Guest Post by Victoria Denney
The familiar wave of nausea had hit me hard. I crawled back in bed only to find myself huddled in the bathroom once again five minutes later. I had one test left from this time last year. I knew it was early, and most likely would be negative, but I just had to test to see if there was a happy reason for this sudden nausea. Five minutes later I was back in our bedroom showing my husband, Patrick, what I thought was a very faint line. He wasn’t convinced. The line was “barely there” and we had “just started trying” again. Later that afternoon we ran out to Target to buy another box of tests. I impatiently waited until the next morning to take a test. Almost instantly, there it was, there was no second guessing it this time, I practically ran into our bedroom and to Patrick’s side of the bed. Shoving the clearly positive test stick in front of his face, “now do you believe it?” I asked him. We both looked at it and cried as he hugged me close. Here we go again…
Overwhelming joy and insurmountable fear grasped at my heart in those early moments of knowing we were expecting again, a familiar theme that would stick with me for the next nine months and beyond. Here we were pregnant again, but this time it felt different. Of course I was beyond excited that we were expecting a baby, and yet I was completely terrified this time. The what-ifs danced around in my head. I tried to push the fear down, but it just kept creeping back in. What if I get pre-eclampsia again? What if this baby has to be born early too? What if this baby doesn’t get to come home with us either?
Fear, sadness, joy, and anticipation were all tightly knitted together in my heart. Each milestone we passed during our pregnancy was feared as much as it was celebrated.
It had been nearly a year since we had learned that we were going to be parents for the first time. We went through all of the normal first time parent anxieties, but nothing had prepared us for what our first experiences with parenthood would be…
Joshua, our first born, was delivered via emergency c-section on February 20, 2013. He was only 29 weeks and weighed just 2 pounds, 9 ounces. He was tiny, but perfect. He was amazing for such a little man. I don’t remember much from his birth. I was in a fair amount of shock from the pain and the rushed emergency nature of the c-section delivery. I’m told he cried when he was delivered. I don’t remember. I didn’t get to see him until the next day. I had been given magnesium sulfate during and after the delivery, and pretty much felt like I had been hit by a truck. I was in pain, and I’m not sure I fully understood anything that had happened in the last 24 hours. All I could remember was one doctor telling me I would be good to go home soon and the next doctor telling me it was time to have a baby. Nothing about that day made sense to me. It still doesn’t… Finally, I was able to see my son. He was so small, but he looked perfect. I could see he had my curly dark hair and his eyes were dark like mine. He was beautiful, and in that instant I knew I would do anything for him. The nurses turned down his c-pap while we were in there. “He’s breathing easier with you both here,” they said, but they wouldn’t let me stay. Too soon I was wheeled out of his NICU room and back down the hall.
I look back at that moment now with so much regret. I should have insisted on staying longer. I should have made them transfer him to the hospital downtown with the better NICU. I should have done… something. The next time I saw my son they were performing CPR. The first time I held him was also the last. I don’t think anything can erase the image I have of my husband holding our tiny son in his arms and crying the tears of a truly heartbroken man.
I may have been naive to think that the events of those 36 hours would not greatly impact another pregnancy. After losing Josh my mind was opened to this whole other world. I had no idea that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss. I was innocent enough to think that you got pregnant and then you had a baby and then you all lived happily ever after. Now, my eyes were open – wide. I knew that having a baby was not that simple and that just because we were pregnant again did not mean we were guaranteed a happy ending.
I quickly made an appointment with my OB. I needed to be reassured that they were going to do everything possible to give us a different outcome this time. We were going to a new doctor. There was no way I could walk into the same office or hospital again. Our new doctor was so kind. She patiently answered every crazy question that I could come up with. She indulged me with extra ultrasounds just to make sure that I felt comfortable that this baby was growing healthy and strong. I took extra vitamins and did my best to stay healthy, positive, and calm.
Before getting pregnant this time we talked about what we wanted. While we knew we would be happy with whatever God wanted to give us, we both knew that we wanted a little girl. Our hearts just weren’t ready for another boy. I didn’t want to have to think about going through the clothes we had bought for Joshua. I didn’t want to have to decide on another name we loved just as much or the theme of his room that we had so excitedly decided on the minute we knew Josh was going to be a boy. When the ultrasound tech told us that this time we were having a little girl, we both cried tears of joy and sighed a big sigh of relief. We didn’t have to open those boxes that had been hurriedly packed up and taken to the basement before I came home last February.
