In 2015 at the age of 30 I was diagnosed with low ovarian reserve. Basically, I was running out of eggs and was advised to start In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) if I wanted my own biological children. We started saving immediately, while still trying to conceive on our own. Over the course of the next 18 months, we conceived 3 times, canceling our IVF appointments each time.
Unfortunately, each pregnancy ended in a loss. The first miscarriage was on my birthday, the second was on my husband's birthday, and the third was on my mom's. (True story!)
In May 2017 I had major foot surgery, and in the weeks recovering we conceived again. (I was heavily medicated with morphine, nerve blockers, and anti-inflammatories. I was not supposed to be fertile at that time based on my cycles which had always been very regular. It just so happened that the stress of surgery delayed my ovulation!) So we got yet another positive pregnancy test, at the worst time.
Because of all the medications, I was on, I was convinced this pregnancy wouldn’t last either. A very low first HCG Beta made me even more doubtful. My amazing OB put me on blood thinning injections, progesterone, and baby aspirin immediately. I also had to get off my painkillers – cold turkey!!! It was hell detoxing off morphine after a month. I got through it knowing it was for this little baby.
Well, it turns out, despite a rough start, this was the baby that stuck!
Before even getting a positive pregnancy test result, nausea started. And it did not let up for 7 months. I was soon diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), vomiting up to 15 times a day. On bad days, I couldn’t get out of bed I was so weak. It wasn’t long before I ended up in hospital on an IV. At 12 weeks, we packed up our entire house and sold almost everything we owned. We left South Africa for a new life in a small mining town in Zambia. (A plan we had made before finding out I was pregnant!) So with HG, only just off crutches and learning how to walk again, and with 2 suitcases each, off we went.
I was filled with such anxiety for most of my pregnancy. I didn’t let myself believe this baby was one I would ever meet, and therefore didn’t allow myself to love it. It was only at the 20-week scan with a fetal specialist when I cried tears of joy. I saw my little baby on the screen and was told this little person was perfect.
I finally believed I would be a mom!
We kept the gender a surprise and I loved playing the guessing game, daydreaming about who was inside me, thinking about names and details and slowly allowing myself to get excited.
My OB wanted me back in South Africa (I knew I would have to deliver there as the facilities in our Zambian town are very basic) at 32 weeks, and thank goodness I listened. In fact, I flew back to South Africa at 30 weeks to enjoy a holiday with my 13-year-old stepdaughter. At 31w6d, I was diagnosed with malaria and rushed into ICU.
Malaria has a VERY high fetal and maternal mortality rate, and I knew just how much danger baby and I were both in. I was hooked up to all sorts of monitoring equipment. I had ice packs all over my body! As well as a catheter because the exertion of even walking to the toilet could be too much, multiple IV’s, and blood was drawn every 30 minutes. It was terrifying, and even worse because my husband was still in Zambia!
The following morning I started having contractions and was told by the specialist physician that unless they stopped in the next 15 mins, I would be rushed in for a cesarean. Thank goodness the medications worked and my contractions stopped, and the baby was allowed to stay in. After 6 days in the hospital, I was discharged and told to take it easy for the last few weeks of my pregnancy.
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It was the hottest time of the year in Durban, South Africa, with temperatures reaching 35 Celsius/95 Fahrenheit most days. I was sore, heavy, swollen, my back ached, my hips hurt, my groin was in agony due to SPD, and I swear my blood turned to lava – I was just so hot!
I was blessed with an amazing OB who never once mentioned my size, never once commented on my body apart from the actual pregnancy, and who was fully supportive of my dreams for an unmedicated, vaginal birth.
Unfortunately, she had to have surgery of her own the week before my due date. So was not going to be able to deliver my baby unless it was early. Well, with all my “pregnancy luck” I ended up going over my due date. I was left with the doctor on call at the hospital. This wasn’t ideal, but I honestly didn’t mind who caught my baby, I just wanted to meet my baby!
My due date was the 3rd of Feb, and at 18h00 I started having contractions – yay!!
They were bearable but definitely uncomfortable, 2-4 mins apart and lasting 1-1:30 each. They continued all night without intensifying, so on Sunday morning, we called into the hospital for advice. We were told to come in and check that baby was handling them ok, which we did. I agreed to an internal exam which showed zero dilation.
I was disappointed because I was so excited for labor! The baby was doing perfectly and we were sent home and asked to come back later on that day. We walked around the animal farm with my niece, went for a delicious lunch (all while in early labor). At our afternoon visit were told the same thing: the baby was still doing well but I had shown no progress. Again we went home.
All the staff knew we didn’t want to discuss induction and were so respectful of this. Monday morning, after yet another night of uncomfortable labor at home, we returned for a check – convinced this would be it. Alas, STILL NO PROGRESS! I was tired, sore, frustrated and starting to worry that our baby was struggling. Where was my baby??
