Meeting our Miracle

It was the wee hours of the 23rd of August 2018, exactly a month sooner than she was due, that our little miracle opened her eyes to the bright light of the surgical theatre and settled them on Mommy and Daddy’s faces…

And our lives haven’t been the same since, and thankfully, never will be the same again.

I think back to the years of yearning for her– this little person I didn’t know but who held tightly my heart. How many prayers did I scribble on little notes at churches we visited across the world, my tourist steps echoing on the stone floors in the emptiness of the holy places and my tears falling softly in the void? How many people did I share our struggles with who pledged to pray? And then after she was on her way to us, and the doctors deemed a dangerous prognosis, how many more prayers were raised from all corners of the globe to surround this cherished little girl with God’s grace and protection? It boggles my mind.

Upon meeting her, some of the people who have been praying have commented that she must be the most prayed for child in all the world. Being her mother is more of an honour than I could ever put words to… I am undone by God’s mercy every time I look at her. I thought she might never come to us, and my faith wavered. So undeserving, and so utterly grateful. Such a gift to one such as I. I am undone.

Now, nearly 1 year from that fateful day we met gazes, I still feel that knowing her is almost surreal. She is just too much miracle for me to wrap my head around!

But I’d like to set down my memories of her birth, as more time will only dim them all the darker. I have been in a sleep-deprived fog of love since she got here– a year on, we’re still not sleeping great. Daddy and I say it’s her one flaw :)– and wish I would have detailed the 23rd of August 2018 sooner! But here we go:

So it begins…

On August 20th, 2018, I woke up on my first day of maternity leave thinking about all the nesting I had been putting off doing until I finished up at work. This list included setting up the co-sleeper so she’d have a bed, and sorting out all the baby stuff we’d been given so that it had a home where we could easily access it once baby girl was here. It also included baking some Lactation cookies to encourage my milk to come in and regulate supply after she was here, and cooking some freezer meals so we’d have some nutritious meals all ready to go in the early days of newborn haze.

It also included writing up a number of blogposts so I could get my vision for this website off the ground before my life changed dramatically (and, guess what– that’s still never happened!) and finishing up the hundreds of ‘thank yous’ I wanted to write before she was born to all the kind people who had gifted us with things in preparation for her birth, and prayed over our angel-baby and over us in all these months and years…

But I never got to do any of it, as the first day of my maternity leave, I began to bleed. At first, I didn’t even think to be alarmed. It seemed like any old start of a period and I’d had plenty of those in my life. But suddenly I remembered, “Wait, you’re not getting periods any more, finally. You’re really pregnant!” And panic began to rise.

I quickly woke Charles and told him what was going on, and then rang the labour ward to speak to the midwives. They were very calm and reassuring, went through a list of questions, and did ask me to come in so they could just check on me and baby. I had had a bag packed for the hospital since our IUGR diagnoses as 24 weeks as the consultant (the British version of specialists) alerted us that she could decide it was time for a tiny baby to come at each and every monitoring sonogram every 1-2 weeks from then on out. Charles carried it down to the car, I found Amanda out in the garden and asked her to pray for us, she gave me a hug, and off we went. Though my family and friends in America were still asleep, I sent messages explaining that we were off to the hospital and asking for prayer.

I was 35 weeks and 5 days pregnant and every week since 24 weeks had given us more hope and eased our worry over our tiny IUGR baby. I felt great! Besides the obnoxious heat that summer– the longest bout of high heat that the UK had experienced in 40 years– and some horrible ligament pain in my jaw, of all places. My ankles never got swollen, despite walking almost a mile to work and back most days (okay, towards the end when it was really hot, I drove!), I never developed any of the awful stuff you hear about with pregnancy– hemorrhoids and sciatica and headaches and more. My Diabetes was better controlled than ever and I’d never had a high blood pressure. And though sleep became incredibly difficult as I was so uncomfortable and had trouble breathing and grew faint if I laid down anywhere but on my left, and though I could no longer eat more than a few bites of any meal because of how little space there was in my already short torso, all in all, my body seemed to really take to carrying my baby girl. I think I felt more alive. So deeply blessed and alive…

The bleeding came out of nowhere.

