This post is written by Christa, a working mom to twin toddlers, who battled infertility after a PCOS diagnosis. She is an avid infertility supporter, red-wine-for-sanity drinker, and Kansas City resident.
I distinctly remember reading the chapters in my baby books about parenting styles, and pondering which option would be the best for us as a family. As a corporate professional and first-time mom-to-be, it was only natural to take a business-like approach to come up with our formula. Assumption statements, deductive reasoning, and a few pivot tables later, we had arrived at what looked like a combination of several popular methods. The newly-customized McQueen Method was created, and I’d for sure be the CEO of Parenting. Upon reflection, I’m mostly jealous of remembering there was a time when uninterrupted reading was real.
I was diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 30, after coming off of years of birth control with hopes of conceiving. We walked through the motions of the various non-invasive infertility treatments to no avail, month after month. After many failed treatments and a devastating miscarriage, we forged through the IVF process and completed our transfer amidst a snowstorm in early 2014. Two embryos. Twins!
It took only a few days of maternity leave at home with my newborns to learn that any plans we had made pre-babies were completely out the window. This peaceful time with soft baby skin cuddles that I dreamt about turned into a real-life game of Survivor, and I was the first contestant in history that electively wanted to be voted off the island. If raising one baby seems impossible, then raising two is nothing short of a mental and physical miracle. I referenced those baby books on occasion to see if a manual for raising twins would magically appear but, alas, it did not. For all newborn moms and moms-to-be of multiples, here is a Rosetta Stone interpretation of the baby book sitting on your nightstand, waiting to be read, uninterrupted.
Crying It Out/CIO
Just crying, period. Lots and lots of crying. The “It Out” portion does not exist for us. As a new mom, you’ll come across and be asked your stance on CIO more than once, and my response is to just look confused. We can’t control the crying of one baby, upset that Mickey Mouse is over, while the other is trying to fly off the changing table. Mom may actually have to go CIO herself after a morning like that.
Pulling one baby from his crib into the guest bedroom with you at 4:00am while you cross all ten fingers and toes that he doesn’t wake up his twin with a whine-scream combination. It doesn’t matter if one baby sleeps like a champion; your day starts with the whistleblower.
Welp, you made an honest effort to follow the diagrams of the twin breastfeeding positions and both end up in advanced yoga-style poses. The good news? Exclusively pumping is still considered a form of breastfeeding!
This is not the Pampers commercial in which the baby is giggling while you change their diaper. Crying, kicking, spraying poop, and peeing on you on are all par for the course, 10x a day, x2. You have now doubled the probability of these things happening. In the newborn stage, you can feel free to assign the “Gold Star Baby Award of the Day” by who pooped on you less.
Get one, stick to it. There isn’t the luxury of baby-lead parenting with twins, and you may be judged for that—by singleton moms. Round-the-clock feeding and sleeping babies at different times means no break for you. Structure is your friend here!
Nap jail, and lots of it, unless you can establish that schedule. Transferring from car seat to bed while being so careful to not wake baby is a high stakes game with twins. Both have to make it to bed still sleeping to win that lottery. Just when you think you get a parenting break, your whistleblower is awake and crying.
Leaving the House
Swear words come to mind, but this does get easier when the new normal is running a marathon before making it to Target. You may get somewhere and realize you forgot you could not push two carts at the grocery store alone, so—mission aborted! The dual feedings, naps, and needs of multiples while out and about all day are difficult, so leaving the house with kids in tow may be more of a luxury for you.
If you thought your living room looked like Toys’R’Us threw up in it, your kitchen is about to be taken over by finger foods and sippy cups being thrown. If one refuses their food, the other twin may copy. That’s a fun stage!
As difficult as my days seem to be sometimes, we are forever grateful to be blessed with our IVF miracle twins. Our family is strong enough to survive infertility. Our family is strong enough to survive raising twins. Our family is strong.
There is a phrase, “The customer is always right.” It’s silly, I know, because we all know that it isn’t true—but it speaks volumes about how you are supposed to treat those who are paying you for services. The one place that doesn’t roll over to this idea is the medical community. It amazes me how many doctors are out there giving terrible, outdated, or flat-out wrong information. I get it: doctors are humans, and humans make mistakes—but shouldn’t there be some ongoing training happening? Are we expecting too much from them? Are they spread too thin? What is the issue?
Those in the infertility community have a mistrust of doctors that seems to start fairly early. You learn to do your own research, question everything, advocate for yourself, and push back when you feel that the advice you’re being given is wrong. My very own OB, whom I adore, sent me off with a pack of Clomid to do an unmonitored cycle—which, as any infertile knows, is not typically recommended for a multitude of reasons, like OHSS.
I was let down again when my son was born. His latch wasn’t just uncomfortable, but toe-curling, blistering painful. He was seen by two pediatricians, two International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs), but I was the one to diagnose his tongue tie by comparing photos in a Facebook group. I was referred to an ENT, who snipped the anterior tie, but completely missed the posterior tongue tie and dismissed my concerns of the lip tie. The pain continued for months. I fought it because I wanted to breastfeed. I supplemented, I pumped, I cried, then finally found someone who could help me. One very short but very expensive procedure saved my nursing relationship with my son. Something that could have been done the day we left the hospital took three months to diagnose, all because the medical professionals I thought I could trust didn’t know what to do and never admitted as much.
I hear horror stories of pediatricians who have little to no knowledge of breastfeeding mechanics, telling mothers their breasts are “too small,” “too big,” or that their babies aren’t “getting enough” because they aren’t within the 90th percentile. (This one infuriates me to no end… that’s NOT HOW PERCENTILES WORK.) Doctors who recommend night weaning because the baby “doesn’t need it anymore,” without taking into consideration that a working mother needs that nighttime stimulation to keep up her supply. Doctors who have outright said there is no benefit to breastfeeding after the first six weeks, even though WHO and AAP recommend a minimum of six months (and then to continue as long as it is mutually desired by the mother–baby dyad).
These same doctors seem to be sticking to their guns about introducing rice cereals to infants well before they are ready for solids. Cereals aren’t bad, but there are some things you should know about them. Starting your child on solids is a big deal, and there is no single “right way” to do it, but please go into it informed about how your decisions can potentially affect your child. The “Open Gut” theory was something that no one had ever mentioned to me before, and certainly not my pediatrician!*
Then there are women who are told they can’t continue to breastfeed or must “pump and dump” after surgeries, even if the medications they have been given are safe for breastfeeding mothers according to the Infant Risk Center or LactMed. Luckily, I see plenty of mothers asking for help and confirmation from support groups—but what about those that are blindly following their doctor’s lead because, after all, they are supposed to be the experts? Why aren’t these doctors collaborating with lactation consultants or pharmacists about the safety of medications? Shouldn’t there be some cross-talk within the medical community? Would it be so difficult to get the information before passing it along to the patient just because “that’s the way it’s always been done?”
And don’t even get me started on bed-sharing. This is drilled into your head as the worst thing you could possibly do by most pediatricians when, in reality, bed-sharing is the norm in about 67% of the cultures around the world. I would bet that around 98% of our readers have brought their baby into their bed at some point, for some length of time. If you’re breastfeeding, bed-sharing is a great way to keep your sanity, get more sleep, and keep up your supply if you are back to work and pumping during the day. Dr. James McKenna is the leading expert on mother–baby sleeping; why aren’t more doctors referring to his 25 years of research in the field before scaring you to death? Why are we so quick to say, “Don’t ever do it!” instead of, “Here’s how to safely bed-share with your baby?” Wouldn’t that be more productive?
I don’t claim to be an expert, but some of the doctors I’ve seen (especially when what you’re asking about is a little outside of their specialty) aren’t either. I love being able to turn to a forum of people who’ve had similar situations or problems and can share their research. That’s what is so great about the Internet. There are million and millions of experiences, studies, reports, and even blogs to help you make the best choices for your family.
I’m not saying your doctor doesn’t always know best. But with so much information available at our fingertips, I’m advocating that we research something instead of always following our doctor’s advice, if for no other reason than to be able to have intelligent conversations with our doctors and make informed choices.
