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When Baby Comes Too Early – My Journey through Eclampsia, Seizures & Premature Birth - Part 3

               It was the turn of the millennium, December 31, 1999.  I stood by the ironing board with the radio on nearby.  The girls were sound asleep for the night, and my husband was at the hospital because all hands were required on deck.  Equipment had been updated and computer programs revamped, but the world held its collective breath as we waited to see what the midnight clock hands would bring.  I was just entering my third trimester, the sixth month mark coinciding with the New Year, another decade, the turn of the century, a new millennium!  Although it seemed unreal that our world might actually come to a grinding halt as the fear mongers indicated, I was busily trying to catch up with my laundry, “just in case”. 


                As I listened for the countdown and wondered if my husband would be coming home yet that night, my swollen feet protested my persistent use of them.  They had begun expanding earlier in the month, and by Christmas Day, I was sporting quite the puffy face.  My monthly doctor visits showed nothing else unusual, and although something niggled in the back of my mind, I refused to let worry invade my thoughts.  As the clock struck 12:00 and we weren’t plunged into a technical abyss, I eventually headed off to bed.  Rest was a rare commodity with two little ones around, and they weren’t going to sleep in later just because I had to get the ironing done before the New Millennium entered.


                The next days and weeks moved merrily along.  As a Creative Memories consultant, I had my best month of classes lined up.  I was also teaching piano each Monday afternoon, not to mention keeping up with two busy little girls.  My mom would persistently remind me to put my feet up more, reduce my activity, and get more rest, but how I was to achieve that without any help, I really didn’t know.  Sometimes when exhaustion got the better of me, I would set the girls in front of their new Richard Scarry video while I lay down for a nap nearby.  It had rather soft, pleasant background music and kept their attention while I caught a few need winks. 


                My increasing swelling was becoming more and more uncomfortable.  One night as I sat on the steps trying to maneuver around my oversized belly to stuff my fat feet into the lace-up boots, I began to cry from the pain and frustration.  I had to ask my husband to do it for me, and began to wonder how I was going to manage to reach my April 1st due date.  When our first baby had been born a month early, I felt cheated out of that final month.  I felt like I had lost something, like I had missed out on something special, but now I was dreading the 2 plus months ahead.  At this rate, I had no idea how I was going to make it.  Finally, I convinced the doctor to do a pre-eclamptic work-up.  All my blood work came back normal, and a fetal assessment showed no issues.  Our baby was around the 3 pound mark, on target for the gestational age and estimated to be about 8 ½ pounds at term.  That Thursday, I walked away believing everything was fine and assuming that I must just be one of those women who suffers severe swelling in pregnancy.  But if that was the case, then why had it been so much less in the heat of summer with my last baby, I wondered.


                That Sunday, my mom and younger sisters joined us for supper to celebrate my mom’s birthday a few days earlier on January 20th.  She was hesitant to come over for fear that it was too much for me.  She wasn’t convinced that I was okay, but the tests wouldn’t lie, would they?  I told her everything was normal and to stop worrying.  Besides, if something was wrong, the doctor would surely catch it at my next appointment that Tuesday.


                The following day was my usual afternoon of teaching piano.  A persistent headache radiated from the base of my skull and into my shoulders.  I chalked it up to sitting at the piano for so long.  I had been noticing slight vision disturbances when getting out of bed, but thought it was just from sitting up too quickly.  That evening after the girls were in bed, my husband and I settled on our bed to watch a movie, “Black Dog”.  I was a bit of a sissy back then, and when my legs began to shake uncontrollably, I figured it was a result of the suspenseful aspects of the film.  When I fell asleep that night, I had no idea that the next day was going to be anything but normal.  The symptoms were all there, but I had a logical explanation for each one.


                My first realization that something unusual was happening, occurred during the middle of the night.  I could hear voices, and someone was clipping something onto my finger.  “Don’t worry, this won’t hurt.  It’s just going to measure your oxygen levels.”  I recognized Sylvia’s voice.  She worked alongside my husband as a paramedic.  My brain mumbled back at her that I wasn’t stupid, I knew what an oximeter was, but my tongue couldn’t formulate the words.  I felt like I was having a dream where it was necessary that I get somewhere, but I couldn’t open my eyes to see where to go.  My eyelids were heavy, and my body felt strangely non-functional.  The voices faded in and out and the following memories up to the point that I woke up in the hospital wouldn’t return for another week when I came back home and retraced my steps through that night.


                At about quarter to three that morning, my husband had awakened to me doing the funky chicken on the bed next to him.  He immediately kicked into work mode, blocking the emotional connection to the situation.  He placed me in the recovery position and waited to see how I would come out of the seizure.  As it subsided he tried to determine my degree of coherence. 


                “How many children do you have?” 


                “Kids?” I responded.  “I don’t have any kids!”  Of this I have no recollection.  Then as another seizure took over, he knew our worst fears were being realized.  


                Our area had just acquired 911, and although there had already been a 911 fire call, I made history in being the first medical call.  Being colleagues of my husband, the ambulance attendants went cold with dread when our address was given.  Calls in general can be challenging, but when it’s one of your own, it can be downright nerve-racking.  Their arrival is my first recollection of the events that occurred.  As their voices, mingled with my husband’s, invaded my groggy head, I couldn’t comprehend why he had brought people into our room in the middle of the night.  I was so tired.  I just wanted to sleep.  As snippets of conversation and some explanations penetrated my brain, I understood that I did indeed have the same complication that occurred with my first pregnancy.  But even as my mind made sense of the information and could formulate thoughts, I couldn’t relay them to the people around me.  Not only did I have a total lack of energy, my wires seemed to be crossed between thought and speech, and I honestly couldn’t be bothered to try to straighten them out. 


                 My husband had moved the van out of the garage so that the ambulance could back up to it.  However, it was impossible to get the stretcher down to the basement from the back door.  I vaguely remember half walking up the stairs between Sylvia and someone else.  As she would tell it later, they mostly carried me since my body refused to cooperate.  I remember feeling the blast of freezing winter air penetrate my nightgown and the ice cold cement of the garage floor under my feet.  I must have reacted violently because someone quickly reassured me that they would wrap a warm blanket around me as soon as I was on the stretcher.


