Before I gave birth, I was obsessed with reading birth stories. I desperately wanted to know what to expect from natural child birth. Initially, I planned to write about Rue’s birth story from start to finish. But once I tried to tell the story orally, I realized that all of those tiny details leading up to the moment when she was born, (like when I transitioned into active labor, where in the house I labored, or what contractions really felt like) didn’t really matter that much to me.
All that mattered was that my precious little baby was safe. And alive. And breathing. On her own. In my arms.
So I’ve decided to write an “abridged version” so to speak, of Rue’s birth story. If you’re expecting for the first time, are curious about what natural child birth, or home birth is really like, this might not be the post for you. I hope to find time in the future to write a separate post about that, so check back.
It’s taken me nearly four months since Rue’s birth to be able to write it all out. Yes, I’m still processing it. And yes, I still cry.
Rue Lydian Rodriguez was born at home after 36 hours of labor on May 21, 2014 at 7:44 am. She wasn’t breathing, and she didn’t have a heart beat.
I was joined by my husband Marty, friend Amanda, midwife Sarah, birth photographer Heather, and two assistant midwives, Nicole and Megan. After three hours of pushing, the faces of everyone in the room lit up. Her head finally emerged. Up until this point, every time I pushed, Rue’s head would start to emerge, and then quickly go right back in. Towards the very end, I remember crying out in desperation, “Why isn’t she coming out? She’s supposed to come out!” I was so exhausted and absolutely ready to be done pushing.
We now know that the cord was wrapped around her neck a couple times, around her chest, and under her arm. She looked like she was wearing her umbilical cord like a toga. No wonder she wasn’t coming out!
When her little head finally did come out, Sarah said, “There’s meconium.” Then she suctioned it out of Rue’s mouth.
Exhausted, hot, delirious, and desperate, I pushed one last time, as hard as I could, and out came the rest of Rue.
I was so proud of myself for finally getting her out. After three hours of non stop contractions, a dozen position changes, and endless pushing, I was super excited to lie back and rest for a minute.
All of that excitement and happiness I felt in that instant was crushed by what I heard next: “Breathe baby, breathe. Breathe baby, breathe.” Over, and over, and over again.
“Oxygen.” Sarah said to Nicole.
Sarah and Megan immediately started administering oxygen and chest compressions.
Rue turned from purple to pink right away, but she still wasn’t breathing on her own.
“Call 911,” said Sarah.
Absolute terror and panic ensued for me. At this point, I’m still leaning back on the headboard, looking up at the ceiling. I refused to look at the baby because I was terrified of having that lifeless image of her ingrained in my mind.
Three minutes later, (I know this because the invoice from the ambulance company says 7:47 am) paramedics rush into the room.
“Was this a planned home birth?” someone says.
“Yes.” Everyone responds.
They proceed to ask what happened while getting me and Rue ready to load into the ambulance, and we tell them.
“When she came out, she wasn’t breathing, and she didn’t have a heart beat. We put her on oxygen right away, and she pinked up, but she still wasn’t breathing, so we called the ambulance.”
I’m a mess. I’m crying uncontrollably. I’m naked, bleeding out, and absolutely terrified that my sweet baby girl will never come back to life. I’m trying my hardest to keep it together. Everyone is assuring me it’s going to be fine. I believe them.
“You didn’t cut the umbilical cord yet?!” one of the paramedics says.
“No. We didn’t cut the fucking umbilical cord yet, you idiot. She wasn’t breathing when she came out and we’ve been doing CPR ever since. Her umbilical cord is the only source of oxygen she has right now,” I thought.
So they cut the cord and load us into two separate ambulances and say we’re going to Loyola.
I’m still having contractions. I’m still crying hysterically. I’m asking if my baby is going to live. I look down and bright red blood has soaked through all of the stark white sheets they wrapped around my naked body, and there’s half of an umbilical cord hanging in between my legs. This is NOT how I envisioned my after birth to be.
I’m supposed to be lying in bed with my sweet angel on my chest doing skin-to-skin and waiting for her to do the breast crawl. I’m supposed to be waiting for the umbilical cord to stop pulsating so Daddy can cut it. This is supposed to be the happiest moment of my life.
“I need to deliver the placenta,” I say.
“Let’s wait until we’re at the hospital,” an EMT says.
