Blessing: Julie, our doula at Peace and Birth
September 4: It was just after midnight, and my epidural was administered about 30 minutes prior. The rush of pain relief and overall body relief was like nothing else. I was blissed out. I could still feel the contractions but I also felt totally and utterly relaxed. I fell asleep and it was the best sleep I’ve had in forever. Alex was sleeping on the pullout bed near me and Julie, our doula, was sitting in the corner. We all were able to finally catch some Z’s.
Then at some point later I started shivering uncontrollably. I remember the shivering, but I wasn’t completely conscious. My eyes were still closed, but I could hear Julie speaking with the nurse. I was unable to open my eyes, and I just kept shivering. I heard Julie say to the nurse that they needed to check me because the shivering didn’t seem normal. (Apparently women can start shivering during “transition” due to hormones.) They checked my blood sugar and it was very low, 54. By this time, I had become more conscious. I drank some apple juice and they rechecked my blood sugar again, and it was up to 76 – on the low side of normal – but I was still shivering. During this episode, my heart rate increased to 130-140 BPM, about what you would expect during rigorous exercise. However, Aayden’s heart rate was over 200 BPM. They continued to monitor his heart rate, and it would decrease a little bit (around 180 BPM) but then it would spike back up again. It was clear that he was in distress but no one knew why.
Dr. Piparia did another cervical check. Yay – my favorite! (Cue eye roll) I was still only 5 cm dilated. After all of that. Given where I was in my labor and how long we’ve been going at it (60+ hours already!), given that Aayden was clearly in distress, Dr. Piparia suggested a C-section. In talking it through with her, she mentioned that if it were her, she would have the C-section with all the facts presented at the time. So we quickly made the decision to go with that.
In the span of 5 minutes, I was whisked away into the OR and the team started prepping. It was just before 7am, which is shift change time. Another point to note, it was Friday morning at 7am. Apparently most c-sections are scheduled for Friday so that the doctors don’t have to worry about those births over the weekend. My understanding from the nurses and my brother-in-law (who happens to be an OBGYN) is that Fridays are back-to-back c-sections all day. Therefore it was imperative that if we were going to do a c-section that we get it done before all of the scheduled c-sections got started soon after 7am.
So given the time of day, I had the benefit of having both the night and day shift staff in the OR. I was lucky that I already had the epidural because it meant that they were able to move quickly and use the same line for the spinal block, and I was able to be conscious during the C-section. Alex and Julie were allowed to be in the room with me, which was comforting because all of the emotions were running through me. During COVID times, doulas aren’t allowed in the OR but for some reason my doctor made an exception. I was scared, nervous, excited – mostly scared though. And the shivering. The shivering would not stop. It was uncontrollable teeth chattering, bone chilling shivering.
I was strapped to the OR bed with the straps going from my abdomen over my shoulders. The doctor kept testing me to see if I could feel anything after they administered the spinal block. I could still feel the first few pricks so they kept giving me more anesthesia until I couldn’t feel it anymore. It was such a crazy experience to know that you are being cut open and hearing everything but not feeling pain, although I could feel everything the doctors were doing. Dr. Piparia announced when she made the incision and I heard her say something about my placenta. There was some shoving and then some major tugging. I made noises every time I felt them trying to pull Aayden out. Alex kept flinching but I kept reassuring him that I wasn’t in pain but I could feel everything. And my mantra… “I can do hard things.” I just kept repeating it. My yoga instructor, Lisa, would say that all the time during yoga, and it stuck with me. I can do hard things.
At 7:07am on September 4th, Aayden was born. Alex got to see him first. He was standing about 3 feet away with his hands behind his back, and the nurses had to tell Alex that the baby was his and he could touch him. The nurses cleaned off Aayden and brought him over to me and laid him on my chest. I’m thankful for those moments but I wish that I was in a better state to completely absorb and appreciate it. I was shell shocked. I just had major surgery. I was still shivering and couldn’t control my body. I was splayed open on the operating table and strapped down to keep from moving. I had a baby! He was here. He was really here. There was just so much coursing through my body, physically and emotionally.
