“‘Can I be honest with you?’ My boy friend and father of my child laid next to me and whispered one night, ‘I’m terrified of our baby.’ We had been home for less than 48 hours, fresh out of the NICU, with our very tiny, 5 pound and some ounces, little tiny baby girl. My mom, who drove up to see her, had spent the first 24 hours with us, helping with our other daughter, and making sure we settled in nicely. But that night, we were on our own, as a family of four, and alone!
Everything seemed hard, and foreign, and terrifying. Her tiny cries, her squeaks, the way she breathed and ate, and even changing her diaper made me feel like a giant, and here, she felt so fragile, so breakable, so very small. Her first night was spent with the both of us wide awake, watching her little oxygen monitor, her foot so small it wrapped around twice, us staring at her, watching her, holding our breath while we waited for each breath in her tiny chest to move her body up and down just so we could relax and wait for the next!
‘Can I be honest with you?’ I said back to him. ‘I’m scared, too.’ The first six days of her life, and the last day of my pregnancy, was anything but easy. I had gone through this emotional nightmare with a hormone dump that hit me so hard by day five postpartum I was blubbering into my pillow and completely unable to function. It was the hardest week of my life.
Sunday the 29th, two days before she was born, I woke up with the worst back pain, I mean something out of nightmares. I was having contractions just minutes apart. I was tracking them and I was holding my breath in between each one. I packed our hospital bags, folded and put away baby clothes just knowing she was on her way, and packed the suitcase for my five-year-old daughter who would be spending time with my sister and her cousins while we had the baby. I just knew this was it – only it wasn’t, because just hours later, I felt fine, as fine as you can at 9 months pregnant. But fine nonetheless, completely labor-free by mid-afternoon.
Monday the 30th, I went to my already scheduled doctor’s appointments, met with my OBGYN, talked about induction set for just 10 days later, and made the final appointments before her arrival. We measured my belly, heard her heartbeat, had an ultrasound and a non-stress test, and we talked about how she would more than likely have a lot of hair, a big head that would probably hurt to deliver, and we talked about how she would be a little bit shorter based on the size of her femurs, but nothing out of the ordinary given my height.
We left our appointments laughing, talking about how much I hated this point in the pregnancy and how I just wanted her out. I remember distinctly making a downward motion with my arms and yelling, ‘Just get out of me!’ Mostly though, I remember how hungry I was, as I had forgotten to get breakfast before the appointments and we laughed and made jokes throughout the morning about my constant need to eat. Everything was going exactly how it was supposed to.
I grabbed lunch, my boyfriend went on to work, and I ended my morning sitting at my desk making last-minute calculations and finishing up bills that would need to be paid for the business before I went on maternity leave. I told my staff I’d be gone 2-3 weeks, maybe less, and we joked about how I would probably be back in days. Everything was well. Our daughter would arrive in 10 days. Life was perfect and time felt endless.
By mid-afternoon, in mid-conversation with one of my assistants, I looked down and one of my legs had swollen up to double the size of the other. It was something out of a horror film. It felt like an out-of-body experience; I didn’t know what I was looking at. Both my doula and my doctor agreed I needed to be seen in the emergency room just to rule out blood clots. After two hours and even more scans, everything was deemed fine and I was sent home.
Our daughter was at our business with my staff members, so we decided to run to the store and grab a few things for dinner before picking her up. We walked up and down aisles chatting about it all and making plans about how we were going to meal prep and have freezer meals ready for after the baby arrived. By the time we made it up to the checkout lane, my back was throbbing in pain and I felt like I couldn’t walk anymore. It had started to drizzle outside, so I quickly walked to the car, put my seat back, and watched the rain hit the window. We picked up our daughter and went home. I jumped in the bath to lessen the pain and I listened to my boyfriend read our five-year-old bedtime stories.
I remember thanking God for how sweet it all seemed; almost like a fairy tale. After the bath, I hobbled to bed. My boyfriend had pizza rolls ready for me, something I craved nonstop all pregnancy. I laid down in bed and ate, unable to sit up from the pain. I drifted in and out of sleep. I tried a heating pad. Different positions. Hobbling to the bathroom to empty my bladder. Drank more water. More pillows. Fewer pillows. Everything. I tried it all, but nothing made it better.
