Baby #2: Pregnancy and birth

A few days after Talita was born, a doctor came to talk to us about future pregnancies and potential risks. I told him not to worry because we were done having kids. Biological ones at least. No way I was ever getting pregnant again. Ever. End of story.

But of course…as the trauma of her birth began to fade and I saw my little one grow into a cute healthy toddler, baby fever started to creep in. Well maybe not really ‘creep in’ because I’ve had baby fever since I was five but I’d say that I started considering the possibility of getting pregnant again.

Tony, on the other hand, did not have baby fever. Yes he wanted more kids eventually but he wasn’t sure he wanted to take the pregnancy route. Plus we’ve always wanted to adopt at some point in the future so why not forgo the original plan of having two biological kids and then adopt, and just go ahead and adopt right now? Ah silly men and their logical solutions. The problem with that crazy idea was: 1) I wanted to experience pregnancy again; 2) adoption takes time and I had no time. I needed to have a baby right now. If not for me, for the sake of Talita! She needed a sibling, she needed one bad. She was getting spoiled and lonely and I could tell by the way she played with her baby dolls that she yearned for a sibling (baby fever is real).

BUT since the stakes were high, we decided not to rush into anything and take the next few months to think and pray about it. In the meantime, we consulted with doctors to see if I had any underlying health issue that could explain why I developed HELLP syndrome and especially why I developed it so early with Talita. Nobody really knows what causes HELLP but they know that certain people are more predisposed to develop it (i.e. people with high blood pressure, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, etc). After running a bunch of tests, everything came back normal. Maybe our experience with Talita was a fluke afterall. My doctors said there was still a chance I could develop some form of preeclampsia but that we had their blessing (so to speak) to try for #2.

So after months and months of prayer, we decided to go for it.  I took every precaution this time around. I wanted to be in top shape for this next pregnancy. I started taking prenatal vitamins early, I trained for and ran my first half-marathon, I ate healthier, and I prayed over my womb. We had bumps along the way and experienced an early miscarriage in May but in July we got the news that a baby was on its way!! I was ecstatic.

At my first appointment, around 7 weeks, my doctor noticed that my platelet count was going down yet again. She prescribed Levanox -an anticoagulant drug-to see if that would do the trick. After two weeks on that, there was no significant improvement so my hematologist decided to try IVIG treatments. The treatments are a blood product that are administered intravenously every three weeks and although they did not increase my platelet count, they did stabilize it.  As long as my platelets didn’t go lower than 20k, we could keep this baby in.

Since I knew this would be my last pregnancy, I tried to enjoy it as much as I could and not to take anything for granted. I have to say though, this baby gave me a run for my money!! Prolonged morning sickness, insomnia, stuffy nose, back pain, swelling, 10 infusion treatments, 5 ultrasounds, and many ob/gyn appointments. But every new week felt like a victory. I will always remember the gratitude and relief I felt once we crossed the 26 week mark and really, every week after that.

Around week 27, I started retaining water and began gaining weight quickly. By week 32, my legs were huge and painful from the swelling. I had gained almost 60 lbs and anything that required bending of the legs became a battle. I knew by then that it was only a matter of time until I would develop preeclampsia. Sure enough, at  my next check up at 33 weeks and 4 days, my Ob/Gyn confirmed it and sent me to the hospital for observation. Since my platelets were already low, it was bound to turn into HELLP syndrome so they scheduled me for a C-Section for two days later. I had really hoped to make it to at least 35 weeks but I was already much further along than with Talita so I felt rather optimistic about everything.

The night before I was scheduled for my C-section, after finishing dinner, I got up from my bed and felt a gush. I thought for sure my water had just broke but when I looked down, I saw a pool of blood instead. Seconds later, another gush. More blood. It took me a minute to register what was going on but suddenly I felt a wave of panic.Tony yelled for a nurse to come in and in no time, a team was there. Blood just kept coming out and I didn’t know if I was bleeding or if the baby was bleeding. In total panic and in tears, I kept asking if the baby was fine. They wouldn’t really answer my questions but instead wheeled me out and said they needed to prep me for surgery. In matter of minutes, I was in the OR and before I knew it I was completely out. Forty minutes later, 3 lbs 15 oz of chunk came out kicking and screaming!!

