My son’s birth was horrible, not an experience that I would wish on anyone. However, it wasn’t traumatizing to me. What happened after his birth traumatized me deeply. I am not sure I would have been traumatized as deeply as I was had it not been for how difficult his birth was for us.
The end of Cole’s birth was very much like the Monte Python Sketch. After being hooked up to all of the machines that go ‘ping’ he was born. Suddenly he was put in an enclosed incubator and was gone. I was told that they would stabilize his breathing and he would be in my room shortly. I still wonder if this was a lie told to keep me from protesting or if they truly believed it.
My husband went with my son to the nicu, so I was left alone with my mother. Their standard procedure was that the magnesium sulfate and bed rest be continued for 24 hours after the birth. I was transferred back to a regular hospital bed, which felt wonderful after hours of being on the hard delivery bed, and was wheeled down to my new room—without my baby. Any mom who is separated from her baby after birth knows how distressing this can be. At that moment I went into an ‘emotional coma’ it was as if the child I carried in my womb no longer existed. This is the only way I can find to describe what was going on. You hear stories of coma patients waking up and being able to tell exactly what was happening around them, they still felt the pain but they had no outward response to it. This is what was happening to me emotionally. I still felt the emotional pain but had no outward reaction, no response to it. Up until this point, there was so much going on in the room with both of us that it didn’t really hit me. My vision, which had been reduced to about the size of a quarter, slowly started to improve.
I slept a little in a drug induced slumber, as the mag sulfate was still making me feel horrible. I was processing things around me on a very superficial level. I was only had the basic understanding of what was going on. I awoke to realize that more than an hour had passed and my son was still not with me. My mom had tried to get me a breast pump as she knew how important it was for me to breast feed my son. No one seemed to know how to get a hold of one. She continuously asked on my behalf, but got nowhere with the hospital staff. She was able to get me some water, and I was finally able to talk again.
I still had that horrible IV in that I continuously bumped, cause more and more pain. I still had the urinary catheter. I had still had the sequential compression devices (SCDs) around the bottom half of each of my legs. The SCDs that once felt so good, where now becoming hand cuffs, cuffing me to the bed. The minutes ticked by and the bed became my prison; A prison that I could not escape from to see my little boy. No one could seem to give me any information on my son.
When I called for the help, it took forever for someone to respond to the button—no one even used the intercom to see if it was an emergency, if it could wait or was something that should be attended to in a timely fashion. I was extremely weak. What no one mentioned to me or my family at this point was that I suffered from a mild post partum hemorrhage which is typical with inductions. During the time that they were working to control it we were all so worried about my son that no one noticed.
My husband finally came down with a few pictures of our son. The pictures were a little washed out so I didn’t get to see a lot of detail. He told me they were planning on keeping him there for at least the next two days, but he didn’t have a lot of details. I asked about feeding and was told that he was currently being fed through a nasal tube. He was such the gushing father, so happy to have our son. He went back up to the nicu.
I was once again reminded of my prison.
The staff came in regularly to apply ice packs to my perineum and change the pads. When asked about the breast pump, my son, a lactation consultant I was given the standard answer that they would check on it. My blood pressure actually was higher than it had been prior to my delivery and I was told that it was ok. My husband popped in and out to check on me in between going back and forth to the nicu.
24 hours passed like this, chained to the bed. I was still in the emotional coma, taking in everything, everything affecting me but not able to emotionally respond to it. I kept talking with my mother, passing the time.
Finally, at the twenty four hour mark the nurse came in to remove the catheter and SCDs. She left the hep-loc but disconnected the IV. I looked in the mirror and was shocked by my appearance. My body was swollen, most likely from all of the IV fluids. There were small red dots all over my face where the blood vessels had broken. My eye was red from a burst blood vessel. I had felt the pressure build in my face during the ‘purple pushing’, but hadn’t realized what a toll it had taken on me.