I hold in the urge to push as best as I can and ask about my baby again.
“You’re going to be okay. Your baby is fine,” he says.
I’m rushed into the hospital, they again ask me if the home birth was planned. I reply. I’m put on a bed, administered an IV, Morphine, Pitocin to deliver the placenta, and something to stop the bleeding.
I have no idea where the baby is, what they’re doing to her, or if she’s even alive.
Doctor White comes in to stitch me up. I have a third degree tear and it takes her what feels like an hour to put me back together. Child birth was painful, but the pain I felt having to keep my already exhausted legs spread eagle in those stirrups while she sewed up my vagina, after 36 hours of labor, was much, much worse.
The next few hours were incredibly long. Exhausted from a long labor, and doped up on Morphine, I would doze in and out of sleep and when I would wake, I felt like I had slept for 8 hours. Each time, it had only been minutes.
Marty, Amanda, and Sarah were there in the room with me. I must have asked them 100 times what time it was. And each time, they would tell me it had only been 15 or 20 minutes since the last time I asked. I was beyond out of it.
I continued to ask the nurses when I could eat something. I was RAVENOUS. Even though I had no appetite during labor, Marty and Amanda were feeding me small handfuls of nuts and bananas to keep my strength up. Once I got to the hospital, I was starving and wanted to eat a GIANT meal. All they could give me was ice chips.
Hours pass, I’m delirious, exhausted, starving, terrified, and a dozen other emotions all rolled into one. We still haven’t heard from the NICU about Rue’s condition.
All I can think is, “Where is my baby?”
No one can tell me if my baby is alive.
Finally, after what feels like days, we find out Rue is “stable.” I think this was a few hours after being admitted. Nine hours after we’re admitted, the nurses tell us the baby can be seen. Only, I’m unable to see her until my blood test results come back. Part of me did not want Marty to go up and see her without me, but the other part of me desperately wanted to know how she was doing. So we decided Marty would go up and see her. After an hour or so, he comes back to my room with pictures of her for me.
The first sight of my baby girl, whom I carried for nine months, and lovingly brought into this world through a beautiful, peaceful birth at home, was of a picture on an iPhone. I broke down at the sight of her. Her tiny little body, still pink from the womb, was covered in cords and wires that connected her to the machines that were keeping her alive. She was bloated from the IV fluids they had her on. I honestly couldn’t even believe that was my daughter.
Three hours and a million stupid little ice chips later, the blood work is complete, and I can finally see my baby. The blood work shows I did not have preeclampsia. Preeclampsia didn’t hurt my baby. Doctor White examined my placenta after I delivered it and it was perfectly intact. The placenta didn’t hurt my baby. The doctor says there’s no explanation for why this happened. “It could happen at home, it could happen in the hospital. There’s nothing you could have done differently.”
Just one of those freak accidents, I guess.
Rue’s cord was wrapped too tightly around her neck, and stressed from being pulled back in every time she tried to come out, she swallowed meconium, and stopped breathing. There’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent it, and it wasn’t my fault.
It wasn’t my fault.
There was nothing I could have done in pregnancy or in labor to prevent this from happening. I know that now.
So twelve hours after delivering my baby, I’m finally allowed to see her. Marty fed me a cold plate of food that he brought up from the cafeteria for me a few hours earlier, then we went up to the NICU. I was overjoyed that I was finally going to see baby Rue!
I thought all the pain would go away once I laid eyes on her and touched her tiny hand. But the baby that I saw lying in that little hospital bed, was not my baby. Hooked up to a dozen machines and super bloated from the medication, she just did not look like the baby that I pictured in my head for the last nine months.
Immediately, the nurse started running off all of the procedures Rue had undergone up until this point, and what the next few weeks would look like. “Few weeks?! A few hours ago, the nurses said she would be out of here by the weekend!” I thought.
The Morphine and Norco I was on made it impossible for me to listen to this nurse. I couldn’t concentrate on a single word she was saying. All I could think was, “Why don’t I feel a connection to my baby? Is that really my baby? Maybe they mixed up babies. That child doesn’t even look like us.”
I broke down and asked to go back to my room. It was too soon. I needed a clear head and a little more time to process what I was actually dealing with.
So I went back to my room. I ordered some hot food, napped, and refueled. I was ready to go back upstairs and try again.
