Hello my friends, I’m sorry for the long absence! You’ll understand why I’ve been gone for so long by the end of this, but for now- meet MATEO! He was born October 17, 2016. He’s the love of our lives. Insert ALL OF THE CLICHES ABOUT PARENTHOOD HERE. All of them. They apply. He’s the most darling baby ever, in my completely unbiased opinion.
I don’t know where to begin with his birth story, so I suppose I’ll start with what we had hoped, dreamed and planned for the birth of our son. We knew from the beginning that we would attempt to have a home birth. I’d been by my best friend’s side as she delivered her baby a little over two years ago and knew that I wanted a similar experience for our family. We hired a midwife who we trust implicitly, borrowed a birth pool from a friend, and I started practicing Hypnobabies to prep myself for the experience. In my preparation for birth I tried to let go of expectations as much as possible- I made peace with the idea that although a home birth was our ideal scenario, I trusted that Mateo would come into this world exactly as he intended. I accepted the idea that I might have to deliver in a hospital in a variety of ways, depending on how things went. I never would have imagined though what actually happened, which was close to my worst nightmare and nothing I could have prepared for.
Typically birth stories don’t start a month and a half in advance, but ours does. The first week of September I started having pain in my back. I thought it was the new mattress we bought to prepare for co-sleeping. As the pain increased over the following weeks I started seeing massage therapists and a chiropractor to help. I stopped sleeping for more than a couple of hours- the pain too intense for me to rest- and instead took long hot baths and showers to try to cope. The heating pad became my best friend. I thought it was maybe part of the trials of pregnancy- my belly felt large and all of the practitioners I was seeing said that back pain in the third trimester is normal. I struggled to eat, the pain decimating my pregnancy appetite. I gagged down what I could but quickly began to lose weight. I struggled to understand what was happening.
Less than two weeks later I got food poisoning. The next day I went in to see my doctor and she sent me straight to the emergency room- I was too depleted and exhausted to avoid going. It would be the first of many trips to the ER. They rehydrated me, checked on the baby and sent us on our way. Two days later, in a follow up visit to my doctor, I was admitted to the hospital. She suspected that I was having a Crohn’s flare due to the levels of inflammation she was seeing in my bloodwork and the difficulties I was having with my appetite.
I spent a week at the hospital having tests run. Imaging showed inflammation in my kidneys, and eventually Crohn’s was ruled out. The doctors said that the pain in my back was due to a swelling in my right kidney caused by my uterus compressing my ureter (the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder). They said almost all pregnant women have some inflammation in the kidneys during late term pregnancy, and were a bit confused as to why it was causing me so much pain since there was no sign of kidney infection. The only treatment options, which the urologist was not hopeful would help, involved procedures that I thought may cause more complications. They kept me in the hospital for a week, developed a pain management plan and discharged me.
Two days later I had a fever that spiked to 103.4 and rushed back to the emergency room where I was readmitted. Again the doctors suspected that the kidney inflammation was to blame, and put me on antibiotics and morphine. They monitored the baby and I for another week. I should mention that these two weeks in the hospital were difficult, to say the least. It’s nearly impossible to sleep in hospitals, there is always someone coming into the room to check on you, or speak to you about your care, to adjust the IV, etc. The machines they hooked me up to were constantly beeping, requiring that I call a nurse in to adjust. And of course there is the stress of being away from home, the pain, the fear involved in hospitalization during pregnancy, the stress of medical conversations with doctors, the discomfort of relentless tests and procedures. We relied heavily on our friends during this time- they brought us food, lifted our spirits with visits, phone calls and texts.
After that week they released me. At this point I knew that a home birth was no longer an option. The doctors told me that I was now a high risk pregnancy, that a perinatologist would have to oversee my care. We started to consider that he might arrive early. I stressed about the pain meds I was taking, both in and out of the hospital. And of course, also about the antibiotics. I only put nail polish on once during my pregnancy, avoided chemicals at all costs, ate exclusively organic home cooked food. I was forced to accept everything in order to survive this period- I couldn’t allow myself to stress about what was going into my and Mateo’s bodies,I had no control, I felt powerless and I was terrified. I had to trust that we would both be ok. I had to truly LET GO. This would become my mantra.
