‘My daughter was placed on my chest. Then I began hemorrhaging over half my blood volume.’: Mom recounts traumatic birth of miracle twins

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“My journey to motherhood was less than traditional, so it is no surprise to me that my birthing experience would be anything but. Not because I was meant to suffer but because it was a part of my story.

Two years later, and I finally feel ready to share my story. Two years later, and I finally feel prepared to revisit the pain and trauma of those days leading up to the twin’s birth.

mom holding her baby bump
Courtesy of Ashlee Cournia

I can still smell the sterile sweetness of the hand sanitizer the nurses and doctors used to enter and exit the delivery room. The slow and steady ‘beep’ of the heart rate monitors, strapped to my stomach for two and a half days before the twins were born. Out of necessity for my children, I suffered through the tightness of these monitors pressing on my very pregnant belly, to track their progress as I labored. I can feel the stiffness of the hospital gown on my skin and the warmth of the blanket I brought from home. I can still taste the sweetness of the cold lemon icees I ate, trying to keep my stamina for what was to come.

This is my birth story and I share it not to entice fear or place blame, but to share my experience in the hopes that it might resonate with someone who experienced the same things. To show that my experience may be somewhat like yours, or nothing at all. I share it to bring awareness to the birthing experience as a whole and the trauma that may come from it. I share it to show that my suffering brought forth two precious miracles that I had prayed for over the course of five years. Their birth was a beautiful testament to the surrendered prayers and painful reckoning I endured throughout my fertility journey and I would have never asked for it to be anything less.

November 14th, 2019.

Today, unbeknownst to us, would be our last regular doctors visit before the twins were born. Near the end of my pregnancy, we would have doctor’s visits once a week for a nonstress test to monitor the baby’s heart rate to see how it responds to the baby’s movements, along with regular anatomy scans. It was noted at our previous scan that Twin B was not growing as quickly as they had hoped and on this particular day, we would find out, yet again, that Twin B was not growing. It was at this doctor’s visit that we decided an early induction date would be best. We scheduled our induction date for the following Tuesday, November 19th.

woman cradling her belly
Courtesy of Ashlee Cournia

November 19th, 2019.

The morning of November 19th, 2019 was so surreal. We had packed our hospital bags the night before, ate our final supper together as a family of two, and woke up the next morning so excited that the day had finally arrived. I have to give credit to my husband, since he is the only one who could calm my nerves that morning. Jay’s love for cookies and classic 80s rock would make the morning all the more enjoyable. We stood in our kitchen together one last time, ate a sugar cookie and snapped one last picture, and announced to our family that we were heading to the hospital. During the 20-minute drive to the hospital, Jay would jam out on 80’s rock music and the band Europe’s, ‘The Final Countdown.’ Calming my fears and easing my worries, I just smiled at my husband as I watched him so giddy and eager for the days ahead.

mom and dad selfie before twins
Courtesy of Ashlee Cournia

I was admitted to the hospital around 7:00 a.m. that morning. I would be started on IV antibiotics around 8:00 a.m. and Pitocin around 9:00 a.m. Now the waiting game began. Throughout that first day, we watched TV, read, talked to each other, and really just enjoyed our time in each other’s company. My doula, mom, sister, and Jay’s parents came to visit throughout the day as we prayed and waited for my body to progress through the stages of labor. Throughout the day, the nurses checked me every few hours and though the Pitocin was working, it was working very slowly.

I would remain dilated at 5 cm for pretty much the whole day. By 7:00 p.m. that night, as the doctors were getting ready for a shift change, I was asked if I wanted to have my water broken. I really struggled with this because I just didn’t feel ready. My contractions were very, very slow and I was just feeling, well, not ready. I declined to have my water broken and with that, the doctor on call made the decision to stop the Pitocin, with the hope of letting me get a good night’s sleep and starting over in the morning. Hearing those words, I couldn’t help but feel like a complete failure.

As a patient with an infertility background, I couldn’t help but feel that my body was failing me once again. ‘Why couldn’t my body do what it was designed to do; what so many women can do with ease?’ ‘Why was Baby B, no longer growing?’ ‘What did I do to cause this?’ These lies my mind had held on to for so long were slowly creeping back in. I went to sleep that night feeling like a failure once again.

November 20th, 2019.

I awoke at 5:30 a.m. to the slow, steady beeping of the babies’ heart rate monitors after what was really a restless night. In between the vital checks from the nurses and the constant pain in my belly from the monitors, I had a hard time getting much rest. My husband and I woke that morning and took a couple of laps around the delivery room floor, in the hopes of getting my labor to progress quicker.

