With the birth of my third baby quickly approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about my first two births. About the things I want to repeat and the things I never want to experience again. And then I realized that, although I will tell them to anyone who even hints at wanting to hear, I’ve never written my birth stories down to share on my blog. And what better day to share this particular birth story than on the second day of Prematurity Awareness Month.
Harper Elizabeth was born on Sunday, December 27th, 2015. I was 34 weeks pregnant. Sam and I were visiting my family in northern Virginia for Christmas (we were living in Harrisonburg, Virginia at the time) and this was going to be our last trip before she was born. I was finally feeling great in my pregnancy. I had stopped vomiting and I was no longer nauseous. My heartburn wasn’t even that bad. But that Saturday, during a post-Christmas family get-together, I remember feeling tired. Not sleepy, but physically fatigued. I spent most of the night with my feet up on the couch. I wasn’t having contractions, nor did I notice anything out of the ordinary. I do remember that my mom kept commenting about how my belly had basically doubled in size overnight and my godmother kept saying, “There’s no way you’re going to make it to February.”
After the last family member went home, my parents, Sam and I all went up to bed. Sam hopped in the shower while I sorted through a bag of baby clothes my sister-in-law had dropped off earlier in the day. I remember that we turned the lights off right around 2am. As I laid down on my side, I felt this weird pain in my lower belly. It felt like I was squishing an internal balloon as I moved. I even said to Sam, “I have this weird pain like a big gas bubble.” As soon as I got into my go-to pregnancy sleep position and finished that sentence, the “balloon” popped and I felt a gush of liquid. I had just used the bathroom so I knew I hadn’t peed on myself, but I also knew it was way too early for my water to be breaking. I ran (waddled quickly) to the bathroom and the liquid kept trickling. I told Sam to get my mom while I called the on-call midwife. I explained that I was out of town and that I thought my water had broken. After asking how far along I was, she told me to go into the emergency room right away.
Cue panic attack.
I remember throwing random things into my purse and freaking out about not having all of the things I had so meticulously prepared for the baby’s arrival. I had drawers full of washed and folded baby clothes, a brand new car seat, swaddle blankets and diapers all at my house…two hours away. I was so frazzled that I wore jeans and Nikes to the hospital. I don’t even think I wore a coat.
We arrived at the emergency room, explained the situation and were whisked to triage to have the fluid (that was still leaking) checked. After confirming that my water had in fact broken, the OB on call told me they would try to stop my labor and I would have to stay in the hospital until the baby was born, days or even weeks later. When he walked out of the room, I looked at Sam and said, “I don’t care what he says, this baby is coming today.” I was familiar with this hospital because I grew up in the town where it’s located, but I only knew one OB who delivered there. He actually delivered all three of my nieces and my cousin. Unbeknownst to me, my mom and Aunt were calling him and his wife trying to get him to come in and take my case. (Remember, it’s 2am two days after Christmas.) Thankfully, he was home and willing to deliver my baby. He called into triage and told the nurses to get me set up in a labor and delivery room and that he would come in in a few hours to check me.
We got set up in my room and sent my parents home to sleep. I was having period-like cramps off and on at this point, but no real contractions so we knew it would be a while. Our original nurse was amazing. She had twin boys who were born early and spent some time in the NICU so she told us a little bit about what to expect. She also said that our baby would have a better stay in the NICU than her boys did because she was an African-American female and statistically they do the best out of all preemies. We smiled and thanked her, but we were both thinking that she was just saying that to make us feel better. Throughout the day though, the nurses and doctors kept saying the same thing. I never actually researched it, but it turned out to be true in our case.
Unfortunately, that wonderful nurse had to leave because her shift ended and our new nurse came in. She was…intense. So intense that, after some antibiotics (or maybe it was labor nerves?) upset my stomach and I had to use the bathroom (sorry if that’s TMI, but this is a birth story), she kept knocking and trying to come into the bathroom with me because she thought I was pushing the baby out on the toilet. In her defense, pooping (or feeling like you have to poop) is typically a sign that the baby is coming, but I was definitely not there yet. She was also super intense about monitoring the baby’s heart rate. If the baby moved an inch, which happened often as you can imagine, she would come over and dig the monitor into my belly trying to find the heartbeat again, stressing us all out in the process. She also traumatized Sam and I both by jamming my catheter in before I was numb. I won’t go into the details, but it was truthfully the worst part of my entire birth. Needless to say, she wasn’t our favorite nurse.
Around 7 or 8am, I told Sam to take a nap just before the OB came in and checked me. I think I was at 2 centimeters at that point. My OB invited the NICU doctor into the room to explain what to expect with a preemie. Let me pause here and tell you that I’m a researcher by nature. I had read everything I could find on pregnancy and childbirth. I had listened to podcasts and interviewed my friends, but somehow I had completely skipped the chapters on premature birth. I truly had no idea what was going on. The doctors explained that she would be small, that she may have trouble breathing and/or regulating her temperature. They told me some other scary things, but I think I blocked them out of my memory. They also said she would have to stay in the NICU for a while, but they couldn’t tell me how long “a while” was or even what needed to happen in order for her to get out. Until that moment, aside from the short panic attack I had on the way to the hospital, I had been very calm about this whole thing, but this is when I started to get scared. What if my baby can’t breathe on her own? What if she has other health problems? Why is she coming so early?
Just as I was starting to get worked up, a nurse knocked on the door and said, “Ms. Green (I still hadn’t changed my name to Everett then – oops!), there’s a Pastor Brett Fuller here to see you. Can he come in?” Pastor Brett is more than just my pastor. He’s one of my dad’s best friends and has been an “uncle” to me my entire life. He was at the hospital on the day I was born. So naturally, as soon as he walked into the room, I burst into tears. I tried to explain everything the doctors had just told me through my sobs, waking Sam up in the process. Poor Sam! He tried to take a quick nap and woke up to his wife crying and the pastor getting ready to pray! He didn’t know what to think. He groggily walked over to the bed and Pastor Brett prayed for us, for the baby and for a safe delivery. I remember him specifically praying against the fear that had started to overtake me and I immediately felt it leave. He couldn’t stay long because he had to get to church, but I felt calm after his visit. A little while later, another couple from our church stopped by as well. They prayed with us and the husband, who I had also known my entire life, said to me, “I feel like God is saying that she’s ready and this is just how she wants to come. This is just a preview of her personality.” That thought was equally comforting and unnerving, but it confirmed the fact that we didn’t need to be afraid. God was in control.
Check back on Monday for part II of Harper’s birth story. Until then, share your birth story in the comments or on the Everett & Elizabeth Facebook page!