Emerson’s Birth Story

Y’all – we now have TWO children, which, it turns out, is much different than one relatively self sufficient almost 3-year old πŸ˜‰ We had a routine down with Henry, easy peasy, plus the entire universe pretty much revolved around his cute little self so again – easy. My kid is a laid back dude – but the first night with his sister home involved popsicles at midnight and watching Elmo’s World in the wee hours of the morning after he was in hysterics saying his ear hurt – but he was playing us so hard guys – woke up just fine. My laugh / cry moment was when I heard the 3-year trying to do his best impression of the newborn cry from his bed to get Mom and Dad to spring into action (worked for sister, right).

So rewind a few days before that and we’re at c-day, otherwise known as the day they slice me. In many ways I’m actually thankful that I had a c-section because it helped me to transfer some of my angst and anxiety about the state of Emerson’s health onto frankly worrying about the state of MY health and the fact that a razor was about to meet my gut. πŸ˜‰ The night before I actually called my Mom to see if she could come over close to midnight because I started having consistent contractions, and given the fact that this girl was breech, I didn’t want to risk going into labor at home. I was able to fall back asleep that night before her delivery though, and we landed up heading to the hospital at 6am the morning of her delivery, just like we had scheduled.

C-sections are a weird, out of body experience and a much different birth than what I had with H. First, it’s rather peculiar to have a birth, scheduled. Like on the calendar, staring at it, knowing (more or less) that this will be your kid’s birthday. Going into the OR basically felt like a movie scene when you’re dying and there are bright lights and you’re at heavens gate accounting for your sins. Can you tell I was stressed about the whole thing? πŸ˜‰ Once we were in the OR everything went pretty quickly. Jay wasn’t there with me for the beginning part where they administer the spinal, so it was a bit lonesome and scary waiting in there for him. These were also the moments when I kinda cursed his existence vs. mine that day – when you like hear the nurses say – can you go get Dad, and his role in the whole shabang is to just stand there and smile and your role is to carry a child for 9-months and then get split open – God is a man. Child birth is evidence.

Within 15 minutes or so they had Emerson out of me, and I was kind of immersed in my surgery state and telling the anesthesiologist if I felt off that I didn’t even really know that they had begun operating until one of the nurses said I would feel some tugging and that was the Dr. pushing on the top of my stomach to help push my breech baby out of my uterus. I personally thought I’d feel them cut (a pressure etc) but didn’t feel anything until the very end. And laying there just waiting was sorta the moment that it all culminated for me. With so much of this pregnancy I was humbled by my inability to impact the outcome that I wanted for my child – which was health and happiness and for something – anything to just feel “normal”. I had to temper so much of my happiness about having a child because I was drowning through much of my pregnancy in anxiety about the final outcome for my sweet girl. I struggled so much to accept that I could not choose the outcomes I wanted for her – from the CMV diagnosis, to the fact that she was breech to abnormal ultrasounds. The only way to describe me is a do-er and when I couldn’t fix these things through trouble shooting and finding an acceptable outcome, it was an exercise in patience and just acceptance that I have never had before.

So that moment of laying there right before she came out was magical and heart lurching and scary as shit all rolled into one. Waiting of course for her cry and then hoping with every ounce of you that luck was on your kid’s side and she had dodged the CMV question mark we had plastered all over her existence since 8-weeks in to my pregnancy. I sorta looked at Jay with a this is it game face and just felt a wash of emotions and started to cry wondering about my girl’s fate and waiting to hear her since I was masked from actually seeing her – it just felt symbolic of my entire birth process with her – waiting, on baited breath, and not being able to control any of the outcomes in front of you.

And then we heard her cry and being the pragmatic, box checker that I am, I think – this is good – this is the first test of life and she has passed. Dad went to cut the umbilical cord and I laid there waiting for my family to come back – still uncertain of what that would look like.