What about you? Has your doctor ever missed something? Were you ever given wrong information? How did you find out?
*Disclaimer: This is not to say that there aren’t situations that warrant the early introduction of solids. When weight gain is a true concern, the benefits of starting solids early can definitely outweigh the risks of starting solids before baby is showing readiness signs. Bottom line: Extreme cases do exist and I am not including them. Please feed your baby—that is the most important thing.
This afternoon, my son woke up early from his nap. When I went in to get him, he stopped crying, found his pacifier and blanket, and motioned to be picked up. When I lifted him up, instead of wriggling out of my arms to go play, he snuggled into my neck and grabbed my shirt. I decided to sit down in the rocker in his room and soak in this rare snuggle time.
As I rubbed his back, and his curly hair tickled my nose, I cried.
I cried because, even after 16 months, I feel so damn lucky to have him.
I cried because of all of my friends still fighting for their own babies.
I cried because of the loss that has been frequent among the infertility community recently.
I cried because my love for this little boy is so strong, it makes my heart ache.
As his drowsy hands traced the shape of my nose and mouth, my tears reached his fingertips. He raised his head off my shoulder, as if to make sure I was okay. I gave him a smile, kissed his forehead, and he decided snuggle time was done. As he wriggled down from my lap and ran out of the bedroom to see his dad, he looked back with a big smile, the one I dreamed about for so many nights.
Something changed late last year. Friends I’d made in the Twitter world had recently given birth and were struggling in the way new parents do in the early days—breastfeeding, lack of sleep, baby blues. I was in a group text with a few friends in the home stretch of their pregnancies, and the messages became more frequent as their excitement (and frustration) built.
It was gradual. My somewhat consistent attempts to offer advice to the new moms on Twitter began to taper off. Even when it was most justified, I started to feel irritated by complaining. As an exclusively pumping mama, I found myself frustrated when reading about breastfeeding problems—and then, jealous. I felt envious of the moms treasuring the early days with their babies (or appearing to do as much), remembering the fog with which I’d trudged through the first three to four weeks of postpartum life. I read of quick vaginal labors, even of long vaginal labors, and felt myself turning inward with a sense of yearning, and failure. And then I started to make good use of the mute button—a feature of Twitter I’d rarely felt the need to make use of in the past, even while trying to conceive.
As their messages increased in frequency, my responses in the group text dwindled. I would go to the Details tab and flick my fingertip over the Do Not Disturb feature every once in a while. I felt guilty, and resentful, and selfish, and tired, and sorry, and jealous…that last of which hardly made any sense. One was about to have her second rainbow baby, sure, but the other was about to have her first. And yet her chance at laboring—and early, at that—dug into me like fingernails on skin.
Eventually, half the people I followed on Twitter were muted and I had completely stopped responding to the group text.
The gradual buildup had reached maximum capacity, and my limit was reached. The switch flipped and I shut down. I withdrew from social media, from interacting with my friends, and hid.
Yet I was left with one question swimming around in my brain: Why?
Why did these things bother me, these things like late-term pregnancy and the early days of motherhood? The jealousy over others’ breastfeeding was obvious, and the laboring—as someone who was more or less forced into a c-section by medical necessity—made sense, to an extent. But why was everything else bothering me?
These people—my friends—were first-time parents; they’d finally taken home their rainbows and unicorns. I was often scrolling through my timeline with my own sleeping rainbow infant beside me, and yet I was consumed by a fiery, raging nexus of jealousy and envy and resentment. In the middle of the firestorm was this relentless feeling of guilt, of selfishness, of self-centeredness. I couldn’t help berating myself in my head: What is your fucking problem?
When I joined the online community, hiding behind my anonymous username as I pursued fertility treatments for the first time, I didn’t experience much of this animosity. I followed many already-pregnant infertiles, and a good handful of those who were already parents. There may have been the occasional barb of envy or jealousy but, overall, not so much. I saw other women who’d had multiple miscarriages and/or thyroid issues like I did, and I felt hopeful. I watched them in their pregnancies, I watched them raise their children, and I imagined doing those things myself one day.
So, you can imagine my surprise and subsequent self-hatred when I found myself incapable of dealing with anything to do with late pregnancy or the early days of newbornhood—like a childless infertile triggered by anyone who achieved parenthood might—despite the fact that I’ve had my own rainbow for nearly a year now.
Maybe it’s because 2016 is here, and the prospect of trying again is on my mind. Maybe it’s because parenting after loss or infertility, no matter how badly we want it, isn’t as easy as we would like it to be—the birth itself, breastfeeding, weaning, coparenting, being a working mother or a SAHM…the list goes on. There seem to be a thousand different options when it comes to having and raising your child. When it doesn’t go the way you wanted, especially after fighting for it so hard, you get jealous of those who do get what they want—or what you wanted. You wonder why, in spite of everything, you were still robbed of something that could’ve been easier.
Parenting after loss and/or infertility isn’t a constant. It’s an amorphous state of being—impossible to define, endlessly changing, constantly blindsiding you. I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that maybe what didn’t trigger me before, might trigger me after. I’ve wrestled with whether or not it’s okay, because I never saw it coming. If I’m being honest, before my son, I wouldn’t have expected this from any other rainbow/unicorn parents.
Yet here I am—feeling this way and unable to stop. What do I do?
I try to give myself grace. I try to give myself permission to feel how I feel even if, instinctively, it feels wrong—because it’s not. I try to tell myself it’s okay if friendships have changed, or even ended. I try to give in to the ebb and flow of this whole experience and understand that nothing is finite, nothing is predictable.
Survival, self-protection, self-care, is important above all else.
This is Part 2 of Lauren’s Birth Story. Read Part 1 here.
After my three-hour-long caesarean, Gena, my pre-op and OR nurse, got me settled in recovery. My OB, Dr. D, stopped by and, although she didn’t go into much detail at that point, let me know that it was a serious caesarean and that my husband was with the baby in the NICU. “Violet is okay, but her breathing was a little fast, so they wanted to keep an eye on her.” She explained that had things gone smoothly for me they would have done this in the OR, but they needed the space. Dr. D’s visit was short, and she said she was going to get my husband and the baby.
While I waited for my husband and daughter to appear, I concentrated on trying to wiggle my toes. I was able to slightly raise my knees and move my left big toe. So this is what it must be like to be paralysed… I was brimming with anticipation when Gena cried, “Here they are!” and I saw my husband approaching with a small bundle in his arms.
Probably because of the narcotics I think I received when the spinal block began to wear off during the caesarean, I don’t have as clear a memory as I would like of the moment Violet was placed into my arms. I do remember the joyful relief of finally being able to hold her, of feeling distantly euphoric, and, true to my troubleshooting nature, immediately wanting to take steps to breastfeed—Violet was already more than two hours old by the time she was placed into my arms. I unwrapped her from her swaddle and held her against my bare chest. I reminded Gena that I wanted to see a lactation consultant ASAP.
I began to learn just how serious things had been in the OR. Gena told me that if I had delivered in a more rural setting, I could have died. She said I lost 3,600 ml of blood—a few ounces shy of a gallon, or the equivalent of five bottles of wine. I remember the look of restrained incredulity on her face. She said she was amazed by how well I was doing, that what I had been through “on paper” didn’t match the woman sitting up and smiling before her. I was triumphant. Fuck infertility and fuck the extended birth plan—Violet is healthy, I didn’t die, and I have my uterus. I brought this baby into the world against the odds and I survived!
Gena may have spoken a little too soon. By late afternoon, the full effect of the spinal block and narcotics had worn off, and even though I was on Percocet I was in so much pain I shook violently. Usually a mom is transferred to the maternity ward a few hours after a caesarean, but it was decided that I needed one-on-one care. When asked how much pain I was in on a scale from 0-10, I reluctantly said 9—because surely a 10 would be reserved for an amputation—but I was in so much pain I could barely breathe. I couldn’t cry out or even grit my teeth because they chattered with the adrenaline of being in so much pain. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck, and in a sense I had been: having someone’s hands, no matter how skilled, rummaging around in your abdomen for almost three hours really fucking hurts afterwards.
