Ever since Lydia was born two years ago, I have enjoyed hearing others’ birth stories. Some are encouraging, inspiring, or at times, intimidating, but all have been useful in preparing me for another birth. So now, I’m going to take my own turn to share Abby’s birth story. So here is my disclaimer: this is going to be long (for the most part) unedited. If you don’t enjoy hearing lots of medical sorts of details, this post may not be for you.
The weekend of September 6-8, God began to prepare us for Abby’s birth. I originally had scheduled my next prenatal appointment for September 11th, which turned out to be Abby’s birthday. However, the week before she was born I suspected that I had developed an infection and we scheduled a quick appointment for Friday, September 6. The infection turned out to be nothing serious, and nothing that would affect Baby. During the appointment, our midwife decided to go ahead with the normal prenatal care instead of waiting until the next Wednesday. Because Lydia was born early, the doctors had been periodically doing ultrasounds to measure the length of the cervix. A shortening cervix is an indication that labor could start soon. All of our previous measurements had been around 4.5 cm, but this time it was only 2.5 cm. While still within the range of normal, Dan and I were concerned at such a large change in just a few weeks. Our midwife wasn’t concerned, so we scheduled the next visit to take place in two weeks, and headed home.
On our drive home, Dan and I discussed the unusual change in length. I decided to research it a little bit, but couldn’t find anything conclusive. I sent out messages to friends and family asking for prayer. Dan and I started to wonder if perhaps Baby would surprise us by coming early…again. On Saturday, Dan and I decided to take our belated anniversary date in fear that it might be our last chance before Baby was born (and we were right!). Sunday I had a long talk with a friend at church who happens to be a midwife. After hearing the details of my situation, she also was concerned and recommended I try to stay off my feet as much as possible.
Also during the weekend, a couple different families offered to watch Lydia, should I go in to early labor. Everything was falling into place so that if Baby came, we were ready (as ready as we could be).
The next few days I stayed off my feet as much as I could. Dan took over all of my chores and I made a little calendar countdown to 36 weeks, my goal for Baby 2. We decided that each Saturday we made it without having Baby, we would reward ourselves with a treat. Still, we kept talking about how we were mentally preparing for Baby to come.
Dan and I were hoping for another natural delivery with this baby, and I was reading up on all that goes on during labor, ways to handle the contractions, and how Dad can be a good coach. Dan doesn’t do well with medical things so I was taking notes to make him a little cheat sheet with the things I felt he should know and the different ways he could be helping me. Tuesday night, I stayed up late reading over some of this material, taking lots of notes. In fact, I stayed up far later than I should have, and it was close to midnight before I was ready for bed.
Tuesday had been a strange day for me. I wasn’t sure if it was just the strangeness of staying off my feet for a few days in a row, or something else. I had started taking two naps a day, and during my afternoon nap I felt Baby moving like crazy and in positions I hadn’t felt her in before. In the evening we decided to run to the grocery store as the rest of our week was looking pretty busy. I went along for the ride, but stayed in the car while Dan and Lydia went in. Dan came out with some “extras” that hadn’t been on my list: a beautiful bouquet of flowers for me, some tasty snack food, and a frozen dessert treat, which we were calling the treat for the coming Saturday, assuming Baby wasn’t born yet. Then we had gone home, tucked in Lydia, and stayed up late reading. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite “right”, so after I got ready for bed, I stayed up for about 10 minutes reading about the signs of labor, trying to find some correlation to the strangeness I had been feeling all day. I couldn’t find anything definitive, so when Dan came in, we prayed together and then I went to sleep.
12:00 AM, September 11
Ten minutes later, I felt a huge gush of liquid and realized with dread that my water had broken. For a moment I wondered if I could have just wet the bed, but I got up and ran to the bathroom. By the time I was fully awake I knew Baby was coming and I burst into tears. Scared and shaking and wishing this wasn’t happening I yelled for Dan. He came toward the bathroom asking what was wrong and I told him: “My water just broke!”
I was losing amniotic fluid like crazy, so I just stayed in the bathroom, giving Dan instructions on what to pack for me and asking him, “What are we going to do with Lydia?” I was trying to keep it together, but I kept thinking about months in the NICU, this time with a toddler… “I can’t do this”. Dan called my midwife friend, who happened to be awake. She agreed to come over with her baby and stay with Lydia so we wouldn’t have to wake Lydia up and take her somewhere.
