**(TRIGGER WARNING: This birth story discusses things related to preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM), an emergency c-section, birth trauma, postpartum depression (PPD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). If you believe that reading this will be comprising to your mental health, please feel free to skip this post. Take care of yourself.)**
I’ve been trying to write Finn’s birth story for months. For awhile, I literally couldn’t do it. It was just too painful. But, being that September was NICU awareness month and that Finn was in the NICU, I feel compelled that now is the time to share my story. It’s important for me and my healing, but it’s also important for me to use my platform to help other people know that they are not alone.
To be honest, I’m still having trouble writing it. I have stopped and started many times, taking deep breaths in between. I didn’t go back and edit very much. It’s not going to be perfect. Some of it may be rambling. It’s long. But, all the same, here it is:
My pregnancy and birth experience with Jack was what I would consider pretty expected. My pregnancy was fairly textbook and uneventful. Even when it was go time for labor my contractions were the typical 45-60 seconds every 4-5 minutes.
I had a hospital birth with Jack and I chose to have an epidural. All around I had a pretty positive experience and we got to go home after a day or two (you can read Jack’s birth story here). And while my birth experience with Jack was what I would consider a good one, I knew when I became pregnant with my second child that I wanted to do things a little differently.
After much discussion about all of our options, my husband Sam and I decided that we wanted to hire a midwife and that we wanted to have a home birth. There was something magical about the thought. No hospital, no doctors, no bright lights…..just us welcoming our baby boy into the world.
I absolutely loved the fact that my midwife came to my home for my prenatal visits. No having to find a babysitter or trying to keep a 2-year-old occupied. We were in the comfort of our own home and Jack was a part of the experience. He really enjoyed putting the ultrasound gel on my pregnant belly and listening to the baby’s heartbeat. My midwife and her student even let Jack listen to his own “baby” after mama had her turn. It was one of the most precious things ever.
It all seemed so perfect. My midwife, Julia, and I agreed that based on my history there really was no foreseeable reason that I shouldn’t be a good candidate for a home birth. I had an uncomplicated vaginal birth with Jack and no serious medical issues to speak of. We should be good to go!
Of course, I was nervous about contracting and birthing without an epidural. I even briefly talked about the possibility of transport should I change my mind. Even though I knew that I was able and wanted to birth this baby at home, mentally I needed my options.
I had no reason to think that this home birth wouldn’t happen for me and my baby. I was nervous, but I was excited. And the closer his due date got, the more I began looking forward to it.
It was a typical Wednesday night. Sam had just gotten home from work and was getting dinner ready. Jack was “helping” with said dinner. I was sitting in my recliner browsing Pinterest on my phone for home birth décor ideas and essential oil blends that could help with labor. All was well.
Both of my feet were placed on the floor and I decided that I wanted to pick them up to sit crossed legged in my chair, a thing I did regularly.…and that’s when it happened.
All of a sudden my chair was wet. I looked down and my pants were wet as well. At first, I thought maybe it was urine. I had been having bouts of incontinence throughout my pregnancy (which I was seeing a pelvic floor PT for), but this gush seemed so unprovoked. Plus, it was a lot of fluid. A LOT.
“Dang!” I yelled into the kitchen to Sam. “I just peed myself again! I don’t know what happened!” and I rushed to the bathroom.
I sat down on the toilet and the fluid kept coming. I looked. It was clear. It did not smell like urine. I was only 26 weeks pregnant. Did my water actually break? I was terrified.
“Sam! I don’t know what’s happening!”
He came running around the corner from the kitchen to check on me and opened the bathroom door. I was still sitting on the toilet, fluid splashing into the bowl, tears starting to come into my eyes.
“You need to call Julia,” he said, and he went and grabbed my phone.
Still sitting right where I was, fluid continuing to come out, I called Julia on speaker so that Sam could hear. I was now sobbing.
I told her what had happened and she said, very calmly, that I should go to the hospital to get checked out and that she would be there as soon as she could.
Not knowing how long we were going to be there we rushed to grab a few items for Jack’s diaper bag and turned off the stove where dinner was cooking. I grabbed a bath towel and put it between my legs as the fluid continued to come out. Frightened and confused I continued to sob as I grabbed my purse and put on my flip flops. Luckily, the drive to the hospital was a short one.
I cried all the way there, in the elevator on the way up to labor and delivery and at reception. Jack kept saying, “It’s okay, Mama. It’s okay. It’s okay, Mama.” Tara, the receptionist, was a phenomenal presence. She was calm and reassuring as she got me checked in as soon as possible.
