Do you love birth stories? Well sit down and read because this one is a doozy. And just a warning: I WILL use the words "vaginal birth" and "placenta" and "cervix" so if that grosses you out then you probably shouldn't read any further.
My whole pregnancy has been a rather turbulent one. I was very sick for nearly a month with pneumonia...so sick that I couldn't move without coughing to the point of throwing up (or breaking a rib apparently). I couldn't take care of my children, or even myself really. I couldn't sleep. Then, a few weeks after I recovered from that, my body decided that it was too freaked out by illness and having an oppressed immune system for so long. So my body started attacking itself which created this rash like covering over my whole body (except, thankfully, my face and scalp). I don't even want to call it a rash...I've had rashes before, but this was unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced. I felt like I was in an episode of House. Every doctor I went to was shocked and flabbergasted (I love that word) and had no idea what was going on. They would inevitably call in all the other doctors in their practice, and all of them would stand around me staring at my skin, poking me, and wondering aloud what the heck was going on. Even the dermatology specialists in St. Louis had never seen a case like mine. They ended up diagnosing it as "pustular psoriasis". But nothing, not the large dose of steroids, not the creams or the ointments, not the anti-itch medicine, nothing they gave me helped. It was so disheartening because every day I woke up, the rash had spread even more and looked worse. Since we really had no idea what was happening, I didn't know when (or even if) it would start going away. It was so painful that I could not touch anything. I couldn't use my hands or walk. Again, I was in a situation where I could not take care of my children or myself. Again, I couldn't sleep, and this time I couldn't bathe myself either. I ended up shedding my entire body's worth of skin...even my nails (they are actually still in the process of "shedding" and are the last bit of evidence that I ever had this condition).
I know that many people have it WAY worse than I did. What I had was not cancer, or some life long or terminal illness. And I am so thankful that in the end, my baby was not affected by anything. But I would be lying if I said it was easy. I had many breakdowns. It was so hard to not be able to take care of, or even touch, my children for almost two months. When Elizabeth wanted to lay in bed with me and I had to tell her no, it broke my heart. I couldn't hug or touch my husband. But in the end, after I healed, I realized my life had been changed because I appreciated things so much more. Instead of complaining about changing my kids' diapers, I was just incredibly thankful that I COULD change their diaper. I remember crying with happiness when I realized I was able to give my family a hug without any pain or discomfort.
All of this made me feel even more close to my baby than I ever had in any of my previous pregnancies. I didn't take for granted the fact that my baby was alive and well despite all the physical illness I had gone through. This baby was a trooper.
As I was getting better, we had an ultrasound to check on the health of the baby. They discovered that my placenta was right next to my cervix, and told me that it would be unlikely that I would be able to have a vaginal birth. I'll spare you all the details, but our doctor and midwife decided that they were comfortable letting me try to give birth vaginally, with the understanding that if I bled too much, I would need to get a c section.
They wanted to me to be induced so that in case there would be too much blood I wouldn't be at home. I was really nervous about getting the P word...pitocin...because I had such a bad experience with it during Elizabeth's labor. I was also very nervous about getting induced because of all the horror stories I had heard about induction leading to more medical interventions. I asked my midwife if we could induce labor by breaking my water, but she didn't think it was a good idea. She and my doctor assured me it would be a much different experience since this would be my third baby, and that most likely my body would know what to do. We set the date for Monday, March 14 (coincidentally, my grandmother's birthday, and the day before my birthday). Our hope was that the pitocin would start my contractions, and then my body would take over, I could get off the pitocin, and I could have an awesome med-free labor like I did with Mary.
We went in at midnight, Sunday March 13. Being induced was so strange...actually knowing exactly when I would go into labor made it much harder for me, emotionally. It's like when you are going to have surgery or some type of big event happen that you are nervous about, the waiting is always the hardest part. If I don't actually know when I'll go into labor, like with my first two births, I can maintain my pleasant denial in the fact that I am actually about to give birth. But having a date set...that was an entirely different matter. It felt like I was making a dinner reservation: "Alright, we'll pencil you in for midnight on March 13."
They started me on the pitocin, and I expected an instant, terrible, unbearable pain to hit me the moment the medicine started coursing through my veins. But...it wasn't like that at all. I didn't feel any pain. And in fact, my contractions did not even get really painful until the next morning.
My labor actually started the morning of March 14. I consider it "labor" when the contractions are intense enough that I can't talk through them and I have to start getting my concentration game on. I was slowly dilating, and my midwife and doctor decided to insert a bulb into my cervix (I forgot what the official medical name of it is) to help everything move along. By early afternoon, I was having regular strong contractions so we decided to try to wean off the pitocin. After about a half hour of being off the pitocin, my contractions stopped. This was, I think, my lowest point emotionally. I was exhausted and hungry (in fact, I spent a lot of my earlier labor fantasizing out loud about the food I would eat after everything was said and done) and I just wanted this baby to be born. The nurse, my mom, and I asked my midwife about the possibility of breaking my water to help get things moving along, but due to the precarious nature of my labor, she wanted to be careful and didn't think we should. So we started the pitocin back up again.
Eventually, the bulb came out. By this point, I had been bleeding a little, but not enough to cause concern. My heart lifted when that bulb came out and they told me I was about 8cm dilated. I got a second wind, and I was determined to get this dang baby out one way or another. The nurse suggested that we could break my water to get things really moving. But my pain level at this point was manageable, and I knew when my water broke it would become way more intense, so I decided not to.
Suddenly, while sitting on the birthing ball, I felt a gush of liquid, and I yelled out "My water just broke!!" I was so excited. But then, looking down, I saw it was not my bag of waters...it was blood. And as I stood up, more came out. My awesome midwife was incredibly calm and said it was okay. She checked me and felt what she thought was my bag of waters bulging, which to me meant my water could break at any moment. She wanted the doctor to check me before we did anything further. It was about 8:30pm by this point.
