I have had 5 1/2 years to reflect on the birth of my daughter. Our story is a story of loss, heartbreak, faith, triumph, perseverance, and love…. so much love. – Brienna
I married my husband in October, 2006. We had both decided to wait a couple years to have children. Three short months later, I received one of the biggest shocks in my life. I went to my general practitioner for anxiety – I thought I was losing my mind. I couldn’t sleep, I was moody, I was freaking out about EVERYTHING (just ask my husband). My doctor gave me a urine test, which I suppose is standard procedure before prescribing anti-anxiety medication. When she walked back in the room with her prescription pad, she sat down with a big smile on her face. She said, “Well, I can’t write you a prescription for anxiety medication, but I AM writing you one for prenatal vitamins.” I was in shock. There was a mirror on the back of the door, and I remember looking in the mirror. My face was turning bright red, and the first words out of my mouth were, “How am I going to tell my Daddy?” I was by no means a child at 22, but I was terrified to tell my dad because he would then know that I really was “enjoying all the benefits of marriage” I was always Daddy’s little girl, and this admission would be mortifying! As I left the office, I debated calling my husband and telling him, but he ran a brokering firm at the time and I knew he would be beyond busy because it was a Friday. So I decided to drive to my parent’s house and break the good news to my mom. She was THRILLED! Then my Dad came home from work and I had to tell him too, because my mom was running around screaming like a mad woman. I was scared for nothing – he started making plans to take the whole family out to dinner! I supposed I should contact Troy (my husband) next considering he was going to be a Daddy after all. He answered after 2 rings. I told him that I couldn’t get the medication I wanted, and the next words out of his mouth were, “you’re pregnant.” He knew. I don’t know how, but he just knew.
When I was about 9 weeks pregnant I started to notice some spotting. My mom drove me to my OB’s office for an ultrasound. I was terrified. The doctor located a baby’s sack in my uterus, but she couldn’t find a heartbeat. My mom was just squeezing my hand. Right as I felt my eyes well up with tears, she moved the transducer a little and found another sack with a heartbeat pounding away! I had conceived twins, but only one was developing. I was so relieved. I still had a baby. The doctor explained that the other embryo had never developed.
The next couple months of my pregnancy were completely uneventful. I had morning sickness, but it went away by my 4th month. At 17 weeks and 3 days pregnant we scheduled an appointment to find out the sex of the baby, and my husband accompanied me to my ultrasound. When the tech started scanning she was all smiles, and so were we. As I watched her scan my belly I noticed her face change. She looked at me and told me I was going to have a little girl, but the doctor was going to need to talk to us. She told me that usually the doctor liked to be the one to tell us bad news, but she wanted to give me a head’s up that our baby had a couple of defects that they needed to look into. She said the defects effected three main organ groups of the body. We were not shown to an appointment room. The nurse had us go back out into the waiting room with all of the other women to wait for the doctor to look at the scans. We were given a couple ultrasound photos to take with us, and a box of tissues.
I couldn’t handle the waiting room. All of those happy pregnant women sitting there with their big bellies. I started bawling, and my husband took me into the hallway. He told me that we needed to wait and hear what the doctor said before I let my mind wander too far into despair. We reentered the office right as they were calling me back. The doctor was already in the room when we entered. She told us that this was one of the worst parts of her job. We were informed that our baby girl had a defect called Gastroschisis, meaning her bowels(intestines) were located on the outside of her abdomen. She also had a bright spot on her heart indicating a possible hole, and three corneoplexus cysts on her brain. Since three major organ groups were affected she was nervous that the baby had Trisomy 13 which is almost always fatal. The receptionist scheduled us an appointment for the next day with a perinatologist.
We walked to the car in silence. I just sat staring out the window driving home. We were supposed to call our mom’s immediately after the appointment to let them know if the baby was a boy or a girl. I kept looking at my phone in my lap, but I just couldn’t bear to make the call. Eventually my phone rang while my husband was pumping gas, and I answered. My mom was so excited when I picked up. She said, “Well? What is it?” I bit my lip, and my chest started heaving. She asked me what was wrong, and I finally squeaked out, “It’s a girl, but…” “A girl,” she said. I knew she wanted a girl so bad. I started sobbing. I told her there was something wrong with the baby. I needed my mom and Daddy in that moment, so I asked her if I could come over with Troy. When we got there, my Daddy wasn’t there. My mom told me that he couldn’t be there. He couldn’t see me right now because his heart was too broken for me. I later found out that he drove to a parking lot and sat there while he cried. We showed my mom the ultrasound pictures and you could clearly see the bowel on the outside of her belly. She told us to have faith, and to call her as soon as we were done at the perinatologists office the following day. Troy called his parents. I couldn’t do it. I just sat in the shower crying. I cried all night, and all the next morning.
