Two birth stories and a little growing up to do

10thLong, long ago, on November 4, 2005, I published my first post on this site (although at the time A Spirited Mind was called Catherine Wheels (here’s why) and was hosted on Blogger).  Five years after that I moved the site to WordPress and lost all of the comments, which is really sad because there were some good ones.

Over the past ten years (TEN YEARS!) the blog has shifted from being random musings (early topics included chickens, banjo babies, and the superpowers of dolphins) to a mommy blog, to being primarily about books.  I’ve poured a lot of time into A Spirited Mind over the decade, even though it’s not how I make my living or achieve my impact, and it’s not even read by that many people. Rather, the blog has been a good side outlet, a record of how my thinking has changed by what I read, and a vehicle for connecting with some wonderful readers I would not otherwise know. Ten years in, I’m ok with A Spirited Mind being what it is, and I’m grateful for the kind and thoughtful readers who have sharpened my thinking and kept reading through all the changes.

So, to celebrate the tenth birthday of A Spirited Mind, I went ahead and had another baby (see previous birth stories for Hannah, Jack, Sarah, Eliza), but in a big, dramatic, emergency fireworks fashion completely appropriate for a last hurrah.

At 36 weeks 4 days pregnant, I started having an aching pain in my abdomen that then gave me a weird popping feeling I described to doctors as being like something had broken (badly) inside of my stomach, but not like water breaking. Unbeknownst to me, or to the doctors, I had just ruptured my uterus.  Apparently Margaret’s head, thankfully already down, plugged the hole pretty well and saved my life.  Instead of an immediate hemorrhage, I began bleeding internally and my digestive system started shutting down.  I was in excruciating pain, but wasn’t sure why, and when I called a friend over she called the ambulance because I couldn’t even sit up to ride in the car.

hannah

Over the next couple of days I was in the hospital in incredible pain and subjected to lots of tests, CT scans, MRIs, and so forth.  Because I wasn’t presenting with normal uterine rupture characteristics, everyone just noticed the digestive system problem and a specialist kept admonishing my OB to just put me through more and more preps, which I couldn’t even swallow.  Finally, mercifully, my OB decided to induce me at 37 weeks 1 day.

On Sunday October 25 my OB induced labor and I had an epidural because I was so weak and hadn’t eaten anything in days and they were pretty sure they might have to handle some emergency.  The birth went very fast, I think in under four hours, but when I started pushing I was in agony in spite of the epidural.  I didn’t even know it was possible to feel so much pain, and I’ve had other unmedicated labors.  This was, in hindsight, Margaret disengaging from the rupture and the rupture becoming worse. She was born easily, the doctor announced no rips or tears, but the baby was not breathing and pure white and so the NICU team had her for a while.  I was still in so much pain I felt I couldn’t breathe.  The doctor kept checking for why and suspected cervical damage, so I was taken back to the operating room.

jack

I was awake for the first surgery, which was very strange.  They had music playing, and the anesthesiologist told me most surgeons operate to music.  It was one of those random rock/pop type mixes, whatever had been on when we came crashing in.  My doctor found a tear in my cervix, which she stitched up, and everyone thought maybe that was that.  But I was feeling awful and apparently very pale, and again, unbeknownst to anyone, was bleeding heavily internally from the rupture.

I got back to my room after the first surgery and Margaret had perked up so our doula brought her over to help me try to nurse.  I barely remember this because I felt so horrible.  Someone was supposed to do a post-op check in fifteen minutes but the doctor did one after only a few minutes because I didn’t look good.  Thank goodness she did because I was hemorrhaging seriously.  I wouldn’t have lived to the fifteen minute check.

Things moved fast.  Someone handed the baby to Josh. My OB told him she would try to save my life and pulled a curtain around me so he couldn’t see all the blood.  They ran me to the OR and had a mask on my face before the bed stopped rolling.  I felt oddly peaceful the whole time, although I registered that something serious was happening.

Sarah

While I was unconscious, they found the rupture and all the bleeding.  The backup doctor in the OR happened to be the top expert at hysterectomy, which was fortuitous because they couldn’t save my uterus and it had to come out fast.  They also pulled out all of my intestines to check carefully for damage and did find damage to one kidney.  The other surgeon my OB called in–who turned out to be a Christian and incredibly kind and personable, especially for a surgeon!–checked the rest of the abdominal cavity and worked with my OB to finish the surgery.  During the surgery I stopped breathing, had my lungs collapse, and had to have 80% of my blood volume transfused.  Apparently this was very touch-and-go the entire time and my OB was worried I would die on the table.