This time, I reached out and touched her hand, and talked to her. I told her I was sorry that she had to come into the world this way. I told her that I was sorry she had to feel all of that pain. I told her mommy that loved her and asked her if she could recognize my voice.
I started to feel connected. I wasn’t afraid to touch her or talk to her anymore.
Rue had a seizure upon entering the hospital and there was bleeding on her brain, so they put her on a cooling bed for three days to prevent any brain damage. We could only touch her hands and feet. We could talk to her and sit by her bedside as long as we wanted. The nurses were checking vitals and administering medications every hour, so it wasn’t the most peaceful thing in the world being by her bedside, but at least we could see her.
She was on a respirator, had a feeding tube, a catheter, an IV through her umbilical cord, and an IV in her arm. She had leads on her chest to monitor her vitals, and a blood oxygen level monitor on her foot. She was on Phenobarbital to prevent any possible seizures, Ativan to keep her sedated, Morphine for the pain, and IVs of proteins and sugars to fill her belly. She was bloated from all the fluids. She was cold to the touch and her hands and feet were blue from the cooling bed.
She had secretions in her lungs because she never cried when she came out. Her left lung collapsed and they had to do cupping on her back and chest to break up the secretions. Every six hours, they would stick a tube down her throat to remove them.
Three days after cooling (she was held at 92 degrees), she slowly started the warming process. Two days later, she was at regular body temperature and starting to respond to the sound of our voices. I would see her little eyes move under her eyelids and her little feet and hands would flinch when we touched them. We still hadn’t heard her make any sounds and she still hadn’t opened her eyes for us.
Each day presented different ups and downs for all of us. Physically, I was in a lot of pain. Mentally and emotionally, we were exhausted. I was discharged from the hospital after two days because, all they were doing was giving me pain meds and stool softeners. I was so excited to go home and sleep in my own bed. To be free of night nurses and beeping machines and get a good night’s rest. I wasn’t looking forward to having to travel back and forth to the hospital to see Rue, but I was eager to be home.
Once I got home, a flood of emotions came over me and I found it extremely difficult to be there. All of my birth affirmations were still hanging in the living room and there were bags of bloodied sheets and pillows piled up in the dining room. Memories of that moment started rushing in and all I could hear on repeat were the words, “Breathe baby, breathe. Breathe baby, breathe.”
I couldn’t sleep in my bed because that’s where she was born. I kept reliving that moment when she came out. I went to the living room and tried to sleep on the couch. I was restless, so I got on my phone. Of course, because I had been following a ton of home birth and natural parenting sites on social media, I saw beautiful images of moms in water birth tubs doing skin to skin with their brand new babies and articles on delayed cord clamping and placenta encapsulation.
It was as if the birth I wanted (and diligently planned for) was haunting me.
As a result, I was having a terrible time producing milk. I was devastated that I couldn’t hold or feed my baby. Everything that I wanted most, I never got. Skin to skin right after birth, breast crawl, delayed cord clamping, delayed bathing, herb bath, placenta encapsulation, everything. Gone. I couldn’t hold my child. I couldn’t smell her head. I couldn’t feel her skin on my skin. I couldn’t hear her cry. It’s no wonder I couldn’t produce milk.
I realized that just as much as a baby needs to be held, a mother needs to hold her baby. It was so traumatic to carry her for nine months, and then all of a sudden, not be carrying her at all. It was one of the most unnatural things I’ve ever gone through.
The lactation consultants at the hospital said it could take a week for my milk to come in. My husband was very supportive and encouraged me to keep pumping because the milk would come in with time. Even though I knew it would come in time, I felt an extreme sense of failure in not lactating. I had no idea when Rue would be well enough to start drinking my milk, and I didn’t want to miss that first opportunity to feed her.
I needed to talk to someone who would understand. Someone who has breastfed her babies and could just listen and feel my pain. My cousin Joanne, is a birth doula and educator. We attended her natural birth class so she knew all of my birth plans. I knew I could call her to talk about what I was going through. It helped so much to just let my emotions out and have someone say, “Laura, what you’re going through is really hard.” Joanne helped me feel good about my efforts to make milk and suggested I call her friend Lori Beth for help.
