Baby Atlas // A Birth Story
Our son Atlas was born on March 23rd, 2015 at just 27 weeks. This means he was 13 weeks early and weighed in at 2lb 4oz.
Everyone tell us how crazy our story is and even for those of us who experienced it (me, Blaine and my sister, Lauren) it's hard to believe. Now that it's been two weeks the flashbacks are fewer and the wounds are less fresh.
I'm warning you now: this is a birth story. I will talk about some gross things because giving birth is a bit messy. It's also very long winded, I want to be able to go back and relive every detail. Though it was the most horrible, traumatic experience of my life, it brought our amazing son into the world and for that I'm thankful.
On Sunday, March 22nd at around 4pm I was sitting outside at our patio table planting some seeds for our vegetable garden. I started to feel some very mild contractions that were more an uncomfortable hardening of the stomach than anything painful. However, they were frequent enough for me to download a contraction tracker app to see how frequent they were. At this point they were every 4 minutes or so and when I saw that my heart started racing and I went upstairs to lie down and calm myself. I remember not wanting to tell Blaine and scare him. He's so protective of me and has been nervous this whole pregnancy of how much pain I'd be in when giving birth.
After taking a few minutes to relax in bed, I texted Blaine who was downstairs in the garage. He and my sister started getting ready and we left for the local ER. They immediately brought us back and as the nurse was taking my vitals she said something along the lines of "Why did you come here? You should always go to Bakersfield. We aren't equipped to deliver babies and if you're dilated past a certain point we have to keep you." Instant regret. Was I actually in labor? There was no way. Once she was done Blaine and I were taken to a room with curtained off sections.
Over the course of about two hours they asked me tons of questions, Blaine monitored my contractions (about three minutes apart) which started to get a bit painful and then the ER doctor checked my cervix and tested a urine sample. The doctor told me I had a bladder infection and I was dilated only 1/2cm which is normal and perfectly fine. He said "you're not in labor" and told me not to worry. When he left the nurse quietly told me that she and the doctor had a difference of opinion and that if I kept feeling them to go to Bakersfield immediately.
After the ER in our hometown we went home and I got in bed, ate a little bit and tried to relax. After a couple of hours the contractions started getting more painful. We decided to play it safe and go to the hospital in Bakersfield where I planned to deliver. When we got to the Emergency Room in Bakersfield we were pretty quickly (within an hour) ushered to Labor and Delivery. The nurse hooked me up to monitor for the baby's heart rate as well as my contractions. I was left in the room for probably 20-30 minutes to be monitored and at this point the contractions hurt, but still weren't too bad.
The doctor came in, took a look at the monitor and told me that I didn't have very many contractions, even though I told him I was feeling them about every three minutes. I remember being frustrated that he believed the machine over my word. He checked my cervix as well and said it all seemed normal and that he agreed with the previous doctor: It was just a bladder infection and to go home and ride it out.
On the drive home the contractions were bad enough that I was wincing with each one. But luckily I was able to fall asleep and get some relief. We arrived home around 2am and immediately went to bed. This is when the contractions started getting really bad. For the first hour or so I was able to fall asleep (probably due to exhaustion from the last 12 hours) in between contractions, but they were so bad that I would wake up for the contraction and usually fall back asleep for a few minutes again. I went through that cycle for a while, but eventually they got so bad that I had to get out of bed.
From around 3am on I spent my time pacing our bedroom, bracing myself against our dresser, walking around downstairs, but mostly sitting in the bathroom bracing myself against the counter sobbing from the pain. I called the hospital in Bakersfield again around 4am and told them that the cramps were now "excruciating" and asked if I could come back in or if there was anything they could do for the pain. The nurse told me to take a warm bath and 750mg of tylenol and if they weren't better in a few hours I could come back in for a recheck. Again, I was disappointed that no one believed what I was feeling or wanted to help me. Everyone was so nonchalant and here I was ready to pass out from pain. I could tell she was a bit annoyed and thought I was overreacting so I said thank you and did what she said.
