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Name: Lauren Garver
Location: Kentucky, United States
Child’s Birth Year: 2020
Keywords: New to HIE, PTSD & Mental Health
“To parents who have recently experienced an HIE event with their new baby—I am so very sorry that you and your baby are going through this. I want to share with you the best thing that I learned to be true. In those first days, your touch, voice, and fierce unconditional love is what makes your baby’s heart full. You are what they need most right now. Stay strong, for you are not alone. Here is our story.”
-Lauren Garver, HIE Mom
Lauren and her husband, Stephen, currently live in Louisville, Kentucky. Three years ago, when her oldest, Hannah, was born, Lauren had the perfect natural childbirth. Hannah’s birth story wouldn’t even be over a page long—if all of Lauren’s pregnancies and deliveries could be guaranteed to be so smooth, Lauren would want to do it over and over. But because of Lauren’s advanced maternal age, she was happy settling for one more difficult, but magical last birth. When she found out she was expecting her baby boy George due in September of 2020, she was overwhelmed with joy. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, all felt right in her world.
Lauren was so certain that just as she had done with Hannah, she would be enduring a natural childbirth from the comfort of a birth center. She was so sure that her dream birth scenario would actualize into reality that she went to therapy to practice natural labor pain relief techniques. At 36 weeks, Lauren had low amniotic fluid, so one of the midwives wanted to induce her right then and there. She was in disbelief that anything could actually be wrong, convinced that her birth would go her way again. Lauren told the midwife it was probably just because she had been feeling a little dehydrated and asked if they could wait before making a final decision. After a day, her fluid level was back up, and Lauren was relieved that her delivery could still go according to plan. A week later, Lauren woke up to her water leaking, excitedly anticipating labor to start soon just as it had happened with Hannah. But as Lauren waited and waited at the birth center, her cervix dilated but labor did not progress. After 24 hours and still no active labor, the protocol was that Lauren needed to be sent to the hospital.
Lauren felt so frustrated, complaining to Stephen that petocin was not natural, that it would hurt so badly, and that they could contract COVID. Upon arrival, Lauren met a well-seasoned nurse who was immediately concerned because George’s heartbeat was weakening for minutes at a time. Rattled, the nurse wanted to take Lauren in for an emergency C-section right away, but Lauren’s midwife—whose presence invoked comfort that this would go as naturally as possible—asked to wait it out since George’s heartbeat went back up after the drops. In the delivery room, Lauren’s cervix made it to seven centimeters with no labor. George seemed okay, and they put water in Lauren’s sack to get him floating and facilitate labor. The nurse and midwife were closely monitoring George and had a C-section on standby in case there were more signs of distress than had appeared earlier. Little did Lauren or Stephen know what would happen next….
Immediately, with urgency in their voices, the nurse and midwife told Lauren to get onto her hands and knees. She still remembers how afraid and shocked she felt as they told her husband he had to wait outside. As she was being rolled into the operating room for an emergency C-section, Lauren covered her eyes and ears, terrified of what was happening. Within minutes, Lauren was on the operating table, hearing the OB say that she was going to do everything in her power to keep Lauren and the baby alive. As the anesthesiologist reassured Lauren that she was not going to die today, Lauren thought about how Hannah and Stephen needed her….she was too afraid to even think about her baby boy. When she woke up in her post-surgery fog-like state, her baby was not there. Lauren clenched her midwife’s hand tightly, reluctantly asking if George was alive. She was told that he was alive, but she was still too scared to ask any further questions about his condition. What Lauren found out shortly after she woke up was that George had suffered an HIE event due to the cord being wrapped around his neck twice with a double knot pulled tightly. George was pale and apneic upon delivery, so he needed to be intubated. He was also started on phenobarbital because they thought he’d had a seizure. Having no memory of George coming into the world will always be difficult for Lauren.
While the doctors worked on stabilizing George enough so that he could be transferred to a NICU downtown for cooling therapy, Lauren, still dazed from the drugs, asked friends and family for prayers. As the midwife brought Lauren over a breast pump instead of her sweet baby, she thought of all the mamas before her who had lost their newborns, forced to pump for babies that weren’t here anymore—she felt pain deep within her core. When Lauren finally saw George on his way out to the NICU, she looked at his chubby little cheeks and head full of dark hair, thinking that he was the most beautiful newborn she had ever seen. Stephen and Lauren joked that Hannah was “baby dinosaur cute” when she was first born, but George was cute cute. Lauren so desperately wanted to know that her handsome boy would be okay, but unfortunately, it was just too early to predict.