We saw the perinatologist, Dr. Siddiqui the next afternoon at 1. He gave us the same information about the likelihood of our baby having trisomy 13, and wanted to do an amniocentesis. I am terrified of needles, and now I was going to have a 7 inch needle inserted into my stomach to draw out amniotic fluid. Oh NO! I was about to vomit. They told me I had to stay perfectly still so the doctor wouldn’t hit the baby with the needle. I knew my Nana lost a baby to an amniocentesis right before she was due to give birth. I was TERRIFIED. They held me down and stuck a needle through my belly and into my uterus. It was awful. The procedure was a success, and we were told they would have the test results regarding my baby’s chromosomes back in about a week. We went to the store that night, and I saw a little yellow stuffed duck in the baby aisle. I picked it up, and knew it had to come home with us. I slept with that duck every night for a week. I would sit in the shower and pray. I would sing my baby, “You Are My Sunshine.” I was determined to make my little girl know she was special!
Friday came and my phone rang. The woman was from Dr. Siddiqui’s office. She said, “Congratulations! Your baby has normal Chromosomes! Oh, and she’s definitely a girl.” It was officially the happiest day of my life up until that point. We had to schedule bi-monthly appointments for the next couple months with Dr. Siddiqui, along with our monthly appointments with our regular OB. Dr. Siddiqui told me I would need a C-section… and I never believed him.
My OBGYN office was a group practice, so I had to see 7 different doctors. Only 2 of them were comfortable delivering my baby vaginally. At our next appointment, we were to see Dr. Megan Kessler. I had never met her, but as soon as she walked in our room the first words out of her mouth were, “Friends, this too shall pass.” I knew she was the one. She was going to deliver my baby. We still had to see the other two doctors in the practice, and pray that Dr. Kessler was on call when I went into labor, but I had faith everything would work out for me. I decided at that point, with her reassuring words, in the middle of that examination room that I was going to choose JOY. And I did.
We had to have a cardio-scan for the baby, and discovered the spot on the babies heart was gone. It just disappeared. A true miracle. We were blessed in a way, because people pay up to $400 to have 3D/4D ultrasound pictures done of their babies, and we had them every other week for months as part of our treatment! I have an entire album of my daughter’s in-utero photographs. Dr. Siddiqui monitored my little girls bowels for the next couple months to make sure they weren’t swelling. He was still determined I was going to have a section, but I knew different. He reminded us after every appointment that Gastroschisis baby’s come early and fast. He said there is a great instance of third trimester miscarriage. I didn’t let it dishearten me…. my baby was strong. She was a fighter.
We signed up for natural child birth classes, and though our situation was a little different than the other couple’s, we had a great time and learned a ton about natural child birth and Lamaze. We toured Cincinnati Children’s hospital where our daughter would spend the first part of her life. Everything was great, and I was so happy. We decided to name our little girl Bryleigh Day. Bryleigh means “jovial” or “happy”, and I knew that the moment that child was born would be the happiest day of my life.
I had an ultrasound at 36 weeks in Dr. Siddiqui’s office. He noticed Bryleigh’s bowels were beginning to swell, and told us it was time for her to come out. My OB’s office called to schedule an induction for the next week, and my favorite doctor was on call that next Friday. I knew I would see my baby girl in 1 week!
All through the second part of my pregnancy we were making plans. I knew that I wouldn’t hold my baby when she was born. Only my husband and I were allowed to be in the room when she came into this world. There would be many doctors on hand and a transfer unit in place to take her to the hospital as soon as she was stabilized. My husband would go with our baby, and I would be alone. I knew in my heart that if something were to happen, if she didn’t make it through her first night, she shouldn’t be alone. Her daddy would be there. He would be holding her hand. She would know she was loved.
I went out to dinner with Bryleigh’s Godmother and Godfather the night before my induction. We had a wonderful Mexican dinner, and good laughs – the perfect medicine for anxiety! We were scheduled to be at the hospital at 5 o’clock the next morning. I didn’t sleep a wink.
