A Wish, A Prayer and a Special Scar
With each of my three children, my views about birth have changed and grown and matured based on the birth experience I had with each of them. But none of my three pregnancies and births changed me quite as much as the birth of my third child William just over a year ago.
I found out early in my pregnancy that I had placenta previa. For a momma who had only a year previously experienced my first mostly-natural birth, I was desperate to be able to experience it again, and I never EVER wanted a c-section. So of course I worried. A lot. Every four weeks they check to see if my placenta had moved and each time I left disappointed that it had not budged. I began to resign myself to a c-section, but at my 30 week appointment, the news got much worse.
The specialist I had been seeing told me that she was 99% sure I also had placenta accreta. The diagnosis of accreta would mean a c-section at 34 weeks, and I would need a hysterectomy during the procedure in order to save my life and stop the bleeding. I was terrified. What if something went wrong and I wouldn’t be around to mother my three kiddos? Wasn’t 34 weeks WAY TOO EARLY for my little baby? Over the next few weeks, I met with multiple doctors, researched like crazy, had an MRI to see if the doc was right about the accreta, and began to mourn the loss of my fertility and the future babies that could have been.
I rarely had a day that thoughts of the worst didn’t cross my mind… and it seemed I could burst into tears at the drop of a hat. As the surgery date drew closer, my fears kept increasing as did the number of prayers I prayed every night. “Protect us, Lord. Keep baby and I safe. Please move my placenta. Please don’t let me lose my fertility. But thy will be done.”
When my pregnancy reached 33 weeks and four days, the docs sent me to get my first of two steroid shots to mature the baby’s lungs. Fifteen hours later, I awoke at 5am and felt a gush of blood. I woke my husband, grabbed our two children and headed to the hospital while trying to get my doc on the phone. Within 10 minutes I heard from the on-call doc. We checked in to the high-risk hospital at 5:30a, a friend came and picked up our two littles (three and two at the time) and the madness continued.
It was right after we checked in that everything finally hit me. I burst into tears and the nurses told me that I was in the right place… don’t worry… baby and I would be fine.
When the on-call OB arrived she had already spoken with my OB, the perinatologist, the surgeon and the neonatologist. They had decided that it was not worth waiting another 24 hours so I could get my second steroid shot. There was too great a risk that I would begin hemorrhaging again. I think it was at this point that I realized that God had decided we had had enough time to worry… And it was just time to get going. The maternal/fetal specialist came in for one last sonogram. He surprised us when he said that it didn’t look like accreta to him. Could my specialist who had never been wrong about a sonogram accreta ACTUALLY have been wrong?? Or had our prayers been answered and had the Lord healed me? The doctor reminded us that they would not know what my placenta would do (detach or not) until they got in there.
It looked like we would have surgery sometime that day… but the docs were working much faster than we realized and before we knew it, we were meeting with the anesthesiologist and getting prepped for surgery. In the last 10 minutes prior to surgery, they were still going back and forth on whether I would be awake or put under for the surgery. I told them I would prefer to be awake for the c-section, even if they had to put me under for the hysterectomy… but it looked like the surgeon wanted me to be under for the whole procedure. As they wheeled me down to the OR, still no official decision had been made.
They pushed my bed into the operating room, and we realized even more how serious the situation was. No less than 20 medical personnel were buzzing around the room. And other than the last hour of prep, I had not met any of them before. There were docs and nurses from the NICU, my on-call OB, the chief resident who would assist in the surgery, multiple people from anesthesiology, nurses, and the main oncology surgeon who would perform the hysterectomy if things got out of hand. The chief anesthesiologist advocated for me since I wanted to be awake and it was agreed that they would start the surgery with a spinal block so I could witness the baby’s birth. As they were placing my spinal block, I looked up at my dear husband who was holding my hand and saw tears running down his face. He later told me that he was crying because he was so afraid they would ask him whether to save me or baby. I had been shaking all morning out of fear (and maybe blood loss) and it didn’t stop when they laid me down to begin the c-section. The awesome OB told me one last time that all was going to be okay because God was with us, and she promised she would walk me through the surgery step by step.
