Lilianna Marie Saltrelli was born on Sunday, September 16th. That day I experienced some of the most wonderful and the most frightening moments of my life. In an effort to celebrate the former and process the latter, I’ve chosen to share both stories below.
Lilianna’s Birth Story
I woke up at 3:30 a.m. on September 16th with stomach cramps. After nearly two weeks of “practice” contractions, I didn’t want to get my hopes up but these felt different. I took a shower and packed up my hospital bag…just in case.
At 4:30 a.m. I woke my husband, fairly confident at that point that it was the real thing. I labored at home for a bit, using what I’d learned in my prenatal yoga classes, the Hypnobabies program, and the childbirth classes we’d taken. Hubby was amazing: calm, comforting, and supportive.
Things progressed quickly and an hour later we were on our way to the hospital. Because it was early on a Sunday morning, there was no traffic and the drive was oddly peaceful.
Once in triage, they did an initial examination and had me walk around the Labor & Delivery floor for a bit to see if labor progressed. I was worried they were going to send us home, but an hour later I was admitted, 5 centimeters dilated and clearly in labor. I remember looking at my husband with relief as I realized that we’d finally be meeting our baby soon.
Once in our birthing room, I labored just two more hours, first in the tub and then on my hands and knees, squatting over the hospital bed (wearing my pink Pretty Pusher). Throughout the labor and delivery I was surrounded by an amazingly supportive team — my mom, my husband, our doula, my doctor (a family doctor specializing in maternity care and trained as a doula herself), and our labor nurse (who also happened to be a doula). Together they helped me give birth naturally, without medication or intervention. It was truly a visceral experience and one of the most empowering things I have ever done. The birth was everything I’d prepared for and everything I’d hoped it would be.
Lilianna made her way into the world at 10:33 a.m. weighing 7 pounds 14 ounces. I cried when my husband announced, “It’s a girl!” We didn’t know the sex in advance, but almost everyone thought it was going to be a boy. A little girl was a beautiful surprise.
I immediately held Lily skin-to-skin, so full of love and gratitude. Just a couple of years ago we weren’t even sure I’d be able to get pregnant, let alone carry and deliver a healthy baby. But here I was, holding a perfect little newborn in my arms. (Appropriately, it was three years to the day after my gastric neurostimulator implanted!)
Before leaving that morning, my doctor commented that it had been a “perfect” natural birth. I agreed. So did everyone else in the room. I wish I could say that the rest of the day continued in this perfect fashion, but it didn’t. That’s another story…
My After-the-Birth Story
About half an hour after Lilianna was born, I started to feel lightheaded and nauseous. I handed Lily over to my hubby, just to be safe, and asked for some juice thinking that my blood sugar might be low.
I then noticed increasing pain in the pelvic region. Initially, I was told it was normal but as the pain continued to get more intense, I insisted that something wasn’t right. My nurse had been with me throughout Lily’s birth and when I told her that the pain was worse than anything I’d just experienced, she grabbed a doctor.
The pain was so intense by that point that I couldn’t even roll over so they could remove my gown. I asked them to cut it off instead. The doctor examined me and determined that I had a hematoma. (I was bleeding and the blood was collecting internally, putting pressure on the tissues and causing an immense amount of pain.) She then said it required surgery. Somehow I’d gone from a perfect birth to emergency surgery in less than an hour.
Immediately a bunch of doctors were in and out of my room, explaining the procedure, the risks, the options for anesthesia. I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. I was begging them to put me to sleep. I didn’t know how I’d endure it a minute longer. Eventually, after they promised it would relieve the pain, I agreed to a spinal instead of general anesthesia.
Once we were in the operating room, they did the spinal and the pain went away almost immediately. It was such a relief that I blurted out, “I love you all!” which got a laugh from everyone in the room. (All of the doctors and nurses were wonderful; I couldn’t have asked for a more caring, competent group of professionals in this situation.)