I was desperate to stay on top of my pain because I wanted to breastfeed and knew pain inhibits milk production. Gena paged Dr. A, the anaesthesiologist. Together, with my husband, they agreed that I would be given morphine via a Patient-Controlled Anaesthesia (PCA) pump. I could dose myself as frequently as every 20 minutes, just by pressing a button. It sounded like a fantastic plan.
Meanwhile, I was moved out of recovery to a private room on the delivery ward so I could receive one-on-one nursing care. Gena tried to help me transfer to a proper hospital bed, but I screamed with the pain of being moved and I hated the sensation of the catheter tapping against the inside of my bladder. I begged to stay on the recovery bed, so that’s what I slept on that night.
After getting settled in my new room, I was hooked up to the PCA pump. Gena threaded a tube under my nose. It looked like the kind that would deliver oxygen, but it had a little flap that covered my filtrum and bumped against my upper lip when I spoke. The flap measured my C02 output, because morphine can make you forget to breathe. If I stopped breathing, an alarm would be triggered. It was a clever device, but that little flap was really irritating.
The morphine kicked in, and a few seconds later I could feel my body relax with exhausted relief that the pain had stopped. I had a moment of lucidity before sinking into a haze that I had a baby who needed to be fed. I began to worry that my milk wouldn’t come in, so asked my husband to call my friend, E, who had generously offered me some of her pumped breast milk if I ran into problems and wanted to avoid formula-feeding V.
I wasn’t expecting to see them that evening, but E stopped by with her husband and their baby, bringing with them 100 ml of her breast milk and a giant bunch of pink and purple wildflowers. It’s hard to talk when you’re high on morphine. I was sluggish, irritated at having to repeat myself multiple times, such was my slurring, and hated the feeling of the C02 monitor, like a heavy feather stuck to my lip. But I was overcome with gratitude. I tried to thank E and remark on how much their baby had grown, but I was otherwise a passive listener to the conversation.
Morphine is a strange drug. In that darkened windowless hospital room, every moment felt like it was 1.00am. It was like I was having an out-of-body experience—present, but not really there—and it obliterated my memory except for the major discomforts.
The catheter sat uncomfortably in my bladder and against my thigh. I was so incoherent on morphine, no one really understood what I meant when I said my leg hurt, but the thick scab I had a few days later told me I’d been writhing in so much pain that the tubing had rubbed against my thigh and caused a deep blister. (Three months later, I could see its faint scar, a slight darkening of skin.)
But it was the itching that got me. It was like I’d swum in the ocean and let its saltwater dry on my back for days. Scratching only seemed to rub the “salt” deeper into my pores. Mika, the night nurse, appeared with a cool washcloth and wiped my back. (Morphine makes you sweat, and it irritates your pores.) I craved those cool washcloths as much as the water I begged to be allowed to drink. Later I was allowed sips of apple and orange juices in tiny cartons, but I gulped them down and asked for more. I also asked for food, but Mika said I needed to wait until breakfast.
I was aware that V also needed to eat and that my husband had to be the one to feed her. I wanted it to be me but gave in to the circumstances—namely, I was too high to hold her safely, and I was too high to be upset about this. We decided not to use E’s breast milk. Her gift took the pressure off me—but V had to be taught how to eat, which meant that temporarily using formula was more convenient. With his mom’s encouragement, my husband cradled our baby and held a syringe with two teaspoons of formula in one hand. He wore a glove on his other hand and put a finger in V’s mouth. When she sucked, he delivered a little formula via a thin tube that was pushed inside her mouth. This is how our daughter learnt to eat.
That night I kept awakening in pain, but the morphine kicked in quickly. I wouldn’t say I slept—an artificial coma is more apt—nor did my husband, albeit for entirely different reasons. He confessed to constantly checking to see if V was still breathing, and even took her into the brightly lit bathroom to prod her. It was, for him, a stressful night after a long and harrowing day.
The Next Day
By daybreak I was itching all over, had a parched mouth, and was ravenous. I agreed to be taken off the morphine as I needed to be transferred from the delivery ward to the postpartum ward after breakfast.
Moving from one bed to another was pretty ghastly. I raised my hips and inched my bottom to the edge of the bed. I grabbed the handrails for support and shifted my upper body over. Panting and shivering, I did it again to get right to the edge of the bed which was flush with my new bed. I didn’t care that my MIL was in full view of my vagina. Right then, I had one goal, and that was to get to the new bed, dammit. It was the shortest marathon I never trained for.
In my new bed and off the morphine, there was no better reward than to have V placed in my arms to breastfeed. I was given a silicone shield to help elongate my nipples and was transfixed by how this tiny creature rooted and latched. She sucked furiously and I could see that I was delivering colostrum. After nursing her, I pumped for the first time. I suddenly understood why colostrum is nicknamed liquid gold. I pumped a total of 5 ml and the nurse was impressed. I didn’t know then that a teaspoon of colostrum was a highly unusual amount to produce after losing so much blood. I never expected to be able to breastfeed, so one of the proudest moments of my life was to see that my body was able to produce food for my daughter.
Breakfast arrived and I was ravenous after not eating anything for 32 hours. When I was finally allowed to eat and drink, there was no stopping me! It wasn’t the best food of my life, but I was reminded of the bowl of cornflakes I’d enjoyed in October 1996. The cornflakes were stale and the milk powdered but, after sailing through a Beaufort 10 storm in the Indian Ocean, that bowl of cereal eaten perched on the rigging of a Chinese junk is the most memorable breakfast of my life. Cramming bland hospital eggs and a Dole fruit cocktail cup into my mouth after weathering a different kind of storm comes a close second.
After breakfast it was time to move to the postpartum ward. The little Violet burrito, swaddled and in a hat, was placed in my arms, and we left. It was like being on the red carpet—everyone we passed stared and smiled at us. I held my baby close, at once fiercely protective and wanting to proudly show her off. So this is what being a Mama Bear feels like.
A couple of floors up was the ward where Violet and I would spend the next four days (healthy babies room in with their mothers at my hospital). I was disappointed to see that ours was a semi-private room—meaning I might have to share it with another family—but our day nurse, Emilie, said that she was going to try to keep it free for as long as she could. “After everything you’ve been through, you deserve a nice big room,” she said. True to her word, we had the room to ourselves for our entire stay, which meant my husband got to sleep in a proper bed every night.
Once settled, the focus shifted to breastfeeding and bonding. My MIL stayed with us, but my FIL excused himself because my breasts were constantly on display. There was a constant cycle of feeding: nursing supplemented with formula delivered via a syringe; pumping after nursing, making sure to get every last drop from the apparatus—even the drops from the bottle’s membranes were wiped off and onto my nipples to protect them; bottle-feeding the pumped colostrum; then my MIL or husband would wash up everything, just in time for the cycle to start over again. I held V to my chest, skin to skin, and took selfies.
I plucked up the courage to request that the catheter be removed. I knew this would mean I’d have to haul myself out of bed to go to the bathroom, but I also knew that the sooner I did it, the swifter my recovery would be. Once untethered, I got up for the first time half an hour after taking Percocet. I declined offers of help because others’ pulling felt too unpredictable for my battered body. Placing both hands behind one knee and then the other, I carefully bent my legs, raised my hips, and moved to the edge of the bed. I grabbed the handrail and pushed myself upright. Hands behind knees, I lowered my legs until I was sitting on the edge of the bed. I took a minute to catch my breath. I asked my husband to help me stand by pulling me up by my head. Standing, I was bent double and had to lean on my husband. My belly was on fire, and the area around my incision had a kind of tugging pain. It was only a few steps to the bathroom, but I made my way slowly. It took about a minute for me to reach the basin, another minute to pull down my mesh underwear, and another to lower myself onto the loo seat. When I got back into bed, I was triumphant and exhausted. I knew the first time would be the worst time, and I had done it.
Two days after V was born, Dr. D stopped by. She couldn’t believe how well I looked for someone who had had a pretty serious c-section, and was astonished to hear that breastfeeding was going well. She reiterated what others had said: that losing up to a litre (two pints) of blood during a c-section is normal; that up to two litres was unusual; but 3.6 litres was utterly unheard of. I was pleased: I wanted her to know that I felt well looked after in her hands and felt that seeing me bounce back was the proof.
