The Month of October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. This year Steve and I have the very special privilege of celebrating alongside our Sweet Daughter, Willow Mary, who was born with an extra special copy of her 21st chromosome.
Since this blog is a place where I plan on sharing about my journey Walking alongside my sweet Willow- I figured, the best place to start is her Birth Story.
My partner Steve and I found out we were pregnant in June of 2017- we were ecstatic and completely terrified- as I’m sure most first time parents are. I was religious about prenatal care- I immediately stopped visiting environmentally contaminated sites (I work as an environmental geologist), I drank liters of water every day, ate a low-fat/high protein diet, I took really huge (and smelly!) prenatal vitamins every day, I went to prenatal yoga, I went on daily walks, etc.. I felt like I was really killing it as a pregnant mama!
I worked with a doula, Kate (who is still one of my closest confidants) to develop an all-natural, water-labor birth plan- which included candles, dim lights, meditative music, and no medical interventions unless absolutely necessary. I had planned to breastfeed until both Willow and I organically weaned (more on this in a coming post!), and I was going to leave the hospital the day after delivery- and recover at home, in bed with my wonderful snuggly newborn.
Well, to my great surprise- none of what I had planned for, happened (like most births, I imagine). At my 34 week routine check-up, our doctor started to become concerned about Willow’s size- I hadn’t gained as much weight as my doctor had wanted me to. (By the way- my first thought was, ‘what is so bad about not gaining a ton of weight’… right?) The doctor sent us to an ultrasound to check on her growth- which was done on Friday December 29, 2017 at 4pm. The ultrasound technician was sweet, very young, and obviously surprised when she took the weight measurements of our baby girl. I asked her what the estimation of her weight was… she was approximately 4 pounds.
Since Monday was a holiday (January 1), the next Tuesday morning (January 2) I was sitting in a meeting at work and my OBGYN office called, I quietly muted the call and continued with our meeting because I assumed they were just calling to confirm my next appointment. In the latter half of your third trimester- you chat with the OBGYN office pretty regularly. Then, maybe three minutes later a call from the Radiology department came in, the closeness of the two phone calls peaked my interested, so I excused myself from the meeting to take the call.
The radiologist was calling to schedule my ultrasound, “oh, I had that done on Friday…” But they wanted to schedule a follow-up ultrasound because they saw some ‘concerning’ things. My heart dropped into my gut- I knew that 4 pounds sounded a bit on the small side. So, they scheduled me for an appointment the next morning at 9 am (Which is insane in Humboldt County, those ultrasound appointments usually take 3-4 weeks to schedule… so the urgency made me even more nervous). After I hung up with Radiology, I listened to a voicemail from the NP at the OBGYN office, asking me to call back ‘right away’. So I did, and they asked me to come in right away- so we did.
Side note, My parents had surprised me for my 28th Birthday (December 31) and came up to our house for the weekend- they drove up from Southern California, which is about a 12 hour drive. The morning of Tuesday January 2, we had said good-bye to each other with tear filled eyes, and they left on the long road back to So Cal. Not 2 hours after they left, did all of these fun calls start happening… timing is a funny thing sometimes.
After I got off the phone with the OBGYN with the instruction to come into the office right away- I called my mom to fill her in, and I lost it. I had never been more scared before in my life. Then, I called my husband and filled him in- and we planned to meet at our house and head to the doctor together. P.s. all of these calls and tears are happening on the sidewalk outside of my office- I still had to go back inside, gather my things, and tell my colleagues what was happening… awkward!
Steve and I arrived at the doctor’s office with lots of questions, we met with our Midwife first. Her name is Ellen, and she couldn’t have been more perfect that day. They admitted me to the hospital and the slough of tests, blood work, and calls with my OBGYN (who was on her way back from San Francisco) began. I was the only mama in the Labor Wing that day, so the nurses were really attentive which made me feel pretty calm through it all. The entire day I was on the phone with my parents giving them updates, who were driving further away by the minute- and we decided that since we really didn’t have any answers yet- it was best for them to go home, and when it was time to have the baby they would come back.
