A Baby’s Birth Story
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Courtney Reissig tells the harrowing story of the birth of her fourth child, Ben. Some problems cropped up late in the pregnancy that threatened both of their lives and left some emotional scarring in its wake.
A Baby’s Birth Story
Michelle: As a young mom, Courtney Reissig was excited for the birth of her fourth son. Like any new mom, she had her fears of what could go wrong; but for Courtney, those fears became real in labor and delivery.
Courtney: The doctor on call came in; and then, the contractions just kept getting worse. She was like, “I think you’re having a placenta abruption,” which is everyone’s worst nightmare. You can’t tell when it is happening. A placenta abruption—if it’s a full abruption—means certain death for the baby within five minutes and ten minutes for the mom.
Michelle: We’re going to talk with Courtney Reissig today about the harrowing and amazing birth story of her fourth son, Ben. Stick with us. You’re listening to FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. Preparing for a baby to be born is a special time in most parents’ lives. You get to choose the paint colors for the nursery; they have to be perfect. You get to put the crib together; you buy diapers and clothes. You pack the outfit you bring the baby home in. It’s a special time, usually. But what happens when things don’t go as they should?—and you don’t have time to prep the nursery; or do all the things you wanted to do that last month, like cook extra meals and freeze them; prewash the baby clothes and blankets. Sometimes, a baby’s story gets hard.
Hard stories are hard to hear, but it’s in those hard stories that many times we see God’s hand clearly. When we pull back the curtain, we see, not just His fingerprints on the journey, but we see His miracles. We walk away; and we are strengthened by knowing that He actively sustains us, actively pursues us, and He walks with us through the hard.
A friend of mine is here in the studio, who walked through the hard. I’m talking about Courtney Reissig. Courtney, thanks for joining me today.
Courtney: Thank you for having me.
Michelle: You’re welcome. I’m excited about our time. It was a little over a year ago when your youngest son, Ben, was born. That was kind of a traumatic experience; wasn’t it?
Courtney: Yes, it was.
Michelle: It was kind of a Psalm 23: “Walk through the valley of the shadow of death” moment for you. Can you tell us why he is a miracle baby?
Courtney: Yes, if I don’t cry! [Laughter] Someday, I’ll get to the point where I can talk about this without crying. I was 32 weeks pregnant with Ben and was rear-ended in a minor car accident, barely bumped on my way to pick up groceries at Walmart®. It was a Monday morning. I remembered, in a labor and delivery class when I was pregnant with my twins—so five years prior to that—that if you are ever get in a car accident when you’re pregnant, you should call the doctor. I called; honestly, there is no damage to my car—no damage to anyone else’s car—didn’t think a thing of it.
Michelle: It was just a quick sort of bump.
Courtney: She bumped me; yes. I didn’t even get her information. She was an older lady; when I got out of the car, and she saw I was pregnant, she felt terrible. In all honesty, I was thinking, “I just need to go get my groceries and go home. [Laughter] Everyone needs to eat lunch and take a nap.”
I called, as a formality, my doctor’s office. They said, “Standard protocol; you need to go to labor and delivery and be monitored for an hour.” I did; they took lab work. Everything obviously looked fine, but my labs came back with a positive fetal trauma bleed. It was a really high fetal trauma bleed—and it was kind of surprising—they didn’t really know why. That meant I had to stay the night in the hospital and redo the fetal trauma bleed again the next day.
Michelle: Wait; trauma bleed from just a bump.
Courtney: Actually, now in hindsight, nobody thinks that the bump did that. They think my body did it. Our pediatrician—he’s a believer as well—and he was like, “I think God had you get hit by a car—
Michelle: —“so we could find this out.”
Courtney: —“so we could find this out.” So that then was on my/everyone was aware that something was going on. They retook it the next day—did an ultrasound—everything came back fine. The doctor was like, “I think it was just a lab error”; because there’s no way it would’ve come back that high. We went home; they said, “If you have pain, come back.”
I spoke at a women’s retreat, at your church, that weekend.
Michelle: Yes! It was a good weekend.
Courtney: Yes; it was a good weekend.
