Saturday, April 21, 2018

Andy's Birth Story: Part Three

Tuesday, August 19th
8:03 a.m.

Justin stood up just in time to see my OB pull Andy's little head out of my incision. A nurse suctioned his mouth and nose while my doctor continued to deliver him.

When he was out, I had a feeling something was wrong. They didn't lift him over the drape for me to see before cleaning him up and doing weight, vitals, and his APGAR score. I didn't hear a cry. Even Kate had cried.

I stayed quiet, not wanting to distract those working on Andy with frantic questions, but my heart was pounding. All I could see from my flat position on the operating table was a screen connected to a camera that was focused on the incubator, and the incubator itself, but the NICU team was constantly back and forth between Andy and myself, so my view was obstructed.

I heard one NICU nurse shout Andy's weight and length to another. Six pounds, thirteen ounces, twenty and one half inches long. From what I could see, it appeared they were rubbing him down with blankets to stimulate breathing. I didn't learn until this past fall that his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck.

I sent Justin over to get a closer look. He took a few pictures but didn't say anything. Then, after what seemed like ages, I heard that first cry. Instant relief. Andy let out a couple of loud wails before transitioning to a soft whimper, and then fell asleep.

The NICU nurse that had cared for Kate during her stay came over to me. "He's doing okay," she said slowly.

"So no NICU?" I asked, concerned.

"For now," she replied. "We're going to have to keep an eye on him. But he can stay with you for now."

She saw the tears welling up in my eyes. Another baby with a rough start. I felt like such a failure.

"Remember, he's a little bit early. This isn't all that uncommon. It'll be alright," the nurse told me before she went back to the incubator.

After another stretch of eternity, I heard one of the NICU team members say she was going to get Andy swaddled up so Justin could bring him over to me. I watched Justin scoop up our brand new bundle and carefully walk toward me.

"Here he is!" Justin was beaming with pride. My arms were still strapped down, so I couldn't hold him just yet. Justin lowered him down by my face so I could kiss his little cheeks.

"Hi baby boy," I practically yelled. "I'll hold you soon, I promise!" Justin snapped our first picture with Andy before I went back to staring at him. I was in awe of how "big" he was compared to Kate!

NICU nurses came by every few minutes to evaluate his breathing and color while my placenta was delivered and I was stitched back up. My nausea was gone the instant the placenta was out of me.

Finally, the surgery was complete! They removed my oxygen, unstrapped my arms, and moved me into a bed. Then, Justin placed Andy is my arms.

If I could, I would describe to you the incredible feeling of getting to hold your child for the first time, but I can't. I don't have any words. I can only say that it is one of the most beautiful, overwhelming moments in life.

I snuggled him in close, and held him tight for hours.

12:00 p.m.

After a few hours in recovery, I was moved upstairs to the Women's Center, the post-partum unit. Nurses continued to monitor Andy and me, watching especially closely for respiratory distress in him, and signs of post-partum preeclampsia for me. Eventually, my catheter was removed and I was allowed to get up and move around. I took a shower and finally got to eat!

Later, Andy had his first bath, which he hated, but bath time has definitely grown on him since then. In fact, water is now one of his favorite things, especially when he can splash it on people! Unfortunately, during his very first experience with water in the outside world, he showed off his future singer lungs for the duration of the bath.


The remainder of our time in the hospital was filled with snuggles, great food (seriously, the food in the Women's Center bistro is amazing), and visits from so many of our loved ones.

Andy did not end up needing the NICU, as his breathing troubles resolved on their own. He was a champion breastfeeder, and my milk came in very quickly. The only issue he had was a bit of jaundice that went away after a few hours under the bili-lights in the well-baby nursery.

We were discharged from Avera McKennan on Friday, August 22nd. What an amazing feeling it was to be able to take our baby home with us! Don't take that wheelchair ride to the front door, baby in your arms, for granted. It is a rite of passage not every woman gets to experience.

Less than a week after returning home, I developed post-partum preeclampsia. I was admitted to the hospital in our small town for a few days. Thankfully, I responded to the medication quickly, and was able to avoid a transfer back to Sioux Falls. It was not fun to be stuck in the hospital those early days of Andy's life. I wasn't able to breastfeed during that time because of the magnesium sulfate, and the swelling was extremely painful, but I got to have Justin, Kate, and my sweet little boy with me the entire time.

Today, Andy is a happy, silly, and loving three-year-old. He loves playing in water, watching Thomas the Tank Engine and Cat in the Hat, eating cheese and crackers, playing percussion instruments, and cuddling. He has already been through so much in his short life, including being diagnosed with tree nut allergies, level one autism with savant syndrome (formerly known as Asperger's Syndrome), and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

Like his big sister, he has a resilient spirit, and a heart of gold. We are so excited to watch him continue to learn and grow, and we can't wait to see him take on the big brother role with the birth of our next child, who will be arriving very, very soon.