After the surgery, I was taken to the recovery room. I was glad that it was over and I was anxious to see my baby. As I waited for my husband to bring her in, my nurse, looking at the monitors, asked me if my heart felt like it was beating fast. It did, so she called in one of the surgeons. My heart rate was well over 200 and I was starting to feel really bad. The surgeon thought that I might be having a reaction to a medication I’d been given, but he wasn’t sure.
By that time, my doctor had returned to the hospital. When she came in to talk to me, I had a hard time focusing on what she was saying. My head was pounding, my heart was racing, and I felt like something very bad was about to happen. I then noticed that the pain in the pelvic region was returning. When they examined me, they found that I was bleeding again and the hematoma had re-filled. At that point my doctor realized that my current symptoms were being caused by blood loss (on top of the pre-existing anemia).
They needed to operate again, but the surgeon wouldn’t take me back to the OR until blood arrived for a transfusion. The wait seemed like an hour, though I’m sure it wasn’t more than 10 minutes. I was in horrible pain and I was very scared. I had just given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl and, warranted or not, in that moment I was worried that I’d never see her again.
Once in the OR, they quickly did a second spinal, transfused two units of blood, and started the second surgery. Because the hematoma was far more extensive than they initially thought, they brought in additional surgeons to assist. They also called a specialist at another hospital and were on the phone with him throughout the surgery, asking for feedback each step of the way. If I hadn’t been so out of it from all of the medication and blood loss, this probably would’ve scared me even more. This was anything but a routine surgery.
While the surgeons were working, the anesthesiologist asked me if I felt itchy. He’d noticed that I had hives all over my body and my eyelids were swelling. The best guess was that I was having an allergic reaction to something in the blood I’d been given, which had been transfused very quickly. This brought up another set of fears from my previous allergic reaction, but I was given Benedryl and assured that it wouldn’t cause the anaphylaxis that I’d experienced before.
Once back in the recovery room, I finally got to see my husband, my parents, my brother and his fiancee. It was a relief to be with my family, as I’d felt so scared and alone in the OR. I still hadn’t seen Lily since early that morning, and I cried when I realized I hadn’t been there to feed her in nearly 10 hours (she’d been given a bottle in the nursery and was doing fine). I was exhausted physically and emotionally, and all I wanted was to hold my little girl. An hour later, I was finally able to do just that and I held her all night long. I couldn’t bear to put her down, even to sleep.
The next day I received four more units of blood to replace what I’d lost and I was monitored carefully over the next several days to ensure that the bleeding had stopped. I was finally allowed to get out of bed for the first time on Wednesday and that afternoon we were released from the hospital.
Walking through our front door with Lily in my arms was one of the most joyful moments of my life. I couldn’t stop crying. I cried a lot those first few days — more from emotional overwhelm than from pain, though the pain was still significant. So much had happened, good and bad, but I hadn’t really processed any of it.
Once we were home, others seemed to think what happened shouldn’t be a big deal — it was over and everyone was fine, after all. But to me it was a big deal. It had been traumatic and because that kind of stress can exacerbate GI conditions like gastroparesis, I knew it was important for me to work through it rather than pretend it didn’t happen.
That’s why I chose to share the story here. Writing helps me process things and acknowledge what happened. It also allows me to see that the stories of that day — Lily’s birth and what happened afterward — are separate and I can acknowledge the fear of the second without negating the beauty of the first.
It’s been nearly three weeks now and I’m healing physically and feeling much better emotionally. I am so in love with this little girl and so grateful for the lessons she has already taught me. I’ve realized that “now” is not “forever”… things can and do change. I’ve learned that immense joy can exist even in the midst of great pain…and we can choose which one we embrace as our story. Most of all, I’ve discovered that I’m stronger and more resilient than I ever imagined I could be. I’m proud of myself and I hope someday when Lily hears these stories, she’ll be proud of me, too.