Two days after my release I once again developed a fever and Lou asked me if we should go to the hospital. I knew that we should but I didn’t know if I could get out of bed to get myself into the car. I just wanted to sleep, the pain meds I was on were drugging me into a feverish submission. I somehow managed to get myself up and out the door. I could barely walk into the ER. This time things had worsened. I needed high levels of oxygen, my blood pressure was dangerously low, my white blood cell count was dangerously high and my heart was racing. The doctor put her hand on my leg in a moment I’ll never forget and said “Sarah, I’m going to transfer you to the ICU, this is a life threatening situation. They’ll be able to provide the care you need.” I was 33 weeks pregnant and fighting for the life of our baby and myself. I couldn’t even wrap my head around how I found myself in this nightmare. I later found out that I was in septic shock, and the nurses kept saying to me “You’re lucky to be alive!” and “Thank God you came in when you did!” The mortality rate for septic shock is 50%. A coin toss: heads I live, tails I die.
I closed my eyes as they wheeled my bed into the ICU, I didn’t want to see the other patients who were also facing death- it would make it too real and too scary. I knew I would never be able to unsee it, and my psyche already felt fragile. When I arrived in the curtained room there was a swarm of nurses and doctors around me, and I was more scared than I’ve ever been in my life. As they lifted my body to transfer me to a different bed I felt like I was floating above the scene. They rushed to hook up multiple IV’s, monitors, and began pumping my body full of fluids and the strongest antibiotics available. There were hands all over my body, and I felt completely detached- I had come out of myself in order to survive. Lou eventually joined me and we spent the night with two nurses who never took their eyes off the monitors watching my vitals and the baby’s vitals. Lou slept (ish) in a folding chair beside my bed.
The next afternoon I was stable enough to be transferred out of the ICU. I had developed pneumonia in the ICU and fluids from the treatment they gave me had seeped into my lungs. I would need oxygen for days to come, my breath would be short and painful. The doctors told me that if I didn’t force myself to take deep breaths I would be at risk of my lungs collapsing. I don’t remember much of this week, I think I’ve blocked it out. But it was another week of limited sleep, pain, tests, fear, drugs and doctors. On the bright side, our friends once again rallied around us. We didn’t eat a single hospital meal during our entire stay. The doctors weren’t sure what was going on, why I had developed sepsis when all tests showed no infection in my kidneys. They told me I’m a “unicorn”. My condition had everyone baffled. At the end of the week they released me, once again, with a pain management plan and a prescription for antibiotics.
Like clockwork, two days later I woke up in the middle of the night gasping for breath and feverish. I woke Lou and we scrambled to get to the ER. I knew things were bad, I could barely walk and it took every bit of fight I had in me to get myself into the car and into the ER. When we arrived they immediately started checking on Mateo. He wasn’t doing well, his heart rate was not what it should be and he wasn’t moving. The doctor told me they’d need to do an emergency c-section. I was 36 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I was, once again, terrified. They brought me to the operating room and held Lou back to get into scrubs. Once in the OR they gave me an epidural. Once again I left my body to cope, feeling like it was happening to someone else and I was witnessing the scene from somewhere far away. As soon as the epidural hit Mateo’s heart rate started dropping and they went into emergency mode. The room flooded with nurses and doctors and they began rushing, yelling out numbers and telling me that we had to move quickly. I started begging for someone to get Lou. The nurse told me, “there’s no one that can leave right now, we’ll get him if we can.” I thought I was going to have our baby without him there.
I was so scared, staring up at the ceiling I felt more alone than I’ve ever felt in a room full of people. Thankfully someone was able to get Lou and he arrived minutes later while they were already cutting me open. Within what felt like just a breath or two Mateo was in this world, 4 lbs 15 oz and not breathing. They immediately whisked him off to the NICCU to care for him but told us that he would be fine. When they returned asking Lou if he’d like to cut his umbilical cord. I told Lou to go to him and not leave his side. I hadn’t even laid eyes on him, I couldn’t cope with the thought that his first hours in this world would be without his mama by his side. It was almost too much to bear.
