Where to begin…when I imagine what to write for a birth story, I imagine writing about the anticipation of a new baby, and new life. Such excitement it’s supposed to be. A lovely new beginning, holding a new baby and bringing home that baby to start teaching it and guiding it through life. Tori’s birth story is none of those things.
I did imagine it that way for the first 18 weeks of my pregnancy. Everything was going smoothly, and then we had our first ultrasound done…and found out there were 2 babies!!! So our excitement and anticipation (and a little bit of fear) doubled immediately. Over the weeks we adjusted to the new reality of caring for 2 little ones instead of just one.
10 weeks later that reality changed again. At 28 weeks, I went into the hospital on my birthday, for some false contractions. After finding them to be too regular, I was told they were going to send me to Vancouver, but there were no hospital beds available there, so I stayed in Comox overnight…before sending me out the next day an ultrasound was done, and I knew from the moment it was being done that something was wrong. Shortly after, one of the doctors came in and told us that one of our babies had died. We had to get to Vancouver right away to help save the other one, which would likely be born within the week.
After some denial (i.e. maybe they just made a mistake, maybe we will hear the heartbeat this time) we accepted our new reality that we just had one baby again, and if things didn’t get sorted out soon, we may not have a baby at all. The doctors suspected twin to twin transfusion (our babies were identical)…which was causing me to go into labour. After a week in Vancouver in and out of labour, through various doctors, being told we would need a c-section immediately to being told I could stay pregnant full term, the labour was held off.
I stayed in hospital on bedrest the next few weeks, and our surviving baby’s heart and brain were examined for effects of twin to twin transfusion. After several ultrasounds we were told that our surviving baby had a heart defect (unrelated to the ttts) and would need open heart surgery immediately after birth in order to survive. But we were told it was fixable and this wasn’t the worst news we’d heard in the last few weeks, at least one of our babies was still alive.
I had to stay on bedrest for preterm labour and it had to be in Vancouver because the baby had to be born and immediately transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) at BC Children’s for her heart surgery. So after 6 weeks in 2 different hospitals, we were discharged and rented a condo in Vancouver to wait and prepare for the birth. 4 weeks later, at 38 weeks I went into labour (for real).
Over the previous 10 weeks we’d worked with a social worker from the hospital preparing for the birth. We knew one baby would be alive and one baby would be stillborn. We didn’t know what our stillborn would look like after 10 weeks in utero, whether we would want to look at her or hold her. We knew we would have only about 5 minutes with our family of 4 before our surviving baby would be taken to the ICU. But even after all that preparation, it’s hard to imagine what that birth is really like. Not really joyous. Not really exciting. Maybe more a sense of relief. I don’t really remember feeling anything.
The labour was fast, and natural (besides the epidural), Tori Savannah (6lbs, 8oz) was born first, she was taken to the recusitation room immediately. While she was in there, I delivered Lara Jocelyn (1lb, 8oz). I knew immediately that I had to hold her and look at her. It was surreal. I knew this would be my only chance, and that if I didn’t take it, there wouldn’t be another. There was a sense of peace. Not happiness, not sadness, a little bit of relief that we could move on. Tori was brought back into the room and I held her too. Again, a sense of peace that I could hold both my babies for the one time that it would be possible. I tried to take it in, to remember every second, the have 5 minutes before the next phase would begin. We took pictures of our family, the 4 of us. I don’t really remember the doctors or nurses coming in and out. We didn’t have any extended family or friends there.
After those few brief minutes, the nurses came in and took Tori away to be admitted into the ICU. Shortly thereafter, someone came in to take Lara away too. I got stitched back up, and waited there for the epidural to wear off, and then I wanted to go see Tori. When we got the ICU, she had an IV in, some monitors on, and I knew this was the next phase, we had 4 days before her heart surgery was done. I stayed in the hospital maternity ward during that time coming down to see her as much as I could physically handle (sitting was quite uncomfortable)…I thought a couple more weeks and I can take her home and be a mom.
Those weeks turned into months, and a constant ‘just one more procedure and she might be stable enough to go home’. The months turned into one year and 2 weeks. During that year and 2 weeks, Tori almost died on countless occasions. She had 2 open heart surgeries, she had airway problems eventually requiring a tracheostomy and ventilator, she had feeding difficulties eventually requiring a surgically placed feeding tube. And countless tests and smaller procedures in between. And some complications from the procedures (blood clots, stroke). Each time, we were forced to accept a new reality. We were being pushed into a world of medical machines equipment, tests and drama without any choice. But when you have a child, you sign up for whatever you get. You just always think these crazy stories will happen to someone else. It took a long time to realize that our long term reality would be that of a special needs child.
A birth story supposed to be going into the hospital in labour and getting out a couple of days after your baby is born. Mine started 10 weeks before my babies were born, and carried on until 2 weeks after Tori’s first birthday. Not exactly what one imagines. We adjusted to a lot of different and uncomfortable realities over the course of those unexpected 15 months away from home. We've adjusted to a new normal.
A blog on art, roller derby and life.
I'm an artist and mother of two in Courtenay, BC. I've completed a project called the "Madonna and Child Project," and I'm now working on a series of roller derby inspired drawings. In my spare time I play roller derby with the Brick House Betties.