Thursday, January 9, 2014

"Hesitating Sharing of the Joy"...or "The Fragility of Life"...or "How I Almost Died Giving Birth": Not Your Typical Birth Story

I almost died giving birth to my daughter Gabrielle on December 16th.  

There, now I've said it.

When my other daughters were born, I shared every detail.  I am a compulsive "over-sharer" on Facebook.  I have had this blog (and mostly written regularly) since 2009.  I am not one to keep my mouth shut (or, I guess it'd be keep my computer keys clickless or something).

But I have been very reluctant to talk about that day despite people asking (and being a bit bewildered by my recalcitrance, I suspect) because frankly I have never been more scared in my life.  Also, it feels wrong to talk about a day of such great joy as being terrible and scary.

Virtually all new mothers have that "first pic", the one where they are holding their baby for the first time.  I have one, too.  

The difference is that Gabrielle had been born some time before this picture was actually taken.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that my husband captured this moment--the first one of my newborn and I--just after her second bath.

I've been struggling with how to write this piece, grappling with whether I should do a play-by-play of Gab's birth or just focus on the strange and intense feelings the extremes of that day brought forward in me, which is of course the philosophical bend that I try to find in everything that happens.

Forgive me if I go too far one way or the other ...

My water broke around 2:30 a.m., and we headed to the hospital pretty quickly as it was almost an hour away and we already knew that I would need to have IV antibiotics during delivery.

The doctor decided to start pitocin right away because I was only 2 centimeters dilated.  I was very upfront about wanting an epidural as soon as possible; this was my third go-round with childbirth, after all, and I saw no reason to suffer agonizing pain needlessly.

The epidural started off okay, with the cold wash, the burning lidocaine, and the need to stay completely still. However, it started to hurt as the anesthesiologist moved the needle then the catheter around. A lot! She seemed to think I was being something of a drama queen as I got lectured on the difference between pain and pressure. I didn't care as long as the contractions stopped hurting.

All of a sudden, my bottom felt ridiculously hot, I couldn't move my feet, and my blood pressure started dropping. The anesthesiologist seemed to think I wasn't trying hard enough to move my feet at first, but I was too scared to be angry as my blood pressure continued to plummet...and Gabrielle's started to follow. I got dizzy and faint and started throwing up with an oxygen mask hooked onto my was terrible.

The scariest part was that the nurses, the anesthesiologist, and my OB were clearly alarmed. I later learned, of course, that my blood pressure had dropped dangerously, had nearly disappeared for a moment or three, that I'm very lucky that ephedrine exists.  

They restarted the pitocin, and I was very quickly in agony.  If you've ever given birth, you know what "it's time to start pushing pain" feels like, and that's what I was feeling.  When the OB checked and I was only at 4 centimeters, I knew something was going on.  4 centimeters just didn't mesh with the frequency and intensity of my contractions, so she did a quick ultrasound. Turns out Gabrielle was facing outward (called "sunny side up" on birth boards), which explained the pain and the lack of quick progress.  (Not to put too fine a point on it, but the back of a head slides down the birth canal a lot more smoothly than a face)

I was kind of at the end of my rope (okay, I was about to scream in pain, with tons of dilating still ahead of me), so the OB said the only option for pain management was reattempting the epidural. Because of the epidural/blood pressure debacle, they did not want to give me narcotic pain medicine.  

The cause of the drama with the first epidural attempt was a bolus, and I was assured that it was incredibly rare and the odds of it happening again were astronomical.  In other words, there's no way I'd have another screwy reaction to an epidural.

Until it happened again...same dizziness, same blood pressure drop, same vomiting into the oxygen, and same fear.

When the OB reluctantly said a C-section was becoming increasingly likely, I was glad. I just wanted it over and the pain and fear to be gone.

This was my first C-section after having two pretty much uneventful vaginal births with my other two daughters. It was scary, to say the least. I was still freaking out over the two epidural attempts, and trusting that there would be no to minimal pain was hard to believe considering the way everything seemed to be going wrong.

They started the C-section, and my husband sat next to me and was very reassuring. I was dizzy and dozy from the medicine, and then my blood pressure dropped yet again and I had yet another round of puking into the oxygen mask.

