‘The doctor said, ‘I don’t like this, let’s do a C-section right away.’ I could hear them talking urgently, requests for tubes and oxygen — but no cry.’: Mom goes into preterm labor at 34 weeks, ‘Our family feels complete’

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“I have lived in Germany for the past decade. I would have never imagined life would bring me so far from my home in Canada – but life is full of surprises. I was a professional athlete, in the sport of biathlon, for nearly 15 years. I participated in 3 Winter Olympic Games, many World Championships, and have started more than 100 World Cups.

I moved to Germany in 2010; it was months after the Vancouver Olympics, I was 21 years old and pregnant. The father was my former coach, a German, and we decided to move to Germany together. The next years were very difficult. The relationship was not a healthy one and I will forever be thankful to my younger self for finding the strength to leave. Things remained difficult with custody hearings regarding our young son. I was very alone in a foreign country, dealing with a custody battle in a foreign language with all of my own family over 5,500 miles away. I ended up staying in Germany in order to enable a shared custody arrangement for my son.

At the time I would have never imagined love or more children would ever come into question. But life has a way of unfolding, of solidifying, of slowly putting down roots. Some years later I met Dominik. He was a single father and his son was the same age as mine, and coincidentally lived in the same apartment building as my son and I. As our two boys became better and better friends, we slowly grew a relationship of our own. Eventually we moved in together and our patchwork adventure began.

In 2018 I ended my sport career and we began looking forward to a new phase of life, including adding to our family. During my athlete years my periods had been very inconsistent, sometimes skipping 2 or 3 months at a time. I had been told many times to be patient, my body might need some time before we were able to conceive. We started trying for a baby, knowing it might take a while.

5 weeks later I started to feel that telltale nausea and tender breasts. Dominik actually laughed at me – convinced it was wishful thinking. But no, I was pregnant, we must have conceived within the first week of trying. A boy. He was born on August 28th, 2019; our little Noah. My water broke in the 36th week and his birth was induced. There seemed to be no reason for the premature rupture of membranes, but despite being 4 weeks early, he was healthy as can be and we were able to go home one day after his birth.

Courtesy of Megan Tandy

We talked about having a second baby, but with our 2 older boys and a newborn, we decided to wait a year or two. I nursed Noah, and although complete nursing is said to be a somewhat reliable birth control, I can attest it isn’t reliable enough – or perhaps I belong to the 2% of women who conceive anyway!

Noah was about 7 months old when suddenly my milk disappeared. It was the strangest thing. Over the course of 3 days, I went from nursing him 100% to dry. It was an abrupt and hard transition for both of us, with a lot of hungry and frustrated tears. After a week Noah settled down and seemed to have well adjusted to bottles and formula. I, on the other hand, had that telltale nausea again. This time it was Dominik who spoke out loud what we were both thinking – pregnant? Again?? Could it be?

Courtesy of Megan Tandy

I assured him it wasn’t the case – I hadn’t had a single postpartum period and had been nursing fully, what were the chances? I took a home pregnancy test – just to assure Dominik his theory was nonsense – and it was positive. Yes, we had left it to Mother Nature so to speak, but neither of us had really expected a new baby so soon! Anyways, so it came to be we were expecting child #4, very much wanted and wished for, but not planned.

I was shocked. Some strange combination of happiness, excitement, and disbelief mixed with guilt that this new pregnancy had somehow hijacked my plans to breastfeed Noah as long as possible. In the early weeks, I felt like I was constantly swinging between mild panic about having 2 babies under 2 and growing delight about this new little being. Dominik had always joked about ‘only being able to make boys’ and for some reason we both assumed this baby would be a boy as well. When I found out at my 18-week ultrasound he was most definitely a little she, I was beside myself with excitement. I love being a boy-mom, but there is something special about having a daughter. Suddenly I had this overwhelming sense everything was meant to be.

My pregnancy was very textbook. I was healthy and active, the baby grew as expected, I gained weight as expected, and everything seemed perfectly on track. Covid lockdown was in some ways very isolating — at home, pregnant, homeschooling my two older boys and caring for baby Noah left me feeling many days like I hadn’t had a single conversation with anyone over the age of 10. On the other side, I was incredibly thankful; I had 12 months of paid maternity leave, which allowed me to be home with our kids while Dominik ran his business — special engineering and mechanical construction. I spent most of my time running, hiking or biking with the boys, always with Noah on my back or in the multisport trailer.

