When I wrote my 37 week post I did not expect it to be my last bump day blog post before our baby was born. I expected to have three more posts! As I wrote in that last post, in some ways Eric and I were very ready for the baby to arrive as we neared the end of the pregnancy, but we also had so much to do in order to feel ready to leave work and bring our baby home.
Clearly, my body and this baby had other plans for us.
That weekend, I had packed hospital bags for myself and the baby. We worked on some things around the house and made the list of last minute items to be done if the baby arrived earlier than we expected, such as buying diapers, setting up the changing table, and installing car seats.
As I left for work on Monday, February 11th, I paused before walking out the door, contemplating whether I should put my hospital bag in the car. I decided I didn’t need to run back upstairs to get it and that instead I would put it in the car before heading to my 37-week doctor visit following day. (Haha! In hindsight, many of my thoughts that day about how much time I had left are pretty funny.)
When I arrived at work and went to the bathroom I noticed a small spot of fluid. It stuck out to me, as the week prior my medical provider had explained that it was possible to have a small leak of amniotic fluid. Over the weekend I had received test results indicating that I was Group B Strep positive. This is a routine test given during all pregnancies, and women who test positive are given antibiotics during labor to decrease the likelihood of the baby developing an infection. As far as I understand, the chance of infection passing to the baby is higher if your water is broken for a longer period of time. So an hour later, when I noticed another small wet spot, I wondered whether I might be leaking amniotic fluid and began to contemplate calling my doctor’s office.
By 2pm I had not observed any additional concerning symptoms, but I could not shake the worry that if I was leaking fluid the baby could get some sort of infection. Frightening visions of again hearing the words “I am sorry. I am not finding a heartbeat,” at my appointment the next day began to creep into my mind.
I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t call and something bad happened to our baby.
So I called, thinking maybe they would reassure me and would take a closer look at my appointment the next morning. Instead, they instructed me to head to Labor and Delivery. When I expressed that I might just be overly worried, the nurse reassured me that it was better to be confident all was fine.
At 3:15pm I left work, telling my coworkers that I was sure I would see them the next day. I called Eric on my way. He answered surprised, knowing that something was up. He was still at work but decided he would head home, let the dog out, get my bag and the remaining items on the hospital list I had written out the night before, and pack some things up for himself.
This plan made sense to me, but I was also sure that by the time he did all of those things and got to the hospital I would be on my way home. Eric, on the other hand, was confident that I wouldn’t be coming home that night.
I got to the hospital, parked, and headed towards Labor and Delivery. By now this area of the hospital felt very familiar to me. When I checked in with the nurses, I asked what room they were putting me in, explaining that I had had a prior stillbirth and would prefer not to be in room 10. To my relief, they confirmed that I would not be in Danny’s room. As the nurse took me to my room and told me to change into the hospital gown, I again told her that I thought I may just be extra worried. She agreed that it made sense, that I wouldn’t want to be Group B Strep positive and leaking fluid without knowing it for a few weeks.
I changed into the gown and got in the bed, writing baby shower thank you notes while waiting for the resident. When he came in he asked whether I was feeling any of the contractions they were observing on the monitor. I was not. He then did a swab to test for amniotic fluid, which came back negative. An ultrasound to check fluid levels showed that while there was plenty of fluid around the baby, technically I was not passing the rules of ultrasound. There were not large enough pockets of fluid without umbilical cord in them. He also commented that the baby looked quite low. He decided to do a pelvic exam.
To my utter shock, the doctor informed me that I was 3.5 cm dilated and 50% effaced!
His recommendation was to induce labor that evening. I could not believe it. I had been certain that I had at least another week of pregnancy, maybe even three weeks. Later the doctor informed me that my amniotic fluid index had decreased from a 15 at my appointment the week prior to a 4. Although I lack the medical background to know exactly what this means, when I heard this I was confident that they were making the right decision for my care and for our baby’s safety.
