Even though Leah had rattled my world with her sudden and unexpected presence, she did take it easy on me during the nine months that I carried her. My first trimester nausea only triggered one bout of full-blown morning sickness, and my other physical symptoms throughout the second and third trimesters were bothersome but manageable. Each ultrasound throughout my pregnancy showed that she was growing healthy and strong, and by the time her June 17 due date came and went, my midwife and I were confidently awaiting the arrival of my healthy baby girl.
I was 40 weeks, 3 days along when it all changed. Like many expectant mothers before me, I had been trying to induce my labour naturally for the previous week by drinking copious amounts of raspberry leaf tea, eating entire pineapples in a single sitting, and going for purposeful walks each morning. However, despite my best efforts, the signs of labour continued to elude me. Luckily Leah had begun kicking fiercely and regularly by 19 weeks gestation, so keeping track of her movements in the meantime was easy and reassuring.
Until it wasn’t. My belly rocked with her movements after breakfast on June 20 as per usual, and after dinner I waited for it to happen again. It didn’t. I tried to console myself with the conventional wisdom offered by medical professionals and my mama peers: “It’s getting cramped in there! You won’t feel her kick as much this late in the game.” Ultimately this didn’t work; I poked and prodded, and even blasted music through headphones to try and get her to move. Soon enough I was drinking a glass of cold orange juice and lying on my side to do my first and last self-induced kick count. Still nothing.
I did my best to suppress the encroaching panic. Since we live close to the hospital, I even told my husband to drop me off at the emergency room and head home afterwards so we wouldn’t have to pay for parking. Just a quick confirmation that her heartbeat was fine and I would be back home; back to waiting for labour to begin; back to normalcy. But that didn’t happen. Since I was so far along they sent me straight to Labour and Delivery and hooked me up for an ultrasound and nonstress test. She was alive, but she wouldn’t be for long. Before I knew it, I was calling my husband to bring my hospital bag while being prepped for an emergency cesarean section.
The hours that followed were a blur. I remember my husband holding my hand and speaking words of comfort to me through a hospital mask while a team of doctors removed my daughter from my body. She was born at 4:03am on June 21, 2016. They took her away immediately, and in my drug-induced state I was only vaguely confused as to why I couldn’t see her or hear her cry. I would later learn that she had technically been born “dead” and it took them 14 minutes to revive her. I don’t know how much time passed before they wheeled me into a different room and a doctor began speaking about fetomaternal hemorrhage, tonic seizures, severe anemia, asphyxia, and brain damage. While I didn’t understand half of these terms, I knew in my core what they meant: Despite all my precautions, praying, and planning, the worst had happened.
At this point we were told that Leah would be sent to a children’s hospital in a nearby city for three days of “cooling.” Her extensive brain damage could not be reversed, but they were going to see if they could halt it from progressing. As soon as a bed was open for me, they would send me to the same hospital. I asked if I could see her before she was sent away, and they wheeled me to the NICU. The experience was surreal, to say the least. I could not quite wrap my head around the fact that the tiny girl who had been practicing her kick boxing near my ribs a mere day ago, warm and safe in my body, was now hooked up to endless tubes and machines and struggling for life in this cold hospital.
Another hour or so passed before the doctors returned. Despite their best efforts, Leah was not getting any better, and they were not confident that she would survive three days on the cooling pad. Suddenly, mere hours after our daughter came into the world, my husband and I were faced with the unthinkable decision that is every parent’s worst nightmare: We could send her away for further treatment and risk losing her in the process, or we could take her off life support and keep her with us for palliative care. The possibility that my baby girl might die without ever knowing the touch of my skin or the sound of my voice outside the womb was too much to bear, so we made the most loving and heart-wrenching decision we possibly could.
Through a steady stream of shocked tears, we asked them to bring her to us.
Read the second part of Leah’s Story here.