Surgery began. The main anesthesiologist, 2 nurses, and my husband sat at my head. They had ordered 4 units of blood, and it was waiting on standby. In the midst of shaking, crying, and listening to the OB walk me through what she was doing, I was still deeply in prayer that God was with us and taking care of us. About 15 minutes into the surgery, the docs called out “uterus!” I overheard the OB saying that my placenta was covering the front of my uterus and she would need to cut very high to avoid cutting into it. As she made the incision, the nurse behind my head said, “I see feet and a butt!” And then Andrew and I heard the most beautiful sound in the world… Or little 33-weeker was crying his head off. “He’s peeing all over the docs!” one of the nurses reported. They raised little William just high enough that we could see his rosy complexion and beautiful little body, then they whisked him to the corner of the room to check him out.
I heard the doctors whispering. I knew we had reached the moment I had been dreading for a month. I looked at my husband and knew that he was focused in prayer, so I closed my eyes, dug down deep in my soul, past my worry and fears, and prayed, “Please, Lord… if you are going to grant this miracle, NOW is the time… we have no more time to pray for it. Please Lord… We trust in you.”. And then I heard the words I thought I would not hear… “Kristi,” the doctor said, “your placenta is coming out! You don’t need the hysterectomy. We can start sewing you back up.” And the tears of joy I had been crying from seeing my beautiful baby, turned into full-on sobs of rejoicing. We had received a miracle. Our prayers had been answered.
The NICU people had bundled baby Will and were ready to take him upstairs, but they brought him over to Andrew and I first. The poor little guy was beautiful, but was looking a bit blue. He had cried more than his little 33 week lungs could handle, and they needed to get him on oxygen. So off he went. As soon as it was discovered that I would not need the hysterectomy, the room quickly went from 20 people to about 6. They finished the c-section and wheeled me to recovery. I only got to see and hold Will for about 10 minutes that first day because he was in NICU, and I couldn’t walk for the first few hours after surgery.
Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to think about how difficult it was to recover from a c-section (though it was very painful), because I was so worried about my little guy upstairs in the NICU. He was released to come home only two weeks later which was a huge blessing, but living with a preemie was an entirely different experience that living with our two previous (and rather chunky at birth) termies.
I feel like I’ve gained a lot of perspective on birthing experiences through my three very different births. My oldest was an induction (for being overdue). I had cervadil and an epidural with her birth. With my second, I really wanted a natural birth, but at 41 weeks pregnant and my doc highly recommended another induction because of his size. I was able to use some natural methods to start labor on my own with him, but once I got to the hospital, my OB wanted to “speed things up” with AROM and eventually pitocin. I didn’t realize then that I could have just said no. It seemed foreign to me that I should question my doctor, but I know better than that now. Nevertheless, I labored with pitocin for an hour and still managed to avoid the epidural. And his birth was a beautiful experience. And when I found out I was pregnant with our little William, I was so sure that I would finally have my fully natural birth. I would say no to their silly methods of “speeding things up.” I would avoid all interventions they offered. I would be in charge of my birthing experience! But God had different plans with the complete placenta previa, and I wasn’t given that chance.
And now, a year later, we have a beautiful one-year old that you could never tell was a preemie by looking. And I still have my uterus, so there might be a few more kids in our future. However now I’m blighted with a “classical” c-section scar. I was told at my 6-week follow up that I would have to have c-sections from now on, and they would always schedule them at 36 weeks because “going into labor would be too dangerous.” But I would love to have more kids… maybe 2 or 3 more, and I know with each c-section my risks go up and up and up. Will I ever get the chance to have that fully natural birth that I so desperately long for? Or perhaps it’s silly for me to even want that? I guess only time will tell if I can find a doctor who will trust my body as much as I trust it.