Andy is one special little boy, and we are so blessed to be his parents.

Andy's Birth Story: Part Two

Tuesday, August 19th
5:30 a.m.

Justin turned into the parking ramp at the hospital. I winced as each curve onto the next level intensified the pressure in my abdomen. We parked on the very top level, right by the landing pad for the Care Flight helicopter. A lot of memories came flooding back. We parked up there every day we visited Kate during her three month NICU stay.

Justin got the hospital bag out of the trunk, and helped me out of the van, slipping his free arm around my waist. I put my head on his shoulder. All I wanted to do was sleep.

We slowly ambled down the skywalk and onto the main level of Avera McKennan. I pushed the elevator button and leaned against the wall, trying to will my water to break.

Justin had to pull me into the elevator. It wasn't that I wasn't 125% ready to be done with this pregnancy, but I still really, really, really wanted a VBAC.

The elevator stopped on the third floor. We stepped out of the elevator and headed towards the locked doors of the Labor and Delivery unit. We had to pass NICU 3, the step-down unit on the way. I smiled a bit at Kate's former home.

The receptionist in L&D let us into the unit. A nurse led me into the first room on the left while Justin filled out some check-in paperwork and gave them my advance directive.

She hooked me up to the fetal monitor and started an IV in my right arm. A bag of fluids was attached, and she told me she'd run a healthy dose of antibiotics a little later. She went through all of the usual questions and we chatted a bit about the baby.

Justin came in a few minutes later, as the nurse said "Oh, it looks like you're having a few contractions!"

Justin raised his eyebrows and smiled. The nurse told us not to get too hopeful. I would have to progress into active labor at least a half an hour before the section for my OB to even consider letting me attempt a trial of labor. At that point, I resigned myself to the reality that I would not be leaving the hospital without a fresh incision.

6:30 a.m.

Justin was sitting in a chair next to my bed. I glared at him as my stomach flip flopped between nauseated and hungry. He was happily eating a bowl of Lucky Charms, completely oblivious. He's lucky he's cute.

My nurse came back in the room to hook up my antibiotics. She let us know I'd have several people in and out of the room for the next hour to discuss medical history, current health, and the procedure itself.

After I'd talked with the nurse anesthetist, the NICU team (present at all caesareans), a resident, and my OB, my nurse came in with a set of surgical scrubs for Justin to change into. While he changed, she washed my belly with yet another round of the fiery surgical soap of doom.

Justin came out of the bathroom in his new outfit. "I think the hairnet is the best part," he said. "Better than the ones at work!"

My nurse finished up with the surgical soap, dried my stomach, and said we would be headed to the operating room shortly. We asked for one of the hospital's chaplains to come to our room and pray with us before the section. We had done the same with Kate, and it really helped calm some of those pre-op nerves.

7:34 a.m.

When we were done praying, it was time to go to the OR. My nurse asked me if I wanted a wheelchair. I told her no, and that I preferred to walk while I still could!

Justin was left waiting just outside the OR doors. He gave me a quick kiss before they led me in to place my spinal block.

As soon as the doors closed behind me, I lost my breath for a moment. The last time I was in this room, was for Kate's emergency caesarean. I don't know if it was memories, my nerves, or a combination of both, but I got a little shaky, and needed help climbing onto the operating table.

The nurse anesthetist had me round my back as much as possible and lean into his assistant as he numbed my spine and prepared to insert the needle. There seemed to be a little more difficulty placing this spinal than the one I had placed with Kate. I had one bout of pain shoot up my spine, and the procedure took longer, but it was eventually placed effectively. I had forgotten how quickly the block begins working, and my legs had to be lifted up onto the table so I could lay flat.

7:48 a.m.

The team in the OR strapped down my arms, put up the drape, started oxygen, and inserted a catheter. The resident poked me in several places to make sure I was completely numb. Then, Justin was finally allowed to come in. He sat down on a stool by my head and asked how I was feeling. I stuck out my tongue.

I was already nauseated from the anesthesia at that point. The anesthetist pushed Zofran into my IV and stuck an alcohol swab under my nose. The blood pressure cuff squeezed my arm for a final reading before my OB made the initial incision.

We chatted with the OR team members that were above the drape, including one of Kate's NICU nurses who happened to be on the NICU team that day. It was nice to have so many familiar faces in the room.

A few minutes later, I knew we must be getting close. My nausea was just on the edge of turning to projectile vomit, and I started having some abdominal pain. Justin put his hand on my head while more Zofran was pushed into my IV. I hesitated on consenting to morphine, because I knew it might make my nausea worse. I eventually gave in, because the pain was that bad. I don't care what anyone says, caesareans hurt!

