I’ve been wanting to write out my kids’ birth stories for quite some time now, and today, the 8th anniversary of my firstborn’s birth, seems to be the perfect time to start the series.
Gianna’s Birth Story
In June of 2004, I became pregnant for the first time. We had been planning to start “trying” soon, but so far had just gotten a bit lazy with charting my fertility. So, it was a bit of a surprise when my friend Andrea jokingly commented on how nice my hair looked. “Are you pregnant?” she asked. “Only pregnant women have hair that shiny.” I laughed it off and drained my beer, but the thought continued to niggle me. The next morning I took a pregnancy test. Sure enough, it was positive. Kevin was out of town, so I headed to Target and bought a bib that said, “I love Daddy,” wrapped it up and gave it to him that evening. After his initial look of astonishment, we laughed and cried and began to plan.
But it was not to be. Several weeks later I miscarried. I’ve never been so devastated, so broken in all my life. Life wasn’t fair, nothing was right in the world. People who didn’t want babies had them all the time and here I was, already so in love with my child, and he was taken away. My faith was shaken, to its very core. For better or for worse, the only way I could foresee feeling better was to get pregnant again. Not that I was trying to replace our baby Gabriel in heaven (more on why we named Gabriel Thomas after him in that upcoming birth story) but that I wanted, desperately needed, a little one to hold in my arms.
7 months – an eternity – later, we got another positive pregnancy test. It came at an otherwise terrible time for our family. Kevin’s uncle had just died unexpectedly, and we were all very sad. We were in escrow for our first home and were in the midst of planning a big move. But we were hopeful, too. Scared, but hopeful.
The day of the move, I began spotting. Fear and trembling and my mother in law’s admonitions to rest were the only things that kept me from lifting a single box. Thankfully, it passed in a day and the pregnancy continued normally. Nausea and exhaustion were welcome, because they meant the baby was growing, that my body wasn’t once again failing to complete this miracle.
After the haze of early pregnancy passed (complete with boxes that remained unpacked for months) I began to plan a natural birth. My mom (my hero) had birthed 10 babies naturally (the last was an emergency c-section) and I wanted to do the same. We signed up for a Bradley class and I began to devour every book I could find on natural birthing techniques.
At the 20 week ultrasound, we found out we were having a girl. I wasn’t surprised, and Kevin and I were both elated. The ultrasound technician, however, threw us for a loop when she refused to answer our questions about whether everything was normal. “Your doctor will talk to you about the results,” was all she would say. We left scared once again, and made an appointment to see our OB as soon as possible. At that meeting, he told us that I had a “low-lying placenta.” Placenta previa, he said. The fear thickened and I lost the ability to breathe.
Hours of research later, I came to understand that this was a somewhat common diagnosis at the 20 week mark. As the uterus continues to grow to accommodate the baby, however, the placenta is usually (97% of the time) pulled upward and out of the way. If it is still present later in pregnancy, it can cause serious complications for the mother and baby. But the chances were so small, and I was so healthy. We began to hope again and continued our classes.
I pestered our Bradley instructor non-stop. She was patient and kind and did everything she could to give us resources and support. She even helped us write a c-section birth plan in the unlikely event that it became necessary. I took herbs, I prayed, I went on modified bedrest, I did it everything I could to keep this sweet baby growing inside me.
At 37 weeks, our final ultrasound showed that I was in the 3%. The placenta was still too low to deliver naturally, and I would have to have a c-section. I broke down sobbing in fear and disappointment. I knew the risks of cesarean and I worried about all my future births. I wanted a lot of kids, but I did not want a lot of c-sections. Still, the health of our baby girl was paramount, and as we got closer to my due date, the risks associated with a spontaneous labor began to outweigh the baby’s need to stay inside me. We scheduled a c-section for that Friday. (One mercy was that it allowed my mom and dad, who live 4 hours away, to plan for and attend the birth. Many of our local and out of town friends came too. I’ve never seen so many visitors at a hospital so soon after a birth. Our room was filled!)