Dr. D explained that the reason for my blood loss was placenta accreta. She quoted me from the prenatal visit where I said, With my habit of falling into tiny statistics, if anyone is going to have any surprises on the day, it’ll be me. The way she said it, it was like she was haunted by my premonition. The truth is, I had this feeling throughout my pregnancy that I had placenta accreta. I kept asking about it, complaining that my cervix didn’t feel right. Dr. D said, as she had done several times during my pregnancy, that my many ultrasounds had ruled it out, but my hunch proved correct. I was shocked to think my intuition trumped ultrasound technology and medical opinions, but not surprised at how in tune I am with my body.
During Dr. D’s visit, I heard my husband recount his version of the events in the OR for the first time. I knew that it had been a horrific experience for him. I must have looked terrible with my eyes rolling back in their sockets, and two days later my skin was still a chalky white colour—but although it’s the closest I’ve ever come to death, I never thought I would die that day. But he couldn’t have known the conviction I felt. When he got to the part about being asked to leave the OR, his voice broke and he began to cry. Unable to reach over to him, I watched his face crumple as he apologised for the pause. Dr. D put her hand on his shoulder and reminded him of what she had said at our prenatal visit—that in some ways, being the support person in the OR is far more traumatic. She shared that her husband had been freaked out when their first daughter was born. Something about her birth required that she stay in the NICU overnight and she had a tube going into her scalp which her husband found very upsetting. I am very lucky that my OB is as compassionate as she is skilled.
Dr. C, our paediatrician, also stopped by on her way home from church. I was touched by this, because it meant that she had made a special trip in to check on us. Dr. C told us when we first met her that this was something she liked to do, but I began to get the impression that the story of V’s birth was making the rounds. You lost 3,600 ml and you seem to be recovering extremely well. And how amazing that you are breastfeeding! I found this consistent praise quite empowering. My genes may have failed me, but my body hadn’t.
It seemed that the next comment was always about V’s hair. A common refrain was Look at her hair! so I looked at her hair. It was a bit like the colour of earwax—orangey and golden. At first I was taken aback by the red, so unlike anything I’d seen in my genetic family. I thought of a story a schoolfriend shared about her birth—her dad sighed, “Oh no, she has red hair…” Perhaps his was, too? I wasn’t sure why anyone would have been disappointed to see her lovely red curls. I looked at my daughter’s little mop of messy hair and, foreign though it may have been to me, thought it was extremely pretty. But as Emilie showed us how to hold V and wash her hair under the faucet, I asked why everyone kept commenting on it. Emilie explained that most fair-haired babies are born with very sparse hair, if they have any at all. I was pleased. I’d been born with a full head of hair, too.
Monday was when I began feeling like myself again. I’d thought that pregnancy had pushed my body to its limit, but recovering from losing a gallon of blood during a three-hour-long caesarean tested me in other ways. Yet, if I had been physically able to, I’d have been bouncing off the walls in spite of the sleep deprivation. There’s something to be said for hormones. Oh, and coffee for the first time in almost two years probably helped. Being the ham I am, I took a goofy photo:
Learning to Breastfeed
Monday was also the day I met with a third lactation consultant, Carole. I was reliably producing colostrum at this point, but it was Carole who really put me on the path to exclusive breastfeeding. She showed me how to massage the hard knots of milk out of my breasts, and it was she who devised the feeding schedule: nurse with supplement formula in a syringe every three hours, then bottle-feed whatever I was able to pump from the end of the previous nursing session. How those first pumping sessions hurt, but how happy I was to see my efforts rewarded!
A few hours before we were discharged, Carole weighed V before, during, and after a feed to calculate how much colostrum I was producing. To her amazement, V had eaten 37 ml (1¼ oz) in one feeding session—an amount which twice appears in my medical records with a exclamation mark! I cocked my head and asked if I needed to supplement with as much formula. Carole’s response was to tear up the note card with my former breastfeeding instructions. Somehow, in spite of a history of IVF (the donor eggs part is irrelevant), chest surgery, being over 35, and, most critically, losing a massive amount of blood, I was exclusively breastfeeding on the day of discharge!
I dressed V for the first time: a white onesie with a blue cherry print. I sat in a wheelchair and our discharge nurse placed Violet in her car seat on my lap. I covered the car seat with a muslin cloth to protect her from germs in the elevator and from the bright sunshine outside. I thought about the last time I was wheeled out through the hospital’s sliding doors—after my D&C, flatter-bellied and with no baby—and was so thankful. I’m a mother. I’m alive. I’m a mother and I’m alive…
At my first postpartum checkup ten days after delivery, I thanked Dr. D for getting both V and me out the OR safely. She replied that she was glad she was there, that it was not something she would have wanted to hear about from someone else. I am reminded of how important it is to have a doctor whom you like and trust, and who likes and respects you as a patient.
At my second, six-week postpartum visit, Dr. D explained that the pathology report on my placenta diagnosed villitis, which can cause IUGR. If I get pregnant again, even with normal placenta presentation, it will be considered a high-risk pregnancy accompanied with frequent ultrasounds to make sure the baby is growing well. The most realistic scenario is that we do a FET, the pregnancy is closely monitored, and I deliver at 37 weeks via planned caesarean-hysterectomy.
I wished Dr. D happy holidays, but it wasn’t until after she’d left the room that I realized it would to be a while until I see her again. In fact, it’s the first time in over a year that I’m not seeing a doctor or nurse on a very regular basis. It was strange to be released from my RE, but stranger still to be released from my OB/Gyn. All this time spent getting and staying pregnant, the dozens of ultrasounds, injections, blood draws, the thousands of miles driven to and from appointments, the money, the soul-searching…it was over. Just like that.
Fourteen and a Half Months Later
Violet is now about fourteen and a half months old. She’s toddles around, babbling happily. She cuddles dolls, names objects in books, and plays by herself quite happily. She’s happy and healthy. Sleep is our main problem these days, and what a great problem to have! She has a vocabulary of around 20 words, 12 of which she uses consistently, and is able to communicate her wishes fairly well. She understands so much, it blows my mind. When she wants something, she points to it and cries, “Dat! Dat!” When she doesn’t want something, she shakes her hand and says, “No dat!” She eats almost everything from goat milk yoghurt to crab to broccoli, and is especially fond of raspberries, peanut butter, and meat. She has let me know that carrots are best fed to mama and that ratatouille is disgusting. In spite of the odds (which one lactation consultant put at one in a million), I exclusively breastfed Violet for the first seven months of her life. And almost 15 months later, I’m still breastfeeding (albeit only a few times a day). After miscarriage, infertility, and even learning that genetic children are not possible, being able to produce milk for my daughter has been incredibly healing. I have restored faith in my body.
My family says I’m a different person. Calmer and happier. Clearly, my daughter brings me so much joy. They’re not wrong, of course. But I think miscarriage and infertility have made me a better parent than I otherwise would have been. My struggles have taught me to be more patient. My frightening delivery has taught me that life is precious. I don’t sweat as much of the small stuff as much as I used to. I am stronger.
My daughter is strong, too. At her 12-month check up in early November, she was almost 32 in (81 cm) tall and weighed 25.5 lbs (11.5 kg). People regularly think she is two years old and when they find out she’s only 14 months old, they smile and say, “She’s going to be tall like her mama!” Maybe so. Though she won’t have inherited my tall genes, it’s very possible that, epigenetically, my height will influence hers. I’d like that. I doubt she will be as tall as I am [6 ft (184 cm)], but I have a feeling she’ll be tall, the same way I’ve always known she is a determined and plucky creature.
Because I’ve known my daughter is strong from the two pink lines that immediately darkened and brought tears to my eyes; because of the 28 eggs we inseminated, 21 fertilised; and of the 21 embryos, there were always two that were always slightly ahead of the rest. By the day of transfer, 14 embryos had survived 6 days in a petrie dish and had been biopsied for genetic testing. Ten came back normal. But it was Embryos 3 and 4—male and female, respectively—who were fully hatched and transferred to my womb. Embryo 3 didn’t make it, but his sister, Embryo 4, clung on for dear life.
