The birth of each of your children will change your life, but the birth of our fourth and final child — Naomi Jean — dramatically altered our lives in completely unexpected ways. I’ve struggled to articulate each of my children’s birth stories, just because I’ve found each one to be a sacred and singular experience, but this last one has been a particular doozy to put into words.
I’ll do my best.
Going into this last pregnancy, I knew one thing for sure — this had to be my last pregnancy, no matter what. After experiencing back-to-back losses the year before and complications with pregnancies and deliveries before those, I was ready for this particular chapter of my life of conception and pregnancy and giving birth to be shut.
I knew we needed to try just one more time, however, because I have felt strongly for years — years! — that we were supposed to have one more girl in our family.
Matt and I talked extensively about it, particularly after the loss we had just before I got pregnant with Naomi, and both of us felt completely at peace with the decision to try for just one more pregnancy and then be done. I always wondered how I would know when I was done having kids (or if I would ever really “know”), but there was no question…this had to be it.
From the beginning, there were good signs of a healthy pregnancy — more sickness than with my previous losses, high hCG levels, and a strong heartbeat at each ultrasound and doctor’s appointment. No signs at all of any problems, and when we found out at just 16 weeks along that we were indeed having a girl, everything just felt right, like it had unfolded exactly as it was supposed to.
“Uh Oh…My Water Just Broke”
Besides the anxiety about the viability of the current pregnancy that’s common after pregnancy loss, I had two main worries that kept pressing on my mind:
1) The fact that my third baby had been born prematurely and that each of my babies had come earlier than the last, and
2) The fact that my water had broken with my second and that we’d *barely* made it to the hospital before my son was born, and we only lived 20 minutes away or so from the hospital at the time.
With the first worry, I thought we were in the clear after my 32-week appointment, which showed that I hadn’t started dilating at all yet. I had also been encouraged that I’d experienced much more minimal prelabor with this pregnancy than with my last (which had started at just 24 weeks along with my third). Both Matt and I thought we had a really good chance of making it to 37 weeks, maybe even 38.
As for the second worry, this was where my biggest fear perhaps lay, because we no longer live just 20 minutes away from the hospital — we live almost an hour and a half away. Sure, there are two rural hospitals closer to us, but neither has the specialized doctors that I required because of my past complications after delivery, nor the NICU unit that we might be in need of if the baby happened to come early. We’d always planned on me delivering up at the much bigger hospital in the nearest big city, but the drive made me exceedingly nervous, especially if my water broke on its own.
So when I woke up at 3:30 a.m. the morning before my 34-week appointment thinking that I just had an especially full bladder but then felt fluid gushing down my legs as I walked to the bathroom, I just didn’t want to believe it. Not only had I dreaded the idea of my water breaking at home again and having such a long drive to the hospital, but I also had never dreamed of my baby coming so early. I hadn’t even packed a hospital bag.
I yelled out to Matt that my water had just broken and immediately started making phone calls. I first called my mom (who thankfully answered soon after I dialed), and she agreed to immediately drive down, even though she’d been dealing with food poisoning for the past couple days (so sad!). However, because she had a 2+ hour drive to get to us, I knew we’d need to call a backup since we had to get out of the house ASAP. Fortunately, I’d talked to a couple neighbors a couple weeks prior to see if they’d be willing to come over in the middle of the night, and one of them answered her phone the second time I tried and hightailed it over.
Meanwhile, we were trying to throw things together (we forgot soooo many things, including my contacts/glasses!) and ran out the door as soon as my friend showed up.
On the (long) car ride to the hospital, I kept bracing myself for contractions to start coming on faster and stronger, but surprisingly, they didn’t. Matt wanted to speed like crazy to get us there quicker, but I only let him go about five over the whole way just because it didn’t appear that I was in active labor yet.
The Waiting Game
We got to the hospital without incident (and without my labor picking up at all), but I’ll admit, I got a tad annoyed with the receptionist. While I had fluid dripping down my legs (as it had overflowed the pad I’d used), the receptionist was taking her sweet time being chatty and asking me to fill out a million forms. Finally when I got a bit brusque with her about the fact that I needed to be able to get to a bathroom right away to take care of all the fluid everywhere, she seemed to take the hint and found us a room. My first nurse was literally at the very end of her shift and seemed to drop the ball on a few crucial things (though she did at least confirm that it was, in fact, amniotic fluid I was dripping everywhere), but my next nurse was fantastic. She got everything squared away with my IV and blood work and checked my dilation to see that I was only at a 1 and about 60% effaced was all.
They called my doctor in, and since I wasn’t in active labor yet, he told them to give me a steroid shot for the baby’s lungs (you get that in your hip, and it was something I had to have done with my last baby as well) and told me that as close as I was to 34 weeks (I was one day away), they weren’t going to do anything to slow down the labor (but wouldn’t do anything to speed it up either, at least not until the next day). Apparently if your water breaks before 34 weeks but you don’t go into labor, it’s better to hold off on delivering the baby as long as possible in many cases, but as soon as you hit 34 weeks, your risk of infection is greater than the risk of the baby coming that early, so they just induce you if you don’t go into labor on your own. Additionally, 34 weeks is also a super milestone to reach in the pregnancy because it means that your baby has about the same chance of survival as any term or full-term baby, and that there is a very low chance of long-term health or other problems due to prematurity.