Courtesy of Megan Tandy

During the 33rd week of my pregnancy I started to feel ‘off’ somehow.  It is difficult to describe; suddenly I didn’t feel like being active anymore even though I had been feeling great. I switched gears into an almost hectic need to organize at home and have everything ready for our baby girl. It seemed like my nesting instinct had just gone from zero to one hundred. I also started worrying, which is unlike me — worrying about whether Noah would be jealous and how the birth would be given the Covid restrictions at the hospital. In retrospect, I believe my body was giving me all the signals, preparing for Emily’s too early arrival long before I had reason to expect anything unusual.

I started having more Braxton Hicks contractions, but thought nothing of it. Two days later I had light bleeding and lost my mucus plug. This seemed a bit concerning, but I had a check-in with my midwife — everything looked fine.  Given that some women lose their plugs weeks before delivery, it seemed like a good time to take it easy, but not to worry. My Ob-gyn had assured me just because my water had broken early with my previous pregnancy — premature preterm rupture of membranes (PPROM) — there was absolutely no reason to worry about a repeat performance. Well, that afternoon, about 7 hours after losing my plug, my water broke in a Hollywood-style flood.

I knew it wasn’t good, 34 weeks gestation was much too early. My mother-in-law hurried over to take care of the kids and Dominik hurried home from work to drive me to the hospital. I worried the whole drive, hadn’t I read something about the risk of cord prolapse with PPROM? Dominik was calm and confident, assuring me all would be fine, we would soon be in the best possible hands. I on the other hand had this sense of impending doom. I kept nudging my belly during the 25-minute drive to the hospital, and cried with relief every time I felt Emily kick back, assuring myself if she was kicking, she must be ok. At the hospital I was immediately admitted and within minutes a CTG confirmed Emily was perfectly fine — moving, with a strong reactive heartbeat. I felt like I could breathe again.

I had thought they might try to delay delivery given how early it was, but the doctors said the greatest risk was infection and I would be immediately induced.  That night I couldn’t sleep, I laid in bed reading the first 5 pages of Google Scholar results and about 15 different blogs about ‘late preterm infants.’ I had to come to terms with the fact we were going to have a premature baby and I felt utterly unprepared. The next day was not very comforting. I had been given progesterone gel to soften my cervix, but there had been no changes and I had only mild, erratic contractions.

Every 4 hours I walked from my room in the women’s ward across the hall to the delivery ward for 30 minutes of CTG to make sure Emily was still doing ok. No one really said anything, but there was some whispering and I was asked to start coming by every 2 hours, ‘Just to make sure,’ they said. The fetal heart rate was steady, but not reactive and I had barely felt Emily move all day. They gave me sweet tea and chocolate to stimulate Emily and when that didn’t work, an IV drip of some sort of stimulant. They told me Emily was weak and stressed, she needed to be born soon. It was another sleepless night.

The next morning I was told my blood results indicated an infection. They hooked me up to the CTG again and told me the head doctor would come by to decide whether the induction could be continued. By this point I had very mild contractions, if they could be called contractions at all, they were really very subtle tightening of my belly. The thing was, every time I felt my belly tighten, Emily’s heart rate on the CTG would drop, sometimes as low as 60bpm, which is way below the healthy 120-180bpm range. There is nothing you can do except to trust the doctors and midwives, but I couldn’t shake the feeling something was wrong and nobody wanted to tell me.

Things changed so fast. The head doctor took a quick look at the CTG printout and said, ‘I don’t like this, let’s do a C-section right away.’ No explanation, and a minute later he hurried out of the room. Just like that, the OP schedule was changed and 30 minutes later I was prepped and ready in the operating room. I had barely had time to call Dominik, who by some miracle made it to the hospital just in time to give my hand a quick squeeze before I was rolled in the OP room. Due to Covid restrictions, he wasn’t allowed to be with us.

I had desperately wanted a natural birth, but at this point I didn’t care anymore, I just wanted Emily to be out and ok. The OP protocol says it only took 8 minutes to get her out. The whole C-section experience — the epidural, the warm heavy legs, the weird painless pushing and tugging in my belly — all sort of blurred past me. Seeing Emily and knowing she was ok was the only thing I cared about. I was so worried, I felt like I was underwater or there was a badly tuned radio buzzing in my ears. I caught the phrase ‘Straf wie ein Seil’ which translates to ‘Tight like a rope’ and I realized they were talking about the umbilical cord.

