This birth story begins in the deepest hours of the night in an Intensive Care Unit three hours from home. We had been called away after dinner, quickly packing our two kids into the car for an unexpected trip, and were now sitting by Mike’s mom’s bedside through the night, watching her life slowly fading, offering her comfort and support, making calls and texts, making tough decisions. Two weeks later, after many tears and countless hours and sleepless nights spent first in the ICU, then in hospice, we said goodbye.
We got the call in the middle of the night and shed our tears. When the light dawned the next day, it felt like a haze. A friend texted. She was going to the store, could she pick anything up for us? Anything to help?
Yes, I replied. But it’s not what you think. Can you get me a pregnancy test?
I’d been feeling off for weeks, but assumed it was just the process of grief. The stomach-turning nausea of watching someone you love in pain. Of knowing that goodbye is imminent. Of enduring sleepless nights.
But then again… ? The question lingered.
On the pretense of taking out the trash I sneaked out the back door and around the side of our house to meet my friend by the side of the road, a small package passing quickly between hands.
Moments later in the bathroom: two pink lines. Here. We. Go.
My hands shook as I delivered the news.
It was like watching a desert rose in the middle of a desert drought bloom right in front of your eyes, the look on my husband’s face. It didn’t erase the tears, but it was a brilliant streak of joy lighting up the darkness.
The pregnancy itself was pretty similar to what I had experienced in the past. The “morning sickness,” which I am now more convinced was actually a mild(er) case of hyperemesis gravidarum, started at 5 weeks almost to the day. I’m not sure if it was just the addition of grief that made it so intense, but I had a much harder time coping with it this time. There were a few weeks that even water was hard to keep down. I tried the new Diclegis drug for the nausea but it made me so tired, I would fall asleep sitting with my kids playing at 10am. I stopped taking it after 2 days, and endured the nausea, which began to subside around 15 weeks (but not before causing me to lose almost 10 pounds- typical for me for the first trimester… don’t worry I more than make up for it later!).
Once the nausea began to subside I got myself on a modified Brewer Diet for a healthy baby and mom, one tailored to me and my personal needs. I also saw a Webster certified chiropractor and a women’s health physical therapist to address some issues with my pelvis including hip pain, pubis symphysis dysfunction (separation of the pubic bones… by the end of my last pregnancy I could barely walk because of the pain from this), and diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles common to many women after pregnancy). I also got back into walking and doing yoga.
By the time I hit my third trimester I was feeling very strong. Stronger than I had ever felt in previous pregnancies, it was a wonderful feeling. And it wasn’t just physical either. Because of the struggles we had faced the previous year as a family, and also because I had faced some difficult experiences in my previous pregnancies, I was also seeing a wonderful counselor to help work through some fears and anxiety, and also put some more emotional tools in my tool box.
I was planning a VBA2C with a wonderful Obstetrician, and that in and of itself was no easy road, especially the closer we got to the end. My OB took the time, though, to sit with me through more than one tearful appointment and gently talk through the risk/benefits of the different things we talked about. My doula also spent countless hours texting and talking me through things, and sat with me through one especially tearful appointment with my OB in which we discussed my birth desires, both for an unmedicated vaginal birth as well as how I wanted a cesarean handled if that became necessary. My doula’s quiet support helped me to have the confidence to find my own voice throughout the process.
One of the things I did differently for myself this pregnancy was to not find out the sex of the baby in advance. I had found out with the other two babies, and this time I wanted to be able to see and discover the sex myself at delivery and announce it to the room (to the world!) This was one piece I would be able to carry with me even into the OR if it became necessary, something I could look forward to as a way to bond with my new baby in any case.
All this work. All this strength. In some ways it made what happened next a shocking surprise. In other ways it was easy to see how all the things I had been working so hard to achieve and integrate were the EXACT things I needed to make it through. As it is, the story came full circle. From the darkness of an ICU watching a loved one slip away, to dawn of a new morning in the NICU watching a loved one come into life…