When I woke up, my nurse said I had a placental abruption. Thankfully, our daughter was fine. Tony showed me pictures and said she was doing very well. Forty eight hours later, I was well enough to meet our baby girl in the NICU. She was beautiful, tiny and perfect. She looked so small, it was hard to believe she was three times bigger than Talita at birth!

Once again, this was not the way I had pictured our birth but I am extremely grateful for the way things turned out.Time is everything with a placental abruption and I was at the right place, at the right time. Who knows what the outcome would have been had it happened two days before when I was home. Just the thought of it gives me chills.

Thankfully our story has a beautiful ending: I thanked God for my new blessing and got my tubes tied. Because after all this drama, we are not having any more biological kids. Ever. And this time it’s true!

31 weeks

31 weeks

Swollen legs

Swollen legs

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Infusion day

Holding our little Eliana for the first time

Holding our little Eliana for the first time

Update

Friends,

God IS faithful.

I’m in a much better place emotionally and spiritually than I was just a few months ago. Not sure when or how things started to change but they did. Sure there is plenty of room for growth and healing still but I can sense God working in my life and slowly mending my heart. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like it.

It’s not that I ever stopped believing in God or even loving Him but when Talita was born I started questioning His faithfulness. The whole situation knocked me off my feet and shook my faith as well.

I was angry and disappointed with both God and myself. I felt like God had let us down and betrayed us by letting such an awful thing happen to us. At the same time, I was angry at myself for being disappointed with God and for having such a sense of self-entitlement. I felt like we had both screwed up by not holding our respective end of the deal. Even though intellectually and theologically I knew this wasn’t how things worked, that’s exactly how it felt and I couldn’t shake it off.

Anger, disappointment and doubt are dark and lonely places to be in. Life went on with its joys and challenges but I couldn’t turn to God to share those moments with Him. Who do you cry out to when you’re hurting and estranged from God? And who do you praise when your heart is overwhelmed with joy?

But like I said, God is faithful.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair and things are looking up. Thank you Jesus.

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
 He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
 He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40: 1-3

Every Jill has her Jack

 

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And this is my Jack!

Tony and I just celebrated 5 years of marriage! Legally, we were married on June 14th. We had a small ceremony in our boss’ living room and had a few friends over.  We wanted to get the paperwork done in the U.S. so we wouldn’t have to deal with the legalities of getting married in Canada. However, our official wedding ceremony was held on July 5th in Québec.

What an amazing five years it has been so far! I thank God for giving me Tony. I really do believe I got the better end of the deal when I married him. He has so many great qualities which make it easy to be married to him. He is down-to-earth, patient, loving, thoughtful, hard-working, handsome, forgiving and most of importantly, truly loves God.

I have to say I have come to admire and appreciate him even more since our chunky plum was born.  I think any parent will agree that having a baby changes a marriage. And any NICU parent will agree that having a sick baby puts a real strain on a couple. It’s not that Tony and I fought or didn’t get along when Talita came along, but the whole situation put a lot of stress on our relationship. Even when she got better, I was still emotionally unavailable for him for a long time. Not once has he held that against me. Not once did he say “Enough! Snap out of it woman!!!” He let me cry as much as I wanted and listened, listened, and listened again. I’m so grateful for that!

What a gift it is to go through life with a good man. What a tremendous blessing!

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:

 If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

We went on a week long getaway to Myrtle Beach for our anniversary

Celebrating our anniversary in Myrtle Beach!

