Having a birth plan was never something I had thought about doing. Instead, I opted to plan for no plan at all. The only thing that mattered to me was to do whatever it took to have a healthy baby delivered.
As a fellow photographer, the only “plan” I really had was to have a birth photographer document our entire labor and delivery experience. I had dreamt about having those precious images of our baby’s first moments of life for my entire pregnancy. Unfortunately, the only plan I had lined up, didn’t go according to plan at all…
A few days prior to Liam’s arrival, we were in a frenzy of getting the house ready to go for a new baby to come home! After all, I was still about a month away from my due date, so Matt and I expected to be able to finish our projects and just enjoy time with each other before our little family grew. I had had some swelling and generally just didn’t feel great, but chalked it up to normal pregnancy feelings. However, after doing a full day’s worth of projects, I started to go downhill, and FAST. You know how people talk about that gut instinct, where you just know that your baby is coming soon? I had that feeling and knew deep down that our baby boy was going to come early.
The next morning, my normally scheduled 35-week check-up had arrived. I knew in my heart that once I left the house, I likely wasn’t going to return for a while. I packed my duffle bag, the diaper bag, gave our puppies hugs and kisses, and we were off. Shortly after arriving to my appointment, my initial test work came back with unusually high amounts of protein in my body. I knew something was up. I was immediately sent to triage for further testing.
The 24-hour tests confirmed what I already knew, but was dreading – I had preeclampsia. The attending doctor gave me one option: “let’s get this baby out”. It would be safer for me to deliver him a month early, than to remain preeclamptic for longer than I had to be. I was at peace with the diagnosis and plan of action. While no one wants to deliver a premature baby, I definitely didn’t want to take the chance of him not having a mom, so the ruling to induce later that day was easy for me to accept.
It was early afternoon when I received the first form of induction through a pill. It felt pretty uneventful and weird that jump starting delivery was as easy as that. After a few hours, the contractions began to ramp up, but my pain was manageable. I spent this time playing games, keeping distracted, and writing e-mails to my wonderful clients to let them know my baby was arriving a little early (side note: HUGE thank you to all of my clients who were so unbelievably understanding and supportive during this process!).
Later that night I got my first check on progress – I had dilated 1 cm and effaced about 80% with very little in the way of pain! Woo hoo! I thought, “That wasn’t so bad at all, I can definitely do this!” The next step was a Foley balloon to further increase progress. Now, any woman that has had this done will tell you it’s not exactly the most comfortable thing in the world. Can confirm this. But I was so determined to do whatever it took to get our guy out safely, I didn’t resist and just let the experts do their thing.
During this time, I was placed on a medication called Magnesium Sulfate to prevent seizures for patients with preeclampsia. Unfortunately, this is where Liam’s birth story takes a turn for the dangerous, and the complications as a result are something I’ll never forget.
Magnesium is an element in your body that you absolutely need to survive. It’s also very helpful in the medical field for certain situations. For delivering mothers with preeclampsia, it can keep high blood pressure under control and prevent seizures. However, there can be too much of a good thing. In the case of Magnesium, elevated levels can lead to hallucinations, swelling, weakness, difficulty breathing, and blurred/double or triple vision. These are all considered “normal” side-effects for laboring women that are on the Mag Sulfate.
For me, these “normal” side-effects turned extreme. I went toxic on the Magnesium Sulfate for more than 18 hours due to a lack of monitoring and my memory of the delivery and for several days after is spotty at best. The rest of my delivery story is gathered by stories from others and from the rare moments I can recollect.
The next morning the balloon was removed and a Pitocin IV drip was started. I had dilated to 4 cm, but was becoming more and more incoherent. I do remember thinking that if I felt like this at 4 cm, there was no way I was going to be able to push at 10 cm dilated.
After being on the Pitocin for 12 hours, my contractions actually slowed down. I could not get out of bed on my own without 3 people assisting me to the bathroom. I was literally seeing 6 of everything. My tongue was so swollen that it was blocking my airway at times, and the swelling in my chest was so heavy that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t communicate what I was feeling, but Matt and my parents were by my side the whole time and knew that I had gone downhill very quickly. Matt pleaded with the doctor that another dose of Pitocin wasn’t going to be worth it. He was genuinely worried that this process might literally kill me, so he demanded a C-section be performed to get this baby out and me on the road to recovery. Luckily he was there, because I had no way of communicating that I wanted that too except for a head nod saying “yes”.
Into the OR we went where Matt sat right next to me as I lay on the operating table whispered “sweet nothings” about going to Disney after it was all over. My memory of the C-section is limited, but I do recall the doctor telling Matt to look over the curtain and I remember seeing Matt’s face light up to what he saw – our baby was born!
