I just spent the past 2 hours writing the first half of Josie’s birth story and it’s 6 pages long. I know that’s inhumane to expect anyone to read through that much nonsense. Lots of details that don’t matter to anyone but me. But all the same, I’m sharing it if for nothing but family posterity. I don’t know. Read at your own risk.
Josie’s Birth Story
Tomorrow is Josie’s birthday. Around this time 5 years ago, I had been in induced labor for over 24 hours, had my water broken for about 12 and was begging for an epidural. I don’t know that I’ve ever written Josie’s birth story start to finish. That’s probably because I consider her birth story to start the Friday before she was born (the 5th though she was born on the 9th) when I had shockingly high blood pressure and the nurse thought I shouldn’t be able to function to the end of October, when we finally, finally got to go home.
So let’s back it up. Rewind.
Friday, I struggled with a credit card activation (to pay for my 39 week check up copay) while in the hospital parking garage with signal cutting in and out. I was incredibly irritated when I waddled in. It was the first appointment Brian hadn’t gone along with me. I walked back, peed, and had readings from the BP cuff. I remember the nurse staring at me after she checked the numbers. Like I had grown a 2nd (or 3rd) head. Apparently I shouldn’t have been able to feel normal. They sent me to triage. Meanwhile, my midwife consulted with my OB and it was decided I would be induced Sunday. Strict bed rest in the mean time. I felt fine. Well I felt 39 weeks pregnant, but otherwise, I didn’t know any different.
Saturday, bed rest. I watched TV and ate a lot of Captain Crunch.
Sunday, went to mass early (we broke the bed rest rules a little). I remember rubbing my tummy during mass thinking that the next Sunday I would be proudly holding my little girl all snuggled up in my arms in church.
That evening I was due for my induction. I remember how strange I felt in the hospital. I had only been in it twice before to visit after my sister’s birth and again my cousin’s. Not a lot of time logged (yet).
I remember thinking how strange it was that I had to pay the whole $500 copay before the birth, up front. I hadn’t expected that, so I charged my new card. I remember the nurse was a guy, which I was surprised by (again, I knew nothing) and he told me he loved the name Grace (Josie’s middle name).
I had cervidal inserted (ow). My midwife (and friend’s mom) came in to check on me, and her daughter stopped by with her toddler. I remember her jokingly asking if I wanted to practice changing a poopy diaper. I remember feeling like I wanted to be anywhere but the hospital. Gosh this a lot of detail! I seem to remember every single thing from the months of September and October 2008—but ya know, I’ll streamline to a slight degree for brevity’s sake (and yours).
I remember the nurse checking in on me around 7pm or so and telling me I was having strong contractions and asking if I ok. I told him I was just moving around and they weren’t contractions. He laughed and said they were, but I must be doing fine then.
That night I didn’t sleep. In fact I hadn’t slept much in the past few nights. I had had a horrible dream the Thursday before I was told I would be induced. Friday and Saturday I was in tears both nights worried from my Google searches about inductions and finding out how universally awful they all were. Sunday night, I didn’t sleep much in the hospital despite taking some pills to help. I was ready to be done.
Monday morning, I was doing fine, but having contractions off and on, but they were just uncomfortable not painful. My midwife told me we would break my water after breakfast and we did. That was excruciating. Seriously, hurt like hell and then you’re left in a disgusting puddle draining all over yourself. Horrible. After that though, my contractions did pick up quite a bit. I think I must have tried to nap because I don’t remember much until that evening except they told me to shower, take a walk and not to drink anything. And my mom, Brian and I watched a marathon of America’s Funniest until I got mad because they were laughing while I was hurting, and I made them turn off the TV.
Around 5pm my contractions started to kill. I remember the first real one that I couldn’t talk through I was on the phone with my friend Katie walking the halls. I handed Brian the phone and I guess told Katie to wait. I paused, leaned over, and waited a minute. Then I took the phone back excited to say I had to go, the baby was finally on her way! I was 5 cm.
I waddled back to the room and got in the tiny tub (tiny when you’re almost 6 foot tall) for a bath and cried through the contractions. I remember the nurse telling me I had to come out. I remember asking about a birthing ball but never using one. I remember the rocking chair incident. I was 7 cm. Brian was so drained and so tired. He didn’t know what to do with me and wasn’t exactly coming up with anything brilliant to soothe me in active labor. He offered to get me a rocking chair from across the room. I accepted the offer. Brian picked up the chair and dropped it on his foot and started wailing about how it hurt so bad—meanwhile I was, ya know, experiencing the pains of childbirth and awful unrelenting contractions. I was so over the whole experience. I hated it.