The pain subsided quickly, so I turned my focus to trying not to vomit. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in...

Then, all of a sudden, I heard my doctor exclaim "Hi, little guy!"

Friday, April 20, 2018

Andy's Birth Story: Part One

Monday, August 18th, 2014
5:30 p.m.

I plopped down on our now-long gone artichoke couch and buckled Kate into her car seat. She made a series of her usual squawking noises and grinned at me. I couldn't help but smile at her silliness, despite my frustration. I was exactly 37 weeks pregnant with Andy, and if my body didn't go into spontaneous labor by 7:30 the next morning, I was going under the knife. Again.

A caesarean section was scheduled for the next day, due to me already progressing into preeclampsia. I was on two different blood pressure medications to try and control my readings, and was spilling a lot of protein. My OB wanted to deliver at 37 weeks for the safety of both Andy and me. Because I had a previous cesarean in my medical history, and because that procedure occurred not much more than a year prior to Andy's due date, an induction for a VBAC was too risky. If spontaneous labor didn't start soon, my hopes for a VBAC were gone.

Justin came through the front door, fresh off a long shift at the ice cream plant. He kissed my forehead before we loaded the van with our hospital bag and snapped Kate's car seat into the base.

We drove halfway across our small town, to my Dad's law office, to leave Kate with my parents while we spent four days in the hospital welcoming our newest family member. When we arrived, Justin brought Kate and her belongings inside while I sat down with my Mom to go over instructions for mixing thickener into formula to help with Kate's dysphagia.

6:00 p.m

Once my parents were fully briefed on all the intricacies of caring for a former micropreemie, and Kate was settled in, it was time to leave. I must have given Kate a hundred hugs and kisses. I had never been away from her for more than 36 hours. Finally, I reluctantly handed her off to my parents.

Justin backed our van out of the parking lot. My parents were standing on the back doorstep, holding Kate, waving goodbye. I felt a lump in my throat as my brain tried to sort through a million emotions at once.

We were headed to Sioux Falls early. We had to arrive two hours early for my 7:30 section to do labs, monitoring, antibiotics, and paperwork. We would have had to leave Le Mars at 3:30, but our generous friends (and two of Andy's godparents), Tim and Dani, were kind enough to let us crash at their house the night before.

Justin and I spent the drive trying to imagine how much our lives would change with another child in the mix, second guessing our name choices, and talking about all the (failed) tricks I had tried to induce labor. I munched on fresh pineapple slices hoping I'd get really lucky and the fruit would jump start contractions. HA. Castor oil, long walks, stairs, wings drenched in the "Blazing" sauce at Buffalo Wild Wings...nothing had worked, but man, was I determined to get things started with my big bowl of pineapple.

7:30 p.m.

We arrived at our friends' place and got everything organized for the next morning, before getting back into the van for a quick bite to eat. After dinner, we were planning on seeing the screen adaptation of my favorite book, The Giver. Despite having been on modified bed rest for two months, I insisted on parking as far away as possible from both the restaurant and the movie theatre, in a final, desperate attempt to feel some contractions. Instead, I got to feel a very full stomach after Justin and I devoured an extra-large bucket of popcorn.

9:30 p.m.

The movie was wonderful, and we left the theatre after the credits with smiles on our faces. We drove back to our friends' condo, and started to get ready for bed. Both the night before the caesarean, and the morning of, I had to shower with a "gentle" surgical soap my OB had given me at my last appointment. I've had several surgeries where I've been required to use said soap and had no issues, so I'm not sure if it was a weird fluke, or a strange new brand, but holy banana pancakes. That stuff BURNED.

After rinsing away the fiery surgical soap of doom, I put my hair in a couple of French braids and went over our hospital checklist for the millionth time with Justin.

11:30 p.m.

It was getting really late, and I wasn't even a little bit tired, but I knew I should at least attempt to get some sleep. I took my final dose of anti-emetics and tried to settle in for some sleep.

Justin, of course, was out in minutes. I tossed and turned almost the entire night. I think I finally fell into a very light sleep around 3:00, which wasn't much help, as my alarm was due to go off only an hour later.

Tuesday, August 19th
4:00 a.m.

My phone started blaring, waking me from my restless sleep. I groggily got out of bed and waddled to the bathroom for my second shower with the atomic surgical soap. I tried to shower as fast as I could. The shower and smell of the soap was making me nauseated. My body needed my anti-emetics, but I couldn't take anything via mouth after 11:30 the previous night in case of an emergency requiring general anesthesia.

After my shower, Justin and I brushed our teeth and repacked our hospital bag with everything we'd gotten out the night before.