But God was gracious and I pulled through eventually and woke up in the ICU.  I was in a lot of pain, but asked that the nurses help me pump so the baby could eat.  Thankfully she only had to have one feeding of formula because my milk came in right away–I’m not sure how great the quality of the milk was after all that trauma and such a low hemoglobin level and no food, but I wanted to nurse and figured I should pump.  They brought Margaret back to me in an isolette so she wouldn’t catch any germs from the ICU but I could see her now and then.  I still had very little idea how much danger I was in and continued to feel very peaceful and hopeful.  That’s odd for me, which is why I mention it. I know a lot of people were praying for me.

Eliza

After a few days I went back to my room in the labor and delivery unit, and had to have two more blood transfusions over the next couple of days, so now all of my blood has been transfused at least once!  We were still pumping for bottle feeding because Margaret dropped nearly 18% of her birth weight, which is not good.  I had been without solid food for a week and had been through a lot of trauma, so maybe that was also a factor.  She was also very jaundiced so wound up on a combination of bilirubin lights and blankets at different times.

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About a week post-delivery, I had a third surgery to try to correct the damage to my kidney/urethra, which was kinked and torn.  I have a stint in place like a scaffold to encourage healing, and in mid-December will find out if further surgery is required.  I’m praying not, and would appreciate your prayers too!

The pain was terrible, and I went over a week without reading or writing a THING (this is how you know I was really in a bad way – I haven’t missed that much reading and writing since I learned how!) but I did continue to improve, and eventually I was able to get out of bed (barely) and was finally released from all of the tubes and wires and allowed to come home with Margaret 15 days later.

hosptial

Now I’m recuperating at home with lots (and lots) of restrictions on activity and still in pain, but it’s good to be home.  I will be recovering for 4-6 weeks and hopefully will be somewhat back to normal by mid-December if I don’t wind up needing more surgery.

Margaret is still having some growth issues so we are back in the pediatrician’s office every day to check her.  I’m trying to balance nursing with pumped bottles because she has to use a lot of calories to nurse versus the easier bottle feeding, but I don’t want her to lose the ability to nurse entirely.  We could use prayers for this.

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November is a month for giving thanks–all months are, of course, but this one in particular for me, especially this year.  I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that God spared my life, gave wisdom to my doctors at the right times, and brought me home to my family.  It so easily could have gone another direction at so many points.

I can see in hindsight how God was preparing me for this in advance.  Throughout my married life I have never understood the feeling of “done” that many of my friends described about having children, but from the start of this pregnancy I had a deep sense that this was our last baby. God completely changed my mind on that topic, including some deep-seated feelings about femininity and age and leaving options open.  So the thought that my womb is not just closed but gone entirely is a strange one, but not depressing or sad to me.  I’m so grateful for my five healthy children (it’s not that I wanted more per se but the thought of not having more full stop would have been hard for me to handle a year ago) and don’t necessarily have to act like a middle-aged woman just because my child-bearing phase of life is over now.

kids

Life always changes when you add a new member to the family.  I had prepared in advance to take a long break from school for maternity leave.  We may have some half days and lots of reading aloud and some light school work over this holiday term, just for a little structure.  I hope to make time to have one-on-one reading and discussion with each of the big kids while I’m recuperating and can’t do much–I’m hoping that will be fruitful for learning but also for our parent-child relationships.  We all need grace now to adjust.  It’s hard for Eliza (2) to understand why Mama can’t pick her up or hold her on the lap and why I’m in bed.  It’s hard for the big kids to have their routines disrupted and see me so not myself and not quite understand what happened.  It’s hard for me to see things I normally handle and not be able to do them.  But thankfully, amazingly, I am here.  A near-death emergency does have a way of putting a new perspective on things.

And so we have a little growing up to do.  This year I have been focused on cutting back and zeroing in, to giving my best to my core callings and letting the rest go.  I need to do that now more than ever.  This has implications for my work and homeschooling and family life and other writing, as well as for A Spirited Mind.

You may have noticed I’ve cut back on posting recently.  I want the articles I write to be the most thoughtful ones, not just a post for every book.  The time I take to write here is time I take away from my work writing and school and real life, so I want it to count.  I’ll probably post just once a week or so–some on books that really get me thinking, some on parenting or homeschooling in a reading-focused way that hopefully helps whether you homeschool or not, and some round-up posts to catch the other books I’m reading, suggest titles for read-alouds and kids independent reading, bookmarked life posts, and the like.  I’ll hopefully keep up the newsletter, as I think that’s a good spot for links and other odds and ends of the literary life.  And, as always, I welcome comments, questions, or discussion, which you can leave on posts or email me directly.

