As soon as I got pregnant, I found myself absolutely fascinated with hearing birth stories. I asked everyone about their experience, wanting to hear every detail. Once I hit the third trimester, I started getting frustrated knowing that how I was going to labour was completely out of my control; I’d actually lie awake in the middle of the night thinking about it. My rough birth plan was: a) get the baby out as safely as possible, preferably without a C-section, b) take the epidural if I want it, and most importantly, c) have skin-to-skin time immediately. I was hoping to have very few people know that I was in labour, and be able to announce the birth of our baby when I was ready. Although there really isn’t a “normal” labour and birth, mine was definitely abnormal enough that I wanted to write about it. Partially for myself, because although it was traumatic, I’m proud of what I was able to get through, and partially so that anyone who is interested can read it.
To preface the story a bit, I had a healthy pregnancy. Sure, I ate more ice cream and chocolate than I normally would have, but I remained active right until the end, with some light weight workouts and a lot of walking. At my 36 and 37 week checkups my blood pressure was up slightly higher than it had been throughout my pregnancy, around 130/90, when it normally sits closer to 110/70. My due date was August 16th.
August long weekend we headed up to my aunt and uncle’s house for a family reunion weekend. They had a baby shower for me Saturday, and we would be staying until Monday. A few weeks before, my husband expressed that he was nervous that we were going so close to my due date, but I laughed it off, because their house is only about a 75 minute drive from Kitchener, and even with the slim chance that something were to happen, we would have time to get back to Grand River Hospital in Kitchener. I also refused to bring our hospital bag when we left for the weekend.
After going to bed around midnight on Saturday, July 30th, I woke up at 3am on Sunday with pain near the top of my uterus. I thought that I had just strained whatever was left of my abs when I got up to pee, but the pain wasn’t going away. By 4:30am I had moved into the living room, thankful that no one was awake, and was crying on the couch in pain. After a call to the childbirth unit at GRH asking what I should do, Lee and I made the decision to head to the hospital. It was definitely the worst car ride of my life; I was in an extreme amount of pain the entire way. We made a quick pit stop at home to grab the hospital bag, just in case I was in labour, although I was convinced that I couldn’t be. The pain was constant, rather than the rhythm of contractions that come and go. I was setup in a bed in triage by 7am, and was greeted by the familiar face of the nurse who had taught our prenatal class. They did a quick ultrasound and confirmed that the baby looked fine, and then hooked me up to monitor the baby’s heartbeat, and to track my contractions. From this point on I was not allowed anything to eat or drink; I had last eaten around 9pm on Saturday night. They did confirm that I was having contractions, but I couldn’t distinguish them from the other pain I was having. Once they had done everything they needed to, they gave me a shot of morphine to help control the pain. I was loopy as anything, but so thankful for the pain relief. My OB was on call at 8am, and she gave me a rundown of my situation – I was only 1cm dilated, but I had preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome and since I was full term (37 weeks, 5 days), I was going to be induced that day.
At this point, I could barely wrap my head around what was going on; all I could really grasp was that I was going to have a baby, soon. They quickly wheeled me into a private room where I would deliver. On the way there the nurses realized that they had one of their new beds available, which they were kind enough to transfer me to. At the time I didn’t realize that it was likely because they understood how unwell I was, and how long I was going to be in that bed for. By the time I was setup in my new room the morphine had worn off and they offered me an epidural. It seemed ridiculous to have an epidural when I was only 1-2cm dilated, but the pain in my liver from the HELLP syndrome was unbearable. The anesthetist who did my epidural did a great job, and I was really comfortable through the whole procedure. I never lost complete feeling in my legs, I could still move them around, but I couldn’t feel the liver pain or contractions. I could actually still feel the baby moving too, which I loved. From about 10am onwards, I was bedridden and the induction with Pitocin began.
My mom eventually got to the hospital after leaving the family reunion (one whole side of my family now knew that I was going to be induced that day, which is not something that I wanted), somewhere around the time that we were getting results from a second round of bloodwork. My condition has worsened, my platelets had dropped, my liver enzymes has almost doubled and my blood pressure was up further. I was at risk of a brain seizure. I was given medication to lower my blood pressure and was started on an IV of magnesium sulfate. I was having my blood pressure taken every 30 minutes, and bloodwork done every 2. I wasn’t allowed anything apart from ice chips.
My OB broke my water around 3pm when I was at about 3cm; my mom, Lee and I just kept waiting patiently for me to dilate further. My mom kept giving me reflexology to try to move things along, or at the very least keep me relaxed. I somehow managed to remain positive through everything, focusing on the fact that I never got any stretch marks, and laughing about how I had been joking about going into labour so I wouldn’t have to go back to work on Tuesday. Our baby was still doing great, and my risk of having a C-section didn’t seem to be too high as long as I kept progressing without anything worsening further. My positivity waivered when I was told that a pediatrician would be at the delivery, as well as someone from NICU because of the magnesium sulfate I was on. This meant I wouldn’t have the baby on my chest immediately, which was the only thing that was truly important to me. I started to struggle further as I got thirsty; the hospital room was incredibly dry, and all I wanted was water. I’m pretty sure I cried over this at some point during the day. I definitely cried again later when I was told that even after delivery, I still wasn’t going to be allowed to eat, and I’d likely only be allowed water, and possibly other clear fluids.
