(Have you seen that "Weird Advice Pregnant Couples Get" video? And the lady in the checkout line starts going on and on and on and on about how badly she tore with her son? Yep, that really happens. Complete strangers. All. The. Time.)
After Ethan was born, I suddenly understood the hype behind birth stories. Having a baby is one of the most frightening, yet most incredible and joy-filled experiences of your life! Who wouldn't want to share that?
At first, I was convinced that no one would be interested in hearing about our birth story. You see, our story has a bittersweet ending. It is not a comedy, with a sweet twist at the end. Our story is like a heartbreakingly beautiful drama, which leaves you in tears as you leave the theater. Yet somehow, despite how badly you sobbed during the ending credits, it's still your favorite movie.
That is Ethan's birth story.
His birthday was the happiest day of our lives. Like any parent, we felt the overwhelming love that you feel when you look upon your child's face for the first time. Like any mother, I will always cherish the moment that he was laid onto my chest. We will always celebrate the day that we learned that love at first sight is not just something out of a fairy tale. It is real.
Yes, the story had a heartbreaking ending. But like any great movie, it is still a great story. And one that I now love to tell.
Don't worry, I won't dump all of this on some unsuspecting girl in the grocery store checkout line! Can you imagine? Yikes!
Ethan's Birth Story
I have never felt healthier than I did when I was pregnant. Perhaps it was because of my lifestyle, or perhaps Ethan was just a laid-back baby. I felt wonderful! I jogged three times a week. I took naps when I needed them. I ate a healthy, well-rounded diet of whole foods and always made sure that I was eating enough calories, fruits, veggies, protein, etc.
Then the third trimester hit me like a load of bricks.
The easy breezy days of the first and second trimester were gone. I felt sick and tired. To top it off, my back hurt so bad that I started to wake up in the middle of the night with excruciating back pain.
Less than a week before Ethan's birth, I had an appointment with my doctor and I told her about the back pain. She began to ask me a series of questions: Have you noticed any blood? Are you having contractions?
"I've been having tons of Braxton Hicks contractions all week...Can you explain to me the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and real ones?"
My doctor explained the difference. She assured me that a real contraction would feel painful, but encouraged me to stop by Labor and Delivery if I ever felt concerned.
I shrugged it off. I wasn't in much pain. There was no blood. I was fine.
That Saturday, I woke up feeling awful. I laid in bed, crying, because I felt so uncomfortable. Chris was gone for work, but was expected to be back around noon. I had wanted to run errands before he got home so that we could spend time together. I finally mustered up enough energy to take a shower and go to the store. It took me two hours to get ready, simply because I was so uncomfortable. I kept stopping to lay down or stretch out my aching back.
The rest of the day was fairly routine. I went grocery shopping. Chris came home. We ran a few errands together. I made dinner. We watched a movie. We went to sleep.
At 11:30pm I woke up to a gush of water. I woke Chris up and told him that we needed to go to the hospital. There was no mistaking that this was it. It kept coming. And coming. And coming. And coming. And coming.
Since I had such a high risk pregnancy, I had an extensive birth plan set up for me at a Hospital #1 in Los Angeles. However, most of my routine appointments had been with a specialist at Hospital #2 about 45 minutes away from our house. My doctor had told me that if I were to ever go into labor early, it would be best for me to go to Hospital #2. She told me that they would try to stabilize my contractions and possibly transport me to Los Angeles, but it would be unwise for us to try to make the long drive to L.A.
45 minutes later, we arrived at Labor and Delivery at Hospital #2. Chris was instructed to wait in the lobby, while a doctor and a nurse checked to see if I "was actually in labor". The doctor was going to check to see if my water had broken and quickly determined that it sure had. Next the doctor told me that she was going to do an ultrasound to see how Ethan was doing. As she rolled the probe over my belly she stopped and asked, "Are you feeling any pain right now?"
I thought for a moment. My back ached, but I was not really in any pain. I told her that I was not in pain.