With no one saying whether George would die or not, Lauren and Stephen began to prepare themselves for the worst. For the next eight hours, they couldn’t even think about naming their baby because they were so afraid for his life. As Lauren and Stephen sat together in the post-delivery room where they thought they would be celebrating the happy new baby days, Lauren watched as the sandwiches she packed for the post-partum celebration rotted in the corner. Stephen lay next to her in bed, their foreheads touching together, for that was the only way Lauren could stop shaking. Even though Lauren had always been optimistic about her baby’s health, she couldn’t settle the terror inside of her. As she had a surreal conversation with her therapist over the phone asking what to tell Hannah if her brother died, Lauren couldn’t even pray because her faith had been shattered. How could something like this have happened to her baby? The doctor did eventually call to let Lauren and Stephen know that George’s HIE was moderate as opposed to severe and that he was fighting to breathe on his own. But even then, Lauren’s worries did not subside.
In that long night she spent at the hospital she delivered at, it was too painful for Lauren to think about how George was spending his first night in this world in an entirely different building, without his mama by his side. Even though the doctors had explained that what had happened wasn’t something anyone could have foreseen ahead of time, Lauren felt consumed by feelings of guilt. She thought about how absurd it was that she ever thought she had that much control over her body and her birthing process, that simply telling herself the birth would be magical like Hannah’s was would make it be magical. Lauren tried everything and anything to distract herself from these thoughts of self-blame that were eating her alive. She searched for faith that her deceased grandparents and God were watching over her, and she asked her best friend how to pray when she had close to zero faith. But in spite of her efforts, nothing seemed to provide Lauren with the comfort or peace of mind that she so deeply longed for. All she could do was turn the volume up on her TV, trying to drown out the sound of the newborn crying next door. Oh how she wished it was her in the adjacent room, holding George as she tried to wean him back to sleep. She sat in despair knowing she was missing his first day on earth. This was the worst day of her life.
The next morning, the doctor who delivered George came to the room, looked Lauren straight in the eyes, and said, “He’s going to be fine.” He’s going to be fine. Lauren never knew five simple words could combat such a stormy situation. The doctor didn’t approach Lauren as a medical professional talking at her, but as a fellow mother of two young children, lending out a hand of support and kindness that Lauren will forever be grateful for. The doctor was also able to get Lauren discharged only 24 hours after her C-section. As the doctor reiterated that George would get through this, Lauren believed her, hugged her, and found her own inner strength. For the first time since her baby’s birth, Lauren was not afraid to hope. For the first time since her baby’s birth, Lauren was not afraid to think of potential names. As Lauren went to the NICU to finally see her baby, it marked the beginning of her wonderful, meaningful relationship with George.
During the initial days when George was being cooled, Lauren sang to him, held his tiny hand, changed his diapers, and went home at night. As soon as George was being rewarmed and Lauren was given the green light to interact with him more, she was in the room by his side the entire time. Even though the nurses said that George needed to be bottle-fed, Lauren wasn’t scared to advocate for George to try breastfeeding. She felt he needed it more than anything. She told the nurses that they needed to at least give George the chance to nurse before dismissing that as a viable option—that much he deserved. Lauren was proud that even though her confidence in her mama instinct had faltered, she still trudged on and continued to push for what she knew he needed. And once Lauren finally held George and tried nursing him when he was five days old, he was able to latch right on.
When Lauren started showing up for her baby, he started showing up for her ten times more. And even though there were still a lot of little obstacles they had to overcome in the NICU, George began to thrive. Lauren truly believes the nurses in the NICU were the key to success. They guided her every step of the way on the road towards discharge. Although that road looks different for the many patients the nurses interact with on a daily basis, it always felt like they were fully committed to George and his unique journey. By the end of the stay, Lauren was doing everything on her own, taking complete charge of George’s care. She would change all his diapers, hold him in spite of all the wires he was connected to, breastfeed him, and rock him until he fell asleep. Lauren learned then how true it is that a baby needs their Mama more than anything. Finally, after a week, George was free from all his wires and tubes. Picking George up and taking him home with nothing attached to him was one of the best feelings in the world. And though George was pretty weak and uncomfortable for a while after, he surprised everyone with his clear MRI and all the progress he had begun to show.
Since discharge, learning how to deal with everything has been a process. But thanks to the help of so many wonderful people, Lauren has made it through the ups and downs of this first year with her hope very much still intact. When George first came home, Lauren was terrified of what might go wrong, and every little thing George did sent her into panic mode. But through joining the Hope for HIE Facebook group, Lauren learned so much about HIE and found so many resources about conditions such as seizures or cerebral palsy. She constantly stayed up late at night reading the stories of and connecting with other HIE parents to make sure she was as informed as possible.
