By Brittney Stefanic
This is part two of Brittney's birth story. To start at the beginning, read Part 1 here.
*** Warning: The contents of the following post are RAW, TRAUMATIC, and HONEST. This content may be a trigger for families who have dealt with unexpected birth plan outcomes. Please do not continue reading if you have anxiety about your own (past or upcoming) labor and delivery. ***
Baby is here… Now what?
Once our baby was resuscitated and stable, we thought we were through the thick of it, but turns out the challenges were only getting started. I have since learned that theme of motherhood… Just when you think you have it all under control or “figured out” a curve ball is sent your way.
I wish I could say that our birth story and what came to follow was all a total “freak” thing and that my body had done no wrong, but we would later find out that was not the case.
It wasn’t until about 30 hours later, once he was off of the CPAP machine and oxygen support, that we were informed of our son’s inability to maintain his blood glucose levels.
Upon admission, the NICU team was concerned with stabilizing his respiration and then started to monitor other functions of his tiny little body. We (and they) had NO idea what a struggle his blood glucose levels would be to maintain.
Everyone assumed that we would be out of the NICU in a matter of a day or two, especially since he was born at 39 weeks. But it actually took us 13 days. Obviously this problem was a bit more complex than anyone expected.
I know that to some NICU families, 13 days is nothing. Some families are in there for 13 weeks and some for 6 months. And even worse, some don’t ever get to take their baby home.
I am not writing this birth story to discount those stories.
I am writing this birth story because it is ours. Because it has taken me two years to process it. Because I need to write it out. I am writing this birth story because there was only one thing that went our way.
We got to leave the hospital with our baby, and that is the ONLY thing that matters. This was not our birth plan, but HE was the outcome.
I need to write this to allow myself to say FORGET the birth plan and the pressures that came with it. FORGET the expectations that we set for ourselves because of the influence of social media. FORGET the obsessive nature of our society with “breast is best”. FORGET the plans and fears and anxieties.
Because when push comes to shove, I worried about a lot during my pregnancy, but I never worried about having an unhealthy baby. I never thought that I would be discharged and he would have to stay. I never thought we would be a family who would need (and be blessed by) Ronald McDonald House Charities.
I never in a million years, thought we would have a baby with dangerously low blood sugars or with oxygen depletion at birth. I never imaged that this would be what it felt like to be a new mom.
And I know I am not alone.
I know that there are other mom’s reading this with tears in their eyes, pain in their heart and guilt in their mind.
I was in the midst of recovering from his birth day and we got more bad news.
On our son’s fifth day of life, we were contacted by the midwife with some news from the lab.
Due to his small size at birth,he was five pounds flat despite being full term born at 39 weeks, the birth team decided that the placenta would be sent in to be examined and tested.
Regardless of what was suspected about the placenta, from the lab, it was found that it had many infarctions, or dead spots of tissue.
As a result of the impacted tissues, my placenta was not providing my baby with adequate blood flow and was insufficient as a support for him. This resulted in Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR) which explains his small size at birth. I delivered an IUGR baby at 39 weeks and had NO idea he was growth restricted.
How did this happen?
The cause is unknown, and both the midwife and OBGYN teams were stumped as to why this would have happened. Placental infarctions are a cause of gestational hypertension and/or pre-eclampsia. I never had high blood pressure throughout my pregnancy, not even the day we delivered.
Risks of IUGR increase with gestational diabetes, maternal anemia, maternal alcohol or drug use, maternal smoking or pulmonary disease or cardiovascular disease. NONE of these were a concern during my pregnancy.
So what the heck. Why me?
It is (still) hard for me to express how sad this makes me, as I can’t help but feel like my body failed to support my son for no reason at all. When we first heard about the placental failure, I was confident that my personal feelings/blame of failure with the pregnancy were an immediate phase of grief, but now I know that it will be something that I always carry with me.
That was not a stage. This is life as a mom. We rarely feel good enough. We constantly question ourselves and our actions. I recently wrote about Mom Guilt because of the prevalence of it in our society. We are hard on each other, but we are even harder on ourselves.
Let’s stop that, shall we?
The next two weeks.
During our time in the NICU, we realized why it has the name that it does. That place was an emotional roller coaster, and “intensive” is an understatement. The care was fantastic, but we can’t help but think that he SHOULD have gotten to be home with us. We SHOULD have been able to pump/feed/snuggle from the comfort of our own home.
