On March 22, 2008 I married my best friend Nathan. I already had a handsome 8 year old son and we knew we wanted children both biological and adopted. April after we were married, I finally saw a doctor about my severe and worsening reflux. Long story short I had a very large esophageal tumor right above my stomach. I had to have major surgery in July to remove my esophagus and most of my stomach in order to ensure it never grew back. Needless to say this was definitely postponing our plans to expand our family.
By January 2010 I was hospital free for over a year and started talking with my OB/GYN about the possibilities of a safe pregnancy for both me and potential baby. My OB referred me to the Maternal Fetal Specialist an hour away. We met and it was determined that yes I would be a high risk and she would give me a green light if I could get my daily calorie count up and if my cardiothorasic surgeon would also give the okay. In July 2010 I met all standards and was given the all clear by all 3 doctors. The only problem is that my husband a Marine Staff Sergeant was deployed and not slated to come home for another month.
October 2010 we had the best surprise when the little stick read positive! We were so excited!! Our first OB appointment was in November. Hearing the heartbeat for the first time was amazing. At my first Maternal Fetal appointment it was discovered that I had a short cervix (2.4cm) due to a cone biopsy some 6 years earlier when I had a cervical cancer scare. However short, my cervix was still healthy looking and may or may not be of any significance. I would have ultrasounds every 2 weeks to determine if my cervix was still healthy or if I would need a cervical cerclage.
January 2011 I was 14 weeks and strolling around browsing in Sam’s club with my husband I started getting menstrual like cramps that were somewhat relieved when I bent over and arched my back or put my feet up. At my next appointment I was sure to bring it up. My cervix had shortened and it sounded like I may be having contractions so I was put on pelvic rest. Pelvic rest so everyone knows means no intercourse, no heavy chores i.e. vacuuming. With Valentines coming up that was particularly fun, not! 😛
February 3 I woke up very ill and appeared to have a nasty stomach bug that was getting bad fast. I called my primary OB and was asked to come in to get checked out. It’s amazing how something like abdominal cramps and diarrhea can be annoying and embarrassing in your normal life can now become fatal to a pregnancy. It turns out I had lost a couple pounds already, was dehydrated and my blood sugar levels were increased enough for a hospital stay. Boo! Thankfully once I got some Imodium and IV fluids into me I quickly turned the corner. I got to have dinner at home the next night but was put on modified bed rest for a “little while” and would have weekly appointments with my MF doc since my cervix was getting shorter. February 14th we let the cat out of the bag with the official announcement – it’s a BOY!!
March 21, nine days after my 30th birthday, I had a MF appointment that scared me like I have NEVER been scared before or since. My cervix was not just short (1.8cm) but significantly funneling. My doctor started prepping me that I may be delivering today and if so I was 20 weeks and 3 days. Not at the [gestational] age of viability. I was to be admitted immediately and prepped for an emergency cerclage if possible. I held it together until we started checking out and getting the written orders for the Labor and Delivery nurses. My breath started hitching and silent tears started falling. By the time we got to the car I was crying and calling my mom in another state, 7 hours away. I tried explaining what was happening but I stated sobbing and couldn’t catch my breath. My husband had to take the phone away from me and calmly and quickly explain what was happening.
For those that don’t know, a cerclage is literally a stitch with 4 points that closes or pulls your cervix as closed as possible with stitches that look more like thin shoe laces. You are not normally put asleep but rather a spinal that numbs your entire lower half while they invert you so your feet are higher than your head. In this position, gravity is working pushing baby and the bag of waters as far away from the cervix and the needle as possible. My doctor got the stitch in but said she didn’t feel it was good enough so proceeded to put in another for a total of 8 points. It is a painful procedure not at the time but as soon as the Lidocaine epidural wears off you start really feeling that someone was messing and tugging downstairs. It is also common to have mild contractions and/or cramps. So it is a scary 24 hour stay in the hospital waiting to see if the stitch is holding or if it irritates your uterus into full blown labor. In the mean time you are on complete bed rest which means you don’t leave the bed for ANYTHING.
My cerclage held and we were told to remain on strict bed rest until I reached 22 weeks, the minimum [gestational] age of viability. At 22 weeks I had a follow up and everything was holding well but I was to stay on strict bed rest. At 25 weeks I had been having discomfort around my stitches and while not necessarily contractions, I was experiencing discomfort. I was hooked up to the contraction monitor and had a few inconsistent, non-productive contractions.
They ordered an fFn (fetal fibronectin) test which determines if you have the protein present which must be there if you are going into labor in the next 2 weeks. If the test is negative then it’s negative. If the test is positive you may or may not go into labor in the next 2 weeks. I also received my first steroid injection at this time. It really is not a bad shot. The worst part is that it is in your hip and you can’t even walk the soreness out. Well lo and behold my fFn came back positive. Nothing changed, except we were all prepared for the very real probability that this was going to be a preterm baby.
