I was 41 weeks and 4 days when our precious first born baby decided to begin making her arrival. I had gone into “false” labor twice 2 weeks prior for 5 hours and 8 hours each time. I had no idea at the time, but I think it was those two occasions of “false” labor that created a few issues for us. My contractions started in the late morning/ early afternoon and were pretty inconsistent. It was around dinner time that they really started to pick up. I remember sitting on my toilet calling Briana Steltzel and telling her I was *pretty sure that I was in labor and that I would call her again to touch base, because our plan was to birth our baby at the Family Birth Center. I called her five minutes later. I told her I was going to leave the house in a few minutes and be on our way. I think it was close to midnight on a Saturday and my contractions jumped to being almost on top of each other. And so my husband and I drove the 45 minute drive to the birth center with my mom following behind us.
I remember struggling to get out of the car. My contractions were back to back with basically no breaks in between. I was vomiting every few feet. Not glamorous. I remember faintly thinking to myself that I didn’t feel like our baby (we didn’t know if she was a boy or girl) was low enough, she still felt so high up. I had worked as a birth doula for 4 years prior to our pregnancy and so was very familiar with how things typically work in labor. I remember almost crawling to the bathtub, still throwing up everywhere and feeling so bad that I was. I asked Briana to check to see how far I was dilated. Barely anything and she was still high. But why? I was having back to back contractions for almost three hours now. I remember thinking to myself that I could not physically keep this up. At the dilation and station she was at…this could go on for 19 more hours. At first I was worried that she had flipped positions, but Briana said she was still head down. I moved toward the bed out of the bath tub in so much pain. That is when I began to feel like something was not right. I could not explain it, I was in too much pain to talk. But I remember hearing Briana say “your not stuck here, if you need to go in to the hospital, we go”. I said we need to go.
I began making my way with my husband and mom back to the car again. We arrived at Christus there in New Braunfels and the labor and delivery ward felt mostly empty. There were two nurses there helping me and I remember their kindness and gentleness. I had my mom, my husband, and my midwife Briana with me. I was still having contractions back to back and vomiting pretty consistently and still felt so bad about it. They told me they were going to monitor our baby to make sure she was alright. I was actually relieved to hear it, I wanted to know too. They hooked me up and noticed she was having late decelerations in her heart rate. Something wasn’t right. The Dr. came in and told me we were going to have a C-section. At this time, I didn’t care, I wanted to do it. I wanted her to come out quickly. I was nervous that something was wrong with her, but I didn’t know what.
I remember getting to the operating room and being concerned that my husband wasn’t going to be there. They reassured me that he was. The thought of the epidural terrified me, but from former experience as a doula, I did know what to expect with a C section and epidural which I was grateful for. After the epidural a form of physical relief swept over me after close to 5 hours of back to back contractions. Now to meet our baby, but I was still concerned (for obvious reasons). One second at a time. My husband came in the room and shortly after they lifted her up “it’s a girl!”, she was big and COVERED in meconium. Covered is an understatement. It stained her feet and her fingernails. They showed her to me one more time for a few seconds and whisked her off to the NICU in the hospital. Everything was a whirlwind in my mind and heart.
My baby wasn’t with me. For the first time in almost 10 months, she wasn’t near me. Is she ok? What happened? Am I ok? It smells terrible in here. When am I going to see her? Can we do skin to skin? She’s a girl! I’m so happy she’s a girl. Did I do something wrong? Little did I know at the time, but that last question would be an ugly theme in my life for the next several months (even now from time to time).
I was moved out of the OR and into the labor and delivery room where the doctor met us again. He said a lot of things. I couldn’t keep up. My midwife, mom, and husband listened with me. I remember him saying she needed more care that they could not provide at their NICU. She would be life flighted by helicopter to San Antonio to the Children’s Hospital because they had a level 4 NICU. He asked if we would be ok utilizing cooling therapy to essentially save her brain, it was still somewhat new, but the results have been fantastic with very little risk. My husband and I agreed, whatever it took.
What the heck was happening, I was seeing maternal fetal medicine doctors twice a week leading up to delivery, I was having ultrasounds twice a week, everything looked great. They told me she looked perfect. How is this happening? What did I do wrong? I tried so hard. I was so stunned I don’t think I could cry yet.
My husband stayed with our daughter on the flight and into the NICU where she received cooling therapy for 72 hours that likely saved her life. She received so much care. Life was so bleak for that first 3 weeks or so. Doctors never gave us too much hope. But our daughter was so brave and so strong. Who knew you could be so inspired by a tiny human to such an extent?
We were in the NICU with our daughter for 2 months. We learned so much. We learned about ourselves we learned how to be parents for the first time in odd circumstances. But how to do you cope?
I was a doula for 4 years. I had been in ALL kinds of births. Beautiful ones, difficult ones, long ones, ones that go completely the way she didn’t plan. I did not have lofty expectations for our birth. My goal was that it would not be a traumatic experience. This was traumatic. What do you do when some of your worst fears quickly become realities? When doctors say they’re not sure if your baby is going to make it, and if she does she might have severe brain damage. My only answer is cling. You cling tightly to the One that made you the Creator of all. He knows. He understands.
Eleanor Elizabeth is 6 months old as of 3 days ago as I type this. She is perfect in every way. She has no brain damage and her body is completely healthy. She sings and coos and talks (in her own language). She is learning to sit up on her own and eat pureed pumpkin. Our story isn’t necessarily a feel good story… especially in the beginning, but it ends SO beautifully with a precious baby girl and her grateful parents. Thank you Jesus.