Tuesday, August 23rd at 6am I was awoken by some strong contractions. I turned on my contraction timer app and laid there for a while. I wasn’t expecting much since I’d already been to triage twice for regular contractions and was sent home. Billy woke up about an hour later and asked if I was ok. I said I was, while gritting my teeth through the next contraction. He told me we should get ready to go in to the hospital and I told him no (because I didn’t want to be sent home again). I agreed to at least get in the shower and noticed that I was now bleeding. When I got out, the contractions were really starting to hurt. I sat on my bed and the next one brought tears to my eyes. I agreed to go to the hospital. We woke Hank up, put our bags in the car, and gave Wally a treat. Hank was still pretty sleepy but excited that his brother would be here soon! We stopped to drop Hank off at the Miller’s. I had my eyes closed, breathing through the contraction and heard a tap on the passenger window. It was Tracy who told me “I know you’re scared, but you’ve got this. We love you and you’re going to do great.” She gave me a little half hug through the car window as Billy jumped in the driver’s seat. Somehow he got stuck behind a bus and he still brings up that I yelled at him for driving so slowly.
We arrived at the hospital around 9am and I was only 2 centimeters dilated, which was a huge disappointment. They told me to walk around for an hour and then get rechecked. When I got rechecked, I hadn’t progressed much but my platelets were a little low and I had flat out refused to leave so the nurse told us we were getting admitted. Hooray! We met our nurse Barb who walked us to our room. As the contractions continued, tears were running down my face. Barb asked me if I was planning on an epidural and I said “yes, but not yet.” I wanted to be able to eat and move around and labor in the tub if I wanted to. The next contraction made my knees buckle and she said to me “if you were my daughter, I would tell you to get the epidural.” I told her I was ready for it. It took a while for the anesthesiologist to come in, but once she did, the process was very quick! It didn’t hurt much at all compared to everything else happening. It just required a lot of sitting still. When she was done, I think I told her I loved her about 4 times.
I don’t remember many details of my labor, as that was the least stressful part of my whole experience. At around 6pm, I developed a 103 fever and was placed on antibiotics. A few times, the baby’s heart rate dropped and the nurse had me change positions. Billy and the nurses were putting wet washcloths on me and I asked them why they were putting hot water on me when I was already super-hot. Turns out, it was cold water and my body was just so hot it felt warm to me. I made Billy feed me ice chips like every second I was able to eat them. I was SO HOT. I just wanted water. The epidural was uneven and I felt one side of my body more than the other, so they had to adjust it. The nurse checked me and I was only at a 6. During that check was when my water broke. At around midnight, I started shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. The doctor came in and ordered a stat EKG because my pulse had skyrocketed to 200. They gave me Demerol to try to slow down my heart rate. The EKG was normal besides the tachycardia but then EJ’s heart rate started declining rapidly. He was in trouble and the doctor ordered an emergency C-section. I remembered shaking, signing paperwork while they were running my hospital bed to the operating room. Billy ran to go get scrubbed in, but they never went to go get him…
Everyone was shouting when we got to the OR. I was transferred to the table and prepped. The doctor said “can you feel this?” and poked me with the scalpel. I couldn’t feel it so then, she started the incision. I was silently crying but telling myself not to freak out, but I was alone. The baby was in trouble. I felt a lot of tugging and heard a lot of yelling. A nurse came and put her hands around my head and told me it was going to be okay. At 1:04am I felt them pull the baby out of me and just waited to hear him start crying. There was no crying and I started to panic. I quietly asked “is he ok? Is my baby ok?” Nobody would respond to me. I started yelling “IS HE OK? IS HE ALIVE?” Somebody responded “they’re working on it.” Meanwhile, I start to hemorrhage. There is urgency in the voices operating on me. They need units of blood. My BP is 60/0. I felt myself fading. I was very calm and in my head thought “my baby is dead. I am dying. I am sorry, Billy.” I had 2 blood transfusions and then I was finally stable. I later found out I lost 2 liters of blood (which is half of your blood volume).