                 I don’t remember anymore after that until the hospital.  Apparently Richard, the driver, made the 45 minute trip in less than 30.  I was having seizure activity the whole way there.  Sylvia said she kept calling to me to stay with her; she was so scared that I might not make it.  When I hear people express their fear related to my illness, I am hard pressed to comprehend it.  When they say I could have died, it sounds like a gross exaggeration.  To this day I have not experienced an ounce of concern for my wellbeing that night.  I didn’t feel sick, just tired.  I only wanted to sleep.


                After the ambulance left, my husband did his best to pack for me and the girls.  He did quite well, too.  (The only thing he forgot was the camera.)  Then he called my mom and told her to meet me at the hospital.  When he arrived with the kids, she would take them home with her.  They were too young to make sense of what was happening, but the idea of spending a few days at grandma’s sounded fun.  Why they had to go in the middle of the night was a little odd, but they were agreeable little troopers.


                By the time I started to regain consciousness in the hospital, I had several drugs coursing through my veins, and my condition had stabilized.  Bright lights burned through my eyelids as I struggled to open them.  My eyes felt gritty like there was sand in them.  I rubbed them to try and clear my vision and struggled to lift my head.  My mother’s voice broke through the fog.  “Just lie still.  You need to take care of your baby.”  Right, my baby!  What had happened while I was “out”?  Where was my baby?  My brain couldn’t seem to read any physical sensations that would tell me whether or not I was still pregnant.  Had I had a cesarean?  Again the lines between thought and speech got crossed.


               “What baby?” I responded.  I heard the words come out of my mouth and knew they were all wrong, but I didn’t have the capability to correct them.  My mom believes to this day that I actually forgot I was pregnant.  


                A while later I became aware of my husband standing by me.  Mom had left with the girls.  I was going to be transferred to the big city hospital where our first daughter had been born since it was better equipped to deal with my condition.  The medication on board combined with the residual effects of the seizures left me in an altered state of consciousness.  As time progressed, I became more aware of the immediate occurrences, but my memories weren’t well retained.  I recall being prepared for the trip into the city which included getting me on the commode.  My husband knew the guys on this ambulance as well from his days of working in Portage.  He told me that he had to go to the bank, and then he’d meet me in Winnipeg. 


                 I was surprised when my doctor climbed into the ambulance beside me.  Apparently I warranted extra special care.  As we pulled onto the road, he asked me what I had been doing the night before.  He made small talk with me, asking if the movie was good.  I told him it had Randy Travis in it, and he asked why on earth I’d want to watch Randy Travis.  “I like him,” I replied.  I asked the doctor what was going to happen when we got to the city, and he avoided a straight forward reply by saying it would be up to the doctors there.  My memory fades again at this point.  I remember the low murmur of voices and the steady drone of the diesel engine.  Then suddenly, lights flashed through the side window, and I opened my eyes in time to see a lit sign go by.  “We’re in Headingly,” I mumbled.  My doctor looked surprised as he confirmed my observation. 


                My next recollection is of pulling up at the hospital and somebody telling the ambulance attendant to use the buzzer by the door.  It was still quite early in the morning, but I seem to recall the first glimmer of dawn painting the horizon.  It must have been at least 7:00 a.m.  My eyes were again assaulted by bright lights, but I can’t picture the room I was in.  There was quite a bit of activity, but I only remember being addressed once.  That was when a doctor inquired of my thoughts regarding cesarean versus induction.  I informed him that I really would prefer not to have a cesarean, and he said that I was stable enough to consider induction.  I don’t remember my own doctor leaving, but when my husband arrived, the first thing I told him was that it looked like the baby would have to be born that day, but that I didn’t want a cesarean.  I have no recollection of being moved to labour and delivery, but I do remember steroids being administered to stimulate the baby’s lungs for birth.  They did say they would normally like a lot more time for this to be effective, but a couple of hours would have to do. 


                The timeline of my short labour is rather vague.  My induction was started sometime around 10:00 a.m.  I don’t recall exactly which techniques were used or when, but at some point I was again treated to the complete smorgasbord.  Contractions began immediately which was no surprise since by four months I was already having Braxton Hicks that made me catch my breath.  At some point the doctor came in and stated that we needed to pick up the pace.  I couldn’t imagine why since they seemed to be coming awfully fast already.  I’m not sure if this was the point at which the oxytocin was implemented or just significantly increased.  What I do know is that my labour became unbearable, and I again opted for an epidural.  However, this time it didn’t work.  After an hour of waiting to see if it would become more effective, I told them in no uncertain terms that they really needed to do something about it.  Just as they were starting to take me seriously, that magical moment occurred.  A comfortingly familiar sensation washed over me.  I had to push!  This time things happened very quickly.  The team hardly had time to congregate in my birthing room before the doctor caught our little baby.  Relief washed over me and I rolled toward my side.  Then I heard my husband announce excitedly, “It’s a boy!  Honey, we have a boy!”  That’s right, I guess I want to see this, I thought, but by the time I turned back, I only caught a glimpse of his thigh as the doctor handed him over to the resuscitation team.  I heard his small but hearty cry, and I just knew he was going to be okay.  I started to roll over again when the doctor stopped me.  What’s with these people?  I’ve given birth, now can’t I just sleep?  Apparently not!  I had forgotten about the placenta.


                We had a really sweet nurse midwife for our son’s birth.  She was Polish, I believe.  That’s where she had practiced midwifery.  There were no midwives in Manitoba at that time, so she had switched to nursing.  She had a great sense of humour, and my husband hit it off with her right away.  At one point she offered to get him a cup of coffee.  He thought that was great service, but a few minutes later she returned and told him that she hoped he didn’t mind, but all they had for cream was breastmilk.  “All right!” he replied.  If she thought she was going to get a negative reaction from him, she was sorely mistaken.  She had met her match!  After our son was born, the head nurse came in and reamed our nurse out for not getting me to the delivery room for the birth.  “There wasn’t time,” she replied evenly.  Then she turned toward us with her back to her superior and pulled a face.  We struggled not to howl with laughter!  She certainly knew how to diffuse a tense situation.


               I spent the remainder of the day and the following night in the birthing room.  Although my baby was born, my condition required longer one-on-one nursing that wasn’t available on the postpartum floor.  My eyes still felt gritty, apparently a side effect of the magnesium sulfate, and my muscle tone was practically non-existent due to the anti-seizure medication.  When I wanted to freshen up, my husband had to lift me up and hold on to me while he brushed my hair.  I couldn’t even raise my arm. 


