It is 9:13am on Friday morning. The boys are enjoying a late breakfast of Cheerios and a sliced banana, and I am typing away from my kitchen office.
(Yes, I have a kitchen office. Where else do “working moms” handle their biz?)
The sun is shining through an open window; the sound of giggling and Treehouse in the background. And I am wondering why – after four long years – I am finally ready to tell the story of Ryder’s birth.
Perhaps it’s to reach out to fellow “Androids”. Perhaps it’s because my sweet little boy will be 4 years old in less than two weeks. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because of a video I watched this morning, which included three key phrases:
Sick Kids Hospital.
And it is undoubtedly the way I felt in November 2008 when I left the neurosurgeon’s office for the final time, with a spring in my step and a profound wish to never see the hospital again, that I am riddled with equal doses of guilt and thankfulness Ryder is one of the “lucky” ones. Because not every parent exits Sick Kids with a spring in their step; and certainly they do not have the option of “never again”.
The Story Of Ryder
It is shortly after 11:00pm on Thursday, May 8th and I am experiencing tummy cramps that ebb and flow. Our little baby is not due for another three weeks, so I am confused as to why the cramps are taking on a predictable pattern – every 10 minutes or so – with equally predictable intensity. I decide to call Telehealth Ontario, my go-to resource for everything from a paper cut to a raging migraine. After I explain the symptoms and how far along in the pregnancy I am, the nurse (who to this day I picture to look like Aunt Jemima) chuckles and says, “You’re in labour, honey!”
As I hang up the phone, I realize that my prenatal education has not indicated any sort of emergency for contractions 10 minutes apart, so I decide to take a shower and make myself presentable for the welcoming of our first child. My husband is already asleep, wrongfully assuming he’ll need to be up at 6:00am for work the next morning. I decide to let him have his rest and sneak into the shower. As I shave my legs, I make note of the fact that frantically cleaning the bathroom the day before was obviously a sign of nesting, and not because I couldn’t find my MAC Spice Lipliner as I had incorrectly assumed.
I wake my husband just after midnight. My contractions are now 8 minutes apart and I think I want to at least pop by the hospital to check in; just in case I’m misreading my body or something like that. Thank goodness the hospital is only 15 minutes away, so the trip is uneventful and full of excitement for the two of us. After registering I am “checked” by a nurse and declared to be less than 2cm dilated – but certainly in early labour. We are advised to return home and come back when the contractions are closer together and/or more intense.
(Raise your hand if you found early labour contractions “intense”. I was quite put off by them.)
We decide to hang out at my mom’s house which is only 5 minutes from the hospital, and therefore as good a place as any to wait in anticipation. At breakfast I eat the bare minimum – dry toast – and pace in her kitchen while I silently hope the nagging pain away – even though I know it is wishful thinking, and it will most assuredly get worse. At noon, we once again return to the hospital and I am measured at just over 3cm dilated. At this point, I’m quite certain I want an epidural or a blow to the head which will knock me unconscious – anything to block out the damned contractions that are now coming every 5 minutes. But I am told that they cannot admit me until I am 4cm dilated, or in other words: sucks to be you… now go away.
At 2pm I half-jokingly suggest that maybe we could go to the mall so I could walk off the pain while window shopping. My husband is all for the idea, but my mom (who has been thankfully tagging along with us since we called her the night before) vehemently vetoes my suggestion.
(Damn. I kept imagining giving birth in Square One and then having a lifetime of free shopping privileges or something like that.)
At 5pm hubby and I just return home. By now, I am sick of being in labour and I ask you this: who the hell can tell a difference in contraction strength at 3.5cm and 4cm dilated. All those lucky b*tches just 0.5cm wider than me are now being hooked up to a blissful epidural, while I’m rotting away in Painville.
6pm. 7pm. 8pm. 9pm. 10pm. 11pm. 12am. I am now the Mayor of Painville.
I haven’t slept in almost 40 hours and I have been in labour for 25 hours. We don’t know if baby-to-be is a boy or girl, but at this point I am convinced that only a man could leave a woman writhing in agony for so long.