We discussed the possibility of breaking my water to help speed things along. The doctor had the hook out and ready to do so, but after he checked me, he got a look on his face that told me all I needed to know. "Ashley, I feel a lot of blood clots up there, and I don't know what else there could be. The baby has not descended and is still very high. My gut is telling me that we need to do a c section." I started crying and asked if there wasn't anything more we could do. But I knew that this doctor did not do c sections unless they were absolutely necessary. And I looked at Trent and he nodded, and we agreed to do the c section.
A flurry of medical staff came in, getting me prepped and telling me all the things that could go wrong (I know they have to do that...but wow did that freak me out). Then I had to go into the operating room, and Trent wasn't allowed to go with me until I was ready for the c section. I think this made me the most upset...I wanted him by my side because everything seemed so scary. But thankfully my midwife was right by my side, which helped to calm me. They gave me a spinal block and I was instantly unable to feel anything below my rib cage. I then almost passed out, and I remember saying repeatedly "I feel weird, I feel weird, I feel weird." Apparently my blood pressure dropped suddenly but they gave me meds that fixed it almost instantly.
Trent and my mom came in, which calmed me even more. I was shaking uncontrollably (not because of nerves, but apparently that's a side effect of the meds or the spinal block or something). I remember smelling burning and I kept asking what it was. No one would answer me and someone distracted me by asking a question. I later learned that it was actually my organs or my skin or something that they were burning, which is why no one wanted to answer me. Really, it wouldn't have bothered me though, because they are slicing my body open and moving all my organs around...what's a little bit of burning?
After a few minutes I finally asked when they would be starting the surgery. "Oh, they started five minutes ago," someone answered. At that moment, I felt really calm. I realized I really could not feel anything and it was going to be okay. And then Trent said, "Ashley, we're going to meet our baby soon!" And I started to get excited...one of the benefits of a c section, you know the most likely it will only take about 10 minutes before you meet your baby!
Then, all the sudden, I heard a cry. It was my baby! My mom shouted "It's a BOY!" Trent looked at me, in total disbelief, and said (as if I needed to hear it again to believe it): "Ashley, it's a boy!" I heard his crying and was flooded with relief. After all that I had gone through, he was FINALLY here!
About five minutes went by before I actually saw him. Those five minutes felt like an eternity. Especially when I could hear him cry, and I knew he was in the room literally feet away from me, but couldn't see him because of that huge curtain. Then, FINALLY, they gave him to Trent, and Trent put him on my neck. Within a minute he was nursing (which is actually really awkward and difficult to do after a c section because you have so little room to maneuver, but I was insistent on getting skin to skin contact if it was possible).
There he was, my baby with the huge trademark Gutridge lips that all my children have. Brown hair fuzz and a face that kept reminding me of Elizabeth and Mary depending on the second that I looked at him. My midwife asked his name. I looked at Trent and asked, "are we sure about the name?" He said yes. So he announced: Our son's name is Maximilian Kolbe Gutridge.
Then, the doctor started talking about something and he sounded very surprised. At first, I thought something was wrong. They assured me everything was okay, but apparently my placenta looked very different from how normal placentas are supposed to look. We realized I had what is called "velamentous cord insertion." For all you sciencey people out there who want to know exactly what that is, here's what wikipedia says:
Velamentous cord insertion is an abnormal condition during pregnancy. Normally, the umbilical cord inserts into the middle of the placenta as it develops. In velamentous cord insertion, the umbilical cord inserts into the fetal membranes (choriamniotic membranes), then travels within the membranes to the placenta (between the amnion and the chorion). The exposed vessels are not protected by Wharton's jelly and hence are vulnerable to rupture. Rupture is especially likely if the vessels are near the cervix, in which case they may rupture in early labor, likely resulting in a stillbirth. This is a serious condition called vasa previa. Not every pregnancy with a velamentous cord insertion results in vasa previa, only those in which the blood vessels are near the cervix.When a velamentous cord insertion is discovered, the obstetrician will monitor the pregnancy closely for the presence of vasa previa. If the blood vessels are near the cervix, the baby will be delivered via cesarean section as early as 35 weeks to prevent the mother from going into labor, which is associated with a high infant mortality. Early detection can reduce the need for emergency cesarean sections.
So, you guys, here's the insane part. We did NOT KNOW that I had this condition until after Max was born. Had my water broken during my labor, Max probably would have died. Do you realize HOW MANY TIMES we were *this* close to breaking my water? (Look above at all the bold sentences. THAT'S how many times)
If this had happened, my son would not be here.
Instead of planning his baptism, we would have been planning his funeral.
I have never been one to go into a pregnancy with the happy assumption that a live baby will result from it. My first loss took that blissful ignorance away from me. But until I realized how very close I was to losing my son, and how easy it would have been for him to die, I did not fully appreciate how precious life really is. It has, quite literally in fact, brought me to my knees. As I held my newborn son that night, breathing against my chest, and warm from being on my skin, I kissed his head and cried with gratitude. I thanked his patron saint, St. Maximilian Kolbe, who I am sure was flooding heaven with prayers for this little soul. I thanked my grandmother, Corinne Jung, who was born on the same day as little Max but many years before, and who I know was begging our Lord to spare her great grandson. I thanked all of you: all my family and friends who have prayed for me and my son without ceasing. And most of all, I thanked our great and glorious Lord and Savior, who protected my son in his arms through the whole ordeal.
All the turmoil over c-section vs vaginal birth, natural labor vs induction...all of it didn't matter anymore. My son was alive and well and perfect. And now every time I look at him, I am reminded that yes...miracles do happen. And he is living proof.