Because I knew the day after transfer I was pregnant. Like I knew she was a girl the moment that I first saw her embryo heart beating inside me.
Because, despite the odds, Violet is here and, as she has done from the moment of her conception, she is thriving.
We realize that, given how Facebook operates (as in your connections on Facebook can see what you “like”), the Rainbows & Unicorns blog page might not feel like a safe space to those whose friends and family don’t know about their loss/infertility journey. So, we’ve created a new CLOSED* Facebook group called RainCorns Tribe. Our goal for this group is to promote a sense of community and support and to help foster positive discussions about the many facets of parenting after reproductive trauma—in a private, therefore safer, forum.
About RainCorns Tribe
RainCorns Tribe is a peer-led, pro-choice, science-based, secular support group for parents who’ve experienced a reproductive trauma. This includes, but is not limited to, support for people who have experienced pregnancy/baby loss, infertility, pregnancy termination, traumatic birth, pre-/postpartum depression or anxiety, and those in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Friends and allies of parents after reproductive trauma, and anyone still TTC, are welcome. All members will be vetted and must be approved by admins. Members also must agree to the guidelines set forth.
* A closed group means that all member requests have to be screened by an admin. Non-members can see who is a member, the group logo, and group description, but they CANNOT see the group’s content.
My birth story neither begins nor ends on the day my daughter was born. It’s rather long, but the six-word version is this:
At the anatomy scan, almost 19 weeks into my pregnancy, I learned that I would most likely need a caesarean. I’d long had my heart set on a midwife-led delivery in my hospital’s birth centre, so this news was the last in a series of blows.
Miscarriage. Infertility. A devastating genetic diagnosis. Egg donation. And now I don’t even get to give birth the way I wanted? What the fuck!
I went home and cried for an hour, cradling my little bump. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I whispered to my unborn child, confirmed that afternoon as being a girl.
And then I took a deep breath and began to research surgical birth, determined to make it the most positive experience I could. I read a wonderful book, Choosing Cesarean, written by a journalist and a doctor. I learned that there were distinct advantages to having a caesarean: the main one being my pelvic floor would remain intact, making it less likely that I would suffer from any sort of incontinence. Best of all, my baby would be born in a controlled environment and I knew ahead of time that my wonderful OB, Dr. D, would be the person to deliver her.
I dutifully made a birth plan, but it really boiled down to four things:
1. That Violet be delivered safely;
2. That she be healthy enough not to need extra care;
3. That I not need an emergency hysterectomy;
4. That I be able to breastfeed her.
♥ ♥ ♥
On the eve of my daughter’s birth, I prepared for surgery. At 10.55pm, I drank a last glass of the milk I’d craved throughout my pregnancy before lumbering into the shower to scrub my body with the industrial strength antibacterial soap I’d been prescribed.
As instructed, I slept in freshly laundered pyjamas and bed sheets. After a few hours of sleep, I showered again. By 5.30am, I was on the sofa, crunching ice cubes, and texting my family in Europe. My caesarean was scheduled for 8.00am, the first of the day, and it was wild to know I would be meeting my little disco mermaid in three hours’ time.
At 5.45am, my husband and I left for the hospital. It was dark outside, and the streets were clear of traffic. I made a point of inhaling the cool, damp early morning air, noting these would be my last outside breaths before meeting our baby. My husband went to park the car and I headed inside the hospital, smiling to think the next time I saw daylight I’d have our daughter in my arms.
I checked in at the nurses’ station. “Good morning!I’m Lauren ____ and I have a caesarean scheduled for 8.00am with Dr. D.” Some paperwork was printed, a couple of wristbands produced, and I was led to a curtained cubicle where I changed into a gown. A junior nurse strapped two monitors to my belly: there was some uterine activity, but no contractions, and the baby’s heart rate was right on track. I listened to the little galloping hooves noise and put my hands over my belly. Soon there’ll be a bright light, baby girl—remember to scream your head off when you see it, okay? I willed her. The nurse then set about clipping my pubic hair and was halfway done when my husband appeared, wide-eyed and breathless. He set down my little suitcase and his backpack and hovered next to me.
Our assigned OR nurse, Gena, introduced herself and started prepping the IV. It was already 7.40am. I didn’t care that placing the IV made my vein ache—I was focused on the fact that this long-awaited baby would soon be born. I reckoned within the hour (I would be right) and I got quite emotional. I imagined crying tears of joy at the first sound of our baby’s cry.
My doctors stopped by for the pre-op checks. First, Dr. D, who reminded my husband that the 20-30 minutes we’d be separated as the spinal block was placed would feel like a long time. Next, the anaesthesiology team: Dr. A, a tall, bearded man in his 50s, and Dr. J, a resident. They looked in my mouth, got my consent for the spinal block, and showed me how they’d like me to hunch over my belly in preparation for the spinal block. To their surprise, I declined their offer of a mild sedative, explaining I wanted to be able to remember my daughter’s birth.
At 8.00am, Gena wheeled me to the OR. I looked around me, expecting the room to be a similar size to the one where I had my D&C, but it was a lot smaller. I felt a surge in my chest when I saw the isolette—she’s really going to be here!—but there wasn’t much time to indulge the feeling. I was instructed to sit on the edge of the operating table, and Gena stood opposite me with her hands on my knees as I slumped over my giant belly, feeling the baby’s kicks for absolutely the last time. Remember, scream your head off, baby girl… With the spinal ultrasound performed, a local anaesthetic was administered. It stung, and Gena talked to me in a soothing voice. Right then I noticed that beautiful song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful Worldwas playing and I welled up. It was like my grandparents (who’d bequeathed me enough money to pay for DEIVF), my darling great-grandmother, and Bean were winking at us. In went the spinal block, like a bee sting that ended quickly, and I must have gasped because Gena squeezed my knees and stroked my legs.
The spinal block quickly took effect. Dr. A held up a purple glove filled with ice and explained that he was going to touch it against various parts of my body and I was to tell him if it felt Cold or Touch. My shoulder was Cold and my thigh was Touch. Somewhere around my lower ribs Touch became Cold. Satisfied that I was completely numb from the waist down on both sides, I was catheterized. A blue curtain was draped high above my head. With that, Dr. D and the obstetric and paediatric/NICU teams entered the OR. And finally, just before 8.30am, my husband was summoned.
He appeared wearing a white zip-up bunny suit, cap, and mask, and was shown where to sit by my head. We clasped hands and he cradled my head and stroked my hair with his free hand. We had eyes only for each other and talked quietly about how we couldn’t believe we were about to meet our daughter. Our daughter! I didn’t notice the surgery had begun until I heard suctioning of amniotic fluid. I was transfixed by my husband’s beautiful round blue eyes, his only visible features, and the enormity of what was happening.
I felt some tugging and pulling. I pictured Dr. D’s hands cradling the baby’s head to manoeuvre her out of my pelvis. I grinned and said to DH, It really does feel like someone doing the washing up in your belly! There was more tugging, this time it felt like a pushing down above my belly button, and someone said the baby would be born soon. Was it a minute that went by, or five? The next thing I heard was a collective gasp from the obstetric team, Dr. D saying Here she is!, and the most beautiful and reassuring wail. At 8.37am, Baby Violet made good on her mama’s request and was screaming her head off!
I’d been imagining this moment since I was a little kid, and from then up until a few minutes before I’d been so sure I would be in floods of tears…but those first moments of our daughter’s cries were so profound, I was too shocked to cry. I’d done it. I’d really done it! I listened, wide-eyed and clutching my husband’s hand. I longed to see her, but the curtain wasn’t lowered. Where is she? I wondered impatiently. Finally, a glimpse as she was carried past us, and I craned my neck to watch as a small group of people huddled around her, rubbing her vigorously. A chubby pink thigh. The smooth grey rubber of the umbilical cord. A blue hand. Overall, she was a swirl of light purple. A much bigger baby than I expected, her features were swollen from the fluids administered to me via the IV. Go look! I said to my husband. Take a picture, because I can’t see what’s going on.