This is the time that almost broke me. It was four hours before I was able to be wheeled into the NICCU to meet my son, and I was only allowed a 15 minute visit before I was transferred to the ICU to receive treatment once again for septic shock. I have never felt so broken. I just couldn’t bear that he was without me, and I without him. My heart felt like it would crack. Thankfully my family had arrived from the east coast the night before and stayed with me in the hospital room while I waited for what felt like an eternity. I kept begging the nurses to take me to him, sobbing and saying that I needed to see my baby. I couldn’t believe that he had been here for hours and I hadn’t even been able to touch him and tell him how much I love him. Lou sent me photos from the NICCU and I clung to them for life while I watched the clock tick.
I was dazed, emotional and at the end of my rope when they brought me to the NICCU, but I’ll never forget the joy and relief I felt in seeing him. I can’t think of it without breaking down. He was tiny and connected to a million wires and hospital contraptions. I was, once again, leveled. The doctors told us he would likely need at least a week’s stay in the NICCU but that he would be fine. I was in a precarious state and would have my own battle to fight to survive.
That day they discovered, via CT scan, an abscess (infection of tissue filled with pus and blood) the size of a baseball on my liver. Somehow months before, randomly, strep had entered my bloodstream and landed in my liver. Because of my compromised immune system due to pregnancy, over the course of my third trimester it had developed into an infection that nearly took both of our lives. It had gone undetected because none of the imaging I had done included that part of my body- because that’s where Mateo was.
I spent 2 more nights in the surgical ICU having gone once again into septic shock and the day after my c-section I underwent a procedure to install a drain that went into my belly, and attached to my liver to drain the abscess and get rid of the infection. The doctors warned me that liver infections can be really difficult to clear and tried to prepare me for the possibility that I would have months of treatment ahead of me. In addition to the drain they put me on heavy antibiotics specific to the type of strep that was in the abscess.
We were in the hospital for a total of 10 days after Teo was born. I won’t go into details but it was the worst care I’ve ever experienced. It was a non-stop struggle and I had to fight to receive the treatment I needed, I had to advocate so much for myself that I sometimes felt like if I didn’t pay enough attention I wouldn’t make it out of there alive. I started experiencing PTSD like symptoms after my c-section. I would start to fall asleep and my body would jerk- and I’d wake up feeling panicked, with the feeling that if I slept I would die. I couldn’t catch my breath.
Lou, my love, my hero, spent every minute he could in the NICCU with Mateo. He would go home for a few hours to sleep and rush back. I’ve never seen anyone more dedicated to anything than he was to spending every second he could with our son. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It meant that when friends and family weren’t visiting I was alone, but it gave me so much peace of mind knowing that Teo was with his dad getting all of the love and care he needed. I was able to visit him in the NICCU most days, with the visits increasing in length as I started to recover. It was incredibly difficult to make the decision to stay in my room and rest at times when I desperately wanted to be in the NICCU but knew it wasn’t the best thing for me. Ultimately I was focused on recovering as quickly as possible so that we could go home.
Mateo showed incredible progress, hitting the milestones required by the NICCU seemingly without effort. I attribute it to Lou’s dedication, love and support. It seemed like every day there was more good news coming from the doctors about his progress and our fears about his health were quickly easing up.
Teo was discharged from the NICCU the day before me and the three of us spent one night in my hospital room together. I had this incredible relief that my time with him wasn’t limited to a few hours in the NICCU and as our small family squished together in a hospital bed I wept for how happy I felt after 2 months of so much pain, fear, confusion, struggle, and sadness. I will never forget that moment either. It was pure and raw emotion and it flooded out of me as I hugged Lou and Mateo with such relief that we were all alive and together. It felt like a beginning, even though I knew we had a long road ahead of us. We were together. I clung to that. I wanted to freeze time, waves of fear that something could take this away from me overpowering at times.
