Please give a brief description of yourself, and what number baby/birth you’re sharing with us.
I’m Heidi, wife to Kit, and mom to six little ones. We homeschool and in my spare time I am a doula, birth photographer, and I help teach a childbirth class. I also volunteer with ICAN and Sidelines, two wonderful organizations that helped me through my high risk pregnancy, cesarean, and VBAC journey. I’m sharing the birth story of my third child. (You can read the birth of Heidi’s sixth child here: Heidi’s 3rd VBAC – home waterbirth)
What was your due date, and what was your baby’s birth date?
I was due May 30th, and Ben arrived January 29th. Yep, that is 4 months (17 weeks) early.
What was your baby’s name, weight and length?
Bennett was 630 grams – about 1 pound and 6 ounces, and he was 12 and 1/4″ long.
Please give a brief synopsis of your birth.
After two prior miscarriages (and two live births) we were a bit anxious going into this pregnancy. We were less than thrilled with our prior hospital experiences so we were seeing a CNM at a birth center. We loved our new midwife and trusted her care. I developed some complications at 10 weeks gestation and spent 12 weeks on bed rest, seeing our midwife, an OB, and two high risk specialists. Things took a turn for the worse at 22 weeks gestation and I was admitted to the hospital on bed rest in anticipation of me having a complete placental abruption at any moment.
My husband and 3-year-old son visited me at the hospital for lunch on Saturday, January 29th. I was feeling a bit off and my nurse decided to start monitoring me. I had been contracting for months but the nurse was concerned enough to send me down to labor & delivery from the antepartum floor. Suddenly I was feeling a LOT worse and contractions were kicking up. One of my perinatologists (the MFM or high risk doctor) was in the hall and followed me into the room. I explained I was feeling a lot of pressure so he checked and to our horror we learned I was 4cms dilated. He sat at the foot of my bed and asked, “What would you like to do?” We had already previously discussed our options and talked at length with the neonatologists and chaplain about our son’s slim chance of survival at this gestation (almost 23 weeks.) I asked what would give our son the best chance of surviving delivery so I could see him before he passed away. Our doctor said a cesarean – I agreed and everyone ran out the door.
On the way to the OR there was a doctor running alongside my bed with a portable ultrasound trying to assess if the placenta was still attached. I remember being wheeled in, lifted to the bed, the anesthesiologist not being happy I had just eaten lunch, and starting to cry as I realized I had to birth right now and my son had little chance of surviving. The nurse standing next to my arm leaned over and said, “It’s going to be okay.” Then the mask was over my face and I was out.
During the surgery as they lifted my son out the placenta fell out with him, but we’re not sure at what point it abrupted. Thankfully the stat cesarean meant he was without oxygen only a short time – it was just minutes from the time I consented until they had him out. My doctor later apologized but said because of the baby’s position (shown by ultrasound) and his gestation they wanted to lift him out as gently as possible so they had made my incision very wide, almost hip to hip.
I woke up briefly in recovery and asked if Ben was still alive. He was!!! My next question was, what kind of incision did I get? Knowing I hoped to have more children and wanted to VBAC we had discussed this with our doctor. The doctor had told the OR staff that if at all possible he was going to give me a low vertical incision (most micro-preemie cesareans are done by classical incision.) Because of position and circumstance he was able to do so and the nurse was so impressed she came out to share that with my husband. (Side note – you can still VBAC with other incision types, it may just be harder to find a care provider. www.SpecialScars.org has more info!)
Unfortunately because of the medications I was unable to remember most of the first day of my son’s life, and my husband was left alone to face such terrifying events. The nurses ran off with our three year old to keep him entertained with juice and crackers and coloring on chart paperwork. (We still have those drawings!) My husband was called into the room by neonatologist and saw our tiny son intubated as they frantically worked on him, with me still unconscious on the table in the next room. My oldest son still remembers them wheeling the incubator past and letting him see his tiny brother on their way up to the NICU.
What did you do to prepare for your labor and birth? Did it help?
I had prepared for a natural labor, and because I had warning during my months of bed rest I was also able to prepare for a cesarean and premature arrival. Many moms do not have that chance, as the cesarean is unexpected and the preemie doesn’t give warning! I’m grateful that while on bed rest I was able to talk about cesarean births with my care team and read more about what to expect with a preemie arrival.
However, NOTHING can truly prepare you to see your baby born four months premature and fighting for their life. Ben was so early his eyelids were still fused shut and his skin was so fragile he would bruise from the lightest touch. I was only able to find one story of a baby surviving at that gestation and I clung to that case, desperate to think our son would have a chance.
What did you like about your birth experience, if anything?
I loved my care team. Besides the cranky anesthesiologist. :) I felt that my midwife, OB, and specialists along with our neonatologist and nurses were truly being inspired. All along the way we kept hearing that they didn’t normally do things this way, but in our case they felt they needed to do something different. Even admitting me at 22 weeks gestation was unusual, according to my doctor. My sister came to take maternity photos of me (in my bed, as I had to be laying down!) and right after this picture was taken my doctor told me over the phone that he had decided he wanted me admitted right away. I had the baby just three days later and if I had not been living at the hospital at the time our son would not have survived the birth.
