If you’re just joining and would like to know more about Olivia’s journey, check out my previous post about my pregnancy here.
In case you missed it, April is Cesarean Awareness Month. While the purpose behind raising awareness is to make known the rising rate of unnecessary cesareans, in our situation it was inevitable. If we didn’t have the option for a “belly birth”, there’s a decent possibility that neither Olivia or I would’ve have survived. So I’m choosing to use Cesarean Awareness Month to celebrate the medical advances that provide cesareans for women and children like us.
What better time than now to share Olivia’s birth story.
On January 30th, 2017 I went in for a routine OBGYN appointment and yet another non-stress test (to make sure Olivia was moving around enough and her little heart wasn’t acting up). Usually, Justin only came to our ultrasound appointments and anything at Seattle Children’s. He decided to tag along this time because my OB mentioned a couple months back that “she might come around 35 weeks”, and I was 34 weeks 5 days. Additional concern was raised because I had recently been diagnosed with preeclampsia, which causes high blood pressure in pregnant women, and can potentially be fatal to both baby and mama. You can learn more about this complication that affects 5-8% of pregnancies here.
During our appointment, most things physically checked out, but my doctor noticed my legs were extremely swollen (if you saw me or see photos of me from January, you can see how crazy swollen my whole body was – and it all came on suddenly after Christmas). She was concerned about that, so they rechecked my blood pressure. Turns out it was over the safe line that she had drawn for us.
Her response to it all? “Well, you might be having your baby today.”
She said it so nonchalant and with a matter-of-fact tone, while Justin and I were nervously laughing and also the most terrified we’d ever been. She sent me off to get some blood work done and then I had my NST, where Olive showed great signs of movement and a healthy heart rate. After about an hour and numerous texts that were sent out asking for prayer from friends and family, we headed back to my OB for her decision. It turned out that my labs were looking much worse and preeclampsia was winning.
And just like that we were on our way to be admitted to have our little girl.
Before we officially were admitted, I had to take a moment to feel my emotions. I was terrified. Not for myself or the impending pain of surgery, but for our baby. She had so much going against her, and I wasn’t sure if she was going to be okay in any sense of the word. Would she need multiple heart surgeries in her first day of life? Would her then-functioning kidney keep picking up the slack of the other one? Even though I received steroid shots, are her lungs developed enough? What genetic disorder is she going to have? Will that cause even more issues? I remember Justin holding me there on that little hospital bench and being strong, yet again.
The beauty of marriage was shining right in my face in that moment.
When one half can’t handle going forward, the other encourages and loves and fights and carries those unbearably heavy burdens, even when they may be going through their own hell in the process. He put me first so I could put our baby first.
We had decided a few weeks before that a cesarean birth was the best option for us.
I didn’t even weigh the risks for myself (infection, excessive blood loss, potential injury to organs during surgery, etc) because I wanted to give Olive the best chance at coming into this world as healthy as possible. Since she was so small, there was a risk to her if I were to go through labor. During contractions, no oxygen is delivered to the baby, which is usually balanced out by the placenta and all is well. Unfortunately, my placenta was failing us and pursuing labor could have caused a Olivia a lot of distress and potentially proven fatal.
I was admitted around noon and had to wait five hours until surgery.
That may not seem like a long time, especially considering many women go through days of labor with immense pain I can’t even imagine, but you guys, I was hungry. And thirsty. I had to wait until there was no food or liquid in my system for 8 hours before surgery, and pregnant me just had to eat something on the way to our appointment. My bed was directly facing the clock in my recovery room, and I swear every tick was reminding my stomach that I missed lunch.
Justin betrayed me by going to get food instead of fasting in solidarity. It wasn’t a big deal until he came back into the room and proceeded to EAT IN FRONT OF ME. I was silently upset until he was punished for 1) eating in front of his starving wife and 2) eating McDonald’s by finding a bit of mysterious hard plastic inside his chicken nugget. Sucker.
Our wonderful doula and friend, Autumn, was there almost immediately and brought such a special presence with her of calm reassurance. Even though we didn’t have a vaginal birth, her coaching was so needed during and after surgery. Doulas are worth it, you guys! Check out Ohana Doulas if you’re in the Seattle area.
Then, the real fun started.
After a few attempts to poke me in the right place for an IV, I was placed on a magnesium drip to prevent seizures that can be caused by preeclampsia. One way pregnancy/birth/having a baby in the NICU has affected me is that I’m no longer very modest about some things. Once you’ve had people checking your cervix and giving you pap smears, you realize that these brilliant nurses and doctors have seen everything and you’re nothing special (no offense). I say that because I had to be shaved a bit down there to prep for surgery. My attitude? Meh, whatever. Do what you gotta do, lady. You just get used to it.
Before we entered the operating room, I had a complete meltdown.
I’m absolutely terrified of needles, and I needed a spinal block. Yes, I’m aware I have tattoos and have had many piercings in my life, but injections just freak me out. Honestly, I would’ve begged them to just cut me open without numbing me – that’s how scared I was of getting a needle stuck in my spine. Autumn was so encouraging and sweet while I was in hysterics. I’ve never had a panic attack, but I’m fairly certain that’s what was happening. I was shaking and had those debilitating shallow, quick breaths that I’m sure can’t keep you alive for very long.
After a few minutes of sheer panic and crazy anxiety, I prayed and just said, Jesus.
