The last trimester of my pregnancy after loss was riddled with anxiety. I had never made it this far into pregnancy before. I thought to myself – if I can just make it to that point, the week where her sister died, and if things were still okay, then maybe I could finally relax. But instead, I felt a new layer of anxiety unearth itself around me, as I entered into parts of a pregnancy that I have never experienced before. With each day that passed, I fell deeper in love, and with each day that passed, I had more and more to lose. I was being seen at the high risk maternity clinic every week from 30 weeks, as we noticed that Reya’s growth was beginning to slow down. She had dropped from the 11th centile to the 6th to the 4th and then to the 2nd. Our doctor let us know that the chances of making it to the full 40 weeks was highly unlikely, and that we should prepare for a premature delivery. But he sounded optimistic, and he told us that she was a good size to be born, and that preemie babies at this gestation tend to do very well.
But, I was so scared of losing her. I was scared she would die before we would have a chance to bring her earthside. A part of me felt “safe” because we had crossed 30 weeks – that we had some degree of protection. But I also know how unpredictable pregnancy can be, and how nothing is promised. I know mothers who have lost their babies at 30 weeks, 35 weeks, 40 weeks, or after they were born.
I felt so uneasy and defeated living this closely to death and loss. The thought of losing another baby, another daughter, was just too much for my heart to take. But I knew that I had to face whatever would come our way. I placed my hands on my bump, feeling my daughter swim around within me, and I said to her – I am your mother. And you are my daughter. And whatever your path in this lifetime is, I will see you through it.
That was and still is my promise to my daughter.
As our weekly appointments began, there was a feeling churning within me, it felt like something big was going to happen. But I couldn’t envision anything beyond pregnancy. Our focus for the last 9 months has been on just saying pregnant, that if I was ever to be handed a little breathing, crying, moving, cooing baby in my arms, I would have no idea what to do. We never thought that part through.
From 30 weeks onwards, every week felt like a bonus week. That is when I came to realize that 40 weeks of pregnancy really is a privilege – one that not all women and babies are given. Our daughters growth fluctuated a lot over the next few weeks. Sometimes she grew a bit, sometimes not so much, but she always did well on her Non Stress Tests and Biophysical profiles.
My husband and I made it our personal goal to still be pregnant at 34 weeks. And I was. And week 34 came with it’s own surprises. I spent new years day in labour and delivery for false labour. Then at our weekly appointment we found out that our baby had barely grown in the last two weeks, and that my blood pressure which has been stable and on the low side throughout this entire pregnancy has started to creep up. But since it was still borderline and fluctuating, we were sent home and told to continue monitoring it a few times a day and go into the hospital if it goes any higher.
That day, I wished that I would have been admitted to the hospital – a place where I felt my baby would be the safest. But I wasn’t, and I spent the week so worried that we would miss something and she would be gone before I had a chance to notice. These were such difficult feelings to have. But, the end was in sight now.
I spent the next two weeks monitoring my blood pressure, which was consistently creeping up. It was stressful, to say the least. At 35 weeks, Reya’s growth had dropped even further and our doctor told us that next week, at 36 weeks, he would admit me to be induced for labour. I felt frightened, sick to the stomach, but also relieved. Just one more week of anxious self-monitoring. Just one more week of carrying the burden of being responsible for a life growing within me, so precious and delicate, that I simply didn’t know how to take care of. That week was traumatic. My BP was up and I had a little bit of bleeding. I felt like I was drowning in fear and loss. We were in and out out of Triage for various things and to be monitored. So many evenings were spent at the hospital, listening to the reassuring thud of her heartbeat, with my belly strapped to the monitor.
At our last prenatal appointment at 36 weeks, I walked in with a sense of confidence of “thank God this will be over soon.” But our little baby surprised us all, with a sudden mini-growth spurt. Our doctor was happy with this and told us that we could go yet another week, till 37 weeks, and then induce me.
I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was conflicted. I was so glad to hear that not only was she was still alive but that she had GROWN! But I was also upset. I couldn’t imagine having to go through another week of this pregnancy. I couldn’t put myself through this emotional anguish for another 7 days. My husband and my mom, who were with me at this appointment, felt that waiting another week was the best option – and medically, it was. An extra week of womb-time for my baby was good for her growth and development. But I just couldn’t do it. I cried and got all flustered, and my doctor said he would be happy to induce me now, at 36 weeks, simply for my mental health. I felt all kinds of shame and guilt – I was being selfish, I was putting my feelings and my peace of mind above my health of my daughter, my daughter was not yet even born and I was already a bad mother.
We were told we would get a call the next day when there was a room available in the labour ward for my induction. Even though this was a completely different pregnancy, I expected everything to happen just as it had happened last time with Mia. And last time, I was not called to go into the hospital till very late at night. So I felt like I had lots of time to mentally and physically prepare for the process of labour. I thought back to my labour experience with Mia, and thought about what I learned from it, what we could do better this time. We planned to have a long nap during the day – as I recalled being so physically exhausted and sleep deprived during my last labour. I planned to have a big meal, as I recalled being energy depleted and weak when it came to pushing. We planned to do a few last minute things – a little bit of cleaning and prepping etc, before leisurely strolling into the hospital in the night.
But soon after waking up in the morning, we got a call telling us it was time to come in. Cue total shock. Followed by reminding myself that – just because something happened in a certain way a year ago, doesn’t mean it has to be the exact same thing this time. This was something I had to often remind myself throughout this pregnancy; “This is a different pregnancy, this is a different baby, this will have a different outcome.”
