Ethan’s Birth Story—Part One
A whole year after being released, we returned to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital NICU last week for a visit and a doctors appointment (more on this stuff later). So I thought it was the perfect time to take the plunge and share Ethan’s Birth Story! It’s something that mom bloggers do, all part of the “journaling” that is blogging. I know, it’s full of details and TMI, but it’s also full of memories that we never want to forget.
I’ve been thinking about how I would put Ethan’s birth story down on paper for this entire year. I love reading (and crying while reading) other birth stories…it’s a challenge to express all the feelings and emotions involved while also sharing the medical what-not that was happening down under on that very special day.
So while I tried to keep it succinct, I wanted to really tell the story—so it’s long. Hence the “Part One.” You get the second half on Wednesday!
It started with a belly.
December 28, 2010 was just like any other day of pregnancy. I went to work, had some meetings, talked to clients on the phone, went to lunch with friends, and waddled to the bathroom at least two dozen times. I had very few complaints up this point, 31 weeks 3 days, but in the last couple weeks had become fairly bloated and was getting increasingly tired…my energy level was LOW and my ankles were HUGE.
My doctor told me everything seemed normal, physical activity was A-OK, so that night like so many others, I jumped on my elliptical machine after work for a good 30 minute workout to get some pep back in my gigantic step—so much better then braving the dark and cold outside. Afterward I was FAMISHED and told Stu we needed something great for dinner. I sorted out my many intense cravings while inhaling peanut butter slathered pretzels (straight from the jar…all class around our house) and landed on garlic-y shrimp pasta. Stu helped with the cooking and the meal was amazing. I went to bed soon after, the belly full and happy.
The next thing I remember is waking at 3am on December 29th. My eyes hadn’t even opened before I felt it. A slight ‘bursting’ sensation.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t worried. I’d heard of this and knew just what was happening to me…loss of bladder control. Great. After a 31 weeks and 4 days of a near perfect pregnancy, I was now going to start peeing myself. Just what any pregnant chick needs. I opened my eyes, hoisted myself out of bed, and headed for the bathroom. I had eight weeks left. I knew nothing serious was going on.
Boy was I wrong.
Since the amount of fluid was minuscule, my plan was to clean up and head back to bed as fast as humanly possible…I was exhausted. That’s when I noticed the pink. Blood. My heart started beating faster. I froze for a moment, stunned, not knowing what to do.
I decided it was time to wake Stu. I tried to do so calmly—I failed. His reaction was the same. “I remember reading about this, spotting is normal,” he said sleepily. I explained my last few minutes of consciousness while simultaneously flipping through What To Expect When You’re Expecting—my hands-down most trusted baby book of the five I own. I realized how crazy it was while I was doing it, looking up something this serious in a book?
As I was flipping and talking I coughed or cleared my throat, I can’t remember which, all I know is there was more fluid. At the same instant my index search landed me on the Labor & Delivery chapter of the book. We quickly came to our senses and dialed my doctor’s number.
The answering service promised a call back from my doctor within minutes, and I told her we were headed for the Pregnancy Assessment Center at our hospital, Barnes Jewish (in St. Louis). We had just taken our tour of the L&D department during our Child Birth class only two weeks before. If it weren’t for the class we probably would have driven straight to the emergency room, yikes.
As we headed out, I looked up at the white board on the fridge. It was marked with a list of tasks for that weekend. “Pack Hospital Bag” was at the top of the list. The all-important hospital bag I had researched and planned to a T. And here we were walking out the door with my purse, Stu’s wallet and keys, our cell phones, and the clothes on our backs.
My doctor called as we were stepping outside. I recounted the last twenty minutes and she said it did indeed sound like my water had broken. She would meet us at the Assessment Center. “This is not happening. It will be OK. It’s just a false alarm.” We must have said this 100 times during the ten minute drive to the hospital. I think we both knew we were kidding ourselves. But in our non-believing fashion we parked in the garage and walked through the hospital to the assessment center together. No wheelchair or mad-dash drop-offs.
Three staff members greeted us at the Assessment Center. I didn’t even wait for a “Hello” before blurting out, “I’m 31 weeks pregnant and think my water just broke.” Neither Stu or I will ever forget the Resident’s reaction. He let out a breath and said “Oh, 31 weeks? You are going to be just fine,” like he was relieved it wasn’t something more serious. To our baby-virgin eyes our situation was THE WORST thing in the world. But we would soon learn this happens every day.
I was handed a phone and told, “It’s Admitting for you.” I was admitted and hadn’t even been checked yet. This was really happening. I was trying to be friendly and happy through my fear. Talking to the nurses and resident’s that were hooking me up to monitors and taking vitals. I was not having contractions, that was clear. As a sample was taken to see if I was indeed leaking amniotic fluid, I was staying strong. The staff was so positive, so encouraging that they’d seen this all before and we—baby and I—would be just fine. I didn’t even freak out that much during the speculum check when the doctor said, “Well, you are dilated, and I see a lot of black hair.” That actually made me excited…my baby had hair!!
It was when MY doctor, Dr. Willers, came in the room that I lost it. Her face made it real—compassion mixed with knowledge mixed with the weight of what lay ahead—and I broke down. Tears streamed down my face through the next hour or more of ultrasounds, game plans, and moving to an L&D room. I just couldn’t stop. And if Stu and I were alone, which happened now and then for several minute increments, it was worse. The silence was brutal…give us rambling nurses and specialists galore, but don’t leave us with our thoughts!
Dr. Willers’ plan was simple: Keep me pregnant.
I felt like a complete moron asking, “HOW?!” A million dumb questions came pouring out. What if all the fluid drains out? How will the baby breathe? Will I have to stay in the hospital? Will I be able to move? What are the statistics for survival? What are the risks? And on and on and on. Dr. Willers patiently explained that our bodies continue to create fluid even after the water has broken, and that they can keep women pregnant and on bed rest for weeks, sometimes MONTHS. (Oh, and she reminded me that babies get oxygen through the mother’s blood stream, not the amitotic fluid. DUH)
So the plan was to progress like this:
- Keep me pregnant for 48 hours by putting me on magnesium and strict hospital bed rest. Most importantly, she would administer two steroid shots during that time, greatly increasing the baby’s lung function to reduce or eliminate the need for breathing assistance if he was born very premature. If this all happened as planned…
- Keep me pregnant for two more weeks, in the hospital, on bed rest. At 34 weeks, the baby’s lung function and suck/swallow/breathe functions are almost fully developed. At 34 weeks, if it wasn’t happening on it’s own, they would induce labor. No matter what, I was having a preemie.