It was only then that they realized that Gabrielle's shoulder was tightly lodged in my pelvic bone.  They could not get her out for awhile, and finally they had to get very aggressive.  As a result, my uterine wall tore and the OB had to call for backup and order blood for a transfusion...and everyone was very scared again, which of course freaked me out all over again.  I lost a lot of blood, and there was some concern that parts of my urinary system had been damaged.
Once Gabrielle was delivered, she was perfectly fine.  I heard her cry, and I wanted to see her more than anything, but they took her away while they tried to figure out how to solve the problem of me.  They called my husband over and gave Gabrielle to him.  He cut the cord, and they were ushered into a small room where they got to bond and hang out while my blood loss was figured out and remedied and I was stitched up.
It was only later that it occurred to me how serious the situation was as they literally left my husband alone with a newborn baby for an extended period of time.

This was over three weeks ago, and here is my beautiful baby next to me as I write this.

Trying to reconcile this beautiful miracle with the abject terror of that day is just ... well, difficult.  I feel like I should just forget it, get over it, say, "Well, that was interesting, guess she's going to be the kind of kid that keeps me on my toes", but I'm finding that it's not that easy.  

There is absolutely no connection between Gabrielle Rose, my surprise miracle baby, and the terrible events of that day.  But the events are still in my mind.  I have nightmares pretty much every night.  They just aren't connected to the baby.

Which I realize is a very good thing. 

What I can't figure out is where that space is.  Forgive me, I am having a very hard time articulating this, even to myself.  Basically, those hours of labor culminating in the C-section are lost in the Twilight Zone or something.  As soon as it was over, as soon as Gabrielle was okay and then I was okay, the fact that I almost died, almost disappeared from this world, could easily have left my other two daughters motherless ... it is just gone.  Except it's not.

I have these pics of my husband and older daughters with the baby.  We are all very happy.  It's a joyous occasion.  (And I am being 100% serious and non-sarcastic).

 Is it just that I have a better understanding of the fragility of life now?  Am I just struggling to get over an experience that was traumatic and suffering guilt because who wants to say, "The day my daughter was born was one of the scariest days of my life"?  

You see, the bottom line is that I was forced to gain a sudden awareness of how often that "almost" happens.  I think about my oldest daughter driving home from work late at night and just missing a tragic encounter with a drunk driver, my sweet 9-year-old getting into a car with a murderer, my husband getting attacked while walking downtown, and the zillions of other potential disasters the people I love encounter on a daily basis.

It's a scary world we live in, on so very many levels.

But I am so very, very fortunate to have this <3 div="">


  1. I didn't want to ever have kids before and this just about clinches it. On another note, I'm so glad that you and Gabrielle are okay!

  2. OMG I'M SO GLAD YOU'RE BOTH OKAY!!! It's such a fragile balance, this thing between living and dying. You don't even know you're leaning across the line sometimes, until after you're back on the living side of it. I've never had a kid, but this wouldn't stop me from having one. I've seen too much (albeit mostly equine) to not understand how precarious the wonderful thing called birth can me. Also, I was breach and transverse... us sunny side up girls are a wild bunch :)

  3. Oh my gosh, I am so glad you both are okay! I had no idea you went through all of that, and I am so sorry it happened like that to you. I really am glad to hear that you are okay now, you are such a strong woman and mother. And your daughter is beautiful. <3 Also, I thought that was really well written, you have nothing to worry about you are an amazing writer Katie, and it was very brave of you to share your experience with everyone.

  4. So glad you are alright! Birth can be a traumatic experience! You have so little control over what happens. I had a scary birth with my son, it was not quite the scale of what you experienced, but it still is scary to think back on for me. I don't think I will ever forget it. They say you forget how awful birth pains are but I still remember his birth clearly. It makes me treasure him more in a way though. She is beautiful by the way.

  5. Maybe you should think of it as the day she was born was the day your whole world was born again as well. :)

    So glad you're both okay... she's beautiful!

  6. That is one scary story, and the kind that many people think doesn't happen in our modern world. It also explains the doctor visits. The good parts are the medical care you had, your hubby being able to care for the baby, and two older girls who obviously dote on their sister.

    We all face our mortality at some point in our lives, sometimes more than once. It's how we react that defines who we are. You'll be around for a long time judging by your reaction.


Are Minorities Discouraged from Taking Upper-Level Classes?: The Elephant in the Room

As a public school teacher for sixteen years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen Standards come and go (and despite the brou...