Trigger Warning: Birth Trauma
This photo was taken when I was 24 weeks pregnant with Ryaan: A healthy and happy pregnancy thus far. I would have never imagined that our birth story would turn out as it did.
Our birth story. From the beginning, Ryaan has been a fighter. He fought hard to take his first breath, he fought even harder to let out his first cry. He was poked and prodded with needle after needle, heel stick after heel stick. MRI’s, Ultrasounds, EEG’s and even more blood work….he just kept fighting.
We both spent 12 long nights in the hospital. It was the worst 12 nights of my life. I cried a lot, I screamed, I longed for the day when I would be able to hold him in my arms. I searched for the strength to get better myself so I could be the mother he needed.
I just wanted to get out of that hospital bed. Be with him. Hold him. And love him.
I am sharing our story with this amazing community because I know our story is not unique. There are countless others who felt what we have felt, who endured what we have endured. My hope is that others can find solace in knowing that they are not alone on their journey. We know many women and families have been through similar struggles to welcome their children into the world, so our story is in honor of all those babies and families.
Our birth story began like many birth stories
My water broke at 6am on the 15th of December. We dropped our pup off to our friend’s place, packed some final items, and headed to the hospital. The one regret I had—I didn’t eat a big meal. Because once I got to the hospital, they basically didn’t allow me to eat.
We checked in and made our way to labor and delivery. At my initial intake at 8:30am, I was dilated 2cm. My BPs remained stable, but with each contraction, they began to rise. I was started on Pitocin at 11am and my epidural came shortly after. By the way, Pitocin without an epidural is something special. The contractions were so intense that I happily welcomed the epidural. My pain was gone, my blood pressures normalized and I was on cloud nine.
I seemed to be progressing normally. 4cm dilated at 2:30pm, 6cm dilated at 5pm, and 9cm dilated at 7pm. Around 11pm, my epidural stopped working. I felt every contraction and was writhing in pain. They adjusted my epidural meds, increased my Pitocin and for the next 3 hours I sat and waited…and waited. With each check came the realization that I was no longer progressing. 9cm! We were so close! But it wasn’t meant to be. Part of me felt like I had failed somehow.
Around 2:30am, the final decision was made. Nearly 24 hrs after my water broke with no progress in sight, I was going to need a C- section. (Failure to progress is a common reason many women end up needing to have C-sections).
My emotions fluctuated between relief and sadness. Relief that after 20+ hrs I would finally get to meet my boy. Sadness because despite all the preparation, despite all the practiced breathing techniques, and despite all my own expectations, I would not be given the opportunity to push.
The nurses comforted me with stories of their own C- sections, my mom talked about her own experiences as both myself and my sister were born via C-section. I came to accept that although this was not the story I had intended, this was now my story and I was going to own it.
I signed all the consents, put on my blue cap, and was wheeled off to the OR.
A routine C-section…or so I thought.
As they prepared me for the C-Section, I remember shivering uncontrollably. They put a bair hugger on me and finished prepping me while my husband waited outside.
My husband came in and snapped this picture. They told me that with the anesthesia, I would feel tugging, but no pain. I didn’t feel anything. I kept asking if they had started. They had. It all seemed very routine.
Suddenly, the energy in the OR changed. My usually stoic OB was stoic no more. In an instant the tone in her voice went from someone who had control of the room to one of sheer panic. The fear in the room was palpable. She began to scream, “He’s Stuck!” “He’s Stuck!” She screamed again…”I need another OB in here now!” “Find someone now!” another minute passes. The overhead intercom in the hospital goes off “Dr. (anonymous) to OR room 12 stat!” I turned to my husband and the anesthesiologist for answers…there were none.
I couldn’t see what was happening, but could hear and feel the panic, which honestly was even more terrifying. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it was bad. They had to give me medications to relax my uterus to make more space to get Ryaan out.
Another OB eventually arrived. They were finally able to get Ryaan out. Five minutes passed, but it felt like an eternity. There was silence—no sound of a baby crying. The room was silent. I couldn’t see Ryaan, but my husband did: he was blue and limp. I looked at my husband, the man who for six years has been my calm, cool, and collected rock. He was pale and about to pass out. He had to leave the room. I told him to go outside to get air.