On that October Friday, my mom and Kevin and I sat around our house joking. I was apprehensive but did my best to quell my fears by reading over our birth plan and planning my responses to the nurses. I knew this hospital (San Gabriel Hospital!) to be somewhat unfriendly to people who fell outside the routine, but I had an OB who supported my requests, so I hoped for the best.
At 4 pm we headed to the hospital for the pre-op procedures. That car ride is still eerily clear. I remember saying to myself, over and over again, “I’m going to have a baby in a couple of hours.” I had to keep repeating it, you see, because it was otherwise completely unreal. When we arrived, I was taken into the pre-op room and prepared for surgery. Our nurse started out friendly but quickly became less than enamored with us. “Keep your baby in the recovery room?!” she asked, aghast. “She has to go to the nursery! Who will take care of her? I have to take care of you!” I calmly met her eyes and said, “My husband, my mother and I will take care of her.” As she was about to respond, our OB walked into the room and dismissed her arguments. “She can keep the baby here unless something is wrong.” I was more than a little grateful for his perfect timing.
A few minutes later, (after our knight-in-shining-armor OB had left) the anesthesiologist entered the room to discuss those procedures with us. Having taken an intensive interest in the process, I already knew what I wanted. “No morphine, please,” I said. “Toradol every 6 hours will be fine.” He argued with us for a few minutes, but when it became clear we weren’t changing our minds, he stormed out. He was so affronted that I didn’t want his special cocktail that he actually stormed out of the room in a huff. Thankfully, he came back in a few minutes. “You sure?” he asked gruffly. I nodded. “Okay, but you’re going to have a lot more pain that way. Peaks and valleys that you wouldn’t have if you let me give you morphine.” I simply shook my head, tired of fighting and afraid that if I spoke aloud, I might give in just to end the confrontation.
I was wheeled into the operating room alone. Kevin couldn’t be there as I received the spinal. I knew it ahead of time, but I was still scared as hell. The room was as cold and as intimidating as anywhere I have ever been. (In my opinion, a dark alley has nothing on an operating room.) A few minutes later though, the spinal was administered and Kevin was again by my side. Surgery began just a couple minutes after that. I couldn’t see over the drape, so I just alternated between closing my eyes and looking at Kevin. His eyes were fixed firmly on the doctor, while his hand gripped mine. Strange sounds and smells filled the room. Then the tugging and pulling that you hear about but never really understand until you are there, and someone has their hands inside your abdomen. I felt weak from that crazy out-of-body feeling, and from the drugs, too.
Less than 10 minutes after surgery started, at 6:15 pm, I heard the doctor say with a cheerful voice, “Here she is! She looks perfect.” A second later, some gurgling, and then a cry. A real cry from a real baby. My baby.
The nurses were quick. They weighed her – 8 lbs even – and then wrapped her up and handed her to Kevin, who had deserted me (at my command) to be with her. He brought her to me, this most precious gift, and when I looked at her face, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Long black eyelashes, pert nose, rosebud lips. Perfect features, more beautiful than I had ever been in my life. And yet she came from me. From me and my Love, and God above.
We had (as became our custom) 2 different names when we arrived at the hospital. Kevin wanted Anna, and I wanted Gianna. (I liked the definition and I thought it sounded pretty. It was only later that I would learn the story of St. Gianna Molla.) We had already decided on Maria for a middle name. First because Marie is both my mother in law’s name, and my own mother’s middle name. Secondly because she was born on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. As we gazed at her those first few moments, the clang of metal surgical tools, the stitching and closing of my body beyond the drape, the doctor-speak going on all around us, I was oblivious to anything but this precious child. It only took a few moments to decide on her name. Kevin whispered, “She looks like a Gianna.” I was so choked up I couldn’t answer. But yes, she certainly did. Gianna means God is gracious, and this was undeniably true.