So. I've been working on Savannah's birth story since, well, eight years ago this October 14 I guess (along with her birth scrapbook album, which managed to cost me $1500 in stickers, but never actually materialized into photos or a birth story and then I ended up selling everything on Ebay last month for $75 so ANYWAY). It finally took Discovery Health's Baby Week to nudge me along into finishing it*. So, voila! Enjoy. Be forewarned, most of this story takes place with my pants off.
I think a small part of me knew when I found out I was pregnant that I would barely make it out alive. After all, I am the girl who was caught in a riptide in the Bahamas and almost drowned while taking a "Getting Comfortable With Snorkeling!" class. The girl who got tangled up in the dog's leash and skidded on my face down the sidewalk. The girl who, unlike the previous 35 people in front of me who walked across the grass and into the gym, managed to step directly into the pile of dog poo and then carried it unknowingly into the spin class on my shoe.
Yeah, I guess you can say I'm just a lucky girl.
But, when I saw those 2 lines, I felt like my luck had finally changed. A baby. A wee one! With my chubby cheeks and Chris' perky nose! (Please God, let her get Chris' perky nose and not my Italian beak I prayed. Also, let her be a physicist. Amen.)
And when we had our first ultrasound, it was official. She did have Chris' nose. She was also completely and miraculously perfect. With all her heart chambers and no loose screws or anything. We were off to a good start.
But, by my 32nd week we knew something was wrong. Very wrong.
It started with The Tired. A fatigue that was so all consuming that even my organs felt tired. All that pumping and inhaling and exhaling and filtering and digesting was about all I could handle. Just laying there felt like a huge energy drain. Now, admittedly I'm not the most energetic person to begin with. Eating potato chips while watching Tivo'd reality shows tends to be my default position. (Although I totally tricked Chris when we were dating by climbing Half Dome. Sucker!) But, this Tired was to the bone.
Anyway, The Tired was quickly followed by The Weepy. And not that usual run of the mill "commercials make me cry" weepy, but more of a "I think the cat insulted me" weepy. I spent the majority of my day bawling.
I even went to visit the doctor at this point because Chris was concerned that I might run out of tears and start crying amniotic fluid. He's so selfish that way.
The doctor - let's name him Dr. Inahurry - and his nurse - let's call her Nurse Annoyedbyyou - dismissed these as "normal pregnancy symptoms" that didn't require further investigation.
Their reaction wasn't entirely unreasonable, except the same thing happened when I called them the following week because a new symptom had joined the party: The Ache.
Oh, The Ache. Now, unless you yourself have had organ failure, you won't even begin to understand what I mean when I describe this ache as being an ache in my soul. The Ache was mostly located above my ribs, which at this point in the pregnancy, was just below my hairline. But, it radiated out from there and around my back. It throbbed day and night. It made me want to come out of my skin with anxiety - there was no relief to be had. I tried taking a bath, stretching backwards over an exercise ball, inducing vomiting.
Everyone had their ideas about what was wrong. "It's the baby's foot stuck in your ribs!" "Your pants are too tight!" "Try yoga!" "Did you eat that entire box of Hot Tamales?"
But, I knew. Something wasn't right. There was an internal panic going on inside my body and it was sending S.O.S. signals to my brain.
I was now 34 weeks. It was early Friday morning when I called Dr. Inahurry. Nurse Annoyedbyyou answered the phone.
"I need to see the doctor today. Something is wrong with me."
"What's wrong Mrs. Lotsey?" she sighed.
"I'm just so tired". Of course I started weeping. "And I have a throbbing pain in my upper abdomen."
"Well, the doctor isn't seeing patients today. I'll page him and see what he says."
Dismissed, I waited for his call. ALL DAY.
That evening I called the office again.
"I thought you said you were going to page Dr. Inahurry."
Characteristically annoyed, she responded "I did. He didn't call back. Dr. Inahurry is playing golf today."
"He's playing golf?! That's why he didn't call back? What if I'm dying?"
"You're not dying. I'm sure it can wait until Monday."
It couldn't. Forty-eight hours later I was at death's door.
The next day was mostly a blur. I do recall my mom deciding inexplicably that what I needed was a Barcalounger. She and Chris hauled one into the front room for me to stretch out on, but that did nothing for the throbbing ache. We tried hot compresses, cold compresses, stretches. My overarching memory of that day is pure misery.
Then the nighttime set in. I couldn't sleep. I was in and out of the bath. I was vomiting. I was crying. I was a hot mess.
By the next morning I was stretched out on the couch moaning.
Chris stood there looking at me. "I'm calling your doctor. This can't be normal."
I could hear him on the phone.
"So, Dr. Inahurry is golfing all weekend? Well, who's the on-call doctor? Ok, have her call me back right away."
A few minutes later the on-call doctor called. We'll call her Dr. Angel. Dr. Angel listened to my symptoms and told Chris to get me "straight to the emergency room" adding "don't stop to even pack your bags".
Dr. Angel hadn't yet arrived at the hospital when we checked in. But, she had called ahead and prepared the nurses for the tests she wanted run. A sweet nurse set me up in a room and tittered on about the names we'd chosen, my due date, how great I looked. I was actually feeling a little better - the ache had subsided somewhat - and was starting to wonder if I had overreacted. Maybe her foot had been stuck in my ribs? I did actually eat that whole box of Hot Tamales.