At the labor ward, there was a lovely, young doctor that I kept wishing I could hook up with my little brother in med school in MN 🙂 She examined me and found no reason for the bleeding outwardly. They worried that perhaps it could be related to the placenta– worst case, a placental abruption. But there was really no way to tell this, without just observing and waiting to see if there was any more blood, particularly if it became fresh and bright red. There was a chance this blood had been older and just working its way out as it wasn’t bright red.

So, I was to be kept overnight for observation. Charles went out and bought me some snacks before he left to get to uni to continue his research for his dissertation due in about a month as he was in the midst of crunch time, and I was settled into a bay of curtained off beds where I wiled away the afternoon writing some of those ‘thank yous’ I was so eager to have finished.

At one point in the late afternoon, I got up to use the bathroom and, GUSH, a wave of fresh, bright red blood stained my leggings. Again, the rising panic. Placental abruption can kill a baby in minutes as if the placenta separates from the uterine wall, it cuts off the baby’s oxygen. I alerted the midwives and very quickly I was being put in a wheelchair– not sure why I was no longer allowed to walk?– and wheeled back down to the labour ward. Things were suddenly getting serious.

A lovely midwife named Kelly took over, taking me to a labour room because there weren’t any observation rooms free at the moment, and hooking me and baby up to some monitors. That’s when they began to try to get an IV in– something they would repeat 5 or 6 times on that occasion, and many other occasions too, leaving both arms stained with huge, deep purple blotches for weeks. Unfortunately, I already knew I had impossibly small veins, and told them so, but they still would try and try, until someone finally got the bright idea to ask someone from anesthesiology to do it– but that was still a few days away. This time, after a few midwives had a go at pinning that tail on this donkey, a doctor came in and finally managed to get one into the vein on the inside of my right elbow, vastly limiting my movement, but at least they could get in there.

They kept me hooked up to the monitors, and I listened to the quick thumping of my strong baby’s little heart as the backdrop of my hours, infusing the anxious event with some peace. They restricted me from eating anything and began steroid injections on the fetal medicine consultants orders, in case this turned into an emergency c-section situation, her lungs would be given that extra kick of development. However, steroids don’t play well with blood sugars, and my hard work for the last nearly 9 months was about to be shattered, leaving my baby vulnerable to Diabetic complications which I had been carefully avoiding with everything I could muster…

I know the consultant was advising what she thought was best, but it makes me so angry to know on the other side of all this, that though she ordered steroids for every mother delivering before 39 weeks just as a precaution, babies’ lungs are fully developed by 34 weeks. Somehow, baby needing a bit of oxygen when she first comes out seems a far less harsh reality than causing her to spend 10 days in NICU with the lowest blood sugars the hospital had ever treated in a neonate, causing them to need to seek advice on a treatment plan from Great Ormond Street– the famous hospital in London– which involved multiple tubes going in and out of her body, IVs too big for her tiny hands, no breast feeding relationship allowed to be established til she was over a week old, and heel pricks every hour for over a week. Sometimes precautions are not worth the pain they inflict… But that same consultant did not take kindly to me questioning my own health care. Thankfully, you live and learn, and I’ll know how to stand up for myself and my child better the next time, if God ever grants us a next time!

It was during all this hubbub that my dear friend (and, then, housemate!) Amanda arrived to see me and bring me a little joy and peace in the midst of a fearful time. Just to have a familiar and beloved face there in the strange surroundings was so lovely. She kept me company awhile and prayed over baby and I.

Eventually they moved me to an observation room. In this tiny room with no windows, I would spend the next few days on bed rest, and lose complete track of whether it was day or night as I was woken every hour to check my blood sugars and adjust insulin to try to win the battle with the steroids over my blood sugars. I had never known what it was like to be woken every hour around the clock for 3 days before but now I can easily see why it’s used as a torture technique!