She smiled and seemed amused. "Well you're having a huge contraction. Do you see how tight your stomach is?"
I looked down at my tight belly. "It's been doing this all week!" I said. Apparently all of my "Braxton Hicks" contractions had been real. Oops. Now the doctor and the nurse start joking about my "iron-woman pain tolerance" and giving me kudos for coming into the hospital at 3cm dilation, no medication, still smiling.
The nurse brought Chris back from the waiting room and checked us into a room. The doctor explained that they were going to give me medication to slow down the contractions and a steroid to help Ethan's lungs develop. She told us that we would discuss a plan with a specialist in the morning, but for now it would be best to get some rest.
It's practically impossible to sleep in a hospital room, so I just did my best to rest my eyes. I spent the night listening to Ethan's heart beat, along with several bouts of hiccups, thanks to the monitor that had been attached to my belly.
The next hours were seemingly uneventful. I met my new nurse (who was wonderful. I could write so much more about her.). I ate an omelette for breakfast (which I ended up tasting again later. Gross.). Family came by and left. I had a few more contractions (now that I knew what I was feeling).
Early that afternoon, the Labor & Delivery doctor and a NICU doctor came to my room. They told us that they had made the decision that it would be best for us to deliver Ethan in Los Angeles. They had already contacted Hospital #1 in Los Angeles and they were going to get ready to transport us. Before they made the transport, the doctor wanted to do a quick exam to see how my labor was progressing.
The doctor asked my nurse to give me a catheter, so that I would be ready for transport. The doctor continued to talk to me, as my nurse inserted the catheter.
The moment the catheter went in, I felt intense pain. It was an instant change. I had never had a catheter before and I just assumed that it was causing me to feel pain.
I couldn't help but let out a moan. It hurt. Bad. My teeth started chattering and my body started trembling. "Okay, it hurts now."
"It's okay, honey. It may only sting a second but it shouldn't last any longer than that," my nurse said.
The pain grows stronger. At this moment my whole body is shaking and I'm practically in tears. I'm doing everything I can not to moan.
The doctor looks concerned. "Can you describe to me what you're feeling?"
I try to breathe and do my best to keep my voice steady. "Pressure...and....burning...ow, yeah this is bad....yeah, lots of pressure..."
The doctor checks my cervix and comes up with a smile on her face. She takes my hand and hers and says, "Honey. I just touched your baby's bottom. You are dilated. It's time. You're going to have a baby!"
Then she says the magic words, "emergency c-section", and a SWARM of people descend on my room. The rest is a blur. Within seconds, my entire hospital bed is being wheeled down the hall to an operating room and Chris is being handed scrubs to change into. Everything is happening so fast and I'm just doing everything I can to keep breathing and ignore the fact that my entire body is literally shaking with pain.
My nurse coaches me and cheers me on for getting so far by myself. She holds my shoulders and helps me arch my back, as the anesthesiologist sticks a needle into my back. She helps me lay on the operating table. My lower body goes numb. The curtain goes up.
Chris takes a seat by my head and squeezes my hand. "I'm so scared. Can we pray?" I say.
Chris prays. We say "Amen".
As we open our eyes, a nurse walks by carrying a baby. Our baby. To the incubator.
His heart rate is strong. He is here.
Within minutes, his heart rate begins to drop. A team of doctors surround him and begin to work on him. I write much more about this part in the story I've been working on. For now, I'll save those details for later. It's hard to read and even harder to write. After 30 minutes of hard work, the doctors determined that there is nothing else that they can do.
They tell us this.
They ask if we want to spend his last moments with him.
We hold him. We fall even more in love with him. We kiss him. We sing to him. We love on him.
We celebrate him. His life. All 93 minutes of it. The most beautifully heartbreaking, devastatingly joyful day of our life.
*Ethan's entire un-condensed birth story can be found in a manuscript that I have been working on over the last few weeks. This complete birth story takes up 15 single-spaced pages, of what has grown into a 70-page (and counting) manuscript.