Shortly after a 3-hour “Two and a Half Men” marathon at 1:00am on May 10th, I visit the bathroom to pee. When I get up to wipe (TMI ALERT!) I am shocked to see the mucous plug in the toilet. I have about 3 seconds to process this before I cripple over with the.worst.contraction.ever. Screaming for my husband to wake up (he doesn’t, lazy bastard) I crawl to the bedroom and briefly consider cracking him over the head with an iron.
On our final trip to the hospital, I shout orders for him to run every red light, pausing only to catch my breath. I am quite certain this baby is coming NOW. At the L&D registration, I speak quickly and with authority: “Get me a bed. Get me an obstetrician. I need to push. I want to push. I can’t stop the desire to push. I’m gonna start pushing. SO LET’S GET ON WITH IT, okay?”
A quick check from the nurse confirms that I am now almost 10cm dilated and the on-duty obstetrician has been paged. Fast forward twenty minutes, and the doctor walks into the room just in time to catch my baby. My beautiful baby boy, Ryder James, born at 2:05am. I look at the alien-like creature in awe. It’s you.
It is 24 hours later – Mother’s Day – and I am leaving the hospital with the best gift ever. We are scheduled to visit my family doctor for a “well baby” check up the next day. I am tired, and sore, but happy. I have a family.
Ryder is cranky. He is alternating between crying and sleeping and will not nurse. I am worried, but chalk up my concerns to new-mommy-syndrome and wait to see the doctor. I have too many questions to remember in my head, so I write them all down.
At the doctor’s, I rhythmically run through my list of questions and the doctor assuredly fires off the answers while she pokes and prods at Ryder. When I get to question #6, she pauses.
“What?” she asks.
“I said, why does he have a soft spot near the back of his head? It’s like a big, soft lump. What is that?” I reply.
She rolls Ryder over and gently touches his sweet little head. She parts his fine hair and stares at his scalp for much longer than I am comfortable with. She gently presses his head and frowns, turning my way.
“Did the doctor use a vacuum or forceps?” she demands.
“No,” I respond slowly. “It was a very quick and clean delivery”.
“I see…” she trails off.
She asks my husband to re-dress Ryder in his sleeper and comes around the desk to speak with me. I do not realize I am holding my breath until it comes out in a whoosh as she sits down.
“I believe Ryder has a cephalhematoma, which is basically a collection of blood on the top of his head. It is considered a birth injury and they are quite common with vacuum-assisted deliveries, but I’m quite stumped by the size and location of Ryder’s cephalhematoma in the absence of an instrument-assisted delivery. If you agree, I’d like to have an ultrasound of Ryder’s head so we can gain a better understanding of the extent of the injury.”
“Okay,” I whisper.
And I don’t remember another thing. I don’t remember the car ride home, I don’t remember my husband’s assurances that everything would be fine, I don’t even remember holding Ryder or caring for him in any way. I only remember going home and Googling “cephalhematoma”, staring at the computer for hours. Reading scary words like “subperiosteal hemorrhage”, “calcification”, “drainage”, “surgery” and “in extreme cases, neurological deficiencies”.
I hate extreme cases.
I even come across multiple pages dedicated to medical malpractice, showcasing extreme cases (there are those words again) of birth injury and brain damage as a result of cephalhematomas caused by doctor error. To say I am freaked out is putting it mildly.
At one month old, we strap Ryder down as a technician performs an ultrasound of his head. He screams and tries to dodge the probing wand but I hang on to him, holding his head steadily as I ponder the fuzzy black and white image on the technician’s screen. It makes no sense to me. As I hover over him, my tears fall on Ryder’s face below, mixing with his own.
Waiting on the results, I envisioned hearing “everything looks fine, we’ll continue to watch him as the hematoma resolves.” Instead, I hear, “We’d like to refer him to a pediatrician, and we’ll be forwarding the results of his ultrasound to a Pediatric Neurosurgeon at The Hospital for Sick Children. You’ll hear from them directly regarding an appointment.” No, no, noooo.