During my pregnancy one of the final stresses for us (me mostly because Jay was much more zen about it) was that Emerson’s head was measuring in the 2% range, which is small. Microcephaly is one of the issues associated with children with congenital CMV, and that is classified as any head measuring 1% and under – so she was right on that borderline. Because we opted to not get an amnio we had no idea if she was CMV positive or not, so the small head measurement just gave me additional fodder to stress about and worry that she had CMV and had an abnormally small head. When they handed her to me all I could see was a small head and I kept saying to Jay her head, it looks small, doesn’t it look small, is her head too small? Jay kept saying, it’s fine, she looks fine, but all I could see was the culmination of my anxiety. Since we wouldn’t know the CMV prognosis until a few days after birth, all I could do was speculate and continue my worry without knowing a definitive answer.

Laying in the recovery room, after the surgery, as I’m slowing coming back to this world and the drugs from my c-section are wearing off one of the nurses comes in to check on us and starts going through Emerson’s stats and says that her head measures in the EIGHTY SECOND PERCENTILE – and I’m like – wait – what did you say???? I asked her to pull up Emerson’s stats again and tell me one more time and she confirmed that her head was just fine – actually rather on the large side.

Looking back, laying in that recovery room was one of the more beautiful moments of my birth with Em. She is quietly nursing and I’m quietly reconfiguring my assumptions about her fate and we are just there as mother and child melded together in a shared, unknown, but now slightly more clear trajectory. We were in that room for around 2-hours and it went blissfully slow and all together incredibly too fast all at the same time. I remember my Mom called Jay, or Jay called my Mom and I told her right away that Emerson’s head measured so large and I know for us both that was a shared moment of just pure happiness and relief and just such a burden taken off.

I have had many expectant mothers reach out to me over the past 9-months after I shared our story about my primary CMV diagnosis. For much of my pregnancy I didn’t know what to say to them, other than chin up, yes do the trial if it’s available to you, and to tell them that statistically, everything would probably be just fine. But when you staring at statistics of 30/70 for neurological impact (IF CMV is positive), etc, it doesn’t matter that the odds are still technically in your child’s favor, you’re always going to worry that they will be on the raw side of the equation and have different hurtles in life than most children.

And if anything, what I’ve struggled with most throughout my pregnancy was this concept of what is the ideal child / pregnancy / outcome / situation. I struggled greatly with the question – do we value a life differently if it’s somehow not up to our standards of health or perfection or convention. And y’all – the answer is yes. Our society, our medical system, does much more highly value a life that is unscathed and meets our ideal of what a child should look like coming into the world. When I looked for answers during my pregnancy, the only one that was given to me beyond the trial was an abortion. I’ll never forget my final ultrasound appointment with the high risk team where the Dr sorta nonchalantly started to discuss with me how I would want to try to schedule a version to flip the baby for a conventional birth because I’d probably want another child if she was born CMV positive, and it would be more difficult to have a vaginal birth after a c-section. He said – it can take up to 2-years to know the impact – you say you’ll only want 2-children now, but if she is born with health impacts – that might change for you. I just sorta looked at him and said – I get what you’re saying, but I want 2 children. If she was “flawed”, he was saying, I’d certainly want another healthy child to make our life feel more complete, more whole.

I’m so happy to say that Emerson’s tests came back and she is CMV negative – it’s literally the best news I could have hoped for and we’re so thankful and relieved. But as a parent that faced ambiguity I have to tell you I still feel unsettled thinking about how many parents will face alternate realities and a world that will accept their child differently and judge their child differently than they do mine. Many of us even have a well intentioned but unknowing stance where due to our inexperience with this adversity, we’re just not able to understand what a family is experiencing or going through and that without doubt, just makes the burden heavier for that family as they navigate uncertainty and hardship. In all honesty I’m still navigating my own understanding of it all, but I know that if Emerson would have been CMV positive that there would have been different realities for us as parents and for her as a human navigating a sometimes harsh and judgmental world. And y’all – I don’t know what the answer is yet – I’m still marinating on it – but I think it has something to do with us changing our own assumptions long enough to see life through another’s lens. We’re all perfectly imperfect – the sooner we can accept that and embrace that our differences are what make this world so vibrant and beautiful, the closer we will get to accepting all children, no matter their mental or physical capabilities.


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