                Our baby was taken away for observation.  My husband went to see him and brought back a blurry Polaroid that the staff had taken for me.  The poor little guy was howling from being poked and prodded, but at least his lungs were strong.  He had been forced to adapt to life outside the womb ten weeks earlier than he should have.  But at 3 pounds, 5 ounces, the ultrasound technician had judged his size correctly.  After a couple of hours, when the team was sure that he was remaining stable, they were ready to transfer him to the NICU.  On the way by, they wheeled him into my room, and I was able to see my son for the first time.  He was calm now, but one tiny arm was covered in a full-length splint that secured his IV.  Pads were stuck to his chest to monitor is breathing and heart rate, and an oximeter pad was taped to one foot.  A nurse opened one porthole on the isolette, and my husband held me up as I reached in and touched his scrawny little leg.  He was so small, yet so perfectly formed.  I marvelled at this precious little life and longed to gather him into my arms.  They wouldn’t let me hold him, and with the distance between the women’s and children’s hospitals (a 5-10 minute walk through the tunnels), I wouldn’t see him again for two days. 


                When I was eventually wheeled down to NICU, our tiny son was placed in my arms on a sheepskin to protect his sensitive little body from overstimulation.  We were told only to place a hand on him, and avoid any stroking as he would sense it as painful.  He was so small that I barely sensed his added weight in the sheepskin.  I was just thrilled that he was a fighter – feisty as the nurse described him.  Not once did I doubt that everything was going to be okay.  


                 The days and weeks following my baby’s birth were occupied with pumping my breastmilk and balancing home life and trips to the hospital from our home two hours away.  I remained in the hospital for five days and then was rapidly discharged late one afternoon when my bed became needed for another mother.  Thankfully, we had friends who lived nearby, and they were thrilled to have us bunk with them for the next couple of days.  I underestimated my physical condition, though, and struggled to maintain my balance on the stairs as I headed off to bed long before anyone else was ready.  When we picked up the girls from my parents’ on our way home that Sunday, I assumed that I would just carry on where I’d left off, minus my belly and excessive fluid volume.  My teenage sister came with us to help with the girls since my husband was required to go straight back to work, but when the public health nurse called the next day, I fell apart. 

“I heard you got home and wanted to check on you.  How are you feeling?”  Her caring words were my undoing and I burst into tears.  “I’m coming right over,” she announced. 


                 For next couple of hours, she listened as I finally began the long journey of processing what had happened and what was to come.  She didn’t condemn me for being angry at those whose primary concern was to see me sterilized.  Instead she gently suggested what fear they must have experienced – a fear to which I realized I was unable to relate.  She injected humour when I told her that I hadn’t even torn with this birth.  “Of course not”, she replied.  “You could have just farted him out!”  When I expressed my sorrow of being so far away from my baby, she went back to work and told my husband in no uncertain terms to take me back to the city when he was done work that evening.  We dropped the girls off with my mom again, and for the majority of the next five weeks, they would remain there.  My husband arranged his schedule so that he could work two shifts back-to-back and in turn have two off in a row.  As the assistant administrator in a volunteer ambulance service, he was unable to take off any additional time beyond the day our son’s birth.


                 During those first couple of weeks in NICU, I continued to pump my milk which was in turn fed to my baby through a nasal gastric tube – gavage feeding, they called it.  I got to hold him skin-to-skin and drink in the closeness of his tiny little body.   We were informed that he was the healthiest one in the unit, and thanked God for preserving him as we saw the challenges other babies were facing all around us.  He was moved to the T1 nursery for intermediate care.  While this designation would technically be his home for the remainder of his hospital stay, his physical location would change many times.  First to another floor while the nursery was being renovated, and then to four different rooms to accommodate nurse to baby ratios.  The second last move proved to be the straw that broke that camel’s back. 


                 There were only three babies to each room, and this particular room assignment had lasted the longest.  We had become familiar with the other two families whose babies also shared the room.  Then that morning we bade farewell to the second little roommate who finally headed home.  Our son was alone with his nurse when my husband and I headed down to the cafeteria for lunch.  We were in good spirits because our turn was just around the corner.  Our baby was doing well, and it was anticipated that he, too, would be ready to go home in the next few days.  We exited the elevator on our return to the nursery, and headed down the now very familiar hallway.  As we approached our son’s room, we were met by a closed door.  A note on it informed us that our baby had been moved across the hall.  As we entered our new room, we were greeted by a different nurse.  The layout was a mirror image of our previous accommodations, but was darker from the northern exposure.  Gone was the cheerful sunlight streaming through the window.  As I reached for a thermometer to begin the routine care I had become accustomed to providing to my baby, the nurse’s voice stopped me in my tracks. 


                  “That’s not your baby’s.  His things are over there.”   


                   Two other babies also shared this space.  While ours was in the middle as he had been before, the little items assigned to him had been placed elsewhere.  It seemed like such a minor thing, but suddenly the room began to move.  The nurse questioned whether I was okay.  I said I felt like I was still on the elevator.  My husband led me out into the sunlit hallway to get some air.  I struggled to retain my composure as we realized the degree to which the stress has been unknowingly building.  Weeks of juggling work schedules, being back and forth between home and the hospital with me sometimes remaining on my own, being separated from our daughters, and facing the many unknowns of this journey through prematurity had finally come to a head.  As I think back on it, tears burn behind my eyes, and I wonder how I coped at all.  It is amazing the strength we have when we need it.  We are most certainly grateful for the prayers and support of our many friends and family who came to our aid both physically and financially during that time.  As my husband quietly reassured me and validated my feelings, my stamina returned and we headed back into the room.  The nurse looked relieved to see that the colour in my face was restored.


                  The day finally did come when we buckled our baby into his car seat with extra padding between his legs so he wouldn’t slip out.  He was still less than five pounds at six weeks and two days old.  Gradually I weaned myself off the electric pump that went everywhere with me.  Despite being glad to get back to normal life again, I missed the hospital routine and environment to which I had become so familiar.  It was becoming just a memory like my doctor had promised it would, but I found myself resenting that.  Part of me still wanted to hang on to those days.  I was transitioning into a new normal.  It would take some adjustment, but before long, this, too, would become familiar. 