The bath helped ease the pain a little bit, but our bathtub is tiny and takes forever to fill so I spent a little time in there half submerged switching from side to side trying to get my whole body under the warm water. I also took 1 1/2 extra strength tylenol, but I knew that this pain was way too intense for it to really help me. At this point it was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life and it was only going to get worse.
After my bath I got back in bed and tried to sleep in between the contractions again thinking I'd at least get some relief. At this point I was writhing in pain, kicking my legs and making plenty of noise. I have no idea how Blaine didn't wake up! After every contraction as I felt the next one coming I remember thinking (sometimes saying out loud) "no, no, no, no..." like I could somehow will the contraction to go away, but it never worked. They would always come, full force. I wasn't able to fall asleep because I spent the time in between contractions waiting in fear for the next one.
By around 5:30am I woke up Blaine and asked him to stay home with me so he could drive me to my doctors office. But really I didn't want to be alone either. I knew there was something wrong, but at this point I believed what two doctors had told me and thought it was just a really bad bladder infection. I had read that a bladder infection can cause contractions, so that's what I believed. My plan was to call my OB when they opened at 8:30am and ask them if there was anything that could be done for the pain. For the next hour or so I just sobbed into my pillow and did my best to get through every contraction. Each one felt like a million years and each break in between got smaller and smaller. It eventually got to the point where I didn't even have time to catch my breath and calm down from the last contraction before the next one started.
Around 7am I sent Blaine to Walgreens to get my antibiotics wanting to make sure I started on those as soon as possible to get this infection taken care of. After he left I was in pain and in a panic. I had never, ever in my life felt this kind of pain and didn't know what to do. I was loud enough to wake my sister in the room across the hall and told her that I couldn't take it anymore, we needed to leave. I called Blaine and told him to come back. I started getting ready, but I would only get a few steps before another contraction would happen and I would have to grab the side of a table, or anything else I could use to brace myself.
When we left the house and got just a few miles away the pain intensified even more which was hard to believe because my pain tolerance is pretty high and I already thought I was in as much pain as was humanly possible. I was wrong. I had brought a pillow to sit on because I was feeling pressure and it was uncomfortable to sit down, but we had a 45 minute drive ahead of us so I had no choice. But we weren't even on the freeway yet when I felt a huge surge of pressure during a contraction, like I had to poop (sorry for my lack of eloquence, let's just be real, that's what it felt like). I remember standing up in the front seat with every contraction and cry-screaming how much it hurt. When I started having those contractions I started thinking to myself, "oh my god, am I actually in labor?" I didn't want to say it out loud and scare everyone so I kept it to myself. I remember thinking about the 45 minute ride to the hospital and wondering how I was going to survive it. I remember thinking that you always hear about people pushing forever so if I was in labor, I'd be fine and we could make it.
I suffered through maybe 5 or 10 of these excruciating contractions with intense pressure. Up until these I had been timing my contractions again and they were about 1 minute apart and anywhere from 30 second to 1 minute long. It was pure torture, I can't put into words what it felt like.
I did my best to breathe through these contractions as we were on the freeway. I don't remember for how long, but it couldn't have been more than 10 minutes. Then, after one of the contractions I felt something coming out of me. I pulled back the waistband of my yoga pants and saw something round and red and instantly started to panic. I remember a lot of screaming that something was coming out, that it was the baby. We were in the middle of the freeway, what seemed like an eternity from a hospital, and my baby was coming. At first, because I didn't see his face, I thought it was a sac and that he was being born in it, but then I realized it was his head.
The rest was kind of a blur because Blaine, my sister and I had no idea what to do and we were so terrified. I remember crying hysterically and saying "I'm sorry" over and over and over. There was no way my baby was going to make it. How could I have let this happen? My sister called the hospital and asked them if we should keep driving or if we should turn around and go back to Tehachapi. They told us to call 911 and get an ambulance. I know now this seems silly, but in our complete state of shock and panic it didn't occur to us.
My sister called 911, Blaine was speeding down the freeway and I was sobbing, holding my waistband out and staring at my baby's head sticking out of me. I kept asking if I should take him out or leave him. I didn't now if I would hurt him or detach him by accident if I took him out so I just let him sit there. This is something I feel so much guilt about now. I should have pulled him out and put him against my chest to keep him warm. Where was my motherly instinct?
