I was 35 weeks along on the morning on August 18th, 2017.

When I woke up, I did what I always did. I laid there for 10 minutes and stared at the ceiling as I felt her wiggle and wriggle in my tummy. And, like I always did, I convinced myself that every morning would be “The Morning”- “The Morning” that I would know that she would be gone just like her brother. Madeline was never a big mover. I rarely felt jabs, kicks, or punches. I mostly felt swooshes, twisting, and turning, which always worried me because it was Rossi’s body swooshing around that made me believe he was alive longer than he actually was.

“The Morning” I anticipated, never happened.

But something else did.

It was a couple of hours later where Chris and I made our way to our midwife appointment that was now happening on a weekly basis. As we inched closer to my due date, the uneasiness of carrying life for as long as I have been started to clench onto every bit of strength I had left.

I was constantly torn whether my consistent belief that something was wrong or could go wrong was a product of catastrophic thinking or impeccable intuition.

This time, it was the latter.

That appointment, like always, we started with my blood pressure, which had been stable for the most part. All of a sudden, it was sky high. We then retested in multiple positions. Still astronomically high, even though the only symptoms I was having were headaches and extreme swelling.

Without another beat, our midwife instructed us to go to the hospital straight away for monitoring.

We went home, in a hurry, clumsily throwing things we might need in the car. We knew it could be nothing, but it also could mean we would meet our baby. We chucked the car seat we still had from Rossi in the back, a few clothes, our phone chargers. As two people who only knew L&D as a place of goodbyes, we were dumbfounded on what we should be doing or how we should feel. Chris and I worked hard to maintain phony smiles and fabricate a veil of positivity, even though we were both scared shitless as to what would be waiting for us behind that hospital door.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were met with another one of our midwives who remained optimistic. Not even 10 minutes passed before I had those two bands wrapped around my belly, monitoring Madeline’s movements and heart rate. Vials upon vials of blood were taken, and my blood pressure was taken again with no change in its severity.

Shortly after our arrival, the OB on duty came and told us what to expect.

They were pretty sure I had preeclampsia at this point, the question was more whether we would need to deliver or if I could be sent home on medication to help with blood pressure. I wasn’t sure which fear was greater, delivering a preemie or going home with her still inside me and facing the possibility that the treatment they would prescribe would not be enough to save her.

I hugged my belly tight, silently whispering every apology I could muster to Madeline. I wished I had cherished every moment she was inside of me, yet I didn’t. At this point, we were possibly close to the end, and I had never been more scared in my life.

I listened to the beat of her heart as I conjured up every probable outcome in my head. My trance was broken when we were hurried to the ultrasound room for our last determining test: a biophysical profile.

After all was said and done, we nervously awaited our OB to come in and tell us the news. The few hours we had spent seemed like days.

“Well, guys, how do you feel about having a baby today?”

Chris’s arms flew up in the air, while my jaw went in the opposite direction.

Madeline miserably failed her BPP. Her percentiles were dropping for the last few weeks. She was growth restricted. Her fluid was low. My blood pressure was still not getting any lower even with medication. My platelets were out of wack. And, with a previous stillbirth, no one, especially us, was willing to take any chance that it could happen again.

Even though all of this was daunting, we both knew we wanted her out, where she would be out of me and safe.

“It used to be believed that a mother would need protein in her urine to be diagnosed with preeclampsia. Though we now realize that’s not true. After looking over your medical history, we have enough cause to believe that you had preeclampsia with your last baby and it wasn’t diagnosed for this reason. Preeclampsia tends to strike later, if it’s going to,  with each subsequent pregnancy. This is why we will start induction with the possibility of c-section immediately.”

And then…

“You guys are very lucky you had an appointment today. Come tomorrow, this could have been a different story”

A different story we had already lived.

Within the hour, I was transferred to a delivery room where I wasn’t allowed to move. Immediately I had a blood pressure cuff slapped on, with fetal monitors again. I was given steroids and an IV for fluids and magnesium sulfate.

clock in hospital room

Author’s Personal Collection/Franky Hunter of Maddie & Rossi

While we waited for a foley bulb insertion to prep for the induction, Chris went to get us food knowing that we would be in for the long haul. I chomped on some french fries like it was cud since my appetite was the lowest it had ever been. I had trouble responding to basic questions let alone eating.

Around 8 pm, the foley bulb was in along with a catheter. I wasn’t allowed to move at all and all the wires attached to me were causing me to panic more. They said based on how Madeline was doing, they’d continue the induction as long as it was safe but had a room prepped for us in case we needed an emergency c-section.

The night carried on and Madeline was still hanging in there.

I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was trace my fingers over my bump as I tried to think of every sign I may have missed with Rossi that maybe if I didn’t, I would be bringing home a baby sister to him. I thought about what a terrible mother I must be, for not only missing the signs with Rossi, but not fighting harder to find out the cause of his death so that we didn’t simply get “lucky” to catch preeclampsia with his sister. I couldn’t shake the thought that I nearly let two babies die under my watch.

As soon as the sun rose, the summer warmth gleamed through the window and kissed our tired faces. The next part of my induction was started. The foley bulb had done its job, and we didn’t think an induction would take long.

My mind flooded back to my birth plan. It didn’t involve being stuck to a bed or hooked up. No. I thought I would be in a birthing center. With music playing and excitement buzzing in the air. I would have the birth story so many dreamed of and the one I thought was owed to me after such a devastating loss.