During the phone call, Dan asked which hospital we should go to. There was a hospital just minutes from our house in Plymouth or the one in Ypsilanti where Lydia was born and we were preregistered, but that one was 30 minutes away (I had just preregistered on Monday). No one was really sure but our friends advised us to go to the hospital we knew the best, so soon we were in the car on our way to Ypsi. Later we found out that the hospital near our house in Plymouth has no NICU and doesn’t know what to do with babies. Had Abby been born there, she probably wouldn’t not have survived. In the best case scenario, they would have put me in an ambulance and sent me to the Ypsi hospital anyway.
During the drive Dan prayed for me and Baby, and for Lydia as well. I took half the drive to tell Dan all the things I wanted him to know about labor, because we were pretty sure Baby was going to be born by morning. I told him some things like, “Answer as many questions for me as you can, especially if I’m in the middle of a contraction”, “If they ask about pain medicine, let me answer first and then if they keep bugging me, just keep telling them what I want. That way they won’t get mad at you”, and “Most importantly, just don’t leave me. Stay as close to me as you can. I like you more than them!” (During Lydia’s birth the doctors pushed Dan out of the way and he could only reach out sometimes and hold my foot. I was not a fan of that situation.)
Once I had filled Dan in, I told him that I was freaking out. I knew that wasn’t going to help anything. So we decided to sing a song. We sang “Before the Throne of God Above” and then spent the rest of the drive praying some more. Suddenly we were at the hospital, but we couldn’t remember where to go! We made a couple of wrong turns and then Dan got me to the right drop off place. I told him to park the car and run in. I wanted to be dropped off, but I didn’t want to go in alone.
When he dropped me off, the security guard asked if she could help me. I stood there awkwardly for a moment trying to figure out what to say, “Uh…my water broke…and I’m only 28 weeks along…and I don’t remember where to go.” She grabbed a wheelchair and looked toward the parking lot. “Is he fast?”, she asked me. “Yes,” I assured her, “I told him to run”. Dan had caught up to us by the time we were at the elevator and he was soon holding my hand again. Apparently I like him to hold my hand non-stop during labor and delivery.
At triage I had to fill out and sign a few forms. I was flustered, trying to get in as fast as possible. Dan, annoyed at the delay, asked if we could hurry things along. “She’s only 28 weeks!” The nurses assured us they were going as fast as they could. Over the next couple of hours Dan and I just wanted them to give me the shot of bethatmethatsone, which is a steroid that helps early baby’s lungs…if it has enough time to get into their system. We suspected, from Lydia’s birth, that they would not be able to stop labor, and that our time was extremely limited.
By this time contractions had started and I was battling the physical pain along with the emotional trauma of imagining the next few months of living in tbe NICU. After all of our hoping, praying, extra prenatal care, and precautions, Baby was still coming early in a scenario that was eerily similar to Lydia’s birth. I was devastated, but trying not to dwell on the next months as I knew I needed to be emotionally strong and mentally focused to make it through the next hours.
Soon I was in a triage room and the doctor had wheeled in an ultrasound machine. “She’s breech”. Another blow. On Friday she had been head down. I looked and Dan and told him, “She must have been flipping during my nap. That’s why it felt so strange.” That stinker. The doctor went on to poke and prod me in lots of unpleasant and painful ways. Dan was my hero, when she kept asking, “How are you doing?” I kept squeezing his hand and he answered for me, “She’s hurting a lot.” Finally the doctor got what she needed and made a rough estimate that I was dilated to 1 cm. Then I was wheeled into a labor and delivery room.
By this point my contractions were about 3 minutes apart and were lasting about 45 seconds. I was able to focus on the clock or the cross on the wall and take deep breaths, and it wasn’t too bad. Occasionally a doctor or nurse would comment on how “stoic” I was, that they couldn’t tell how much pain I was in. We met two more nurses who started hooking me up to antibiotics and fluids through an IV. The antibiotics were to protect Baby in case labor had been triggered by an infection. Then they told me I would have to be on magnesium and they would be giving me the bethatmethatsone shot soon.
I have been dreading the bethatmethatsone shot since I got it with Lydia. When Dan saw the nurse preparing the shot, he told me he understood why. Apparently it is a very thick liquid which makes it hurt a lot as it enters the muscle. I was so nervous for the shot, I kept flinching and couldn’t relax. In the end it wasn’t quite as terrible as I had dreaded. It hurts, and it takes a while to inject it all, but I just lay on my side moaning into my pillow and soon enough it was over and I was just a little sore.