Michelle: I do remember you having some uncomfortable—
Courtney: I was uncomfortable; yes, I was uncomfortable. As I was speaking, I started feeling uncomfortable in my side and thought, “It must be because I am standing. I am almost 33 weeks pregnant with my fourth kid, so surely I am just uncomfortable.”
Went home; did the elliptical, because I thought, somehow, I was going to work out whatever pulled muscle I had from sitting and standing all weekend. The discomfort got worse. I was sitting on the couch and I thought, “Maybe I just need to go to bed; sometimes they say, ‘Just go to sleep, and you’ll feel better in the morning.’”
I went to bed; and around 3 in the morning, I woke up in extreme pain, where I couldn’t go back to sleep; the pain was so severe. I tried to go to the bathroom, and I just couldn’t walk; I couldn’t stand up straight. I felt my stomach, and my stomach felt rock hard. I was like, “This is just weird that I’m in so much pain.”
I called the on-call doctor, and the nurse called me back, and [I] told her, “This is what happened on Monday…This is how I’m feeling now.” She said, “I think you need to go to the hospital; I’m concerned your uterus is rupturing.” Because I’ve had previous C-sections, there was this concern that my uterus was rupturing.
I get to the hospital; my pain gets worse. At this point, my triage nurse thought: “Maybe your appendix is rupturing,” “Maybe your gallbladder is messed up,”—that can happen when you’re pregnant—which would’ve been preferable to what ended up happening. They did all this testing; they did some lab work. They did internal exams, and they did an ultrasound. With the ultrasound, the pain kept getting worse; every time they would go over the top part of my uterus, I would scream in pain.
A couple hours in, I realized, “I think that’s where my placenta is; that’s where they told me my placenta was on my last ultrasound a few days ago.” At this point, it’s been like four hours. I started having contractions, which caught everyone off guard; because I hadn’t had them before. The contractions then started speeding up. My doctor said I had the most consistent pattern of all the women who were there at labor and delivery; she was like, “We don’t want you to have a consistent pattern.” [Laughter]
Michelle: This would be good if you were—
Courtney: —if you were forty weeks pregnant and not in extreme pain. My pain—I had been in labor before, so I knew/I could explain that this is the worst contraction I’ve ever felt, except it never lets up—which contractions give you some break—it’s like this one long constant contraction.
My doctor finally came in—or the doctor, on call, finally came in—I was explaining everything to her; I said, “It feels like someone took a/when I have a C-section, like someone cut across the top part of my uterus.” She looked at the ultrasound, and then the contractions starting getting worse. She was like, “I think you’re having a placenta abruption,” which is everyone’s worst nightmare; you can’t tell when it’s happening. A placenta abruption—if it’s a full abruption—means certain death for the baby within five minutes and ten minutes for the mom.
We knew in that moment—like it was one of those moments where, my husband was sleeping in the chair next to me, because he thought I was just having appendicitis—to, all of a sudden, he was like wide awake, thinking, “What is happening?” At that moment, everything starting getting much more serious. Ben’s heartrate started going down with each contraction, which meant that the placenta’s not giving him the oxygen he needs during contractions. They were prepping me to give me steroids to get his lungs ready in case they needed to deliver him.
I still remember—I’m lying in this triage bed—we were all just talking. Then the doctor looks at the monitor and sees his heartrate go down, and was like, “Turn her on her side now and give her those steroids, like immediately.” She’s like, “If he does that again, you’re going into the OR, immediately, to have him.” That was when we were like, “Okay; this is really serious.”
I always wondered, when I’ve been in the hospital for other pregnancies and other things, thinking, “How do you know when things are really serious?” You know when everyone is in your room all the time. They moved me to a regular room in the high-risk wing of the labor and delivery unit. I’ve never seen so many people in a room. Every five minutes there was a nurse in there, trying to move me on my side. They were giving me pain meds, because the pain was so severe. I saw the doctor three or four times just that day.
Eventually, after 24 hours, things slowed down a little bit. My contractions were not as regular; the pain subsided some. We started thinking, “At least, if it’s an abruption,”—which they thought it was—“then, it’s stopped abrupt-ing for right now.” With an abruption, though, there’s always the risk that it could, all of a sudden, abrupt immediately.
