delivery, but I still had this instinct to keep checking that she was breathing. I did this same routine for almost three years, out of impulse, whenever she slept.
Anytime anyone asked me about when Ady was born, I would immediately begin hyperventilating and burst into tears. It wasn’t until Adilyn was two years old, that I finally could talk about it with only a few tears. By the time she was 2 ½, I could speak about it with even less tears. My father waited until about that time to tell me what had really happened in the delivery room and how serious it actually was. He told me he thought I could finally handle hearing it all.
He told me that they thought they were going to lose me due to the extreme blood loss and the trauma my body went through, and they weren’t sure if she was going to make it when she finally came out. She had been stuck for too long and was completely blue when she emerged. Her scalp was split in those several places, and they did the right thing not letting me see her when I wanted to. I don’t think I would have survived knowing all of that at the time. I’m glad my father knows me so well and was able to protect me even as I became a parent myself. At the time she was born, my father’s voice and my doctor’s voice were the only ones that could keep me calm, so they stayed in those last moments of delivery with me. It took them a long time to get her stitched up and breathing, but they took good care of both of us, and we are still here. As scary and as traumatizing as it was for the few years after, I am so thankful for modern medicine and the blessing of delivering in today’s day and age. I can’t help but think of all the mothers that died during childbirth and the children that were stillborn several decades ago when home births were the only options.
As prepared as I thought I was for giving birth, there was no way I could have been prepared for all of that. I am so grateful to have had such expert nurses, knowledgeable doctors, and supportive family around me to get us safely through that time and beyond.
Bringing a child into this world was miracle enough, but it was even more of a miracle that we both get to still grace this world with our presence. If you have been through a traumatic birth or do go through one in the future, just know you’re not alone. And, however you deal with it is completely normal. It takes time to process through the trauma. Keep your support system as close as possible and let people in when you’re ready. After 6 ½ years, I am so thankful to be at the point where I can share my story and hopefully use it to help other moms out there. We are stronger and resilient than we sometimes know – don’t ever forget that!