This is my solemn vow to you: I will not tell you anything remotely close to graphic! I had the honor being in the delivery room when my sister had her first son and while it was amazing and life-changing and all of the beautiful things, the aftermath looked a lot like the beaches of Normandy and also served as great birth control for about two years afterwards.
Chad and I had a laminated birth plan in our go bag, which was packed at 31 weeks. About the only function it served was as a great coaster for us as we waited in the hospital with me hooked up to all kinds of machines. On Friday, January 6th, I had an appointment at my OB. We were seeing them twice a week since the beginning of the third trimester. My OB is across the street from the hospital we toured and where we hoped to deliver. That Friday, I saw a doctor I had never seen before who also happened to have twins. Dr. Little looked at my blood pressure reading and the protein count in my urine and advised that we head across the street and “get monitored more closely”. She made it sound like it was going to be just that, monitoring. So, Chad and I go home and get our hospital bags and call my parents to see if they can get Oreo. Oh, did I mention that Friday, January 6, 2017 was supposed to be the night that Charlotte got hit with a snow/ice storm? And that Charlotte has no idea how to handle said snow or ice?
Chad and I go to the maternity floor and they put us in a room and I get hooked up to all the machines and we wait. Truly, at this point in my pregnancy, I was so swollen and huge that walking and getting up out of a bed or chair was both hysterical and super painful. The preeclampsia had added about 25 pounds of water weight from weeks 32-34 and my joints ached all the time. My parents stopped by the hospital to pray with us and my blood pressure spiked (apparently talking and excitement can really affect preeclampsia) and two readings were at dangerous levels so the nurse immediately made them leave and I got a rather forceful shot in my hip to bring down my blood pressure. I was pretty scared at that point.
My favorite OB, Dr. Hobbs, was on call at the hospital and she came in and said that with my blood pressure where it was, she was not comfortable with us going home. She wanted me to stay at least overnight in case we had to emergency deliver. However, the NICU at Novant Huntersville (where I wanted to deliver) was overfilled. It only was equipped to handle 2 babies (TWO???) and there were already 4 in there. So, we had a choice to make. If we chose to stay at that hospital and my blood pressure didn’t regulate, they would have to do an emergency c-section and because I was under 35 weeks, the babies would automatically be transferred about 25 minutes down the road to Novant Presbyterian (Main) hospital and I would recover at a different hospital. Or, I could be transferred via ambulance in a snow storm to the same hospital where they are able to handle over 60 babies in the NICU. Dr. Hobbs sweetly held my hand as I cried and said if it was her sister or herself, she would recommend that we go down south and be where I could see the babies after they delivered. So that was the choice we made.
Of course, that also meant that none of the doctors who had monitored my pregnancy would be involved in our delivery. I would be transferred to an entirely new staff that I didn’t know. I trusted her opinion but it was a big adjustment to make.
We waited 3 hours for the ambulance to come. I couldn’t eat or drink anything in case we had to do an emergency c-section so I was so thirsty and worried about my blood sugar due to my gestational diabetes. I got a (really painful) steroid shot in my thigh that was supposed to help the babies lungs develop more quickly and the goal was to hold out 48 hours so I could get the second one. Chad and I also had a rather emotional confrontation with the nurse who told me that “this was the first hard thing of many that I HAD to do for my babies” and the thing I HAD to do was bring down my blood pressure with preeclampsia.
The ambulance comes, we get to Presbyterian and I get hooked up to a machine that checks my blood pressure every 5 minutes for the next 4 hours and every half hour after that until 8 am. Not the best night. My blood pressure eventually goes back down and we are moved to a room on the special care ward. To make a long story shorter, the next 5 days had a kind of predictability to them. My blood pressure would be elevated but controlled most of the day and then at night, it would start to skyrocket. As would my anxiety. Tuesday and Wednesday night, the doctor was paged to see if we needed to deliver and both times they made the call to wait it out. I had seen the specialist on Monday morning and he said that I “wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.” We scheduled a c-section for January 27th and we hunkered in and prepared to wait.
Chad’s mom got into town on Wednesday the 11th and my parents came to the hospital to see me and perhaps all the interaction or perhaps it was just the course of preeclampsia but Wednesday night, i started to get spots in my vision which was a sign that my blood pressure was way too high. Again, the nurse paged the doctor on call and we were told to wait. I slept a little and woke up panicked as would often happen those last few days. Worried that I couldn’t breathe and if I couldn’t breathe, they weren’t getting enough oxygen. I would turn on hymns and hold Chad’s hand and just pray for God to keep us all safe. I was really scared at this point.
The next morning at 7:45, Vicky, the nurse (not my favorite, by the way), came in and took my breakfast tray before I touched it and said that the specialist had made the decision that they were taking the babies that morning. I’ll never forget our conversation. Chad was downstairs getting his own breakfast so he wasn’t present. Vicky said that the doctors had said “something about a section this morning”. I looked at her and said “A C-SECTION??” I had never heard it called that before and I was more than a little exhausted and groggy. I texted Chad to come up and said “you want to become a daddy today??”