And so off we went to the hospital.
It’s strange, when I think back to Mia’s still-birth story, I can recall every detail of those 3 days I spent in hospital. I can remember every moment of my long labour with her. I can remember everything the doctors did and said. I can remember every precious minute with my daughter. But when I think back to Reya’s birthstory, everything is a hazy blur. I can’t remember the details. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, except for a few critical moments. I think the reason for this is, with Mia, her birth story was all I had of her. After we left the hospital, without a baby, I had weeks and months of agonizing grief, and time to recollect my memories of every moment of her. I played and replayed her birth in my mind over and over again. It was all I had of her. It was my most intense experience with her.
With Reya, my living daughter, the most intense part was not labour and delivery, but everything that came afterwards. The newborn days. The weight of a real, living, breathing baby in my arms. The sleeplessness. The fullness of my heart. The timelessness of everything. The pure anxiety. The pure rapture.
And so, this is what I remember from Reya’s birth story. These are the important parts.
I was induced with Cervidil. And then we waited a few hours for the contractions to begin, which it did, slowly at first. My mind couldn’t connect labour with giving birth to a baby. It was almost as though my mind was programmed to think “You go through pregnancy, and then you spend a couple of days in hospital in pain.” rather than “After pregnancy, you go into labour and give birth to your baby.”
So I felt as though I had been admitted to the hospital for some kind of painful procedure – and not that I was there to meet my baby. My husband and I paced up and down the hallway, stopping every few minutes to breathe through a contraction. I bounced on the birthing ball. Baby was monitored frequently. My blood pressure stayed normal. Everything was uncomplicated.
As my contractions increased in intensity, I stopped being able to walk, and instead just got into my bed and tried to doze off in-between them. In the early hours of the morning, I felt a clicking thumping feeling. I thought it was my baby kicking me into my cervix as she often did in the third trimester, but this was different because it was painless. I ignored it and tried to go back to sleep, when I realized that everything was wet, and that it was actually my waters breaking.
We were transferred to the birthing suite and I was delirious with pain. At around 7pm, the doctors came in and told us that our baby was not tolerating labour well, and was starting to have decelerations on her CTG. She said that we would need an emergency C-section and asked me how I felt about that.
Whatever it takes to keep my baby alive, let’s do it – is what I said.
I knew that things would be fast from there. I had observed many c-sections as a medical student, and I remember always being so surprised at how fast baby is out. The fact that I was going to meet my daughter soon dawned on me. I was so nervous.
I was quickly wheeled into the operating room. I had been given a cocktail of medications at this point, that made me feel incredibly out of it. I was high as a kite – to put it mildly. I felt like I could a barely string a thought or a sentence together. I was sleepy beyond measure. I could hardly keep my eyes open. This bothered me – I really wanted to be present at the time my daughter was born.
In the OR, all the doctors and nurses introduced themselves to me and explained to me what they would be doing to help my baby. Because she was 4 weeks premature and IUGR, we knew there would be a good chance we would require a stay in the NICU. My husband came in and sat by my side. He had a look in his eyes that I had never seen before. He was wide-eyed and alert, emotional and afraid. He told me he loved me and that we would face everything, every moment, together. He is my strength.
The ceiling tiles of the OR were shiny. I remember thinking “What a strange choice of tile for an operating room.” And then I realized that they were REFLECTIVE and I could see what was happening behind the curtain. Now, I am not much of a squeamish person, and I am actually more intrigued to see a c-section performed on myself. But my anxiety was high, I worried my baby would die, so I told myself to try to look away. But I did watch. And I did get to see my daughter being pulled out of my belly.
Moments later, there was crying. My husband stood up to see our daughter. The doctor tried to pull the curtain down for me to see my baby, but it was still too high. It took a few moments for me to feel something. There was a deep, deep, emptiness. Like a gaping hole. Like a vacuum. Like the way the ocean recedes before a tsunami. And then there was a rush. It was overwhelming and intense, and something I can never put into words. I felt a part of myself that I had never accessed before click unlocked. I wept and wept. I was sobbing from a place so deep inside of me.
My husband rushed to be by our daughters side during her first moments of life, her introduction to the world. The adrenaline forced me to be present and in the moment when I saw my daughter, but as soon as she was whisked away from me, the high of the medication engulfed me again, and I closed my eyes, slipping in and out of consciousness. I wish I would have been more awake. But that is just the way it was.
Reya cried for the first couple minutes of her life, as she was born, and as they swaddled her. Once she was wrapped up, she was so quiet and so alert. She was breathing well on her own. She didn’t need any medical assistance. She was 2.06kg. The cut off to be taken to the NICU was 2kg, so she just narrowly missed a NICU stay. She looked just like her father. Her eyes were so bright.
After the surgery, we were whisked off to the recovery room. I hadn’t held my baby yet, so when the nurse asked me if I would like to have some skin to skin time with my daughter, I was like YES, PLEASE! But as soon as she placed her on my chest, I felt such an intense surge of emotion mixed in with the unpleasantness effects of the medications I was on, and I threw up! The nurse rushed Reya off of me.
I cannot believe that happened. I have always been one to romanticize life, but there is just no beautiful spin I can put on throwing up as soon as I held my daughter for the first time. So instead, it will just have to be funny story I can share with her someday.
Those hours shortly after her birth will always be one of the most beautiful time of my life. It was such a pleasure watching my husband holding our child.
I waited for the day that I would be able to hold my newborn baby in my arms like it was the final destination. And when I got there, I realized, it was just the beginning.