The thing that was always on the table was our doctor said, “There will come a point where his heartrate goes down and does not come back up. That’s the gamble that we just don’t know: we don’t know if we can get him out in time; can we get you to the OR in time to get him out?”
Michelle: Was there ever a [point] in time, where you were thinking, “I just want him out of—
Courtney: Oh, every day.
Michelle: —“because I want to be able to/I know they can fight for him if he’s not [inside me].”
Courtney: Yes, yes.
Courtney: About a week in, they let me walk the halls of the labor and deliver unit. I would get to walk three times a day. I still remember walking those halls with my husband and saying, “I don’t care if he’s born early; just get him out. I know he can do okay; I’ve seen/I’ve taken care of a NICU baby. I know what it’s like.” But then, also, every NICU baby’s different. Some babies are born at 31 weeks and do great, and some are born at 34 and do terribly. You have no idea of what kind of baby they’re going to be, so there is always a risk of/I mean, the risk was great.
We live ten minutes from the hospital; and at one point, my husband said, “Can I go home and help with the kids?”—this is a few days in. They were like, “How far away do you live?” He said, “Ten minutes.” They were like, “I would stay.” He’s like, “So there’s/it’s that close?—like she could have him at any moment.” They were like, “Yes; we have no idea how it’s going to go.”
I had a long-term IV in, called mid-line IV, where an IV specialist has to come in and put it in your arm. That was this constant reminder that they could get me under general anesthesia in a matter of seconds. They explained the whole process of what it looks like if they have to get him out in a very quick amount of time. They could get to the OR in less than a minute—we would not even know what was happening—and it would be done. That was always on the table.
We lived there—for three weeks, we were there in antepartum for three weeks—and just waiting. That was where we lived every day.
Michelle: It was constant waves of: “We’ve got this; he’s okay”;—everything—
Michelle: —and then, all of a sudden, you never knew, when it was going to drop, and he’s not doing okay.
Courtney: Yes, yes.
Michelle: But it was just one constant big wave.
Michelle: That’s hard to sustain that for a day, let alone weeks on end.
Courtney: Yes, yes; three weeks.
We had great care. We had great nurses that would answer the same questions over and over again. My husband was amazing. He works from home, and so his job was just great—he’d work from the hospital, and he would do his conference calls with his employees from the hospital—his boss was like, “Don’t even worry about work”; so on good days, he’d work a normal amount of hours; on bad days, he would not work as many hours. The Lord was so faithful in all of that.
The other complexity is that we have three other children. They went to bed the night before I went to the hospital, thinking we would be there, and woke up to three weeks of a steady stream of different people every day. You were there; you helped take care of them. My two-year-old had barely started talking, and was super introverted and scared, and wouldn’t get out of bed sometimes when people would go get him; because they would have three different sets of caregivers a day. Our church was great; but they [children] went from having me every day to having someone in the morning, someone in the afternoon, and someone at night. Sometimes Daniel would get to go home and help put them to bed if I was doing okay.
Michelle: I remember they were listless little boys.
Courtney: They were, and they had no words. How do you explain to two four-year-olds and a two-year-old what’s going on? When they would come to the hospital, they would cry; they didn’t understand. When Daniel would come home, he was nervous about leaving me at the hospital alone; so then someone at church would come sit with me at the hospital. There was a lot of difficulty.
My mom was able to come—after us being in the hospital for about ten days, she came—it became apparent that I was not coming home. My dad decided to go get them and drive them back to Florida, where my parents live. Going to Florida was the best thing for them; it gave them some stability. They had the same people caring for them every day. It took a lot of the frightening nature of what was happening to them out of the equation.
It was the worst experience of my life.
Michelle: You’re already just thinking about this possible loss of this newborn—
Michelle: —or this baby that you’re carrying—and then, all of a sudden, experiencing the loss of your three boys.
Courtney: Yes, yes: “What if they leave, and I die?” [Emotion in voice] “What if I die, and they don’t see me again, and I don’t get to say goodbye to them?” “What if I have to bring home/come home without Ben?” “What if…”—there was all of that. They didn’t get any of it; it was horrible; it was one of the worst days of my life.
They went to Florida, and it was so good! It gave Daniel the opportunity to go to our house and get the house ready for when Ben was born. We had a lot of things we needed to do; we needed to move cribs; we needed to get bunk beds for the twins.