All day, Ellen stayed with us- and updated us after every call with the doctor. At that point, the plan was to keep the baby ‘in’ until 37 weeks if we could (I was 35 weeks exactly at this point) – but to keep a close eye and monitor with Non Stress Tests (NST) and fetal Doppler ultrasounds every day. At the end of this very long day, my OBGYN was back in town and came to the hospital – she told me that Willow’s weight was below the 5th percentile, and we needed to find out why. Some of the tests I had done throughout the day came back abnormal- and she explained to me that the flow in the umbilical cord was restricted; potentially preventing the baby from receiving all of the nutrients she needed to continue to grow.
So, my doctor discharged me: told me to go home, pack a hospital bag, and go to the Labor and Delivery Unit at St. Josephs hospital the next morning for the beginning of our routine daily monitoring (St. Josephs has a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – I was at a hospital that didn’t have a NICU). My doctor was pretty certain that we could keep the baby inside for at least two more weeks, and packing our hospital bags was a way of making sure we wouldn’t need them. Then, a nurse came in with 1 of 2 big steroid shots to help the baby’s lungs mature… and that was the moment I knew I was going to have a preemie.
The next morning, January 3, Steve and I went to Target, bought a couple of last minute ‘hospital bag’ things- packed our bags (to keep only in the car in case of emergency) and made our way to St. Josephs. Well, we ended up needing those hospital bags… and didn’t leave that hospital until a few weeks later.
On January 3, I went into pre-term labor- my body must have known that Willow needed to be delivered. We monitored contractions all day, and each ultrasound showed the condition (formally diagnosed with Intra Uterine Growth Restriction: IUGR) was getting more serious. So, I called my parents and told them to come back, which they did: another 12 hour drive back to where they just came from- they are the best.
On the morning of January 4, my case was transferred to Dr. Q (the high risk surgeon on call)- and she came in and told me that I would be “Delivering my baby today”. Wow. 5 weeks early, just Steve and I – we were petrified, and completely un-prepared. I think I said something like, “But, I haven’t finished my Lamaze class yet”.
The nurses took Steve out of our hospital room to get ready for the operation, and Dr. Q came in to chat with me. She put her hand on me and told me that I needed to prepare myself, because sometimes in these cases the babies don’t survive. And, then- it was time to head to the operating room. I remember thinking that I couldn’t tell Steve what Dr. Q had just told me- Willow was going to be fine. She had to be.
The craziest part of the C-Section, was that I walked into the operating room, by myself. They didn’t wheel me in on a hospital bed- which looking back was the absolute best thing for me at that point- made me feel like I had some piece of control in the situation. I hopped up onto the table, and the process began. Willow Mary Tillinghast was born at 3:58 pm on January 4, 2018- delivered by Extraordinary Women surgeons- and an all female nursing staff, it was pretty magical. They had to take her straight into the NICU because she wasn’t breathing on her own very well. Later, a nurse came back into the operating room and told me that she weighed 3 pounds and 14 ounces, was 16 ¾ inches long- and was doing well, she made it!
I saw her for the first time at around 5 pm, my doula was with me at this point in the recovery room, and she advocated really hard for me to be wheeled into the NICU to meet my girl. So they wheeled my hopsital bed into the NICU and they put that magical three pound girl on my chest, and I took the biggest deep breath and released into lots of tears of gratitude. She was perfect. She still is perfect.
The next morning, the pediatrician came into my hospital room and asked to speak with us. We had no idea what was about to unfold. He explained that he saw some soft physical markers of Trisomy 21, and he was recommending a blood panel to test for genetic anomalies. What? She has almond eyes, but so do I. She has chubby fingers, but so does her dad. We agreed to the genetic test, but wouldn’t get the results for at least 7 days.
More to come in my next post- ah, the suspense!
All my love.