As soon as Emily was out they whisked her away to the waiting neonatal specialist; I had only seen a small bundle of blankets in one of the nurse’s arms. The next 4 minutes were the longest and scariest of my life. I could hear them talking urgently, sucking noises, requests for tubes and oxygen — but no cry. With every second I was more terrified Emily wasn’t breathing, then, after 4 minutes she cried. I cried. I have never felt that kind of fear or that kind of relief.

I now know they had to pump her lungs clear twice and she didn’t react to the first round of stimulation. Thankfully, she started to breathe on the second try with oxygen and negative pressure. I got to see Emily for about 10 seconds, long enough to register she was tiny and a sort of dark red-grey color, before she was taken up to the NICU. Dominik saw Emily briefly outside of the NICU doors, but wasn’t initially able to see her until she was stabilized.

The next hours were hard. I waited in recovery, desperate for any information I could get about Emily, who was a floor up in the NICU. They told me it wouldn’t be possible to see her since my hospital bed couldn’t fit through the door of the incubator room, and standing or sitting was an absolute no-go for the first 24 hours post-operation.

I was so thankful Dominik was able to be there, and after Emily was stabilized, he was allowed to be with her. Luckily he had done the hospital Corona test (for $300!), which was mandatory for visitors. He split his time between Emily and I. Even though I knew she was in medically good hands, I was still so glad to know Dominik was with her and she was not alone, and of course he could keep me informed about everything.

I begged every nurse and midwife who spoke with me, to help me into a wheelchair and take me to see Emily. I could think of nothing else – it was almost as if I couldn’t really believe she was ok until after I saw her for myself. Or perhaps it was the intense maternal instinct that made me so desperate to meet my daughter. I am sure I drove the hospital staff crazy. I am usually a very honest person, but after the nurses changed shifts I actually lied, telling the new nurse someone from the previous shift had promised me I could go up to the NICU that night.

Finally, about 8 hours after the C-section, a nurse agreed to try it. She was critical and skeptical, but also very kind and patient. Getting into the wheelchair was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. The epidural was long gone and I had been given 600g of Ibuprofen, but it didn’t seem to help much. The nurse said she couldn’t lift or hold me, she could only support me, but I needed to be able to get up on my own. As she rolled me over to the elevator, every little bump seemed excruciating. I finally got to meet my Emily, 2270g and 46cm of tiny perfection. They took her out of the incubator so I could hold her for 10 minutes. At some moments I had tunnel vision because of the pain, but no regrets — I got to meet my daughter.

Courtesy of Megan Tandy
Courtesy of Megan Tandy

We spent the next 9 days in the NICU. With every turn we were told how surprisingly well Emily was doing. She was able to breathe well on her own by day 1, and on day 2 she moved out of the intensive unit into a room on the children’s ward. At this point I was able to move in with her, and just being with her made the world seem back in order. Emily had 7 days of IV antibiotics combined with a glucose solution that ran 24 hours a days. Day by day, as Emily learned to nurse better and better, they reduced her glucose IV until they finally disconnected it on day 7. On day 8 they moved her into a normal bed and she maintained her temperature well. On day 9 we got to go home!

Courtesy of Megan Tandy

Over the course of our hospital stay, Dominik was allowed to visit us every day. I am so thankful this was possible – the children’s ward and the delivery ward were the only 2 areas of the hospital allowing visitors at all, the rest was in complete lockdown. One of the hardest parts for me was being away from Noah, I worried at 14 months old he wouldn’t understand why his Mommy had disappeared suddenly. I also worried about how I would play with him and care for him during the first week home after the C-section.

Today Emily is 14 days old. She is gaining weight and will need a follow-up appointment with a pediatric cardiologist, but is for the most part healthy and happy. I am recovering well, and to my great pleasure and relief, Noah is curious and loving with his new little sister and doesn’t seem jealous at all. Our not-so-little family is settling down at home, and feels quite complete with the 6 of us. When I think back on some of those scary days in the hospital, I simply feel overwhelmingly thankful everything turned out as well as it did and I remain in awe of some of the NICU mamas who endure so much more than we did.”

Courtesy of Megan Tandy
Courtesy of Megan Tandy

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Megan Tandy of Kingenthal, Germany. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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