Lori Beth is an amazing lactation consultant who specializes in moms of NICU babies. She suggested a stricter pumping regimen and gave me a list of supplements to take. Three days postpartum I took a trip to Whole Foods for supplements, oatmeal, and dark beer, and started pumping every two hours for twenty minutes while massaging my breasts with warm compresses to increase lactation. LoriBeth also suggested I write out my birth story. She said emotional blockage can prevent milk production.
So I got online and started this blog. I wrote down everything I had been feeling and a very rough outline of Rue’s birth story. I felt an incredible sense of relief in getting it all out. I was able to talk about it more, and each day I saw Rue in the hospital, I got more and more comfortable touching and talking to her. I started writing about her progress and sharing pictures of her on social media. All of these things contributed to my initial let down.
Thirty six hours after birth, my colostrum started to come in. I remember I got a single drop one morning and saved it at the very top of the inside rim of a breast milk storage bottle to take to the hospital. As soon as I got there, I put the sticky, sweet colostrum on Rue’s tiny little lips. She finally had something of Mommy’s with her. I felt so accomplished and excited and relieved in this moment, that I was actually excited to pump again!
Each day that I visited her, I started producing more colostrum and then transition milk. Finally once my milk was in, it was in in a BIG way. Even though I hated seeing her with all those tubes and lines in Rue’s tiny little body, I felt a sense of connection with her in that we were both hooked up to machines during this tough time. I to the pump; she to the respirator.
Rue was continually getting better and better. We only had a couple hiccups here and there where she would progress, and then fall back. Like the one day they found out she had a collapsed lung. And the day they tried to take her off the respirator because she was breathing on her own, but in the middle of the night, she had an episode and needed to be put back on it.
Other than that, she was slowly, and steadily getting better. With each day, she became more lively. She started to open her eyes more and she would even squeeze your finger if you put it in her hand. Finally, the doctors started hinting at going home. They said she could start getting breast milk through her feeding tube soon.
On day five, they started feeding her very slowly. One ounce every three hours. Once they noticed her stomach could handle the milk, they would slowly introduce more. There’s no doubt in my mind that the breast milk helped her get strong enough to leave the hospital in 13 days. Each day we would come back to visit her, they had increased her feedings and started to take her off each machine, one by one. It was really miraculous to watch.
Days six and seven were hard because we were anticipating holding her as they had touched on the idea of taking her off the respirator. Rue was scheduled for an MRI and a CT scan, but the doctors decided to forgo the CT scan since she was doing so well and the EEG they did on her brain was clear of any seizure activity. They figured whatever they would find would show up on the MRI. Still, we had to wait until the MRI results were in and they could start taking out her IVs and get her off the respirator.
On day seven, she had her MRI and it came back clear! I’ve never felt more relieved in my life. I was elated that the EEG came back clear, but the MRI really sealed the deal for me. Despite all that had happened, we had a completely healthy baby.
Finally, we were able to hold her on day eight. What an emotional day! It was so hard to leave her that night. But I was so excited to come back and hold her again and let our family and friends hold her too.
We received so much support in the hospital from our friends and family members. We absolutely could not have done it without them. Our moms especially. All the hours they spent with us at the hospital, the food, coffee, and comfort they provided is something we will never forget. My mom was so sweet to spend all of her days off with us at the hospital reading Rue books, and singing her songs.
Day nine was really a very special day for me. It was the first day I got to feed Rue.
They took her off the ventilator because she was breathing on her own entirely. Nursing her, I cried tears of joy because it was the first time that I felt like this baby that I was visiting in the hospital every day, was actually my baby. Those moments we shared as a family, as I nursed her for the first time behind those NICU screens, is a memory I will cherish forever. Our midwife is so incredible, she came to the hospital as soon as she could to help me breastfeed. She helped me keep Rue awake at the breast and taught me how to get a deeper latch, and because of her, Rue was able to eat well from the start.
Day ten presented us with a lovely surprise. They removed the feeding tube, so it was the first day we got to see Rue without any tubes covering her face.
She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. She still had the leads on her chest, but all of the other tubes, IVs, and wires had been removed. She was starting to look more and more like a normal, healthy baby. The better she got, the more we could hold her, change her diaper, and feed her. She really started to feel like our baby. The healing process was underway.
The next two days we were so excited to visit Rue and sad to leave her. The nurses told us she would be able to go home on Wednesday, June 4th. Exactly two weeks since her birthday. We just couldn’t wait. Tuesday morning, we got a call from the NICU. My heart dropped. It was the head nurse. Oh my goodness, I was so scared. I thought for sure, something happened and she wasn’t going to be coming home in a couple days.