By morning time I was starving, having really only eaten snacks all day the day before as we came to the hospital right away in the morning before I could get any breakfast. And I was nearly 9 months pregnant, besides! I was gleeful to learn, closer to lunch time, that I was being allowed food as the bleeding seemed to have stopped and they didn’t think I’d need to be wheeled into emergency c-section now. I had been wondering how in the world my body would withstand major surgery when I was this tired and this hungry!

I spent a lot of time singing to and massaging my bump in between the hourly checks. It was mostly just Baby Girl and I sitting in the dark, often attached to monitors and on an insulin drip making it tricky to move around much. Those few days on the observation ward rather blur into one long tunnel of time!

Besides looking forward to eating, I was looking forward to another visit from Amanda, as we decided Charles needed to get as much done on dissertation as possible in case we were about to meet our little miracle sooner than we expected. By the time she came again, I was a mess as the IV in my inner elbow kept me from being able to bend my arm, so doing anything with my hair was impossible. It meant everything when she showed up with the next book in the series I was reading but had trouble getting a hold of as out local library didn’t have it. She went to another town to find it in their library! And then she brushed and braided my hair for me 🙂 These little things meant so much in the endlessness of those few days!

My OB came to see me and give me his recommendations for care. Our c-section due to the IUGR was already set for September 4th– 2 weeks away– and he didn’t want me to go that long. I would have been just about 38 weeks! He wanted me delivered by 36+6– I could pick the day between now and then, but he didn’t want me going into 37. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me. If I could go all the way to 36+6 without worry, what was one more day? Or multiple more, for that matter. It seemed so arbitrary, especially as baby was monitoring well. But he had told me from our first appointment when I was still newly pregnant that he delivered all Diabetic mothers by 37 weeks regardless of how well they were doing. Again, the precautionary measures. I think precautions can be wise, but considering that there are knock on effects when these precautions may never have been necessary, I wasn’t comfortable with him making this decision before he even knew what my and baby’s health would be like, ever saw how I managed my Diabetes, or how the pregnancy was progressing, etc. From my first appointment with him, I’d wished for another doctor. He just didn’t even seem to look at me when he spoke about me. I might as well have been a case in his textbook. Frankly, he’d done nothing to build any trust, or make me think he really cared about me or my baby. So I asked for a second opinion and spoke to another consultant who admitted that it was all completely precautionary and it was up to me in the end, but would also deliver early despite baby monitoring well.

Meanwhile, the steroids were wreaking havoc on my previously great blood sugar control. I was put on an insulin drip where the dosages were extremely high, and still my blood sugars would not come down. As I had kept my blood sugars close to perfect the whole pregnancy, this really unsettled me. I will never do steroids again… In the midst of this, baby started to give us a few less wonderful readings on the monitor, nothing too drastic, but because we didn’t know if the bleeding was from a placental abruption or what, we were keeping a close eye on her.

When Charles made it to visit despite constant work in the lab in Oxford, we spoke with a team of doctors (with a much better bedside manner than my OB), and we decided to go ahead and bring up the c-section date. To the following morning!! With monitoring not staying as great as it had done, and my blood sugars going mad, we just decided she would be safer out than in. We were scheduled in for the first theatre spot the next day, Thursday, 23rd of August 2018. Charles headed home to get one more night of sleep before we became parents, and I filled out paperwork, met with the anesthesiologist, had more IVs attempted to be placed in (and had my first cry when the one placing it outrightly ignored my request that they NOT try again for about the 30th time to get it into a vein in my hand, and carried on as if she couldn’t hear me advocating for myself like I was a voiceless body until the wonderful midwife had to finally ask everyone to leave and just let my bloodied, stressed, sleepless, foodless, frightened, overwhelmed self breathe for a few minutes. When she returned to place the IV, she was much more respectful and I was much calmer…), and tried to get a bit of rest between hourly blood sugar checks.

