Happy Mother’s Day beautiful mama’s! Well hasn’t it just been an age since I last wrote a blog post?! SO much has been going on in my life since giving birth, which I will go into here, that I needed a lot of much-needed me-time to heal and get through it. The beginning of motherhood is no cake walk for anyone, but I dare to say mine has been a tad more difficult than most, so hopefully you’ll forgive me my long sabbatical… Basically everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. Here, at long last and befitting on my first ever Mother’s Day, is my beautiful, harrowing, life-changing (and very long) birth story:
So I’ve written before about my battle with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which ended up totaling the full 9 months (insert screaming face). I lost 15kgs and barely looked pregnant at all, and though I was told all the time about how ‘fantastic’ and ‘skinny’ I looked, for me it was quite the opposite. I yearned to be really big and round and pregnant-looking, which I think I got a small taste of at the 9 month mark, but being so thin was a stark reminder of just how much my body was battling. But, anyway, that long uphill climb I thought would end when my daughter was born. The only cure for HG is birth and I remember as she was pulled from me and had taken her first breath, my first thought – aside from utter, overwhelming joy – was relief: ‘It’s over’. All my sickness was finally done. I had reached the finish line of HG and survived. But oh, how wrong I was…
Let’s back track a little bit shall we? In July last year, when I was 4 months pregnant, Tim and I bought a beautiful new house so my mom could live with us. We didn’t want her alone after her first stroke and we wanted her to share in her granddaughter’s life. We were scheduled to move in just two weeks before I was due to give birth in December, so it was always going to be quite a stressful ride. But when I got to 8 months pregnant, my mom had another stroke. Her first one was on our wedding day, which was harrowing enough, but a second time around when I was so very pregnant was just terrifying. She ended up in rehab again for a month, while Tim and I packed up our house and while I packed up her flat to move in with us, all the while sick and nauseous up to my eyeballs. That was another major challenge, but we did it.
At 9 months, we were all moved in to our gorgeous new home and the end was in sight at last! Despite not being all that big myself, I was still seriously over this whole baby belly and desperate for my little girl to be in my arms. At 38 weeks my scans were normal and my amniotic fluid levels were perfect at 9cm. We waited. A week later, feeling calm and confident, we went for another routine scan and saw a look of concern on our OB’s face. Uh-oh. We were sidelined with the discovery that my amniotic fluid levels were now 2cm. We panicked. Where had 7cm of fluid suddenly gone? My brilliant OB assured us it would be ok – we just needed to do a leak test and then induce labour. Wait, what? Ok, deep breaths. We went for the leak test – no leak. We went to be monitored – baby’s heart rate was fine. I then had a sweep and we were sent home to wait for labour to start. Now, I had been hellbent on an elective caeser since I fell pregnant and then suddenly, about 3 weeks before I was due, I decided to go all natural. I did a HypnoBirthing course, got myself an amazing doula and prepared myself for grueling labour and natural delivery. Well, that’s not quite what happened…
LABOUR AND DELIVERY
That weekend, while my contractions began, we waited and waited for my waters to break. The OB had said that Friday that if by Sunday night nothing had happened, then on Monday morning, my 40 week mark, she would break my waters. So Saturday came and went, as did Sunday. Nothing. On Monday morning we packed the car and off we went to the hospital as planned, my contractions getting bigger and bigger, but still no waters. After rupturing the membranes (Oh my word, OW!), my OB let me labour for 4 hours and it was beautiful. Just a euphoric, empowering, love-filled (and extremely painful) experience. My amazing doula, Catherine, was at my side along with Tim, providing a safe and nurturing space and easing me through the pain. At the 4 hour mark, the OB was getting concerned with the baby’s heart rate – it was way too low and it was getting too dangerous to wait for labour to progress. She said she’d give me one more hour to see if the heart rate stabilised, and after standing at the monitor for only 10 minutes she suddenly changed her mind. “Nope, this doesn’t make me happy”, she said. The baby’s heart rate was 70 between contractions, much too low. “She’s in distress”. Not what any mom in labour wants to hear, so off we went for an emergency c-section.
The c-section went perfectly and as soon as I heard those first shrill cries, Tim (who looked mighty dashing in surgical scrubs, might I add…) and I were both weaping with joy. Our little HG survivor, our perfect little baby girl, Gia Ruby, was born at 12:58pm on her due date, 11 December 2017, at a perfectly healthy 2.85kg, and all our troubles were behind us, right? Wrong.
A TURN FOR THE WORSE
The next day, as I nursed my perfect little angel in the maternity ward, Tim and I blissed out on love and awe for this little miracle, our brand new world came crashing down. The nurses came in concerned; they were worried that Gia was looking far too jaundiced, more than normal, and took her away for photo therapy and blood tests. She stayed under lights overnight and, truth be told, I naively relished the opportunity to sleep, thinking nothing more could possibly go wrong (though I did sneak into the photo therapy ward at around 3am to check on my tiny little sunbather).