Finally, after nearly yelling at the nurse she found a breast pump, but didn’t know how to work it. She said to us that it wasn’t a big deal to start so late, that many cultures didn’t start to breast feed for more than 48 hours after birth. I fumbled through trying to get it set up. It didn’t seem to be working correctly, but I got a little colostrum. It was tinged a weird color, brownish-red. Not what I was expecting from all of the books I had read, but knew that there were so many variations of normal I wasn’t too worried. I called the nurse to send it up to the nicu. She looked at the colostrum and asked if I was having pain or if my nipple was bleeding. I said no, she decided to double check for a nipple bleed which there wasn’t. She shrugged her shoulders and took the container.
We were told that the lactation consultant would be with us shortly. I knew how important that breast milk was for him especially since he was in the nicu, so I decided to wait for her. At this point I was so deep into the coma that I was so disconnected from my emotions that waiting longer didn’t seem to matter. During this wait time I trying to pump every 2 hours, I got through 3 cycles before the lactation consultant finally appeared. She was quickly able to determine that there was a chip out of the one piece which meant that the suction wasn’t working properly. A quick change out solved the problem.
She said that the nurses had pulled her aside after my first pump to show her the colostrum. She said that I had Rusty Pipe Syndrome. There was blood leaking from my breasts into the colostrum. This wasn’t of big concern, but could cause my son to have a little bit of an upset stomach. It should clear up in a few days. I found out later that while most cases of Rusty Pipe Syndrome have no known cause, one known cause is engorgement which I suffered as a result of not getting the pump for over 24 hours. She gave me the samples to take up to the nicu.
Finally, I was able to leave my room to go to the nicu. We called the nurse to try to get help to get up to the nicu. Patient transport appeared after some time to get me to take me to the nicu which was a couple of floors up and down many long halls. Hours upon hours had passed since I had been ‘released’ from bed rest at this point.
We got to the doors and had to wait to be buzzed in to the nicu. Interestingly, I had toured that nicu as a part of a college class. There were 5 of on that tour, 4 out of the five had babies that ended up in the nicu. We had to scrub our arms and hands with medical soap/ disinfectant. Once again the IV that I had bumped numerous times on the way up to the nicu became even more of a problem. Trying to scrub my hands with an IV sticking out of the back of the one was an enormous task. My husband wheeled me to my son’s bedside.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but not what I saw. I saw this tiny baby, who had wires and tubes connected to him. Then I saw his arms and legs, they were black and blue from blood draws and IV insertions. I just stood there looking, not feeling, just staring at this tiny baby sucking on his fingers. I was wondering who this strange baby was. I fell deeper into the coma. I failed to protect this child who was my responsibility, my whole life I have worked for the betterment of children and here was my child I didn’t protect him.
His nurse came over and introduced herself. She asked if I was ready to hold him, I shook my head yes not really processing everything. I held him, gazed at him, spoke to him. I was surprised that I didn’t feel an immediate connection to him, not that bond that everyone so describes. He was just another baby I was holding. My hand ached from the IV site to the point that I had to hand him over to my husband. Soon my two hour pumping buzzer went off to return to my room as I hadn’t brought the pumping supplies with me.
My next trip to the nicu, I was better prepared with having my pumping supplies with me. The nurse told me that they we worried about my colostrum. I relayed to her what the lactation consultant told me about Rusty Pipe Syndrome. She gave me the choice of using the colostrum or not. However, she said that if he started to spit up because of it, it would mean a lot of invasive testing for him since there were traces of blood in it and prophylactic antibiotics. How could I take those risks with my son’s health? The colostrum all ended up in the trash as I looked around the nicu and saw posters for the ‘Power of Liquid Gold’. I wanted to die. All of the struggles to pump, all of the time away from him, all of his need for colostrum more than any other child and it was thrown away into the trash can. I had failed him again.
I finally worked up the nerve to ask why he was so sick, though up to this point I had assumed that it was because of the meconium. She told me he was having difficulty processing the magnesium that I was on during labor. He couldn’t work it out of his system. It cut like a knife. I had failed. My body had failed him, my lack of knowledge failed him, my breasts failed him…. I failed and he was paying the price for it.