As I reflect on the past ten years and the past month in particular, I’m struck by what a great privilege it is to have such a crazy, wonderful, exciting, challenging life.  Thank you for reading along with me here!

48 thoughts on “Two birth stories and a little growing up to do

    1. What a powerful observation in the birth story you linked about how we should not take simple births for granted. I default to thinking I have things under control and it’s not until something like this happens that I remember how grateful I should ALWAYS be for God’s preservation! Thanks for reading and for keeping us in your prayers!

  1. What an awful thing to happen! Praise God that you survived such an ordeal and are blessed with another beautiful daughter. God truly is amazing! Margaret is such a lovely name (it belongs to five generations of my family and is both mine and Lily’s middle name). Margaret means ‘pearl’ (as I’m sure you know), and she really is a special treasure. I have been reading your blog for almost as long as you have had it, so I am glad you will continue it some form. One gets to feel a certain friendship for bloggers one has been reading for so long. My thoughts and prayers are with you all as you recover and adjust to life with your newest addition. So glad you are okay.

  2. Tears though I’ve never met you. What a birth story! Thankful so much life came through these events. Truly miraculous. I’ve been close to experiences that have gone the other way, which gives me a depth of gratitude on your behalf for the grace of God here. Blessings to you and your dear family. May you all continue to grow and heal in good ways.
    Amy recently posted..Celebration Tea

  3. Thank you for sharing all that. It still seems so surreal. And it’s hard to read without crying. God was so merciful and gracious to spare your life. Continuing to pray for mercy and grace as you recover and everyone adjusts. So glad you are home and making progress!
    Heather L. recently posted..Virginia Vacation Day 4

    1. It seems surreal to me too and I was there! Andrea, who commented below, left a link to a similar birth story in which the mother commented that we go into pregnancy and childbirth just expecting that of course we will come out fine and our babies will be fine. But that’s not always the case, and I wish I had been more thankful for the easy births I had before! Thank you for praying!

  4. Oh Catherine, I could barely breath reading this! I’m so thankful for God preserving your life. Praying for you as you adjust, heal, and evaluate everything. Many blessings on all of you. Margaret is beautiful!

  5. Catherine, you have been on my heart daily. And I have been praying for you and just thinking about your emotions through this all not even knowing all the details. I actually dreamed about you last night 🙂 I was a bridesmaid in your wedding (we fly out in a week for six of us to be in a family wedding and I’m a bit anxious about what that will look like with Seth:))…. Ha, you can tell what has been on my mind 🙂

    I cannot imagine going through what you went through, I will continue to pray for healing and the adjustment for the kids.

  6. It’s amazing to see God’s hand and provision throughout your story. Praise be to God that you are both alive. I will pray for continued healing and growth for both you and your sweet baby!

  7. Oh wow….I cannot imagine what you and your family went through! SO glad that God saw you through and brought you back. Thank you for sharing and I will look forward to your bookmarked life posts as they are my favorites. God bless!

  8. Praise God! Ellen shared this with me just now and I can’t stop the tears from falling. What an amazing story, you are an incredible woman! I’m so happy that you are home and on the mend with your beautiful babies! Be kind and gentle to yourself. If there is anything I can do to make your life a little easier, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m just down the street!

    I look forward to reading your other blog posts!

  9. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, maybe 6 or 7 years, and I’ve never commented. Just wanted to let you know that I look forward to reading each post. I have learned so much and gained lots of inspiration for homeschooling and especially my own reading. Prayers for you and your family as you recover and adjust in this new season.

  10. I just want you to know that I prayed for you and baby. I am so glad that you both are doing well and recovering. Your faith really comes through in the way you shared your birth story. God is good!
    I’ve enjoyed your blog for a while but never commented. Your blog is a great source of thought-provoking topics and book ideas for me, a new homeschooler.

  11. Oh. my. goodness! Your story has completely blown my mind . . . contemplating a near-death experience in correlation with pregnancy and birth and the emotional trauma of almost dying. (How interesting that you felt a sense of peace!) (I wonder if that can be normal for a situation like that and/or if it contributed to your recovery?) (And I think about what kind of reverberations that experience has created in your husband’s emotional landscape.)