It was clear that with my history of losses, no one was going to take any risks. Everyone wanted to ensure that our 3rd baby arrived safe and sound.
I was 37 weeks and 3 days pregnant, this baby had been estimated to be 6.5 pounds the week prior, and there was no reason to be concerned about her health if she left my body now.
I had an amazing nurse for the first few hours I was there who, once we knew I was staying, made sure I was able to eat dinner first, saw the notes from my midwife and social worker about my wishes for delivery, got me into the room with a tub, and was supportive of my desire to wear the clothes I had brought rather than the hospital gown. The hospital gown is incredibly triggering for me, especially around labor. I have clear memories of being in a hospital gown in this same Labor and Delivery unit, saying goodbye to Eric in the hallway before entering the operating room, the last moments I was pregnant with Lentil. Later that day, I have memories of having a postpartum hemorrhage in the recovery room, while wearing a hospital gown. I also have memories of being in Room 10 on that unit, delivering Danny and holding one of our children for the first time.
I needed this experience to be different, and wearing different clothing was a simple change that made a big difference for me.
When Eric got to the hospital, they started my antibiotics. I would receive these every 4 hours until delivery, and the plan was to start Pitocin four hours after the first dose. While we waited for the start of the induction, Eric and I both tried to take care of as many things as possible so we could turn off our worries about everything outside of that hospital room. I wrote a stream of consciousness email to my coworkers with all of the work-related things that I needed to get off of my mind. We both talked to our bosses, and Eric made arrangements for our dog. All of this last minute stress resulted in me having so many high blood pressures in a row that the doctors ran labs to ensure I was not preeclamptic.
Although I felt shock about being induced at 37 weeks and 3 days, I am truly grateful that the shock did not also come with sorrow, grief, or intense fear. I was not overly afraid for what would happen to this baby. Previous shocking pregnancy news also came with a lot of pain and sadness. Even news we weren’t expecting in this pregnancy came with fear.
This time, I was still somewhat afraid that something could happen that stopped this baby from arriving safely, but for once with shocking pregnancy news, fear and grief were not my primary emotions.
There was surprise, excitement, and more hope than fear. We were so close to the finish line. I was still afraid we might lose it all in the last second, but I also knew that El (this baby’s pregnancy nickname) was more likely to be okay than not.
When my nurse started me on Pitocin at 10:30pm, my fears peaked.
This was really happening. There was no turning back.
I was scared of the labor to come. I had been in labor before, but the situation was entirely different. Delivering a dead baby at 21 weeks was very different than delivering a (hopefully) living, breathing, 37-week baby. I was afraid this baby might not make it. Mostly though, I found myself thinking about Danny and Lentil. I missed them. I felt a bit guilty that I was more focused on them in those moments than on the baby we were expecting to join us soon.
I think maybe on some level I needed to spend some time thinking about the babies we lost before our third baby finally joined us.
In retrospect, it seems entirely natural for me to turn my thoughts to my other babies, in the same way that a parent of an only child savors a little extra time with that child before a sibling arrives. Things were about to change. My identity as a mother and my relationship to all of my babies was going to be shifting very soon.
Early on in labor, Eric and I tried to nap. We also had some conversation about names, as we hadn’t had a chance to narrow our name list down like we had been planning. In the middle of the night I napped on and off and moved to the birth ball when I felt like I couldn’t sit through contractions anymore. I began watching online videos from the doula who taught our birth course. Anyone who knows me well will likely not be surprised by this. In my many, many years as a student I would study for tests late into the night, often reviewing my flash cards up until the last minute, while standing outside of the classroom before the test, out of fear that I might miss that one fact that I could have spent 10 more seconds studying. As I sat there on the birth ball, swaying as each contraction came, I watched videos about birth and methods for coping with labor.
It was as if I was cramming for the test, but it was the perfect way for me to cope in those moments. It reminded me how prepared I was already and made me feel more prepared.