Immediately I stopped shaking and was calm enough for them to perform my spinal. I didn’t even feel the numbing injections or the pressure from the spinal being placed. It was a miracle how quickly my nerves were eased and everything in my body and mind shifted to stillness. I think I even remember smiling somehow. I was reminded in that moment that this was for my daughter; I needed to do this for her. This was such a strengthening moment for me – I felt more peace than I could fathom and divine reassurance that Olivia and I would be okay.
Once the anesthesia is administered, the clock starts ticking and baby needs to come out ASAP. I was laid down, Justin and Autumn sitting by my head, and everyone started getting to work. Fear started slowly creeping in and I kept telling them to make sure I was numb before they started doing anything (memories of waking up while I was getting my wisdom teeth removed flooded my mind). I remember my OBGYN asking if I could feel her touching my leg and when I said I couldn’t really tell, she told me if I could feel how hard she was pinching me I would kick her in the face. That calmed me down a bit.
It was almost a blur as my body was tugged and pulled just past the blue sheet that shielded us from the bloody trauma my bottom half was enduring. I started getting extremely cold – a side effect of the anesthesia. Even now I can remember the intensity of my chattering teeth, feel the goosebumps on my arms. With as much of my upper torso covered in warm blankets as possible, I started to feel them pushing her out. Yeah, pushing. You may not be able to feel the pain of the surgery, but all of the pressure and grabbing and your doctor’s weight bearing on the top of your stomach to push baby out is still there. We have a video of me repeating, “This is so weird. This feels so weird. This is weird, babe,” over and over, making confused facial expressions. The pressure I felt was literally breathtaking and I felt like I might die if it went on even a second longer than it did.
But once it was over, she was here.
I watch it happen on our short little video every once in a while, and still tears fill my eyes every time. Olivia’s first audible sound, her first cry. The joy that washed over us replaced worry with mile long smiles and a river of tears. She was here. Thank you Jesus.
After her initial outcry, she struggled to breathe. Thankfully we were all prepared for this, and a wonderfully capable team of pediatric doctors were standing by to help her tiny 3 lb 15 oz body figure out what to do after leaving me. She quickly perked back up and her body started doing what it was supposed to. Once she was checked out and wrapped up (I can’t remember how much time had passed), they brought her to me. She was the smallest baby I’d ever seen, and truthfully I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to even touch her. I had to ask the nurse if it was okay that I wrap my hand around her – she said yes of course.
I can still hear the quietest of sounds escaping her next to my ear while love I never knew existed filled my whole body.
With a single tear in my eye, I snuggled my baby for the first time. I cherished those few moments because I knew I probably wouldn’t see her for a few hours. They didn’t keep her with me long because she needed to get hooked up to heart monitors and oxygen, so Justin stuck by her side on her way to the NICU while Autumn hung back with me while I was getting stitched back up. My OB must be a speed seamstress because I was only in the operating room for about 20 more minutes. Most blogs I read said it took at least an hour after delivery to be completely sewn up, so I was happily surprised at how quick she was.
My recovery room was just down the hall from Olivia’s in the NICU, but I couldn’t see her until I could get myself into a wheelchair. I tried multiple times to sit up and move myself to the edge of the bed, but each time resulted with me in tears and vomiting. Since I had a mag drip, I was crazy nauseous and intensely itchy. I tried to drink some Gatorade and keep a little Jello down, but no luck. And when you can’t use your abdominal muscles, the displeasure of stuff coming back up is made even worse.
Finally just past midnight, I mustered up the strength to wheel down the hall to my baby.
Six hours after she was born, I finally held my daughter.
I thought my heart would burst. She was tiny and perfect and alive. It was heartbreaking to see her hooked up to too many wires to count and with an IV in her doll sized hand, but I was just so overcome with thankfulness that she was okay in that moment to let that affect me.
Little Olivia Anne was here, and we knew she would be a fighter.
I know this has been the longest post in history, but I have a few more things to say about Cesareans.
If you’ve had a Cesarean birth and you’re having difficulties coping with the fact that you may not have had the birth experience you desperately wanted, that’s okay. You should mourn the loss of the birth you didn’t have – let yourself feel the emotions that come with the territory. There are so many mothers who have had similar experiences and feel the same way you do, you aren’t alone.
If you’ve had a traumatic birthing experience such as a Cesarean, it may lead to postpartum PTSD and/or PPD. I’ve known several moms who have dealt with both of these who have successfully healed and moved past them, and have even had wonderful births after the fact. They’re real, and they’re treatable. Countless resources are available such as support groups, hotlines, counseling, and most likely even other mothers you know who have gone through them before. Reach out and don’t let guilt or shame settle in. You aren’t alone.
Lastly, I want to address mom-shaming.
It’s real and it happens more than we realize. Mothers who’ve had Cesarean births are shamed all the time by people claiming they never truly gave birth to their babies, that they took the easy way out, or that they were just too weak to have a natural birth the way God intended. This sickens and saddens me to my core. Honestly, I’d love to shake the people making these comments to somehow make them realize just how much pain and sacrificial love goes into a belly birth. The strength required to have your abdomen ripped open then stitched up, potentially not holding your baby for hours on end, the months of recovery time some need, and the nerves that sometimes don’t reattach is beyond what they can imagine.
So if you’ve dealt with Cesarean mom-shaming, know this: you’re just as much of a mom as the rest of them. Your birth method doesn’t define who you are as a mom – the way you love your babies does. And you’ve already loved them in the most sacrificial, life-giving way possible. You’ve got a sisterhood of mamas beside you who have gone through the same thing.
You aren’t alone.