It turned out that Ryder’s injury was uncharacteristically severe; there was not only a collection of blood above the scalp, but below the scalp as well – situated very close to his brain. While a routine ultrasound would have ruled out any sort of lasting damage, this newfound information necessitates a complete examination and diagnosis from an expert. Our appointment was three weeks away.
I went through 50 shades of madness while I waited. Thinking of worst-case scenarios. Praying for strength; wondering where I would find it. Afraid to reach out to friends and family – not wanting to alarm anyone, but also not wanting to believe that anything could be “wrong” with Ryder. (I’ve used quotes around “wrong” because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, there is nothing wrong with a child – we just need to have the right amount of love and faith.)
I’ll never forget the day I walked through the doors of Sick Kids. Expecting to be surrounded by desolation and pain, I was surrounded by hope. Bravery. Fearlessness. Determination. Love. Yes, there were sick children. But those sick children were there with the hopes of getting better. They were there to live. For the first time since that fateful day in the doctor’s office, I decided to make peace with the diagnosis, prognosis – whatever the neurosurgeon sent our way. I decided to make peace with whatever was written in the stars for Ryder.
Ryder was lucky. Or blessed. Or both. Even though he sustained a forceful birth injury, the hemorrhage was still mostly superficial and did not reach his brain. The neurosurgeon, although he did want us to come back for two more visits until Ryder was 6 months old, was quite sure that the cephalhemotoma would go through a harmless process of calcification (hardening), ossification (turning into bone) and then begin a long, slow process of re-absorbing back into the skull. By the time he was two years old, the lump would be hardly visible to the naked eye.
(Not gonna lie; the thought of Ryder having a horn on his head for two years took getting used to, but considering the alternative, I was quite okay with it.)
I had just one more question.
“Why?” I asked. “WHY does he have such an extensive birth injury, when I had a natural vaginal birth, no meds, no instruments, and almost no doctor in the room! Why did this happen?”
“I was just getting to that,” he responded kindly. “If you plan on expanding your family, during your first ultrasound, ask your obstetrician to also include an analysis of the shape of your pelvis. Sometimes, women have pelvises that just aren’t conducive to vaginal birth. 9 out of 10 times, these women will experience a ‘failure to progress’ during delivery because it is unlikely that the baby can evacuate the birth canal safely. But in few instances – which I suspect is the case with Ryder – the baby hangs around for a length of time and then begins a ‘Hail Mary, let’s just slalom through and get this thing over with it’ approach, and barrels on – knocking his head on your very sharp pelvic bone in the process.”
Suddenly, it all came into focus. The 27-hour labour, stuck at 3.5cm dilated for much of that time. The eerily quick progression to 10cm. The overwhelming urge to push out a baby who made his appearance just 20 minutes later. And the instinct that Ryder would grow up to be every bit the adventurer – taking life by the horns and pushing through, setting his own pace.
(While pregnant with Reid, an ultrasound of my pelvis suggested that I have an “android” pelvis: “More triangular in shape at the inlet, with a narrowed subpubic arch. Larger babies have difficulty traversing this pelvis as the normal areas for fetal rotation and extension are blocked by boney prominences. Smaller babies may still squeeze through if they can successfully navigate around the bone.” We settled on a scheduled c-section with Reid, to avoid potential complications.)
Today, Ryder is an intelligent, funny, affectionate and dashingly handsome almost 4-year old. I often resist thinking about his birth story because the events following his introduction to the world were marred by worry, stress, late night Googling and too many terrified tears. The thought that something is – or could be – “wrong” with your child is maddening; we are thankful every day for being blessed with two wonderful children. I honestly never, ever ask for more.
(And when Ryder does something silly or quirky, we say he got knocked on the head at birth, and roll our eyes.)
Wow. It’s kind of surreal that I just opened up like that. Truth be told; it’s kind of therapeutic.
Blessed with such a wonderful family- love you honey!
I love all my boys ;) xx
WOW Lena, he’s such a lovely boy and so fortunate to have such a loving family.
Thank you Julie. He’s the apple of my eye :)
HUGS back my friend :)
Thanks for sharing, Lena. I love reading stories of healing, recovery and strength from a mother’s perspective. It’s inspiring and I’m sure will touch many other mom’s. Glad to see/hear that Ryder is thriving, strong and intelligent as he is.
