*A continuation of Shauna’s story which began in Don’t Worry Too Much: Part 1
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not this time around. We were older now, wiser even and far more engaged in our own story together than ever before. Though we had always imagined we would have four children, life took some twists and turns when the youngest of our three older daughters turned two so we decided to hold off on solidifying that dream. We needed the waves of chaos to recede long enough to catch our breath and sort out where we were headed to next. It took us nearly six years of processing life, healing and rebuilding enough to determine that having one more child was indeed the desire of our hearts.
I don’t think I was surprised when the details of this narrative began to reveal that nothing would actually go according to the initial plans I had formulated and held loosely in my own mind. I learned early on that there would be no chance for a home birth given Colorado laws attempting to prevent high risk deliveries from occurring outside of a hospital setting. Having had a caesarean section with our second daughter relegated me to the non-negotiable high risk category. I was still hopeful at that point to at least see my midwife throughout my pregnancy as opposed to the standard OB/GYN Doctor. My last visit with her came shortly after I was diagnosed with placenta previa. I remember her reflecting on the early years of her midwifery work where she assisted countless catholic women who had multiple ceseareans. She was trying to comfort me with her assurance that it was unlikely that my placenta previa was a result of accreta (a condition where the placenta attaches too deeply into the uterine wall and in rare cases attaches to other organs outside of the uterus). This condition was treated like the plague by nearly every medical professional I had conversed with, but she didn’t seem all that concerned. She said in all of those years of working with women who had experienced numerous c-sections she had never once witnessed accreta. I tried really hard to find comfort in her words throughout the remaining 20 weeks of countless appointments, but every ultrasound remained inconclusive. So we simply had to wait. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The doctor responsible for performing the cesarean even said so that very morning. He was a specialist, trained to conduct these types of risky deliveries, and he affirmed what my OB had already indicated – that given the fact that my placenta never migrated up the uterine wall throughout the duration of the pregnancy there was a 25% chance that I had accreta. But he was feeling hopeful that morning and he said so as my three nervous daughters and terrified husband gathered around my hospital bed just before the surgery. He assured us that he was taking extra precautions that morning, however, and had ordered four units of blood to be ready if needed. But he was hopeful and I was prayerful.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I could tell something was wrong. It was taking too long. The stated plan was that once he got in there and was able to inspect my uterus we would know if he’d be able to take the baby out while I was still conscious. We had already been in the operating room for nearly an hour and I hadn’t yet been able to lay eyes on my baby or hear those first precious cries. The doctor was sweating profusely and had quit making small talk. I looked at my mom, not wanting to worry my husband unnecessarily (he had already nearly passed out prior the start of the surgery), and asked her if she could tell what was causing the delay. It was only moments after I made that inquiry, when panic seemed to ensue all around me. Doctors and nurses flooded the room, the temperature rose dramatically and some nurses began furiously trying to adjust the thermostat, someone was calling for another anesthesiologist and then I knew…it wasn’t supposed to be this way. They ushered Brian and my mother out the door and all I could do was release a quick “I love you” in the midst of the chaos just before it all went black.
The next thing I remember was trying desperately to wake up so I could figure out what was going on. I was in a different room and I was hooked up to all sorts of machines making all sorts of noises. Everything was hazy…until I heard her name. Briella. It was the first time I heard her name spoken as an indication that she was really here. My mind was struggling to hold onto the reality that I had delivered my forth child and that she was another precious baby girl. I fought that cloud of darkness with a longing that only a mother can know. I wanted to hold her, to see her, to smell her, to know her. So I fought tirelessly to keep my eyes from closing and there she was before me.
She was real. She was alive. I was breathing through a tube and I didn’t understand why, but she was here. That is all that mattered in those moments that Brian held her up to my face. I stroked her head as best as I could with my own cheek and she began to coo. It was a miracle. She was a miracle. I was a miracle. Maybe it was supposed to be this way.
Time became a strange thing that day. In moments it seemed to stand still, in others it raced right on by. I’m not sure of the passage of time that occurred between those blissful moments of greeting Briella and when Faith and Bailey entered the room, their eyes searching my own for reassurance. The ventilator robbed me of a voice while the drugs continued to cloud my mind. All I could think to do was give them a thumbs up and squeeze each of their hands three times – our code for “I love you.” I later learned that poor Krisalyn was too frightened to enter my hospital room. My poor babies. All four of them.
Eventually the propofol became too much for my tired and traumatized body to resist. It had to have been evening which meant that it had been a full day since I had arrived at 6:30 that morning. I somehow knew that my own mother was in the room, resting in a chair behind me. I felt comfort in her presence as I tried to surrender to that damn tube in my throat. The rhythm of the machines became hypnotic as I drifted to an entirely different state of consciousness. I thought to myself in that moment, “It is finished.” I still wasn’t clear on what had happened and why I was in the ICU but I knew that Briella was safe and that I was still here. It was enough peace of mind to welcome the sleep I knew I needed.