Then it was time for the magnesium. Magnesium, some suppose, may help stop labor. More than that, it protects Baby’s brain and decreases their risk of getting Cerebral Palsy. Magnesium. Everyone who mentioned it apologized and told me how terrible it is. It only took a few moments before I felt the effects. You suddenly get very hot. You feel like you’re in a fog and everything is slow and groggy. You start sweating like crazy and your body feels heavy. And while the nurses and your husband put cold wash cloths on your head you try to think clearly and ask how long the magnesium will last. Twelve to twenty-four hours. And on top of that, you’re still sore from the shot. You’re still having contractions which are getting more intense. And you’re still trying not to think about everything that’s in store for the next months with a preemie in the NICU. You’re devastated that this is happening again. And then the doctor comes in to tell you that you have to have a c-section.
Because Baby’s head would be so big in comparison to her tiny preemie body, there was a danger that the head would get stuck on the way out, and all of that trauma would go to her fragile neck. The doctor went on to explain the difference between a classical and transverse caesarean section. A classical c-section uses a vertical incision to get to Baby and is reserved for deliveries with complications or that need to be done very quickly. Many women are able to have natural vaginal deliveries after a c-section, but not after a classical c-section. Once you have a classical c-section, there’s no going back. No more natural deliveries. There’s too much risk of the incision reopening during delivery. The doctor explained that, because Baby was breach and so early, a natural delivery was not possible. And based on Baby’s specific position, it looked like we would need to do a classical c-section.
Dan asked if there was any other option, besides the classical c-section, but the doctor wasn’t optimistic. As I lay there with my contractions and my magnesium, and my disappointment that Baby was coming early, the doctor began to explain all of the risks of a c-section. I know she had to do that for legal reasons, but it was a bit ridiculous given the circumstances. When she finished talking I managed, through my haze, to inform her that Lydia’s labor was extremely fast. “If you’re going to do a c-section, I’m guessing you want to do it before it’s time for me to push baby out, right?” She agreed. Dan and I warned her that they better check me often, because with Lydia no one knew I was really in labor until it was time to push.
The doctors gave me instructions to call them immediately if I felt pressure of if the contractions began to get more intense. Multiple times they urged me to tell them what I was feeling because I was so “stoic” that they couldn’t tell how much pain I was in. They asked if I wanted a NICU representative to come in and tell me what’s involved in having a 28 week old baby and I said “definitely not”. That was the last thing I needed to be thinking about right then. They had checked me and confirmed that I was only dilated to 1 cm, then left me to labor away.
Once they left, I lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. I kept thinking and telling Dan, “Some women just have to go through labor! I have to go through labor pinned to a bed with painful exams, shots, and magnesium, the devastation of failing to get to term, the dread of the coming months, the disappointment of having a to have a c-section even though Baby was head down a few days ago, and now the probability that I could never have a natural delivery again”. I think the nurses picked up on my wanting to be left alone, so they didn’t bother us much at that point. Over and over again throughout the labor, Dan had been helping me so much. This was another one of those moments. He began to sing to me “Jesus, all for Jesus” (one of our wedding songs and a family favorite) as he put wet wash cloths on my head. He assured me that things were going to be ok, that God was in control even over this, and that I was doing a good job. I still couldn’t stop crying, but was grateful for my wonderful husband.
I don’t know how long we were left alone. When the nurses came in and saw that I was crying they asked why, wondering if it was from the pain of the contractions. “Everything”, was all I could say. I was overwhelmed by it all.
It wasn’t long before my contractions did start to feel more intense. I reluctantly called in the doctors and they decided to check me. Now I was dilated to 2 cm and they took some time to decide what to do. At this point, my doctor had showed up and was calling the shots. She said, while we could wait until I was dilated as far as 4 cm, it was getting risky because we didn’t want Baby to “fall out” and get stuck. We also didn’t want the c-section to be rushed. On the other hand, laboring longer gave time for the steroid and magnesium to work. It also gave time for labor to stop on its own (which we weren’t expecting). Our doctor decided to go ahead with the c-section and left to get things lined up.
Things got busy as nurses began to prep me for the c-section, explain what would happen, and gave Dan clothes for the operating room. They told us we would have to be separated briefly but that Dan would be with me during the procedure. I asked Dan, “Aren’t we going to pray?” and he asked everybody if we could have a moment. They all politely stopped what they were doing and we took a moment to pray for Baby, me, and a safe delivery.