Well, the next morning, which was my 31st birthday, I woke up super excited to have her handed back to me and cuddled up with my little dumpling. BEST BIRTHDAY EVER! Wrong. An hour later, she was being taken away again by a team of nurses and the Professor of Pediatrics, this time to the NICU! Panic stations. Her blood tests came back showing dangerously low glucose levels of 1.8 and along with her 70 bpm heart rate, the Prof wanted to have her undergo more tests. Heart, brain, lungs, abdominal tests.. it was ruthless, but no one could figure out what was wrong with my poor baba. On top of her other symptoms, she started vomiting bile almost constantly and was drastically losing weight. Her team of doctors were worried, Tim and I were heartbroken. It was utterly terrifying. With more questions than answers, we were totally, utterly shell shocked.
The NICU in itself is another world. It’s a lifestyle that you cannot comprehend, one that I didn’t even know existed, until we were forced into it. Terrified but resilient parents with their tiny, virtually transparent little baba’s – mostly preemies – and some truly sick little ones, all silently going about their duties all the while giving knowing looks of support and sadness across the ward. The NICU is sad. No amount of fluffy teddies or cheery wall murals will detract from how god-awfully sad that place is. Tim and I couldn’t believe we were part of this new world, just hours after the joy of giving birth, thrust into this harrowing routine of waddling in agony over to the NICU, pumping and delivering milk every 3 hours, kangaroo care and skin-to-skin, changing feeding tubes and switching electronic nodes, managing the wires and monitors while trying to handle your frail, frighteningly thin little baby… it’s a lot. In comparison to the other preemie babies, Gia was born full term and looked like a giant next to them, but she was really, really sick, and we were really, really scared.
Amidst all of this, we kept on getting those ‘CONGRATULATIONS!’ texts, calls, flowers and gifts. It was too much. Everyone wanted to visit and see the brand new bundle, but no one knew what was happening because we were too fraught to tell anyone and it was too overwhelming. We just wanted to be alone. Trying to explain everyday over and over again was too exhausting, so we just didn’t. We had to focus on Gia and try to make it through each day as best we could without completely falling apart, so Tim and I largely ignored everyone and kind of retreated into a little bubble so we could comfort each other through it. We should have told people and let them support us, looking back at it now, but we simply had no shred of energy left to do it at the time.
Anyway, there we were, scared and alone and desperately seeking answers that weren’t coming. My OB, who is by far the best, most nurturing doctor I’ve ever encountered, was at my side every single day, holding me through the tears (and thanks to the 4 day weepiness and that heady cocktail of hormones, there were lots of them). She got me a hospital social worker talk to, a psychiatrist in case I needed one (PND is a very real risk) and my personal therapist came too. I spent most nights wailing in my hospital bed, crying for my baby. My whole body yearned in this ancient way, this pure biological way, for my child. I’ve never longed for anyone or anything quite like this. It hurts just remembering it now.
But anyway, we were getting used to the very regimented routine of the NICU which is run with military precision, but we were still headed for an even bigger obstacle. At the end of that first horrific week, we had to go home without our baby, which is probably the worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my entire life. But we knew we had to be strong for Gia, so we soldiered on through the tears and the crippling terror we felt, praying so damn hard every day that she would get better. We didn’t realise I’d be sick too.
Two days later, I was back in the ER with a high fever. They sent me home after some fluids and told me to rest. The next day my fever was back, so I was admitted the following day for more fluids. Again I was sent home to rest as there was nothing they could do for me. The worst part was that the NICU wouldn’t let me see Gia if I was sick, so I didn’t get to see her for a whole week – sheer torture. Tim went to see her every day, bringing her milk, doing kangaroo care and sending me videos. Then the next week, when I was finally allowed to see my baby girl again, I had woken up on Christmas Day with a very large lump on my abdomen and felt the fever returning. Gia’s nurse took one look at me and said “I’m finding you a doctor”. Being Christmas, my OB was on leave and all the practices were closed. Thank god for that nurse. She saved my life.
The stand-in OB did a scan and, being very concerned and not at all sure what the lump was, immediately admitted me. He got a team together to try find out what was wrong – it looked like a fibroid, or a hematoma, or an abscess, they couldn’t be sure. My infection count was over 400. Normal infection levels are under 5. The doctors were worried my organs were on the brink of failing. Another OB, a general surgeon and a few CT scans and X-Rays later, my infection and fever had only increased. In their combined 80 years experience, they’d never seen a case like mine – also not what anyone wants to hear. A professor of hematology was called in to prescribe some hardcore antibiotics (Vancomycin, Tienam and Tygacil are called ‘last resort drugs’ and they’re no joke). I was booked in for an emergency exploratory surgery on my abdomen on New Year’s Eve, all the while Gia was still in the NICU with her team of doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with her. Now Tim had to go back and forth, morning, noon and night to visit his daughter and his wife in the same hospital. The poor, poor guy.
