Joy. Terror. Uncertainty. Bittersweetness. Despondency. Panic. Anxiety. Fear. Hope.
These are only a few of the emotions that have flowed over me in the last 36 hours. How to begin to explain our journey so far?
On Monday morning, we had our last ultrasound before the scheduled c-section. Baby James had been quieter than normal over the weekend, so I had gone into the hospital on Saturday night for a non-stress test. He passed that with flying colors. I still wasn’t happy with his movement though. The ultrasound on Monday showed that the flow in my cord was increased dramatically from the previous week. My blood sugar had been swinging wildly from low 60s to 200s. James didn’t do his practice breathing on the ultrasound (which by itself was not a huge deal), but this combination of factors made Dr Coulson recommend that we not wait, if our goal remained to see James alive and hold him.
Jim and I were not prepared for the news that we would immediately be heading to the hospital to have James by c-section. I cried on the drive there while we tried to mentally regroup without panicking. I thought I had 3 days left to get ready. I had 4.5 hours, as it turned out.
When we arrived at the hospital, we were informed that the c-section would be at around 4pm. It was 11:30am.
The time passed quickly. Family members arrived. We were lucky enough to be in an L&D room instead of in the surgical prep area, so we were able to have lots of family members present. The time before surgery is a blur. I remember the IV catheter being placed, because it took 3 attempts. 2 by my nurse, and 1 perfect, painless stick by the IV team. They drew blood to make sure I could clot appropriately and check that I wasn’t anemic. They started fluids. I can’t believe as I’m writing this how little I remember about those 4 hours.
Our doula and photographer arrived. Jenna sat with me and helped me work on relaxation – as much as was possible with the constant comings and goings of doctors, nurses, and family. Everyone on my team touched based with us prior to the c-section. I met the nurse anesthetist, who went over what the anesthesia would be like. I met with our PACT team – Dr Furigay and his team members. It turned out rather fortuitously that Dr Coulson was the attending physician that day and did my surgery. So I saw her beforehand again as well.
When they wheeled me into surgery, I think I was crying, but I can’t remember. The team around us was incredibly supportive. They took me into the OR, and Jim was with me. They had me sit on the OR table. Jim held my knee and Dr Coulson held both of my hands and talked me through everything. The spinal anesthesia wasn’t particularly painful or scary. The worst part was the burn of the lidocaine as it was injected. They laid me back pretty quickly, and I started to shake uncontrollably. I had been warned about that sensation with a c-section, but I had it with both of my vaginal births too – with Evaline, I shook uncontrollably during transition, and with Hazel, I shook for about a solid 30 minutes after she was born. This was worse, but it wasn’t terrible.
The feeling of losing sensation in my legs and being totally paralyzed was scary. I did have anxiety about it, especially when I tried to wiggle my toes and couldn’t. Once the c-section started though, my mind turned to my son.
Dr Coulson and Dr Sager were fast, I will definitely say that. I wasn’t even aware really when they started. I was focusing on deep breaths, focusing on my son, and focusing on not allowing myself to have a panic attack. Throughout the procedure, my nurse anesthetist continually checked on my comfort level – both physical and emotional. He encouraged me and told me how great I was doing. Jim and Jenna flanked me and offered physical and verbal support.
In almost no time, I heard Dr Coulson say that they were going to drop the drape so that I could see James. That moment is etched in my memory. He was covered with vernix, and he was very still, with his eyes open. He didn’t look very small to me. He was also very blue. They brought him to me briefly so that I could see him and then took him to the warmer table. Jim went with him, while Jenna stayed with me. I was sobbing at that point. They moved the monitor next to my head so that I could watch them working on him. I remember pleading out loud for him to fight. And then I heard a very weak cry. Shortly afterwards, they brought him to me and laid him on my chest.
I wish I had written this down when it was all fresh, because the details are already hazy in my mind. I know we took pictures and I know that we asked Jenna to go and let everyone know that he was here and holding his own.
I held him until they closed me up. I don’t remember much about being wheeled back to the L&D room at all, other than that my legs were still numb. I remember that everyone gathered around and we sang “Happy Birthday” and ate cake. I couldn’t have anyone; I was still relegated to ice chips only. At some point, they passed an orogastric tube to check to make sure that James’ stomach and esophagus were connected. They wheeled in a large X-ray machine and did it right there. I remember Dr Furigay and others applauding when the tube went into his stomach without difficulty and the X-ray confirmed that everything was connected. The rest of it is very hazy. Family members came and went.
It’s startling how much I’ve already forgotten.
That first night, I refused to sleep in my patient room. James was in the transition room in NICU, and that is where I stayed – camped out in a recliner next to him. The nurses really, really pressured me to go lie down for a few hours. I almost felt like I didn’t have a choice. I was angry at them then, because I didn’t know if James was going to live long, and I didn’t want to be sleeping on a different floor if he didn’t survive. In retrospect, I know they were only trying to help me take care of myself, especially after the c-section.
I managed to sleep for maybe 2 hours in that first 36 hour stretch. I think I had completely convinced myself that we would only have a few hours at most with James, given the stories that I’ve read, and I wasn’t going to fall asleep and miss those precious hours. As the first 36 hours slowly passed though, and he showed us what he is made of, I realized that he wasn’t in imminent danger. He was doing absolutely fantastic – far better than we had hoped he would do.
And that was the first 36 hours. I will try to update more on the past few days, but right now, I am existing in a strange state of semi-reality. Hours and days are flowing into one another without me being totally aware of their passage.
*Acknowledgements to the incredibly talented Bren Dendy for her photography of his birth.*