Baby Honora Marie's Birth Story
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
This has been the strangest 3 days of my life, bar none. Full of trauma and miracles. Disclaimer: this post contains graphic unfiltered details. I'm not worrying about proofreading or editing or sanitizing anything, partially because I don't have the time and partially maybe because it's therapeutic for me to tell the story just as it happened.
On Sunday night I went to bed with uncomfortable but decently mild stomach cramps. I've been having false contractions for several weeks so I didn't think anything of it. I woke up at 12:20am feeling a wet sensation on my legs. When I turned on the light, it took a minute to register that I was lying in a big pool of blood. It took John a minute too- we were both in shock. I stood up and it felt like everything inside me fell out. I ran to the bathtub, took off my pants, and an enormous pile of clotted blood spilled out.
We called our next door neighbor and, amazingly, she happened to be awake (she told us later that she's never, ever up that late. Miracle #1.) She arrived in two minutes at our door and John and I dashed out. I had put on new pants but as we zoomed up to the hospital I felt more blood pouring out all over the seat. Thank God we live only fifteen minutes from a hospital with an excellent NICU. John called on the way to make sure they knew we were coming.
As we drove I asked for the intercession of Blessed Carlo Acutis. He's a 15-year-old who passed away in 2006 and was beatified this year. I've been in touch with his mother Antonia, and am hoping I can interview her on my podcast. Carlo's intercession got me through many a tough spot last summer building my online conferences and he's become my go-to when there's a problem. (Plus, I thought, he's looking for one more miracle for canonization...you help me I help you? Joking! But seriously.) I also prayed to St. Gianna, the Italian physician who gave her life for her unborn baby. I asked God to take me and save the baby if one of us was going to die. The words I kept saying were, "Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything."
When we arrived at the hospital, I made quite the dramatic entrance bleeding all over the floor. A nurse sprang into action and wheeled me fast down a hallway and up to the mother-baby unit. As we got to the elevator and she turned me around, I saw a trail of blood down the entire hallway behind us. It was like a horror movie. Thank God I was in too much shock to freak out. I knew I was going to pass out soon but I managed to get my clothes off and a hospital gown on. The doctor told me after like a 10-second evaluation that the baby needed to come out. They put heart rate monitors and I could hear a faint but regular heartbeat. Within a minute, however, the baby's heart rate plummeted and all but disappeared.
The whole team began running down a hallway with me on the stretcher to the operating room. I swear it was exactly like the TV show "ER." As we ran the doctor began yelling, "We're upgrading to a level 1 urgency." Things began to move really fast and there were at least 10 people around me. One nurse began to prep me for what I was going to feel and what was going to happen, and I told her "Just put me under and do what you have to do. Don't worry about telling me anything- just do what you have to do." I could hear that the baby's heart had stopped entirely. I had time for one more "Jesus I love you. Take care of everything," before I felt a strong burning sensation in my arm. Two seconds later I was out.
I'm not particularly brave. I hate needles and have no stomach for sight of blood. When I heard stories of other moms getting c-sections my thought was always, "I could never do that." But you know what? When it happens to you, you find the bravery. I didn't feel any fear because it was for the sake of my little one. The grace is given to you in the moment you need it.
Honora Marie was born at 1:10am, less than an hour after I awakened to my horrible surprise. She's named after my great grandmother, and her nickname is Nora. 4 lbs 7 oz of pure miniature person cuteness. She's absolutely the sweetest thing, and she's the spitting image of her brother Raphael. They tell me both the baby and I nearly died, and she had almost no blood left in her body when they pulled her out. What happened was placental abruption, meaning that the placenta that feeds the baby pulled away from where it's supposed to be attached to the uterus. All the blood that was supposed to go from me to baby came pouring out instead. The amazing doctor who saved our lives called it a "fluke of biology." She said abruption is very rare and there's absolutely no traceable cause as to why it happened.
I never got to see her like this- she's attached to way more cords and such now so there's less to see. John took this picture a little after her color came back while I was still out.
It took 22 minutes of chest compressions and a blood transfusion to bring Honora back to life. Miracle #2. In this picture her color looks much better but the doctor said she was white as paper when they took her out. Poor John had to sit outside the OR for about an hour waiting to hear whether she and I would make it. He described it with a wry smile as "very good prayer time." My poor love, he's more traumatized than I am by the whole thing, as I'm still in shock and the my ability to feel emotion hasn't fully set in.
When I awoke about 2:30am I got to see Honora from the doorway of her NICU room, but since my big hospital bed didn't fit I couldn't get closer than a glimpse of a shock of brunette hair and one sweet little leg and foot. I was so drugged up I barely remember what the doctor told us. My one thought was how tired I was. They took me to a room on the mother-baby unit where I fell into a half-sleep for several hours. It's so weird to hear other people's babies crying in the rooms around me and knowing that my little one is intubated in an incubator.
There are many question marks about Honora's health moving forward. She has brain bleeding and seizure activity that will hopefully heal soon. Waiting. Everyone keeps telling me babies' brains are incredibly resilient, so there's a chance she'll have a normal life. Maybe my friend Bl. Carlo will pull out a real miracle here. Lots of questions about her liver, kidneys, how well she'll be able to eat, whether oxygen deprivation will take away her ability to walk and talk someday. We just have to wait.
Honora was baptized and confirmed by our pastor Fr. Lundberg the morning after her birth. We chose the name Gianna. She now has more sacraments than her siblings- bragging rights!
The adrenaline of the situation kept me going most of the day Monday. Survival mode kind of took over and I was able to interact with the doctors and nurses as if the craziest 12 hours of my life hadn't just happened. Tuesday, it hit me harder. My throat hurts from being intubated and 5 steps to the bathroom feels like a marathon. I've never felt so weak in my life. My feet are so swollen they feel like watermelons. I just want to hold Honora, but I have to wait until her EEG scanners (the stickers on her head monitoring her brain,) can be taken off. As long as her seizures continue they have to keep them on.
Monday night I finally felt strong enough to sit up in a wheelchair for a few minutes. My c-section incision hurt like hell leaning forward to hold her little hand, but it was worth it. I got to see her sweet face and, as I expected, I fell in love with her and all the feels started to kick in. Even though it's no one's fault, I'm still so sorry this happened to her. I miss having her close to me. I just want to take care of her, and all I can do is touch her arms and legs through the incubator door.
With those reality being acknowledged, I'm seeing the hand of God everywhere. Miracles galore. My mom cleaned our entire house: She's attaining major stars on her crown in heaven for cleaning up the aftermath of Sunday. She and my dad are watching Raffy and Zelie this week, and John's parents all next week. 4 people tried to start meal trains for us and John took the role of Family Communications Director getting them all rolled into one. We have meals coming for over a month. Hundreds and hundreds of people are praying for Honora and me, and I feel the grace so strongly. Our sweet friends are also chipping in to buy us a new oven range. Our oven broke a few weeks ago and our DIY attempts to resuscitate have been unsuccessful. I was in the process of shopping for a new one. My friends remembered my recounting the oven saga and are kindly buying and installing it for us. It probably would have been months before I had time to buy it and budget for it, on top of all the unplanned medical bills.
And one of the greatest miracles is this man who loves me tirelessly. He's at my side for every single need. Dad/husband of the century right here.
Last night he tucked me in like a baby with pillows all round my head!
God is so good to us. I can't believe the outpouring of love and support. We have a long road ahead of us but we couldn't feel more loved. I'll write more as I can. I told John, "I think this whole experience is going to teach us a lot about what's really important." And as we go, I'm sure our little baby will.
Blessed Carlo Acutis, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, and Blessed Mother Mary, pray for us!