I continued to leak and hold my towel in between my legs as we sat and waited for a nurse to come get us. I was so scared. It was too early for this little guy to come. What did this mean for him? What did this mean for the rest of my pregnancy? What did it mean for our home birth plans?
The nurse finally came after what felt like an eternity (although I’m sure it was just a few minutes) and took us back to triage. As I changed into a hospital gown in the bathroom, more fluid came out and splashed on the floor. I was shaking. Sam had to help me tie my gown in the back. Sweet Jack continued to say, “It’s okay, Mama.”
I laid back on the table as the nurse took some preliminary vitals and asked me what had happened. One of the OB hospitalists came in, Dr. Lugenbill, and after her examination she confirmed that my water did in fact break. The medical term is preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM). She assured me that while it was low, there was enough amniotic fluid for baby, that he looked healthy and that they would be giving me medicine to slow and stop progression of labor should it be happening.
“You’re going to be admitted until you deliver,” she said.
Unaware that I could cry even more than I already had, I began crying even harder. I was 26 weeks pregnant, and I was going to stay in the hospital 24/7 until I delivered my baby that wasn’t due for another 3 months?
ALL of the things that I would be missing out on flashed through my mind. Mother’s Day. Summer. My birthday. A play that I wanted to go to. My special things that I wanted to do with Jack while it was still just the two of us until his brother arrived. Being at home with my family. Snuggling in bed with Jack in the morning. Sharing a bed with my husband. Our home birth plans. All of it, just like that, was gone.
“As in, I can’t leave until the baby is born?” I asked through my tears.
“That’s right,” she said, as she patted my leg. “I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you want to hear.”
The whole first night was devoted to making sure that I didn’t go into labor. I was given medications that kept me bound to the bed and that made me a fall risk. They wouldn’t even let me walk to the bathroom. I had to be assisted in using a portable bucket right next to my bed.
Sam stayed with me all of the first night, which wasn’t very restful. The fetal heart monitor was on all night and because the baby was so little, the nursing staff had to keep readjusting the monitor. Not like I was getting a lot of sleep anyway. It was all such a shock.
They say in about 1/3rd of the cases that PPROM is caused by an infection and in the rest of the cases they don’t know why it happened. I was in the “we don’t know why it happened” category. I didn’t appear to have an infection, but they and I would be looking for signs of infection for the rest of my hospital stay.
Throughout the coming days I was assessed and visited by different specialists. A maternal fetal medicine physician told me that if I made it to 34 weeks that the risk of staying pregnant for me went up and for the baby went down, and that it wouldn’t be worth the risk to keep me pregnant. So, if I made it 34 weeks, they would plan to induce labor. I looked at my calendar. That was 7 weeks from the day I was told this. I could potentially be in the hospital for up to 7 weeks.
I hunkered down. I got outside as often as I could. I continued to meet different doctors and specialists. One of the neonatologists came to explain what having a premature baby would look like and mean for us. I got to tour the NICU and ask as many questions as I could think of.
My angel nurse, Shelley, would often check and make sure that I was getting outside and moving around and that I wasn’t just working the whole time. Jack and I made a construction paper advent
calendar that would countdown the number of days until it was until I hit the 34 week mark. But, I didn’t make it that far.
On Friday, May 18, 2018 Sam and I had finally settled on a name for the baby. His name would be Finn, Scottish in heritage, which means warrior. It seemed entirely fitting for the situation that we were in. It turned out that it was a good thing that we had picked out a name.
The next day, Saturday, May 19th. I was 27 weeks 5 days pregnant. Other than my arrival my time at the hospital had been pretty uneventful. I was feeling good, baby was staying healthy and on the inside, everything was seemingly fine. At the last ultrasound I had it showed that Finn was head down and that he had started to make some of his own amniotic fluid. Sam and Jack had come for a visit that afternoon. We took a family walk outside (as we did most days) and had just gotten back to the room. We were talking about ordering dinner.
All of a sudden and out of nowhere I started to feel a little off. A little achy. Then I started having chills. I was starting to see black dots in my vision. I went to the bathroom and didn’t see anything unusual there. It didn’t totally feel like I was getting sick, but I could tell that something was different.
I laid down in my bed and pulled up the covers. Sam and I agreed that I should call the nurse in. When she came in she checked my vitals. All seemed well there. Then she wanted to check Finn’s heartbeat on the monitor. She was having a hard time finding it for awhile, but that wasn’t all that uncommon. He was little and moved around a lot. Many nurses have had trouble finding his heartbeat. She continued to try and with no luck.
