One would think that I would have written about an event which happened seven weeks ago...well, seven weeks ago. That's just not how I roll though. And really, this shouldn't have been happening the first week of July. The midwives and doctors told us that this was going to be occurring in the middle of last week. Specifically, they gave us a due date of August 15th. Instead, my daughter Amélie finds her birthday on July 6th.
In hindsight, I don't know why True and I bothered to write up a birth plan for this baby. Pretty much anything we'd put down on paper we were forced to discard in light of what transpired. The chorus calls out that the only thing which matters is that we have a healthy baby - and I am grateful and relieved on that front - however, I can't help but feel that we were somewhat cheated this time around.
It's mostly a blur now - and it was mostly a blur seven weeks ago too. I didn't have the presence of mind to take notes. The first sign of trouble began in the evening on Thursday, July 5th. True, who rarely even complains of not feeling well, was complaining that she didn't feel well. She said she needed to go to the hospital, so we called our friend Angela who graciously agreed to watch Madeline while True and I went there.
It didn't take long after admitting True for the obstetricians to diagnose her with preeclampsia. For that, there is only one cure: removal of the fetus. As the baby was 35 weeks developed, she would be premature, but developed enough to be viable on the outside. As such, the obstetrics team went forward with inducing True into labour.
When the birth plan had been drafted, we were expecting a normal delivery devoid of complications. The idea was that the baby was going to be delivered vaginally, the umbilical cord cut and then she (or he - we still didn't know the sex at the time) was to be placed on True's chest so she could attempt to breast feed. Originally we had planned to have True give birth with the aid of midwives, rather than treat pregnancy as a medical condition in need of "treatment." Unfortunately - or perhaps, rather fortunately, all things considered - the midwives at the sole independent midwife center in Pittsburgh betrayed an anti-fat bias and refused to take True, claiming against the evidence that she was "high risk." As such, True transferred her care to the midwives at Magee-Womens Hospital. No midwives would be involved in Amélie's birth; their role became relegated to "emotional support."
By late afternoon of Friday, July 6th, True and I had been playing the waiting game for around 24 hours. I had called off from work in order to be with her. What else could or should I have done?
I don't remember exactly how events unfolded the evening of Amélie's birth. When one is in the hospital, doctors and nurses are constantly going in and out. To me, the solid colours of their scrubs and uniforms had started to look like the quick and casual smears of a child's finger painting. I do remember that a swarm of them all seemed to descend at once. Then True was being told to push. There was a fetal monitor threaded into her vagina which apparently was attached to the baby's head. "That has to be terribly uncomfortable for all involved," I remembered thinking. Not even born yet and already being jabbed and poked at. Then there was True with a wire emerging from her nether region, a requirement for the modern birthing process so that the machine which goes "ping," could still do so - that means your baby is still alive.
Then True wasn't being told to push. I thought I heard someone say something about the baby's heart rate dropping when True pushed - but nobody was saying anything to me. "Alright, we have to do a C-section," one member of the obstetrics team called out, moving over to True's belly to create an invisible precursory map determining where to cut. I was watching this in an utter fog. A cesarean section? This was not what we wanted. This was not in the plan. But it was full speed ahead and I stood there dumbfounded, mouth certainly agape as True was wheeled out and the entire obstetrics team cleared the room in short order. I was standing stunned in an empty room - a delivery room which suddenly wasn't any more.
I think I was well on the way towards going on autopilot for the rest of the night. It felt like it took forever until someone actually spoke to me and told me what was going on. True was in an operating room where there were going to perform a cesarean section. I could still watch the birth of the baby. First, I had to put on one of those silly-looking sterile paper suits. - face mask, elastic hat and all. I was led into the operating room. They were already cutting into True's belly - I averted my gaze above the horizon of her flesh. I wanted to see a newborn baby, not the mother of that baby being cut open. This was all just wrong - babies weren't supposed to come out of the abdomen - they were supposed to be delivered vaginally. Didn't these doctors know anything about basic biology and reproduction?
I wouldn't be a witness in the operating room for very long. I heard one of the surgeons call out, "uterine rupture!" At that point, I was quickly escorted to the hallway.
And at that point time ceased to exist…not in a normal flow. I was still sitting in that hallway when Amélie was wheeled out of the operating room in an incubator. They stopped in front of me and said, "it's a girl." I was allowed to touch her briefly before she continued on her journey to the natal intensive care unit.
I wouldn't see True again until 4:00AM - Saturday, July 7th, technically. In the time between the emergency cesarean section being declared and that point, I just recall a fog punctuated by phone calls and/or text messages to update family and friends with as much information as I had as it came to me excruciatingly slowly. In seeing Amélie, my initial terror that I'd possibly lost half of my family had reformed into the terror that I could possibly be a single parent to two little girls who'd never really get to know their mother and end up resenting their father for being a woefully inadequate substitute. However, at 4:00AM I found myself setting up camp on the sofa next to True's bed in her room in the intensive care unit.
What had happened was that True's uterus had indeed ruptured during her attempt at delivering Amélie vaginally. When the surgeons opened her up during the cesarean, they found the baby resting in True's abdominal cavity. Apparently we were lucky, as in most cases where the uterus ruptures either the mother or the baby end up dying. As best as I can gather, the way True's uterus ruptured was akin to a rubber band being snapped inside of her body: her bladder was split open by the force. Ultimately they were able to call in specialists to fully repair her bladder and urinary system, however her uterus was beyond repair and a hysterectomy was performed. As a consolation, she got to keep her ovaries, so she won't be going through a ridiculously premature menopause. Ever optimistic, one of the first things she told me once her breathing tube was out was that she'd never have a period again.
I can't begrudge her that tiny silver lining. Though, despite not planning on any more children, I feel somewhat sad when potential and possibility are removed - especially in such a dramatically violent manner. And I'm unconvinced by the explanation that her uterus spontaneously ruptured. Something caused it, now just tell me what.
True was discharged from the hospital about two weeks before Amélie. In that time, my mother came down from New York to help out and between her and Angela, our burden was eased. True is still healing from the surgery. While her bladder is back to being fully functional, she's had a hole in her belly for nearly two months which has to be packed with gauze and taped up so it heals from the inside-out. A couple of weeks back it became infected, so she had to go back into surgery for a day so that the doctors could clean it out and start it back healing again. At this point she's been told that the wound looks really healthy and if this trend holds, she should be fully healed within six weeks - especially now that her nurses have replaced manual packing with a wound vacuum.
I hope they are right. It's been an uphill battle to restore a sense of normalcy to our lives and I see this as the final hurdle. I don't dare imagine what it is like to be True through all of this - she's strong...and stubborn.
This, I think, best sums up her disposition: "someday Amélie is going to ask about her birth and I will tell her that she burst out of my belly like the Kool-Aide Man. OH YEAH!"