**Note: Open talk about surgery ahead. If that’s not your jam, you might want to skip this post.**
The night before I went into preterm labor with Haven, I had no idea I would be giving birth the next day. I was several weeks away from my due date. So, I assume I got a pretty good night’s sleep, or as good as one can get at 35 weeks pregnant, anyway.
The night before Eisley was born, however, I knew exactly what was going down the next day. She had been diagnosed with spina bifida halfway through my pregnancy-a birth defect in which her spinal column failed to close properly, leaving a portion open and exposed on her back. We had decided with our specialists that a cesarean was the safest route for delivery, and I had spent the rest of my pregnancy slightly terrified of the impending surgery.
So, even though I knew I needed rest the night before, I just couldn’t go to bed. I put Haven to bed on her last night as an only child. I triple checked that my bags were packed. Took a shower. Laid in bed and tossed and turned-I was a giant bundle of nerves. I’d say I was about 50% excited and 50% scared. Not only was I having surgery, but my newborn baby would have surgery as well to close the defect on her back.
I somehow managed to squeeze in about 2 hours of sleep before it was time to go. In the wee hours of the morning, we packed our hospital bags in the car and got ready to go. I crept in to Haven’s room to whisper goodbye, and a tear slid down my face. I knew she’d be fine staying with both of her Grandmas the next few days, I just didn’t know if I would be fine without her.
Right before we left for the hospital. This was my last belly pic at 39 weeks and 3 days.
When we arrived at the hospital, I got checked in, changed into my gown, and two nurses came in to start my IV. The nurse who was placing it seemed like more of a newbie, and it took her a couple of tries. She told me, “Wow! Your vein just blew up like a balloon!” Not a good thing to say to someone who hates thinking about or looking at veins. Ugh. Even just typing it makes me want to puke.
As they wheeled me out of the room, I said bye to my Mom, who would wait in my recovery room during the surgery, and Josh was instructed to change into his scrubs. The ride to the OR was shorter than I expected-through one set of double doors and we were there.
I slid down off the hospital bed, and shuffled into the OR, holding my gown closed so as not to moon any of the staff. The room was COLD. Like, frigid. So, this is what an operating room looks like, I thought. This was surgery numero uno for me, so I don’t know what I expected, but it was still surprising to me.
It took the anesthesiologist three tries to get my spinal block in, which wasn’t awesome, but it also wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was such a strange sensation to suddenly have the entire lower half of your body numbed, and as they laid me back, strapped me down, and raised the curtain, I marveled at how I could sort of feel, but sort of not. If you’ve had a c-section before, you know what I’m talking about.
Josh was finally allowed to come in, and I was relieved. He was a little nervous for me, and we tried to make light conversation as they began the surgery. It was weird to make small talk with my husband of 7.5 years, as if we had nothing better to talk about than the weather, but I needed to keep my mind off of the fact that I was being sliced open as we spoke.
I had pre-warned the OR staff that I did NOT want a play-by-play of what was happening, and they assured me that they would try to be as vague as possible. But, then I heard, “We have a bleeder!”
Shoot. That’s not good. I may be no medical professional, but I’ve seen enough Grey’s Anatomy surgeries to know that bleeders are never a good thing.
The atmosphere in the OR became a bit more tense as they tried to stop the bleeding.
A few months before, as I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that I was definitely going to have a c-section, a friend with three cesareans under her belt told me that it feels like someone has a hold of your legs, and is tugging you back and forth. As I laid on the operating table, I realized that’s exactly how it felt.
“Rupture!” A nurse called out, indicating when the amniotic sac broke open. As they lifted her out, I suddenly felt lighter, like my body lifted from the table, ever so slightly.
And then, a cry.
When Haven was born a year and a half earlier, she weakly cried out once, and then nothing. She did not have the strength to inflate her lungs on her own, as she was a month premature, and she was quickly given oxygen to help her breathe.
I hadn’t given much thought to how I hadn’t really heard much of a cry after Haven’s birth, but as I heard Eisley’s cry, it brought a wave of emotions that I hadn’t really expected.
Relief at hearing that my baby was ok. Wonder at the fact that I was hearing this person for the first time that I would love so much and know so deeply, and yet knowing nothing else about her in that moment other than her cry. Tears welled up in my eyes. And somehow, under all these emotions for my second born, a twinge of grief for my firstborn and how we had missed this moment with her. If you’ve had an unexpected or traumatic birth, you know what I am talking about. I think I will always carry little pieces of grief for both of my birth stories and how I wish I could change some things about the circumstances.