Yet, as I watched the numbers on the screen go up and down, mostly in green, I agreed with the doctor that I was indeed, very lucky to be there at all.

The last part of my birth plan that I was stubborn to let go of was going without an epidural. So, that’s exactly what I did. I was warned that contractions would be a lot more intense because Pitocin brought them on a lot more strongly and also because it is a lot harder to labor completely on your back.

I didn’t care, though. I was so determined to go medication free because I wanted to feel every ounce of pain. I wanted to think of anything else but wishing I was pushing out Rossi again.

The rest of the day was a blur as contractions increased. They hastily became stronger and closer together. No amount of moving, breathing, or position changing would alleviate the pain. I screamed and hollered every time one hit, as I was barely conscious of what was going on around me. It felt like my body was working against me despite it only kept progressing further and further.

Eventually, it got to the point where my face was flooded with sweat and I had no more energy. I then agreed to use laughing gas to try to curb some of the pain, however with contractions a minute apart, I could barely coordinate myself to use it effectively. I fell asleep for 30 seconds at a time before the doctor checked me and realized I hadn’t progressed in the last little while despite doing well before, all while the contractions were just getting longer and harder. They believed I had stalled and recommended an epidural to hopefully relax me enough to get things going.

I was reluctant for a while until it came to a point where I was in too much distress and so was Madeline.

Despite the risk I would be taking if I moved during the procedure, at 8cm dialted I finally decided to get the needle, and I mustered all my power to sit completely still. The anesthesiologist swiftly placed it in, and I think we were all a little impressed at my ability to not even flinch despite how frequent my contractions were coming.

And once it was in, I became all too aware of the gravity of what was happening. The silence that was filled with my screams just moments before were now occupied by memories of silence from the last time I was in L&D. I let tears burn in my eyes as I turned my face towards the screen and saw her vitals–she still had vitals–I was close to the finish line, and I just prayed I would make it to the winner’s circle, too.

Then, her heart rate started dropping.

I was checked again and I still had not moved a centimeter.

“We’re going to have to bring you in for a c-section shortly”

And before they could come to wheel me into surgery, I felt an unmounding amount of pressure.

When they checked again, I was crowning and Madeline was ready for the world.

Before I knew it, my legs were thrown up, and I pushed with all I had. I wailed as I asked if she was okay, repeatedly. As the doctors and nurses were often too distracted to answer me, Chris always let me know that she was.

Her heart rate was still dropping so they made an incision and suctioned her out before it would be too late.

mom and newborn - Madeline's birth story

Author’s Personal Collection/Franky Hunter of Maddie & Rossi

And then the most beautiful sound I had ever heard developed every corner of the room.

It was her.

It was her cry.

It was her. Alive.

Alive and oh so beautiful.

mom and newborn - Madeline's birth story

Author’s Personal Collection/Franky Hunter of Maddie & Rossi – Madeline’s Birth Story

They plunged her on right on my chest as I sobbed so hard I swear I was going to puke up an organ. They  immediately wrapped her in blankets and gave her a hat as I stared into her eyes, mesmerized by the diamonds dancing inside them.

I realized in that moment that I had spent the last 8 months living in between a dream and a nightmare. Now I was on Cloud 9 and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.

Madeline Rose was born fearfully and faithfully on August 19th, 2017 at 5:05 pm weighing 4lbs, 4oz.

You know how they say that before you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes? That’s what it felt like.

All the moments of joy, of pain, of excitement, of boredom, of tragedy, and triumph all swooped in front of me and then she was in my arms.

I took it all in–her ten fingers, all ten toes. Her silky skin and her thin, soft hair. Her big, glittery eyes and the wrinkle in her skin. I swept my fingers across her little back and just kept smiling at her, when all I wanted to do was say how much I regret not being brave enough to love her sooner, and I would spend every day after this being bold enough to make it up to her.

I didn’t feel like a terrible mom anymore. I was in awe of both of us and so proud that we were able to survive against everything that could have torn us apart.

As I whimpered over and over, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” she was taken away and wheeled off to the NICU with her dad.

Madeline in the NICU

Author’s Personal Collection/Franky Hunter of Maddie & Rossi

They finished stitching me up and left for a few moments as I collected myself.

I missed her as soon as I was gone. It took every fiber of my being to not rip out all of my cords and run after her. I spent a lot of time trying to prepare myself for a loss, never ever did I think I would have to prepare for my baby to be whisked away what seemed like as soon as she was placed in my arms.

But I had to be strong.

Because it wasn’t about me, or my fear anymore.

It was about her.

And she was beautiful.

So instead I laid there and stared at the ceiling, as I no longer felt any wiggling or wriggling in my tummy.

Instead, that baby was at the other end of the hall.

Warm, safe, alive, loved.

“The Morning” never came again.

The next one though, Chris pushed me in a chair to the NICU, IV pole wheeled in hand.

Couple with newborn in the NICU - Madeline's Birth Story

Author’s Personal Collection/Franky Hunter of Maddie & Rossi

I looked down at that sweet girl’s face and thanked Rossi for protecting his sister with all of his might.

I stood up and gave her a kiss. I then sat myself down in the recliner next to her isolette, amazed at her, at my son, at the miraculousness of life, and the divinity within it.

mom and newborn - Madeline's birth story

Author’s Personal Collection/Franky Hunter of Maddie & Rossi

My rainbow was finally here.

And for the first time in forever, I finally could let my breath go.

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