Finally, around 11 p.m., I drifted off to sleep. And then, I woke up suddenly, no more pain but there was gushing. A pop. Something so loud even my boyfriend jumped, who was lying at the end of the bed. I thought I was peeing myself. I screamed that my water broke, just like you see in the movies, and I jumped out of bed. My boyfriend was rushing, sprinting around the room putting on his clothes. I hobbled over to the light switch, flipped it on, and my entire world crashed down in a flurry of panic.
‘That’s blood.’ My boyfriend said staring, bewildered, confused. ‘Is there blood when your water breaks?’ I looked down for the first time, my hands covered in red, my legs streaked, the blood-soaked carpet beneath my feet. I was half-naked, it was August and one of the hottest summers I can remember, and I was terrified. ‘Call 911!’
I felt something slip down and I immediately grabbed it, held it there, and froze. Blood was gushing between my fingers, covering my hands, and flowing freely to the ground. My body went through this fight-or-flight experience, and instead of choosing, I just started to shake uncontrollably. I couldn’t move, but my legs were shaking so violently blood was spattering as it hit the floor around me!
I kept telling myself I had to make it downstairs. I just knew I was holding my daughter in my hands. I was terrified. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t reason. There was so, so much blood. My boyfriend was updating the operator. Begging them to hurry. I was calling my mom and sister. I was begging God to make everything better. I was staring straight ahead, but I knew I was in trouble. I could barely see. My eyes were heavy. My arms felt like weights. There was so much blood. Everywhere.
I was tied to a stretcher. The medics cut my clothes off. And I was in the ambulance within seconds of them arriving. I never got to say goodbye to my boyfriend or my daughter. I panicked and anxiety crept in. I didn’t know if I’d ever see them again. Tears rushed to my eyes and I begged the medics to tell me if I was okay.
I kept telling them I couldn’t move my hands. I had someone tell me about a prolapsed cord months earlier and I just knew either the umbilical cord or my baby was in my hands. After convincing the medic who needed to do a cervical exam, we found out I was passing clots bigger than baseballs and that’s what I was feeling slip out of me and was holding in place. I was in and out of consciousness, barely registering what was going on, barely understanding I was in trouble, the baby inside me was in trouble. My body was shaking so violently the metal of the stretcher was clinking against the ambulance floor. My body was tired. The pain was unbearable. My brain couldn’t comprehend.
I couldn’t move by this point. My neck fixed to one side, just watching all the blood drop off the gurney and into the floor of the ambulance, then the concrete, then the hallway floor of the hospital. I remember watching, mesmerized at the way the drops bounced a little before splattering. Everything felt heavy. My arms gripped the side of the stretcher. My legs shaking, covered in blood, the sheets growing redder and redder as time went on.
‘I’m scared,’ is all I could get my mouth to say. I wanted to say a lot of other things. I wanted to ask about my baby. I wanted them to tell me they found her heartbeat. I wanted them to say anything that would comfort me, but those words, those questions, they crawled up my throat and they died on my tongue. I knew they didn’t know and I knew they wouldn’t answer me; they couldn’t answer me.
Once we arrived at the hospital, everything moved swiftly. The room was swamped with doctors. Nurses and doctors in the emergency room were perplexed, stumbling over their words and urgently searching for a heartbeat. There were so many people attempting to figure out what was going on, to assist me, and to keep both myself and the baby safe.
The place was almost deafeningly quiet. Doctors pushed their hands all over my belly, performed repeated cervical checks, attached monitors, and listened as I watched. Nothing. I began to cry. I pleaded with someone to tell me everything was fine, to say something to make me feel better. I was on my own. I was also terrified. In a room full of people, I’ve never felt more alone. There was nothing but terror and isolation.
Finally, a nurse came over to my bedside, grabbed my hand, and whispered, ‘Pray honey, just pray.’ She squeezed my hand and reminded me to have faith, to hope, to trust, to believe God was right beside me. I cried out to God with a vengeance. Tears stung my cheeks as they fell. I begged Him for a heartbeat. I begged Him to help the doctors find a heartbeat and to get her here alive. I begged and I pleaded and I cried. ‘Help me,’ I begged. ‘Please help the baby!’