Finally, she was brought to me. It was a magical and weird moment to meet the creature whom I’d only known from the inside. My husband held her face next to mine, and she and I lay cheek-to-cheek. I reached around my arm to cradle her and kiss her chubby cheek. “Hi… hi…” I murmured. She seemed calmed by my presence and my voice. It wasn’t so much a rush of blind, unconditional love that I felt, but a surge of fascination and tenderness. I took in her tiny swollen features, and recognised her pouty lips, pointed chin, full cheeks, and my husband’s brow from our many ultrasounds. Someone took our first family photos together. No wonder the obstetric team gasped: even though Violet was three weeks early, she was 20.5″ ( 52 cm) long and weighed 7 lbs 11 oz (3.5 kg). But I was only able to relax when I heard her Apgar scores were 8 and 9. My beautiful girl was healthy and strong—and, dammit, against the odds she was here!
But then the shit hit the fan. Silently and, despite half a dozen ultrasounds, without warning.
I knew something was wrong when someone announced, ‘Here’s the placenta,’ and, as per my original birth plan, I asked to see it but no one responded. Unbeknownst to us at the time, my uterus wasn’t contracting which meant it was filling with blood. I was haemmorrhaging.
I heard Dr. D quietly ask, “How much have we lost?” and my ears pricked up. Someone replied, “800,” and I deduced they must be talking about blood loss and milliliters. I was trying to calculate if losing the equivalent of a bottle of wine of blood was normal (it isn’t) when I started feeling faint. I heard “1,483,” as my eyes began to involuntarily roll in the back of my head. A single thought, Keep your eyes open. Don’t fall asleep, that would be bad. Fight! rang in my head like a white alarm bell. My eyelids felt like they had weights attached, but I forced my eyes open. I wanted to tell my husband that I didn’t feel so good, but it was too much effort to stay awake. Besides, I knew he would notice. I heard him say, “Dr. A? Lauren’s having a hard time keeping her eyes open.” Dr. A evenly responded with, “We’ve already given her something for that.” Whatever it was, I swam back into consciousness.
Without warning, Drs. A and J began injecting my shoulders. Their movements were so swift, it was alarming. A blur coming toward my collarbone followed by a pause where I could see a syringe dumping its contents. They tried two different kinds of drugs to get my uterus to contract, but nothing was working. That’s when I noticed someone was on the OR phone talking about “more units of A-negative,” and Dr. A informed me that I needed a blood transfusion. I was quite shocked by that but didn’t have time to be scared. He tried to start a second IV in my left hand so I could get blood replaced more quickly. It hurt, but I didn’t flinch. It didn’t work. He tried another spot and, even though the OR was brightly lit, asked someone for a flashlight. My husband pulled out my iPhone and turned on its flashlight, but it didn’t help. Dr. A was still having trouble placing a second IV because my blood pressure was so low that my veins had collapsed. After several attempts to place a second IV line, my husband was asked to leave the OR, and that’s when we both knew things were bad.
At a prenatal appointment back in September, we made a point of asking Dr. D what would happen if something went wrong during the delivery. My cervix had always felt weird throughout my pregnancy, like the tugging of a drawstring. I could never shake the feeling that I had placenta accreta—even though my many ultrasounds had ruled it out—and was concerned about having an emergency hysterectomy on the day. I told Dr. D, “I know the ultrasounds have ruled out placenta accreta, but with my uncanny ability to fall headlong into tiny statistics, if anyone is going to have a surprise on the day, it’ll be me.” Dr. D always listened to my concerns and outlined the obstetrical measures taken before an emergency hysterectomy is performed. She reassured us that my husband would be allowed to remain in the OR with me unless things got very serious…
When my husband was asked to leave we were under no disillusion that things must be very serious. It seemed like one minute he was sitting at my head and the next he was gone. To my relief, he reappeared a minute later. In shock by what was happening, it didn’t occur to him until after he’d left the OR that he might never see me again. Dr. A let him back in, and as he made his way back to me, my husband said that all he could see were people’s shoes in huge pools of my blood. All I could see were his blue eyes, pink-rimmed and damp with worry. He told me he loved me again and again. I told him I loved him too, and, because I didn’t feel as scared as he looked, I told him I was going to be okay. Then, in my brightest voice, I told him to go to the waiting room and find his parents. I thought that if I were in his shoes, I’d appreciate being directed what to do. We kissed each other again and then he left.
My husband found his parents and told them what was happening. My MIL knew something was wrong because things were taking such a long time. Then he called my family and best friend to let them know the baby was born but that things weren’t going so well for me. After he changed out of the bunny suit and saw his parents, he came across two nurses wheeling V to the NICU. There, he sat holding her in his arms for a long time, wondering if he would be leaving the hospital with a baby but no wife…
Meanwhile, with my husband and daughter gone, I turned my attention towards what was happening. The very real question, Am I going to die? entered my head. I calmly considered this and decided that although things were probably serious, No, I’m not going to die today. I was very aware of my life force and it was strong. Plus, I had absolute confidence in the medical team working. Gena told me that evening that I had “everyone’s favourite doctors” working on me in the OR, a sentiment echoed by a resident who had been passing by and scrubbed in to help.
Dr. J placed an oxygen mask over my face as Dr. A finally managed to place a second IV. My blood pressure was so low it took him—a clinical professor at a top U.S. medical school—15 attempts to place the second IV (I counted the scabs the next day). I watched as each doctor hooked up one bag of blood and one of plasma to each arm – the first of the eight units I’d receive. I looked up and saw A-NEGATIVE printed on the bag, and my eyes followed the trail of other people’s blood as it snaked its way down the hose and into my arm.
I reflected on the half a dozen times I’d donated blood. It was something I didn’t enjoy but found rewarding in its own way. Giving blood hadn’t seemed like a big deal at the time, but lying there as a recipient, not a donor, I understood just how important it is to donate. I offered my most profuse silent thanks to the eight individuals whose donations played a crucial part in saving my life.
I felt the colour return to my face and then I saw that my blood pressure was back up to 83/51. I still wonder how low it must have gone for my eyes to roll in their sockets.
I heard Dr. D say she was starting a “B-lynch”—a double suture that goes around the uterus, kind of like braces (suspenders) that hold up trousers. I entered a strange head space where time simultaneously slowed down and seemed to go by quickly. Every time I looked at the clock, another 15 minutes had passed. I was aware of tugging and pressure. It seemed different than in the seconds before Violet’s birth, more intense. I surmised the spinal block was wearing off. No! Come on, that’s not possible! I looked at the clock. Spinal blocks last for a couple of hours, and the clock read 10.15am, about two hours after mine was first administered. I checked myself, using my experience of the Cold/Touch test. I swallowed. I determined that although what I was feeling couldn’t be described as pain, it was definitely a lot more than Touch. The sensations felt not thick and generalized, but more precise. There was a tugging, similar to when Violet was being lifted out, which I’m guessing was my uterus being lifted out of my abdominal cavity so Dr. D could work on it. I was pretty sure that if I said something to Dr. A, he’d give me a general anaesthetic, and I was also pretty sure that if I was put under, I’d wake up without a uterus.
I considered my options. I certainly didn’t want to feel the pain of major abdominal surgery. But neither did I want to lose my womb. I thought about the first two of my four hopes that transcended anything on my birth plan…
That Violet be delivered safely. That she be healthy enough not to need the NICU.
… and concluded I was at peace with a hysterectomy. I wouldn’t learn until that afternoon that I’d lost 3.6 L (a smidge less than a gallon) of blood and would probably have died if I’d delivered in a more rural setting. Although it’s the closest I’ve ever come to dying, I knew I was in good hands with Dr. D—I first met her during my miscarriage when she performed my D&C and she knew then about my fear of losing my uterus—so if she needed to perform an emergency hysterectomy to save my life, I absolutely trusted her judgment. My only thoughts were: Violet is here and she is healthy. I want to be a mama to this little girl. I want to raise her with my beautiful husband. I just want tolive.