Thank you for the kind comment, Carol. I too find strength and inspiration from reading other moms’ stories – as such, felt it was time to write my own. Hugs!
So so so happy for you and that you shared your story. I can’t tell you how lucky we are to have such a great kids hospital like Sick Childrens!
AMEN to that! So thankful for Sick Kids.
Thanks for sharing, Lena! I’m honoured that I share a birthday with your little guy. :)
As I am sure he is honoured to share a birthday with you! xo
I am tearing up and smiling at the very same time. Both Ryder and Tobin’s stories are incredible tales of courage, from mama and child! Sick Kids is an amazing hospital and so is Children’s Miracle network.
Indeed. They make miracles happen.
Lena…this has been a very emotional day for me. I spent three hours touring our local children’s hospital and hearing some incredible stories. Now I sit hear with tears in my eyes and want to say THANKS for sharing your story and Tobins. HUGS
It’s my pleasure. And a great big hug to you for leading the #MiracleMoms initiative. Bringing us together to share stories is some kind of wonderful.
Thank you for sharing Ryder’s story. I find that as a general rule, your stories are worth waiting for. You are such an engaging writer, your boys are lucky to have you as their mom.
I am humbled. Thank you :)
I’m so glad he turned out okay. Having babies is really a scary thing. From the moment we learn of their existence, any number of things can happen and I think nothing prepares us for the worry and fear of anything at all happening to them. Thank goodness it all turned out well for Ryder.
Thank you, and thank goodness. It’s true; I think children have 1,000,001 ways to get hurt/sick/in trouble. Taking care of them is torture on the psyche.
Love, love, love this post. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Soulla :)
I “liked” your page a while ago – I must have enjoyed something at the time and wanted to hear from you again. It has been a while and for the most part I never have the time to look too far. However, this story caught my attention and reminded me why I “liked” your page in the first place. I love the way you write – humour even in the least expected writings. I have a son and I can’t imagine how terrifying those early days were. Look at him now, he is so darn cute!
Nellie, I have printed your comment and tacked it to the cork board above my office desk, so I can smile when I read it. Thank you – I appreciate you taking the time to stop by :)
Your beautifully written (and still humorous!) story brought to the surface just how precious our kids are… thank you for having the courage to share your story. I’m glad all is well today and Ryder is a handsome thriving little man! I suppose we are in for a lifetime of worrying now that we have kids… the joys of being a mom :)
You nailed it – a lifetime of worrying. It’s never ending, isn’t it? And yes, our kids are so very precious – worth worrying about endlessly, of course! xoxox
Cheryl Morreale (@loucheryl)
What an awesome story Lena. I’m so glad Ryder is OK. He such a cutie!
Thank you Cheryl, so kind of you to say! Hugs :)
I just have one question – How on earth did you muster up something SO well-written with Treehouse blasting in the background? I think I would have gotten distracted and started typing out Backyardigan lyrics. : /
HA!!! I’ve pretty much learned to tune out Treehouse. Rolie Polie Olie and then the Octonauts were in the background at the time – I think I caught myself humming the theme song to RPO only once :)
Oh, Lena… I was holding my breath the entire time I was reading this! I’m so glad your little not is okay. So many stories of sick children touch my heart and stay with me forever. I’ve had my share of time spent at CHEO with my son, which I’ll talk about soon. Its the hardest, most emotional job ever, being a mom, and hearing and seeing stories about sick children. Thanks for this post. xo
Thanks so much, Loukia. It is emotionally taxing, isn’t it? I look forward to linking arms with you on this #MiracleMoms campaign, and am sending you strength for when you write your own stories.
I volunteered at the SKH while I lived in Toronto. It’s truely amazing how strong kids are. Thanks for sharing Lena. I’m happy that you have been blessed with two healthy beautiful boys now! (Three counting Mike!)