I was wheeled into an operating room and separated briefly from Dan. As soon as I saw some metal instruments I got scared and thought I would be the random person for whom a spinal block wouldn’t work. They gave me a numbing shot (which did hurt) and then the spinal and I lay down on the operating table. Soon enough my legs felt warm, then tingly, then I couldn’t lift them. An anesthesiologist near my head kept asking what I was feeling to make sure the spinal was working. She told me I should be able to feel pressure, but not pain. Finally I confirmed that the spinal worked, even though I was bothered by how clearly I could feel what they were doing, just not the sharp pain associated with it.
Dan came in to join me and I realized that there was a glass cabinet to my side that allowed me to see what the doctors were doing behind the curtain they had put up to block my view. I told Dan not to look and then made sure not to look myself! The procedure was miserable. It’s one thing to breath and relax your way through contractions. It feels natural. Your body is doing what it was made to do. The pain of the c-section was completely different. No, I couldn’t feel sharp pain, but it felt like they were ripping out my insides. I groaned and moaned and cried my way through and the anesthesiologist by my head kept telling me I was doing great.
At 4:53 AM, our Baby was delivered. Dan got to see her before she was rushed to the NICU. He told me, “She’s purple, and I think she has hair.” As the doctors put my insides back in (or that’s what it felt like) a NICU doctor came to report that Baby was doing well. She weighed 2 pounds, 15 ounces and she was 15 ¾ inches long. She was crying and was able to breath without a ventilator, just a CPAP.
At some point as the doctors were finishing up, my doctor told me some good news. I had labored long enough to make some extra room for the surgery and they were able to do the transverse incision after all. No classical c-section! I breathed a silent prayer of thanks to God, because I had been praying over the past hour that He would make it possible to do the transverse incision.
Dan was ushered out of the operating room and a nurse asked me if I wanted to see my placenta. I said, “No thanks”, but she said, “I’m going to show you anyway”. As it turned out, Baby’s umbilical cord had been connected to the membrane, that is, the sack of “water” that broke. The nurse showed me the umbilical cord with all the blood vessels and then a big hole right next to it where my water broke. “You’re lucky,” she said, “Someone’s watching out for you!”. I learned later how serious it could have been if those blood vessels had disconnected when my water broke. Under those circumstances I would have been immediately put under and there would have been an emergency c-section. However, without that connection between me and Baby, both our lives would have been in serious danger and even the emergency c-section might not have been fast enough to save Baby or possibly me. (That’s my best understanding of the situation, at least) It was one of those moments, in the middle of a lot of bad, when God reminded me that He was taking care of everything after all.
Recovery was miserable. I received multiple different pain medications, including two doses of morphine and I was still squirming. Dan was loyally staying by my side, waiting to see Baby with me after recovery. However, he hadn’t slept in about 36 hours and was really struggling to stay awake. I was struggling not to be mad at him for being sleepy! Our “two hours” in recovery somehow turned in to four, but finally we got to go see Baby.
We spent a few minutes in the NICU looking at our new Baby, and by 10 AM we were back in the Mother/Baby unit (finally) alone. We were able to pray together and confirm Baby’s name: Abigail Faith. Then we made the phone calls to our parents telling them that Baby had come early.
And now little Abby is working her way through the NICU. We have a long road ahead of us, but are grateful for God’s hand in everything that has happened so far. He prepared us mentally and emotionally for Baby’s coming. He provided someone to watch Lydia and advice that sent us to the right hospital. He gave us peace during the car ride and a unity that lasted through the whole labor. He gave us a special moment together just before the c-section to worship and refocus on trusting Him. He allowed us to pray together before the surgery, and display to the nurses and doctors where we were placing our trust. He protected me and Abby when her water broke from severing the umbilical cord and putting us both in danger. He allowed me to labor just the right amount of time for the doctors to perform a transverse incision, opening the possibility for natural labors in the future. He gave us a baby who is feisty and strong, big for her age and amazing at breathing even though there probably wasn’t time for the steroid shot to really reach her. And He revealed the reason I have been having early babies (but I’ll post about that later).
God is good, and taking care of us. We are so grateful that, even during a labor completely different from anything we ever wanted, He was in control. While it was all happening, I was devastated, but looking back I only see His goodness and protection.