September 13th was supposed to be the big day. If all had gone according to plan, either our first-born child would be here by now or shortly on his way. But life doesn’t always go according to plan, does it?
In honor of what would have been his due date, I thought I would share our Joshua’s birth story who went to heaven on July 22nd.
A little backstory… at 18 weeks our son was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, usually a life limiting chromosomal abnormality where every cell in the body contains an extra copy of chromosome 18. For reference, the average human being is born with 46 chromosomes: 23 from each parent. From diagnosis, an ultrasound detected between 5-7 abnormalities in Joshua. His last ultrasound was a week before birth where miraculously only ONE abnormality remained: a ventricular septal defect meaning there was a hole in the ventricle of his heart. Depending on the circumstance, the hole could potentially heal on its own, or most commonly would be surgically corrected months after birth.
There was so much hope.
How do we live in the tension of what faith tells us God can do versus the reality of a fatal diagnosis?
It felt like I was going to the doctor every week at some point and not just your typical routine prenatal appointment. One week there’d be an ultrasound, the next an appointment with the cardio department, or the next with the neonatologists. All of them looking to us to make decisions we couldn’t begin to fathom.
Our birth plan needed to consist of, “would you like to meet your baby alive?” Huh? “What degree of medical intervention would you want? Would you like to hold your baby asap, or have us whisk him off to tend to any emergencies?” It was hard to give an answer to any of these questions. We knew the reality of the medical possibilities and were fully considering them in all our decisions. But how do we live in the tension of what our faith tells us our God can do versus the reality of a fatal diagnosis?
No matter how many doctors we had seen, or how much progress had been made, no one could tell us the outcome or give us a definitive answer about anything. With every kick, I knew our sweet Joshua was there… yet he also remained an elusive idea in my mind that I had no clue if I’d ever get to actually come face to face with. It was the weirdest experience— to be pregnant with possibility, only to give birth to a deathbed of hopes and dreams. It’s odd because birth and death don’t usually cohabitate the same sentence.
I thought we’d make it farther than 32 weeks, but around 4 A.M. the morning of July 22nd, I awoke to increasingly sharp abdominal pains. My back started to hurt, and I thought perhaps it was because I was sleeping on the couch. Changing position, using the bathroom, laying on the floor… nothing was making the pain decease. My husband Michael woke, realizing something was off when I lay on the hardwood floor.
In typical millennial fashion, we consulted the internet guru: Google. As we both searched signs of labor (because we honestly just didn’t think to prep that early on) we decided to time my contractions and call the hospital we were originally set to deliver at. I was experiencing vaginal bleeding, and the doctor on call was not getting back to us. I don’t think anyone actually called until two hours later…. at that point we had arrived at the closest hospital with a reputable NICU to see if they could examine me. We thought we’d just get checked out and be on our way home, but little did we know our baby boy was coming into the world HOT!
We arrived at the hospital probably around 7 A.M. Within an hour of being in triage, doctors had said I appeared to be in labor, but my cervix was too far back to determine dilation. Within an hour they checked again and to my surprise I was at 6cm already! This baby was coming.
Michael and I both asked if we should get to the hospital we were intended to deliver at, and as I kept writhing in pain from the increasingly frequent contractions, the nurses asked him if he was prepared to take me on the highway in that kind of shape. ‘Ha, we’ll stay here,’ we thought.
Since we were not at our planned hospital, doctors kept coming in to ask about our birth plan and preferences, fully aware that an infant with Trisomy 18 may not even make it through labor. Though it’s worth noting that I truly thought he would. It was somewhere along that point I made the decision to get an epidural. I was not prepared and had not done much research for labor techniques at that point. If I was going to be dealing with the emotional stress of everyone speaking worst case scenarios, I needed some sort of reprieve somewhere.
All throughout the pregnancy I had told our doctors we want to meet our son alive, and I was prepared to undergo whatever would make that possible including a c-section even if it was not ideal. As Michael and I talked though, it didn’t seem like it was needed since Joshua was coming in on his own so quickly. We decided we would vaginally deliver and forego continuous fetal monitoring of his heartbeat since we would not have a c-section — I did not want to stress even more along the way.
They would check his heartbeat intermittently, almost every half hour. By 11 A.M. (give or take) I was going on 8cm and progressing well. Joshua’s heartbeat was strong. All was going well as we mentally prepared for the early arrival of our first baby. My mom had just gotten to the hospital and while I was not expecting that in our original birth plan, I was so thankful to have her there. Sometimes a girl just needs her mommy.
The next two hours things kind of stalled out. I wasn’t really feeling the contractions at this point courtesy of the epidural, but I was wondering if I should switch positions to help Joshua make his way down. I’ve only read some natural birth posts on Instagram, so I didn’t know too much. Of course, the doctors discouraged me from getting up and didn’t think it’d be beneficial. It didn’t sound right to me, so I at least asked my lovely nurse to help me lay on my side. At that point I began to feel movement and contractions slightly again, as Joshua made his way down the canal. His heart was still strong.
(to be continued)