Around midnight I thought for sure it had to be time. I asked to be checked and I was still around 7cm. I was devastated. I was in serious pain. I was exhausted. I asked for an epidural. I felt guilty. They came in and went through the whole paper-signing, roll me on my side, needle stabbing whatever process. Fun. But sweet relief. I was still in the hospital another night yet without a baby in my arms, totally drained but the pain had stopped. I slept lightly in and out.
Tuesday early. I kept thinking this needed to be done by now. All morning. I kept asking to be checked on. I wanted to be done. Around 5am or so, my midwife came in and said we were going to try to push. I think I was just running out of time before a C-section needed to happen. Thankfully I got to start pushing—and continued to push for two horrible, horrible, horrible hours of the most strenuous, painful work I have ever done in my life! My nurse (I had had like 5 at this point because of shift changes) was rather ditsy and I remember while my eyes were closed, and pushing—they were finally seeing the baby’s head—the nurse goes, “Oh you think this hurts. Just wait til the baby’s head crowns. It feels like somebody took a lighter to your vagina.” I remember being too exhausted to react or care. I just kept my eyes closed and thought my God, what a moron. I also am pretty positive my midwife gave her a stern look because immediately after saying that she tried to down play what she had said. But those words, my friend, you’ll never get back.
I was so tired throughout pushing, and I begged over and over pleading, “just take her out.” They laughed at me and said, “We can’t take her out.” And I yelled, “yes you can–I read it in my Birth Book! Get the forceps! Get the vacuum. I don’t want to be pregnant. I want to go home!”
Shortly after those heroic words, with my exhausted husband shoveling ice chips for over two hours into my mouth, my baby girl was born. 9 and 9 apgars. Pink and healthy and strong. 6 lbs 6 oz. 9/9/2008.
Later I had bruises behind my legs from where they told me to grab them to help me push. My body was beyond sore. The epidural had worn off sometime during those two last hours.
I was so tired. Josie was placed on my stomach and I sighed and wondered, aren’t I supposed to see her and connect or cry or be happy now? But I just felt stunned. I looked at her face relieved to be done with pushing, and I thought two things. 1) Thank God she is so pretty. 2) Wow she has the longest fingers ever (little did I know then that’s a feature of her syndrome).
I remember the midwife reassuring me (I was worried because of the epidural) that she looked like she’d be a champion breast feeder (though of course she never got to try). And before I got the chance, we were overdue a shift change so they asked to have her back and I got cleaned up. I felt perfectly fine and my body felt lighter but normal. I peed and walked out of the bathroom and the nurse asked me how I could be done already and lamented she hadn’t given me the squeeze bottle to rinse, and I remember thinking—to rinse what? I used toilet paper. Was I supposed to hurt? Be jealous, I know. But don’t be jealous for long.
I never got a chance to feed Josie or bond. They wheeled us right up to the room. How strange it was to have her wheeled while I was pushed in front in a wheel chair. I remember thinking I couldn’t even see her behind me while we wheeled through the halls and I asked to slow down to be near her. I had worked so hard for her and hadn’t held her for more than a few moments. We got up to our room and I was so tired.
But it was rounds for the ped as soon as we got up to the floor. They took the baby out and Brian went with him. I’m pretty sure I ate something at that point. I remember the doctor (our beloved Dr Elzie, but we’d not yet met at that point) stuck his head in and said, “Uh it appears she has a cleft palate. That means she’s not going to be able to breast feed. We will send up…” And I went fuzzy. My entire body cringed. You have the wrong baby I thought. I just saw her and she’s perfect. Who are you and what do you know. Obviously nothing. (he probably introduced himself, but this is what I took in with the news). A bunch more stuff happened suddenly and in a whir of noise and motion but basically I got a bag full of pamphlets about cleft palate. They told me I couldn’t feed my baby and every one made a huge fuss over the SLP. Only she could feed her. If the baby got fussy I should call for her. Everyone acted like the SLP was a god or something. I had no idea what an SLP really was still. A plastic surgeon came in and told me he had seen the baby and that if it were his child he wouldn’t have the surgery done in Tallahassee (surprise, surprise). I asked when they’d want to operate and he said oh not until a year or so. But it was a shockingly large cleft. She had no roof to her mouth. Fun. He left.
