Expecting parents often create a birth plan to outline their preferences for labor. But what happens when things don’t go as planned?
“I joke about it now,” says Charday Oldacre. “But nothing went according to that plan.” Luckily, the research she and her husband did while making the plan helped them ask good questions and understand their options when the unexpected happened.
An Unexpected C-Section
Charday and her husband Azariah went into Emory Decatur Hospital for their scheduled induction on May 12, 2023. A few hours into labor, during one of her frequent checks, Charday’s maternity doctor studied her monitor closely. That’s when they realized her baby’s heart rate dropped every time Charday had a contraction.
“She had a conversation with me to explain the situation and answered my questions,” Charday says. “She was very calm, and her professionalism was amazing.” Together, they decided to do a C-section to reduce stress on Charday’s unborn daughter and avoid a potential emergency C-section later.
“The moment I said ‘ok,’ everyone rushed in, and it amped up,” recalls Charday. Every maternity team member knew their role and swiftly got Charday ready for her procedure. But with the rise of activity, Charday’s anxiety grew as well.
“I was really scared because I’m a Black woman, and you hear stories about Black women and fatality.” According to the CDC, the maternal mortality rate for Black women in the U.S. is 2.6 times the rate for white women. “I had to tell myself that my delivery bed would not be my death bed. It became my personal mantra.”
Charday recalls a moment as she was going into the operating room before her husband came in, where she felt alone. Though she was repeating her mantra, her anxiety peaked. “One of the nurses saw the fear on my face and just held my hand. She reassured me: ‘You’re ok; you can do this.’ I felt this calming and peace.”
Once her husband entered the room, Charday had a successful C-section. Novah was born, and the doctor briefly placed her by Charday before bringing the baby to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Recovery Time in the NICU
Right after delivery, both mom and baby had to focus on healing. Because Charday’s doctors had determined she had a higher risk of hemorrhaging earlier in her pregnancy, they closely monitored her after the C-section. Baby Novah had inhaled meconium (her own poop), which can happen when babies are under stress during delivery. The NICU focused on helping Novah breathe well.
“I was separated from my daughter for the first 16 hours,” Charday remembers. “But my husband was going back and forth between the NICU and me; he was a superhero during that time.”
When Charday and Azariah visited Novah in the NICU, at first, they could only touch her hands and feet. “But the NICU nurses made sure we were informed,” Charday says. “They gave us detailed reports and included us in the conversation when making the game plan for the day. We felt like we had a part in decision-making for our daughter’s health, which was huge as first-time parents. Anytime I would call, even at 2 a.m., the nurses would answer all my questions. The attention to detail and TLC they gave to us and our daughter — I think it really helped her recover faster.”
NICU Unit Director Michelle Kitchens, MSN, RN, CNML, understands that having a baby in the NICU can be scary and stressful for families. “We educate staff around shared decision-making with an emphasis on respectful and equitable care,” she says. “We want to empower families to care for their baby and participate in care decisions.”
The Best Mother’s Day Present
Two days after Novah’s birth, Charday had her first Mother’s Day. But at first, it didn’t feel like a celebratory day. “I’m getting all these texts but not feeling like a mother,” recalls Charday. “I couldn’t even hold my child yet.”
That evening, the parents went to the NICU to see Novah. A NICU nurse named Pam offered to help Charday hold her little girl. “I broke down and said, ‘Absolutely.’ She still had tubes in her, but they found a way for me to hold her safely. I was able to hold my child for the first time on Mother’s Day.”
Leaving the Hospital as a Family
The next day, Charday went home from the hospital while Novah stayed in the NICU. A few days later, they learned Novah stopped breathing briefly during the night before the staff got her breathing again. “That sent me into a panic,” says Charday. “My blood pressure increased to 184, and I got readmitted to Emory.”
Charday’s doctors checked her for blood clots, gave her medication to lower her blood pressure and ruled out other potential causes. “They were so nice and attentive, and they made sure we felt safe.” On May 24, when Novah’s lungs were healthy and Charday’s blood pressure was under control, the family of three finally went home together.
At six weeks old, Novah is doing great. And her parents can attest to her lung power — at all hours of the day and night.
Putting Charday’s and Novah’s Health First
When pregnant patients, health care providers and health systems take the right steps, the CDC says the U.S. can lower its maternal mortality rates across the board and prevent more than 80% of pregnancy-related deaths. Speaking up and asking questions, as Charday did, helps improve communication. And when providers take time to explain, ask questions, take patient concerns seriously and proactively monitor for risks, patients get the care they need.
For Charday, many things put her experience at Emory Decatur Hospital above her expectations. “Anytime I had a question, they answered it. The care team checked on me constantly. Anytime I was in pain, they took it seriously. They did everything to secure my health and my daughter’s health.”
And the team included Azariah in the family’s care. “They made sure his voice was heard. They listened when he had concerns or advocated for me,” Charday says. “And the NICU made sure he got skin-to-skin contact with Novah, too.” NICU nurses even encouraged him to get sleep, watching out for his well-being as well.
Charday’s experience changed how she thinks about having future children. “Even though the events were traumatic, the care and TLC from the Emory team made me feel like I was in safe hands. I never had the fear of dying again.”
Even though Novah’s birth didn’t go according to plan, the maternity and NICU teams at Emory Decatur Hospital ensured their health and safety. “By the time I left, I felt like I could have another kid,” says Charday. “I could do this again; I’ll just come here again.”
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