I looked at the nurse with tears streaming down my face and said, ‘But what if He doesn’t hear me?’ She squeezed my hand harder and we watched the monitors together. ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’ is all she whispered. This would later become my war cry, the only thing that would bring me comfort in the days and weeks ahead. The room fell silent and then, finally, the most beautiful sound a soul can hear – I heard it. The doctor hushed everyone, nearly a dozen people by now. And there it was; a heartbeat. A strong, steady, perfect heartbeat. He turned the sound up loud and we watched it dance across the screen.
Sign this. Sign that. Papers were thrown in front of me. I was dressed and undressed and dressed again. My hair was pulled back. My belly cleaned. Sanitized. A nurse handed me my phone and said, ‘Call your boyfriend and tell him we’re going to the OR.’ I cried harder when I heard his voice. He was downstairs in the parking lot waiting for my sister to meet him there and pick up our daughter. Due to Covid, she wasn’t allowed in the hospital.
He told me he loved me and as soon as my sister got there he would be by my side. He whispered as he held back tears, ‘You’re going to do good, I know it. I love you both so much. I’m coming, okay? I’m right here!’ Ending the phone call was the hardest thing I ever had to do, not knowing if he would even make it in time.
Within an hour of arriving at the hospital, our daughter, Emma Storm, was pulled out of me. Through the clear curtain, I got to hold my hand up to her and I got to see her tiny, smushed, angry face. She was tinier than ever predicted, she was weak and pale, and barely able to breathe, but she was alive. There’s no words to explain the relief I felt to see her; to hear her.
Right as they were about to make the first cut, the surgeon called out and said, ‘If dad is coming in, he needs to be in here now or else he doesn’t come in!’ And the doors swung open, and Zach rushed in, wearing scrubs and a net for his hair, with booties covering his feet. He kissed my forehead and held my hand, sat beside me, and whispered, ‘We’re having a baby today! This is a good day!’ And there she was just minutes later. Perfect, breathing, alive.
Within a few minutes, she was whisked away to the NICU. There were a lot of things I missed out on. I wasn’t the first to hold her or feed her or change her. I didn’t get to put her first outfit on or swaddle her up. I didn’t get to kiss her cheeks first or tell her I loved her. I had this dream of singing her happy birthday as I snuggled her close; a dream that faded quickly the second I saw the blood that night.
I had to stay in the OR for another few hours as they stopped the bleeding and fixed me up. Then I had to go to recovery for a little while more. She would be six hours old before I’d see her again. Completely attached to tubes and machines and oxygen. It was heartbreaking and I felt like I failed her. Before they took me to my room, they wheeled me down in my bed so I could see her. I cried and cried and whispered, ‘I’m so sorry’ over and over and over again as I got to peek at her through the little incubator. I was in so much pain. And I was so weak. But we were alive. Emma was here and she was alive. I fell asleep in the early morning hours, thanking God for holding onto us and seeing us to morning.
Six days later, we’d bring her home. I’ve spent months angry at God, angrier than I ever thought possible, for the way she entered the world. I felt robbed of the perfect birth experience, all Emma’s very firsts – I felt forgotten, lost, confused, and alone. Why did God allow this to happen? I still don’t know that answer.
Emma just turned three months old, and even though it’s been months since we first brought our tiny baby home from the hospital and whispered about our fears to one another, and while I still don’t know exactly why God put us through what happened or why he didn’t intervene sooner, I can look back and physically feel and see the moments where God held onto us and carried us through. We shouldn’t have made it. Emma shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be here.
But He showed up and saw us through. He was there for us in medics who held my hand and kept me fighting, in a nurse who reminded me about faith and reminded me of who my God is, in doctors who moved quickly and worked tirelessly to save our lives, in the father of my children who was patient and kind and an overwhelming presence of comfort when I needed it most. I don’t know why things happened the way they did, but I do know the story of the footprints in the sand and the verse in Jeremiah about the plans He has for me will forever hit differently following her birth.
By the Grace of God, we are here. Tonight we’re all snuggled up and thanking God for His goodness and love. But most of all, I’m thanking Him for the gift of life. It’s all so very fragile, but it’s all so very good.”