We still had weekly appointments but started celebrating each week gone by and every ounce gained in utero. When the ultrasound showed little man was 2.2oz at 26 weeks we were ecstatic!! We were no longer going to have a micropreemie! Every week and ounce gained meant our chance of viability was that much higher. Next we were given the goal of 28 weeks. After 28 weeks gestation the many difficulties facing preemies are nearly cut in half. So you better believe we celebrated!!
May 6th came, 29 weeks, and I had been doing so well. My husband was starting with a new unit on the same base on Monday, May 9. I was no longer going to have someone home with me helping fetch water or making me lunch. I was put on modified bed rest 2 days before Mother’s Day!!! I still took it easy but I got up and fetched my own water and walked around the house a little.
May 8, 2011. Mother’s Day. I woke up at 2 in the morning and just could not get comfortable. I kept switching positions and tried reading on and off until 6 am. At 6 I decided I was done with the bed and got up leaving my husband sleeping. I went and fixed myself a nice bath and tried reading and relaxing in the bath. I kept having mild cramps and discomfort like when the baby would kick my cervical stitches. After a while it no longer seemed random but regular intervals. I didn’t have a watch with me so I couldn’t count how long in between pains other than it was right at 2-3 pages of my book apart and about 10 seconds long each. All of a sudden I had a BIG one and I was no longer uncertain. My book was thrown to the floor and I was grasping the shower curtain while I breathed through it. I immediately yelled for Nathan to come! I told him what was happening and he went and got his watch so we could time the next one. They were 10 seconds long and about 4 minutes apart.
He helped me out of the tub and got dressed quickly. He carried me downstairs and went to start the truck. I called my mom to let her know we were heading in and to start the phone chain. This was no false labor. We get to our local hospital and Nate left me to go get a wheelchair. He wheeled me inside and surprisingly no one gave me grief assuming we were in false labor. I don’t know if it was the wheel chair or my face while I breathed through yet another contraction. Either way they wasted no time by having us fill out forms. They took my husband’s ID and had him sign a single paper before telling us they would send someone up to finish paperwork in the room.
I was weighed in and helped in the bed. I told the nurse where I was feeling the contractions which happened to be right on top of where our baby was hanging out so it took a few minutes to get both the baby monitored and pick up the contractions. Only midwives were in the hospital at the time but they quickly had my primary OB on the phone and on her way in. They started me on IV magnesium sulfate to try and stop my labor. There are all the lovely side effects of the mag sulfate but it barely slowed my contractions from every 4 minutes to every 6 minutes apart. Not nearly enough. Our local hospital did not have a NICU equipped for very premature babies. My doctor got there in time to see that the meds were not working. We did an ultrasound and found out that little man was weighing in at 3lbs 3oz!!! Now I am sure that to most of the hospital staff we looked crazy to be so excited. We had watched this baby grow week after week and we had no idea we had reached the 3 pound mark. This was cause for celebration to this family! The disappointing thing was that after weeks of being head down, little man was now breech.
We already knew but our doctor told us we were going to have to go to New Hanover Regional Medical Center and they already had the ambulance on standby to take me to the hospital an hour away. The only thing that was up in the air was my cervical cerclage. If we left it in, with the way I was contracting, I had a good chance of dilating and ripping the stitch but the baby would most probably stay in until we got to our destination. Option B they take the stitch out no to prevent tearing my cervix before we get there. However we then risk the high probability of our baby being born there locally or in the back of the ambulance in route. Nate and I immediately agreed leaving the stitch in and I would risk the tear to give our baby the best odds.
My contractions were getting stronger and though I hadn’t yet dilated my doctor advised taking a little IV something, something to help me relax. I honestly don’t remember what they gave me. I relaxed A LOT. My contractions became more like menstrual cramps that I breathed through but was no longer sweating. Between being up since 2 and the drugs they gave me I started having a very difficult time staying awake for the next few hours. The best news was we made it to the hospital and my husband stayed on the ambulances tail the whole way. I was immediately wheeled down to their high risk floor with the NICU nurses and Neonatologist on standby. I had dilated to 3 cm on the trip there and had a small tear so the doc immediately stared to remove the stitch. As soon as the stitch was gone I was 6 cm dilated. The ultrasound was already in the room and they confirmed our baby was still breech and gave me another steroid shot sometime during the wait.
I was wheeled back into the OR for my emergency C-section. Everything happened just so fast! I was SO grateful that my husband was able to be back there with me. Brayden Robert Walsh was born 3lbs 3oz and 16” long at 2:22PM. Thankfully I couldn’t see anything and was in and out of consciousness. Our big boy was not breathing. The team kept working on him but it was obviously taking a while. My husband has related most of this to me since he was standing and watching them work on our baby on the other side of the room. Finally he was vented and stable enough in his isolette to let me have a peak before heading to the NICU.
The NICU nurses let us know that within 2 hours of birth, Brayden suddenly opened his eyes and started looking around. By 10:00 that evening he was off of the ventilator!!! Our baby was on a C-PAP on room air by the end of day one. And that was the general flow of our NICU stay. He was a fighter from day one and continued to thrive every day. He is now 21 months – walking, talking, running, climbing, an absolutely average toddler boy.