It was 8:10 am and the doctor came in and said that we were scheduled for 10:30. From two weeks to 2 hours notice. The time after that was frantic with activity and monitoring. the babies were hooked up to a machine to make sure their heartbeats stayed the same, people were doing stuff with cheap razors, I was getting shots and blood drawn and signing papers, and begging for a Xanax with everything in me.
Because we were having twins and because I had terrible preeclampsia, we were taken to a standard OR and not the one on the maternity floor. I was wheeled through what seemed like acres of the hospital and put into a room with a staff of nurses who didn’t usually work in the regular OR so they had no idea what they were doing. Neither did we. I was now scared out of my mind. The nurse said that she didn’t think Chad could be in there with me during the procedure and that was not happening so that was the only time I got snippy in the whole hospital stay. (That’s probably a lie.)
At 10:45 they wheel me into a freezing room, put a huge needle in my back for the epidural and then strap my arms down and put a blue sheet up so I mercifully can’t see what’s happening. With twins, each baby has a team that provides their care in the OR. Luke’s team was to my left and Leia’s team was by my feet. I could barely see Luke’s team and I couldn’t see Leia’s at all. I also had a team of 2 anesthesiologists, two doctors, a scrub tech, and probably 4 nurses myself. There were A LOT of people in that room. At one point, I looked at Chad who was by my head and very much not looking at what was going on beyond the screen, if I was completely naked and he answered, “yep!” I was a little too overwhelmed to be embarrassed.
I reacted strangely to all the anesthesia so I was shaking like crazy through all of it.The anesthesiologist asked if I was cold several times but I really couldn’t feel anything. Even my hands and arms were heavy. I watched as they pulled Luke out first, held him so we could see him, and the whole room yelled “Happy birthday!” He let out a tiny cry and I was so relieved. Of course, I was hoping they would bring him up to my chest so I could hold him and see him because that’s how it goes in the movies and that’s what I’ve seen in friends pictures. But Luke was quickly taken to his station on the left and I couldn’t see or hear anything.
Now it was time for baby girl. They are two minutes apart and it felt like we waited two hours for them to shout that second “Happy Birthday!” The doctor later told me that she was a bit nervous that she would have a hard time delivering Leia without complications because she was sitting so high in my ribs. When Luke was born and out, Leia remained wedged in my right rib cage. The next part happened really fast and I don’t quite remember all of it. Chad and I heard a big spray almost like a hose coming on and Chad saw blood splatter on the face of one of the doctors and some nurses. We both heard someone say “we have a rupture!!” and then the family doctor resident was literally on my chest and pushing Leia out of ribs, forcing contractions so she came out. He was later named the “human contractor” by our primary OB. They did not hold Leia up and we did not see her. Well, I saw her as they whisked her up to the NICU in her hospital bed from a distance. I didn’t hear her cry and I didn’t see her face.
The neonatologist on Luke’s team brought him over bundled and capped and “introduced” me to my son. All I remember is seeing his lips and how big they were and thinking, “yes, he’s mine!”. And then Luke was taken to the NICU as well. Chad had to leave and I was taken into post acute care to recover. I was in far too much of a fog to process the fact that I had just given birth to two babies that I hadn’t held or kissed yet.
I didn’t “meet” Luke and Leia until they were over 12 hours old. I saw them in pictures and videos that Chad and his mom would bring back to show me. The pictures above are what my babies looked like in the hours after their birth. No birth plan ever involves those kind of images. I cried a lot on January 12. I cried from fear and joy and pain and exhaustion but mostly tears of a mother who had waited a long time to meet these babies and couldn’t.
As with any c section, there were a lot of things that had to happen before I would be safe to move. The dangling carrot in front of me was if I could do all these things, then I could go down to the NICU and meet my babies. Every single nurse I had said that I should wait until the next morning but I surprised even myself and did whatever I had to in order to go see them. I’ll spare you all the details but apparently I looked at Chad’s mom at some point and said “I’ll never walk again”.
At 11:45 pm, Chad wheeled me down to the NICU. I stretched as far as I could over the sinks and washed my hands for an agonizing three minutes (NICU protocol) sure that I was going to pop open at any minute. They wheeled me to their beds and I sobbed with relief as I saw that neither was needing help breathing and both were in normal beds, doing great. They placed them both on my chest and though it had been maybe the strangest, hardest day of my life, I wept with joy.
Chad and I have a slideshow of baby pictures that runs on our TV when we aren’t watching something. Both babies love to watch “their picture show”. Every now and again, a photo of them from those first few hours will come up. I have thought several times about deleting them out of the rotation. Leia hooked up to a breathing unit to support her lungs in case she needed it is not how I thought their birthday would go. Luke flipped onto his stomach because he was pulling off the leads and with blood on his bed from his IV is not the picture I thought we would frame. Our story has probably always been one where nothing goes according to plan. It’s hard and often defeating for this planner when that happens. But just when I’m ready to hit delete and try to block out those hard memories, a picture will pop up of my babies at one month or four months, smiling and chubby and HAPPY. And I remember the look in my eyes in the pictures of the first time I held them both in my arms that night and it’s one of pain, to be sure, but also one of pure bliss at having the best gift you’ve ever been given literally laid on your chest. THAT is a picture that could never be deleted.