We gave the nurse our birth plan when we got settled into our room. It was a high-risk room, so there were no windows, but the bed was EXTRA comfy. My nurse knew I did not want any pain medicine, and started a Pitocin drip. The first hour was easy. I was talking and laughing- then they turned up the drip…. twice. I couldn’t get on top of the pain. My doctor ruptured my membranes and when I stood up, they proceeded to gush all over my husband’s feet as I was leaning on him swaying my hips (he was wearing leather flip-flops… bless his heart). I tried the birth ball, a rocking chair… nothing made it easier. They kept upping the Pitocin! It was excruciating, but I knew we needed to get Bryleigh out. I was being given the chance to try to deliver vaginally, but Bryleigh couldn’t show too much stress or I would be sectioned. After 8 1/2 hours of natural labor, I broke. I needed the relief. The emotions were too great – the pain was too much – all the fear I had been denying for the past 2 months came crashing down on me in my reality. I asked for the epidural. I felt instant relief. I was so thankful. Troy’s parent’s had driven 4 1/2 hours to be there, and my mom had come too. They were finally allowed in. My best friend came too. We all spent time together for a little while, and then I started to feel off. My blood pressure dropped to 60/30. People were running around. My epidural wasn’t running down like it was supposed to. It was running up, and I couldn’t feel myself breathe anymore. I actually couldn’t make myself breathe! They pulled me up to sitting so gravity could do its thing. I was okay again – I just couldn’t lay back down. A little while later, I started to feel cold. I was shivering, but only at 6 centimeters dilated so I wasn’t in transition. I felt like I had the flu. The nurse took my temperature and I had fever of 104 degrees. Immediately antibiotics were given. It was hell. The anesthesiologist was holding my hand as I shook. I could see he was scared. He still hadn’t left because of what happened with my epidural. My doctor put heated blankets on me to help with my shaking. They went out in the hall to talk and left me with my husband, my best friend, and my nurse. We later learned that when the anesthesiologist and Dr. Kessler stepped out into the hallway, they hadn’t realized that Troy’s mom and my mom were in the hall. The anesthesiologist was angrily telling my doctor that she was going to lose me and my baby if she didn’t section me now! My doctor knew how much a vaginal delivery meant to me, so she was giving me as much leeway as she safely could. Our mother’s were obviously sobbing….
Dr. Kessler came back in my room and said she needed to check me again. If I hadn’t progressed she was going to section me. Honestly, through the delirium of the fever, I didn’t even care at that point. I was done. My body had had enough. She checked my cervix, and I was 9! After 3 hours of being stuck at 6, I was a 9! She told me they were going to wheel me into a surgical room for precautions, but she believed in me. She told me I needed to be strong, but she knew I could do it, I just had to do it fast.
My nurse changed at this point. I met my new nurse in the delivery room, along with 15 other doctors from Children’s Hospital, and the pediatrics unit from the hospital I was birthing in. I started pushing. I was still only 9 centimeters dilated, but we didn’t have the time to wait. The nurse put her hands on the top of my belly and pushed down…. hard. My epidural had been turned off for a while now, and it hurt. Oh, it hurt. Dr. Kessler told me to sit straight up as much as I could while the nurse continued to bare down on my stomach. Forceps were used, my fever had reached 105.1,and my baby girl was born into this world at 11:52pm. Just 8 minutes longer, and she would have been born on my mother’s birthday. Bryleigh was blue and unresponsive. It took about 30 seconds for me to realize she wasn’t crying. Dr. Kessler was sewing me up and I could hear her saying, “come on baby….come on baby.” Almost 4 minutes later, we heard our Bryleigh Day cry. She was inserted into a bag full of saline up to her chest, and was in an enclosed bed for transport. Our parent’s were briefly allowed in to see the baby. It had been 5 minutes since I heard her cry, and they took her. I never even got to see her- she was too far away. My dad was able to snap a quick picture on his camera, and my husband and my daughter were rushed away from me. All I had from all of that was a single picture.
I was stabilized, and my fever started to break. I was taken to a room with my mom and my best friend, Ryan. I didn’t have a baby with me, so my room was tiny…. it could only fit a bed and a side table. The nurse asked me if I wanted a sandwich, and I did! I wanted a turkey sandwich so bad!! My mom and Ryan went to the cafeteria to grab themselves something to eat, and I waited on that blessed sandwich. After an hour I really had to pee. I buzzed the nurse multiple times and never got a response. I was told to not get up and try on my own when she had put me in my room, but now when I needed someone, no one was there. I got up and tried to make the 3 steps to the bathroom. My legs gave out and I fell. Hard. I was sitting in a pile of blood now, and didn’t know what to do. My mom came back and helped me up into the bathroom. The nurse came back and told me that she had said not to get up! Are you kidding me?? She asked me if I wanted something for the pain….. um, YES PLEASE! We ate cheesecake from the cafeteria all together, my mom, Ryan, and me. They eventually had to leave, so we said our goodbyes after trying my luck with a breast pump for the first time. My nurse never came back. We were put in that room at 12:30am, and I didn’t have anyone check on me until 7 the next morning! They forgot about me because I didn’t have a baby in my room to check on. I had no pain medicine, and I’m still waiting on that turkey sandwich!