Our birth story

Tony and I found out we were expecting in late September and at around 12 weeks, my doctor noticed that my platelet count was low. Platelets help blood clot and a very low platelet count can cause bleeding complications at the time of delivery. It was unclear if I’d always had a low platelet count and just didn’t know it, or if my count had dropped because of the pregnancy.  In January, when my doctor saw that my count was slowly but consistently dropping, she referred me to a hematologist and to a high risk OB clinic for further testing and monitoring.

I did a series of blood tests and in early February I was told I had ITP (Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura) which is an autoimmune disorder that causes platelet destruction. Obviously the diagnosis made me nervous but the doctor said not to worry because it was relatively common and manageable. He said once I hit week 28, they would monitor me closely and start giving me steroids if my count went too low.

Otherwise, we were doing great! The baby seemed healthy and I was finally feeling good again. I was back to exercising 3 times a week and enjoying the bliss of the second trimester.

Things started to change on the Sunday before Valentine’s Day. We went to a friend’s house for dinner and I remember feeling like my legs weighed 100 lbs each. When I got home, my legs and ankles were indeed swollen. I found it strange to be retaining water so early in my pregnancy but I also knew that water retention was very common for pregnant women. Plus I had been to the HR/OB clinic just a few days before and all was looking fine so I didn’t think much of it. My next appointment was in two weeks so I thought I’d bring it up then.

It wasn’t until Valentine’s Day that I started to feel really achy and uncomfortable. We went to a restaurant and I have to say, we had the most unromantic Valentine’s Day date ever. I was super moody and complained the whole night. Poor Tony had to put up with a very cranky wife!

The next morning, I noticed my face looked puffed up. I weighed myself and I had gained 10 lbs since the weekend! I asked Tony if he thought my face was swollen but like any good, loving (and cautious) husband would do, he said: “No honey you look great!”. On my way to work, however, I had the feeling that something wasn’t right. Maybe I was freaking myself out with all the stuff I had read online that morning (yes I tried to self-diagnose myself) but maybe something was truly wrong. I prayed and asked God to give me discernment and peace of mind.
As the day went by, I grew increasingly uncomfortable. By 2 pm, I started having back pains and closed the door to my office so people wouldn’t come knock on my door and disturb me. You’d think by then I would have called the doctor but I didn’t -I was determined not to give in to hypochondria. An hour later my supervisor came into my office to ask me something. As we started talking, I broke down in tears. I don’t know if I was crying because I was in pain or because I was scared. My supervisor asked if I wanted to go to the ER and I said no. She suggested that I least call the doctor on-call and I finally did. After describing my symptoms, the doctor said to come in just to make sure everything was o.k. To this day, I’m thankful that I listened to my supervisor. I can’t help but think that she was the answer to the prayer I had made earlier that day. I don’t think I would have gone to the hospital had she not stepped into my office. I probably would have gone home, taken some Tylenol, laid in bed and waited it out. Our doctors told us we showed up just in time.

A dear co-worker offered to take me to the hospital and stayed with me until Tony was able to get there. At first,  the doctor’s thought there was something wrong either my kidney or with my gallbladder. I was relieved to hear that because although painful, it was not a serious health concern. They ran a few more tests, and determined it looked more like preeclampsia. I was discouraged at the news but I had read about preeclampsia in my pregnancy books and I knew that women could be put on bed rest until their babies reached full-term. But within two hours of getting to the ER, my health got much worse. My blood pressure sky-rocketed, my platelets dropped, my vision got blurry, I swell up like a balloon, I started to vomit and the pain in my back got really bad. I was pretty much out of it by then and the doctors were were mainly talking and explaining things to Tony. They gave Magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures (which I call the devil because that stuff is EVIL!!) and did a sonogram of the baby. At some point they also gave me steroids to help the baby lungs mature. Like I said things were a little hazy but I vividly remember the next moment. It was maybe one in the morning and Tony and I were super tired. We were waiting in our room when a team of doctors came in. There were 5 or 6 of them so I knew it was more serious than what we had originally thought. The main doctor told me I had developed Class 1 HELLP which is believed to be a variant of preeclampsia (http://www.preeclampsia.org/HELLP). She said it rarely occurs this early in pregnancy but she had seen it before. She said my condition was quickly deteriorating and at this point, they were concerned I would have a stroke or kidney failure. She said that the baby was in great distress too, the sonogram showed that she wasn’t getting any fluids. I was waiting to hear the solution or the treatment for it. Maybe medication, bed-rest, or surgery I thought.
I was preparing myself for something bad but honestly, nothing like what came next. The head doctor said: “I’m sorry but there’s no cure for this other than immediate delivery”.  My heart sank. I was in total disbelief.