5:10 a.m.

Everything was organized. We were ready to go. Justin snapped one last picture of my baby bump before we left.

We quietly made our way down Tim and Dani's stairs, and out to our van. Justin opened the door for me and asked "Are you ready?"

"NOPE," I replied, laughing.

We got into the van and buckled our seat belts. Justin took my hand and held it in his as we drove to Avera McKennan Hospital, silently, in the early morning darkness.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


It was September, a few weeks into my first year at Webster City Middle School. I was in the sixth grade, and begrudgingly sitting down at a table during lunch, refusing to eat. I was protesting the alphabetical seating arrangement the principal had forced upon us. It was an unsuccessful attempt to stop cliques from forming.

I was sitting with the other students in my class with "H" last names - there were only three of us. One was a boy named Ross, who I had an enormous crush on at the time, and the other was a boy named Bret.

Being the "new kid" at WCMS, I didn't know much about either of them, or really anyone, with the exception of the few friends I'd made in the flute section during band. I awkwardly (because let's face it, I'm an awkward person), and nervously (hello, middle school crush) attempted to start a conversation with the two of them. I have no idea what was said. There is only one part of that lunch period that remember, but I remember it vividly.

It was warm that day, very warm. I waved my hand in front of my face a few times to get some air moving, and said "Wow, I'm hot."

Bret tipped back in his chair, ran his hand through his blonde hair and said "No you're not, you're ugly." He laughed with Ross for a few seconds, and then went on to talk about all the "hot girls" in our class.

I'd never really had self esteem issues before. I was bullied a lot at my previous school, HLV, but that was mainly because I was also the "new kid" there (in a town where nothing even remotely exciting ever happened), and because I had no interest in sports outside of swimming. Kids will find a reason to bully. That was theirs. It hurt that I didn't have many friends and that the kids were so mean, but I never felt that I specifically had something wrong with me.

That all changed the day that Bret pointed out my lack of physical appeal. Especially when he told all of his friends about the hilarious comment he made at lunch. I put on a tough exterior when I was teased about the way I looked. I made sassy comebacks, and pretended their commentary on my face and weight didn't bother me. But it did. A lot.

I've struggled with my opinion of myself for 13 years now. I wish I could say that I'm at a point in my life where I really don't care what I look like and what people think about that, but I'm not. Every time someone makes a comment about my oversized forehead, big nose, masculine jaw, broad shoulders, large bust, huge belly, massive thighs, or whatever else they find wrong with me, I'm that 11-year-old girl at the lunch table, being called ugly.

And that poor self image has crept in to other areas of my life. I've been told that I exude confidence when I perform on the stage. While I'm glad that that is apparently the image being projected to the audience, and I should consider that proof that I have at least some acting ability, it doesn't change the fact that I see myself as a fat, ugly, talent-less waste of space 99.9% of the time.

I don't like myself very much, and the fact that I allow what people think of me to mold my own self image makes me have even more issues with my self image. I hate that I allow the opinions of others to shape my attitude, and I hate that the fear of what other people will say/think/do has kept me from being successful, or even attempting to be successful.

I don't know if I will ever be able to change the way I see myself. I hope that someday I can. In the mean time, I want to ask everyone, myself included, to try to prevent someone else from going through this, as best we can. Think about the way we speak to each other, and consider the example that we set for our children when they witness us speaking to others. Bret probably doesn't even know who I am anymore, and he certainly wouldn't remember calling me ugly in the sixth grade. Why would he? He was being a kid, and I highly doubt that he even considered that his one little comment would be the first shot in a lifelong battle of self deprecation for his awkward sixth grade classmate.

However, what if we all stopped, even for just a moment, before we said anything, and thought about the possible effects our words could have on the person we speak them to? What if we encouraged this same behavior and habit of self-evaluation in our children? What would our world look like?

Words matter. Words are powerful. And words can hurt. They can hurt for a long, long time.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Kate's Birth Story: Part Three

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
1:00 a.m.

I sat up quickly, startled awake by the urgent dinging of my monitor. I looked over at the screen. 213/110. An expletive escaped my mouth as I quickly laid back down and turned onto my left side. A nurse came in, and began taking my blood pressure every few minutes.

I tried to relax as much as I could, but Justin continued to announce my pressure every time it was taken - until the nurse told him to stop (thank you, nurse).

At that point, I broke down. I knew how dangerous my blood pressure readings were. I was beginning to have pain near my liver (a dangerous sign that can point to a woman progressing into HELLP Syndrome or full-blown eclampsia). I couldn't look at anything without bright flashing lights obstructing my vision. My fingers and toes were so swollen that I couldn't bend them. I knew that no amount of medication or IV lines could prevent me from getting worse. Kate needed to come out as soon as possible, or we both were going to die.