My hope for birth had been to utilize as many methods of coping with contractions as I could. Having had an epidural with Danny made me less afraid of them than I had previously been. I knew that if I decided to get an epidural this time, I wanted to be sure it was my choice and that I felt empowered to cope in other ways first. I didn’t want to feel like I had no other options. I wanted to push it as long as I could out of fear that an epidural too soon would slow labor and end up resulting in more intervention. If intervention was necessary for safety I would have no issue with it, but I wanted to increase my chances of a safe vaginal delivery.
By 6am I was tired again and decided to nap if I could. Around 7:30am the nurse who was beginning her shift stated that she might increase the Pitocin as my contractions were spacing out further than the 2-3 minutes they wanted them to be. We decided it would be a good idea to go for a walk. Eric and I walked around the lobby for about 10 minutes. The hospital I delivered at had recently gotten wireless monitors which made it very easy to be able to walk around a bit further than just the hallways of Labor and Delivery. We walked through the lobby where Eric and my parents had waited while I was in the operating room with Lentil and where my parents had waited while I delivered Danny.
I know that Eric previously had very negative associations with this area of the hospital, and I think in some ways this was a bit healing for us to have a different experience in that same space.
Things began to progress after we began moving. When my doctor did rounds a bit later they said they would check my progress soon and might begin talking about when to break my water. This ended up not being necessary. In a very classic movie kind of moment, my water broke on its own around 10am.
After my water broke, the intensity of my contractions increased significantly. Eric says I did a great job coping with them, but I did not feel that way. I had been feeling great up until my water broke. I felt like I was managing things well. When my doctors had come in they asked if I had a high pain tolerance. I explained that I didn’t necessarily think I had a high pain tolerance but that I felt like this pain was productive, and I felt equipped to cope with it to that point.
All of this changed for me after my water broke.
I felt like I was dreading the pain rather than coping with it. I was scared of the contractions and felt like I couldn’t handle them anymore. I just kept thinking, “It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!,” which is exactly what I learned I did when I was not coping well during our childbirth course. I had been saving the tub as my pain management technique for when things became really difficult. At this point, when I wasn’t sure how much longer I could manage without some pain relief, my nurse and I decided it was time for me to get in the tub. I had really wanted the tub to feel like a big relief. I only was able to stay in there for three contractions, though, as I could not stop the urge to push with each of those contractions.
At that point, a doctor examined me, and I was 7.5 centimeters dilated. This was about an hour and a half after my water had broken, when I was 5 centimeters dilated. I had no idea how much time I had left in labor. It could have been an hour or 10 hours, for all I knew. I knew for certain thought at that point that I didn’t want to do one more contraction without an epidural. By the time the epidural was in about 30 minutes later, I could not stop pushing with each incredibly intense contraction. When the doctors examined me again, I was fully dilated and it was finally time to deliver this baby.
I was surprised how quickly things moved for me once my water broke. I went from 5 cm to 10 cm in one and a half hours and 7.5 cm to 10 cm in 30 minutes.
What I remember most about pushing is how quiet the room was. It felt very different than pushing with Danny. With him, I pushed for maybe 15 minutes. There were so many emotions going on at that point with his delivery, including holding our breaths until the placenta was out and we knew I would not need to go for a D&C. There was so much uncertainty about what he would look like and whether we would want to hold him and take pictures with him.
Now, with El, I felt a similar anticipation of what the outcome would be like. With the epidural, I could still feel contractions but was not in pain. I didn’t realize in the moment that the volume of the heart rate monitor had been turned down. This is what some of the quiet was about. My two doctors, my nurse, a nursing student, who was witnessing her first delivery (how cool is that?!), and Eric all were facing me, but their attention was turned to the monitor. They were watching for when my contractions were coming and were monitoring the baby’s heart rate. I had a few moments in the silence between contractions where I was watching their faces and getting concerned. I felt so close to her actually arriving safely and yet knew that there was still a chance that she could die in these last few moments before taking her first breath.