                 When we picked up the girls at my parents’, family and friends gathered around to greet our precious little bundle, some for the first time.  Then we were headed home!  I was filled with anticipation and apprehension.  My husband had to work that evening.  How would I cope with getting the girls to bed with a tiny new baby in the house?  It turned out to be a charm.  The little guy had an alertness that belied his size.  He sat in his little bouncy seat and watched wide-eyed as the girls and I settled back into routine.  But eventually he began to tire, and quietly drifted into sleep.


                  Sleep, or rather the lack of it, was something else I was going to have to adjust to.  You see, from the time my baby was born, I hadn’t needed to get up during the night.  I pumped enough milk during my waking hours to feed twins or triplets, and thought it unnecessary to disturb my beauty sleep.  However, this little guy had become familiar to the hospital routine as well.  Like clockwork he awoke every three hours.  While I was happy for this during the day, I decided not to wake him at night so he could do his longer stretches then.  It took him several weeks just to stretch his nighttime routine by fifteen minutes. 


                 We were pleasantly surprised at how easily we adjusted to having our baby at home.  He was healthy and thriving.  Aside from more frequent appointments with his pediatrician and physical therapist to assess his progress over his first year of life, we had left the unusual circumstances behind when we walked out of the hospital with him.  By the time he was eighteen months, no one would have guessed that he had been born prematurely.  He is now approaching his thirteenth birthday and is a strapping young lad with no residual effects of his early birth.


                  It is now 13 years since we were facing the uncertainties of a millennial shift and pre-eclampsia was again making its presence known in my life.  It has also been almost a year since I first started writing about my birth experiences.  My intention had certainly been to have them completed in a more timely fashion.  The third part has actually been mostly “penned” for several months, and yet something made me hesitate in sharing it.  I worried that my bluntness may be too strong and cause fear or negativity in the reader.  I considered softening it so that it would be more palatable.  However, I have come to the conclusion that sugar coating it would be a disservice all around.  You see, I am an advocate for natural birth.  That is an inherent part of my work as a doula.  Despite this my ideals were far from played out in my own experiences.  And yet, I can think back on each birth without fear or regret.  In fact, I feel positive and even empowered by them.  Is it because all is well that ends well?  Certainly that is helpful, but a healthy baby and mom on their own do not necessarily predict a positive birth experience.  In turn, a high risk, medicalized scenario does not give the dire prediction of a horrifying, negative experience.  Why?  Because the key to a woman’s satisfaction does not lie so much in whether her birth plan was followed to the letter, but more in the support she received and the way she was treated along the way.  My feelings and preferences were respected by each of my caregivers.  I was never put down or made to feel guilty about my choices.  Even in my altered state of awareness, I was consulted regarding my options. 


                Given the opportunity, would I change anything about my births?  Absolutely!  Does that mean I harbour displeasure in how they panned out?  I can honestly say that my births were highlights in my life.  I would repeat each one even without one possible change.  I believe in the natural, physiological process of birth.  I believe that women are capable of giving birth without medical intervention the majority of the time.  And yet, when those rare circumstances arise that truly warrant their use, I am thankful those options also exist.

When Baby Comes Too Early - Part 2

                Our daughter was twenty months old when I gave birth to our second child.  This pregnancy had gone very differently.  Although I’d had some swelling in my feet, none of my previous complications showed up.  This one was a summer baby, and we spent a lot of family time walking.  I even biked until my growing belly made it too awkward.  We became very familiar with all the streets in our little town, and I believe being so active aided me in having such a healthy pregnancy. 

                Though I’d given birth before, there was one unknown that made me edgy.  That was going into labour.  Having been induced last time, I wasn’t sure what to expect or what would be normal for me.  We now lived 45 minutes from the hospital, and knowing that subsequent babies tend to come more quickly, I was concerned about when to head to the hospital.  I wanted this experience to be different from before.  I wanted to go natural – no pain meds, and I figured it would be easier to achieve since the local hospital didn’t yet offer epidurals.  Just the same, I wasn’t inclined to want to head in too soon, but I also didn’t want to wait too long and have the baby in the car.  As my due date approached, I was surprised that I hadn’t gone into labour yet.  Braxton Hicks were a familiar companion, but none of my tightenings were strong enough to cause action.  My doctor indicated that at my due date we would talk about when to induce.  I was excited to meet my baby, and, by this time, quite willing to go along with the idea.  When I went to my 40-week appointment, I fully expected to go home with an induction date in hand, and was disappointed when the doctor said we’d wait until the following week before moving in that direction.  With no date to focus my attention on, I felt like I was going to go on being pregnant forever.  It was frustrating at the time, but in hindsight, I was very thankful that my doctor wasn’t in a hurry to start things artificially.  As it turned out, my time was just around the corner.

                My due date had landed on our nephew’s first birthday, and two days later, we joined the family for an outdoor barbeque party.  As I was getting ready that morning, I noticed some show that appeared to be my mucus plug.  Stronger than normal contractions began coming every ten minutes and continued that way all day.  I was sure something would come of it, and limited what I ate for fear that it would come back on me during labour.  When evening came with no apparent progress, we decided to stay over at my husband’s parents’ who were only minutes from the hospital.  Surely something would take a turn that night.  We thought we’d see if a walk would help.  Frustration and determination gave me wings as I pushed our daughter’s stroller paces ahead of my long-legged husband.  He wanted me to slow down, but I was not out for a stroll; I was on a mission.  And a successful mission it appeared to be.  By the time we got back to the house, my contractions were more serious and intense.  However, as my activity ceased, so did they.

                The next morning I was irate with my lazy uterus and once again played the taskmaster as we headed out to beat the pavement.  I was awarded with a few mediocre contractions, but nothing more.  It was as if my body was mocking me, telling me that it would bend to my demands only so much.  Ultimately, it was in charge – not me!  I gave in and, since it was the weekend, we spent the day relaxing at my in-laws’ – just in case.  Evening came, but baby didn’t.  We had to head back home, because the weekend was over, and the next day was work.  Before we left I noticed some brighter show again.  I kept this bit of information to myself, not trusting that it could mean anything imminent, and not wanting my mother-in-law to make a big deal about it.  We tucked into bed, resigned to being back at the old grind the next morning.