I was notified that they were going to release me from the hospital, even though my blood pressure was still high and that I was going to have to check in at my OBs office. I didn’t want to leave, because that would mean that I was further away from the nicu, but I didn’t have a choice. I was visited by a doctor who asked me to participate in a study about anemia. She was the first person who told me that I was anemic, which explained why I was still so weak. I still wasn’t eating well since the hospital food was awful. She was surprised that my dr hadn’t mentioned it. They hadn’t started me on an iron supplement so that I could participate in the study. I had participated in every study, up to this point as I am a firm believer that without studying everything we don’t have a clear picture of what the effects are of everything. I was angry that no one thought to mention that I was anemic; so that I could make sure I was getting dietary sources of iron. I refused.
My husband carted things out the car while I got dressed. We walked up to the nicu. Every two hours leaving my son’s side to go pump for the next half an hour. Going back to him, just to turn around later to return to the pumping room. I think I spent more time inside the pumping room than I did at his bedside.
That night we walked out of the hospital without our son.
I went to the OB’s office the next morning and saw my midwife. She and the nurses were extremely concerned about me, though it didn’t sink in at the time. She took my blood pressure it was sky high. She had my lay down in the office for an hour while they waited for the OB to decide what to do and hoped that it would drop down again. It dropped back to an acceptable range but it was still high. This repeated for a couple of days until they finally decided to put me on labetalol, a blood pressure medication. I was told then that they had considered re-hospitalizing me that first day.
Every day we returned to the nicu, down the long halls. By the time I got up to the nicu, I was always exhausted and dizzy. My husband would hold the baby for the first bit. I would go pump, come back and hold him and go pump again. My milk came in and was clear so they started to give him that. We came in one day to find that they decided to take out the feeding tube and started bottle feeding him an hour before we came. Rather than contacting us to tell us that they were going to start oral feedings or waiting until we were there to remove the tube they gave him a bottle against our express wishes. This was our final breastfeeding downfall.
I tried and tried to get him to latch. I asked for the lactation consultant and was told she was too busy with the mother’s who were being released that day. When you are in the nicu, you are cut off from all outside sources of help. No phone, no internet, no help of any kind other than what the hospital provides for you. I asked the nurse for help, suggestions anything. She told me I was doing all of the tricks she knew and handed me a nipple shield to try. That only made the process worse. Once again, I failed him.
This whole process continued day after day for 7 days, until when he would have been 38 weeks. He was finally released, we walked out of the hospital as a family for the first time.
I continued to pump and try to get him to latch. I struggled with supply issues. I was never able to get a good letdown on the pump. My sister-in-law had a good lactation consultant who was giving her lots of tips on increasing supply, she just had had twins, and I tried all of them. I noticed small increases using all of the typical herbs. I pumped for 6 months, never being able to solely being able to use breast milk.
I was still in emotional coma. I still hadn’t bonded with my son, though I loved him and cared for him. My parents helped us out so that I could stay at home longer than expected. I think intuitively my mom knew that I need more time and help.
At four months, the memories of his birth started coming back. In little trickles at first, and then a flood gate was released. I started to have nightmares of being strapped to a hospital bed and trying to get to him every night, multiple times a night. I was losing lots of sleep. I started to have flashbacks during the day. I would be in the middle of a flashback and someone would interrupt me and I would get anxious and snap at them. All of those things that happened that I didn’t process through at the time came rushing through. I decided to seek help. I was diagnosed with post-natal – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The nightmares and flashbacks have lessened
considerably with treatment, but are still there.
It has been a long journey- one with lots of learning and pain. I have become a passionate supporter of natural childbirth. I have learned a lot about all of the different interventions and how they affected both of us, and while some might have been necessary, there are a great number that could have either been delayed or avoided all together had the totality of situation been looked at through a different lens.
Cole's Birth Story Part 1