As many parents can attest, TIME FLIES BY! I am in utter shock at how quickly the last year went by for us. Sure, there were times when it felt like time stood still (particularly in the middle of the night), but for the most part everything felt like it was on fast forward. I think I finally understand the phrase “time is a thief”. As of Saturday February 5, we will be parents to a curious, preceptive, adventurous, sweet, giggly, zooming, babbling one year old!
Honestly, I didn’t know if I would write a birth story until today (Tuesday February 1). Leo’s birth story is still a little emotionally traumatic for me. But one of the ways I cope and heal is by sharing my experiences with other people.
As many of you know, Leo’s dramatic entrance into the world was a bit chaotic. I went into preterm labor at 31 weeks. I went to work on Tuesday February 2, 2021 like any other day, but I felt a bit off. I was exceptionally fatigued and I was having frequent Braxton Hicks contractions (for those who aren’t familiar with the term, BH contractions are basically “practice” contractions, but they can increase in frequency as labor/delivery gets closer). I got a gut feeling that something wasn’t quite right. If you are a mom (or a nurse!) you know what that gut feeling feels like… like something is a bit off, but you can’t put your finger on it. I was in the process of looking up my patient for the first procedure of the day. I texted Zach, mentioning that I didn’t feel right and we decided I should call the triage nurse.
Within an hour I was leaving work (sorry, guys-it was a really busy day) to check into triage. I called Zach on my way home to see if he wanted to join me. Thank GOD he came along. In triage they performed an ultrasound, did some blood testing, and hooked me up to fetal monitors. Everything seemed completely normal. The nurse was waiting for one more blood test, fetal fibronectin, to result before discharging us. He even said the results of this test are relatively vague. If it’s negative, there’s a very small chance of going into labor over the next few weeks. But if it’s positive, I *could potentially* go into labor somewhat soon. See what I mean? Very vague. Of course, just as we were about to be discharged, it came back positive. He called the attending OBGYN and she came down to assess me. She did a cervical check, looked at me, and said, “you are not leaving this hospital until you have a baby”. Preterm labor had started.
I was admitted to the L&D unit and was given a series of medications to stop labor and steroids to help Leo’s lungs developed. The main goal was to get 2 doses of the steroids in before he was delivered so his lungs could *hopefully* function normally. I was given a high dose of magnesium through my IV that then ran consistently for the next two days. It made me feel like I was drunk and loopy; my eyes couldn’t focus on anything. I was connected to constant fetal monitoring. We were visited by the NICU staff to prepare us for our baby being in the NICU. Getting up to the bathroom was a chore and I couldn’t do it alone, thanks to the IV that made me feel like I was high and the monitoring equipment. Slowly the signs of preterm labor decreased and the rate of magnesium was titrated down. Eventually it was turned off in the afternoon on Thursday February 4. We were moved to an antepartum room to be monitored. Home away from home until Baby Scherschel arrived.
That night we ordered Chipotle for dinner. We felt confident and hopeful we would make it another few days to 32 weeks gestation. We went to bed around 9 PM; I was finally starting to feel normal again. Around 9:30/10PM I started getting what I thought were terrible gas pains from the Chipotle. I kept trying to reposition myself to get comfortable. I asked the nurse to get me some simethicone to help with the discomfort. By the time she came back with the medication, I was in labor. I knew it, she knew it, and Zach had figured it out pretty quickly. Zach ran around the room to collect our things while she held my hand and called the L&D staff. Within minutes I was being wheeled back down the hallway to the L&D unit. Once again, I was given magnesium, but not for my sake this time. It was to help prevent injury to Leo’s brain since he would officially be considered “premature”. As the contractions worsened, anesthesia arrived to place an epidural. While other nurses were setting up the room, the NICU team arrived with an incubator. Time stopped and rushed past me at the same time. Before I knew it, it was time to push. Leo came rushing into the world at 1:38 AM on February 5. As terrible as it sounds, I dreaded the moment he would be born the entire time I was pushing. “Please let him be breathing; please let him be breathing”. I sobbed when he came out screaming. He was breathing on his own. He had gotten the full dose of steroids just in time. He was whisked away by the NICU staff for immediate assessment. To everyone’s disbelief he did not need any respiratory support. Zach was able to bring him over to me so we could say hello before his transfer down to the NICU.
While I was pushing, the doctor noted that there was a sufficient amount of blood. After delivering the placenta, it was clear I had a 25% placental abruption.
