Sarah and Jiikwis in the special care nursery.
Our son Jiikwis is now three months old! He arrived in early December, four weeks early, after his mother suddenly became eclamptic one morning. It was a frightening medical crisis, but thanks to the quick thinking of our midwife and doctors and nurses at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, an emergency c-section saved both of their lives. It was a very traumatic event, but they both fully recovered, and after six days in the hospital, we were all able to go home. Those first days were the scariest and most stressful of my life. But as the trauma has subsided, the memories of that time have also started to fade. Sarah and I wanted to make sure Jiikwis knew everything about his birth, so we recorded a conversation we had with him to explain the details. I decided to transcribe some of that and post it here, for the sake of documenting this important time in our lives, and to share our story with other parents who may be experiencing something similar. I’ve edited the transcript for length and clarity.
Waub: Jiikwis, we first found in the spring that your mama was pregnant, and we had a summer of excitement.
Sarah: We were planning on giving birth at the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre. And we had a midwife all set up – Jessica. We saw her a bunch of times, and we made the decision that we were going to have a natural birth. There was always going to be the option of going to the hospital if we needed to. We had it all planned out. We even went to prenatal classes. We did hypnobirthing classes. So your mama was gonna do it all. And we were very excited about bringing you into the world in a very quiet and calm and beautiful way.
W: As time went on I had my own vision and wishes as to how it was going to happen. We were going to play some relaxing music. I was going to sing you in on the hand drum. I wanted to say some things in Anishinaabemowin. Because I thought it would be really cool if the first sounds you heard in your life were the drum and your native language. That’s what we were hoping would happen, but it didn’t really work out that way.
S: The night before you were born, your mama wasn’t really feeling good. I had a really bad headache that night, and I couldn’t sleep. I had pain in my ribs, and it felt like I had really bad gas. And then I started getting pain in my diaphragm as well. I ended up pacing around the house all night, and I didn’t get any sleep. I vomited twice early in the morning. So at 6AM I emailed my boss and said I wouldn’t be in to work that day. I already had an appointment with the midwife scheduled, and I told my boss that I was going to go see her to see what was up. I told your dehdeh (daddy) to go ahead to work, and that I’d be able to drive myself to the appointment on my own.
I got to the appointment and I really wasn’t feeling well. Waiting to go in and see the midwife felt like torture. I finally got into her office and I was describing to her how I felt, and she was very concerned. And then all of a sudden my head started turning. I was trying to look at her, but my head kept pulling back in the other direction, and it was really shaking. And that’s the last thing I remember.
W: I went to work and your mama and I were texting back and forth. She was keeping me posted on how she was feeling. She still wasn’t feeling great, but the fact that she was in touch with me was putting me at ease, because I knew she must have been okay. And then I had an interview to do at work. I was at a hotel downtown to do a story about a conference. That interview took about ten minutes, so after it was done I checked my personal phone, and saw that there was a missed call and a message. I checked the message and it was the midwife’s office. They said “Waub, Sarah has collapsed. She’s gone in an ambulance to the hospital. You should go there right away.” So I called back to confirm that’s what was going on, and they said yes, she’s at the Civic Hospital. Go there right away. So I ran back to the newsroom to get my stuff, and went back outside to get a cab to the hospital.
I went right to the emergency room, and asked for your mama, but the woman at the desk looked at the computer and couldn’t find a Sarah Rice. She said sometimes it takes a little while for patients to show up in the system, because they’re most likely being cared for by ER staff. So I said okay, I’ll wait. And at that point I wasn’t really that worried, because I knew she was with her midwife, and they got her to the hospital as quickly as possible. I figured she was maybe dehydrated, or maybe feeling weak or sick, which made her collapse. So I decided just to wait some more.
But the longer I waited there, the more worried I got. There were no updates, and they still couldn’t find her. I thought, well maybe she’s actually in labour, and I thought that maybe you’d be coming later that day. That made me pretty nervous. About 20 minutes passed since I got to the ER at the Civic, and they still couldn’t find your mama for me. I started to get really irritated. Then, out of the blue, the midwife’s office called me again. They said “Where are you? Are you at the hospital yet?” And I said “Yeah, I’ve been waiting in the ER but no one can tell me where she is!” Then they said “You need to get up to the labour and delivery unit on the 4th floor. That’s where Sarah and your baby are.” And when they said that, I felt like I left my body. It straight up stunned me. Because that’s when I first learned that you were in this world, Jiikwis. It totally blew me away.
One of the ladies at the ER desk told me how to get up there. My mind was racing and tumbling as I walked through the halls. When I got up there, there was a whole team of doctors and nurses waiting for me. They basically explained to me everything that happened. They said your mama had a seizure at the midwife’s office because she had really high blood pressure. The paramedics came and got her, and she regained consciousness. They took her to the hospital, and Jessica the midwife rode along. But when they got your mama into a bed in the hospital, she had another seizure. So they checked on you, and found your heart rate was dropping dramatically.