What we found out later was that I had a placental abruption, which means my placenta pulled away from the uterus. In that case, the only way to deliver Aayden and to ensure that we both made it through delivery alive was to deliver via a c-section. The placenta delivers all of the necessary things to the baby, like oxygen and nutrients. If the placenta isn’t attached to the uterus, the baby could die very quickly because it would be deprived of oxygen. Additionally, in the case of a placental abruption, if delivering vaginally, the placenta will usually try to be delivered first, in which case this could cause a hemorrhage for the birth mother and she could likely die. If you follow Chrissy Tiegen and John Legend, this is what Chrissy had during the course of her pregnancy and ultimately caused her to deliver her stillborn baby at around 20 weeks. I’m forever grateful that this didn’t occur during my pregnancy and only during the delivery process, in which we could do a c-section and both Aayden and I survived.
In addition to the placental abruption, as if that wasn’t enough, I ended up with a uterine infection. At the time of Aayden’s birth, I had a 104 fever. So pretty soon after, I was being treated with a whole bunch of antibiotics and IV fluids.
And to top it all off, Aayden was born with super low blood sugars. This isn’t uncommon for babies that are born from mother’s with gestational diabetes. Aayden’s blood sugar was so low that the nurses were convinced that he would be going to the NICU. We immediately had to begin supplementing him with formula to get his blood sugars to go up… especially since my milk hadn’t come in. The nurses were doing regular blood sugar readings and he needed three in a row above a certain level to keep him out of the NICU. The lactation consultant came through and instead of teaching me how to breastfeed, she showed me how to pump because it seemed like that was going to be my only option if Aayden went to the NICU. Long story short, he was strong and rebounded quickly. Each blood sugar reading increased and then Aayden was finally in the clear.
The whole rest of the day Alex took care of me and Aayden. I was too out of it from the anesthesia to do much, and I couldn’t get out of bed for the longest time because I still had a catheter in me from the epidural. Plus, hello… I had just had major surgery. Still days later, it was still difficult getting in and out of bed because of the c-section.
In the end, both Aayden and I were healthy. And truly that is what matters. However, it was quite the road to get there.
Reflections: I’m four months postpartum as I write this, and I feel like I’m still processing so much of the labor and childbirth experience. I’m disappointed because I feel like my body failed me in so many ways along this journey so far – I couldn’t get pregnant naturally, I couldn’t give birth naturally and then I couldn’t feed my baby naturally. So far, nothing really met my expectations of pregnancy and childbirth. In some ways, I feel like I was deprived of so many things that I was looking forward to. However, in speaking with Dahlia, she reminded me that my body did show up and worked for me. I was able to get pregnant via IVF. I had a relatively smooth pregnancy. I was able to deliver Aayden with minor complications but in the end, we both are healthy and happy. And I’m able to feed my baby, and he’s growing at just the right rate. He seems like a happy and content baby so far. There are many blessings for which I have to be grateful. And while I wasn’t able to follow a single element of my birth plan, I was able to organically go through the birthing process as long as I did, which most people wouldn’t be able to claim. I have 60 hours under my belt of induction, labor and delivery. My body did for me what it could, and I’m grateful for that.
Despite all of this and rationally knowing the blessings I have, I am afraid of another pregnancy and childbirth. I don’t want the same experience. The fear causes a hitch in my throat and I have to catch my breath. I wasn’t afraid going into the first pregnancy, and I don’t want that to be the dominant emotion when I become pregnant again. All I felt the first time around was joy and wonder (mixed with a little grief because of COVID and not being able to share this experience like I would have liked). Postpartum has been tough as I battle against anxiety and OCD, which manifests itself in anger, frustration and tears. I’m nervous that another pregnancy could be much more complicated and/or harder on me physically and mentally. I fear that emotionally I can’t handle another child. Initially I thought for my next pregnancy, I will have a scheduled c-section and remove the guess work. Then last night, I dreamt that I was pregnant and gave birth vaginally (also known as a VBAC). That was a terrifying dream for me because of Aayden’s birth. And despite all of this, I know I want another baby.
I’m constantly analyzing and checking in on how I’m feeling, and here’s my current thoughts… I’m a fighter. I rise up to challenges. I like to learn, grow and push myself to be better. I know that I will persevere when the time is right. I’m putting it out there to God and the universe to open up the doors when it’s time for me to continue forward on this journey. Until then, I will continue to analyze and process this whole experience and try to emotionally and physically equip myself for the next time. Because I do have faith that there will be a next time… after all, we have one more viable embryo waiting for us.