This Isn’t How I Planned It

For the sweet 9 months I carried my daughter, I heard story after story of what it would be like to become a mom. Stories of exhaustion, stories of middle of the night cries that could be soothed by cuddles and nursing, stories of not being able to put your baby down and not remembering when the last time you had a chance to shower. I couldn’t wait. I was so anxious and excited to be woken up at 1 am, and 3 am and 5 am. My heart exploded at the thought of those first few weeks at home with my new little family; cuddled in bed with my husband while hearing tiny little grunts and coos (turned screams) from the bassinet beside our bed. No one told me I’d spend the second week of my daughter’s life fighting for mine. No one told me about nights alone in a hospital room while my husband was home trying to figure out how to take care of a newborn on his own. No one told me how disconnected this would make me. No one told me how I would feel like a bystander upon arriving back home; like a guest in a house with a newborn baby.

You see, I’ve always been what you would call a ‘Type A’ person. I’m a planner. I like to know what’s about to happen and how to control it. And on most pre-mommy days, it worked out; it benefited me. And perhaps God saw that. Perhaps God saw that as the last great big wall I was erecting to keep him at a safe distance. And perhaps that is why he sent an earthquake through my life cracking every inch of the foundation of that wall. Perhaps that is why he sent after-shock, after after-shock that brought down every single stone I had so meticulously stacked on top of each other.