We were so close, and just as I had felt this entire pregnancy, I knew exactly how much we could still lose.
I asked once or twice, “Is the baby okay?,” and was reassured that she was fine. She was looking great according to my two wonderful doctors. After about an hour and a half of pushing and more than 30 minutes of being told that she was almost here and I just needed a few good pushes to get her around my pubic bone, our baby finally arrived.
The final push and the moment that she was born felt very much like it was straight from a movie. I looked as they pulled our baby girl out and up for us to see her. I cried immediately upon seeing her. I was flooded with relief. It was amazing that after all of this time she was finally, finally here.
I don’t even remember if she cried. I just knew that I saw her and that she was alive and breathing.
Those tears of relief are an emotion I can tap into so easily still. After 79 weeks and 4 days of pregnancy, 2 years and 7 months from when I had my first positive pregnancy test, 26 months and 28 days since we heard that our first baby had no heartbeat, 16 months and 4 days after we held our second baby in our arms and said goodbye to him, an egg retrieval, an embryo transfer, more than 100 shots delivered at home, countless blood draws, and so many medical appointments, our third baby, our first living child, the one we were actually going to be able to bring home alive, had finally arrived safe and sound.
She did not die inside my body. She actually took her first breath. She was here. She was out of my uterus, and within moments, she was lying on my chest, crying.
Eric and I took in the moment of finally having our first living child outside of my body, with us safely in our arms. We had made it to the finish line (starting line?) that we had worked so hard to get to.
Ava June Schultz Saindon was born at 1:52pm on Tuesday 2/12/2019. She was 6 pounds, 13 ounces, and 20.5 inches long. Her name means living and breathing. Of our 3 babies, she is our living one. Her arrival, living and breathing, was what we had been hoping and waiting for all of this time. It was what we were so anxious we might not ever get. When we read the meaning of Ava as we talked about names early on in labor, we knew that was the right one for our little rainbow.
My medical providers were incredible. One of the nurses who took care of us was also a nurse who had been present for Danny’s delivery. She was amazing in helping me get through that. The resident who made the decision to induce had also been working the day I delivered Danny. I wasn’t sure whether they remembered me, but I remembered them, and I am so grateful to have had my experiences come full circle in that way. I felt very supported by all of my providers in my choices and in their understanding and sensitivity about our previous losses. They were all so happy to be there for us, to be at a happy part of our journey. We could feel their joy.
I am sad to be done documenting the steps of this pregnancy.
As much as I was ready to be done with many aspects of pregnancy, it is also strange to have finally completed the journey I began in my first pregnancy, almost three years ago. I don’t miss the side effects of pregnancy, but I do miss my pregnant belly. I have twice before experienced what it is to be postpartum but also with grief and no baby in my arms.
I had moments where I had to remind myself that this postpartum experience was different. This experience of being in the hospital, monitoring my bleeding, didn’t come with a new grief and a shocking loss. It was ending how we had hoped and expected it to end. I have been surprised by the number of times I have thought that we were supposed to be here twice before, with two different babies. I have wondered what Lentil or Danny would have looked like or been like as newborns.
I am relieved that Baby El has become Ava. I am grateful that she is a part of our family, and every once in while I find myself wondering about our other babies.
I am so incredibly grateful to all of you who have been with us along this journey. A close friend commented that the sky wouldn’t hold all of the love that has been waiting for Ava. This is so true. Ava has truly been thought about, prayed for, and wished for by so many around us. More people have been following our journey than I ever imagined when I decided to blog about our 3rd pregnancy. There is no way to express the immense gratitude to those who have been with us. You have helped us carry our load in the ways that you could. We know that our pain is not over. Each step of our lives will carry reminders of the babies that we lost. And we are so glad that we have finally been able to bring home our healthy, living, breathing baby Ava.