The nurse fluffed the pillows behind my head while the technician prepared me for the ultrasound. We were all chatting and laughing when suddenly our baby's little face filled the screen. Chris and I exclaimed over "our luck" that we got a freebie ultrasound out of this.
But, as we continued to talk and laugh with the nurse, the technician grew somber. She kept rolling the ultrasound wand over my upper abdomen and looking at the screen intently.
"Is everything ok?" I asked, worried.
She turned to me before rushing out of the room. "The baby looks great."
Looking back, I give her points for her clever answer.
The nurse left and when she returned, she was accompanied by two other nurses. One wanted to put a hospital wristband on me. The other needed to take my blood. "It looks like you're going to be staying a bit longer" the nurse said cheerfully without looking at me. I saw in her face that something had shifted.
"Is everything ok?" I asked again.
"The doctor is on her way in and she's going to talk to you."
I turned to Chris and my mom, who had just arrived. "Do you think something is wrong?". They were flipping through the newly printed ultrasound photos and assured me everything was fine.
A short while later Dr. Angel breezed in.
She was about 12 years old. And wore jeans.
"Sorry, I'm late. I was at the mall."
(I can't make this stuff up.)
I started to say something, but she quickly pulled up a chair and took my hand. The look in her eyes stopped me mid-sentence. She meant business.
"You are very sick."
My head started spinning.
She told me I had a severe case of HELLP Syndrome. My liver was dangerously enlarged and bleeding. That was the ache I felt. It could rupture in a matter of hours. My liver was failing. My kidneys were following. My platelet count was extremely low, less than 50,000 and dropping (normal is 150,000 - 300,000 for those of you slept during whatever class it was that I should've learned this in).
Dr. Angel told me they were going to start giving me phenobarbital, an anti-seizure drug. She said they would have to take the baby. Now. They needed to do a c-section within the next hour or my platelet count wouldn't be high enough to survive surgery.
The word "survive" shot through my body like a bolt of electricity.
The realization hit me.
I asked my first question since she had started talking.
"Am I going to die?"
There was a beat. A flicker of indecision across her face before she said "I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure you don't".
My mom hovered behind the doctor, her mouth gaping open, her eyes goggling at this statement. I couldn't look at her. I looked straight ahead. Chris and my mom blurred out of focus.
I felt fear like an enormous wave surge into my heart and rush through my ears, deafening me. All I wanted was to have a baby, I thought in shock. Women do it every day. All I wanted was a baby and now I'm going to die.
I started to pray out loud.
"Please help me. Please keep me calm. Please save me. Please keep my baby safe. Please please please please please. Help me."
I didn't care who heard. I prayed out loud and stared straight ahead. I felt more alone than I had before or since. For all the love they had for me, neither my mom or Chris could save me. My life and my baby's were in this doctor's hands. And I had to have faith.
I felt a feeling of resolve wash over me. I needed to stay calm for the baby. I needed to keep my weak heart from racing through my battered organs.
It must be ok. I can't leave my baby. It must be ok.
Nurses rushed in and prepped me for surgery. My mom and Chris hugged me and each other and cried. We all spoke encouraging words with terrified eyes. Family was summoned quietly.
Chris asked if he could bring a camera; we had planned on recording the birth. No, he was ordered, because we don't know what to expect in there. They didn't want him to record my death.
A whirlwind of surgery prep and then I was laying on the operating table under the bright lights. Two doctors and three nurses attended the birth. Chris sat at my head. The sheet went up.
All was quiet except for the beep of my heart rate.
There was pressure. Tremendous pressure. And then, of course, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SOUND IN THE WORLD: my daughter's strong cry. My Savannah.
Everyone in the room cheered.
Chris was elated, running back and forth between Savannah and my head, reporting on her fingers and hair and eyes and ears and who knew babies could come this perfect and she scored 9 on her Apgar she's obviously a physicist! Never had there been a prouder daddy.
Meanwhile, I was having chest pains. Strong pains that shot through my chest and down my arm and which, frankly, my anesthesiologist seemed mildly concerned over. Especially with my teaspoon of a bloodcount and whatnot.
An adjustment to the drug seemed to calm that issue down. The doctors sewed me up, someone may have made a comment about me looking as if I were never pregnant (that's really why I call her Dr. Angel), and then a bundled little peanut was laid beside me.
My baby was perfect. Five pounds and nine ounces. Not bad for arriving 5 weeks early in a broken down mom.
Once I was back in my room recovering and attempting to nurse (why did it take 2 days for someone to finally show me the football hold?) the nurses started taking my blood every hour.
My blood count continued to drop.
The day after I delivered Savannah, my blood count was 12,000.
After that, the nurses stopped telling us. We tried to focus on this new baby girl and had vistors coming in and out, but every time a nurse would enter the room, my mom and I would look at them with baited breath.
"Still low" they started saying.
On the morning of the 3rd day, the doctor came in and told us we would need to take drastic measures if my platelets didn't start turning around on their own.
It was later that afternoon, that the nurse came in and announced with relief "The numbers are coming back up!".
Chris hung his head and started to cry. It was going to be ok. We were going to get our happy ending.
And we did.
I told you I was a lucky girl.
*By the way, I was not paid by Discovery to write this story. I just think you should know that because...I don't know. I just do.