Miracle Baby’s birth story

Ten short weeks ago, we welcomed our miracle donor egg IVF baby. I’m told that the first few weeks with a newborn are always a blur. In our case, this was compounded by Miracle Baby’s (MB) traumatic hospitalization at two days old and subsequent Hirschsprung’s disease diagnosis. All of this means that the actual story of her arrival has more-or-less been ignored.

So before all of the details fade into the haze of my sleep-deprived brain, here is the story of her long-awaited birth.

An easy start

I was 41 weeks and 4 days pregnant when I went into labor. Being 11 days overdue, I had already tried pretty much every old wive’s tale you could think of to get things going. So when I started noticing a pattern to my cramps around 4pm — a few hours after I’d had a second membrane sweep — I was definitely more than ready.

The contractions ramped up quite quickly from ~15 minutes apart to ~3 minutes apart. Nevertheless, those first few hours were actually almost pleasant. I was sitting on my birthing ball, leaning on the windowsill near the open window and watching rain fall softly through the twilight and onto the canal below. I would moan through the contractions and my husband would apply counter pressure to my back. When the midwife arrived at 10pm to check me, she reported that I had progressed to 3cm dilated, and that she would be back in 3 hours. We were like ‘We’ve totally got this!’

Spoiler: We did not.

Almost as soon as the midwife left, it became clear that it would not be as straightforward as we assumed. I was having intense pain in my lower back, which our doula told me was ‘back labor’. Worse than that, in what should have been the rest period between contractions, I was having…more contractions. This fun little phenomenon is known as ‘double contractions’, or ‘coupling’, and as I was counting on using the breaks between contractions to get me through the pain, it was a total mindf@&$.

The almost continuous contractions meant that it took 30 minutes just to get me down one flight of stairs (scooting one stair at a time on my butt), where I had a romantic vision of laboring in the shower in a recently purchased bikini top (Americans are prudish, recall). After instead crawling into the shower buck naked and spending several hours crying in agony on a footstool, it then took another 10 minutes to transition me the 10 steps to the bedroom. When the midwife finally returned after 3 years* and reported that I was still only 3cm dilated, I threw my idea of a water birth out the window and immediately requested an epidural.

The hospital portion

The midwife got us a room in the nearby hospital, and our caravan of cars set off through the rain (or so I’m told — I wasn’t very observant at that point). After arriving, it took ages before I was prepped and ready for the epidural. They say real labor isn’t like the movies, but I was definitely that crazed woman clutching the rails of the hospital bed with white knuckles and yelling ‘How long until the doctor gets here?!’

The epidural was a huge help. HUGE. Really cannot stress that enough. Everyone’s always warning you, ‘An epidural can slow down labor!’, and I just have to say that a slower labor is exactly what I needed at that point. When it finally kicked in, I could breath again. Make jokes with my husband. I even ate a sandwich. Sure, they had to give me a little boost of hormones to try to get the contractions going again, but once they did, I didn’t notice the back labor or the double contractions. And those last 12 hours were infinitely easier than the first 12.

In summary — Epidural: 5/5 stars. Would definitely recommend.

Pushing

The nurses weren’t happy with how MB’s heart rate was dropping (and staying) low during contractions, or how she’d pooped in the amniotic fluid**, so they drew some blood from her head to do a stress test before they would let me push. Thankfully it came back ok, so at 2:30pm on my 12th day overdue, my husband put on my ‘Birth: Energetic’ playlist*** and away we went.

Pushing was predictably intense, with a lot of yelling from both me and my husband. My yelling was from the sheer exertion of bearing down with everything I had, and his yelling included encouraging phrases like: ‘IF I DON’T SEE POOP, I’M GOING TO BE DISAPPOINTED!!’**** At one point between pushing contractions, I even wailed ‘WHY DIDN’T WE JUST ADOPT?!’ (which — like any good insider joke — is something only infertile people are allowed to say about themselves).

After an hour of pushing, they threatened me with an episiotomy and vacuum pump. That was apparently all I needed to hear, because soon after, I started to make real progress. Twenty minutes and three second-degree tears later, our Miracle Baby entered this world. And I’ll tell you what: she is absolutely perfect.

xx

* This is not a typo. Special relativity teaches us that time is relative, and those 3 hours felt like eons.

** MB’s apparent ability to poop was one thing that complicated her Hirschsprung’s disease diagnosis, which essentially means she can’t poop (enough) on her own.

*** In contrast to the ‘Birth: Mellow’ playlist that we’d had playing during the rest of the labor, my ‘Energetic’ playlist featured a lot of early 2000’s screaming punk (much to the amusement of the Dutch nurses).

**** We’d given permission for a young male intern to observe, and between all of the yelling and the blood/tearing that occurred, I think the poor dear was traumatized.

She’s here!

She’s finally here! After making us wait almost six years, and then another two weeks just for good measure, our miracle donor egg IVF baby finally arrived in mid-August at almost 42 weeks gestation. And while she’s currently home and doing well, it’s been a wild ride since then, to put it mildly.

I’ll get back to the actual birth itself later, but the events that followed her arrival are where the real drama occurred. And if you’ve ever witnessed a birth, you already know that’s saying something.

The beginning

We stayed in the hospital the first night after she was born, with no idea that anything was wrong. Miracle Baby (MB) slept through the night after some initial breastfeeding, but I had read that newborns often sleep for a long stretch right after birth. The nurse came to check on us every few hours, but she also didn’t seem concerned.

In the morning we discovered that MB had spit up (or more likely vomited, as we realized later) all over her bed, and her temperature was low. However, the nurse told us that this can happen if they swallow amniotic fluid with meconium in it, as MB likely had. We assumed this nausea was also the reason MB wasn’t interested in further nursing, and we were advised to go home and try some skin-to-skin time.