I insisted that we set up the nursery early. We never even put the crib together for Josh since I had felt so lousy for so long when I was pregnant with him. This time I had energy to spare. I decorated and planned and organized and reorganized everything. I told my husband that I was going to just “Field of Dreams” this whole pregnancy and baby. You know, “If you build it they will come.” That was my approach. In my head the fact that we weren’t ready to bring a baby home last time somehow meant that was why we didn’t get to. I know that is crazy, but for me, this time, I had to be 110% ready. I wanted to make sure that we had everything we could possibly need and it needed to be ready soon. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to 40 weeks. I wanted everything ready “just in case.”
Our two pregnancies couldn’t have been more different. This time I was nauseous from 4 weeks until 38. We planned a repeat c-section for 38 weeks, 1 day, no planning for a natural delivery this time. I had so much energy this time. Looking back on it now, I realize how sick I must have been with Joshua. At the time I had chalked it up to normal pregnancy symptoms, but this time, even with the extreme nausea, I felt good.
Though this pregnancy was far from worry-free.
At 32 weeks we went to my scheduled OB appointment and got sent over to Labor & Delivery for monitoring. That weekend had been the one year anniversary of losing Joshua. There was a lot of tears and bitter sadness that weekend. Our usual nurse was working with a different doctor this day and so we had a new woman who knew nothing of our story. She proceeded to check my blood pressure while asking, “how was your weekend?” I hate talking during a blood pressure check. They make me nervous and I just want to concentrate on breathing. I quickly answer her, “it was rough, but okay.” An honest lie. I’ve gotten good at telling them. Thankfully, she doesn’t pay attention to my answer as she continues to pump up the cuff on my arm. “So, is this your first?” Seriously, I shoot Patrick a look that he knows all too well thinking shouldn’t this be in my chart… “Umm…we actually lost our son 36 hours after birth last February.” My blood pressure is high. I know it is. The nurse is startled by how high it is. “Lay on your left side and the doctor will be in shortly.”
I knew it was going to happen. I knew there was going to come a point where my blood pressure would rise and we would go from a nice normal pregnancy to a heavily monitored, twice weekly NSTs, let’s go ahead and start seeing you every week, we should talk about bedrest, kind of pregnancy. I was just hoping that it would be when I was 38 weeks and I could feel like my baby would survive a life outside of my obviously defective womb. Thankfully, the extra monitoring turned out to be unnecessary. While my blood pressure did trend upwards the last few weeks, it never went above what my doctor deemed to be “safe.” I never had protein in my urine and all of my bloodwork remained good throughout the entire pregnancy.
On April 9th, 2014 we made our way to the hospital before the sun came up. I nervously chatted with the older lady at the admission desk, telling her I was “nervous.” She told me “everything is going to be good” and to just be sure I “ask lots of questions.” I got into the pre-op room and was quickly hooked up to a blood pressure monitor and a fetal monitor. I held my breath as they tried to find our baby girl’s heartbeat just like I had done at each appointment for the last 9 months. Finally, I heard the familiar thumping sound. I exhaled. Her heart rate was strong and my blood pressure was up. I know it made the nurse nervous, but my doctor had already told me that she was expecting it to be high so I knew she wasn’t too concerned. Finally it was time for me to walk back to the OR. I was shaking as I kissed my husband with tears in my eyes. I was terrified. I kept wondering if we should have waited another week or two. What if her lungs aren’t strong enough? What if she isn’t ready? What if something happens to me? What if… I had spent the last 9 months running every possible scenario through my head. I’m not sure I had ever stopped to think about what would happen if everything went right.
I tried to stay calm and just breath while the anesthesiologist placed the spinal block and epidural. I told the nurse that was holding my hand that “I don’t think I can do this.” “I changed my mind.” “I’m gonna to be sick. “I want my husband.” I knew Patrick would make me feel stronger. After two attempts and what seemed like an eternity I finally was able to lie back as they tested to make sure I was numb. I had been able to feel the surgery last time and I was scared that I was going to have to feel that same pain again. My doctor was there reassuring me that my husband was on his way in and that we would soon get to meet our baby girl. Patrick came in and held my hand tight. I kept telling the doctor, “I’ll be fine once I hear her cry.”
I stared straight into his eyes as our doctor told me exactly what she was doing each step of the way. “You’re going to feel a lot of pressure.” “Okay,” I mumbled as I tried to stay focused on my husband’s blue eyes. “Oh, look at that hair.” “You’re about to hear her cry.”