Thank you Natalie. I am happy you took the time to leave such a kind comment! Smiling from ear to ear. xo
Thank you so much for sharing a very personal story. There are so many things to prepare for when you find out you’re expecting, but nobody can prepare for complications, many can barely entertain the idea as a possibility.
You are a beautiful writer and I admire your courage and honesty :)
Thank you Jen – “many can barely entertain the idea as a possibility.” This is a very true statement. I think that as strong as think we are, we’re never really ready for hearing bad news – or want to, of course.
Incredible story! Thank you for sharing. Through words you have impacted many about the incredible place that is SicKids Hospital. It is a pleasure Lena to have you as part of Children’s Miracle Network #MiracleMoms program.
Thank you Perry, I am honoured to be a part of the #MiracleMoms. And yes, Sick Kids rules ;)
Wow Lena. Thanks so much for sharing your very personal and very moving story. I had no idea this all happened and can’t imagine how scary it must have been for you and Mike. I’m so glad that the people at Sick Kids were so supportive and helpful to you and that Ryder’s growing up to be the awesome little boy Adam tells me about.
We’re very lucky, I won’t deny it. It was just one of those things we downplayed because it was hard for me to share without breaking down with worry. But I’m thankful for amazing friends like your brother :)
Simply amazing story. You are such a strong woman! And to share it with us makes me love you more! Ryder always looks like the happiest bo ever, so you are definitely doing something right.
Thank you Jenny, we love him and his brother to pieces!
What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing such a personal experience!
You’re welcome, Soozle. Thanks for taking time out of your day to read it!
super scary Lena, so glad the outcome was happy and hopeful! you have gorgeous boys! horn or no horn ;)
Hahaha, yup, I think he still has a slight lump if you really look and feel for it – thank goodness he’s got a full head of hair :) xx
Amazing story Lena. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, right? So happy for your little miracle that has grown into a healthy big boy.
Thank you, Julie. Indeed – it’s one of those “huh?” things, but I’m feeling very lucky we dodged a bullet :)
I had chills reading your beautifully written story. God bless, Lena.
And you, Ruby! Hugs :)
Wow Lena! At first I was laughing at your delivery story and almost crying, but then when I got to the part about when you discovered the bump on Ryder’s head, I was definitely going into full-on crying mode (had to hold back because I’m at work right now!).
You are so brave – I can’t even imagine what you went through. And now look at Ryder. He is extremely handsome and definitely the luckiest boy ever..to have a mother like you :)
Thank you so much for your kind words, Kristina. It’s weird, but compared to what other moms go through, I don’t feel that I was brave at all… just really, really lucky :)
Steve @ Grocery Alerts
As a new dad I am so happy to have a new daughter and it is incredible to read and hear of the stories from moms out there.
The birth experience is incredible and so personal – you really did an amazing job explaining what you went through and your emotions.
Steve, a warm congratulations to you and Lina on the birth of your beautiful new daughter. She is perfection. And thank you for the kind words :)
Thanks for sharing your story with all of us Lena! I am honestly touched by your words. I am also a Miracle Mom and visited Seattle Children’s Hospital today. It is amazing how these doctors, parents, siblings, nurses, volunteers all make these little kids feel like they can kick whatever ails them.
Thanks again for your story! :)
Thanks so much for stopping by Tammy! It’s such an honour to be a #MiracleMom with you. Agreed – they are amazing.
Oh, wow! Lena, I had no idea! You know why we support Sick Kids and Mt. Sinai (because of Little One’s prematurity). What a blessing it is for your sweet Ryder is! Thank you for sharing his story with us!
You’re so welcome! There are so many of us with SickKids stories, its no wonder the hospital is so close to my heart.
Amazing – we are so fortunate to have such an amazing hospital with such incredible staff and resources. Thank goodness and a late congrats on your beautiful baby boy!
