Can I just start by saying that for me, pregnancy is not easy? Especially the second time around. Don’t get me wrong, I know it is an incredible blessing. But I think most people love hearing when women say “I love being pregnant” or some version of how much you love growing life within your body. But sometimes I find it so refreshing when another woman just lays it out there for you and is honest about the challenges she might be facing in her pregnancy. I’m incredibly grateful that getting pregnant was not a hardship my husband and I had to face. I’m even more grateful for my beautiful, healthy daughter and for the babe that I’m currently carrying. I’ve just never been one to say “I love being pregnant,” and I think it’s okay to feel that way.
My pregnancy with Grace was easy as far as not having terrible morning sickness or any major health issues. And while I had serious fatigue in my first trimester, I wasn’t running after a toddler on my days off. But I was always worried. I felt like I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop every time I went to a prenatal visit. I was always surprised when the doctor would tell me everything was “normal.”
Pregnancy & Work
At work I unfortunately see the small percentage of the population that is hugely impacted by a wide spectrum of congenital heart defects as well as other birth defects. And I see how these defects do not discriminate. They don’t care what color skin you have, how much money you have, whether you dropped out of high school or have your PhD. Some don’t even care whether or not you received prenatal care. They occur in families that are just like mine, as well as families that are very different from mine. I’ve always been well aware that my family and I are not immune. We are not special or protected. These things can happen to anyone. Needless to say, I worried during my pregnancy, even after I was reassured at each visit that everything was going well and baby was healthy.
With my first pregnancy I worked full time, often more than 40 hours per week. For those that may be new here (thanks for stopping by!) I work in a Children’s Hospital as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner caring for little ones with heart defects and/or heart failure. When at work I’m on my feet for long hours walking and standing at bedsides to do procedures. I started having braxton hicks contractions at 18 weeks and was reassured over and over again. I was told they were nothing to worry about because they were painless and usually irregular.
When My Water Broke
At 35 weeks pregnant I was happily nesting in our new house after a normal day at work. Bryan was making tacos for dinner and when I went to use the restroom I felt like I was peeing my pants. But I wasn’t. But there was a continuous slow leak of fluid. Bryan sat down on our bed, opened one of the baby books and started flipping through the pages. He decided it was nothing to worry about, the tacos were almost done, and we should eat. Luckily my parents were both staying with us during that time while they were getting moved into their new place here in San Diego. My Mom convinced us that we needed to go to triage at the hospital. Bryan reluctantly got us both in the car and down to the hospital we went. I hadn’t put any thought into a hospital bag at that point, let alone have one ready to go.
As we were driving, it hit me. My water broke and it was slowly leaking. I think it took so long to sink in for me because it was so unexpected. Everyone tells you that with your first pregnancy you’ll probably deliver after your due date. But as we were driving on the freeway I knew Bryan was still in complete denial.
Once we got there I made my way up to the second floor, changed into a gown and was placed in a triage room. The nurse did a quick test and right as Bryan came in and sat down, she confirmed “your water broke, you’re having this baby.” I’ll never forget the look on Bryan’s face when it finally registered for him. I immediately started to think about all the ex 35 week premature babies I had taken care of and what their outcomes were. I remembered that we typically only give steroids to mothers that go into preterm labor before 34 weeks. This meant baby’s lungs would probably be okay at this point, and that was comforting to me.
Labor & Birth
The nurse got us admitted upstairs and started me on IV antiobiotics that evening. My boss at the time had a NICU doctor come up to our delivery room to talk to us about what she expected and different possible scenarios. Hours later, I was started on Pitocin because I wasn’t progressing. I knew they wanted the baby out within 24 hours of my water breaking due to risk of infection. After several increases of the pitocin, the pain really became unbearable. By 6:00am the next morning I was asking for an epidural.
That afternoon, after having my epidural placed that morning, I was fully dilated. I pushed for less than 30 miuntes, and Grace Elizabeth Branch was born, 5 lbs 10oz at 1:23pm on May 27th, 2015. They immediately put her on my chest and were monitoring her oxygen saturation. I remember vividly how blue she was and calmly asking the doctor to face the monitor toward me. The NICU resuscitation team gave her some blow by oxygen for a few minutes and she started to turn pink.
In the hours following, when family wanted to hold her or when we tried to put her in the bassinet to sleep, she would start grunting and breathing harder. I ended up with her skin to skin on my chest 95% of the time until we were discharged from the hospital. She breathed comfortably as long as she was on my chest. In these moments when she was resting and breathing peacefully on me, my worry would melt away. I felt an intense and fierce love for this tiny little being. I knew I would do anything in the world for her and that everything was going to be alright.
Grace was too little and weak to latch and suck on her own. The lactation consultant came by to show me how to pump. She taught Bryan and I how to “breastfeed” Grace using a syringe system and a nipple sheild. It was a two person job. For the next couple of weeks, Bryan and I were both up every three hours to do feedings. In those first few weeks we were so sleep deprived but we had so much adrenaline going, I didn’t notice. The effects of sleep deprivation didn’t really hit me until she was about 6 weeks old. Luckily by that time she could latch and suck using only the nipple shield so Bryan wasn’t having to get up for every feeding any more. Grace required the nipple shield until she was close to 4 months old (3 months corrected), right when I was returning to work.
We were released from the hospital after 48 hours and without a NICU admission! It truly felt like a miracle and Bryan and I were deliriously happy to be taking our sweet tiny baby home. Other than a clogged tear duct, torticollis, and some lanugo, Grace had no major complications from being born prematurely. It still amazes me today how strong she was then, and still is, and how incredibly fortunate Bryan and I are to be her parents.
A big thank you to my best friend Emily who came down for Grace’s birth. She brought flowers, a cozy blanket, took these photos with her iphone (as I was clearly unprepared), and stayed up watching the episodes of friends where Rachel is pregnant with me all night before Grace was born.
Another big thank you to my parents who thankfully pushed us out the door to the hospital, came and brought us Bryan’s tacos that evening along with everything else we needed. They have been the most supportive “village” we new parents could ever ask for.