The next day I was discharged and sent home with the drain still attached and an IV line in my arm. A home health care nurse met us at the house less than an hour after we arrived and walked me through the process of administering my own IV antibiotics, every six hours. I had been instructed in the hospital on how to monitor and flush the drain, change my bandages, and care for myself at home. I had an intense pain medication schedule- every three hours around the clock. It was incredibly surreal. Our room was filled with medical supplies, and newborn supplies, side by side. I was more overwhelmed than I’ve ever been in my life. It was a daunting thing, to care for our new baby and manage the health crisis I found myself in. My best friend and stepmom went to work arranging donors for breastmilk- the wonderful community here in San Diego rallying around me to help us through.
I undressed in the bathroom and prepared for the shower I’d been waiting 10 days for. As I saw my reflection for the first time I broke down. I looked like I’d been to war. I had bruises all over my body. My arms, legs and body were covered with marks where they had applied bandages or monitors and the leftover stickiness had turned black. I had a 6X6″ bandage on my abdomen with a tube coming out of it and a plastic drain at the end that would collect whatever came out of the infection. I was too scared to look at what was under the bandage. My teeth were stained and the circles under my eyes silently told the story of the horror of what I’d been through. The veins in my arms and hands were swollen from the relentless blood draws and my hair was a matted wreck. The IV picc line dangled from my arm and an angry red c- section incision ran along my belly. I barely recognized myself, and once again I broke down and wept for all that we had been through, for all that we had lost.
I had to let go of all of the hopes and dreams I’d had for how our birth would be, what our first weeks/months would look like, what our son’s first experiences in the world would be, how I would feed him. I had to accept a reality that no one should have to accept. I’m still mourning, and at times it feels like I may never stop. But I know I will. Life will go on, God willing. My body will heal. Our son will grow. We will slowly piece our lives back together. One day at a time.
Two and a half weeks after the drain was installed they removed it, it had shrunk the abscess in half and the doctor said it would be up to my body to heal the rest. This brings us to the present. I am still on the antibiotics and pain medications (thankfully a variety that doesn’t effect my cognitive abilities). Mateo is THRIVING. He weighs six pounds now and is as sweet a babe as I could’ve dreamed up. I finally understand the powerful love that I’d only been told about. He has gained more weight than they even expected, is alert, strong and by my perceptions- perfect. He’s a survivor just like his mama and papa and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
The details of this story are dark, but there was so much beauty too. I have never felt more loved by our incredible family who spent weeks schlepping all over the city to get us whatever we needed, who held my hand in the hospital as I was handed bad news over and over again, who wiped my tears and lifted me up every chance they got. I have also never felt more loved by our friends who rallied around us in ways I couldn’t ever have anticipated they would-providing meals and hugs and creature comforts to make our hospital stay just a tiny bit brighter. They are still carting me from doctor appointment to doctor appointment, checking in daily to make sure we’re surviving at home, loving us in ways that have made me realize over and over just how insanely lucky we are to have them and love them back. Lou and I have survived another crisis together, each one bonding us to each other even more. Seeing him as the most devoted father I know has made my love for him grow deeper and stronger. I’ve been reminded of how many people are generous and giving as the breastmilk donations have come in, mamas who’ve never met us are taking time and resources to support our family (as well as some lovely women who have met us). And lastly I’ve been reminded again how precious life is, how tomorrow isn’t a promise, how important it is to stay present. I’m soaking up these sleepless newborn nights in a way I couldn’t have without having gone through this- I know that this time is fleeting, that we’re so incredibly lucky to be here, that I’ll never get this time back, that things could turn in a second.
We’ll continue to look for the goodness in this experience and as we get a bit more distance from it I’m sure I’ll have a much longer list. For now I’m focused on healing my body and spirit, loving my sweet family and moving forward one day at a time. Thank you so much for reading and for your support now and over the years of this site. I’ll be doing my best to get back to work, which means back to posting! We have a stack of medical bills 8″ tall already, and there’s no sign of them stopping anytime soon. As much as we’d like to press pause on our businesses as we recover, the two months of time off coupled with the expense of this nightmare won’t allow for it. Fortunately, Lou and I both love what we do and count ourselves as lucky to be able to do it!!! Onward my friends, ONWARD!!!!!! xx- Sarah