The 911 operator told us to get off at the next exit and pull over. It just so happened the next exit was an exit to nowhere. You could basically get off the freeway and get back on going the other direction, that's it. When we pulled of Blaine was instructed to check the baby to see if he was breathing. At some point between driving and here, he had slipped the rest of the way out. Blaine scooped him out of my yoga pants and we wrapped him in a jacket.
The baby was bluish purple and didn't seem to be breathing. The only movement we saw was a small twitch every once in a while. Thinking of him like this now makes my heart sink. We all thought he wasn't going to make it. Here we were on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere watching our baby die. I think I was in shock because I had a hard time reacting even though my mind was going 100 miles an hour.
Blaine then checked the baby, at the 911 operators instructions, to see if he was breathing. Our little baby was gasping maybe every 30 seconds, but we didn't see signs of breathing. This is when Blaine started CPR. We had the baby on my lap while Blaine blew into his nose and mouth and did chest compressions with just one finger. You can see the bruise on his chest from these in the very first picture, that's how fragile he is. Blaine is amazing and did this for what seemed like forever and all I could do was stare. After maybe 5 or 10 minutes we finally heard a siren.
A firetruck pulled up and opened my door and I felt a burst of cold air and a young man appeared. He immediately figured out what was going on and got our baby an oxygen mask that was as big as his head. The baby still wasn't breathing. I remember shaking uncontrollably, maybe because it was about 40 degrees out and the door was open, maybe from the intense experience my body just went through. But all I could think about while I was covered in fluids from the birth with my pants down in front of total strangers was that my baby was cold and why weren't they worried about that? The EMTs eventually showed up and had a more appropriately sized mask. They checked his heart rate and it was good, despite the fact that he looked like he was barely hanging on. I wanted to breath a sigh of relief, but again, I couldn't react. I just watched quietly and continued to think that he was too cold. I felt Blaine hold my hand and my sister rubbing my shoulder in between phone calls to our parents to let them know what was happening and to tell them to get to the hospital fast. I heard comments about how I was so calm, but still I couldn't react to what was happening I would just smile and nod. Then I would think "Why are you smiling? They're going to think you're insane." but it was just my instinct. Blaine mentioned that he thought our baby girl was actually a baby boy and I realized I had noticed that too, but didn't have the time or energy to really react to it at the time.
Soon they cut the cord that tied me to my baby and took him to an ambulance. The plan was to drive him down to a less foggy location where a helicopter could meet them for a life flight to the hospital. I remember wondering if I would see my baby alive again or if this was it, but still I continued to not be able to react except for maybe a few random, silent tears. They might have been used up from crying all night from the contractions, or maybe my body was just having trouble reacting in that way too. I almost told Blaine to go with him, but I couldn't get the words out. They told me that we could end up at different hospitals and we said we wanted to go to whatever hospital the baby was going to. I remember thinking it was insane that we could end up in different places.
Once they left with our baby there were a few moments of quiet while we waited for a second ambulance to take me to the hospital too. In that moment of quiet Blaine and I found each others hands and squeezed hard. What was happening? I recall looking at the dashboard in my car willing myself to wake up. Honestly thinking, or maybe just hoping, that I was having a terrible dream.
Then they started working on me, helped me pull my pants up and got my on a gurney to load me into the ambulance. Blaine and Lauren would ride in our car behind the ambulance. Since I was stable they didn't turn on the sirens or drive too fast. I got loaded into the ambulance and we left. I could see my family driving behind us in the window and kept wishing they were with me, or even better, that I was in the car with them. I kept looking at Blaine's face through the window and wanting to hug him more than anything. But I was stuck in the ambulance with the nice man who was talking to me and trying to keep my mind off things. I started to feel cramping again and realized that I still had to deliver the placenta. Suddenly I was terrified it would hurt. I couldn't take anymore pain today. The EMT tried, again and again, to get an IV line into my arm and I remember thinking "I just gave birth, how does this hurt so much?"
