ETA: If you are starting here, scroll down. The first four installments of the story are below on this same date. Yup, I'm a dummy and posted them in an entirely unhelpful sequence. Sorry.
With the surgical epidural in place, my pain was finally relieved and my body decided it was time to get some needed rest. As I was being wheeled into the OR, I was focusing on every ceiling tile to try to keep myself from falling asleep. Once on the table and strapped into the restraints (a terrible part of the c-sec.tion I had no advance knowledge of!), I told the anesthesiologist I was working really hard to stay awake and she said, “It’s okay, take a nap. I’m here. I’ll keep an eye on you.” Seriously?! I’d stayed awake until then and I was going to miss the good part? There was no way I’d waited through my whole pregnancy only to miss the famous “It’s a…” announcement, and I needed to hear that baby cry to know everything was okay. I used every trick in the book to keep myself from sleeping. Fortunately, it only took a few minutes for them to get him out.
I got my precious announcement and heard him cry, which made me start crying, of course. He didn’t sound good. His little cries were short and staccato, like he wasn’t able to catch his breath. They had a team from the NICU on hand and they started working on him right away. It seemed like it took forever for them to stabilize him. He was having a lot of difficulty breathing. It was probably only fifteen minutes or so but it felt like an eternity. I kept starting to doze off then clawing my way back to consciousness. Once they were ready to take him to the special care nursery, they brought him over and let M hold him for a minute. I was scared to touch him because I was shaking so badly, and I was still fighting sleep like crazy, but at least I got to lay eyes on him. He was all wrapped in white and he was so tiny and perfect. The whole thing felt completely surreal.
They took me back to the L&D room to sleep for a couple of hours before transporting me to a regular room. The pediatrician came in at some point and gave us a rundown on how he was doing. He let us know that we couldn’t see him then because it was shift change time, but M could go down in a half hour or so. She waited with me until I was moved then set out on her first of two attempts to find Elliot, but we only knew where the regular nursery was and she couldn’t find him. I know it sounds completely crazy that we were in the same hospital as him and couldn’t get to him, but that’s actually a perfect example of how exhausted and disempowered we were at that point. From my perspective at least, it just seemed like par for the course and demanding that someone take her to him simply never occurred to me.
In the early afternoon, they let me get into a wheelchair and a nurse took us down to the Special Care nursery. It turned out Elliot had ingested and inhaled amniotic fluid containing both infection and meconium so he was on a CPAP machine to give him oxygen and help him breathe and he had a tube down his throat that was extracting the gunk from his poor little tummy. He was also on two IV antibiotics: One for the chorio infection and another to try to prevent pneumonia. His breathing was really labored and it was tough to see him struggling and covered with tubes. He turned out to be a good little fighter and within the first couple of days, he pulled out his own tummy tube (!) and was weaned to room air. Unfortunately, he also developed pneumonia during that time and earned himself an extended hospital stay for more antibiotics and observation. As hard as it was being separated from him in the hospital, it nearly killed me to go home without him. Leaving went against all of my maternal instincts and I cried with every step on the way out, then had terrible nightmares the whole first night home. I have so much empathy for women who have to leave their babies for even longer stays. A few days into the pneumonia treatment, all of his tiny veins were blown so they gave up on IV access and turned to IM injections, which he tolerated pretty well. Not so well tolerated was the test they did to follow up on the kidney issues they found on his ultrasounds. It was terribly invasive and he and I both cried through the whole thing, but the results were good – for a change!
Speaking of good, there were other glimmers of light here and there: First and most obviously, we ended up with a healthy baby boy. There were three people – M, our doula, and my mom – who were in the room from start to finish with only minimal breaks here and there. I stuck it out because I didn’t have a choice. I can only attribute their dedication to a deep and unwavering love for me and our son. Our doula, a very close friend who was 16 weeks pregnant herself at the time, was awake and on her feet with me for 24+ hours and she didn’t charge us a penny. My mom literally wore through the fabric in the heels of her socks from spending so much time standing by my bedside. Once I’d agreed to the c-sec.tion and began grieving the change of plans, she told me I was the strongest woman she’d ever known and that she’d never seen anyone work so hard for something. And M… where to start? M was basically awake and on her feet for 50-something hours with me. I’m not even sure she ate after we got to the hospital. She shouldered the burden of being the thinking half of our birth team in the midst of more pressure and chaos than either of us have ever experienced. She had to watch me in pain for hours on end. She honored my request to have my mom present and tolerated her vigilance so that I could have my desired birth environment. Then, she held my hand and offered reassurance as everything we wanted slipped away from us a piece at a time. She bravely attended to our son (the first baby she ever held!) in the operating room when he was sick and intimidating and I was too out of it to know what was happening. And during the days that followed, she wheeled me down to the Special Care Nursery every two hours around the clock and offered moral support while I fought to breastfeed, and pieced me back together when I cried over the sheer magnitude of it all. I don’t mean to be cheesy, but how do you find words to thank someone for something like that, or to explain how much more you love them when it is behind you?
I’m still struggling to overcome the loss of the birth we wanted. We worked so hard to prepare ourselves for the hard work of a natural labor and delivery. We lined up every support and resource we thought we’d need and then some. In the end, I ended up using one thing out of our fully-stocked hospital bag (a headband to hold my hair back while I pushed) and everything else (including our birth plan, literally and figuratively) stayed where it was. The birthing tub we reserved and paid for never even made it out of the closet. I feel like the experience as we’d planned it slipped away so discreetly, I didn’t even realize it was happening until it was over. I don’t know what I’d do differently next time – I’m not sure anything could have been done differently. I guess I’d have tried to stay at home longer, although even as I type that I’m don’t think I could have talked myself into it at the time without the hindsight I have now.
I have more processing to do on this, but I’m afraid if I don’t post what I have, it’ll be another four months until I ever commit anything to record. So, this is where I will leave the story, for now. Perhaps an epilogue will follow before too long.