It was then that I locked eyes with a member of the NICU team. I could see the fear in her eyes. Everything seemed to be in slow motion, as I had a tear streaming down my face. How could this be happening? Is this real? Ryaan was intubated and whisked away to the NICU. I never got to see him or hold him. To this day, I think it’s best I didn’t see him in that state.
That was the last thing I remember before all the meds they gave me took over and I fell asleep on the OR table…
Since giving birth, I was recovering in the PACU, while my husband visited Ryaan in the NICU.
At a time when I expected to be doing skin-to-skin and cuddling with my newborn baby, my son was being stabilized in the ICU. He was able to get extubated onto CPAP (as seen in the picture) and eventually was on room air later that day. They started IV fluids on him, obtained a chest xray, and started him on antibiotics for 48 hours to rule out infection. They started giving him formula and he was taking it like a champ.
The doctors in the NICU were happy with his progress. He was breathing and eating on his own. He was doing well and there was hope that he may be able to move out to the well-baby nursery, where I would be staying.
My husband finally met me in PACU to give me the update. He was still in shock after the C-section and I was still loopy after the meds. In my daze, I asked how Ryaan was doing. I repetitively kept asking my husband how he’s doing neurologically. It’s something I kept repeating and perseverating over. My husband said that he was doing amazing. I smiled and drifted in and out of sleep.
As he sat with me, he held my hand. As he processed the events of the morning, he turned to me and quietly said, “I seriously thought you and him weren’t going to make it.”
I can only imagine how he must have felt watching all this unfold. He saw my open abdomen and them having to struggle to get Ryaan out. He saw Ryaan come out limp. He saw Ryaan hooked up to all the monitors in the NICU. He had to get updates about our newborn without me by his side and subsequently update me in the PACU.
At that moment, we realized our journey into parenthood was not going to be quite what we pictured.
We patiently waited to go up to our room. I eagerly awaited to be cleared to visit Ryaan in the NICU.
Finally got to see Ryaan
I finally was able to visit Ryaan in the afternoon. He was born at 2:34am and I was able to visit him around 3pm. I cannot express how much I appreciate the NICU, their nurses, and their doctors. They helped save my son and they save millions of lives of the littlest warriors.
But, there are so many aspects of visiting the NICU and being a NICU parent that are tough beyond measure.
I hated scrubbing in. It seemed so impersonal to see my own son.
I hated that I had to wear a mask. (I took mine off so my son could see me).
I hated seeing him with all the leads and wires.
I hated that I couldn’t pick him up without setting off an alarm.
I hated that when we did skin-to-skin, we got tangled in all the wires and he would start crying.
I hated that I missed “touch-time” because I was awaiting transport.
I hated hearing the sound of other babies crying on the mother-baby unit where I was staying, when my own baby was five floors away from me.
I hated when the hospital would play lullaby music when a baby was born.
I hated watching him cry on the NICU cam from my room. He would cry and I couldn’t be there to console him.
I hated having to pump in my room with only his blanket that smelled like him to help stimulate production. Newsflash: it didn’t help.
I hated it. I hated it so much. But, it was a necessary thing for him to be there. I am so grateful for the NICU. And I will always be.
But, it hurt. It hurt a lot having him there. To all my NICU families, I feel your pain. Whether your child was there for one day or 90, it is not an easy road. The emotional pain that comes with watching your newborn spend the beginning of their life in a hospital is hard. So many children leave the NICU and go on to lead amazing lives, but it doesn’t take away from the long days and tear-filled nights that come with having a child in the NICU.
He spent twelve nights there. Twelve nights where I wish he could’ve been with his mom and dad. Twelve nights where I wish we could’ve snuggled. Twelve nights where I wish he could have heard my voice and not the dinging of monitors. Twelve nights that felt like an eternity.