I was devastated. Immediately after this news, I had a few friends who had thought I’d had the baby the day before come up unannounced. It was still only a couple hours after I had finally given birth. I only wanted to shower. I felt disgusting. I was mourning my baby was now somehow imperfect and trying to come to grips with that bomb, and feeling that I must have screwed her up somehow. I was feeling that heavy load of guilt combined with not being yet allowed to bond with Josie combined with just plain feeling exhausted beyond measure. My friends were in the room when my parents and in-laws came in for the first time. I hadn’t had a chance to break the news about the cleft and wanted to do it in private. I never got the chance because a nurse came in before I could say anything to our parents and blurted the heavy words “cleft palate”. I remember hearing them felt like a physical pain, they cut through the room and hit like a thud in the small room. Our parents looked concerned and again I felt like I had screwed up the baby. My friends snapped some pictures of me while I felt like my insides were crumbling and my outsides were gummy, dirty yuck.
Our families took turns holding Josie and I remember feeling so jealous because I still had only held her a few minutes by that point.
I never got the chance to even put her to my breast before a lactation consultant told me it would be “pointless.” I was taught to pump. I asked for a new lactation consultant for another opinion but her opinion was the same. Pump. She can’t breastfeed. I remember the baby fussing and the SLP coming up to my room annoyed I had missed her phone call on the room phone. I had pumped and gotten a tiny amount of “liquid gold.” I wanted Josie to have it and the SLP mixed several ounces of formula in with it because she needed the energy. Everything was hectic and resulted in the whole feed (liquid gold in all) being tossed. I was heartbroken.
They took Josie back to do lab work on her and had to stick her a few times according to my mom. My mom also said she choked on her tongue while in the nursery. I didn’t know what to think. When finally 5pm rolled around and I finally had a minute to breathe and hold her, I remember finally bonding. I felt her melt into my right arm and I breathed her in and I unscrewed the lid from a bottle I had pumped into and rubbed a tiny bit of breast milk on her gums. I tried so hard to do this right, I thought and I cried.
Later when I laid her on her back in the bassinet, she choked on her tongue again. Brian and I vowed to stay up all night to keep watch over her (the nurses were not concerned). Josie easily could have died on her tongue that first evening of life because she was absolutely occluding her airway (she would do that through the first 5 months of life). She did it at 4 months and turned blue and panicked a anesthesiologist fellow. We are blessed we trusted our instincts with her.
Wednesday the 10th. The next day was a flurry of commotion as well. Brian and I were dangerously low on sleep. Josie was amazingly fussy that morning. The SLP was getting annoyed with us that Josie wouldn’t try to feed and explaining how dangerous it was for her to be burning more calories than taking in. Her tone tried to convey that this was serious—but instead it felt like she was telling me Josie’s cleft and inability to cooperate and eat was my fault. I remember Brian trying to cheer me up, telling me, at least it’s repairable. “At least it’s not her heart or something.”
Josie wouldn’t stop fussing. I did skin to skin. I left her hat on but snuggled her to my chest. The nurse came in to take her temperature and scolded me on how cold she was. She took her and dressed her and handed her back. Josie slept a little, but not long and she was fussing again. The SLP was back. The nurse came in again to routinely check with the pulse ox but apologized because the SLP was there. She’d come back later to do it. The SLP again didn’t get much cooperation from Josie and left me with a screaming, hungry, miserable baby. I undressed her and did skin to skin with her on my chest again careful to keep her wrapped heavily in layers–my gown, several blankets, my hands. The nurse came in and temped her and told me to keep her warmer. She put the pulse ox on her foot and couldn’t get a reading. She told me that happened a lot and she’d be back later.
A hour or so later she came back and tried again and very calmly said she needed to take her to use a better pulse ox in the nursery. So I said goodbye to them and waited alone in my room with no idea where the nursery was and unsure if I was even allowed to leave my room. Brian came by after they had been gone about 30 minutes. He left to go find them and I waited in my room. I knew I should sleep, but I knew something was wrong. They came in and changed my sheets. I sat forever, a couple hours.