I was started on Pitocin by 7:00 a.m. and my mom and doula arrived around 8:30 a.m. When I was checked that morning, I had actually gone from 5cm to 4cm. ‘Backwards! Backwards?’ I  thought, infuriated with myself.  I had lost a whole centimeter to the night, a night of sleepless rest. In the midst of all of this, however, my husband, my rock, reminded me that the best was yet to come and that today was a new day. Labor progressed much quicker today than the previous 24 hours. By 1:00 p.m., I was at 5 cm and it was then that we made the difficult decision to break my water.

hospital room where trauma happened
Courtesy of Ashlee Cournia

Still to this day, that was the most traumatic part of the whole pre-birth experience for me. I can still feel the heat of the tears streaming down my cheeks as my doctor broke my water. I felt as though my body had failed me once again, and the only way to continue this journey was through medical intervention. I believe I cried more tears during this process than any time up to that point. It was heartbreaking to me that I was running the only home my babies had ever known, and my body had once again failed me from doing something that so many women can do on their own.

By 3:00 p.m. my labor had progressed at a much faster pace. I was still sitting at 5cm dilated but my contractions were becoming much quicker together. Even though I was in the pains of labor, I finally felt as though my body was doing what it was meant to do. I didn’t know it at the time, but breaking my water would turn out to be the best decision I had made in the process. At this time, Baby A was what they call ‘sunny side up’ and I was having the worst back pain of my life.

Around 6:00 p.m., after being in active labor for five hours, I decided to get an epidural to give my body a rest. Around 8:00 p.m., I was checked again and was dilated to a 6. After the epidural, I was finally able to sleep for a few hours. This was around the time when things began to get a little groggy for me. A lot of the details from throughout the night are very blurry. Around 3:00 a.m. I was finally dilated to 9 cm and was taken to the OR where I would deliver the twins.

I don’t remember much of the twins being born. I remember seeing the nurse to my left, my husband, and the doctor who delivered the twins, but everything else around them is just a blur. At 4:48 am, our son Leo was born with the umbilical cord around his neck, however, the doctors acted quickly to untangle him and my husband was even able to cut the umbilical cord. Quickly the doctors found that Leo was having some breathing issues and he was immediately sent to the NICU for further monitoring. Hannah was born at 5:15 a.m. Everything checked out and she was instantly placed on my chest. Around this time, I began hemorrhaging. I do not remember much of this. As I was very drowsy throughout the whole birthing process. I ended up losing about 1 liter of blood, which consisted of over half my blood volume.

twins first pic together
Courtesy of Ashlee Cournia

The days after my birthing experience would be a blur of images strung together. With two babies, one of who was in the NICU, there would be no time for the quiet moments that often take place after a baby is born. I was constantly moving from the NICU to my recovery room, often needing to be wheeled down since I had no energy because of the blood loss.

Eventually, I would undergo a blood transfusion. To make matters worse, I would have a reaction to the blood transfusion after being treated with negligence by one of the doctors. The mistreatment of myself and past treatment of other patients eventually led to his medical license being revoked. My recovery from labor, delivery, and blood loss was not easy and it would take me 16 weeks to fully recover.

To this day, it is still hard for me to tell this story. I have started writing this story more times than I can count. I still have trouble explaining it and recalling many details. Truthfully, I am embarrassed that I don’t remember much of my children’s birth. I still recall the feelings that my body either didn’t do it the way it was ‘meant to happen’ or that I had made choices throughout my labor and delivery that somehow caused all of the issues I experienced.

family photo of everyone together
Courtesy of Ashlee Cournia

I have come a long way in accepting what happened during my birthing experience, but I also have a long way to go. The ending to my pregnancy journey was not what I expected, but it was a beautiful testament to the suffering I had endured throughout the five years of my infertility journey. While this wasn’t the birth story I had envisioned for myself, I received from it my two greatest blessings and for that I am thankful.

To end, I want to thank all of the doctors and nurses who coached, supported, and prepared me along the way. This story is in no way an attack on the care I received from those who supported me. The doctors and nurses who treated me with care carried me through these dark days and are ultimately the reason I am here today. I would also like to especially thank the NICU staff who acted swiftly and carefully to take care of my son and provide him with the care he needed. ”

twins having their picture taken
Courtesy of Ashlee Cournia

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashlee Cournia from North Dakota. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read Ashlee’s other story here:

‘It’s Stage 4.’ Two years into the adoption process, I had a strange urge to take a pregnancy test.’: Mom battling endometriosis, infertility births miracle twins after 1,460 days of trying

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