Michelle: —all of that stuff that you had planned to do that last month while he was—
Courtney: Yes, yes; and thankfully, we had planned a lot of things before the twins were born that we never got to do, so I was used to my kids totally surprising me in their births. [Laughter]
Michelle: Yes, kids will do that. They surprise us all the time; don’t they? Really, life surprises us.
We need to take a break. Courtney, when we come back, I want to talk about the surprising turns and also the fallout of the birth story of baby Ben.
I want to invite you to stay with us. We’ll be back in two minutes.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. Courtney Reissig joins me in the studio today. She’s been sharing about the difficult third trimester and birth of her fourth son, Ben.
Courtney, you were sharing that, at 32 weeks, the doctors discovered a placenta abruption, which is really bad and life-threatening. After three weeks in the hospital, things seemed to calm down a little bit; didn’t they?
Courtney: Yes; things had gotten really stable. We scheduled his C-section for
37 weeks; they’re like, “We’re going to get you to full term, and then we’re going to schedule it and end this ordeal.”
We should have known, when we scheduled it, that my body would be like, “Oh, you made a plan? [Laughter] I’m going to change that plan.” Daniel had gone home. The night before—it was a Saturday night—I started having contractions again, really consistently. We’d had visitors—we had a lot of visitors—we’d had visitors that night. I remember thinking, “Man, I’m so uncomfortable,” and moving around, like you do when you’re in labor.
My nurse [finally came in] and was like, “Are you feeling your contractions?” because she was watching them on the monitor. I was like, “Yes, they seem more consistent.” She was like, “They are.” She was a little nervous, so she went and talked to the doctor. He was like, “Let’s just keep her on, see what’s going on.” His heart rate was monitoring fine; so they thought, “You’re fine; you’ll be okay.” The next morning, the doctor on call came in and said, “You need to behave today; don’t be crazy on us today,” because they were all just terrified of having to deliver this baby with a partially-abrupted placenta.
Daniel went home to go get our bag ready; because we thought, “Oh, he’s going to come probably in the next few days,”—because I’m going to have a C-section—“so let’s get everything ready.” He was going to work during the week as much as possible. I had to be monitored three times a day; I was on my afternoon monitoring, and they were about to take me off. My nurse and I looked at the monitor. I said, “Did his heartrate just go down with that contraction?” He was like, “Oh, it did. You’re not coming off this; I’m going to talk to the doctor.”
We thought, “Ben has given us multiple false alarms.” I honestly thought, “This is just another false alarm.” Apparently, it did it two or three more times in that span of him going to talk to the doctor. Also, it went down and didn’t come up very quickly; the doctor was like, “This is the last straw.”
He came in—I was on the phone with Daniel—he comes in and sits down. When they sit down, it is never that they’re going to tell you something good. [Laughter] He said, “It’s time to deliver this baby.” I said, “Like when?” He said, “We’re going to prep the OR right now.” I was like, “Daniel, we’re having him right now.” Daniel was like, “This is my worst nightmare!—that I’m not there.” He’s like frantically running around; he had to go drop something off at someone’s house. He’d forgotten how to get back to the hospital. One of the other pastors in the church, who is a dear friend of ours, had said, “I will come and be with you the minute they tell you.” He gets there when Daniel gets there.
They’re clearing out my room, because I’m not going to be in antepartum anymore. They had to pack up our stuff from living there for three weeks, on top of getting me—
By the time Daniel gets there, they’ve given me everything in my IV; they’ve given me all my medicine for a C-section, and they’re getting me ready.
I’ve had two C-sections; I’ve had a lot of surgery, and I’ve never been nervous beforehand like this, mostly because it’s never been this life-or-death. As they’re wheeling me out, I’m looking at all these people/like all these people in the high-risk unit, who have been our lifeline for three weeks. I’m crying and saying: “Thank you!” “Thank you for everything you’ve done!” “Thank you for being my friend,” “Thank you for caring for us.”
They take me to the OR; our nurse prays with us before they take us in. You have to go in by yourself, without your husband, as they prep you; I know that. I get there; and I’m like [whispering], “I don’t know any of these people”; because this is a new team of people.
Michelle: You were all alone.
