Friday, April 17th – 10AM
I remember thinking we were losing her.
With shaking hands, I drummed my fingers on my to-do list at the kitchen table as I listened to the phone ring. At my last prenatal appointment (39 weeks!), my OB had reminded me to keep counting kicks each day. She had tossed the words over her shoulder on the way out the door, unconcerned. Still, I had faithfully counted each morning and evening in the three days since.
But that Friday morning, I noticed I hadn’t felt our baby move much that morning, though usually I woke to her active self kicking around.
I lay still in bed and tried to count. Then I walked to the kitchen and ate a donut (sugar wakes up babies, right?) and tried to count. I walked around the house a bit and tried to count. But I just didn’t feel right. The underlying layer of anxiety was rising.
So I called my doctor’s office, fully expecting that I’d be told to come in so they could listen to the heartbeat for a second before reassuring me all was well and sending me on my merry way. I’d be home by lunch, right?
Instead, my doctor advised me to go to the hospital.
I left the kitchen table and that to-do list to sit on the couch and call Devin to come get me. “It could be nothing,” I told him. “Or it could be everything. And I don’t want to go to the hospital alone only to find out it’s an emergency and you miss it all.”
Whatever all was to be, I didn’t want to be alone. In the twenty minutes it took him to come home to me, I put the already-packed hospital bags by the front door, put up my hair, and put on mascara. With shaking hands.
As we drove to the hospital, I remember passing landmarks and wondering if it would be the last time before our daughter arrived that I saw the donut shop, the grocery store, and the turn into our old apartment complex.
Turns out I was right.
Friday, April 17th – 1PM
“Baby’s fine,” the nurse said, and I breathed for the first time in what felt like forever. Yet, even though her heart rate was healthy, my blood pressure was alarming. The doctor came in and said I had almost earned myself an emergency c-section, but it wasn’t quite that bad.
Instead I earned myself an induction. “I don’t want you to go home now,” the doctor said kindly, “and develop preeclampsia only to come right back here.”
I turned to Devin, “Want to have a baby this weekend?”
They led us to a room and I met our first nurse, Heather. Little did I know I wouldn’t leave that room for days. I asked if I could eat lunch first (remember, I’d only had a donut!) and the doctor said yes, so Devin went to pick me up Chick fil a!
The thing I was the most nervous about childbirth: not being allowed to eat in the hospital. Nurses at our birthing class said not to worry about that; labor is so intense you don’t even notice you’re hungry!
Well, I noticed! So I’m glad I had a filling meal before we got started with the induction process.
I responded well; contractions started soon after we started but I couldn’t feel them. I could totally do this!
Except my blood pressure continued to linger dangerously high. I continued to labor throughout the night; I eventually was feeling contractions and received the epidural in the middle of the night. Yay for epidurals! I took a nap (I know, I know!).
Saturday, April 18th – 7AM
My nap had caused the contractions to stop, which was discouraging. I had woken feeling mildly rested and thrilled today was the day! I just knew we’d have a baby by lunch. Boy was I wrong!
So pitocin began. As the contractions became more intense, I turned a corner and wondered if I could indeed do this. At one point, Devin called the nurse. She came in and took one look at me and started shaking her head. “She should not be feeling this,” she said, starting to mess with cords and buttons. Through the pain, I said, “I’ve had kidney stones. This is exactly what those feel like. But those stop.“
That’s when we realized I’d been punching the epidural button incorrectly. You can’t just daintily tap it; you have to hold it down! I share this with a blush, but maybe it will save some other first-time mama from not losing their epidural relief! The nurse also mentioned I was around 6cm at this point, which apparently is the hardest centimeter (and I did it without meds!). This just cemented in my mind that I did not want to do the rest of this without medication!
Also at this point, my amazing, wonderful, beautiful nurse asked if I wanted another popsicle. “What popsicle? I can have a popsicle?!” I asked.
That was the best strawberry popsicle ever.
Saturday, April 18th – 6:15PM
No baby by lunch. No baby by afternoon. I was beginning to wonder if she’d ever get here!
But when the nurse said I was (finally!) 10cm, time seemed to both stop and speed up. I started pushing at 6:15pm and there were definitely moments when I said aloud to Devin I could no longer do this, but Nurse Madison encouraged me every step of the way. I remember thinking hard labor was both everything I expected (intense! painful! never-ending!) but so different at the same time. It was just Nurse Madison, Devin, and myself in the room … and of course Rosalie making her way into the world!
Her actual birth happened in a split-second. Madison had called the doctor, who interestingly had just had a baby and was pumping down the hall. So Madison at one point told me to stop pushing because the doctor was on her way and this was almost it!