What did you not like about your birth experience, if anything?
I would have preferred to have stayed pregnant another four months! In our subsequent pregnancies every single day I said a prayer of gratitude that I was still pregnant. Even with two August babies in the Texas heat, I was SO THANKFUL to have my little ones still safe inside of me.
What surprised you about your contractions/labor?
I was surprised that I could tell something was wrong with how my body was laboring. Obviously no one should be laboring at 23 weeks gestation! And I had a natural birth with my second, but the pain of that was nothing like the pain of the preemie labor. My body knew something was wrong and I could feel it, and told my nurse and doctor who thankfully listened and acted quickly.
In reflection, would you do anything differently, either before the birth, during or after?
I wish I had pictures. Not that they would have allowed a photographer into the OR (even my husband wasn’t there) or into the NICU right away, but I am sad the first photos I have are when he was a day old and my mom visited with her camera. I feel like I missed his birth, and that’s why we had a photographer with our next three births. I really wish I had asked them in advance to place an epidural after the birth before I went to recovery, which sounds odd – but the morphine pump did NOTHING for my pain relief except make me too incoherent to tell them I could feel everything and I just passed out from the pain. (After the birth – I was out and felt nothing during the birth, and there was no time to stop and place an epidural before the birth.)
What do you remember the most about your birth?
My doctor sitting on my bed and asking me what I wanted to do, my three year old looking at me as I contracted and tried to smile at him even as our world fell apart, the nurse telling me it would be okay, then waking up and hearing he was still alive.
How was your birth experience different from what you imagined it to be?
It was NOTHING like what I imagined. This was supposed to be our first birth center arrival, in the tub with candles and calm and quiet and privacy and my baby never leaving my side. Instead it was bright lights in a freezing OR with a dozen people and without my husband. I couldn’t hold my son for the first six weeks of his life because he was so fragile and unstable, and he was barely two pounds the first time I finally held him.
What were your immediate emotions about yourself and or your birth experience after the birth?
I felt like I failed. I couldn’t stay pregnant, I couldn’t keep my son safe, I couldn’t protect him, I had been cut open and he was pulled out because I failed, and I thought he was going to die before I even saw him for the first time. I felt like I was physically being crushed by the horror of it.
How would you describe your recovery?
All things considered, it was pretty good – it should have been so much worse. I couldn’t stand up straight for about a week, and I had lost a lot of blood so I passed out a couple of times. I had also been on bed rest for three months so I was very weak and had lost muscle tone. But I was up and walking and able to take care of my older two children within a couple of weeks, which was a huge blessing.
Emotionally it was YEARS of recovery – my husband, oldest son and I were all experiencing some degree of PTSD and sought treatment. I also needed to work through my anxiety in subsequent pregnancies.
How has your perspective of your birth experience changed since the first week of having your baby?
I don’t feel like I’m a failure anymore. I talked a lot with my care team about the circumstances and what happened, and that helped me feel like I did the best I could with our situation. I’ve also had three full term babies since, VBACs, and another miscarriage. That’s reminded me that ultimately it’s not something we control! We try to eat right and exercise and help our babies grow well but every baby has their own journey and their own story. Sometimes things go perfectly, sometimes they don’t, but all we can do is our best and the rest is out of our hands.
Did you learn anything about yourself through this experience?
I discovered that I could survive far more than I ever imagined, and I learned what it means to pour your soul out in prayer. We were surrounded by love and countless angels, and I gained a greater understanding of grace. When I thought I was going to collapse into a heap of exhaustion and despair I was blessed with the strength to keep moving forward. Over and over we heard from our care providers that we were witnessing miracles. I learned that each baby, no matter how long they are with us here, has a special purpose and a journey all their own.
If you could recommend a certain type of childbirth experience, based on your own experiences, what would you recommend to other women and why?
I would recommend that you find care providers you trust, no matter how or where you want to birth. When we had complications it was my midwife’s attentiveness and expertise that caught the issue quickly. While discussing our hope for another baby our perinatologist told us we needed to stay with our midwife, as he felt it was her early intervention that gave our son a chance. You need to trust your care provider so that if something does come up, you will be comfortable with their advice.
Any further thoughts, comments or advice you would like to share?
I recently visited the NICU to photograph a baby, the first time I’ve been inside a unit since my son’s arrival over seven years ago. I was surprised at how emotional the experience was for me, which prompted me to come answer these interview questions. Writing this out was a healing step that brought me to tears, even all these years later as I look at my healthy son reading a book on the couch next to me. So if you had a traumatic birth experience, remember that the healing process takes time. Be gentle with yourself!
- The Birth Interview Project | Heidi’s 3rd VBAC – home waterbirth (thebirthinterviewproject.com)
- The Birth Interview Project | Stephanie’s Birth Center Labor w/Transport & C-section (thebirthinterviewproject.com)
- Danielle’s Hospital Birth (thebirthinterviewproject.com)