Courtney: Yes; literally, it was like, “I’m all alone.” When I’m nervous, I talk incessantly; [Laughter] so I start talking incessantly to the nurse, like, “He almost died when I was first pregnant with him, and now he almost died again.” I explained to her that this was really serious. She was trying to prep me for a C-section.
I turn around—and my/she wasn’t my nurse that day; but she’d been my nurse in antepartum—she had my nurse that day cover her. She came in—he covered all the other patients—and she came in for the sole purpose of holding my hand; scrubbed in—everything—and she came in and held my hand. I am having a panic attack, unable to breathe. She’s like, “This is what’s happening; you’re fine.” She’s singing to me; she’s stroking my hair. This is all before Daniel can come in.
He gets there; they start the procedure. It takes awhile because I have some other issues from previous C-sections. He’s born, screaming; when I heard him cry, we both started sobbing; because we were like, “He’s breathing! At least, he’s breathing.” We have no idea what’s going on; but at least, he’s breathing.
You can hear them, be like: “This is a miracle baby,” “This is a miracle baby,” “Placenta abruptions don’t stop for three weeks; they don’t.” We feel like, in so many ways, God was like, “I’m going to make this placenta abrupt for a little bit and stop it, so you’ll feel the weight of your mortality and your son’s mortality; but I’m not going to let you die today.” In hindsight, that’s how we feel like it really happened. Nobody saw that and thought, “There’s no way this just stops.”
Michelle: What was it like in those moments? He’s crying; and you’re sitting there, going/I mean, did you think, “God had answered our prayers”?
Courtney: Yes! It was just this big exhale of weight being lifted off. We didn’t know how he was doing at that point; but we knew he was, at least, alive. And we knew that, at least, I was alive. We knew, at least at that point, there’s enough/he came out breathing, which is huge; and I wasn’t bleeding out.
Michelle: Was there a scary moment after he was born that you were thinking, “I could still die”?
Courtney: Not me. He didn’t do as great right away. He did well initially; then, it became apparent that he would need the NICU. That was harder for me, emotionally; because they had prepped us all along that: “If you can get to 36 weeks,—
Michelle: —“he can go home.”
Courtney: Yes—“he can go with you in your room.” They really tried to make him not have to go; but they think, either the placenta issue or the force with which he was brought out, because it was a difficult C-section—they think some of that made it so that he wasn’t/because he struggled a little bit at first.
There were a couple of moments where I had, in hindsight, I think I had a lot of anxiety about dying. I would have these things happen, where I think they were panic attacks—but I wasn’t aware that they were—I was like, “I can’t breathe. Give me some oxygen; I can’t breathe,” a couple days after the fact. I think it was from having to come down from like living up pretty high in this heightened sense of: “Death is always around the corner.”
My issues, postpartum, were more like physical, like the C-section, which is really physically taxing. But he was in the NICU for six days, and then he came home.
Michelle: Then he came home.
Michelle: You got to bring your little boy home.
Courtney: Yes; then the twins and Seth came home two days later.
Michelle: And the family was reunited.
[Never Once Music]
Michelle: Such a great song and also a great story from Courtney Reissig, reminding us of God’s faithfulness. God’s hand is all over our stories. I hope today, as you listened to Courtney, that you were encouraged in seeing how God sustained her life and her son’s life. Also, a reminder that we serve a God, who can be trusted during the hard times.
If your story wasn’t like Courtney’s, and it ended in a different way, we have some links on our website, including an interview I had with Nancy Guthrie. She shared how she walked through the loss of two of her children. That’s on our website, FamilyLifeThisWeek.com; that’s FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
Of course, Courtney and her husband brought baby Ben home; and Ben joined his brothers Luke, and Zach, and Seth. But home wasn’t quite how Courtney had remembered it. In a couple of weeks, we’re going to hear that story.
Coming up next week, we’re going to remember what it’s like to be thankful in an entitlement world. Kristen Welch shares how her family is surrendering their claim to stuff, and things, and privileges. I hope you can join us for that.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the co-founder of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, along with our president, David Robbins, and our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” today to our engineer, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today®, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.
©Song: Never Once
Artist: Matt Redman
Album: Never Once (p) 2011 sixstepsrecords/Sparrow Records
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