Even after my water was broken, I was dilating extremely slowly. Sometime around 9pm I was finally about 6cm dilated, and my epidural was starting to wear off. I was able to feel some of my contractions, which were holding steady at about every 2.5 minutes. I didn’t feel all of them, but I was feeling the stronger ones. During the next two hours I started feeling a lot more, and explained to my nurse that something was changing. When she checked me again at 11pm she laughed because it was clear why I was feeling different – I was finally at 10cm. When the nurse told me it was time to start pushing at 12:30am, I panicked a bit. This is what I had been waiting for all day, but I had to push out a baby now, was that even possible for me?! Before I started I got some very cute good luck videos from my nieces, and an amazing snapchat from my family at the reunion around the fire chanting encouragement, which warmed my heart. I pushed for about 45 minutes before I got to see our beautiful baby at 1:13am, and hear Lee announce that we had a baby girl (who had an insane cone head, but that’s all better now). He cut the cord, and she went to the pediatrician for a few minutes before I got to snuggle her on my chest. She started nursing within 10 minutes of being on me, which was incredible. The process of actually delivering Aurora was amazing, and something that I hope I’ll never forget. I am glad that my epidural had worn off a bit so I could feel what was happening, as strange as that sounds.
After delivery, my blood pressure returned to normal very quickly, but I was told that I was going to be on the magnesium sulfate for another 12-24 hours. This meant no food, only clear liquids and remaining on bedrest. The hormones got me at this point and I cried quite a bit. It was all very overwhelming. In the end, I wasn’t taken off the magnesium sulfate until Monday night at 9pm; it had been 48 hours since I had eaten last. Lee went to get me a bagel right away, and I was relieved to be able to get up to brush my teeth and wash my face.
My OB came to see me on Tuesday morning, and agreed that if my bloodwork had improved enough by later in the day, I was going to be discharged, but otherwise I’d be staying another night. I spent most of the day cuddling Aurora, working on breastfeeding, and having bloodwork repeated again and again. We went to the breastfeeding class at 2:30pm, and around 4:00 learned that we would be discharged. I was going to have to continue to monitor my blood pressure over the next few days, and report anything high to my OB or go to the ER. We got Aurora’s bloodwork results back shortly before we left; her bilirubin was slightly high, but we were allowed to go home and return for a follow up on Wednesday. It was a relief to be going home, but I was still hit with a rush of emotions as we left the hospital, and cried for most of the drive home. I was nervous that I was being let go because they knew how badly I wanted to leave, rather than because I was healthy enough.
At the advice of the nurse, I fed Aurora as much as I could, and had her sit in the sun in her swing to help combat the bilirubin and get it cleared from her system. We went back to the hospital for our appointment at 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon, and found out that she had lost 12.2% of her bodyweight since birth, she was jaundiced, and dehydrated. Needless to say, I was devastated and spent a lot of time crying. The magnesium sulfate that I was on because of the HELLP syndrome had delayed my milk from coming in, causing Aurora to become dehydrated, worsening her jaundice. All I could think was that it was my fault that I couldn’t do enough for her. My being sick had now affected her health. They decided to readmit Aurora to the pediatric ward to spend the night under the lights for her jaundice. They also had us start supplementing with a bit of formula, which we gave her by sneaking a small tube connected to a syringe of formula into her mouth when she was nursing, and I started pumping to stimulate my milk. Lee now needed to help with every feeding. We were so thankful to be given a private room with her, with a place for both Lee and I to sleep. Lee had to run home to grab everything for us to be able to stay overnight, and I stayed with Rora. I had my fifth meltdown of the day when they put her under the lights, but felt better once I realized that she was quite cozy and happy in there. By the time Lee got back, it had been close to 8 hours since I had taken any pain medication, and I could barely handle sitting down.
We worked hard with her feeding and pumping throughout the night, and she did really well. By the next day she had gained a significant amount of weight, and her bili was down. We were discharged Thursday and were thankful to be heading home again. Unfortunately, through all of this my blood pressure had gone up again, and my OB put me on a week of medication, as I was still at risk of seizures. I was now worrying about myself, because I needed to be healthy for Aurora to continue doing well. My milk came in enough that we were able to stop supplementing formula on Thursday morning, and used only breast milk through a syringe to supplement all of her feedings. My mom stayed overnight with us on Thursday, and both my mom and dad on Friday night to help us get sleep in between feedings, as both Lee and I needed to be up in order to feed Rora. One thing I have learned – do not say no to help. There is no shame in admitting that you need it. Having my parents there to snuggle Aurora while we slept was a godsend.
We saw our GP on Friday, and were thrilled that Aurora had gained more weight and was doing really well; my GP was far more concerned with my wellbeing. It was very frustrating that I was not out of the woods yet, but I was relieved and proud that Aurora was doing so well. We were back to the hospital to meet a lactation consultant to review our feeding plan on Saturday, and we were able to stop all supplements during her feedings (meaning more sleep for Lee!). It was so reassuring to hear from the LC that we had done so well to make breastfeeding successful. Everyone at GRH was amazing and so supportive; I will forever be grateful for everything they did for us (I actually cried over how wonderful our care had been).
All things considered, all three of us had a rough week, but we came out of it stronger. I’m so thankful for all of the amazing care we received at GRH, and for everything that our family and friends did to support us. I’m still amazed at what my body has accomplished, although confused that being a healthy 26 year old resulted in HELLP and preeclampsia. Aurora is doing amazing, and even sleeps well for mommy and daddy, and I’m sure I’ll feel even better once I’m given a clean bill of health. Lee has been my rock through all of this; he didn't waiver in being strong for me, despite struggling to see how much pain I was in at the beginning, and how worried he was, and still is about me. He has truly amazed me with how he has been able to take on the role of a father and continue to be such an amazing husband, taking amazing care of both Aurora and I.