juna is finally here, and i promised myself i would write her birth story despite never quite mustering up the obsessive attention to blog during her gestation.
i documented my first pregnancy with james in excruciating detail, writing endless volumes about every little symptom and inane thought that occurred to me. by the time juna became a viable little bean, i was already too exhausted to spare much poetic license for the endless fatigue, backaches, and erratic food cravings she brought with her. it was 39 long weeks of desperately longing to be horizontal, asking ian to punch my lumbar spine, and eating so many meatballs that cava ran out of inventory twice during my second trimester.
by the end, my sleep apnea has driven ian away to sleep in the living room and my fingers have grown so stiff and achy that it hurts to grip a ps4 controller. my bones hurt, i tell anyone who will listen. my bones hurt too, james agrees happily. in this sweltering texas heat, i am sporting a sexy new look for hot girl summer: swollen lips, three chins, cankles. i feel like a hastily conjured balloon animal. juna ambles gracefully inside me all the while, pressed up high against my ribs and flopping around occasionally with a pronounced languor that i attribute to laziness. i now understand how mothers of multiples can distinguish twin a from b in utero. whereas james was a constant, hyperactive jostler, juna’s movements are subtle and slow. she hiccups so frequently i picture her posted up in my belly, holding a champagne flute and swaying around tipsily.
we schedule her delivery date for october 8th, at 39+2 weeks’ gestation. i choose the repeat c-section instead of attempting a vbac in an effort to minimize risk of uterine rupture, but the added bonus of scheduling around a due date is welcome when anticipating maternity leave, a toddler’s routine, and roughly 900 appointments and errands that i procrastinate and put off until the final 2 weeks. i choose baylor frisco this time, and dr. fong, a highly praised ob/gyn who specializes in high risk pregnancy care. i imagine that i will be his easiest patient, breezing in and out of all my check-ups with no issues or concerns beyond my desire to to continue eating all the banana bread and his tacit disapproval of this plan.
it is such a relaxed, prepared lead up to childbirth that on the morning of my delivery, i still have time to get my makeup done professionally and buy cupcakes for the labor & delivery team. after check-in, ian and i are escorted to a pre-op room where i am plugged into a million tubes while ian dresses in gigantic disposable scrubs and flexes for a fit check. we while away two hours here, posting up for several selfies. when a nurse re-enters the room, ian moves so hastily and guiltily to hide our camera that it appears as though we’ve been up to far more suspicious activity. i tell him an anecdote about a former patient at a healthcare facility i worked for, lowkey my personal hero, who was caught getting head in a pre-op bay shortly before her surgery.
when the nurses finally take us back for the c-section, my cheerfulness drops as sharply as the temperature in this surgical wing of the hospital. the fluorescent lights of the operating room are blindingly bright, the freezer chill permeates my bones and i begin shaking long before the duramorph is injected into my spine. the o.r. staff are kind and chatty; i try to remember everyone’s name and job role but that pervasive fear washes over me again and i am too nervous to focus. when they ask me if i’m ok, my voice quavers. i sound like conor oberst on fevers and mirrors. dr. fong introduces another obstetrician who will be performing the surgery alongside him, i tell myself that with so many professionals in the room, nothing can possibly go wrong. juna roils around fervently inside me, a visible reflection of my own nerves.
ian is my rock, as always. he sits beside me and grips my hand, telling me how excited he is, how everything will be okay. when they begin the surgery, i find that i need him to keep chatting, to keep me distracted. we talk about leftist podcasts and i mention popcorn, a fat white teenager from kentucky who is is mostly just known for smoking weed on snapchat and doing jail time. the anesthesiologist overhears us, and chimes in are you talking about popcorn? i am instantly embarrassed. my daughter is on the verge of birth and i am talking about kingpop270’s instagram. god, i hope this isn’t the last thing you ever hear me say, i mutter to ian.
and then, just like in my previous c-section, the idle chatter in the operating room takes a sharper, focused edge and that feeling of pressure and tugging bears down somewhere around my ribs. my nerves are frayed and i’m alternately filled with adrenaline and dread. the fear must be spelled out clearly in the panicked glances i shoot ian, and he moves quickly to reassure me, bumping my face gently with his surgical mask in a kiss. your makeup is great, honey, he tells me. you look very beautiful. if there wasn’t a surgery going on i’d be doing it like your freak patient. and then, as an afterthought, he adds, i hope that’s not the last thing you ever hear me say.
and now dr. fong is telling us it’s time, someone is saying jokingly to my uterus sticking your tongue out at me, that’s a little rude, and ian is rising from his seat, clicking away on the camera. every voice is pitched to reassure, there is an instant feeling of relief and lightness beneath my ribs as my lungs finally expand in full, ian says awww, there she is honey! but i can’t see anything over the gowns that are propped up as a makeshift drape, and all i can think is, why can’t i hear her crying? is she okay? when i finally see her for a brief instant, i have the fleeting impression of a pile of dark hair, floppy arms, and long legs. then she finally bawls, and like an instantaneous, primal reflex, i start crying too.