“Yes, this is she.”
“Hi, it’s nurse Debbie from the Loyola NICU.
“Hi, Debbie. What’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing’s wrong honey. I was just wondering if you would be interested in taking Rue home today.”
Flood works. This was not what I expected to hear, whatsoever.
“Of course I’m interested in bringing her home today! I just finished putting her crib sheets on!”
Debbie could tell I was crying and asked if I was okay. Naturally, I said I was more than okay. I was elated. My baby girl was coming home and we were completely ready for her arrival. We couldn’t wait to get her out of that hospital bed and into ours.
So I woke Marty up. Of course, I startled him because I was a crying mess. We called our moms (freaked them out as well) and got ourselves ready for the big day!
Talk about tears of joy! Unfortunately, our favorite nurses weren’t in that day, so we were stuck with our least favorite nurse. Oh my goodness, our discharge was VERY boring. There was such a somber feeling in the NICU that day. A few other babies had gone home that week, so some of the lights were off and it was kind of empty and cold. Not how we envisioned it to be.
Either way, our precious girl was coming home and we couldn’t be happier.
A few hours later, we packed up all of our things including nearly 300 ounces of frozen breast milk, took one last photo in the NICU, said our goodbyes, and put our baby girl in her car seat to go home.
The first couple of days home were great because she slept a lot. We got her an appointment with her pediatrician and our midwife, and both said she was perfectly healthy. At first, she was very fussy at the breast because she was used to drinking from a bottle at the hospital. Thank goodness for Sarah and her assistant midwives! They came over and helped me work on her latch and positioning, and got me some better bottles to use that would require Rue suck harder on the nipple to get the milk out. She liked the comfort of nursing, but she didn’t like having to work so hard for her food. I had issues weaning off the pump, regulating supply, and lots and lots and lots of nipple pain. I nearly caught mastitis twice, but beat it with the help of my husband. He would massage the clogged milk ducts and hold warm compresses on my breasts while I nursed Rue. That is a pain I never want to feel again.
In the days and weeks after her homecoming, we settled into a groove and adjusted to life with a new baby. Marty had to go back to work and with him working third shift, nights were hard. Rue was a good sleeper, it just took a really long time to get her to fall asleep. She was super colicky and “high needs” because of a mild case of acid reflux and lots of gas. Once we figured out she needed to sit upright after every feed, and likes to be “up and out” (held standing up facing out), it started to get easier to care for her. We wore her as much as possible, took her on walks whenever she couldn’t settle, and asked for help whenever we could. Thankfully, all of our friends and family were so eager to see and hold her, so we had a lot of help.
Now that we’ve completed our fourth trimester together, and Rue is finally getting used to life outside of the womb, I figured it’s time I complete her birth story and move on to gushing about all the amazing things she does every day. I’m beyond grateful for all of the love and support we’ve received from our friends, family, and community, and I can’t imagine life without my sweet little miracle baby. She may have had a rocky start to life, but it’s smooth sailing from here!
As many of you know, we have moved to Nashville. While it pains us to be away from our families and friends, we’re beyond happy being here. We have the perfect amount of space in this little house of ours, we have jobs we love, we’re excited to get out and enjoy nature, and we love taking our little girl on big adventures in our new city. It feels like we’re exactly where we are supposed to be.
I just love that I get to work from home and experience all the new little “firsts” she has so I can share them with you. The first month we were here, Marty was home full time with us as well. Those were the absolute best four weeks of my life thus far. What a blessing for all of us to have been able to be together all day, everyday. I can’t wait to share all of these memories with Rue once she’s big enough to understand.
So with that, I bid you adieu for the day as I welcome you to our virtual baby book, Kanga ‘n Rue (and Daddy too!). I hope seeing her sweet little face brings you as much joy as it does us.
Laura, Marty, and Little Miss Rue (LMR)
DISCLAIMER: Below is a slideshow of a natural home birth. Some of the photos you’re about to see contain GRAPHIC IMAGES & NUDITY. Please click the right arrow to skip over these uncensored images if you find them offensive. Find our amazing birth photographer, Heather Allison Love‘s version of our birth story on her blog!