And then the gush came. There is no other way to describe it. It was a warm gush of fluid, spreading upon the bedding beneath my immovable body. But what was it? Hadn’t I already had a baby? So that meant it couldn’t have been my water breaking. And I assumed that since I was in the condition I was in that I must have had the dreaded accreta which would have necessitated a hysterectomy. Was it even possible to be bleeding if I didn’t have a uterus any longer? I couldn’t make any sense of the experience. Perhaps I was hallucinating – God knows I was on enough drugs to make that a likely scenario. But something inside of me knew it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
I don’t remember feeling particularly anxious leading up to our first ultrasound appointment that day. We had made it through the first trimester where I had been sufficiently crippled with enough morning sickness to squelch most fears of a miscarriage. Sure I was older this time around, but not quite to the post-35-year-danger-zone everyone kept warning me about. If I felt anything at all, it was probably more in alignment with contentment than anything else. Both Brian and I were united in our decision to make this our fourth and final round of baby-making, so we maintained a calm yet thrilled demeanor as we anticipated seeing the movements in utero.
We stuck with our ritual of not finding out the gender of the baby, though from the beginning we both found it difficult to even imagine adding a boy to our estrogen-heavy household. Nonetheless, not officially determining the gender allowed just enough room for the anticipation and suspense I thought I would need to make it through this final pregnancy. I also tend to believe that not knowing the gender of each child increased my ability to maintain curiousity about the story unfolding inside of me, as opposed to attributing my own culturally-informed gender-based associations. So there I was, there we were, relatively calmly awaiting our first sonographic introduction.
It was obvious that we were not amateurs as we identified the face of this child of ours before the technician said a word. It was the first body part we looked for and there it was tucked shyly behind two little hands. The magic of that moment lingered for quite some time as the technician went about her business of measuring and typing and measuring and typing. Nearly 30 minutes had passed when I began to notice that the technician had become silent. She was too silent. Intentionally silent. I knew then that something was not right.
I studied her face as she tried to conceal her concern while asking me to change into a gown so she could conduct a trans-vaginal ultrasound to gather a few more detailed images. I wanted to ask what she was worried about, but I simply obeyed her request knowing that she would be unable to give me any information directly. They had rules about these things and I was trying to respect the rules. Damn my propensity to follow so many rules. I kept looking at Brian trying to signal with my facial expressions that something was wrong. He seemed confused at first but as this portion of the ultrasound continued he began to sense the technicians concern as well. She was focusing her efforts with that awful wand on the right side of my lower abdomen where I imagined my ovary was positioned. I saw a mass. And so did she. 5cm. That’s what she typed. She then told me kindly to get dressed and go wait in the lobby so she could get a doctor to come and speak with us.
Fear was not the immediate response for either of us. It was closer to confusion or disorientation. A feeling that often surfaced whenever any level of trauma occurred. We sat there together for 45 minutes awaiting news from a doctor. In that time, I did what I always do. I tried to fight my way out of the confusion. I called my mom, an experienced nurse, and reported everything I saw the technician type and we began piecing together that I had a mass on my ovary that was likely the size of a golf ball. So I was prepared to hear that from the doctor. But the doctor never came. Instead, the same technician finally came out to the two of us and said she had been attempting to get my doctor on the phone so she could walk me through some of the concerns from the ultrasound, but that my doctor had gone home for the night so I would need to await a phone call in the morning.
My heart sank. How could I live with this kind of uncertainty through an entire night? How could I go home and face my other three daughters who were eagerly awaiting the photos we promised to bring of their baby brother or sister? But I still couldn’t bring myself to pushing against the rules. Brian saw my reluctant resignation and asked the technician, “Is there anyway you can give us any information?” She shook her head no but proceeded to tell me that if there was any sign of bleeding that I would need to call 911. This directive didn’t make sense. What would bleeding have to do with a mass on my ovary? Still studying her concerned face, I found the courage to simply say, “Please.” My hands were shaking and my heart was racing as I braced myself for some news. She knelt down next to us and whispered that she wasn’t supposed to tell us anything because she is not a doctor but that she understood our need to know something. She went on, “You have a mass on your ovary AND placenta previa. But don’t worry too much. You’ll probably just need a c-section and they’ll remove the mass then.”
Don’t worry too much. Don’t worry. Too much. I tried to chew on those words but they tasted bitter in my mouth. The tone in her voice wasn’t bitter at all when she delivered them to me. She was kind and the look on her face told me she was simply trying her best to soothe me and protect me from fear. But sadly, I did not find that phrase to be soothing at all despite the frequency for which I believe it is used in our culture. Why do we use that phrase? Is it genuinely an attempt to calm someone else down? Or is it really born out of the pressure we feel to say something when confronted with the face of another human being who is feeling a whole lot more than just “worry”? I don’t think that phrase is helpful anymore. Perhaps I never did. It serves as an effort to minimize feelings…or attempt to thwart them all together. But what I needed more than anything in that moment, and in the moments and months following, was for someone to let me feel, or help me find my feelings so I could process what was literally going on inside of me.