But our birth story doesn’t stop there
The next morning, I was able to be at NICU rounds. As a Pediatrician, I have been on the other side thousands of times: discussing patients and the plan of care. For the first time in my life, I was on the other side. The postpartum hormones, the stress of the delivery, and seeing him in the NICU all led to me breaking down and crying on rounds in front of my fellow Pediatricians.
As I was holding Ryaan, I noticed his left arm and left leg twitch. I brought it up to the team. They noticed it and reassured me it was likely normal newborn movements. I sighed and thought perhaps I was being overly paranoid. Yet, something kept bothering me about the movement. Why was it only one side? And I swear I wasn’t able to make it stop. Normal newborn movements you can hold firmly and they stop. Rounds ended and there was hope that he could be downgraded to the newborn nursery.
Later that afternoon, I saw the movements again. I called his nurse and asked to speak to the team. I didn’t like the movements and didn’t believe they were normal movements. She called the team member taking care of Ryaan who placed a neurology consult.
The next morning, the Neurologist came by. She examined him. His exam was rock-solid. She reassured me about his exam and ordered an EEG. As she walks down the hallway, I see the movements again. I record it on my phone and tell my husband to grab her. I show her the video and she confirms my fear—Ryaan is having a seizure.
She expedites the EEG, a 24-hour test looking at his brain activity (pictured above). The EEG confirms seizure activity.
Now we await more testing: a brain ultrasound, a lumbar puncture looking for infectious causes, and an MRI of his brain.
From the trauma of the delivery, Ryaan suffered a seizure. He is put on seizure meds and luckily the seizures stop.
My heart sank and my mind was in a thousand places. He was doing so well.
As long as I live, I will never forget holding my sweet two-day old while he seized.
None of what we were going through, from birth to this point, felt real.
Ryaan was on the EEG for 24 hours. Seeing him with the EEG wires was the hardest for me because we weren’t able to pick him up and hold him. He cried and cried and I would put my hand on his chest and gently rock him back and forth. I asked my husband to pick up books from home so we could read to him. I had to do something to bond with him, and reading is something I knew to provide this bonding to babies in the NICU.
Although I have a smile on my face, I cried so many times. None of what we were going through felt real. Even as I read to him, I felt like I was watching all of it unfold outside of my body. The entire experience was surreal. I still couldn’t understand how my healthy pregnancy was having this outcome.
One of the hardest things about this entire experience was separating my doctor hat from my mom hat. My mom hat was filled with hope: my son will be fine, my son is amazing, my son is destined for greatness. My doctor hat went through every possible scenario, both positive and negative. It’s something my husband and I couldn’t control. When you are doctors, you know way too much and sometimes ignorance is bliss. You know all the positive outcomes, but you also see the rare things—and your mind cannot help but think about it all at the same time.
We continued to remain hopeful. His lumbar puncture was normal and his head ultrasound was normal, but we were still awaiting his MRI.
I was starting to feel more exhausted. I didn’t know if it was the emotional stress of Ryaan’s seizure diagnosis or my own C-Section recovery. My heart rate started to climb and I was feeling winded. I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable and kept asking my nurses if it was normal to feel tightening in my abdomen after surgery. My abdomen was distended and looked like I was nine-months pregnant. My mom made me delicious home-cooked food, but I stared at it with nausea. I needed to rest.
The OB team thought it was anxiety and gave me meds, but I knew something was wrong. I felt so sick—clammy, nauseous, and tachycardic.
Little did I know that this would be the last time I would see Ryaan for one week…
Overnight, I was very uncomfortable. I was pumping and set my alarm every 3 hours at night. I woke up in the middle of the night and just cried while pumping. I felt so sick. I kept calling my nurses in and they consoled me and tried to help me relax. Something was wrong.
The following morning, I tried to eat breakfast and couldn’t. An hour later, I began vomiting bile. They notified the OB team. I was having a surgery complication: a post-op ileus. My bowels were shutting down. I wasn’t passing gas or stool. They had to insert a NG tube.
