To myself on the day of Ella’s birth,
A year ago today, the nurse came into my room and told me I couldn’t eat anymore because they thought they’d be taking the baby. I was 29 weeks and 2 days pregnant. My baby was not ready to come. I was not ready to give birth. Soon after, the doctor came in and told me they couldn’t keep me pregnant anymore. They were chasing my blood pressure and if they didn’t take Ella now, there was a high likelihood of an emergency c-section where I wouldn’t even be able to be awake for the birth. She said at best, they could stretch it another day but it wasn’t safe. So the decision was made to perform the c-section that day. She had to deliver triplets first, and I couldn’t do it yet anyways because I’d eaten an early lunch. So, now we waited.
We made phone calls. I got on facebook. I wrote a short blog post. We chatted. I felt a sense of peace. But it wasn’t real peace. It was shock and numbness with a mask on that felt like peace. When they came to get me to bring me to the OR, my mask melted away and I completely broke down. Shane wasn’t able to come with me right away because they had to prep me and I sobbed the entire way to the OR. I sobbed as they did my spinal, as they introduced me to the neonatologist and all the other doctors. My mind was running a million miles a minute and I was desperately trying to calm myself down. I HAD to stop crying because regardless of the fact that this was my second c-section and I was about to give birth at 29 weeks, it was still my birth. I managed to calm myself down and go through the delivery. Right before she came out, my body bore down and pushed. They may have took her out using their hands, but my body pushed her out in the best way it could. Even through the spinal, my body was doing what it was supposed to…even if the baby was coming out of my belly.
I didn’t get to see her right away, I did hear her cry though. Oh her cry…it was so loud. So fierce. It should have told me what she would be today hearing that cry. She’s the epitome of strength and that cry said it all. She was breathing on her own and I got to spend what felt like seconds, but also hours, looking at her and kissing her and touching her tiny face. I couldn’t tell how small she was because they had her bundled up. Over the next 74 days, we experienced more then I ever thought humanly possible. The emotions that wracked my body and brain were, at times, almost more then I could bear. I knew that God would only give me as much as I could handle, but sometimes I thought that God thought I was stronger then I was. On her 4th day alive, Ella got sick. So sick that they told us she had a very slim chance of making it through the night. I couldn’t bear it. I remember gripping myself and rocking back and forth, pulling at my hair and face and sobbing as I sit in her room watching them work over her tiny body. Her chest touched the bed below her as she struggled for each breath and no matter what they did, she just kept getting sicker. I didn’t know it at the time, and it’s probably good I didn’t, but they resuscitated her twice that night. She pulled through it and over time got stronger and after 74 long days in the NICU, she came home on oxygen.
Before I got pregnant, I wanted to make sure my pregnancy was healthy. I worked hard on my health. I lost almost 40 lbs, got all my labs to where they should be, I was healthy! My BP was good, sugar levels were good, everything was good. I was cleared to get pregnant again. And I did…very quickly! We were thrilled and I had full intentions of having a VBAC. My OB was very supportive and felt I was an excellent candidate for a VBAC. I was so excited to have a normal, natural delivery. I didn’t even end up with Gestational Diabetes this time around, thanks to, in part, I believe my highish protein diet. I was on a high protein diet to avoid GD and pre-e. I didn’t eat much as I could have, for sure, but I still managed to get somewhere around 50-70 grams a day. I did try though. So it was crushing when I ended up on bedrest with pre-e again. I was still sure of my VBAC however up until 2 days before Ella was born. They told me I would have to have a c-section. Oh how I fought them. Every doctor in that hospital knew who I was. I talked to them all. I argued and argued and cried and refused to have a c-section. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. I was beyond heartbroken. This was my chance. This had been my chance to fix the failure of having had a c-section with Olivia and now I’d failed again. My beautiful preemie needed a vaginal delivery…it was better for her to go through labor and delivery the normal, natural way but once again, my body failed her. This was how I felt. And in a way, I still feel this way. If I hadn’t had a c-section with Olivia, if I had gotten that epidural which I think was a major cause of my c-section, they could have induced me with Ella. Maybe she wouldn’t have been so sick if she’d gotten to be born vaginally…I don’t know. I’ll never know. I’ll also never know what it’s like to give birth vaginally. After 2 premature births due to pre-e, and the second one where I actually TRIED to do everything right, we knew in our heart of hearts that this was it for us. We wouldn’t have anymore biological children. This is so hard for me because we’d planned on 3. And I’d be happy with 2 if I’d gotten to have normal deliveries. It sounds odd to some people that I wanted to experience natural childbirth but it’s something I’m passionate about.
Once Ella was born, my sense of failure increased each day she was alive. I had failed to protect her. I had failed to avoid getting pre-e again. I constantly thought that maybe my symptoms weren’t as bad as I thought and that I had overreacted and caused her to be born more prematurely then she should have been. I would go over my pre-e over and over again and wonder if I could have just dealt with it for longer. I know I couldn’t have. I look back and I think about the shape my kidneys were in…I was spilling 8 GRAMS of protein in my urine by the time they delivered. They were almost completely non functional. I was gaining upwards of 4 lbs a day from the water retention. I gained almost 70 pounds, over half of which was water retention. I wanted to pop myself open in hopes I could make the swelling feel better. I don’t know if I’ve completely come to terms that I didn’t fail Ella but it’s gotten better. With the support of my friends, and running a group for preemies, it has helped me work through this. Writing this letter to myself and really thinking on it, I realize that I’m in a much better place then I was about everything. I still feel guilt, but as I watch that sweet baby…that sweet, chunky preemie who is a year old today, I know that even if I did fail her in utero, once she was out, I gave her all that I could. I was at that NICU everyday 2 times a day except for 2 days. I pumped my milk non stop, and I was there, advocating for her, questioning the doctors in their decisions and being a part of her health care. I was her voice and her protector. I know that now. As I was doing it, I didn’t see it that way. To me, this was just what you did. This was one of the few ways I could be her mother and I was going to do it.
Today, Ella is a year. She’s somewhere around 19 lbs. She is crawling, pulling herself up, says “Mama”, “Dada”, and “baba”. She waves and claps. She’s still breastfeeding and going strong. She has an amazing relationship with her sister and has an amazing personality. She is my hope, my strength, my reason for being (along with Olivia). When I look at her, I am filled with so many emotions. I can’t believe what we went through to get here. I can’t believe what I was capable of. Without her, I would have never known what I was capable of. I thank God everyday for choosing me to be Ellas mama. I am so very blessed. I have so much to work through still. I still struggle with knowing I will never experience term labor or a vaginal delivery or the feeling of bringing your baby right to breast. But that is my story. That is my norm and I can go forward and help those mamas whose stories are like mine. One major thing I have learned through all of this is that even though my birth was not what I wanted, it was still my birth and no one can take that away from me. My friends, all the women who have given birth before me, they were all there with me that day. I pictured them behind me, lending me their strength as I gripped onto the necklace my best girlfriends and doula had made for me during my blessingway and I owned my birth. I owned my c-section, I owned my premature birth…it was mine. It was Ella’s and mine. And I got to touch her and let her know me when she was born. I know that I’m capable of strength beyond anything I ever imagined but more so I know that Ella is. As I watch her grow, I know that she can do anything and nothing will stop that girl. She’s already let us know that!!