ANOTHER MAJOR SURGERY
My surgery, which went through my c-section incision, revealed a massive, grapefruit sized fibroid that had become necrotic and burst. Apparently fibroids don’t usually do that. Pus was filling my abdomen and that’s why I’d been having fevers for two straight weeks, and was also suddenly the answer as to why Gia had been sick – we both had severe septicemia. They treated her with antibiotics, removed the fibroid, inserted a drain into my side to remove the rest of the pus, gave me a blood transfusion and sent me to ICU next door to the NICU. The rest of this is a bit of a blur from the meds, but I remember a haze of excruciating pain for a few days. There was some physio, lots more hardcore meds that made me vomit all the time, and just general post-op horrible-ness. I got to see Gia a couple times when they’d wheel me over to her, but I’d end up with my fever spiking again so I stopped seeing her. Eventually my infection went down to 70 and I was discharged. Gia had been in the NICU for a month by this point, and her infection had gone down too, so we were discharged together. My team of 6 doctors told me before I left that there was a point they didn’t think I’d make it. It really was a miracle. And there Gia and I were, being wheeled out of the hospital together, she about to breathe fresh air for the first time and me thinking it was all behind us.
At last we were home! Sick, sore, reeling and exhausted, but home. Except that the next week my fever was back. I was terrified. Again?! I spent another week in hospital on Tygacil, unable to see my now 1 month old baby girl and feeling utterly depressed. I remember one night the nurses had to re-site my IV line again because those hardcore antibiotics burn and harden your veins, and after having the line re-sited every damn day I had just had enough. The nurse struggled to find a vein because I was so dehydrated (Tygacil makes you vomit constantly), and poked me 3 times before finding a good one in my hand. Never mind I am all but petrified of needles, I just couldn’t take it one more second after a collective month chained to a hospital bed during what was meant to be a joy-filled time, and I just balled my eyes out. I called Tim and begged him to take me home, but he reassured me that coming home would mean I’d only be back in hospital again the next week. He was right. My OB, bless her, came to see me twice a day until, finally my infection low enough to manage myself, she let me go home at last.
In all, I’ve been hospitalised 4 times during my pregnancy and 5 times since I gave birth. The next two came a month later when I discovered my crippling abdominal pain was no longer just c-section and post-op pain, but adhesions and micro abscesses that had formed after both surgeries. Now my intestines had collapsed in three places, my right ovary and uterus had fused with my small intestine and I was in horrific pain. More CT scans, more X-rays, more hospital stays. This one, unfortunately, is a life long thing that I’ll have to manage but so far so good.
I’m finally on the mend now, believe it or not. And looking at Gia now, you’d never imagine she was so sick. She smiled early at 3 weeks and has never stopped; she’s lively and bubbly and friendly and smiles at everyone and laughs and squeals and is just the most gorgeous, gregarious little human being with the smooshiest cheeks. All of this, every last second of it, I would do it all again for her. The 9 months of HG followed by 3 months of sickness, I’d do it in a heartbeat just to have her in my arms. She’s literally the best thing that has ever happened to me and I can only wake up every morning and count my blessings that we’re both happy and healthy and alive.
Health is everything. I can’t believe how I took it for granted until it was in jeopardy. I now kiss Gia just one extra time every time, and hug her just that tiny bit tighter, because you never really know just how blessed you are to have your loved ones with you. I now get to focus on loving and raising my strong, resilient little girl with Tim, shaping her into being a force to be reckoned with, a kind, generous, loving and independent young lady who, after already conquering so much, can and will do anything. I love you Gia, thank you for you, thank you for giving me the gift and privilege of motherhood. And thank you to my absolute angel of a husband for staying strong amidst the past 4 months of terror. Tim, you are indescribable. I’m sad to be spending my first Mother’s Day with you away in the US but I feel you with me always. Thank you for being my rock even though you were trembling, for supporting and nurturing our family even when your heart was breaking, for working like an animal to take care of us no matter what chaos is thrown our way, for never complaining after all your sacrifices and for just being your incredibly strong self. You are my life, my everything and my whole heart. Gia has no idea yet how lucky she is to have you as her Daddy, but she will. We love you so, so much.
Please hold your littlies and your loved ones a little bit tighter and please, please take care of yourselves.