For anyone who has never had a NG tube inserted: it has to be one of the most annoying experiences. They insert a large tube through your nose and down your esophagus while you are awake. You have to swallow and fight the gag reflex as it goes down. It was so uncomfortable. And then, the constant sensation of a tube in your throat every time you swallow. Once it’s inserted, they check placement and attach it to the wall to suction. It helps to decompress the stomach and small bowel.
They ordered a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis and make sure I wasn’t having a small bowel obstruction, which would require even more intervention. The CT confirmed a post-op ileus and also showed a fluid collection around the uterus. Due to the questionable fluid collection, we had to do an MRI.
I had no problem in the CT scan, but the MRI was a different story. I was fine going in, but halfway through I got warm and claustrophobic. The panic button they gave me wasn’t working, so they didn’t know that I wanted to be pulled out for a break. Panic ensued and I started kicking my legs and yelling to get their attention. They finally ran in and took me out. They removed some layers to cool me off and put me back in. The MRI confirmed a fluid collection around my uterus, which the OB team thought was normal post-op changes.
My husband—who had been going back and forth between the NICU and my room, met me outside MRI. I had been off suction for over two hours and subsequently vomited all over myself (and probably him) on the stretcher.
I was decompensating. And the post-op ileus would be the least of my problems…
I was transferred to the ICU, multiple doctors managed my case: surgeons, hospitalists, intensive care specialists, and infectious disease specialists. I was fighting an infection somewhere and the team needed to figure out where it was coming from. Tests were done and I was placed on multiple IV antibiotics. I felt like a pincushion with all my IVs and blood draws. I was feeling a little better, but I was still extremely weak and winded and I continued to have abdominal pain.
As I was being transported to the ICU, my husband called our immediate family and close friends to relay the news. We needed the support. My sister, who had visited a few days prior to my delivery, flew back into town. Our best friends flew in and the rest of our close family would soon follow.
Having our loved ones close was so needed during this time.
After the events of the week, I lost my light. I wasn’t myself, I wasn’t laughing at the things that used to make me laugh, and I was constantly in tears. My sister stayed with me every night in the ICU. She helped me to the commode when the nurses weren’t available, she visited Ryaan and told him about me, she figured out a way to wash my hair in the ICU, and she made me laugh. She selflessly stayed with me during Christmas, leaving her husband and children at home.
Her spirit saved me. It’s what allowed me to heal.
It was difficult being an independent 34-year old woman and suddenly having to rely on people to do everything for you.
Those days in the ICU were extremely humbling. I had to use a bedpan, the nurses had to rotate me so I wouldn’t get bedsores, I got a sponge bath, I needed assistance walking, and I was hooked up to so many wires and suction. When the nurse had to give me a suppository, I cried as she did it. I wanted to do things for myself, but I couldn’t. My mind wanted to get better, but my body needed time. I cried and yelled into my pillow on so many days.
Being sick in a hospital is the ultimate test of patience and a lesson in letting go: My body needed to heal and every day felt like an eternity…
48 hours in ICU and 7 days since I gave birth to Ryaan
48 hours after arriving to the ICU, my ileus was improving. They were able to remove the NG tube on the 22nd. Every time they were able to remove an intervention, I felt like it was a small victory.
My heart rate was still in the 160s with mild exertion and 120s at rest. For reference, my normal heart rate is in the 70s at rest. I was also still spiking fevers.
My husband was concerned. He was still having a hard time removing his doctor hat, especially watching me not improve. He kept asking the team for more—why was I still spiking fevers while on heavy duty antibiotics and why was my white count increasing?
The answer would finally come on the morning of the 23rd. I woke up that morning and I collapsed in my nurse’s arms during our usual morning walk around the unit. I told her that something felt worse and both she and my husband urged the doctors to reconvene about my case. Everyone agreed: something was going on in my abdomen, so a CT scan was repeated.
When I got back from CT, there was commotion. The surgeon came in and gave me news I didn’t want to hear—they had to take me back to the OR. He explained that there were fluid collections concerning of an abscess in my pelvis as well as a concern of a wound dehiscence around my uterus. Both him and the OB felt it was best to take me back to the OR together to assess.
I had been a cooperative patient, but after hearing I had to go back to the OR, I broke down in front of the surgeon, my husband, mom, sister, and friend.