I also had the very weird experience that night of having a midwife “milk” me 🙂 It was time to start trying to harvest colostrum, especially knowing that babies of Diabetic mothers often need to get their blood sugars up straightaway, but early babies don’t always figure out nursing right off the bat. So that was interesting… Thankfully, my midwife that night– Jo– was LOVELY and reassuring and put me right at ease as she taught me how to hand-express colostrum and painstakingly collect it drop by drop sucked into tiny little syringes that she then stored for me in a fridge, ready to be fed to our baby COME MORNING!

Knowing we’d be meeting her in the morning was so surreal…

I was also beginning to find my braxton-hicks contractions growing more painful, and asked if they could put the monitor back on and check on our baby girl. They gave it an hour in the middle of the night and then looked at the readings. My midwife took the readings out to the OB on shift that night– a lovely little Nigerian lady who was on the last bit of her training– what we in the states would call residency, I believe. I cannot for the life of me remember her name. She promptly came in and explained that she would like to deliver the baby now because her vitals were beginning to tell us that she was no longer a happy baby…

My first thought was, “Will Charles get here in time?!” but they assured me that it wasn’t so urgent that we couldn’t ring him and get him here– our c-section was called a “Cat 2”, a bit less urgent than the emergency of a Cat 1– but that we would be going into theatre as soon as he could arrive. They knew he was about 20 minutes’ drive away.

Thankfully, Charles had taken to leaving his ringer on at night since I’d been in the hospital. He’s notoriously hard to get on the phone as he always has it on silent! He answered with a groggy 1:30am kind of voice, and I asked him something like, “Honey, can you come right away? Baby’s not monitoring well and we need to go into c-section NOW. They’ll wait for you, don’t drive like a maniac, but come right away.”

He didn’t ask any questions, just showed up within a half hour bleary-eyed and a wee bit spacey, and got suited up in medical garb!

Those minutes of waiting to go into theatre went quickly for me. There was a general, but quiet, hubbub of preparations, and a need to message all my family and a few praying friends, and lots of help from the lovely midwife Jo in prepping me for the theatre. But when Charles arrived, I was waiting outside my room, ready to go, and we walked down to theatre hand in hand, with the totally surreal knowledge that when we came out again, we’d have our long-awaited baby in our arms!

And Then 2 Became 3

The theatre was calmer than I think I expected. There were 6 or so people and I know we were introduced, but I don’t really remember any of them except the OB performing the c-section, the anesthesiologist, the accompanying midwife (who, sadly, was not one I yet knew or would ever see again), and the nurse Miriam, who was probably the most vocal in the room. She quickly took over the verbal interactions with me, instructing Charles to sit down across the room for now, and helping me up onto the operating table. I didn’t like that distance and I don’t know why he had to be kept so far away, but I know it had something to do with the spinal block the anesthesiologist was just preparing to inject into my lower back.

Miriam got right up in my face and held my arms to try to keep me steady as he inserted the needle. It was such a chore to try not to lurch away from it! Suddenly, my right leg went numb. I don’t really understand what was happening, but I told them about my right leg and the anesthesiologist then seemed to pull it out and try again? I don’t know, but very quickly Miriam was helping me down to my back while I could still pull my legs up from hanging off the side of the table and then I couldn’t feel them at all and someone drew a curtain up between my face and the rest of me.

I was worried about laying on my back because I hadn’t been able to do so for months– not without losing my breath and growing faint. It was just the pressure of the baby and the waters and all that weight that my body didn’t usually carry in that way. How were they going to keep me from fainting? It was within minutes, before Charles was even invited to sit at my side, that I grew faint and I remember trying to speak up and tell them and hardly being able to form the breathy words, “I’m gonna pass out…”

Again, no idea what they did, but Miriam told the anesthesiologist something about my blood pressure, and he seemed to adjust some med through my IV and then I was back to life again, just like that. The anesthesiologist began spraying me with cold water on various parts of my body and asking what I felt. I must have given the right answers because then I remember feeling a bit embarrassed when someone behind the curtain grabbed my legs and adjusted them quite roughly to however they needed them, obviously leaving me well exposed, and the team down behind the curtain jumped right in to what I imagine was cutting through the seven layers of flesh they needed to get through to get to baby.