The doctor barely made it. She whizzed into the room, counting the instruments on the rolling cart (13). She turned, someone slipped the gown onto her front, and she caught my baby. A second earlier, Madison said, “Rachelle, open your eyes!” (I must have watched the doctor enter and then closed them on that last push!)
And she was in my arms. She’d come out kicking and mad and warm and they laid her on a towel on my chest for a minute or two. I don’t remember what my first words to her were, but at one point I think I said, “We did it! I’m so glad that’s over! Aren’t you?”
They took her to the bassinet and weighed her: 6lbs even!
Our baby was here, she was a tiny little thing, and she was perfectly healthy.
Saturday, April 18th – 7:30PM
Here comes the interesting part.
The doctor stitched up my second-degree tear, and I said goodbye to Nurse Madison, who had stayed late on her shift so that she could see my baby born. She told me I did great, and I thanked her profusely for her encouragement. I may never see her again, and I’m not sure I’d even recognize her if I met her in the grocery store due to her wearing a mask the whole time, but I’m immensely grateful for her help.
Soon after she left, everything went downhill fast.
The pediatric nurse brought Rosalie to me so that we could begin learning how to breastfeed, and I made it just one minute before I had to ask her to take Rosalie from me because I was hot and nauseated.
She took the baby and Devin brought me a cup, and I started vomiting and passing clots that felt like water balloons. It all seemed very surreal and as if every sense was on heightened alert. The nurses rushed to my side to massage my stomach; my womb was not closing as it should have after birth. The doctor was called; a different one this time because the doctor who delivered me had gone off shift. The first wave passed, and they brought Rosalie to me again to try to feed her.
The same thing happened.
Again and again. For hours.
I now hate strawberry popsicles.
I remember hearing the night nurse, Helen, who I had met the night before and had told me she had 30 years nursing experience, say she’d seen a hemorrhage this bad only one other time in her career.
I zeroed in on that word hemorrhage. My lack of modern medical knowledge combined with my love of history combined, and I honestly thought I was dying. Isn’t hemorrhaging how women have died in childbirth throughout the ages? Isn’t that how often the heroine in my favorite novels become orphans, because their mothers bled out after giving birth to them?
Surrounded by medical staff, vulnerable and exposed in that hospital bed, I remember three thoughts overtaking me:
- I could see Rosalie in her bassinet, all alone because even the pediatric nurse was at my side. I had barely held her, not really met her yet, and I wanted to so badly. I wanted to memorize the curve of her cheek and the color of her eyes and tell her I was proud of her for what a great job she had done being born. I wanted to tell her I loved her and had wanted her so badly for so long, that I couldn’t wait to go on so many adventures together, starting as soon as this was over and I could get out of this bed! And if I never got to go on a single adventure with her or truly hold her or get to know her, I wanted to tell her she was going to be just fine. That her daddy would see to that. He told me once when we were dating that he couldn’t wait to be a daddy. Now the wait was over and she was going to be so, so loved and well taken care of by him, and by my mother and my grandmother who would teach her all she needed to know about being a woman of God.
- I could see Devin at my right side, holding my hand or holding back my hair as I vomited, reassuring me. I remember thinking we’d had so little time to love each other these last five years, and that every single hour of every single day he had cherished me. Would I get to tell him how grateful I was for how well he’d loved me? Would I never get to grow old with him and see how the crow’s feet that appear at the corner of his eyes when he smiles become a permanent part of his face, see the gray hair he already has take over? I thought of all the people he’s lost in his life (his step-dad having died only two months before that night) and told God I thought that would be cruel to take me from him on today of all days, what was supposed to be a joyous day when we welcomed our daughter into our arms.
- After so many hours of bleeding and intervention after intervention by doctors and nurses who are now all a blur, I remember looking up to the fluorescent lighting and praying the shortest, rudest prayer I think I’ve every prayed. Rude because I didn’t say please. I just looked up and told Jesus, “You know I love You and want to meet you face-to-face one day, but I don’t want today to be that day. Heal me.”
And He did.
Not right away, but I did not have to have emergency surgery. After losing 25-30% of my blood supply, the hemorrhage stopped. At 1AM, they wheeled me into postpartum, and we met our new nurses, Sarah, Christa, Zackiya, and Audra. At 4AM I was finally able to nurse my daughter. The next day I received a blood transfusion. And then another.
But three days later we went home and I began the long road to recovery, which isn’t yet over, but she’s here, she’s healthy, we’re doing well.
God is gracious.