From talking to the doctor in the NICU, Stephen told Lauren that they needed to be proactive in starting George in therapy as early as possible. From the time George was six weeks old, he began seeing an amazing physical therapist who has been cheering him on in his journey every step of the way since. She empowered Lauren to take charge of leading physical therapy exercises with George at home, and she stressed the importance of tummy time. George has done so much tummy time that Lauren likes to joke that he’s an animal because his core is so strong. When George was two months old, he started seeing a speech therapist because he was choking and having trouble eating. The speech therapist was able to identify that George had a tongue tie that needed to be snipped. Since then, she has helped them through it all. At around the same time, George was also having eczema, flare-ups, and food allergies that were bothering him, so a nutritionist was also brought on board to help manage his diet. For the first few months, George went to neurology and neonatology follow-ups every three months. While there were some concerns about his tone in the beginning, George continues to surpass any and all expectations. In fact, at the last visit with neurology, Lauren and Stephen were told that George was doing so well that he could now step down to an appointment every six months.
Now, even though George still does have his issues with sleeping, food allergies, and eczema, you would never know what he went through from observing him. He truly has a zest for life, is extremely active, and just never quits. At less than a year old, he climbs up and stands on the stairs. Being the fearless boy that he is, he even lets go of the railing for a few seconds. Lauren also likes to call George her bad boy, since now that he is teething early, it seems like all the furniture in the house has teeth marks from George chewing on it like a puppy dog. He can have a temper on him, which his family finds entertaining in the moment. He’s been through a lot of physical discomfort. Thus, Lauren always tries to make sure George is as comfortable as possible. George is for sure a mama’s boy, but he is also a Hannah’s boy. All his big sister will have to do is look at him or scream “Boo!” and George will already be cracking up. Overall, George is just super happy to be home with his family, and his family is super happy that after a rocky start to his life, he is home with them.
George has truly changed Lauren’s entire worldview. From him, she has learned humility—that there is so much out there she doesn’t know, that she is wrong a lot of the time, and that her judgements and ideas are passing, for everything can change in an instant. But instead of beating herself up for not always being right, Lauren views this as an opportunity to keep on learning. Perhaps the biggest lesson she has learned and what has now come to be a family saying of-sorts is that “terrible shit just happens.” No matter how healthy she was or how made for birth she thought her body was, bad things happened. No matter how blessed she was, sometimes blessings come in unexpected shapes and sizes. For even though bad things happened, George also happened. And the beauty and blessing of having George in her life, far outweighs all the uglies associated with his birth.
Though Lauren knows it is still a work in progress, she is proud of all the hard work she has put into working through her trauma. She went to therapy regularly even before George’s birth, and in the aftermath of the HIE event, she leaned on her therapist to help her find peace. There were times when Lauren saw the scar on her stomach and fell back down the rabbit-hole of “How did I get here?” or “Why did this have to happen to us?” Lauren tried to repress those painful memories, but she realized that until she confronted her trauma, she would never really be able to move forward. Thus, her therapist challenged her to write out her entire birth story and read it over and over again. Although it took her awhile to write, spilling out all those buried details on paper was a huge step towards acceptance. Now, Lauren is able to accept that George is a different baby than Hannah was. Lauren is able to accept that George has many more needs and requires many more resources.
In the beginning when Lauren had trouble accepting what they had gone through, Stephen told her, “It’s okay to be struggling now. But one day, you’ll be able to reframe this into something good.” When he first told her that all those months ago, Lauren appreciated the sentiment, but she couldn’t fathom ever creating anything remotely tasting like lemonade from what seemed like the sourest lemons life had to offer. But now, Lauren is beginning to believe her husband. For instance, while Lauren was going for a run, she was listening to the “Just Say HIE” podcast episode featuring two NICU nurses. Hearing about the nurses’ experiences supporting HIE babies and families during the cooling process led Lauren to the realization that that was exactly what she wanted to do. That was how she was going to reframe her story into something good. Now, Lauren is in the process of solidifying a plan to go to nursing school so she can eventually be where she is supposed to be and do what she is supposed to do—walk alongside and empower others on their HIE journeys.
Lauren’s journey is still largely unwritten. She is still learning how to navigate this new life she has been thrown into. She’s been assured by providers that George can overcome any challenges he faces in the future. They have told her to expect delays, to expect him to have trouble in school. But Lauren doesn’t know what to expect. It’s almost like those early days where she is too afraid to truly address her baby’s future. But the difference is that this time, she knows George. She can draw comfort from the fact that he is her resilient, brave, cute cute boy. He doesn’t let the fear of falling stop him from climbing up those stairs and letting go of the railing. He doesn’t spend time mulling over what his future will be like—he is just happy to explore all that is around him, even if (much to the furniture’s dismay) it is with his mouth. George’s birth may not have been magical, but he brings Lauren magic and joy on a daily basis.
So while terrible things happened, George happened too. And he is without a doubt the best thing that has ever happened to Lauren.
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