                In mid-July in southern Manitoba, daylight comes hours before most care to crack their eyelids open.  Such was the case at 5:55 A.M., when an “unusually strong and somewhat painful” contraction forced my eyes to reckon with the sunlight already streaming through our bedroom window.  In my sleepy fog, I managed to note the time before drifting off again.  Fifteen minutes later, another one!  This one got my attention.  I lay there next to my still sleeping husband debating whether or not to trust that this was the real thing.  After another 15-minute interlude, I woke my husband, certain that these contractions meant business.  Although they weren’t that close together yet, we started preparing for the day ahead.  As they come more frequently, I called the hospital to find out when they recommended that I come in due to the distance and this being my second birth.  The nurse didn’t seem to be too concerned, but finally suggested that once the contractions had been 5 minutes apart for an hour we might want to head in.  No sooner had I gotten off the phone and they started coming every 5 minutes.  My husband decided to run into work to get a few things in order for his co-workers (much to his boss’s horror!), and I started getting everything together for the birth.  By the time we were ready, an hour had passed and my contractions were still in a regular 5-minute pattern.  Not in a hurry to actually go to the hospital, we decided to head to my sister-in-law’s (whose son’s birthday party we were at just two days earlier) where our daughter would stay until my sister was off work.  She lived on the way to town, so we’d be closer while killing time.

                The half-hour drive proved to be very frustrating as my contractions became spaced out and irregular.  While they ranged from 5- 12 minutes apart, I began to wonder if this was just another game my body was playing with me.  How could this really be labour?  Weren’t they supposed to get closer together rather than further apart?  Once we arrived at my husband’s sister’s there was no improvement, so I turned to her step machine when I thought the next contraction was taking too long to show up.  This activity would quickly bring one on, and I would move back to the glider rocker and breathe through it.  My labour continued in this fashion for the remainder of the morning.  Then around noon, we decided to head into town to my in-laws’, just minutes from the hospital, while my mother-in-law was home for her lunch break.  I wasn’t sure whether these contractions were doing much of anything, but we figured something was bound to happen eventually.  After lunch, which I didn’t eat, I settled to down to watch TV while my husband fell asleep on the sofa.  If I hadn’t had a contraction when a commercial break came on, I would get up and walk through the house.  I wore a circular path from the living room into the kitchen, through the dining room and entry way back into the living room.  Each time I was rewarded with another contraction, but don’t recall them ever developing a regular pattern. 

                I always enjoyed watching “Columbo” back then, and, wouldn’t you know, it was a double feature that day!  Good!  It looked like I would have time to fill while this labour decided to get down to business.  Little did I realize how much work was actually taking place.  It was a good lesson on how a normal labour doesn’t always follow the textbook and can’t be fit into a box of standards.  At 2:00, as I started into Columbo’s second mystery, something changed.  My contractions were still as sporadic as they had been, but I was now feeling a steady cramping in my lower back and my pelvis.  Annoyed about being unsure of what was really going on, I called the hospital again.  Based on my labour pattern, the nurse didn’t seem to optimistic that it was time to come in, but told me I could if I “really felt I was in labour”.  I decided that I just wanted go in and get checked.  At least then I’d know!  I was feeling irritable and edgy when I sweetly (or so I assumed!) suggested to my husband that I thought “it was time to do something other than sleep”.  He, however, thought I could have relayed the joyful news in a more pleasant way.  Looking back, I realize that it was my progressed stage of labour talking, and we were both perceiving things quite differently!  As we were getting ready to head out the door, the phone rang.  My father-in-law came out of his office to tell me that it was my sister wondering how things were going.  He had told her that nothing much was happening.  I informed him that we were, in fact, headed to the hospital at that very moment.  He seemed genuinely surprised, and I wondered if I had been labouring too quietly.

                While not tiny, the local hospital was a far cry smaller than the big city, multi-block, health centre our oldest child had been born at.  We checked in at the front desk and were told to wait for a nurse to come for us.  The waiting room was part of the main lobby with regular traffic flow and people waiting for their turn to be seen in the emergency room.  Quite uncomfortable by this time and feeling awkward coping with my contractions in front of a curious audience, I stood against the gift shop wall – the most obscure place I could find.  It ticked me off that we couldn’t just walk down to Labour & Delivery since we knew where it was, just down the hall and around the corner, but policies are policies.  So we continued to wait and my discomfort continued to increase.  Then the desk clerk came over, and much to my relief, asked if we were okay with heading down to maternity on our own.  Apparently they only had two nurses on shift, and one was on break.  Since I wasn’t the only labouring woman that day, the other nurse wasn’t free to leave the ward.  I sometimes wonder if the nurse, assuming I wasn’t actively contracting, thought I could wait until her partner returned from lunch.  Perhaps the clerk noticed my discomfort and obvious state of labour and wanted to spare me the spectacle of giving birth on the waiting room floor.  At any rate, I fairly sprinted down the hallway, so eager was I to remove myself from that waiting room fishbowl!

                The nurse greeted us as we came through the doors and directed us to the birthing room.  It was a small simple room with an adjoining door to a very cold, sterile-looking delivery room.  When we had toured the hospital prior to the birth of our oldest daughter, we had been shown a labour room with two beds and only a curtain to divide them.  I was thankful that this new and “improved” room was private, and, BONUS, it contained a birthing bed!  As it would turn out, this piece of luxury equipment became the pivoting point from “overly uncomfortable” to “outright painful”.  The nurse was still obviously not convinced that I was beyond early labour, and I remember feeling annoyed with her for asking questions while I was in the middle of a contraction.  As she told me to change into a gown so she could check my dilation, she warned me not to get too comfortable because they were “going to get me up and walking.”  My irritation only increased.  Didn’t she realize how tired I was?  I had been walking practically all day just to keep my contractions coming.  Now I just wanted it to be over.  I wanted to sleep or at least rest.  I was emotionally done with walking!  I so wish now that I’d had been offered another option such as sitting on a birthing ball where I could have remained out of bed but in a semi-restful position.  But not only were doulas not heard of back then, the only type of inflated ball in the hospital was on the physiotherapy ward.  Who had ever thought of encouraging a pregnant woman to sit on one in labour?  I climbed onto the bed for the examination and was literally relieved when then nurse announced in a state of disbelief that my cervix was 7 cm dilated!  She began rushing around, setting up the equipment for birth and calling the doctor to come over from the Walk-In clinic across town.  Only an hour had passed since I’d given up watching Columbo, and within 30 more minutes I had dilated 2 cm more.  During this time the pain had become more challenging to deal with, and I growled at my husband to “speak for himself” when he commented that this time was so much better than the last birth.  He seemed offended that I wasn’t very agreeable, and I felt hurt that he wasn’t more attentive and sensitive to how I was feeling.  In many ways he was right, but in the transitional phase of labour, I was not sharing his point of view. 