The hematologist and some other doctor explained what was happening to my body and the course of treatment I would need. Then it was the neonatologist’s turn and he started to explain what a 25-26 week old baby looked like, what her odds of survival were, what complications she may have, etc. Shortly after, they prep me for surgery. As I was waiting I started to plead the Lord for her life.  I found myself bargaining with God just like I use to do when I was a kid and I was in trouble.  God, I know I’ve been terrible lately, I’m sorry I’ve been so selfish and crabby,  I’m sorry I complained a lot during my first trimester, I’m sorry I haven’t been a great wife, loving friend, patient co-worker…please forgive me…but please let this little girl live…I’ll love her no matter what she has…but God please please please just let her live…

I went in for the C-Section at 3 am (I was put under) and at 3:40 am, our sweet daughter was born. At exactly 26 weeks, she was 570 g (1 lb 4 oz) and 12 inches long. Just a little bigger than a jar of peanut butter.

25 weeks- The Sunday before we Talita was born

25 weeks

The day after the surgery-  30 lbs of water weight in less than 3 days

Recovering. I ended up gaining an extra 30 lbs of water weight in 2 days

Meeting my chunky plum

Meeting our little girl for the first time

Farewell pump

We’ve reached the end of an era. After 15 months of exclusive pumping, we’re hanging up the horns. Talita started to drink whole milk this week so I felt like this was a good time to start weaning. I’m hoping to be completely done in 3 weeks.

It was never my plan to pump exclusively. I wanted to breastfeed. But when Talita arrived three months early; all hopes of putting my newborn on my chest, skin-to-skin, and nurse her right there and then pretty much went out the  window.

Shortly after I woke up from the C-Section,  a nurse came into my room to seek permission to give our baby breast milk from a donor.  Half awake I said yes. She then asked if I was planning on pumping. I hadn’t even thought about that but I said yes (which is pretty much all I said that day: “Are you feeling pain?” Yes, “Are you too warm?” Yes, “Can I bring you more jello? Yes, “Do you want me to increase the dosage of that drug?” YES!).
Not very long after, a lactation consultant came into my room wheeling a big yellow pump. She started to explain why breast milk was important for all babies but particularly for preemies. Turns out that preterm milk is higher in protein content and different in composition than full-term milk- which is exactly what these smallest of babies need. Preemies fed breast milk are also at lower risk of suffering from NEC (a serious intestinal disorder that they can develop) and other complications. The LC added that between 32 and 34 weeks gestational age, my daughter would develop the ability to coordinate her breathing, sucking and swallowing and that I would be able to start to put her at the breast. With that I was sold!

In the beginning, I pumped 8-9 times a day to establish my milk supply. It was exhausting but at the time it felt like this was the one thing I could do for her (an idea CONSTANTLY reinforced by the nurses, doctors, LCs, etc.). It was also the only thing that made me feel like a mother (especially in the beginning when I couldn’t be involved in her daily care because she was so fragile).  Every time I would wake up in the middle of the night to pump, I’d say to myself that one day I would have Talita in my arms and I’d be feeding my sweet baby instead of this ugly machine and that it would all be worth it.