S: And this was when you were still in mama’s belly.
W: Yep. So they said we have to get the baby – you – out as soon as we can. They made the decision to do an emergency c-section right away.
S: I don’t remember any of that. I don’t remember being at the hospital that day. I don’t remember anything. My last memory was at the midwife’s.
W: The doctors told me what happened. It was a pregnancy condition called eclampsia, that basically means sudden high blood pressure that causes seizures. Obviously I was shocked, because the pregnancy was problem-free up until then. They said you were both in critical condition at first, but were now in stable condition. Then they said “do you want to see your baby?”
They led me down the hall and into a little room. The first person I saw was Jessica, who looked very exhausted. But she smiled and said, “Waub, you have a baby boy!” And I looked to my right, and there you were, on a table with nurses all around you. You were moving around, your eyes were open, and that put me at ease right away. You were so beautiful. I was so thrilled, but also still really scared. But there you were! And I knew that you were gonna be okay. I could just tell.
They put you in an incubator and hooked you up to a ventilator and other machines, and they let me walk with you down the hall to the special care nursery, where they said you were going to be for a few days. We hung out there for a little while, then a nurse took me back to the room that your mama was originally in when she had the second seizure. And they told me I would have to wait there for a while, because mama was still unconscious from the operation. They told me they transferred her to the intensive care unit, but it would be a couple of hours before I could see her. I had some time to kill, so I started calling all your grandparents and aunties and uncles to tell them you were here. I still didn’t realize how serious the situation was, though.
The mid-afternoon came, and that’s when they let me go down and see your mama. And it was pretty scary. She was laying in a bed, hooked up to all kinds of machines, and she had a big tube in her mouth. The doctors and nurses there said “she’s gonna wake up soon, and right when she does, you have to let her know that the baby is here, and he’s okay, because she’s going to be able to tell that the baby’s not in her belly any more.”
So I sat beside her, and held her hand, and I saw your mama stirring, and her eyes start to open. I leaned over, and I said “Sarah, our son’s here.” And your mama knew right away. She understood. And that made that part a lot easier. Those were our first moments in this world of being a family. We were all apart, but we both knew you were here. I showed mama the pictures I took of you when I first saw you.
S: I don’t remember that, unfortunately. My first memories were the nurses taking the catheter out, and giving me a sponge bath!
W: There was another scare, where your mama’s blood pressure went back up. So the doctors kicked me out of the room to see what was up. I couldn’t see in, and got really worried. But it stabilized after a few minutes and I got to go back in.
S: During the seizures I bit my tongue really bad. And my tongue ended up black and swollen. It wasn’t very nice. I couldn’t feel anything or taste anything, or even talk very well. They brought me food, but I couldn’t eat any of it. I also had a big scrape on my forehead, because when I had that first seizure I fell face first on the floor in the midwife’s office.
W: So that night I called all the relatives again and told them the whole story, and I think it was a shock for all of them. Because when I first called that afternoon, I didn’t know all the details. I didn’t know it was a critical situation. I think it was hard for everyone to hear, but they were glad that everything was fine, and you both looked like you’d recover. So I spent that first night and all the next day walking between you in the special care nursery, and your mama in the ICU, which were on different floors at opposite ends of the hospital.
S: Mama knew that you were a boy right from the very beginning. As soon as I started feeling inclinations of what kind of baby you might be, I always maintained that you were gonna be a boy. I don’t know why. Mama’s intuition, I suppose.
W: The next afternoon at 4 mama was finally able to leave the ICU. We wheeled her bed up to your floor, and as soon as she was ready, we put her in a wheelchair and took her down the hall to see you. It was a pretty special moment. I cried and cried and cried. When mama got to hold you for the first time, that was really special. Because that’s all I wanted to see that whole time. I kept thinking, as long as they can get together, everything’s gonna be okay. Everything got better. We had to wait for the breathing machine to come off. Then we had to wait for the IV to come out of your head. Then we had to make sure you were eating enough. But every day there was something new. Always something to look forward to.
S: The IV was very hard to look at, because it was right in the top of your head. And all that time, mama was trying to get her breast milk to come in. I was seeing a lactation consultant. Day 4 you were released from the special care nursery, and they brought your bassinet into mama’s room, and that was really special. And dehdeh and I – we started taking care of you ourselves. Feeding you, and changing your diaper. I never thought I’d be so happy to change a diaper!
W: Then on Day 6 we got to take you home. Everything looked different that day. It really felt like life had changed. The sun was shining in a new way. The snow on the ground looked brighter. You had a plan for us, which is why you came early, I think.
S: I was so relieved. We were going home with a new baby we hadn’t been totally prepared for, because you were four weeks early. But we were a family, and we’d already overcome some serious challenges already. We’re home now, and we haven’t looked back. And we’re getting stronger every day. We love you so much.
Photo by Shilo Adamson