That whole day (Thursday), Matt and I just sat in the hospital trying to pass the time by watching shows or by trying to figure out the logistics for the next week or so, since we were told it was absolutely certain our baby would spend time in the NICU (and that she would be taken there immediately after birth).
I barely slept at all Thursday night — I would estimate that I got less than two hours of sleep, easy. My body was too keyed up with adrenaline and knowing that I would be getting induced the next day, plus it’s always hard for me to sleep in the hospital since the nurses are constantly coming in to check blood pressure and such. I was relieved when the morning finally came, and I was given the second steroid shot in the other hip first thing.
Originally we’d been told that I’d be getting induced later in the evening on Friday, but then my doctor changed his mind and told them to give me an epidural and start the pitocin around 1 p.m. The epidural took seemingly forever to place, and I was told it was because the exact places in my back where it needed to be put were surprisingly small considering my height. The epidural also seemed to favor one side over another, but it was bearable. I figured that from past birth experiences (two unmedicated, one with an epidural) that it might take a few hours for me to dilate into active labor, but that once I hit 5 cm or so, it would likely go fairly quickly.
As I was in those first few hours of going from 1 cm to 5 cm, there was a terrifying moment when the nurse had me roll over to my left side so that the epidural could start working better over there. We don’t know exactly what happened, but when I rolled over, both me and the baby started fading downhill fast. I can’t quite describe it, but one moment I was alert and normal, and the next I was fighting to stay conscious and just feeling very, very unwell. The baby’s numbers also plummeted. The nurse almost pushed the emergency button to call in for a c-section, but when she and Matt rolled me back over to the right side again, both mine and the baby’s stats returned to normal within about a minute.
Having had some trauma with all three of my past birth experiences before this, the moment of panic caused an immediate reaction, and I started to just cry and cry. It kind of freaked my nurse out a bit I think, but she was able to talk me through my fears, and I was able to explain to her why I was crying and what I was so scared about. As I’m sure is a fear with most expecting mothers, I was terrified of losing my baby, so just seeing how quickly things could take a turn for the worse shook me up for the next few hours. I was understandably nervous about rolling over to that side ever again, but we finally decided to attempt it again awhile later since I was really starting to be able to feel quite a lot on my left side, and I was definitely in active labor by that point (probably dilated to a 7 or so). Thankfully, I had no further complications or concerns, and when I was finally dilated to a 9 just after 7:00 in the evening, they started packing things up so I could deliver in the operating room, which is standard procedure at that hospital for any babies born so prematurely since it’s right next to the NICU’s delivery room set-up.
By the time we were in the operating room and I had had the plastic cap placed over my head, I could definitely tell it was time to push, even though the epidural was (thankfully) fully working on both sides by this point. (For the record, I’ve gone unmedicated for two of my children’s births, and it’s not the actual delivery of the baby I really want the epidural for — it’s for the delivery of the placenta since my body has had complications every delivery in one way or another).
Once the doctor was set up, he told me to start pushing, and if my memory serves me, I believe I pushed her out in just two pushes. Her cry was weak but she was crying, and I could tell she didn’t have as much of a pink color when they let me hold her for about 60 seconds after birth before whisking her away to get all the preventative and emergency procedures done that the hospital staff routinely performs on any baby born at just 34 weeks.
Since my previous deliveries showed me that my placentas tend to be “sticky” and not want to release readily, the doctor decided to do a D & C procedure after the birth to make sure that we got all the placental material out. As the epidural was still working well, I thankfully only felt some discomfort and pressure, and I was relieved that everything with the birth had gone so well. In fact, of my four deliveries, I’d say this one was actually the one that I felt the most peaceful about, even with that one scary moment early on. And, as with my second and third deliveries, I didn’t have any tearing whatsoever.
Matt went back with the respiratory team to watch the baby, and when Naomi was brought back for me to hold a little more not too much later (maybe ten minutes or so — the doctor was still finishing up the afterbirth stuff), I got a better look at her face. I noticed her little tongue sticking out, and when I looked at her eyes, I had the thought, “She almost looks like she has Down syndrome,” but then I kind of pushed it away because all of the ultrasounds had looked totally normal during pregnancy and there had been no indicators that way.
Matt related that they had only needed to put her on the CPAP machine for a couple of minutes before they took it off because she was doing so well on her own. The hardest thing was actually watching her get an IV put in — Matt said he had to finally leave the room after they’d made six attempts and blown out multiple veins trying to get one in. When they put her back in my arms at that point, she was on room air completely and seemed to be totally healthy…just small is all.
