The final days of my pregnancy were not filled with joy and excitement as one would expect; they weren’t even filled with the typical anxiety and fear that comes with the thought of labor. I should have been worried about making it to the hospital on time or what I would do if my water broke in front of my class of twenty-five freshmen. I should have been packing my hospital bags for the fourteenth time, cursing at a car seat manual that read like Japanese, and daydreaming about the first time I would meet my beautiful princess. My husband, Brandt, and I should have been having conversations about what our baby would be like and what she would look like, but those precious moments were robbed from us and replaced with gut-wrenching terror and stress that we could have never imagined.
On Wednesday, February 13th, we went for a typical non-stress test since I only had a two-vessel cord. At that appointment, we found out that, if I did not go into labor within the next week, I would be induced on February 21st. I was so excited; the end was in sight and I would get to meet my angel within the next eight days. Brandt and I were on cloud nine, and we decided to go do a little baby shopping and have dinner to celebrate. I called everyone I knew to let them know that we would have a baby soon! Forty-five minutes after those phone calls, our world was turned upside down.
We decided to go to the mall first, so when my husband pulled off at the exit ramp, I yammered in his ear about the new adventure we were about to embark upon. I remember we were laughing and holding hands, and then I don’t remember much else until the ambulance arrived. We were sitting still when a van rear-ended us at full speed (an estimated 60 mph). You know the way everything is hazy and blurry in movies after a traumatic accident? That was exactly how this played out. I remember crying inconsolably and screaming, “My baby! My baby!” I think Brandt tried to calm me down, or was he crying and screaming, too? No, I’m pretty sure he was staying strong for me, but he had to have been terrified. All I kept thinking was: “I am nine months pregnant! How can my baby sustain this kind of trauma? Is my baby girl even still alive?!” I regained my composure enough to realize that we needed to call 9-1-1, but we could not find our cell phones. My husband’s had been broken on impact, and mine flew to the floor board. I vaguely remember Brandt getting to mine and talking to the operator. I could hear the panic in his voice as he repeatedly said, “My wife is nine months pregnant! Please hurry!”
When the EMT got there just a few moments later, they kept asking me questions about the accident and my injuries, but all I could focus on was my daughter’s well-being. They had to break off the car door to load me onto a stretcher. When they put me into the ambulance, I kept asking if my baby was going to be okay. The EMT kept avoiding the question saying that they would do everything they could. The ambulance ride was the longest of my life. It was bumpy and uncomfortable, and the IV felt like it was ripping me open. I could not stop crying; I’m sure there were enough tears to fill the Atlantic. I had dreamed of this baby for all of my adult life, and now there was a very real possibility that she would be ripped cruelly from my life before I even got to know her.
When we finally got to the trauma ward of the hospital, it was extremely hectic and like everything was moving in slow motion all at once. I think there were eight or nine different doctors performing who-knows-what kinds of tests and procedures. I had blood being drawn, ultrasound being set up, my legs being pulled and pushed, and more IVs being started. With all of this, I was completely alone. They made my husband wait in the hallway. I asked for him, but the doctors were too busy to respond. I never knew terror like this existed.
Finally, over an hour later, I heard the most beautiful sound I have ever heard in my life: a tiny, rapid heartbeat. She was still alive! I kept asking if she was okay, but the doctors still didn’t know. Her heartbeat was way too elevated. They decided to move me to the maternity ward to monitor the baby. The main OB doctor told me that they may have to perform an emergency C-section. Brandt and I at least had hope, which is something we had completely lost before. Her heartbeat became steadier over the course of the night, and the doctors decided that they would wait until my scheduled induction.
The next week was filled with pure chaos as we struggled to prepare for a baby, heal from our injuries, and tackle a monstrosity of an insurance claim. To say the least, this was not the happy time for us that it should have been.
Let’s fast forward to February 21st, the date of our induction. That morning I actually felt excited and anxious to meet our daughter. I labored beautifully all morning and afternoon until I reached nine centimeters. At that point, the nurses kept running in and out, and I knew something was wrong. They turned off the Pitocin drip and told me that they just wanted to give the baby a break. It turns out that the baby’s heart rate was starting to decelerate. After an hour or so, she stabilized and they restarted the drip. Within five minutes, they came back in and turned it off. The on-call doctor then came in and told me that my contractions were not viable and were causing too much stress to the baby. Her heartbeat dropped to 107, and they decided to do an emergency C-section. Again, I was in complete and utter fear for my sweet angel’s life. Why did I have to go through such hell again? Wasn’t this supposed to be one of the happiest moments of my life? Everyone tried to console me, but it didn’t do much good. I had never wanted anything more than to hold my baby and never let her go.
During the C-section, the doctors discovered that my placenta had abrupted (presumably due to the impact of the seatbelt during the wreck), and my daughter had swallowed a lot of blood. The surgery seemed like it lasted for hours, but at last we heard her first cry. I will never in my life forget that moment. When Brandt and I heard her for the very first time, he placed his head on mine and we both sobbed. Finally, though, these were happy tears, the happiest tears I had ever cried. She was beautiful and perfect. I didn’t get to hold my Gabriella Claire until she was two hours old and, at that point I was so exhausted, I don’t even remember it. I couldn’t even nurse my daughter because I was in so much pain (The hospital had run out of the pain medicine they typically give C-section patients).
I was angry for a while because I felt like my whole birthing experience was stolen from me by a careless driver. Besides the constant fear I felt in the last week of my pregnancy, I did not get to experience the first hours of my daughter’s life the way I should have been able to. I kept thinking, This isn’t the way it is supposed to be. I even continued to worry about whether or not my daughter would suffer some delayed affects from the impact. I have never had so many feelings of hatred toward one individual as I did that driver.
Now though I have learned so much from my eight week old daughter. She has taught me to love unconditionally, forget the past, focus on the future, and cherish the moments. She is by far the strongest person I know. She not only survived so much distress in her last few precious days in the womb, but she thrived. She showed me what it means to be a fighter, to never give up, and to live life fully and completely no matter your circumstances. I have learned more from this tiny princess than I have in all my twenty-eight years. She is my inspiration, my future, and my strength.