The nurse stroked my hand and told me that she was sorry. She told me this was the hardest thing I would ever have to do. I know now that she was trying to help, but in my sleep deprived, pain-filled emotional state, I just wanted to punch her in the face.

She left for a minute as my monitor continued to ding urgently each time a new reading was in. The screen was turned away from me. I still don't know how high my reading got, but I know they continued to climb. When she returned, she told me my care team wanted to restart the magnesium. She hooked me up to another bag as I braced myself for the burning feeling to return. I reached for my big jug of water, but she took the cup out of my hands.

"Nothing by mouth," she said. I knew what that meant, but she wouldn't admit it.

Kate would be arriving in the morning.

8:00 a.m.

I came out of a light sleep to see the ceiling moving above me. Justin was walking ahead of my bed. I was pushed once again into the ultrasound room. As soon as the lights were out, I told Justin I was sorry, but I just couldn't keep my eyes open. I hadn't had more than forty five minutes of continuous sleep for over three days.

I woke up about an hour later, still in the ultrasound room, to the sound of one of my doctors letting Justin know that my time was up. "We're going to have to go ahead and deliver today," he said.

I must have dozed off again because the next thing I knew, the physician's assistant on my care team was about elbow deep in Kate's exit route doing a cervical check. Let me tell you, friends, there was nothing that could have prepared me for that little moment of fun. OUCH. After much yelping on my part, the PA relayed "One centimeter dilated" to one of my nurses, and instructed her to take me back to my room to begin labor induction via Pitocin.

9:30 a.m.

Back in my room, my two nurses for the day added Pitocin to the pump that was already pushing fluids, magnesium sulfate, and I honestly don't remember what else, into my veins. 

It didn't take long for the contractions to start, and my nurses carefully monitored them, along with Kate's heart rate and activity level. They weren't painful, came at fairly regular intervals, and Kate handled them beautifully.

10:30 a.m.

After being on the Pitocin for awhile, my care team entered my room. Since Kate was doing well with the contractions, they wanted to continue to augment my labor with other intervention methods. These included Cervidil and several other medications that I was not comfortable with. They estimated that all of the induction methods would prepare my cervix for labor in about twelve hours, and after that I would still have a long road of laboring and pushing.

I looked at my monitors. My blood pressure had left the 200-range after restarting the magnesium, but it was still very high, and was continuing to climb each time it was taken. I then looked to Justin, who shook his head. We both knew there was no way I could safely go another twelve hours, much less the extra time after that twelve hours.

Still looking at Justin, I said "I think maybe we should just go ahead with a c-section."

The PA, who is one of the sweetest women I have ever met, tried to change my mind, telling me about all the benefits of a vaginal delivery. She was the only female on my team of doctors. I knew she was trying to advocate for me, to make me feel like I had a say in what happened, and to make me feel like I still had a shot at achieving the 100% pain medication free birth plan I had written out before preeclampsia invaded my body.

I told her thank you, but I also told her that everyone in the room knew my pressure was climbing, and it was only going to be a matter of time before I was rushed into the operating room. I didn't want to risk my blood pressure getting any higher and creating more complications for Kate or myself. She nodded, and one of the other doctors in the room told me that I made the right call.

The team left to get everything ready for the operation and Justin patted my hand.

"I'm sorry," I told him. I felt like a complete failure. My entire pregnancy had been a mess. Throwing up constantly from HG, not gaining any weight, a growth restricted baby, preeclampsia, and now I couldn't even give birth the way my body was designed to.

Justin brushed a few strands of hair off of my forehead and kissed it, telling me it wasn't my fault.

11:15 a.m.

My nurses came back into my room and told me they were going to begin preparing me for surgery.

"NOW?" I was startled by the sudden timing, thinking that it would take several hours for them to get everything together. One of my nurses told me that the operating room was just about ready, and I would be headed there shortly.

I quickly got on the phone with my parents to let them know. Miraculously, they were already almost in Sioux Falls.

After I hung up the phone, my nurses finished prepping me, and the anesthesiologist came in. He began to explain the procedure to me and what would be happening throughout the surgery. As he was speaking, my parents walked through the door, and I finally lost it. The tears started coming, and I began shaking uncontrollably. It was truly one of the most terrifying moments of my life.

When I finally caught my breath, I asked my nurses to call in a hospital chaplain to pray with me before the operation. The anesthesiologist continued his explanation, and even stayed, along with my nurses, husband, and my parents to pray with us when the chaplain got there. The amount of faith and love that filled that room, that fills everything at Avera McKennan, was unbelievable. That moment will always be remembered.

11:40 a.m.