she weighs in at 6 lbs, 13 oz, with apgar scores of 8/9. everyone in the room agrees that she is very cute. when ian brings her to me, her eyes are still firmly closed and her face seems so unfathomably tiny and delicate. we are so enamored with this fascinating little human being that neither of us overhear dr. fong telling his colleague the placenta’s stuck.
if it takes longer than usual to close my body back up, i do not notice- i am watching ian hold his daughter close to his face, talking quietly to her, his face absolutely lit with love and joy. even in the post-op haze of relief and pride for my newborn child, a single thought shines through like a beacon. i love this man. it has been exactly 7 years since the first time i met him in a dimly lit sushi bar, and since that day i have never quite been able to stop my heart from leaping at the sight of him, never been able to stop myself from always laughing too hard at his jokes. and though we have made two beautiful little human beings together, he is still- first and foremost- the absolute love of my life.
i feel a wave of lightheadedness wash over me; the dizziness makes me slightly nauseous and i tell the crna. she informs me that she will give me phenergan, but cautions that it might make me sleepy. it must take effect instantly, because i do not even recall the trip to a recovery bay. i struggle to keep my eyes open, but my head swims and i repeatedly lose my battle against consciousness. it does not occur to me that anything is wrong, and i think that this sleepiness is par for the course. from my bed in recovery, everything becomes mired in fog, moments occurring in fragments like stop motion.
i am basking in the lazy glow of skin-to-skin with juna on my chest, ian sitting in a chair to my left. my recovery nurse checks my vitals and massages my uterus, apologizing effusively but i still can’t feel any pain. there is a crowd of people around me, focused on something below my waist and i think maybe they’re checking my incision. a baby nurse coaches me into jamming my breast into juna’s mouth. the same nurse is back, advising ian that he should take the baby to the nursery. ian is gone, and i still can’t feel my legs. i am scratching my face angrily, frustrated that it itches so much. my recovery nurse is back, apologizing again but this time she is sorry it took so long to give me medication for the itching. i try to tell her it’s no problem, that i’ve just been sleeping and didn’t even realize i had to wait, but my eyelids are crashing back down again. then dr. fong is talking to me, asking you said that you and ian are done having kids, right? i tell him that i’m fairly sure but we’re not 100% on that decision quite yet. then he is saying something else and i catch the word hysterectomy before i fall back asleep again.
some time later, i am relocated to a private postpartum room and things become much clearer. with the help of my medical team and my husband, i piece together the details of this hazy post-op experience. my recovery nurse tells me that they’ve inserted a bakri balloon to treat my postpartum hemorrhage. dr. fong explains that after they delivered the baby, he realized my placenta was not detaching easily- that it had, in fact, invaded and grown into the wall of my uterus. that though he had fully removed it and stitched the resultant wound in my uterus, i began hemorrhaging in recovery and needed a blood transfusion. ian helpfully informs me that when he left my side for the nursery, there was something that looked like a huge bloody jellyfish on the floor between my legs. a night nurse instructs me not to eat or drink, as i may need to return to the operating room for a hysterectomy if i continue to bleed.
i am hungry and tired, and cannot even begin to process the idea that i could lose my uterus at the age of 32, but mostly the sight and feeling of juna against my chest distracts me from the urgency of recovery. she is perfect. she looks like james, but her features are somehow smaller and more serious. she has my eyes, and i am so bizarrely proud just to see her peering up at me. i love her with the instantaneous ease that was missing from my first childbirth experience- and when james comes peering around the corner to visit us for the first time, my heart feels like it will burst from the immensity of affection for them both. it is this feeling that persists and triumphs over my postpartum tribulations, driving away pain and fear like a patronus. you’ve been through a lot, several nurses remark to me when they take over a shift and flip through my chart. but i mostly feel like i’ve been sitting in bed, watching james show juna a dinosaur toy he picked out months ago to give her. and i think that i could lose the uterus, could really lose any number of organs, as long as i am able to continue holding this beautiful little family in my arms forever.
the next morning rolls around, and my balloon is deflated. it works; have finally stopped bleeding. after some observation, i am finally deemed trustworthy enough to move to the less attentive postpartum ward. i fought to have you, i thought you’d be the easy case, my recovery nurse tells me wryly as she bids me farewell. my immediate instinct is to tell her that i have terrible luck with surgeries, but then it occurs to me that it’s quite the opposite. i am, as always, unbelievably and undeservedly lucky. i am awash with appreciation for my stellar medical team and love for my family and friends who keep me in good spirits through the remainder of the hospital stay.
when dr. fong stops by to discharge me on friday, he tells me about a few other placenta accreta cases he has treated. thank you for taking such good care of me, i tell him. thank you for staying alive, he quips in response.
we arrive back at our house in beautifully crisp autumn weather that is a complete departure from the stuffy summer heat that marked my hospital admission. the chill in the air feels like the promise of new beginnings, and it is this optimism that suffuses me as i lie curled in bed with my snugly swaddled little baby. she blinks slowly and seriously at me, a fat little caterpillar stuffed inside a nearly spherical cocoon. she is everything i ever hoped for, another testament to my enduring luck.
welcome home, juna elizabeth hoshut.