At home, we were met by our postnatal maternity nurse, which is an amazing after-birth benefit to living in the Netherlands. She was with us for several hours that first day, during which time she tried to help us determine why MB still wasn’t interested in nursing. I also tried to pump, but I wasn’t making much milk at that point, and we eventually resorted to finger feeding formula just to get something in her.

That first night at home was awful. My husband and I tried to wake MB to feed every three hours, but she was super sleepy and wouldn’t eat. She also kept vomiting (which, as I mentioned above, we mistook for spit-up). Nevertheless, it was starting to seem concerning. By the time the nurse had arrived back at our house the next morning, I was a crying mess.

After more failed attempts to get MB to eat, and a home visit from our midwife, we were sent to see a pediatrician at the local ER. At that point, MB had only peed once in >48 hours, was extremely lethargic, and her stomach was hard and bloated.

The hospital did some abdominal X-rays using an adult-size X-ray machine, which required my husband to stand behind it and hold MB straight out in front of him (#RealLifeCrossFit). I hobbled over to a chair, delirious from lack of sleep, and more worried at that point about the long-term effects of radiation on a 2-day old. The X-ray showed a large blockage in MB’s bowels, and they gave her an enema which released a mountain of poop. They also took some blood from her feet to run some blood tests. While we were waiting in our hospital room for the results, I pumped to stimulate my milk supply. At that point, I naively thought the enema was the answer and it would all be resolved soon.

Then shit got real

What we didn’t know is that the doctors had been consulting with some specialists at a nearby children’s hospital. They said that the X-rays couldn’t rule out that MB had a volvulus (i.e., twisted bowel) — which can be extremely serious — and the other hospital wanted to see us right away. Suddenly they were prepping MB for surgery, with an IV and nose tube, and taking my blood as a precaution in case she needed it. They strapped her tiny car seat to a gurney, which is probably one of the most heart-wrenching things I’ve ever witnessed, and we were rushed to the children’s hospital by ambulance.

Our two-day-old miracle baby strapped to a gurney

I was still in shock when we arrived at the children’s hospital, but I recall them doing some more abdominal X-rays (which still showed a large blockage) and taking yet more blood from MB’s tiny feet. We were then met by a team of doctors and surgeons, who did contrast imaging of her bowels. Thankfully, they were able to rule out a twisted bowel fairly quickly, but they told us they suspected a rare congenital bowel disease called Hirschsprung’s disease, which is also serious*. They started treating her immediately, and it was probably close to 3am by the time we were shown to our hospital room.

To make a very long story slightly shorter, we spent the next week in the pediatric surgery wing of the children’s hospital. MB responded well to the treatment for Hirschsprung’s disease, which consisted of irrigating her bowels twice a day. Still, it all seemed so wildly unfair. First it took us six years and another woman’s eggs just to get pregnant, and now the baby we fought so hard to have likely had a serious birth defect? It was a possibility I hadn’t even let myself consider while pregnant (surely we’d already had our share of bad luck?!), and we felt like we were stuck in a nightmare.

An unexpected result

After a few days, they started slowly decreasing MB’s IV and reintroducing feeding using the breastmilk I’d been religiously pumping. After five days, they began teaching us how to do her bowel irrigation procedure ourselves**. On the eighth day, she got her IV and nose tube out and we were sent home to await her biopsy results. At that point, we had accepted that she would need surgery before she was six months old and continuous monitoring until she was an adult, and we were ok with it. We realized that it could be much worse, and we were finally starting to find some happiness in the small moments. Some of our parents had flown out to assist, which also helped immensely.

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Re-introducing feeding with some pumped breastmilk at the hospital.

It came as a great surprise to all of us, then, when the doctor told us that her biopsy results came back negative. In other words, she did NOT have Hirschsprung’s disease! We could hardly believe our luck, and we began slowly decreasing the frequency of her bowel irrigations.

And that was the end of the drama?

Unfortunately, no.

Cutting back on the bowel irrigation didn’t go as smoothly as expected. MB stopped eating as much and was sleeping through the night, which was worrying in her case. At one point, her stomach was so distended that we had to do the bowel irrigation early. Then, at a follow-up appointment, the doctor informed us that after reviewing the biopsy, it was, in fact, positive. Our Miracle Baby did have Hirschsprung’s disease. We had come to terms with this at the hospital, but after spending the subsequent weeks thinking otherwise, receiving the diagnosis again was a fresh shock.

The good news

The good news is that things could be worse. According to WebMD, “Though the disease can be deadly, modern medicine is able to fix the problem with surgery, and children who have been treated can live normal, healthy lives.” The only way I’ve been keeping my sanity through all this is by repeating the last part of that sentence like a mantra.

We went back to the hospital last week to meet with the surgery and anesthesiology teams and make a plan. Thankfully, MB’s case is not so severe that she needs a stoma, so she will hopefully only need one surgery. The 3-hour operation involves removing the affected part of her large intestine, and it will occur when she’s around 4-5 months old. After that, she will hopefully be ‘cured’, and we can stop doing the twice-daily bowel flushes.

So there you have it — the full saga of MB’s eventful first weeks. If we thought things would be smooth sailing after her multi-year, multi-person conception effort, boy were we naive! But while this has all been extremely scary/stressful, we’re still *soooo* happy that our Miracle Baby is finally here. And we can’t wait until she’s grown so we can tell her what a huge pain she was not only before birth, but also after.

xx Allie

* Lest you wonder, her Hirschsprung’s diagnosis has nothing to do with MB’s donor egg conception.

** The bowel irrigation consists of sticking a 35cm tube up MB’s butt and injecting a huge syringe of salt water. The first few times you see it, it’s terrifying.