I looked at the clock again. I wasn’t imagining things—the two-hour window of anaesthesia was rapidly drawing to a close. And with that, I took a deep breath and timidly told Dr. A, I think the spinal block is beginning to wear off. He looked at me very seriously and said, “I think we need to put you under.” I nodded. He called over to Dr. D, “We need to give her a general,” but she replied sharply, “One minute!” It wasn’t a barking order so much as a request to buy more time. I waited, drifting along for those sixty-odd seconds, vaguely aware that this important minute was going to mean the difference between keeping my womb or losing it.
Then, finally, “It worked.” I was passively awash with relief. I lay with my arms slightly outstretched at my sides, like some ghastly Jesus art project, quietly taking in everything that had just happened. I could feel more tugging. I dared look up to see my open abdomen reflected in the giant overhead OR lamp. A blurry, red gash shaped like an eye. I studied my reaction. How interesting… At the time I was surprised I wasn’t freaked out, but Dr. A probably gave me some narcotics to take off the edge of the fading spinal block. But right then, looking at the red reflection of my open belly and noticing the vibe in the room was less urgent, I’ve never had more respect and admiration for the entire medical profession.
All sutured up, they were getting ready to wheel me out to recovery. The head of the gurney was raised, the curtain removed. I remember two vivid things: one, someone holding up a large absorbent pad that was saturated with blood; and two, the time…
Early in my pregnancy, I had a dream that my late grandmother spoke to me. She said “The baby will be born between seven and quarter to eleven.”
Around 9:00pm on the 17th of January 2015, my waters finally went. Whilst bouncing like a mad woman on the ball, watching Doris Day make bad choices and chatting to a “Fox-y” friend on Twitter, there was a pop and a gush. It felt a little eerie as there were no contractions. Nothing whatsoever. I kept chatting to this lovely lady, who may have been the first to know (even before P!) that things were starting. The mixture of her excitement and the feeling that something might be about to happen started to rub off on me. My skin felt electric. After a quick call to my maternity unit, they asked me to come in and have a check to make sure that my waters had definitely gone.
The hospital is about a twenty-minute walk from us, but we hopped on the bus, down the road, and were seen pretty quickly. After a quick check, they announced that I was 1.5 cm dilated—less than I had been during Thursday’s sweep! They did a check on Blob’s heartbeat and found all was fine, and when I mentioned that I wasn’t having any contractions, they told me not to worry but that I needed to come back into hospital within 24 hours just in case an infection set in. As I gathered my belongings, I had my first contraction and the midwife dealing with me said, ‘Get ready to meet your baby! She’s coming!’
Fear surged through me. I didn’t want to do this. A caesarean section seemed a far better option. Any baby that I’d ever had never ended up in my arms.
We watched the end of Young at Heart and my contractions slowly built up. More like period pain than anything to write home about. By the time I laid down in bed, they were starting to build, but I could sort of doze between them. As true sleep wasn’t really within my reach, I decided to run myself a warm bath to soak my aching muscles in at around 2:00am. I kept flipping the taps on to top up the warm water and I rolled from side to side, letting the water run over me and work its magic. I lay there until about half past eight in the morning, when Paul awoke to find me twisting and swishing around like a demented fish in the water. Despite all the Twitter ladies advising me to go into hospital, as my contractions were regular and brutal, I didn’t want to move. My position was working for me and I had a great sway going! We caught a taxi down the road to the hospital over those damn speed bumps, only to arrive, be checked, and find that I hadn’t dilated a single centimetre more. On hearing the midwife say that P should only bring me in when I sound like I was mooing, it was lucky I was mid-contraction as I may have ripped her throat from her fucking neck!
So, after another taxi ride home, P ordered me to bed so that I could rest—bearing in mind I had barely had any sleep since about Thursday and this was now Sunday! My dad then rang. I don’t think I’ve ever reached out to my dad in the way I did that day, but I broke down and sobbed at him. Every fear was blathered out between sniffs and sobs and, being the surgeon he is, he rang friends at the hospital who then told him that I could come in when I was ready. I didn’t for a good couple of hours until I was truly “mooing.” I can remember my step dad coming to pick Max up, as he was weirded out by what was happening to his fur-less mum. The cats were a bit more understanding—they didn’t want to leave me alone and snuggled close to me.
The final taxi journey as a twosome was horrendous, as each speed bump felt like my stomach would split in two! The taxi driver wished us luck and then we slowly hobbled up to triage, where I was finally told that I was five centimetres dilated. I waddled and paused through the contractions to one of best suites in the hospital (the hospital has since opened a midwife-led birthing centre and was trying out two “suites” where there was a fixed pool, swing, ball, etc). Even despite the pain, I loved the room—so many choices and, throughout the course of the labour, I was able to try a lot of them!
I started off in the bath, back where I felt most comfortable, but this time it was midwife-controlled—no self control over the hot tap this time and I had a time limit put on me (due to my waters breaking so early, I couldn’t be in the water after 9:00pm). I spent about three hours in the tub before they had a check. No further dilation. I didn’t want to get back in the tub, as I knew I couldn’t stay there, so I tried the hoist—an utterly brilliant invention that was a piece of superstrong material that I wrapped my arms in and swung with the waves. The contractions were thick and fast now so I had gas and air (Entonox—a pain relief that is inhaled and does not stay in the body—as soon as you exhale, it is released). The midwives couldn’t get the wall supply to work, so I had a canister.
I flew. I was back in primary school, carrying my violin case, speaking made up languages with my friends from then. Next I was convinced that everyone was talking about me and couldn’t stop laughing at P’s face! The midwives kept trying to remind me that it was important to take breaths between the gas and air—even helpfully pointing out that perhaps I wasn’t having a contraction! I wasn’t having it, though—I clung to that mouthpiece like it was my first cup of tea of the day. They explained that they needed to do another check, as it was 24 hours since my waters had gone, and that they’d do it in 15 minutes… My response? ‘It’s a quarter past nine and I’m feeling fine!’ I think in some part of my brain I was hoping the midwife would find me massively dilated and ready to push.
I wasn’t. I was now about 5.5 cm. I had barely progressed. Clinging to the gas and air, I hoped and prayed that something would kickstart soon. P had to wrestle the Entonox from my grip and I ended up breaking the mouthpiece as I clamped down with my teeth, so he pulled the tubing away, leaving me gasping and saying how I thought the gas and air had run out! Bloody contractions! Bloody cervix! Bloody husband! Bloody midwives! All conspiring against me!
At around midnight, my hind waters went. It was like a waterfall across the floor. I’m sure I wasn’t, but I honestly felt like I was standing in two inches of water. They had a look and I was around 7 cm dilated. Progress! At this point, I begged for an epidural. The midwife said they would see what my progress was in an hour and swiftly left the room to put at least one door between them and my wrath. I’ve asked P several times and he’s either incredibly diplomatic or has blocked my behaviour from memory—apparently I was quite calm in labour, not screaming or swearing or being rude to anyone. When the midwives came back in to check on me, I growled at her as she entered the room and asked, ‘Where’s my epidural?’ On seeing that I had barely made another centimetre, she put the call out for the anaesthetist.
The anaesthetist was quite short with me, as I was mid-contraction when I started to touch my back—the area that he had just cleaned and sterilised—and warned me that if I did it again, he wouldn’t be able to give me an epidural! I sat as still as I could and then bliss! Instant relief! I knew I was still having contractions but they were only pulses rather than pains. The top-up button was rather fabulous, too! P sat in the chair beside me, watching the Seahawks game whilst I managed a couple of hours sleep from around 3:30-4:00am, until 6:00am when they woke me up to push.
I pushed for about twenty minutes before they realised that I was too exhausted to do this without help. Suddenly the room was filled. What went from a large room with P, the midwife, and the student, was a room filled with a paediatrician, his student, two more midwives, an obstetrician, and her medical student. As P says, it was the moment shit got real. Both Blob and I were exhausted by such a slow labour. I had no energy to push and her heart rate had dropped dangerously low. I know now that they were pretty much waiting to rush me into surgery to get her out ASAP and they weren’t banking on a breathing baby, but push I did. After having an episiotomy and Blob being yanked out by a Ventouse, she arrived at 6:52am on Monday the 19th of January 2015, weighing 7lbs 2oz (3.125 kg) and measuring 23 in (58 cm). She was absolutely fine. A little angry and sore from being brought into the world by her head and a suction cap, but a healthy girl with a perfect Apgar score despite the scare!