At some point between nearly fainting and everything just taking off go go go, Charles sat down at my left near my head. I remember wishing he’d hold my hand or kiss me or give me some reassurance, but I think he was in such a daze and neither of us were very connected as we were just riding this wave of overwhelm and observing it all unfurling.

Soon I found myself shaking violently and asking between gritted teeth what was happening. Miriam, again, was the one to explain that it was normal and I think she was trying to crack some jokes and relax me, but they kind of grated on me. Then they decided to IV me up in my other hand too– they said it was just in case another line was needed, so I don’t know what they thought was going to go down! I just HATE having IVs placed in my hands as my veins are so small and they never get it the first time. Thankfully, anesthesiologists know what they’re doing and it was done perfectly the first time!

There was so much pressure behind the curtain at my middle. Not pain, but pressure, and bumps and jolts and pushing, pushing, pushing. “What’s going on?” I remember asking through gritted teeth. No one answered. Suddenly, even Miriam was pushing on my belly from the top, reaching over my head to push on me from my side of the curtain. I wasn’t prepared for that, and found out later that it’s not necessarily the normal way of it. The doctor later explained that because we were taking the baby early, my uterus wasn’t completely dropped and baby wasn’t quite where they expected her to be. They were trying to push the baby down and out through the incision. They also didn’t seem to realize that baby was still breech, as she had been at every scan for weeks. How many times had I stroked the part of my bump just under my right rib cage and said, “I can feel her head right here…” 🙂

The rough pushing seemed to go on and on, as did the uncontrollable shaking! But we would soon learn, before even leaving theatre, that finally the OB made a further incision in my uterus to get the baby out, leaving me with the dreaded T-incision making a VBAC in future inadvisable. I didn’t know what was going on beyond that curtain while it was happening, though, just felt the violence of the pushing and pulling and pressure and jolts and bumps and the endless shaking that was so unsettling. I must have started to get really agitated, because Miriam seemed to be trying to cajole me, which I found rather annoying. However, she then suddenly said, “There! Hear your baby?”

Only, I couldn’t hear her 🙁 I was in quite a lot of distress making it difficult to focus, but I don’t think Charles did either, over the sounds of the team at work. But it was 2:58am on the 23rd of August, and though we hadn’t yet caught a glimpse of her, our little miracle was born!

Charles was asked if he’d like to go see our baby, and he passed right by me open on the table to the corner of the room where the midwife was giving her a bit of oxygen, weighing her, wrapping her, etc. I can hardly remember beyond the intense shaking taking over me in those minutes of waiting, except I believe I was murmuring, “I can’t hear her. Is my baby okay? I can’t hear her.” Miriam assured me she was fine, and then I did hear a tiny little “I’m here, Mama” wail. But on the whole she was very quiet.

And then, suddenly, Charles came back to my side with a tightly wrapped bundle in his arms. For the first time that night, he seemed entirely present in his mind, though utterly enraptured in awe. A Daddy was born.

He leaned over my left shoulder and my eyes fell on the most beautiful face I had ever seen, peeking out from under a tiny knit hat made to look like a strawberry that my cousin Jackee had given us. It was too big for her sweet little head, but the face peeking out at me was CHUBBY-CHEEKED, so much so that her eyes were only slits in her red, swollen little face.

I burst into tears and laughter all at once.

It’s funny how the only thing you can think to say at that moment is, “Hello, Baby!” Your whole new world is handed to you in a hospital towel and all words fail.