My nurses began pushing my bed toward the operating room. Justin was sent to another room to put on scrubs, as I was moved through the doors into a bright, white, sterile looking room, and onto the operating table. My anesthesiologist had me lean into him as my spinal block was inserted (weirdest feeling ever, by the way...not exactly painful, but weird). It didn't take long to start feeling numb from the waist down. By the time they had me situated on the operating table, I couldn't move my legs. Strange as that was, it didn't bother me nearly as much as having my wrists strapped down with restraints, or the fact that by this point, my entire body was so swollen that my face and hands were beginning to ache from all the fluid retention.

A few minutes later, Justin came in, dressed head to toe in blue surgical scrubs. He sat down on a stool next to me and stroked my hair. All I could do was say "I'm sorry" over and over and over again.

The surgery started, and as I nervously laid on the table, a woman who sat next to Justin, near my head, tried to distract me. She was an absolute saint. Had it not been for her and Justin keeping me informed and calm throughout the operation, I have no doubt that I would have had a nervous breakdown. She asked us questions about Kate. We talked about her name, her nursery, and our plans for her homecoming, even though we knew the road back home was going to be a long one.

12:06 p.m.

Justin stood up periodically and peered over the curtain separating us from the surgical team, relaying what was going on to me. Finally, he looked over the curtain again and back at me, with tears in his eyes. "She's out," he said.

I tried to crane my neck and look over the curtain. All I could see was the tops of heads - NICU nurses and neonatologists - hunched over an incubator, assessing Kate. "One pound, fourteen point five ounces, thirteen inches long," I heard one of the nurses say.

That's when the pain and nausea hit. Suddenly it felt like someone was ripping through my abdomen, and that I would throw up any instant. An emesis bag was placed next to my head, and I was given morphine, in what I can only assume was an extremely large dose.

The pain subsided, and the nausea went away. I took a few deep breaths and tried to relax. Then I heard the most beautiful sound in the world: Kate's first, tiny, precious cry. She was breathing on her own!

She was doing well enough that she did not require a ventilator or an immediate transfer to the NICU, so a nurse wheeled her incubator up next to my head, and I saw her for the very first time. I couldn't touch her or hold her, but I will never forget the power of that moment. A rush of overwhelming love washed over me. Every day spent vomiting over the toilet, every needle prick, every painful procedure, every miserable second of my nightmare pregnancy faded away in that moment, as I saw one of God's greatest blessings before me. I was mother now - a mother to a beautiful, strong, healthy baby girl. She was wrapped in a blanket, perfectly pink, with her tiny eyes closed and a head full of strawberry blonde hair. Never had I experienced the incredible beauty of God's miraculous hand of creation so potently.

"She's a little tired," one of the doctors said. "But she looks great!"

"Hi, baby girl. Are you sleepy? I'm sleepy, too," I told her. There were a few chuckles from the medical team. "I love you so much, Catherine."

They had to take her then. She would need to have a more detailed evaluation in the NICU, and get settled into her temporary home. She would be put on a ventilator for precaution, and closely monitored for the first few hours of her life. I watched her incubator disappear through the doors as a fresh stream of conflicted tears began to form. I was so grateful for a healthy child, but at the same time, incredibly heartbroken that she had been taken out too soon, and I couldn't even hold her to comfort her.

Kate's very first picture: On her ventilator in the NICU.

The rest of my hospital stay was a whirlwind. Justin's parents were able to fly in from California to meet Kate and spend some time with her. We were also blessed to see so many family and friends throughout my long stay. Kate was one popular little lady!

I finally got to see and touch Kate in the evening of the day of her birth, and Justin and I were both able to hold her for the first time the next day.

My preeclampsia improved after Kate's birth, but then began to get worse again two days after delivery. I felt like I was constantly being taken on and off of the magnesium, which also meant I was being transferred back and forth between rooms that could handle a patient on magnesium, and rooms better equipped for recovery. I was finally completely stabilized on August 11th, five days after Kate's birth.

Kate was baptized on August 9th in the NICU by the pastor of a local LCMS congregation, a congregation that became very near and dear to our hearts, both due to many personal connections (it's a small world in the LCMS), and the kindness and encouragement from them. They were an incredible blessing to us throughout our journey to bring Kate home, and we are so grateful for their love and support.

Kate's NICU baptism.

Kate stayed in the NICU for almost three months, growing and feeding, with no apparent concerns. She was removed from her ventilator after ten hours, and switched to CPAP. She was taken off CPAP a few weeks later, and given oxygen for about a month before she was breathing well enough on her own to go without any assistance.

Kate miraculously came home one day before her November 1st due date, Halloween, without a heart or lung monitor or any special instructions or gear needed.

All ready to go HOME!