At first, Talita could not tolerate large amounts of breast milk so she was fed a special concoction called TPN. As she grew bigger and stronger, she was able to get more breast milk mixed with a high calorie formula through a feeding tube. We called it her protein shake. I’d pump at home, work, and at the hospital and when the nurse told me they had plenty of milk for her in the freezer, I started to store milk at home. When our freezer got full, Tony’s parents got us a deep freezer and when that was full, I started dumping milk but kept pumping. Still hoping that one day I’d be able to go from exclusively pumping to exclusively breastfeed.

At 35 weeks, my little 3 pounder finally was big enough to be put to the breast. She did great!! Although we used a nipple shield and she took less than half an ounce, I was ecstatic! The LC marveled at her good latch and said she didn’t think we’d have problems transitioning to breastfeeding once we got home and she was off her protein shake .

When the time came for her to be discharged, I got the ok to nurse her twice a day and bottle feed the rest of the time. There were two reasons for this 1) they wanted to be able to measure exactly how much she was eating 2) they wanted to continue to add the high calorie preemie formula to the breast milk since she still had a lot of catching up to do growth wise .  As she grew bigger, we would be able to increase the number of bf sessions.

The first two weeks following Talita’s discharge were pure bliss! Like all new parents, Tony and I were exhausted but oh so happy to have her home. Tony was able to be home for those two first weeks and between the two of us, we were able to manage feedings, pumping and breastfeeding pretty well. However, once he went back to work, things became chaotic!! Talita was still really small and it would sometime take her an hour to finish a bottle of less than 2 oz.  My whole day was spent either feeding her, pumping, or cleaning bottles, nipple shields, and pump pieces. CRAZY!!

Plus the more she got used to bottles the more difficult breastfeeding became. We met with a LC but the week I returned to work what I had fear all along happened: Talita refused to take the breast completely. She developed a preference to the bottle. I was crushed.

I tried for several months to lure her back to the breast with no success. I tried every trick in the book but nothing worked and each time, it was heartbreaking. Every time I felt like she was rejecting me.

Women have different reasons for wanting to nurse. The main reasons I wanted to nurse were for the bonding aspect of it and (this might sound crazy and shallow) to have control.

As much as I loved Talita, I had a hard time bonding with her. I’ll write more about it in another post but for a long time, she didn’t feel like she was really mine. I was hoping that bf would help bridge that gap. I was also hoping that bf would be the one thing I’d be able to control. Everything else hadn’t worked out according to plan and so I was really hoping that this would be the thing that did.

Alas it didn’t.

It took me a long time but I’m finally ok with it. And although I have mixed feelings about quitting, I’m so so so ready for it!! I’m ready to stop sharing my body with a machine, not to have to pump in nasty public restrooms when we travel, and to have extra time to enjoy my baby girl.

One thing is for sure, if we ever have another biological child he or she will either have to nurse well or get formula because there’s NO WAY I’m doing this again! :)

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An undivided heart

When Talita was in the hospital, I thought everything would be fine once she came home.  I could see it in my head: I’d spend hours looking at my baby as she slept in my arms and would be overwhelmed with joy, gratitude and relief. Things like bonding and breastfeeding would fall into place; the crying would stop, and I’d be happy again.

Sure enough, when she was discharged, I felt great joy and relief. Gratitude too. But to my surprise, I also felt guilt, resentment, anxiety, shame, anger, and sadness. For the first time since baby girl was born, I was able to really start processing things. The more I thought about everything the more angry I got with God.

It took awhile to even admit to myself that I was mad (more like furious) at God and it took a lot longer to share this with anyone other than Tony. I felt like the only words that should come out of my mouth were “Praise God!” because my daughter was alive and well.  But the truth is, having baby in the NICU sucks!! Big time. It really really does.

Once I was honest about how I truly felt, the process of healing was able to commence. I’m still in the thick of it but I believe there’s hope for me. I have slowly started praying this part of Psalm 86:

1Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.

And I’m looking forward to the day I’m able to honestly say these words:

12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
    you have delivered me from the depths,
    from the realm of the dead.