I pleaded with the surgeon to make sure I woke up from the general anesthesia. I pleaded that I would survive this surgery. I pleaded that I would be able to see my son again. I was terrified.
They took me back to the OR and cleaned up the infected fluid in my pelvis: fluid they couldn’t explain the origin of. They inserted a JP drain that would continue to drain fluid. They checked my uterus and confirmed everything was intact. They had to reinsert the NG tube.
I woke up in the PACU to my family. I didn’t remember anything and kept asking if the surgery was over. My abdomen and pelvis had been through hell.
I gave birth and two abdominal surgeries in one week? You have got to be kidding me.
I expected to breastfeed. I bought nursing bras and tops and I had three different types of pumps, but my breastfeeding journey ended before it really had a chance to begin.
Ryaan was taken to the NICU immediately and although we didn’t get that ideal initial 24 hours to promote breast-feeding, I was motivated to pump. I had a hospital-grade pump and the lactation team was encouraging.
I pumped for a week. I would try to have Ryaan latch when I visited him (he was never able to), but on day 3 of his life, I couldn’t see him anymore due to my own medical issues.
I pumped every 3 hours day and night. Even with my NG tube in, I continued to pump. Even when I started getting really sick and febrile, I continued to pump.
The tiny bit of colostrum I would produce for eight days was motivating, but I. Was. Exhausted.
It was the day after my second surgery I made a choice. I broke down crying staring at the pump: I would no longer pump. I was so tired and sick and my body had been through hell. I needed to rest. No more alarms for pumping.
I brought the pump home and thought I would try pumping again, but every time I looked at the pump, it reminded me of my trauma in the hospital. It reminded me of being away from my son. It reminded me of how isolated I felt pumping alone in a hospital room with wires all over me.
Our Ryaan is 100% formula fed: Largely due to my own medical complications, lack of production, and decision to stop pumping.
I still feed him 80% of his feeds. We cuddle, he holds my pinky while he feeds, and I smile and stroke his head. I feel connected to him, even though I can’t nutritionally give him a part of me.
I don’t regret this decision. I believe every mother needs to make the best choice for their baby and themselves.
Many of you have called me a warrior due to my birth story. To be honest, I feel even more like a warrior choosing my mental health over anything else. I am happier not being attached to the pump and being able to spend more time with him or resting. I am happier giving him formula.
Remember. Whether you breast feed or formula feed—we are all amazing mothers doing the best for our children and ourselves.
Christmas Day was the first day things began to turn around. My second NG tube was out, I hadn’t had a fever for 48 hours, and I felt so much better.
The infected fluid in my abdomen was causing my problems and once that was removed, everything else improved.
My ileus was improved, so I was able to finally have my first meal after six days.
Ryaan was doing well and set for discharge, but because of my status they were able to keep him and tweak his anti-seizure meds while we awaited my discharge.
The best part of the day was that I was able to visit Ryaan after one week. We had both been through hell and I would finally be able to hold him. The amazing thing about this moment is that I sincerely felt he was feeling the exact same emotions I was.
Today was the first day where things were starting to look up.
Every day was a better day. Since birth, I was starting to have more mobility, less pain, and was tolerating a normal diet.
I was going stir crazy. I had been in the hospital for 11 days and hadn’t been outside. My ICU nurse coordinated for me to leave the unit and go outside for a little bit.
She put me in my wheelchair, attached the portable monitor, and we went outside. My mom and dad came with me.
I will always remember the moment I went outside after 11 days. We went through the ambulance bay and I immediately smelled the exhaust. It was humid. I closed my eyes and smiled. It felt so good. We turned the corner and I immediately smelled fresh cut grass and heard the sound of a leaf blower. I cried. Such simple sounds and sights we take for granted, I now embraced. As I was sitting in my wheelchair, it started the rain. I asked my dad to roll me out into the rain. I sat there, laughing as I got drenched. I felt so at peace.
I have never embraced a downpour more.
When you go through trauma or hardship, your entire perspective changes. My husband and I have asked eachother “Why? Why us?” so many times in regards to our birth story.
Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. We can never explain why hardship happens. Nobody deserves trauma or hardship.
Since the event, I am completely changed. I used to sweat the small things. Now, I don’t even notice the small things. The things that used to irritate me, just don’t. Trauma changes people. For better and for worse.
I’m looking at the better. It’s the only way to accept the trauma and move on. I’m not denying the awful things that happened to us. Those scars will always be there. It’s going to take a long time to heal physically and emotionally.
But, right now I’m choosing to sit in the rain and laugh.
We are so lucky to be in this world.
Health and love is all that matters.
Please learn to let go of the things that don’t serve you.
Don’t wait for trauma to gain that perspective.
Learn to laugh in the rain. Life is too short for anything else.
I was finally downgraded to a regular floor. My discharge was coming close and we had to coordinate a PICC line for home IV antibiotics.
As my birth story comes to a close, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about my husband (and a shout out to all the partners out there).
Prior to having Ryaan, I expected that I would do most of the postpartum care for our newborn. I knew my husband would be a hands-on father, but I never thought he would have to be SO hands on given our circumstances.
What we went through was without a doubt traumatizing. For me, it was physically and emotionally draining. Although my husband didn’t physically experience what I did, he had to experience it emotionally. He had to watch his newborn son of a healthy pregnancy and his healthy wife admitted to ICUs.
The emotional toll will take a long time for us to move pass, but I’m so unbelievably grateful for him.
He had to be mom and dad for essentially two weeks. He learned how to feed, burp, change, and console Ryaan before I did. He would send me videos, when I know he wished I could have been there besides him. He slept on the pullout couch in his room, while his mind was also thinking about me and my well-being.
He had to drive home to pick up stuff and shower every day.
He had to hold it together when I broke down, which was hard to watch.
He advocated for me when my health was deteriorating.
He saved me in so many ways and he continues to. Even as I struggled postpartum with pain, he took care of Ryaan on his days off and encouraged me to take care of my emotional health.
Anytime I found myself being short with him postpartum, I remember all he has done and continues to do.
He is a great father, support system, and honestly the true warrior in our birth story.
Watching the two most important people in your life suffer is so hard–and he did it.
I love you so much, Gaurav.
On December 28th, we finally left the hospital as a family since giving birth to Ryaan.
The NICU was able to coordinate keeping Ryaan and adjusting his meds until I would be ready for discharge.
I was discharged home with a PICC line. A line that was in my right arm to receive antibiotics at home. I needed to complete the antibiotics for three more days and we chose to do this at home.
The hospital had coordinated home-nursing, but due to some confusion our nurse never showed up. After countless calls, we were left without a nurse. My husband had to figure out how to access my PICC line and administer my meds. After watching YouTube videos and making numerous calls, he figured it out.
I have said this before, but we will be forever changed by the events surrounding the birth of our first child.
I want to thank everyone who has been so supportive as we shared our story. It has been extremely healing for me to write it down and share it here.
I also know that our story has resonated in some way with so many of you. Thank you for sharing your story and experiences with me.
Although our birth story is in the past, we are still healing and I still have so much to share:
Postpartum, maternal mental health, navigating the complicated healthcare system, overcoming physical and emotional trauma, being a doctor turned patient, being a Pediatrician with a sick newborn…the list goes on and on.
I know I will forever be changed as a person and as a Pediatrician.
My role as a mother started with trauma. I will never know how this time as a new mom would have been like had this not happened. This was initially hard for me to accept, but I am moving forward from that emotion. The disappointment and sadness of what could have been will fade.
My platforms will always be pedsdoctalk: sharing educational content. But, now I can’t help but add another layer.
A layer of hope and optimism to all parents in getting through the bad and good times that come with taking care of little humans with a whole lot of honesty and realness to go along.
THANK YOU for following me on this journey.
A note to Ryaan:
I am here to tell you that everything that you have gone through in your short time on this planet will make you a stronger person and make me a stronger mother.
We love you, Ryaan. Thank you for choosing us to be your parents. We promise to give you the life you were destined to have.