She is now close to fifteen pounds, and approaching her first birthday. She is strong, happy, and extremely intelligent - frighteningly so. She is a daddy's girl who loves sparkles, Sesame Street, and avocados. She is our Little Viking. Through God's healing hands, the power of prayer, and the beauty of love, she has overcome every hurdle that extreme prematurity threw her way. Like the meaning of her name (Catherine Victoria), she has emerged purely victorious.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Kate's Birth Story: Part Two

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013
6:00 p.m.

I looked upward as they wheeled me into the hospital, first at the sky, then to the ceiling as the paramedics whisked me past the emergency room, down skywalks, and through the double doors of the third floor Labor and Delivery Unit of Avera McKennan Hospital.

My gurney was pushed into a labor room with hardwood floors and two large windows. Justin placed our bags on a couch in the corner as they moved me and my pump that pushed fluids and magnesium sulfate into my veins from the gurney to the labor bed.

Just as I was getting as comfortable as I could with the catheter and effects of the magnesium, several nurses, a doctor, and a physician's assistant came in. The doctor, the head perinatologist at Avera explained to my husband and I what was happening to me, and estimated that I would be delivering within three days. I was to stay on strict bedrest. No getting up for the bathroom (guess that catheter was going to come in handy after all) or to shower. I was also put on a liquid diet to prevent excessive vomiting from a combination of the magnesium and my HG. Other than that, I don't remember much else of what was said - my face was absolutely burning from the magnesium sulfate and I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

After the doctor left, a lab tech took some blood from my arm, and my nurse for the night came in. I wish I could remember her name, because she took such good care of me. She took my vitals and told me to rest because I was very sick. She also said to try to keep visitors to a minimum, and that she would make sure they stayed quiet so they wouldn't raise my blood pressure even more.

She wrapped my legs in devices that compressed them at an interval to prevent blood clots (they looked like space boots) and hooked my bump up to a fetal monitor to keep tabs on Kate.

I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

7:00 p.m.

My phone was blowing up with text messages from my family as my nurse finished up a neurological test. Magnesium sulfate can sometimes cause a problem called magnesium toxicity, in which the patient experiences nausea, muscle weakness, and loss of reflexes. I had to have my reflexes tested at least once every hour to make sure that the medication didn't do more harm than good.

My family was already in Sioux Falls - my mom and sister for my cousin's bridal shower, and my dad and brother-in-law for a day on my uncle's farm working on an old truck, as well as my niece and nephew. They showed up a few minutes later to visit for awhile.

After a half hour or so, my blood pressure began to climb again, so my nurse kicked my family out.

Justin and I just stared at each other for what seemed like ages, discussing what we were going to do if we couldn't get the preeclampsia under control. Were we prepared to be launched into parenthood three months earlier than we expected?

10:00 p.m.

My nurse arrived for another neurological test. By this point, with the hourly checks, I had given up on trying to sleep, which I regret. Had I known just how bad the effects of the magnesium sulfate were going to be over the next few days, I would have forced myself to sleep anyway.

After she finished hammering on my knees and shining bright lights in my eyes, she gave me my anti-puke-your-guts-out-from-hyperemesis-gravidarum pills, and let me pop an Ambien to help me sleep better.

Justin made up the pull-out bed from the couch, turned out the light, and we both settled in for the night.

Sunday, August 4th, 2013
12:00 a.m.

I had been tossing and turning to no avail for hours. I couldn't get comfortable. Kate had nestled herself in a position in which she only could be picked up on the fetal monitor if I was flat on my back, which was killing me from lying on it without so much as getting up for the bathroom since 2:00 in the afternoon.

Justin tried everything to make me feel better: Movies, extra pillows, multitudes of ice cream in those little Styrofoam cups. I just wanted to rip out my catheter and rest on my left side! Eventually, he went to sleep, and I entertained myself by listening to Kate's kicks and punches on the fetal monitor.

And then I felt a little pain very low on the right side of my abdomen. At first it felt similar to when one of my (smaller) ovarian cysts ruptures, which was strange, because ever since becoming pregnant, all of my pelvic pain - explained and unexplained - had mysteriously vanished.

The pain quickly grew stronger until I was screaming for help. Justin flew out of bed and to my side, and my nurse was through the door in a matter of seconds. All I could tell her was "It hurts!"

She ran back out of my room as the pain grew more intense. Justin was stroking my hair and I was shaking and crying out for someone to make it stop. Super nurse came back in and shot some medicine through my IV. A few moments later, the pain started to decrease. She had given me Stadol, a drug in the same class as morphine, but far stronger, yet my pain was so bad that I could still feel it, despite the medication.

"Thank you," I told her breathlessly, wiping away a couple of tears.