Brian finally came to me and told me they didn’t know what was wrong but they put a tube in and started her on a bunch of antibiotics. She didn’t have a pulse in her legs. He didn’t know much more. He left again. In retrospect I should have followed but I sat in my gown, in the bed and prayed. I prayed and called every person in my phone because I didn’t know what else to do. I left a few rambling messages asking for prayer. I was at the M contacts before someone even answered, my friend Sara. I was hysterical, lonely and panicked and I asked her for prayer; I was so helpless and alone. She promised she’d pray, and I told her to call everyone she could and just pray. I remember hanging up and feeling stronger.
I remember sitting up on the edge of the bed, playing with my shoes with my bare feet, and suddenly hearing a voice but in my head. I remember knowing it was God, but the voice didn’t have a tone, but I could hear it strong and clear. He asked me if I was wanted Josie to survive even if it would be incredibly hard (I used to remember the exact words for the longest time, and they are written somewhere, but here 5 years later, I forget those words). I remember saying, “Yes God! Anything just give me my Josie.”
Shortly after that, a few hours after and Brian was now back, the local cardiologist (who’s office is across the street) opened the door to the room. Brian and I were sitting on the bed. The doctor stood in the doorway, never coming in. Without mincing words he said, “Your daughter has a heart defect and is going to need open heart surgery. They are taking her to Shands in Gainesville.” Talk about a socker punch. He didn’t say much more. He left and I remember feeling overjoyed they had a plan and knew what it was all-the-while the words “open heart surgery” were actually ringing in my ears. How could this be my child? How could this happen to us? This wasn’t really happening. This was all a dream. I was so, so, so tired and now emotionally winded as well. As soon as the brief visit with the doctor was over and the door shut, I burst into tears. Brian and I began to sob. I slept a little after that, and Brian went to check on things. I remember the hospital photographer came in the room asking if we wanted to take pictures. I started sobbing and saying repeatedly, incoherently that she wasn’t here. She apologized and left.
My midwife came through the door next. I perked up, sat up straight expecting news, but she looked confused and asked, “So where’s the baby?”
I started sobbing again and told the story. She was a huge source of comfort and left assuring me she’d find out news and tell me. I remember pumping and writing down the time in the log. I remember feeling like it was stupid of me to do, but I did it anyway.
My midwife came back and told me she was discharging me, and we went to the NICU. I will never forget seeing Josie intubated and with a catheter in her belly. The stub I was supposed to worry about caring for was gone and there was a catheter there instead. I was so stunned and confused and she was naked and there were wires. The nurses looked like they were crying. My mom and mother in law were there and crying. I was telling everyone it was going to be ok. I wasn’t crying. I said something about how she looked good—because that’s me. Dying on the inside, stoic outside, weird all around.
I think at some point we had like 8 people around the bedside, breaking the NICU rules: Brian and I, both sets of grandparents, and our parish priest, Fr Eddie, who’d happened to be the one to receive the hospital’s call and knew us well (and married us two years before). He came and I remember feeling strange when he baptized the baby because I felt as if he was confirming that she was going to die; as soon as the sacrament was administered I felt an incredible rush of peace.
It was evening by this point. Shands was supposed to be helicoptering us out but tropical storm Josephine (100% coincidence because I’d picked out her name years before she was conceived) was moving through so we had to wait for the ambulance instead. I remember two medics from Shands eventually arriving. The man nonchalantly telling me it was going to be fine. Go home and sleep. The woman held my hand and looked me in the eye and told me where to go to find her in the hospital. As she was transferring Josie to from the isolate, she asked if the blanket Josie was on was ours (it wasn’t) and I was too stunned and dumbfounded and in shock to reply–so she just smiled and said, “well we’ll take it anyway.” Ever since, that blanket has been one of my favorite possessions.
They put her in an incubator on wheels and I told her goodbye fully expecting that to be the last time I saw her alive. I fully expected my heart to burst from the pain I felt at watching her wheeled away.
And that long-winded tale ends my TMH hospital birth experience… But not Josie’s birth story by a long shot. We didn’t get a moment to breathe for another month and a half, late October, so the story doesn’t end there. I’ll just take a break for tonight.
Also, I know this is ridiculously long, and not well written. But this is how the story comes out when I tell it. This is what I’d say to you if you were here and I had a cathartic moment (or hour). I hope that’s ok!
I’ll put up part 2 soon…