When we got to the hospital Blaine and Lauren found us in the hallway as they wheeled me into Labor and Delivery, where I had been just 6 hours before and was sent home. I remember thinking throughout this entire experience that if they believed me and kept me, this would have all happened so differently. They put me in a room, got me in bed and left. The room was quiet and all you could hear was the three of us crying. Blaine came over to the bed to hug me and we were both able to lose it for a minute. I remember my sister going into the bathroom to get herself some tissues before going back to talking on the phone with our parents. I had a short conversation with my mom and heard her fear through her tears as they tried to get to the hospital from several hundred miles away. I'm sure that was one of the longest drives of their life. I tried to keep it together for everyone, but it was so hard. Deep breaths, I kept reminding myself.
Eventually the nurse came in, pushed on my stomach which hurt more than I expected and tried to get me to deliver the placenta. It didn't happen so shortly after my OB walked in. He did the same and pretty quickly the placenta came out, just as easily as my baby had come out just an hour or so before. I remember him putting it in a container and mentioning something about sending it in for testing. I still haven't figured out exactly for what or who to talk to about it, but I'm hoping that they're testing it to see if there are any answers as to why I gave birth so early.
An hour or two after we got there Blaine and Lauren got to go see our son. I wasn't allowed out of bed yet, but they promised to take pictures. I remember crying when they left the room, finally feeling like I could let it out and like I didn't need to act strong for them. They came back with pictures and he looked so sad, so beat up. My heart sunk and I started apologizing to him in my head again, but at the same time I was so happy that he was still alive. I honestly thought he wasn't going to make it, we all did.
I would not wish this experience on anyone, ever. Our baby was born in an environment of panic, fear and lots of screaming. We were robbed of a loving birth experience with our family in the waiting room waiting for news and me getting to hold and love on my son as soon as he was born. We were robbed of bringing home our healthy, chubby baby and bonding as a family in the comfort of our home. I never got the chance to do research on giving birth or breast feeding, we haven't had our baby shower and I wasn't able to even book a maternity photo shoot so we could cherish the photos forever.
Instead of a joy and loved filled beginning to his life, it was traumatic and he now gets to spend the first three months of his life in the hospital. We are limited on how much we can see him and it was over a week before we could even hold him. Even now we're limited to holding him for one hour a day, with about 10 wires and probes and his CPAP for his breathing attached to him. We get to watch him have apnea (stops breathing) and bradycardia (very low heart rate) episodes because his central nervous system isn't developed yet and at this point, if he was still inside me, he'd only have to practice breathing, not actually use it to survive. There arelocked doors, rubber gloves, a piece of glass, a handful of wires and a nurse between us and our son at all times.
For the first few days after the birth we visited several times a day (and still do). For the most part, I think I was still in shock (and totally confused) and held it together pretty well. But I still find myself having trouble when I'm alone, so I avoid being alone. The thing that kills me that I didn't expect was missing having my baby inside me. For a few days I would catch myself touching my belly and then realize he wasn't in there and my heart would stop. I miss sitting in bed feeling his kicks and trying to record them to send to Blaine at work. I miss being proud of my belly, that I was growing this little human inside me. I know a lot of women miss being pregnant, but then I remember most of them get to hug their babies when they feel that way. Something I can't do.
Most of all I was so sad that I had failed him and that the birth was so easy on me because he was so small and now struggling to live. I was basically able to get up and walk away right after giving birth. Having a 2 pound baby was easy on my body and I didn't have any pain after except some cramping and that made me feel guilty. I catch myself getting angry and wondering how this is going to change his future. Since he was born so premature, which, in my opinion, could have been prevented, there is a good chance he will have some lasting effects. We love him so much, more than I could ever say, but all I want is for him to grow up to be a healthy little boy. I can learn to deal with the trauma we all went through to get him here as long as Atlas grows up to be healthy and happy.
(A few people have asked how they can help and just sending positive vibes for our little boy is more than enough! However, my sister has also started a GoFundMe fundraiser to help us out with the mountain of expenses associated with having a baby in the NICU for 3 months. Thank you!)