                As we waited for the doctor to arrive, the nurse set me up with a routine IV.  It hurt and felt so restrictive.  The baby was almost here, for crying out loud!  Why would I need one now?  Just in case I needed an intervention or a cesarean, I was told.  Ironically, that sounded sensible to me at the time, although I instinctively knew I wouldn’t require any interventions.  Suddenly a strange, disturbing sensation came over me.  It felt like I was vibrating.  The nurse looked at me oddly when I asked her if there was a vibrator on the bed.  She had no explanation when I explained the buzzing, tingling sensation I as experiencing in my hands and my butt.  Both hands seemed to be in spasm.  Although it wasn’t painful, I couldn’t open them from their involuntary clenched form.  It felt like I was struggling against an invisible power.  I asked my husband to pry open my fingers and press his palms against them to provide relief from the spasms, but my left hand was a tangle of tubes and tape from the IV.

                When the doctor arrived, I was still hanging out at 9 cm dilated.  The minutes ticked by and still no progress.  He kept checking me, and I began to worry that at the last moment my body might be failing me.  I could tell he was unhappy to be sitting there while he had a clinic full of people waiting to see him, but I could do nothing to make my body function more quickly.  Had he been patient and calm, I would likely have birthed my baby within the next half hour, instead, it was about three quarters of an hour later before he decided I was dilated enough to start pushing.  Push?  But I didn’t have the urge.  I didn’t feel like it.  Oh, well, if he says I’m ready, I may as well get this over with, I thought.  With the next contraction, I pushed.  It felt awful!  It wasn’t right.  I didn’t want to do it.  But the doctor seemed in a hurry and I was holding him up, so I did my best to comply what was expected of me.  With each contraction I would push as directed.  It hurt.  It was exhausting, and I hated it!  Where was that urge?  This was supposed to feel good, productive.  It was supposed to be exhilarating.  It was nothing like my previous experience.  As I struggled to reach for the handles on the bed, my doctor joked about me needing to grow my arms longer.  Although I normally appreciate a good sense of humour, this wasn’t the time.  His eyes met my dark glare, and he literally backed away from the foot of the bed.  “I’m sorry,” he apologized.  “You get enough of that from your husband.  I should have known better.”  (Now, I should explain that my husband’s family possess the British sense of humour.  If something causes someone else pain, it is quite hilarious!  My husband had worked with our doctor on more than one occasion.  Couple that with our prenatal visits…need I say more?)

After twenty minutes of pushing, the baby’s head was not moving down.  It became apparent that as I reached for the handles, I ended up sitting on her head.  The nurse asked me if I would like to move into a new position.  Move?  Are you kidding?  Remaining still between contractions hurt.  The thought of moving sounded excruciating!  Next thing I knew, the head of the bed was being lowered.  I didn’t want to lie down.  I knew that wasn’t a good position for the second stage and had been excited that the birthing bed would allow me other options.  Though my mind balked, I was too exhausted to argue.  Now it was impossible to reach both of the handles.  Instinctively, I grabbed the one handle with my left hand and my right leg with the other hand.  This put me into a semi-side lying position.  Pushing was much more effective this way although the urge never really materialized.  A couple of times I felt a hint of it as a contraction peaked, but I longed for it to take over, for my body to direct this discordant orchestra.  It never did.  Not because it wouldn’t, but because it wasn’t given a chance.  I learned a hard lesson about birth that day.  If it doesn’t feel right, something is not right.  If a position is uncomfortable, than change it.  If it doesn’t feel like time, then WAIT!  The nurse warned me that my baby’s face might be bruised from that early part of pushing.  Twenty minutes later, our second daughter emerged into the world.  Her face was beautiful!  The nurse wrapped her in a blanket and handed her to me.  I refused to give her up even when the doctor suggested I should do so in order to focus on delivering the placenta. 

As the doctor repaired my second degree tear, my husband took our little girl’s hand.  Her fingers curled around his one.  She looked so much like him with her hair and skin colouring.  Dark, newborn lanugo covered her body and I remember wondering if the doctor had mistaken her gender.  As she settled in my arms, her howling abated while she eyed her new world with a disgruntled expression.  I was so glad it was over and that she was finally here.  Then I asked what I should do about my prenatal appointment scheduled for the next day.  My doctor assured me that they would take care of it as I obviously wouldn’t require it now!

  I was so glad that I had given birth naturally with no pain medications and minimal interventions.  (IVs, being restricted to bed, and directed pushing are considered intervening in labour – introducing something outside the realm of normal.)  I agreed with my husband, it was better than last time.  At least until I got to the hospital.  Even that wouldn’t have been so bad despite the IV and being restricted to bed.  Knowing that full dilation isn’t a magic number for pushing and not being pressured to push before I was ready would have made a real difference for me.  I’m quite sure that with patience the urge would have kicked in at the right time like it did with my other births.  As it became obvious that my body had endured the brunt of the misdirected pushing fiasco, I was thankful that my baby’s sweet little face hadn’t suffered any of the bruising that the nurse had warned me about.  In comparing my births in the future, I would feel that this experience was my best labour, but my worst birth.  Interestingly, the parts of each birth which I consider the best were all where nature trumped medicine.  Still, I was thrilled!  I had done it on my own!  I had a beautiful, healthy, full-term baby who took to breastfeeding quickly with no lengthy hospital stays.  Transitioning to home was relatively smooth even with both girls under the age of two.  I was happy and healthy and proud of my achievements.  When our son was born very premature two and a half years later, I treasured this birth experience all the more.       

When Baby Comes Too Early – My Journey through Eclampsia, Seizures & Premature Birth - Part 1

                He was baby number three with two sisters at home.  The oldest was also born prematurely by induction due to the same complication – pre-eclampsia.  When I realized that it was happening again, I thought it would be no big deal.  We had been through this before; I could handle it again.  But nothing prepared me for how our son’s birth would forever change the direction of my life.