Part 3: Meeting my little girl
The next morning, Troy came to the hospital to see me. Bryleigh had had a surgery to secure her intestines inside a silo (which pretty much looks like a giant rubber condom held up vertically by a suspension bar over her).
She had done amazing, and he held her hand through the night…. still wearing those fluid-covered leather flip-flops…. EW. My Daddy showed up with a turkey sandwich from Panera (he’s my hero!). The on-call doctor wants to keep me, but I refuse. It’s 10am at this point, and I’m going to see the little girl I birthed 10 long hours before. I was ready to go by the time the doctor came to see me. They put me in a wheel chair, and I made my way out of the hospital to meet my baby.
I was so nervous scrubbing into the neonatology unit at Children’s. Troy walked me into a giant room with 8 “pods” where my baby was. She was in the second bed on the left. As I approached her bed, I started to cry. I couldn’t even see her face through all my tears. She was so small. We were told that Gastroschisis babies were always tiny, but my little girl actually had rolls. I was then told when they weighed her she was 7lbs. 13oz., and the healthiest Gastro baby they had seen!
[They would strap her arms down so she couldn't grab her silo]
We weren’t allowed to stay with her. They made an exception for Troy the first night, but we couldn’t sleep there. Our house was 30 minutes from the hospital. Thank goodness my husband took FMLA, and he was able to have almost 3 weeks off work. We would arrive at the hospital at 7am, and leave at 1am every night/morning. I pumped every two hours in that hospital for weeks as my baby got stronger. She wasn’t able to eat anything until her intestines made their way back into her belly. When gravity had done its thing, another surgery was scheduled. Bryleigh had her first surgery on the night she was born at only 2 hours old, and her next exactly one week later. Her surgery went wonderfully, and her belly was closed up. I still had never held my baby or changed her diaper. 2 days later her bowels moved for the first time! This meant they were working and they could start feeding her….. 1 ml a day. It was such a slow-go. If at any time she threw up, they would have to back her feeds off and start over.
Some days were overwhelming. I would just sit there and cry. I was told it was extremely rare for a baby who had not been orally fed for so long to ever accomplish successful breastfeeding. I kept my dream alive. I would prove them wrong. Day after day, we would hear the code sirens turn on. Every doctor and nurse would take off running to one of the other pods on the floor to save a baby. Many parents lost their little ones while I was there (Bless them). I remember Bryleigh looking up at the ceiling all the time and smiling. The nurses would tell me she was smiling at the angels. I found myself noticing little gold plaques on the rocking chair I was sitting in, or the stool my foot was on. I asked a nurse what they were, and she told me all the furniture was donated from the nurseries of babies who hadn’t made it. I knew at that moment how very blessed I was. I was soon able to change Bryleigh’s diaper, and give her a bath, and a couple days later- when she was 2 1/2 weeks old, I held my little girl for the first time. I held her for 6 hours, and it was the greatest feeling in the world.
[The first time my husband held Bryleigh]
[Bryleigh and her Grampa]
We were moved into our own room at that point. We could finally stay overnight with our baby. I was allowed to try to nurse my baby… She latched on THE FIRST TIME!!!! It was such a personal victory! Bryleigh and I did it! We spent the next week making sure she kept her milk down. On September 20th, 2007, one day before my birthday, 3 weeks and 6 days after Bryleigh’s birth, the doctors came in during surgical rounds and told me to take my little girl home.
Bryleigh is now 5 1/2, healthy, brilliant and thriving. She hold the record for being the fastest “healing” Gastroschisis baby to be released from Cincinnati Children’s hospital. I did deal with post-pardom depression, and post-traumatic stress from her birth, but I know how truly BLESSED I am. I wanted to share my story for the mom’s in our community who don’t get the perfect birth… the ones who feel cheated and lost. I hope this story helps someone fine strength. I hope it helps someone see the silver lining. I was lucky, I know that. I still thank God for my little girl every day, and the joy she has brought me.
[Bryleigh and I on her first day of school]