Suddenly at 8:35 a.m. the room was filled with the most beautiful sound as my doctor lifted our baby from the safety of my womb. I could hear her crying! She was beautiful! I cried as I lifted my gaze from my husband’s tear-filled eyes to our sweet baby. I watched as they quickly weighed her and took her tiny footprints.
The room was spinning. I was overwhelmed. The pressure was intense as the doctor was closing me up. My head ached from the medications that were flowing through my IVs. She was here! She was breathing! She was amazing! They wrapped her up and handed her to my husband who held her as I just stared. This. This was what a dad holding his child for the first time should look like. He laid her on my chest, and I was in such awe of her. “I love you, Madeline.” “Mommy loves you so much,” I whispered as I stroked her chubby cheeks.
We were taken back to the same pre-op room for recovery. Our moms both came in to meet their new granddaughter. My sister and Patrick’s sister-in-law came in to meet their newest little niece. Madeline Rose Louise Denney was perfect. She weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces and was 20 inches long. She had a head full of dark brown hair and bright blue eyes. Everyone oohed and awed over her. Eventually, we were taken up to our room. We settled in quickly and took turns cuddling our precious rainbow girl.
Everyone kept telling me to get some rest, but I found myself completely unable to sleep. I just wanted to hold her and stare at her. I was anxious to get out of bed, but knew I had to wait until I got the okay. I kept placing my hand on her tummy, feeling each breath as she slept. The what-ifs hadn’t stopped yet.
The voice inside my head kept reminding me that Josh was fine for the first 36 hours too. What if something happened to her while I was sleeping? I anxiously watched the clock as we approached that 36 hour mark. I knew in my head that she was healthy, but I also knew that nothing was guaranteed. When the nurses noticed a lot of bruising on her head and legs and arms I freaked out. They wanted to run some tests. They told me a list of things that this could be a sign of. I didn’t understand anything they were saying. I thought for sure that they were going to have to take my little girl into the NICU and that I wouldn’t get to hold her again. My fears were irrational. Instead they determined that the bruising was from how low she had been in the birth canal before she was born. She had spent the last few weeks fully engaged and apparently was under the impression that she was going to be pushed out instead of delivered via cesarean.
The nurses continued to reassure us that she was perfect.
One morning the nurse came in around 3 am to take her for a weight check, I’m still not sure why they felt the need to do these in the middle of the night. The nurse noted that I hadn’t slept yet that night and asked if I wanted them to keep Madeline in the nursery for a little bit so we could get some rest. I kindly told her that I just wanted her here with me. I guess sometime in the 30 minutes that Madeline was off being weighed my poor exhausted husband and I both fell asleep, so the nurse decided to let us sleep rather than wake us. I woke up and looked around trying to find Madeline. Fear set in again. What if something happened while I was sleeping? I called the nurse. She explained that we were asleep when she came in and since she knew I hadn’t slept for the last few nights, she thought it was a good idea to let us sleep. She brought Madeline back in to me and said she had to pry her from the arms of the nurses in the nursery, they all were fighting over who got to hold her. I couldn’t blame them. I held her and breathed in her new baby smell. I wanted to remember every second of these days.
On Saturday we were released from the hospital. I was more than ready to get her home, but I was once again gripped with fear. At the hospital we were surrounded by doctors and nurses who could help us if anything went wrong. At home, it was just us. What if she couldn’t breath? What if we did something wrong? What if we couldn’t help her? These fears, I’m sure, are normal for any new parent, but for us it was magnified with the realization of what it was really like on the other side of those fears.
Our first night home we just held her and stared at her for the longest time. We put her pajamas on and wrapped her in a swaddle blanket and laid her in the bassinet next to our bed. I listened carefully for her to fuss, being quick to pick her up before she cried. I once again laid my hand on her tummy feeling that steady rise and fall that reassured me that she was breathing. I think I must have checked on her every 15 minutes those first few nights.
In the early weeks, we struggled with nursing and she was slow to gain weight which added more worry into my mind that was probably necessary.
Eventually, we got into a rhythm.
Now, at almost 3 months, I still wake up several times a night just to look at her. Feeling for that familiar rise and fall of each breath. I’m not sure when I will stop worrying about her. When I will stop running what-if scenarios through my mind each night. I’m not sure that fear ever really goes away, even for parents who have never experienced a loss.
Right now, we are soaking in every moment we have with her. All too aware that every second we are lucky enough to have her is precious and amazing. We are learning how to sleep less and love more, how to worry less and dream more. Looking too far into the future may always seem scary, but I am not taking a single second for granted.