Thank you so much Tania :)
Reading this reminded me SO much of my labour story with my first son who just turned 3 and is also named Ryder James (crazy!). I also went through two days of labour and was not dialating. I finally got to 3cm after over 24hrs of contractions 5-10 minutes apart. Finally my water broke and they told me I should dialate at least 1cm/hr. Five hours later, intense contractions 1 minute long and 1 minute apart (epidural was not an option at this hospital because they didnt have enough nurses on and you need one on one nursing) and I was only at 5 cm. I all of a sudden had the urge to push and felt like my body was tryin to. I was gushing fluid. The nurses told me to stop pushing and I told them I wasn’t trying to but felt like the contractions were making me. I personally think I had dialated and was ready to push. The baby’s heart rate had dropped a couple times and very slowly climbed back up and he was under a lot of stress. They asked me if I would be willing to have a c section and by that point I just wanted it over with. They did the c section and said that his head was stuck in my pelvic bone and that I probably wouldn’t have been able to have him naturally. I’m thinking I was in the same situation as you. I opted for a c section the second time because of fear of the same thing happening. I’m glad I did..everything went smoothly and I felt pretty awesome free considering my stomach and uterus was just cut wide open haha. Now I’m pregnant with my third and last baby and will go c section again. Thanks for sharing your story, I love hearing about other people’s experiences.
SO crazy that you have a Ryder James too! Does the James hold any significance – or did you just like the name? My husband’s middle name is James so it was a no-brainer for me :)
And it definitely sounds like we had similar experiences. I often wish that Ryder would have just stay put and he would’ve been a c-section baby, but he had different plans! And yes, I too opted for the c-section with my second to avoid potential problems.
All the best with baby-to-be! xoxo
Yea his Dad’s name is James and I really liked the sound of it. We were thinking we could call him RJ for short but it never really stuck..always just called him Ryder. I love that name so much.
I like that Ryder will likely never be shortened… somehow “Ry” just doesn’t work :)
Kudos to you and Ryder both. You make an awesome team.
Thank you Karen :)
I have only just learned of your blog.. and as I was reading through some of the “fave” posts, I came across this one. Wow- what a scary first L&D. You did amazing. He’s a beautiful boy!!!
Thank you Randi – both for reading my blog, and for your sweet comment. I just finished yelling at Ryder for scattering all his puzzle pieces on the floor – I guess I needed the reminder of how thankful I am he is in my life!
So sweet! I have 2 boys also.
:) Boys are the best :)
such a nice story
Thank you Julie :)
I decided to read this article because my son’s name is also Ryder. He will be 3 in August. I was also stuck at 3 cms and asked for a c-section, knowing that my mother had 3 c-sections due to lack of dilation, and it was probably a hereditary thing. With my first I labored for hours, with Ryder I gave up right away. Wooohooo for epidurals!!!
:) Love that your son’s name is Ryder. And still mad I was cheated out of an epidural!!!
Chandra Christine O'Connor
was holding my breath along with you, while I was reading this, I know about scary things my oldest came at 7 mths and talk about panic and tears, but now she is 23 and just graduated from univ in nursing and is living on her own, that part is bittersweet for me. Im not ready to let her go.
such a heartwarming story. Kudos to you and ryder
Thank you for sharing your story Lena, we all go through so much that our children just don’t have the capacity to realize. he’s a beautiful little boy!
What a beautiful post. Lovely writing and so relatable. I never ever heard of an android pelvis but I sure know all about Sick Kids and the amazing miracles and bravery there. I went there as a child often and I always felt good and supported when there.
OMG I was holding my breath to the very end! How scary Lena! Support is so important when you go through things like this, you have no experience in these things, no way to train or prepare.
I am so glad I am going through your reader favourites while you are “out of office” – I’m happy that everything turned out well for Ryder, Sick Kids is an amazing and caring hospital. I am fortunate that I have never needed their services, but am also comforted to know that they are there for the many families that do.
I am soo glad everything turned out ok. My grandson was born without a pituitary gland. His brain was backwards, 2 mutated genes and missing hormones…………. we really don’t know how blessed we are until we have our own ‘close’ call. We were assured my grandson could lead a near normal life, medications, no contact sports what so ever, marriage, .. kids… a job.
After emergency brain surgery when he was 3 months & sooo many weeks at Sick Kids & Ronald McDonald house, he had greatly improved.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe after all the fight my little man had in him, SIDS snatched him away… but, I’m grateful for the moments we had.