My earth started shaking on February 12, 2015. My husband and I walked into the hospital, totally unprepared for what was about to happen. 7 days past my due date and our daughter was showing no signs of being ready to make an appearance. And due to the dramatic increase of risk in letting her just hang out and bake some more, the doctors decided to force her introduction to the world. So, beginning at 9 am that morning, I started the process of being induced. Not the way I had pictured it. And little did I know, this was only the very minor beginning of the unexpected events. Induction took a LONG time. A gruesome, painful 52 hours. But finally, the moment that we had been so anxious for came – time to push. Only, after 3 tiring, unsuccessful hours, the doctors began to realize I might have been right when telling them “I have a feeling she will be quite a large baby” – my husband and I were both close to 10 pounders. I (very) reluctantly had to agree to a c-section. Again, not how I pictured the beautiful adventure of birth. But after 55 hours, we were just hopelessly desperate to meet our baby and it was what was best for all of us. A few cuts, a few minutes and a few tugs later, we heard the nurses yell “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!”. My husband and I were so confused…”how can you guys be celebrating someone’s birthday in the middle of my exposed intestines?!” And then we heard it…. her first breath and her first cry. It was OUR baby’s birthday. I hadn’t even seen her yet, but she already sounded perfect. And just as I was about to tell my husband to go be with her and that I was fine, I was suddenly not fine. Everything got a little blurry. I started to get tingly and warm all over. I could no longer feel my husband’s hand in mine. I felt like I was in a dream, observing a newlywed couple watch their first child come into the world. I could no longer remember how I got strapped down to an OR table. I faintly heard someone say “babe, babe! Are you okay?”. I couldn’t even tell you if I answered or not. Things got…quiet. Very quiet. To this day, I do not know if that was just in my head, or if the room really did get put on pause. But behind the curtain there was chaos. They had torn my uterus and I was losing A LOT of blood. I can’t tell you what happened next. But the next thing I knew, I was in a recovery room holding a fresh baby in my arms. My husband by my side, tears streaming down his face. They had stopped the bleeding; they had saved me.
The rest of that day went almost how I expected it to. Tons of family and friends wanting to meet and love all over our new bundle of joy. Me and my husband gave up sleep to sit and stare in awe of this new tiny roommate we had. We learned to change diapers. I learned to breastfeed. Our three days in the hospital quickly ended and we finally got to take our baby HOME.  Four wonderful, sleepless, exhausting days went by. I was still very much recovering from a major surgery, my husband and I were very much still trying to find a rhythm. My baby was still such a stranger to me. I hadn’t yet learned what her little noises meant. I hadn’t yet learned what each cry signaled or what could soothe each one. I won’t lie, I was still shocked at how those nurses could just send two people home with a new life; no instructions or anything. On that fourth day, I decided it was finally time to begin catching up on what was now 3 piles of dirty clothes. My husband warned me I was doing too much, but I had woken up feeling good and wanted to help out more. Soon after throwing a load of clothes into the wash, my back began to hurt. It started out feeling like I had turned too quickly or that I had pulled a muscle while trying to gently do things I wasn’t supposed to be doing in the first place. By evening, the pain had worsened. With every breath, a stabbing pain at my right shoulder blade. I could barely move and I begged my husband to try to massage it. The heating pad eased the pain for a bit and soon the only thing that took it out of my mind was my husband pressing down on my back as hard as he could. But quickly, the pain intensified even more. I started to realize the pain of labor was nothing compared to this. I tried to stand up off the couch and it was if someone stuck a machete through my back. I screamed out in pain and fell back down. My husband was already frustrated with me; thinking I had hurt myself doing laundry when he told me not to lift a finger. He told me over and over, “I think you need to go to the hospital if you are really in this much pain.” I was embarrassed; filled with guilt. I kept telling him, “I am not going to the hospital for a pulled muscle, that’s ridiculous”. A few hours later, I would have no choice. It became harder and harder to breath; I knew something wasn’t right. I felt so trapped, wanting to ignore this terribleness that was happening as I looked over and saw my perfect, sleeping 1 week old. My husband called my parents and told them they needed to come right away to be with the baby. It was a very snowy, icy night. They rushed to our house as fast as they could; a nearly 30-minute drive in perfect conditions. As soon as they walked through the door and saw me; their faces said everything. I was in bad shape. I have never seen my mom or dad that scared for me. By this time, I could not move an inch without writhing in pain. I remember my dad looking at my husband and saying, “how are you even going to get her in the car?”. He quickly said “I’m not” and called 911. Everything from that moment on, seemed so surreal. Within minutes, there were flashing lights outside my house, paramedics quickly coming through my door. Question after question, test and measurement after test and measurement. They scooped me up, stuck me on a stretcher and away I went. I didn’t even get to kiss my baby goodbye. I didn’t know at that moment when I would even see her again.
My husband drove behind the ambulance and met me in the ER. As soon as the doctors found out I had just had a c-section, they seemed to spring into action. Little did I know, the risk for complications from a c-section is somewhat high. The chances of blood clots are uncomfortably high. And the symptoms of one going straight to your lung are just about exactly those I was experiencing. I just remember begging for something that would take the pain away so that I could get back home to my baby girl. In my head, it was still just a pulled muscle. They would give me something for the pain, maybe even a muscle relaxer and I would be back home snuggling with my daughter in no time. The strength of the dose of medicine I needed to dull the pain was enough to knock me out completely. I woke up on an MRI table; not even able to lay flat on my back because of the pain… even after all of those meds. It was now 3 in the morning; my poor husband was falling asleep sitting up on what looked like the world’s most uncomfortable chair. There were angry drunks roaming the halls; yelling about not being allowed to leave. There were accident victims being brought in; their car wouldn’t stop on the ice. There were elderly people; their hearts seemed to be giving up on them. And then there was me. I was screaming inside….“I don’t belong here! This is a huge misunderstanding; I only have a pulled muscle”. Finally a doctor came to see me, to give me the results of my MRI. When words came out of his mouth other than “okay, here is some extra strength Tylenol. Go home and take it easy now”… it didn’t seem real. I didn’t understand the words “at this time, we cannot rule out a pulmonary embolism. But we were able to see a very large pleural effusion on your right lung. We are going to have to admit you and perform more tests”. Quickly, they started more rounds of pain meds and a blood thinner regiment. I still had no idea what pleural effusion meant; and weirdly, it didn’t even occur to me to ask. (WebMD would tell you it is a buildup of fluid between the tissues that line the lungs and the chest). None of that hit me. Even when my husband left me at the hospital to go back home to care for our baby, it didn’t hit me. I woke up the next day to a handful of doctors in my room –  a heart specialist, a lung specialist, the ER doctor who had admitted me and a few nurses thrown in there. And suddenly all of their words hit me, like a punch in the gut from the Hulk. “Possible post-partum heart failure….. fluid in lung…. Possible infection…. Blood clots”. But the words that each one of them said that stuck out the most were “we aren’t sure what is causing this, we don’t know what is wrong”. Maybe it’s just me, but those aren’t words you would expect to hear (or want to hear) from a doctor. There I go with that word again; “expect”.
The next three days were full of tests; x-rays, more MRI’s, ultrasounds of all of my veins, EKG, echo cardiograms, and endless blood tests. I also got to experience what it felt like to have a giant needle stuck in my back, all the way down to my lung to have the fluid drained. A whole 1.5 liters of it. By this point, I had been through 3 days of labor, delivering a baby, and a c-section… but this, this was a new level of pain. Every breath, every movement. I laid in that hospital bed dreading having to get up to go to the bathroom. The effort it took just to do a simple task like that felt like I had ran a marathon. I felt like I was a world away from my husband and my baby. You think they would have been my only thought while being stuck in the hospital for a week. But there is just something about pain that takes over you. It doesn’t let you think about anything else. And what little of me was capable of thinking about something else, made me refuse paid meds so that I could still pump and send home breast milk for my newborn to eat. I was so incredibly desperate to feel like a “normal” new mommy. This was the only way I knew how.
A week-long stay in the hospital produced the following conclusion: 1) I was extremely anemic. I had lost multiple liters of blood during my c-section and my body was not recovering well on its own. 2) The severe anemia was causing my resting heart rate to be uncontrollably high (in the 100’s with spikes to 140 when I had to move or get out of bed). 3) The fluid buildup in my pleural space was due to a large amount of inflammation in my chest (a combination of how high I carried my daughter and how active she was – made even worse by the trauma caused during my c-section). 4) All of my current ailments caused a perfect storm of destruction. The doctors assured me that since they had drained the fluid and had given me a hefty prescription of iron to take indefinitely, I would be ‘just fine’ in 3-4 months.
I wish, oh how I wish, this story could be concluded now. I wish I could say that I was ‘just fine’ 3-4 months after that. I wish that I could say I went home, healed up and enjoyed the rest of my maternity leave being a mommy and caring for our little girl. But with any ‘good’ story, this one must be…


  1. Lisa Cunningham

    You didnt know it at the time, but God never left your side. Hope you are doing well, she is just perfect and beautiful like you Courtney. Can’t wait to read more. Praying for you and hope you continue to get stronger everyday. Hugs to you girl, this touch my heart.

  2. Incredible! This blog looks exactly like my old one!
    It’s on a totally different subject but it has pretty much the
    same page layout and design. Wonderful choice of colors!

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