I know now that there is no sense in asking why any of this has happened… While in the thick of things, my friend put it best… “You will spend a lot of time wondering why and sadly that time and mental anguish is a total waste”. So, instead of asking why, we have instead asked how.
How did he manage to survive in utero when the placenta wasn’t providing him with what he needed? How did my body know to send me into intense contraction to signal that something was wrong and get me to the hospital? How did I know to go in to Labor and Delivery when he was at the very very end of his reserves? How did my husband make it just in time? How was the resuscitation team able to bring our sweet boy back from such trauma and stress? And the biggest question of all… How did we get so lucky to have the chance to love, raise and care for our little miracle?
What happened over the next two weeks was hard, but the bottom line is that after a few weeks in the NICU, a great pediatric endocrinology team and the art and science of medicine, we got his blood sugar issues sorted out and we were released.
Back to our birth plan.
Due to his low sugars, bottle feeding our tiny babe was so much easier than breastfeeding because we could confirm his intake, and could ensure that any drop in blood glucose was NOT because of a lack of milk.
But, this meant that our nursing relationship suffered. I had ONE part left of our birth plan, and it was about to fly out the window. There goes the breastfeeding. Gone.
Fed is best.
I pumped and pumped and pumped. I wanted SO badly to keep up with Lincoln’s caloric needs. I wanted SO badly for his tongue tie and lip tie revisions at 8 weeks to solve our latch issues. I wanted SO badly to form a bond while feeding him. But we were met with more failed plans.
At 12 weeks old, I had a conversation with his pediatrician and finally got the closure that I needed to wean from the pump. She asked me if I had more of a relationship with the pump or with my son, and it didn’t even take a verbal answer as the tears streaming down my face told her the truth.
She recommended that I safely and quickly wean off the pump and start to focus on building a bond with my son. Weaning off the pump was not what I wanted to do, but it was what I needed to do if I was going to be able to sustain myself as a new mom.
You can imagine that my already anxious (and emotional) self was in a pretty bad place by the end of our 4th trimester. I feel very strongly about the Postpartum Depression and Anxiety that I worked through because I know I am surrounded by so many other fighters in this battle. The struggle is real and so important to discuss.
I wanted a lot of things before I became a mom. I wanted to wear the badges of honor of an unmedicated birth, of a natural experience, of exclusively nursing, of bonding like crazy with my baby boy, of cuddles and snuggles and happy tears a plenty.
And I didn’t get any of that. I was robbed of my plan. I was robbed of my pre-motherhood dreams.
Making up for the way we started!
But guess what? It’s not all doom and gloom because NOW I GET BACK WHAT I LOST in June and July and August of 2016.
Now I get to make up for it. For him and for me.
Now I get to snuggle him and cuddle him and cry happy tears a plenty.
Now I get to be the mom that I want to be for the warrior boy that I love more than I ever thought possible.
Now, I get to expect the unexpected.
I don’t know what kind of mom I would have been if things had gone the way I originally planned or thought they could/would/should go. But, thank God, I know what kind of mom I GET TO BE because of the way we started. Thank God I get to be the mom that now expects the unexpected.
To my dear son, I’m sorry that we had to start out that way. I’m sorry that things didn’t go as planned. I’m sorry about the rough beginning.
But I will spend the REST OF MY LIFE making it up to you because you deserve it. And you will spend the rest of your life keeping me on my toes because well… That’s what kids do!
In the operating room on your birthday, in front of 13 medical professionals, your dad and God, I told you before I ever saw you that I would do anything as long as you were okay. What I meant was… Anything in the whole wide world.
THIS WAS NOT OUR BIRTH PLAN, BUT IT IS MY SON’S BIRTH STORY. It is far from what we had planned, but my cuddly joy is the end result, so it is perfect to me. ________________________________________________________________________
Brittney Stefanic is a certified pediatric sleep consultant. She gets that when you don't sleep, you don't function no matter how your birth plan played out. You can find out more about what she does to support clients at brittneystefanicsleep.com, follow her business Facebook page, @bstefanicsleep,for sleep tips and tricks, and see photos of her sweet toddler on Instagram, @brittneystefanicsleep.
Note from the writer:
For those of you struggling with a birth or newborn stage that didn’t go as “planned”, I highly encourage that you write it out. It doesn’t have to be long and it doesn’t have to be public, but getting it out of your head is so powerful. If you want to share it with me, I would be honored to give it a read.