    But I would think there is also sadness in the imposed unavailability to your children, the hampered enjoyment of your last newborn, a tedious and lengthy recovery period, the temporary loss of strength vitality. I think I would be working through a kind of a grieving process in addition to the feelings of gratitude for life. I am thankful to hear that you are not grieving the loss of your womb. Toward the end of your account I realized what a very upsetting loss that would be; that alone would be difficult thing to face, depending on where one was at in life.

    This sounds so melodramatic, but it is at times like these that I feel the urge to sing the Doxology. It just hits me. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

    1. This has definitely had a different impact on my perspective and thought process. My husband is an introvert who processes things slowly and internally, so I imagine he will get around to talking about it later. At the moment, I think we are both still in a bit of shock and focusing on the healing and family care at hand. But I’m continuing to feel at peace and full of gratitude, for which I am grateful!

      You’re so right about the Doxology for times like this!

  12. Sarah R. had me read your post aloud at book club last night and I almost didn’t make it through for my voice cracking and my eyes tearing up! I hate to think how close we were to losing you. I’m just so thankful the story went as it did. Praise God! I feel like this is one of those times when we get to see what the Lord has saved us from, like the sailors praising him after surviving storms at sea detailed in Psalm 107:23-31–“They have seen the works of the Lord,
    And His wonders in the deep” (v24). I love how He gave you a peace that passes understanding. It’s an outflow of how I always see you…calm and confident, which I know is partially from how He made you and partially from how you’ve anchored yourself in Him in daily life. Praying good health and good emotional recovery for you in the weeks to come. Much love to you, friend!
    Darcy Wiley recently posted..What God Thinks of Scaredy-Cats {#RelentlessStudy}

  13. Catherine, when you wrote that you had been in the hospital for 15 days I imagined you must have had serious complications but nothing like this. Praise God for sustaining you through each and every second, every heartbeat, every breath. A gift. I will be printing off your story and sharing it with my unit to educate nurses and doctors to watch for similar symptoms of rupture and to pay close attention to the details. I will be praying for your rest and recovery. Call me any time if you need lactation advice.

    1. Thank you, Monica. I was really fortunate to have great nurses who were observant and advocated for me with the doctors, and also a really involved OB who canceled a vacation and called and came in on all of her off days to try to figure things out. But I didn’t have any risk factors or any usual symptoms so it was a strange case. I hope it’s helpful for your unit, but I also hope you never see a similar case!

  14. WOW! What a story! I’m glad you survived and are doing relatively well.

    My friend had a premature baby last year, and her doctor’s strategy for balancing baby’s need for caloric efficiency with her desire to breastfeed was to have every other feeding be a bottle of pumped milk PLUS formula, mixing the formula powder with milk instead of water so that it had double calories. It worked well; she now has a thriving one-year-old.
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    1. We did that briefly in the hospital on the advice of the NICU doctors when Margaret’s weight had dropped so low and kept falling. They had some special type of formula designed to fortify breast milk with additional calories. I think that was a good solution for that time, but at this point I’m hoping to be able to just breastfeed exclusively. This week Margaret is back up to her birth weight and nursing better during the day, so I am hoping we can cut the pumping back soon (it’s time consuming!).

    1. Thanks, Tammy. I’m sure there is some way it could have been more complicated, but I’m glad it wasn’t! We are dealing with enough around here as it is! The slow pace of the recovery is a little discouraging, but I’m trying to keep my focus on gratitude and thankfulness for God’s preservation!

  15. Ah! Catherine. Even though I had already heard this story from your mom, my heart was in my throat as I read it. Thank God for modern medicine. I can somewhat relate to how scary this was and to how spared you feel, because I had horrible hemorrhaging right after Mary’s birth, which led to emergency surgery in which they managed to avoid removing my uterus (but for a while it was a real possibility), and which resulted in 3 blood transfusions. After an initial feeling of terror, I also experienced the sense of peace that you describe. I think maybe this comes from loss of blood, and it gives me hope that those who die of gunshot wounds, car accidents, etc, might not do so in utter panic….I digress. At any rate, I am so glad that you are safe and well and able to mother your five children. Thanksgiving, indeed!! Much love to you and to all those in your house.

      1. And I am happy that you are alright. 100 years ago (or in another country), we both would have exited this world. I think of this often, even 8 years later.

        1. I’ve thought of that too. In one of the comments above there is a link to an article that mentions how we tend to take childbirth for granted now, as though of course mother and baby will be fine. And mostly they are nowadays, but we should take that as a cause for thanksgiving, not as a certainty.

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