We were sent home to relax, forget about bouncing on balls and eating curry and pineapple and drinking fancy tea and having sex. We were told to rest and relax, pamper ourselves and let nature continue to work. (What an awesome attitude from hospital staff!) We did just that, went out for lunch, I got my nails done and we watched a movie, all while being in labor.
At 1:00 am Tuesday morning my contractions stepped up in a big way and the pain was something serious. I had a bloody show and started leaking amniotic fluid. Was this finally it?? We stayed at home where I enjoyed a nice warm bath, shaved my legs, and my husband and I chatted about the epic day that lay before us.
By 4:30 am we headed to the hospital as my contractions were becoming too intense to talk through. Upon arrival, we were told this was definitely the real deal and we would have our baby within a few hours. HOORAY!!
At 8:00 am, 7 hours after my show, the OB on call checked me and you guessed it – my cervix was completely posterior, closed and rock hard. He said it looked like the cervix of someone who wasn’t even pregnant, never mind in active labor!! He advised a c-section. Nooooo! I was devastated.
Cesarian was the last thing I wanted. He explained that if after 56 hours of labor, 7 of which were intense, my cervix showed no change, there was obviously a reason. We needed to prioritize baby’s safety. Luckily I had my amazing OB’s cell number so could call her for a second opinion. She agreed and said it was time to let go of the natural birth idea and let science listen to the message Mother Nature was sending. It was time to have a plus size emergency c-section. Something was probably wrong and we wouldn’t know what that was until I was in theatre.
So we agreed, baby’s safety comes first, and off we went.
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As soon as he had baby exposed, the doctor looked at me over the draping and said “No mom guilt allowed – baby has the cord around its neck and there’s meconium. Mother Nature didn’t let you dilate because this baby would NOT have tolerated a vaginal birth and would have ended up in big trouble.”
At 09h20 our daughter Stevie Grace was born via (unwanted and unplanned) cesarian to two very grateful and relieved parents.
I got one look at her before being immediately hit with excruciating pain where he was working – turns out my spinal block had already started wearing off. Although the anesthetist suspects it never really took properly, but my adrenalin kept me numb just until Baby was out and safe. I was in an extraordinary amount of pain.
The anesthetist immediately told me I would need a general anesthetic for the surgeon to finish closing. That there is no way anyone could handle being awake and feeling themselves being “put back together”. I managed to get a rushed look at my baby and a quick kiss before drifting off.
Instead of me getting immediate skin to skin, which has always been SO important to me, my husband got to sit with her in the nursery for 90 mins doing skin on skin waiting for me! He had to fight the nurses to be allowed skin on skin while I was still in theatre. The hospital policy stated baby was either supposed to be with Mom or in a warmer. There was no provision made for dads. Luckily he’s very convincing! Stevie stayed glued to him until the precious moment he got to hand her to me for my first real look at her, and our first cuddle.
This allowed my sister to be in the room taking photos of each moment of our meeting, photos which I will forever treasure!
So we went from a natural intervention free hospital birth to a rushed cesarean with general anesthetic one. It’s good to stick to your birth plans, but it’s also good to listen to mother nature’s cues. Be prepared to change your outlook for the best interests of your baby!
At the time I was devastated that things hadn’t worked out the way we wanted. Looking back now I’m so glad we weren’t too stubborn to listen and were able to avoid major disaster! As my wonderful OB said: “Did you fall pregnant to have a dream birth or a dream baby?” Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
When my doctor asked me my birth plan, I kept it simple. Worst case scenario was a plus size emergency c-section with a general anesthetic. This would result in me missing the “golden hour” of skin on skin bonding with my baby. Best case scenario was a natural birth with no drugs and minimal interventions.
I went into this knowing I was just the “vending machine”. At the end of the day, a healthy baby was my ultimate goal. We can’t control the type of birth we end up having. That being said though, in preparation for my “dream birth” I spent hours imagining my labor. I pictured the doctor passing my baby to me to be placed immediately on my chest. Having quiet uninterrupted time alone with my husband for the first hour, and gently entering motherhood. Things couldn’t have been more different! I am extremely grateful that Stevie and I are both healthy and well, with no complications or issues from the birth. If we had fought the doctor's recommendations, things might have turned out very differently.
My rainbow miracle daughter is now 8 weeks old, and absolutely perfect in every way.
Motherhood is way easier than pregnancy, I’m getting more sleep now for one! My advice to pregnant women is to trust yourself, your mom gut, and your body. But also trust the medical team looking after you. It’s a balance between Mother Nature and science, but it can be done right. At the end of the day, the BEST outcome is to have your baby safely in your arms, regardless of how she got there.