In my first trimester I was diagnosed with a subchorionic hematoma. Essentially it’s a small area of bleeding in between the uterus and the placenta. Most of the time its origin is unknown; it can happen when the placenta is developing. Although it was monitored during the course of my pregnancy, there wasn’t too much concern. Unfortunately, these small hematomas can develop into large hematomas. And because of the location of my placenta, it was difficult to see that. My small pocket of bleeding developed into a placental abruption, a large area of the placenta pulling away from the uterus causing a significant amount of bleeding. This is why I went into preterm labor. It took me a few months to “forgive myself” and realize that my body did not fail, it thrived and did what it was supposed to do. It gave me warnings to listen to my gut instinct so that I was able to seek care early enough for both of us to get the necessary interventions to protect us and prevent potential issues. If anything, this story is proof of the power of listening to our bodies and following that gut instinct.
Right before I gave birth to Leo, I was interviewed by Health Magazine (you can read the story here) about my decision to get the COVID vaccine while I was pregnant. At the time, there was only preliminary data from the trials to support safety and efficacy. But after looking beyond the initial research and into the overall mechanism of an mRNA vaccine, reviewing basic cell biology, having conversations with multiple people in healthcare professions (doctors, nurses, PAs, NPs), and given the impending and significant threat of COVID for pregnant women, I decided to get vaccinated. I knew the outcomes of having COVID while pregnant were significantly higher than the potential and extremely minor theoretical consequences of getting vaccinated. I had read and re-read the data. I had spent hours reading information on ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine), ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics). And, now we know for a FACT (because we have over a year of ample and valid data) that the COVID vaccine is SAFE for women who are pregnant.
I was attacked by some readers of Health Magazine for spreading “false and dangerous” information after Leo was born. They told me I could’ve killed my baby because I got vaccinated. They said I was spreading lies about getting vaccinated and look!-your premature baby is proof that you made the wrong choice. They said they would pray for my soul for hurting my baby. They had no idea that I had been previously diagnosed with a subchorionic hematoma. They had no idea I went into preterm labor for something discovered in my first trimester. Leo’s early birth was NOT because I chose to get vaccinated to protect us both against a lethal disease.
I’m sure a lot of people were suspicious of the timing. I received my second dose of Pfizer only a few weeks before going into preterm labor. It certainly looked like it could’ve been associated with getting vaccinated. But that’s not what the data tells us. That’s not what science tells us. Women are statistically no less likely to go into preterm labor if they choose to get the vaccine while pregnant. They are also statistically no less likely to have any other type of pregnancy complication due to getting the COVID vaccine. Actually, the women who do not get vaccinated while pregnant (or before) and do get COVID are much more likely to have significantly negative pregnancy outcomes, including preterm labor. And now we even have data that shows antibodies (immunity!) transfer to your baby in utero if you get vaccinated while pregnant (the same is true for breastfeeding). Look, this isn’t a post about vaccine safety and efficacy during pregnancy. You should talk to your doctor about your decision to get vaccinated. The data is out there and readily available. I just felt the need to share my two cents regarding my own experience with getting vaccinated and then having (completely unrelated) preterm labor. I’ll attach some resources at the bottom of this post. **
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! While Leo’s story was anything but “normal” in terms of labor and delivery, the past year has been absolutely amazing. Parenthood is hard. There is no doubt about that. But all of the difficult times and hard experiences seem to melt away in the presence of the joy and profound happiness. I’m convinced that the sound of your child laughing can mend any negative thought or feeling. I think it’s important to share birth stories that aren’t necessarily unicorns and rainbows. We are truly lucky that the only deficits Leo needed to overcome in the NICU were size and inability to eat on his own. As you can see, he is now a perfectly happy and healthy little boy.
And now, it’s time to celebrate our little lion, Leo! He has been a fighter with the sweetest soul from the beginning. He just couldn’t wait a minute longer to meet his parents and to start exploring our beautiful world – we are so excited to show it to him. Zach and I are so lucky to be his parents.
Happy First Birthday, Leo!
** Not intended as medical advice. Please speak with your healthcare team about whether vaccination is the right medical decision for you.**
Pregnancy and COVID vaccine resources:
American Society for Reproductive Medicine (click here)
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (click here)
American Academy of Pediatrics (click here)
Preliminary Findings of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Safety in Pregnant Persons (click here)
Prenatal maternal COVID-19 vaccination and pregnancy outcomes (click here)
Pregnancy and birth outcomes after SARS-COV-2 vaccination in pregnancy (click here)
High antibody levels in cord blood from pregnant women vaccinated against COVID-19 (click here)
Featured image by Meg Newton Photography