Liam was born on April 20th, 2017 at 6:06 PM. Exactly a month early, he weighed in at 5lbs, 14oz and was a string bean at 19 inches long. Unfortunately, the high levels of Magnesium were also affecting him too, and he was having a hard time breathing. Due to this, he was rushed to the NICU where he spent 9 long days.
I remember briefly seeing Liam, then Matt kissing my forehead as they immediately left the operating room for the NICU. From there, my memory fades again and I don’t recall anything until the next morning.
I never got to hold Liam after he was born. I don’t remember what he looked like. I don’t remember his first cry. I didn’t get that all-important “skin to skin” contact right after birth that our birthing class told us was absolutely crucial. I didn’t get to look at his toes and fingers, decide on if he looked like his daddy or like me, or see his little facial expressions and fall in love with him over and over like the normal stories go. That wasn’t my experience, and to be totally honest, I feel an enormous amount of guilt and anxiety about it, even 2 months later as I sit here crying while I type this.
I was placed back on the Magnesium Sulfate after delivery and wheeled into recovery. My condition continued to worsen and it wasn’t until the next morning where my blood was finally checked for a Magnesium level. The normal range for the average person’s Magnesium level typically stays between 1.5-2.5. For preeclamptic delivering moms, the “therapeutic” range is considered 4-8. When my blood work came back, my level was 11.7. FAR into the toxic range. At a Mag level of 12, respiratory arrest kicks in and long-term physical damage, or even death, can occur. Once my blood work had resulted, a flurry of medical workers rushed into my room, yanked me off the Magnesium Sulfate drip, then hurriedly moved me to the Intensive Care Unit where I stayed for several days.
Because of my condition, I didn’t get to hold Liam for more than 24 hours after he was born. He didn’t get that initial bonding time with me that all the latest studies say is so incredibly important for newborn babies. I was delayed by several days in producing breastmilk, and he lost weight quickly. I knew I had to give him the nutrients he needed, but my body was still recovering. No matter how much I tried to force myself to provide, my body just wasn’t ready.
4 days after delivery, I was finally discharged. For the months leading up to Liam’s birth, I had seen countless new moms being wheeled out in wheelchairs with their babies in car seats sitting in their laps. I couldn’t wait for that day! But because Liam was in the NICU when I was discharged, I left the hospital without taking my baby boy home, and it was by far the hardest moment of my entire life. I’d never felt so broken. Matt and I cried the entire way home that night and neither of us got much sleep after returning home. We had a ready-to-go nursery. I had nested. I had done everything right leading up to his birth. Everything was ready for him to come home, but he wasn’t ready to be home quite yet. The fact that he stayed behind is by far the hardest and most challenging thing we’ve ever encountered in our lives. Traveling back and forth to the NICU for that near-week stretch was killer, but it made Matt and I stronger. It made us rely on each other – falling back to that fundamental foundation we had built together over the years. It made us trust in God’s plan, and know that life is in God’s control, and there’s a reason for everything that had happened. God had helped bring Liam into the world safely and helped me recover from my experience, and for that I was thankful. What an awesome God we have!
It took nearly a week post-delivery, but Liam slowly made progress each and every day. It certainly did not get easier to leave the hospital every day, but having amazing NICU staff taking care of him helped us to know that he was in fantastic hands. By Saturday, Liam finally got to come home and meet his furry brothers. He is constantly surrounded with love from family and friends and is making leaps and bounds and advancing in so many different ways, so quickly!
Because I didn’t get that initial connection with him right after birth, I felt for several weeks that he wasn’t actually my child. He looks just like Matt, and I knew he was mine, but I didn’t have that special bond with him initially to make it feel like my own flesh and blood.
But it’s getting better – and now we’re inseparable.
My message to first-time moms is that your birth plan usually won’t actually be what ends up happening. But every birth STORY is beautiful. Enjoy it. Relish it. Live in the moment. You’ll never forget the day you give birth to your bundle of joy for as long as you live.
Even if your birth story goes haywire like mine did and you don’t initially feel a connection to your baby – don’t worry, you will! Don’t let the societal norms put pressure on you. It gets better, and soon you’ll be thoroughly intertwined and connected with your baby boy or girl like you never thought possible!
Oh, and if you were wondering, I did get that special wheelchair ride from the NICU to the front door. And OH, it was so sweet!
Below are some of my favorite pictures that Matt captured on his phone when Liam was born, followed by some photos I took of Liam in the NICU. Stay tuned for Liam’s newborn photos as long as a peek inside his nursery!