I was very sick and throwing up non-stop. Billy was finally able to come in. He said it was like a murder scene and he had to step over puddles and puddles of blood to get to me. Billy told me that they had to intubate EJ but he is alive. Children’s Hospital was sending a team up for them to transfer him because he required cooling to slow organ damage since he didn’t breathe for so long (6 minutes). My doctor was transferring me in an ambulance to the ICU down the street. I told Billy and my sister Amy to go with EJ. I vaguely remember being in the ambulance and telling them that my mom was going to come. I got to the ICU and begged the nurse to let me have water. I think my blood sugars were like 30 or something crazy low. He was surprised I was able to talk to him. He finally let me have water but he took away my cell phone and said I had to rest. My mom finally arrived and then we got a visit from the chaplain. I laughed and said “doesn’t the chaplain only come when you’re dying?” I didn’t know how serious of a situation I was in.
The lactation specialist came in and showed me how to use the breast pump. I was supposed to pump each side for 15-20 minutes every 3 hours. I tried, but zero milk was coming out. She told me to rest ad we’d try again later. After a few hours, I seemed to be stabilizing quite nicely, so they transferred me to the step-down unit. I was so high on pain meds, I told the nurse Nancy that she “had to get ready for the cat competition.” And then told her “oh wait! You don’t have cats, you have chickens!” I passed out pretty quickly after that. I was woken abruptly by the sound of alarms going off and a bunch of nurses in my room. They made me put on an oxygen mask. This next part is a bit of a haze… I sent Billy a text “my lungs are failing. I think they’re going to put me on a respirator. I don’t know what to do.” They thought I had something called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. The last thing I remember is tons of doctors swarming in and pain while they inserted a femoral catheter and performed hemodialysis.
When I woke up I was in the ICU again. The doctors told us that along with my lungs giving out, my kidneys and liver had also failed. My OB Eve showed up and crawled in my hospital bed with me and just held me while we cried together. I asked Eddie to come in and asked him to please help Billy take care of EJ if I didn’t make it. The hospital called Billy and my sister at Children’s and said they needed to get up here quickly to essentially say goodbye to me. The dialysis had saved my life, but I was still extremely ill.
After I stabilized a bit more, I was moved back to the step-down unit. There were tubes and wires everywhere. I had a nasal oxygen cannula in place, a 6 lead EKG, a pulse oximetry monitor on my finger, IVs in both arms, a urine catheter, my epidural still in place, and a large catheter in my femoral artery from the dialysis. I still wasn’t getting any milk when I was pumping and was feeling extremely discouraged about breastfeeding. On top of that, I had my c-section wound and was bleeding from having just had a baby. The nurses encouraged me to get up and walk, which was excruciating, but each time I did it got a little easier. I was in pain, but the pain meds helped. As an unfortunate side effect of the pain meds, I started hearing music. At first, I thought the nurses at the nurse’s station were listening to oldies, but then the nurse told me there was no music… I vividly heard Route 66 in my head. I asked my mom “you don’t hear Uptown Girl?!” Nelly started rapping in the bathroom. When there wasn’t music, it was static (like when you’re in between radio stations). It never went away. The static was always there. The doctors said it was “hospital induced delirium.” I asked my mom if she was sure that I wasn’t in a coma.
Each day was the same. The lab tech came in at 5am and drew blood, chest x-ray around 7am, the nurse came in to do vitals around 8am. The doctors came to round between 9-11am. I texted my family my lab results after I saw the doctor. My sisters, Billy, and my parents were there every day and I had a large stream of friends and other family members visit me; though I was pretty out of it and couldn’t hold a conversation much. After a few days, my white cell count was still elevated and they couldn’t figure out why. I had some unknown infection. They thought I was holding some fluid around my lungs which might be infected, so I had to have a thoracentesis (where they stick a needle through your back, into the sac that holds your lungs to aspirate the fluid). I cried through the whole thing. Not because it was painful, but because I was so emotionally exhausted. I was just wondering what else could go wrong and why this was happening to me. My mom and I waited for the results, and it turns out, during the procedure my actual lung was punctured which is called a pneumothorax. I had to wear oxygen full time after that. Luckily, these things heal on their own most of the time. After the hospitalists consulted with infectious disease, I didn’t have a lung infection. My body was telling the doctors that I had been on too many antibiotics for too long. Once the antibiotics were discontinued, my white cell count went back to normal.