More than anything, I just felt overwhelmed with gratitude that we’d made it to the hospital on time despite my water breaking at home, that everything had gone well with the delivery, and that my last baby was alive and well in my arms.
An Unexpected Surprise
Once I was wheeled out of the OR and into a room, it took a strangely long time for anyone to come in and get me. I was probably in there a couple of hours (at least that’s what it felt like; I can’t quite be sure of the timeline now) just by myself since Matt had followed Naomi into the NICU and I couldn’t go anywhere until the epidural wore off.
When I was finally able to be wheeled in to see Naomi, one of the head doctors met with us to give us an initial report. I could tell that she had “news” to report by her manner, and when she said, “Your daughter does have some markers for Down syndrome,” my heart sank. I wasn’t 100% shocked just because I’d had that thought earlier, but the news took Matt totally by surprise.
As the doctor told us, there are nine physical markers for Down syndrome, and Naomi exhibited only three. She told us that she often felt confident enough upon doing a physical evaluation to give parents a confirmation from that, but that in Naomi’s case, she really didn’t feel confident making a diagnosis until we sent some blood in for genetic testing.
Shock, Acceptance, Peace
Those first 48 hours were a turmoil of emotions. Because we hadn’t gotten a definite diagnosis, I kept looking for signs that she DIDN’T have Down syndrome. The more she opened her eyes (and the less swollen they got), the more I tried to convince myself that she didn’t “look” like she had it, so she must not. The first night after delivery, I was so exhausted from basically not having slept for the two nights before that I was able to fall into several dreamless sleeps (I say several since the nurses were still coming in every few hours to check on me).
The following night, however, we had been kicked out of our regular room by the insurance and luckily were able to get booked into the Ronald McDonald room that was right next to the NICU, and that night was a different story, especially since we’d received news earlier that day that Naomi had congenital heart defects.
That second night I was a mess.
I already had masses of hormones going around in my body, and trying to sleep in a room where there was a huge “Code Blue” button right in front of my face sent me into a panic spiral. I woke up Matt a couple times to tell him I was having a hard time, to confess that I was struggling to bond with Naomi because I felt like I had hardly seen her or gotten to hold her and like I still didn’t know this crucial piece of information about her for sure. I felt totally inadequate, and I also felt like my heart was trying to hold off on letting me bond because I was still terrified I was going to lose her…then of course I felt terrible because I WAS struggling to bond, especially because that hadn’t ever been an issue for me before. Finally when I still couldn’t sleep around two in the morning and could feel a panic attack coming on, I decided to go into the NICU (which was open to parents 24/7) to at least be by the nurses, even though I knew from many past experiences that panic attacks really aren’t dangerous, even though they feel like they are.
The second I walked into the NICU and saw that they’d had to do Naomi’s blood draw for the genetic testing out of her scalp since that was the only way they could get blood out of her and that she had an IV going into her head, I completely and fully lost it. I cried with loud, ugly, panicky sobs as I let all my fears about possibly having a baby with special needs and medical issues just wash over me. I didn’t try to fight the panic attack, and it came on hard and terrifying.
The night nurse assigned to me asked if I needed anything, but then she let me be. I think she could tell I just needed to grieve and feel everything that I’d experienced over the past few days in full force, and feel it in full force I did.
In those soul-searching early hours, I was in a constant conversation with God as I sobbed and felt the anxiety for my future in waves. I felt like I was “wrestling in prayer” with Him, trying to come to terms with His will for our family while admitting to my own deep sense of weakness. And over that series of hours as I waited for the dawn to break, as I went between waves of tears and moments of stillness, I slowly felt a peace and reassurance creep into my heart that everything was exactly as it should be–that Naomi was exactly as she should be–which was something that Matt had said was the exact impression he’d already received soon after our our initial conversation with the doctor.
And I can say with total honesty that from that time on, everything changed for me. For one, that very next day we were able to hold Naomi whenever we wanted, and I discovered that that bond I was so desperately seeking came on in full strength, just as it had with my other children. I discovered that when a nurse referred to her as “the Trisomy 21 baby in #28,” I had already accepted her diagnosis, even though we wouldn’t get the official results back for a few more days. I found that I stopped looking for signs in her face that she didn’t have it and started looking at her as Naomi, as my baby. I knew in my heart that there would be rocky times ahead and hard things to deal with, but I also knew that we were about to experience a joy like we’d never had before, that Matt and I were going to grow so much as parents and partners in this. I was thankful to find Instagram accounts that showed the beauty in Down syndrome (including one started by my college roommate whose daughter also has it), and I found that above all, I felt a rock-solid sense of peace that everything was going to be all right. BETTER than all right.
So when we finally did get the “official results,” both Matt and I had long come to terms with her diagnosis. We both knew already she was perfect just the way she was.
The next six weeks in the NICU will get their own posts, but whenever people would comment to me that I seemed to be handling everything so calmly and so well, I can say that it is all because of that one night when I decided to hand my will over to God and let Him show me the path ahead for our family.
And I can tell you for certain that He is doing just that still, day by day.