"I took one look at you and knew you weren't messing around," she said, and patted my hand. "Just wait a few minutes, you're gonna be feeling pretty good."

She left, and sure enough, soon after I got really goofy. The Stadol, mixed with the Ambien, magnesium sulfate, and my pure exhaustion had me seeing all sorts of colors and objects that weren't there, as well as imagining having conversations with Justin that I didn't actually have. At least he was entertained.

7:00 a.m.

I stared groggily out the window as the sun streamed in. While all the medicine kept my pain in control over the course of the night, the neuro-checks every 60 minutes destroyed any hope of sleep. I had probably been unconscious for a total of 45 minutes that entire night.

My nurse for the day shift came in and introduced herself, checked my reflexes, and told me my doctor would be in soon.

When he and his team arrived, they reviewed my lab results with me. The level of protein in my urine was climbing, but I wasn't showing any abnormalities in regards to elevated liver enzymes or low platelets, a sign that the preeclampsia was getting dangerously close to becoming eclampsia or HELLP syndrome. They warned me to let them know right away if I began to experience liver pain.

The doctor's plan was for me to rest for the entire day, and see how my body and Kate responded to the magnesium sulfate. He ordered continued lab work for that evening, and more lab work and an ultrasound early the next morning.

2:00 p.m.

Sleep came in short bursts the rest of the morning and early afternoon, but when I was awake, I grew increasingly moody from exhaustion and the constant burning feeling of the magnesium.

Attempting to sleep, flushed from the drugs.
My aunt, two cousins, and soon-to-be cousin-in-law stopped by that afternoon to visit. It lifted my spirits quite a bit - especially since they brought some pretty flowers and an awesome dinosaur necklace (that I am currently this thing!).

After they left, I spent the rest of the day, yet again, attempting to sleep, having my reflexes checked, and having my blood drawn for various lab tests.

The magnesium burned hotter, and I grew more exhausted each minute.

Monday, August 5th, 2013
9:00 a.m.

At some point that I can't recall, I had been released from my full liquid diet, and permitted to eat real food. I was just finishing up some toast from my breakfast tray when a woman from ultrasound came through the door to wheel me down the hall.

I was already well into the zombie stage, struggling to stay awake during the scan. It took every bit of strength I had to keep my eyes open enough to watch Kate on the screen. My sweet girl was not acting like the baby I had become so used to seeing dance around inside my tummy - she was very inactive, and I heard a few people in the room commenting about her acting like a "mag baby", referring to the magnesium sulfate infiltrating my blood stream. I was assured that while the characteristic inactiveness of a "mag baby" wasn't the greatest thing in the world, it was normal.

10:00 a.m.

Back in my room, my nurse began another neurological test. She looked concerned as she checked my reflexes - when she hit my knees, my legs didn't budge. She raised an eyebrow, typed something into the computer, and told me my doctor was on his way.

10:30 a.m.

Justin and I were relaxing when my doctor and his team arrived.

My lab work results were in. My protein level had more than doubled; There was no longer any question that preeclampsia was the culprit - not that anyone at Avera McKennan had questioned that I had preeclampsia to begin with.

We also were informed about the findings of the ultrasound. My placenta was not able to pass on the nutrients Kate needed, and poor, restricted blood flow through the umbilical cord resulted in her being extremely small (in the 6th percentile) for her gestational age.

I do not know if the magnesium sulfate was exacerbating the intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) or not, but at least due to Kate becoming less active and my reflexes beginning to disappear, my doctor wanted the magnesium sulfate to be discontinued. At this point, my blood pressure was sitting at 130/80. Not dangerously high, but definitely high for me. He wanted to know how long I could stay in a relatively healthy range without the magnesium.

I finished the current bag of magnesium sulfate several hours later, and was not given another. They replaced the IV medication with oral Procardia and put me on a nasal cannula (which caused some cute nose bleeds from the constant dry air), as my oxygen levels were getting a little low. They again instructed me to try and rest.

1:00 p.m.

A few hours later, I was still feeling the effects of the magnesium sulfate, but I felt a million times more human, despite the fact that I was desperately craving a shower. I did notice, however, that since discontinuing the medication, my swelling began to increase. I moved my wedding ring from my ring finger to my pinky.

Looking awesome, right?
My nurse came in to check on me, and also to give me some fantastic news. She had gotten ahold of my perinatologist in Sioux City. My Maternity21 test was negative. We no longer had reason to believe that Kate had Down Syndrome!

Justin and I were so relieved to hear this news. It helped us both to relax a bit, and we spent a few hours just enjoying each other's company, second-guessing our name choice, and praying together. My family also came to visit again.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. For a few hours, even though we had been told I would be hospital bound until delivery, we thought we might make it out of Avera McKennan with Kate still safe inside.