                I was young when we married – only eighteen.  To much of today’s society, I was barely more than a child myself, but where I grew up in a small southern Manitoba farming community, it wasn’t really such a big deal.  It was a way of life.  Though many girls did pursue further education and a career, quite commonly we married and stayed home to raise families and support our husbands.  Sometimes we might take on a side job here or there or turn a hobby into a little extra “egg money” you might say, but mostly our focus was on being mommy to the little ones God sent our way.  I myself grew up in a family of five which was, oh, moderate, I suppose.  Some of my cousins had seven or eight siblings to their name.  In fact, as one of the oldest of forty grandkids, some of my cousins are younger than my own children.

                Having grown up around pregnancy, babies, and breastfeeding, it was perfectly natural to me to be thinking about having my own babies after not many months of being newlyweds.  So it was, by our first anniversary, that I found myself the proud owner of a very pregnant belly.  The problem was that not only was my midsection obviously enlarged, but my previously thin face and petite hands and feet were puffing up like an allergic reaction.  Boots no longer fit, and snow spilled into my oversized shoes, stinging my mammoth feet with the intense fiery sensation of pins and needles.  Assuming it was only regular pregnancy related swelling, I jauntily waddled into the clinic for my 34 week appointment with not an inkling of what the outcome would be.  Following comments of high blood pressure and ketone levels and questions about any headaches or vision problems, I was allowed a quick detour home to pack a bag before being admitted to the hospital for some tests.  After a transfer to the big city hospital and a week and a half of strict bed rest and an even stricter sodium-free diet, my blood pressure began to stubbornly remain high.  One minute my husband and I were unwittingly enjoying a family visit, and the next the doctor entered to announce that it was time – the baby must be born.  Now suddenly they wanted me to walk the halls as if I had been training for a marathon rather than lounging often uncomfortably in bed for the last ten days.  Later that evening I was moved to “labour & delivery” while the doctors argued between themselves as to whether I should be induced immediately or allowed the night to rest and see if the mild contractions I had developed would amount to something.  The doctor in favour of waiting won out and a fold-down chair was wheeled in for my hubby to make himself comfortable on.  That was hardly how either of us would end up describing the night.  Anxiety over our premature baby’s wellbeing turned my poor husband’s stomach inside out, and our short snatches of sleep where continuously punctuated by the hollering, cursing woman who arrived high on drugs of the recreational type and required a security guard stationed outside her room.

                The following morning, with spontaneous labour nowhere in sight, I was treated to a full-fledged induction – the works.  Contractions were instantaneous and so much harder than the Braxton-Hicks I had lots of experience with.  I found it difficult to catch my breath from the shear unexpected shock of them.  Where was this gradual build-up we had learned about in prenatal classes?  No one had prepared me for the intensity of induced, bedridden labour.  My position changes were limited to lying on one side or the other while attached to tubes and wires belonging to an IV, fetal heart monitor, and a blood pressure cuff set to go off every 15 minutes without regard to whether a contraction was also strangling my midsection at the same time.  Rolling over was extremely awkward and painful, but essential to keep my bones from locking up in spasm from the hard surface of the “luxury” birthing bed.  I subconsciously picked out the stern of a rowboat in the picture on the wall as my focal point and bravely struggled to use my breathing to get a handle on these contractions.  One after another they bowled over me almost knocking the air right out of me as they peaked about every three minutes, but eventually shear willpower aided me in finding my rhythm.  The disrupted night combined with the physical drain of labour rapidly took its toll on my body, and I unbelievably drifted off to sleep as a contraction subsided only to awaken to the sound of my patterned breathing as another contraction crested – my eyes rapidly seeking out the rudderless boat in the picture.  Oh, the irony of it!  That rowboat, beached at the edge of the pond, going nowhere though the water lapped at its bow; my contractions, like waves, crashing more intensely at the hull of the vessel of labour, and yet,  also going nowhere.  Or so it seemed as I again locked onto my focal point and fought to keep my breathing even.

                Three hours passed.  My poor, dear husband was experiencing a labour all his own as his insides continued to battle against his will.  I drew comfort from just knowing he was there beside me even when his hand was too heavy to reach up and hold mine.  My labour was intensifying and exhaustion swept over me.  This was more than I had expected, more than I was prepared for.  I wanted to sit up, move around, change positions.  This hurt more than anything I remembered ever experiencing.  My plans for a med-free birth took wing and I asked about my options for pain management.  They were glad I had asked because my blood pressure was rising.  I felt reassured.  This was the right thing to do.  I chose Demerol.  It worked like a charm!  Oh, the bliss!  I could sleep, only occasionally becoming aware of the slight discomfort of a tightening sensation across my belly.  Three more hours passed, and suddenly a contraction brought me to a rude awakening.  The medication was wearing off and I was no longer prepared to deal with them.  I asked the nurse for another shot of Demerol so I could enjoy a few more hours of bliss, but alas! I was too far dilated.  At nearing six centimeters it was too risky for the baby if it should be born soon after.  My only other option was the dreaded epidural.  We had seen one in a video in prenatal class, and were both certain that no one was sticking a needle in my back!  But the pain won out and I asked my husband if he would be okay with me changing my mind.  If that was what I wanted, he would support my decision, but he couldn’t stay and watch.  His current delicate state couldn’t handle that right now, and he took himself off to the outpatient pharmacy to stock up on his own drugs – Tylenol and Pepto Bismol.  He would make some phone calls to the family while he was at it, he said.