The anesthesiologist lowered the curtain a bit, and the doctor held Eisley up for us to see her. I tried to lift my head, but either I couldn’t lift it far, or the angle I was at didn’t allow for me to see her.
They took her to the adjoining stabilization room to sanitize and cover her open defect on her back, and Josh went with her.
Right after delivery.
Suddenly, I felt alone.
I could hear the OR team talking through closing me up, and I knew the anesthesiologist was somewhere behind my head, but it felt like it was just me and the ceiling tiles I was staring at.
I tried to busy my thoughts so I wouldn’t think too hard about what was happening with my body. Then, the nausea hit.
“Umm,” I told the anesthesiologist, “I feel like I have to throw up. What do I do?!” I felt a little panicked. It’s not like I could run for a trash can to puke in. “Just turn your head to the side,” he told me.
I turned to the side and dry heaved. I was relieved I hadn’t actually puked on the OR floor. That would have been embarrassing.
I don’t know if it was the 2 hours of sleep catching up to me, the blood loss, or the anti-nausea meds I was just given through the IV, but suddenly, I NEEDED to close my eyes. I felt like a cartoon character from the 40’s or 50’s with anvils attached to my eyelids. “I’m reeeeeeally tired,” I told the anesthesiologist. “You can sleep if you want to,” he said.
So I went to sleep, right there on the operating table as they put me back together. It was the best sleep ever, I tell you. When I woke up, which I have absolutely no idea how much time had passed, I felt like a million bucks. Well, as much like a million bucks as you can while being operated on.
One of Eisley’s doctors came to update me. “She is doing great,” he said. “She is 7lbs 5 oz, and 19 3/4 inches long. We have covered her back to keep it sterile, and we are working on placing her IV. Then, she’ll head down to the NICU to get settled in.”
Finally, they were done with me, and I felt like a weird, numb board as they tilted me back and forth to place a sheet under me to move me back to the bed. As they wheeled me out, the same blunt nurse who had placed my IV earlier said, “It looks like a bloodbath on the floor.” Ahem. Again, NOT a good thing to say in front of your patient.
I was wheeled back to my room, where my Mom waited for me. I spent the next hour or so trying as hard as I could to wiggle my toes. The sooner I could move around, the sooner I would be able to get to the NICU to see Eisley. My nurse told me that the c-section moms who deliver at this children’s hospital (who typically have babies who need medical intervention), are up and around much faster than other c-section moms in the community, because they are extra motivated by the incentive of getting to see their babies in the NICU.
Josh came back, and told us they were still trying to get her IV in. Apparently, she was a very hard stick, and it was taking their very best people to get it right. A few minutes later, a team of nurses wheeled Eisley in to see us. “Can I hold her?” I asked.
I knew, going into Eisley’s birth, that I may not be able to hold her. It was a hard reality to come to terms with, especially given the fact that I had not been able to hold Haven until several hours after she was born, and even then it was with wires everywhere and a bulky CPAP strapped to her head to help her breathe. They assured me throughout my pregnancy that they would do their best to try to make it happen, but it really just depended on Eisley and how stable she was.
But, miracle of miracles, I got to hold her.
It was only for maybe about 5 minutes, but it was 5 minutes that I didn’t know I would have, so it felt like heaven. It was also healing, in a way. While I still grieve that I didn’t get anything like this with Haven, I was so thankful that I got a few moments with Eisley, even if it was two hours later.
They took her to the NICU, where she was evaluated by neurosurgery. They decided that she would have her closure surgery that day rather than waiting until the next day, and that she would, in fact, need a shunt to drain the extra fluid from her brain-a common side effect of spina bifida.
So, at seven hours old, she went in for surgery. Oddly enough, I didn’t feel scared or anxious during this time. I trusted the hands and the wisdom of the surgeons as they placed her tiny nerves back inside her spinal column.
Later that night, I was loaded up into a wheelchair, and my nurse pushed me down to the NICU while Josh followed behind, wheeling my IV pole. We made our way to the back corner of the NICU, and I was able to sit next to Eisley’s bedside.
She was still intubated from surgery, and she laid peacefully sleeping on her belly. The monitors beeped as I leaned in, trying to ignore the pain in my abdomen, and I placed my hand gently on her upper back. Her skin was soft and warm.
A whiteboard above her bed read, Today’s plan: Rest and Recover.
You and me both, Sweet Girl, I told her.