C H A R L O T T E

Our sweet Charlotte was a surprise.

We had just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to visit my family in Northeast Iowa, and I was feeling especially "nervy" - antsy, unsettled, stressed...  The day after we were home, I had a bad migraine and felt nauseous all day.  Though a day after my headaches I usually feel much better, this time, the nauseousness and antsy-ness continued through the following day.  I remember thinking...

"I'm either coming down with the flu, or I'm pregnant."

The plus sign on the first (and second) pregnancy test confirmed the latter.  I cried and cried and cried - I was so scared!  My pregnancy with Will was filled with sickness, depression, hormones, struggle.  My labor with him was 40 hours long.  His first weeks and months were filled with fear and trauma...  

At the time, Will was only 8 months old, so I felt I was just coming out of the fog, the fear, the trauma, finally finding joy again.  And then, with the news of another baby coming, the memories came flooding back.  The fear was fresh again.  The struggle was real again.  The depression came knocking at the door again...

The holiday season passed in a blur of nauseousness.  I remember running to the bathroom after Christmas Eve supper, positive the home-cooking was going to make another appearance.  I slept through Christmas morning, hoping to bypass the worst sickness of the day.  The darkest weeks of the pregnancy came when Mark was in Holland for two weeks for seminary classes.  I was alone with Will, sick, depressed, scared, and lonely.  Those two weeks seemed like an eternity.

In late February, I started visiting a shrink counselor.  She was able to help me process the leftover grief and trauma of Will's story, so that I could move on, and joyfully anticipate our second baby on its way.  Praise the Lord for her...

The month of March was a month of healing.  For the first time, I was excited, feeling joy (and, less nauseous, by the way), and looking forward to being a mom of two.  We found out our baby was a girl, just as I had suspected.  With help from a dear friend, I made gender reveal cupcakes to celebrate our news.  It felt so good to celebrate.

Spring and Summer were a flurry of preparations.  Our house had been severely hit by hail, so as Mark was working on outside projects, I was busy decorating a "big boy" room for Will, changing his nursery into a girly one, and redoing our living room.

Will was just learning to talk at the time.  He insisted that my belly was a "ball," and that Charlie lived in HIS "big belly."  He was in for a few surprises!

The entire pregnancy was picture perfect, medically speaking, so we were confident and hopeful that August would bring a birth story that was healing and drastically different than Will's scary start.

In the second week of August, I started having lots of contractions - some were so regular, I was sure I would wake up the next morning with a baby.  Days passed, a full week passed.  No baby yet!

Then, Friday, August 15th...  More contractions.  Still regular.  This time, they were stronger and getting progressively worse.  By early afternoon, I went to check on Mark and Will in the basement, and could barely get back up the stairs, I was in so much pain.  I called Niki, a wonderful friend, and a great nurse - she affirmed that no, I wasn't being too wimpy, and yes, it would be a good idea to get to the hospital soon.

By evening, the contractions were horrible.  We ordered the epidural, thinking I might still have another 30 or so hours of labor (smirk), and the relief came for a wonderful two hours.  Later, the contractions were coming again, even through the epidural, stronger than before, and much, much, much more painful than I had ever felt, even with Will.

The nurse checked me for dilation, and, instead of feeling the top of Charlotte's head, she felt, surprisingly, her little nose.  The doctor confirmed this, and shared with us that Charlie was what they called "face presentation" - a rare (of course) complication that meant she was coming out face first, making it next-to-impossible to deliver vaginally.

Because baby's heart rate was fluctuating a bit, we were rushed into an emergency c-section.  I had never thought I would be relieved to have a c-section, but the contractions were just so terrible, and because they were still confident Charlie was doing well, it felt like a dream.

Charlotte Elizabeth DeYounge was born in the wee hours of Saturday, August 16th.

I remember hearing her cry and, for the second time, before I could welcome my baby into the world, things got hazy.

I remember nurses asking me questions, but not having the strength or consciousness to answer.

From behind the white curtain, I remember hearing, "Why won't she stop bleeding?  This isn't working.  I can't get it to stop..."

I remember being very confused.  Where was Mark?  Where was my baby?

I remember shaking uncontrollably.

I remember vague and foggy flashes of nurses running around in a flurry, white lights from the ceiling, whispers about what was happening...

After Charlie was born (healthy as a horse, praise the Lord!), I had hemorrhaged badly with uterine atony.  The doctors and surgeons had tried all of the different blood-clotting medicines available, and my bleeding still didn't stop.  My blood pressure had plummeted and I had gone into shock.  I had needed blood transfusions, but since it was the middle of the night, and since we were in our small-town hospital, there was no one to open the blood bank - the gal on call was twenty minutes away.  By the time I DID get blood, the nurses employed Mark to squeeze the bags into my IV - anything to speed up the flow to compensate for my losses.

It was no accident the nurses on call that night were friends from church, who turned into our prayer warriors.

I'm not sure how the bleeding finally stopped after those long hours, but it did, and the surgeon was able to stitch me back up.  The next thing I remember is waking up in a recovery room, and asking for my sweet baby.  Where was she?  Was she okay?  When can I see her??

I finally got to welcome her, finally got to hold her, finally got to snuggle my precious Charlie-Bear.

I am beyond grateful to my wonderful friend, Niki, who attended the birth, and who was able to welcome Charlotte for me while I was busy in the ER.  Praise the Lord someone was there to snuggle her, pray for her, sing to her, and fill in the gap.  Niki and Charlie will forever share a special, warm and fuzzy bond.  I'm sure of it.

We stayed in the hospital quite a few extra days.  Charlie was doing well, eating well, gaining weight and showing us some of her firey spirit already, but the doctors felt like I needed another transfusion and a few more days to recover.  We soaked in the extra, undivided time to snuggle our special blessing and take full advantage of the hospital cafeteria.

And then, finally, home.  It felt so good to have the four of us under one roof - our little family!  I had a few bouts of scary hospital flashbacks/anxiety, but nothing my own bed, some warm baths and baby snuggles couldn't cure after a few weeks.

Charlotte and I worked hard to breastfeed, but alas (and again), it became impossible.  Whether my body had undergone too much stress to produce milk, or, if my body was just incapable of producing from the beginning, it just wasn't working, despite our valiant efforts.  We grieved a bit, but at this point in our journey, to have a 16 month old boy who did not have cerebral palsy, a face-presentation baby who was completely healthy, and a hemorrhaging mama who was still alive, felt like an incredible blessing in itself.  Not being able to nurse became a lesser thing, and we praised God for fantastic formula!

From there, we settled into a new normal - a new form of crazy, messy, wonderful, blessed life as a family of four.

...

By now, you know, at five months, our healthy Charlie took a turn for the worst and acquired meningitis which landed her in her own life-threatening situation.  I'm sure I will record more of that story here as well, but for now, it is too fresh.

To sum it up, at least for now, after all we have gone through in the last two years, we are extremely grateful for life, for health, and for the "smallest" treasures that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.  We praise God from whom all our blessings flow!

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