                The hardest part about getting the epidural was enduring the contractions throughout the procedure.  The best part was that I got to sit up.  A sweet young nurse was covering break for my nurse, and she reassured me with her personal experience of using an epidural during her own birth a few months earlier.  I clung to her as I hunched over a pillow on the bedside table placed in front of me, my feet planted on the stool by the side of the bed.  I was so thankful that she was there for me, when someone asked where my husband had disappeared to, I suddenly couldn’t remember.  The epidural took quickly – if 15 minutes seems quick enough – and effectively.  I was again a happy camper although now a little more alert.  I was disappointed when my nurse couldn’t stay and chat, and looking back, I can see how much I could have benefited from a doula had that been an option available to me.  Three more hours passed while I dozed in between much more vigilant observation from the nurses.  Then it happened again.  The contractions caught my attention as the epidural began to wear off.  I mentioned it to my nurse when she looked in on me.  After determining that I was only about 6 centimeters, she headed off to locate another bolus of the euphoric drug.   Then suddenly an unusual sensation gripped me, and I struggled to comprehend the change.  Could it really be?  Another contraction came, and this time the sensation became more of an urge.  I felt myself bare down involuntarily just ever so slightly as the contraction peaked.  It felt good and I wanted to give in to it, but something from prenatal class made me fearful of yielding – the concern that my cervix might not be fully dilated.  I can’t push without the doctor here, I told myself, but as the next contraction crested, I realized that willpower had very little to do with it.  “I think I’m pushing a bit,” I blurted out.  My husband informed the nurse as she started up the new bolus.  It was too early she told us; my cervix wasn’t dilated enough yet.  I would just have to breathe through it.  Each contraction progressively proved that breathing wasn’t going to cut it.  My body was taking over and giving my baby its eviction notice.  Twenty minutes had passed since the nurse had checked me, and she agreed to examine me again since “stranger things have happened”.  I was almost fully dilated!  Just a little lip of cervix left!  She switched off the epidural and had me give a little push.  The remaining cervix gently slipped aside and I was fully dilated!  I no longer felt pain with the contractions.  My little rudderless boat no longer seemed like it was going nowhere.  I had a job to do – push my baby out!  My body moved into full gear and everyone started rushing around.  My husband suddenly came to life, his voice overriding the nurses.  She kept trying to get me to push to the count of ten.  He was in tune with me and started over when I started a new breath at seven. 

                Since our baby was a month early, I wasn’t allowed the privilege of giving birth in my birthing room.  Instead I was prepared for a move to the high tech delivery room down the hall.  At the nurses desk we stopped to swap paperwork or something.  The hallway suddenly seemed like grand central station.  The husbands of other labouring women gawked at me when another contraction hit.  “Can I push?”  I begged the nurse.  Sure, if I wanted to.  Wanted to?!!  Not in front of this audience!  But it wasn’t really a matter of choice!  I pushed!

                It only took a total of forty minutes, and ten hours after that first induced contraction, we were greeting our new baby daughter.  She was perfect, and I glowed as I cuddled her briefly before they whisked her off to the intermediate care nursery.  She spent the night there under observation, and I staggered down in the middle of it to try nursing her.  I don’t remember being very successful, but I do remember the nurse repeatedly scolding me for touching my “dirty” hair after I’d just washed my hands.  I’m surprised that she didn’t make me wear a hair net.  I was in love with my baby and just happy to hold her, but the nurse was impatient to getting her feeding.  Finally I headed back up to my room with plans to try again next time.  Breastfeeding proved to be a bit of a struggle with a sleepy premature infant whose mommy’s labour medication was still on board.  But it never once occurred to me that it wouldn’t work or to give up.  With the help of a dedicated nurse, we were successful and after five days we were headed home to begin our life as a new little family.

VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean)

My name is Sandi van Niekerk and i'm a friend of your sister Wendy. The following is my birthing story.
   In November I was due to give birth but was having consistent false labour. It was my second pregnancy and was very reminiscent of my first. My 1st child a baby boy was born on November 2nd 2008 by c-section after 29 hours labour in the hospital and days of start and stop contractions prior to that. Repeatedly during my labour with my son I was offered a C-section but each time I asked "Is the baby ok?" and each time I was told "Yes" so I continued "trying" . Seemed strange to me that they thought I would opt for major surgery when there was still the chance to deliver naturally. Unfortunately my son's head wasn't quite in the right position , he got stuck or his head began to mould and we had to have surgery. This was not what I wanted ...He was a healthy baby and required no interventions. I briefly saw him and kissed his head and he was taken out of the operating room. My husband went with him with instructions to remain with him at all times. We were fortunate to have a lot of family support at the hospital ...unfortunately my son was passed from one family member to the next all wanting to hold and love him before I had the same opportunity.(I believe that this was over stimulating and confusing for him) In the recovery room my blood pressure dropped and I was not allowed to have my baby. This delayed me having the chance to bond with him and to nurse him when he was rooting and obviously wanting to nurse. By the time I finally held my son he was too tired to nurse and we had a very hard time getting started. In addition to this I had a hemorrhage 12 hours later and was weak and iron deficient.  Thankfully I was persistent and the two of us eventually got breastfeeding figured out! I was able to nurse him until I was 5 months pregnant with our second child !My body couldn't keep up with the demands of nursing a 29 lb healthy active 20 month old and growing a baby!
  I was told with my second pregnancy that I would be given a "trial of labour" but as I went past my due date (November 8th) I was strongly encouraged to pick a date for a repeat section. I had such a horrible experience the first time I was desperate to deliver naturally. This is when I asked for prayer on Face book and I heard from Wendy. I talked to her on Thursday November 11th. She said she had spoken with you and gave me a list of suggestions of things to do to get the baby into a position to deliver naturally! It all was very encouraging and made sense that baby's position wasn't ideal as that was our issue the first time..poor positioning! Unfortunately I didn't have your advice in 2008 !It amazes me however that no medical professional that I spoke with had any alternate suggestions for me! I immediately started to try each and every suggestion you passed on to Wendy so unfortunately I don't know what it was that worked or if it was a combination of everything. I started on the Friday doing exercises, had a chiropractic pelvic adjustment on the Saturday , acupressure , reflexology and walked a couple of miles...Monday November 15th at 4:20 am I started very strong contractions about 5 minutes apart. I got up thinking it was just a repeat of the false labour i'd been having all week but the contractions became more intense and I decided to head for the hospital. My husband and I arrived there shortly after 6am and by the time we checked in and got hooked up to the fetal monitors I was fully dilated and ready to push. At 7:52am I was holding my precious baby girl Alexandria Jessica Susan van Niekerk..She started nursing immediately. A natural birth No interventions no drugs no surgery! I went home at 6:30pm that same day!
  Thank you so much for passing your knowledge on to Wendy so that she could help me!! I truly believe without that information I would've had my second C-section and missed out on the Wonderful experience of delivery and immediately holding my baby girl!