She called in another nurse. She tried, and still no luck. They decided to call in Dr. Lugenbill who not only happened to be the doctor that admitted me, but was on the floor that day. Dr. Lugenbill came in and decided that we should do an ultrasound, but rather than making me get up and go to radiology she would bring the machine into the room. While we were having this discussion Finn’s heartbeat finally came up on the monitor.
We were relieved. Jack was starting to get fussy and wanted to go play out in the lobby. Knowing that we had found Finn’s heartbeat and that I was okay, Sam decided to go ahead and take Jack out for a little bit and come back.
That’s when things hit the fan.
Finn’s heart rate was slowing down. The ultrasound showed that he had flipped from head down to transverse. His heart rate wasn’t picking back up the way it usually did. He continued to get a little slower. Dr. Lugenbill said, “We’ve got to take this baby out. Right now.”
I started to cry. Where was my husband? I needed my husband!
She leaned close to me and said, “I know this is hard, but I need you to stop crying to help this baby. He’s saying that it’s time.”
I slowed my breath as much as I could as the silent tears kept spilling. The bed rails were going up. Where was Sam?
“I need my husband. I need him, please.”
As we were beginning to roll out toward the operation room, Sam and Jack were making their way back to the room.
“What’s happening?” Sam said. I could see the fear in his eyes.
“They’re doing a c-section. Call everyone.” I said, still trying to calm myself.
Sam tore himself away from the bed. I could tell how painful it was for him to have to leave me alone. Actually, I could feel it. Because I desperately didn’t want him to go.
They rolled me to the operating room in the NICU. It was so bright. Sterile. The screen went up. Splash. “They’re putting some iodine on you,” said the anesthesiologist. Everybody was talking to each other like I wasn’t there. Roll call. Saying what duties they were assigned to. I was barely being told what was happening as it was happening. It was all going so fast.
The anesthesiologist looked directly into my eyes, “I’m going to put you to sleep now. It’s okay. We’re going to take care of you. We’re going to take care of your baby. Here we go.”
And that’s all I remembered.
Sometime later I woke up in a different room. The recovery room, they called it. There was a nurse to my right. “She’s starting to wake up,” I heard her say.
I remember laying there, not moving. I shifted my gaze from left to right several times. “Where’s my husband?” I could hear myself say. “Can I see my husband, please?” It was definitely my voice speaking but it felt like it was coming from somewhere else.
Sam came into the room and by my side. “He’s okay. He’s stable. I was with him,” he told me right away.
Finn was in the NICU. It would still be another hour and a half before I could see him.
Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, they said that they were ready to roll me up to the mother and baby unit. “Can I see him first?” I asked. And they obliged.
They rolled my bed into a hallway and into a dark room. There was my baby. He was tiny. 2 pounds and 10.3 ounces. He had so many tubes, wires and monitors that between all of the medical equipment and my inability to sit up I couldn’t even see his face. It had a little CPAP mask on it. All too quickly, I was taken upstairs.
It would still be another couple of days before I could hold him.
The morning after my surgery Dr. Lugenbill came in to talk to me about my incision. She told me that because of Finn’s size and position that she had to do an inverted T cut, and that if Sam and I planned on having any more children that we should prepare to have another cesarean. More grief washed over me. Not only did I not get to have a home birth, I would probably never have one.
I was in the hospital as a patient for about 4 days. I could have been discharged at 3 days, but I was nervous to have to go home and that I wouldn’t be one floor up from my baby that I opted for as much time as I could get.
The NICU staff told us that the hospital offered “boarding rooms” for NICU parents. What that means is as long as our baby was a patient in the NICU and as long as they had room, we could stay in one of the patient rooms. We took advantage of that for as long as we could, which ended up only being about a week. During that week we were moved from the mother/baby unit to the pediatric unit and were out of the hospital completely after only one night post room change.
I was terrified to go home.
On the drive home everything played backward. Finn in the dark hospital room hooked up to all kinds of things. Me being wheeled in to see him. Me waking up after the surgery. The anesthesiologist looking into my eyes. The cold splash of the iodine. Being wheeled into the bright, cold operating room. The look in Dr. Lugenbill’s eyes when she said that we would be taking the baby out now. Sam taking Jack into the lobby to play. The uneventful days in the hospital before this happened. My first night in the hospital. The triage nurse. Checking in. The drive to the hospital. Holding a towel in between my legs. Picking my feet up to sit crossed legged in my chair. I saw everything.
And every mile, every inch closer that we got home the more shallow my breathing became, the more tears that had started to shed. I was having a full blown panic attack.
I remember being at the bottom of the stairs to our apartment and our landlord coming out to say hi and to talk to us about a lease renewal. “Oh…is this a bad time?”
“Yes,” Sam answered for me. “Sorry, we’ll get back to you on this.”