The physical pain I was in was nothing compared to the emotional pain I was feeling. The first time I saw my son was via FaceTime. I smiled, and cried, and ached to hold him in my arms. We tried to FaceTime every day when I was feeling okay. My family sent me countless pictures, but it killed me knowing that everyone else was meeting my baby before I was. My sister Donna took beautiful pictures of him, enlarged them, and hung them on my hospital wall so that I could see him every day. Every time a new hospital worker would come in, they would say “your baby is so beautiful! Is he here?” I’d almost break down crying every time saying “no, he’s at children’s in the NICU. I haven’t even met him yet.” There was one night my mom went home: just once. But that was the night I had a breakdown. I was alone, so sick, and I just wanted my baby. I called my mom hysterical and she talked to the nurse and asked her to give me something for sleep.
The next day, she came and brushed my hair, gave me a sponge bath, and helped me put on a new nightgown and brush my teeth. I put on some lotion that Tracy had made for me, and I felt like a new woman. I made a conscious decision to get better that day. I needed to be better and to be with my baby.
Over the next few days, my kidney and liver counts slowly started returning to normal. I begged the hospitalists each day to let me leave so I could see my baby, but I was way too sick. Each day I got a little stronger. I was able to walk to the chair and visit with my family on the couch. The next day I was able to go to the bathroom by myself. The next day, the nurse told me I could take the EKG off since it had been very stable. It felt good to get rid of some of those wires! Billy had told me EJ was making leaps and bounds, and I was determined as hell to get out of there at the same time he did, so we could go home together. I started walking around all the time to prove I was feeling better. I organized the belongings on my table and put on some of my own clothes.
On August 31st, I took a shower by myself and it was the most heavenly experience in my entire life. I noticed in the shower that my breasts felt very heavy but I just brushed it off. My friend Giulia came to visit me and she did my makeup. Jadey was there, just hanging out with me. When Giulia left, I mentioned to Jadey about my shower and she said “maybe your milk came in!” They had taken the hospital pump since it wasn’t working for me, so we googled how to assemble the manual one. We finally figured it out, and low and behold I was able to pump a few ounces of beautiful, amazing, breastmilk. My body was finally working! We have the funniest picture of her and me at that moment. It’s something I will always treasure.
My sister Amy showed up to be with me and I started doing my breathing exercises to prevent pneumonia. I was sitting up in the chair when I saw Billy walk into my room…. And he was pushing a stroller. I started hyperventilating and bawling my eyes out. HE BROUGHT ME MY BABY! He picked EJ up out of the stroller and placed him in my arms. It was the best feeling I have ever experienced. It was a combination of joy, love, pain, grief, and relief. Everything I had endured over the past week was now worth it. I could barely see through my tears, but I held him so tight and he curled into me. It’s like he knew that he was finally with his mama. My mom came to the hospital and we ordered Chinese take-out and enjoyed our time all together for the first time.
I had begged the doctors to let me leave, but they said I needed to stay one more night. I was disconnected from everything, but one IV remained in my arm just in case. Billy took EJ home for the night, because he was only discharged on the condition that he saw our pediatrician within 24 hours. Jadey stayed with me that night and I barely slept. The next morning, I waited for what felt like forever. Billy and EJ came and waited with me for the hospitalist. Around noon, I finally got the go ahead to go home. The hospitalist said I really should be there a few more days, but if I promised to see the kidney specialist within 48 hours that I could go. When the nurse wheeled me outside, it was like I was seeing the world for the first time. I vividly remember how wonderful the fresh air was!
When I got home, I showered and tried to scrub all of the adhesive and bad memories off. I closely examined my new body with scars and stretch marks: my c-section scar from hip to hip, IV scars in both wrists and both arms, my large femoral catheter scar in my left groin…The scars, stretch marks, and bad memories have all faded; but they are still there. When I got out of the shower, I picked up my tiny baby and laid him on my chest. I put my head on his head and felt his tiny breaths on my chest. Suddenly, the world was alright. Even now when I’m having a hard time, EJ is a constant reminder that no matter how tough things seem; everything is going to be alright.