I had my little girl. We had our little girl.
I didn’t cry, just whispered, ‘Hello little one. I’ve waited so long to meet you.’
I remember Paul panicking that he suddenly felt torn in two directions—he needed to look after R, who was being checked over, but he also wanted to be by my side whilst I was being stitched and delivering the placenta. I didn’t realise at the time but when they asked me to do a small push, I was a bit fed up and did a big one instead, shooting the placenta over the obstetrician’s shoulder which then landed by the feet of the medical student. I was a little confused as to why the doctor needed to change her clothes when she checked on me later until P explained why she had such bloody clothes!
After what was almost 34 hours of labour, 500ml of blood loss, and the dodgy bit at the end, we finally held our rainbow in our arms. Our little girl, who will be a year soon and has developed a fabulously intricate personality and set of tastes. The fear around her birth still distresses me now, but I am thankful for her everyday.
I don’t really know where to start with my birth story. It wasn’t a particularly terrible birth. I didn’t almost die and wasn’t at immediate risk of losing Beans. However, it was a bit shit and I am not sure I like thinking about it too much.
Pregnancy was tough. Purely emotionally, as physically I had never been healthier. I didn’t have gestational diabetes, symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), or high blood pressure. There was a touch of carpal tunnel that meant I couldn’t knit for a couple of months, but other than that, not a single issue. I had been spotted as a risk for emotional issues due to past problems involving eating and anxiety disorders. Luckily, due to a fabulous local mental health team, I was given a mental health midwife who was 1:1 with me, a psychotherapist, and the offer of medication should I want it. Of course, the very thought of putting chemicals in my body after years of miscarriages was an utter anathema, so the drugs were a no-go, but I saw the therapist a few times and really liked the no-nonsense attitude of my midwife after I found the normal ones somewhat lacking in compassion.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, I was a wreck. I struggled with several panic attacks each day, compounded by well-meaning people asking if the baby was here yet. To me, there wasn’t going to be a baby. In utero, and for over 24 hours after Beans’ birth, she was known as ‘Blob.’ You can’t really become too attached to a blob, can you? So many people ask me whether her nickname of Beans came from seeing her on the scan for the first time (Beans is just a rhyme on her middle name). Sorry, there’s no heartwarming story of instant attachment and a sweet nickname that forever stuck! I called her Blob as a way of protecting myself from the loss that would surely come. We all know what became of my five previous pregnancies. There were no babies to cuddle at the end of those pregnancies, so why would there be a baby at the end of this one?
Yes. There was a heartbeat at that first scan. It was still there at the second, after the bleed. It was still there with the bastard vicious needle they dug into the placenta, through my tummy, to check the chromosomes. At 14 weeks, when they struggled to find a heartbeat with the Doppler and I rang my headteacher sobbing, they not only saw it on the scan but P saw her flinging herself around, actually kicking herself off the walls. At 19 weeks, when they did the anatomy scan, everything was present and correct and in the right places. Even at the private scans, she was grumpy at being woken up (as she still is, although she doesn’t seem to be so worried about waking mama up!) and that heart was still pounding away, sounding like a dubstep rave inside of me. Everybody around me became more and more excited about the baby who was about to join our family, but I couldn’t. I didn’t dare.
Beans threatened to come a little sooner than she should, but only by a month, so nothing hideously scary. She was head down and engaged from seven months and I would get regular bouts of contractions that would come, build, and then dissipate into nothing as soon as I started timing them! Sod’s law, eh? Whilst I’m so glad that Beans waited a while longer to be born, that in itself was quite tough. I was a wreck in the last few weeks, awaiting that moment to grab the bags and run up the road to the hospital. All around me, the girls who were due ahead of me started to have their babies. I cannot express the sheer anger I felt towards those poor women and their babies as I wished them congratulations through gritted teeth.
My due date came and for the first time in a while, I felt a little more at peace. A tiny bit of zen in all the crazy. It only lasted a day before I was thrown back into hormonal rage at the cowbags who dared to have their babies before me. (I’m sure you know who you are, and I love you dearly, but at the time I wanted to punch you all in the face!) I had always been pretty convinced I was going to have a stillbirth but, now that I was overdue, it was definitely going to happen. After all of the months of contractions, I suddenly had nothing. It was almost like she’d buried down, saying, “Nope. Not coming out.” Three more babies were born. Fuckers!
I had a sweep on the Thursday which made me lose my plug. Despite knowing that there would be blood, I didn’t cope terribly well with seeing it as we all know that blood means no baby. After the sweep, I had a few tightenings straight after but nothing else. I also had a total breakdown at my midwife who very firmly told me that, unless it was an emergency situation, I would not be having a caesarian section. In front of P and the midwife, I told them there would be no baby unless they cut it out of me. Dramatic, maybe, but I could not imagine a live baby at all and c-section was, in my head, the only way my baby would be born alive.
Whilst I have never been a great sleeper (understatement: read as insomniac), I did not sleep more that an hour that night and got up to pace around early in the morning. The following night, I didn’t sleep at all and got out of bed at half-three to clean the house and make a carrot cake. I had George Ezra’s album on repeat, particularly the song Budapest. My mum rang me later that morning to see how I was doing and, to take my mind off everything, she drove me over to John Lewis (British department store) at Bluewater (shopping mall). John Lewis had been the site of so much distress in the past as I had started to miscarry #3 there whilst picking up some of our wedding presents. We sat in the cafeteria and my mum said that the next time we came, I’d have my baby with me. I looked at all the yummy mummies in there and could not connect the kicking baby in my tummy with a real baby whom I would feed and cuddle.
We walked around Bluewater for about four or five hours (including lots of loo breaks, because when you are 40+6, there is no room for any sized bladder), picked out a few baby bits in the remnants of the sale and, of course, spent lots of time in the wool section! We then headed home and I grumpily bounced on the exercise ball for several hours afterwards. P then popped on Young at Heart, the Frank Sinatra and Doris Day film, and I continued to bounce on the ball, tweeting all the time.
I feel like a fraud. I’m straddling between two worlds, infertility and parenthood, but my footing isn’t solid on either side. I think we can all agree that we don’t quite “fit in” with normal parents, but I’m struggling to put my finger on why. Is it because we’re privy to the really bad way things can turn out? Has the loss of our own babies, the loss of our friends’ babies, tainted our view forever?
I think I’ll always cringe at that early announcement, hoping she doesn’t have to come back and tell everyone she lost the baby. I’m in awe of the blissful ignorance of those who don’t know loss, who’ve never had it, never held someone’s hand (virtually or physically) while they grieved the deepest loss one can imagine.
Speaking of loss, the community has been rife with it lately and, frankly, I’m coping by sticking my head in the sand. I know, it’s not right, but it’s my knee-jerk reaction right now. Twitter is full of struggle and I’ve been absent from posting there with any sort of frequency. I don’t know how to respond to those in the trenches and keep myself from falling in. I want to help but, honestly, my life revolves around my son right now and the stuff that isn’t about him is pretty boring. So if I’m not complaining about work (seriously, who wants to read that all the time?), I’m talking about the awesomeness that is O. Which seems like a kick in the face to those that are having these terrible, terrible fucking times.
So I hide from it. I pop on Twitter, click some hearts to show I’m there (it’s my virtual hug). But I can’t bring myself to post much. And I really hate that. I want to be supportive, I do.
But hearing about the loss triggers my anxiety, my intrusive thoughts. Thoughts about losing my son, about horrible car accidents or falling down the stairs or any other number of horrible things. It’s not good for me, for him, or for my family for me to feel bogged down with them. Medication is helping, for sure, but the triggers are there and we all know about self-protection from triggers.
So I hide from it, as if it’s a physical being that can snatch him away.