“How much does she weigh?” were my next words. We had been told since 24 weeks that she would be born at the 2nd percentile for size due to apparent IUGR. At my last scan one week prior, she was measuring about 4 1/2 pounds. We were expecting a tiny little preemie, and the little face greeting me looked pleasantly plump!

They work in grams over here so when they told us her weight it meant nothing to us. Thankfully, Miriam was able to do a conversion. 6lbs, 3 oz! That put her just over the 50th percentile for her gestational age. The months of praying about our IUGR diagnosis had certainly not gone to waste. In the end, I don’t know if they retract such diagnoses, but she was born as if it had all been a complete mistake. Even though I was being scanned every 1-2 weeks from 24 weeks and every ultrasound confirmed the same diagnosis, the threat of stillbirth hanging over us to the end, here was our perfect, miraculous baby girl, contentedly staring into our faces at our 3am greeting.

Thank You, Jesus…

I hardly noticed the work going on on the other side of the curtain anymore, though I was shaking so uncontrollably that I was afraid to be supporting my baby alone. Thankfully, her Daddy was there with a steady arm under her, though she was rested on my chest. We just gazed at her, as if memorizing every curve of her cheeks and both chins, every crinkle in her tiny fingers. We had come into the hospital with her middle names chosen, and two options for a first name, but we wanted to meet her and try them on for size before we decided. Looking at her, I asked, “What do you think, honey; is she Evelina?”

“Yeah, yeah I think so,” her awestruck Daddy replied.

After preparing ourselves for a baby who would look fragile and frail and breakable, like a little bird, this pudgy, content little love was absolutely AMAZING! Her apgar scores were 8 at 1 minute, 9 at 5 minutes, and 10 at 10 minutes. My huge fear all along had been that she would be immediately taken away from us to get special care because of my Diabetes, and I’d worked hard all pregnancy to ensure her the healthiest 9 months in there. What incredible joy when they said she was doing fine and didn’t have to leave!

They were soon transferring me to a gurney, and immediately tucked our quiet little Evelina into the crook of my arm and whisked us away to recovery where the midwife helped me to give her her first feed. She latched as soon as the breast was offered, and I was a bit taken aback by the pain, but floating on cloud 9. A new nurse was there doing all kinds of checks and cleaning up and sorting me out, but I don’t really even know what was happening. It all went on around us while we three stared at each other, dumbfounded and amazed and floating…

We were moved back to an observation room and we grabbed a moment to contact family and friends, finally. The moments to ourselves were fleeting between midwives and doctors coming in and out, checking on me, checking on baby, asking us questions while filling out paperwork, etc etc. I don’t really know how many hours passed. I was lost in sleepless bliss, mostly aware only of the slightest, but most glorious weight of the baby girl on my chest. It was so strange to feel such indescribable love for this little stranger. I barely knew her, and yet I would have (and kinda did) walked through fire for her…

As the morning progressed, we mainly just snuggled and snuggled and snuggled as the midwife came in and out doing whatever they do. She began to flag up her blood sugars as low. We gave her all the colostrum I’d managed to harvest into syringes, and she suckled at the breast, but she was sleepy and not terribly interested. A pediatrician came to check on her and we decided to try a small bottle of formula just because it would be easier for her to get it down quickly with minimal effort on her part, and should raise her blood sugar levels– blood sugars low in reaction to the high ones the steroids had given me as her tiny pancreas attempted to act for my non-functioning one.

We had a glorious 11 hours with our dream-come-true before the pediatrician came back in and broke it to us that she was going to need NICU care. Her little pancreas was just so confused! The tale of our next 9 days is a whole other saga, but the Lord strengthened us through it and we came home in the end with our little miracle and have never looked back.

Today, Evelina is 1 year old, and it feels like we’ve lived decades in that year. She is the light that came bursting into the darkness that threatened to overtake us; the singing bird who brought Christ’s healing hope on her wings. And one year on, we are still completely overcome by gratitude for our little Evelina Joy.

Thank You, Lord, thank You, Lord, thank You, Lord, thank You, Lord…

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