As soon as I got into our apartment I collapsed on the kitchen floor into heaving sobs. I stayed there for a long time. Sam had to physically pick me up.
From that point on everything revolved around Finn’s care times at the hospital. I would go in in the morning and Sam would go in at night. We watched as our sweet boy worked toward breathing on his own, growing and warding off infections. Such a strong boy. Such a warrior.
For 74 days I watched him struggle, overcome challenges and grow. For weeks I went in everyday to see him, to hold him, to do whatever was in my power to help him th
rive. For weeks I listened to and watched those monitors, feeling nervous and helpless. And for weeks I lamented not making it to 34 weeks, staying hospital bound, because at least I could have fought *for* him instead of watching him do it on his own.
For most of those 74 days I stayed in a dark room, alone with my son. Being a NICU parent can be so incredibly lonely. Between Sam’s work schedule and us both coming to see Finn, werarely were together. And we definitely weren’t together as a whole family that often. If it weren’t for the nursing staff in the NICU I might have gone crazy. They have some really amazing people at Salem Health.
I will always remember how incredibly resilient Jack was during this time. How empathetic he was when I checked in to the hospital. How he just rolled with going to the hospital every day for over two months. Seeing the fish and his favorite receptionist were becoming the highlights of his day. I have some pretty amazing boys.
I will always be grateful for how my husband rose to the occasion. How patient he has been with my multiple episodes of falling apart. How, despite all of the things that were going on, he would always attempt to put me first. How he loves and cares for the boys and I. How strong he was even though he must have been terrified. Everyone that came into contact with our family at the hospital told me how lucky I was to have a guy like him. And they are right. I am incredibly lucky.
I will never forget the day that the doctor said, “It looks like Finn can go home tomorrow!” Nervousness and elation flooded my body.
That night we had Jack sleep over with my dad and stepmom and Sam and I spent the night in the hospital with Finn. We rolled up our newborn sleeves and got ready. We got up together at each feeding. We gave him a bath at 5:00 a.m. We did all of the things on the discharge list that there was to do. Sam packed up all of Finn’s things and took them down to the car and came back up. Now we just sat and waited for a nurse to walk us out.
As we walked toward the elevator I thought of each and every nurse and doctor that we came into contact with. I thought of how I would miss certain ones. We had gotten into a routine, but now, it was time for the next phase. We walked outside and into the sunlight. Finn was 2 ½ months old and this was his first time outside. It was incredible to think about.
“Congratulations,” the nurse said. She gave us each a hug and turned to walk away.
Kind of in a daze Sam and I both got into the car. And we both sobbed.
We’ve been dreaming about this day for weeks and it was finally here. We were out of the hospital. No more monitors. No more cords. No more tubes. No more dark rooms. No more having to go through two doors of security to get to our son. No more trying to keep Jack occupied and quiet so that we could spend time together as a family of four in a small hospital room. We were on the outside, with our baby. Our warrior. We could take Finn wherever we pleased.
This experience has changed my family forever. The significance and the impact runs deep. From now on our life experiences will be categorized into two parts: before this happened, and after this happened. It has simultaneously challenged and strengthened my marriage.
I have been struggling with significant postpartum depression and post traumatic stress disorder. I have panic attacks. There are days when the depression runs so deep that I can barely speak or move. There are times my anxiety is so high that I can’t think straight or focus on what I was initially trying to do. I have been in therapy for months and will mostly likely be in therapy for many more.
Writing out this story was really, really hard for me. In some ways, I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want you to see that I wasn’t handling things all that well. But, in other ways, I knew that writing my story and sharing it with you was one of the most important things that I had to do. You have to know that you’re not alone. You have to know that even though social media is a highlight reel that I’m struggling, too. Sharing this all with you is essential to my healing. It’s a part of the process of letting go.
As for how things are going now I’m in it, not through it. But, I’m through it enough that I feel ready to share this story with you. I feel ready to connect. I hope by sharing my story that you see that nobody is perfect, that everybody struggles and that if you’re struggling with a birth that didn’t go as planned, postpartum depression, anxiety, PTSD, if you have/had a baby or babies in the NICU….I’m here.
And to my fellow c-section moms: having a c-section in no way says that you’re incompetent, that you didn’t “really” give birth, that you took the easy way out, that you’re weak or that you can’t possibly bond with your baby. You’re not less of a woman because you didn’t give birth “naturally.” You are a strong, resilient woman and an amazing mom who did what was best for your child. There’s nothing more primal than that.
Thank you for reading my story. I know it was long. I know it was messy. But, if I touched even just one person by sharing it then it was totally worth it.