Welcome to the world baby Huey! Hugh Van Hayes IV was born a month early on March 5, 2019 weighing in at 7lb. 6oz. at 19 inches long. Our late term preemie is the size of many full term babies (likely taking after his dad who was nearly 10lb. at birth) and has the chubbiest little cheeks.
I have always loved reading birth stories and it feels surreal to be able to share ours with all of you. The truth is that baby Huey’s birth story doesn’t begin and end in the twenty four hours I was in labor, so in order to tell it properly, we have to rewind back a bit.
Sixteen months ago, I was undergoing brain surgery to remove a benign tumor while living in San Francisco, California. Today, I’m holding our miracle baby in Annapolis, Maryland. A lot of life occurred in between those two time stamps. A lot of joy, adventure, tears, longing, and love.
Photo by my friend Maddie of Madison Short Photography
The truth is: I remember the days when I prayed for thisâ€”the stretch marks, swollen feet, and sleepless nights included. I remember the tears I cried, wondering if I would ever get to experience this moment right here.
Our path to parenthood has changed my heart in the most fundamental ways: reshaping my expectations, expanding my empathy, encouraging my resilience, and forcing me to lean into my faith. And as I look down at my baby boy, I am grateful for the road that brought me to this very moment.
The years of waiting, my brain surgery, recovery, fertility treatment…
Looking back, I so clearly see how God turned my pain into perspective and my struggles into strengthâ€”shaping me into the woman who is ready to raise baby Huey. This journey has prepared me to be his mama and I am excited to be entering this next season.
Growing up, we are taught to believe that when we’re ready to have a baby, it will happen.
The common conversation around parenthood is simplified in a way that doesnâ€™t reveal just how complex, difficult, and truly miraculous every single person’s journey is.
You arenâ€™t told about how many people are yearning deeply for a childâ€”waiting to become parents or expand their family, experiencing loss, going through adoption, or battling infertility. The picture is always painted a certain way and it doesnâ€™t match up with reality for so many incredible people.
Our journey over the last several years has taught me that there is no single path to parenthood and that this road looks different for everyone who walks it. That is one of the reasons that last spring, while we were undergoing fertility treatment, I first opened up about our experience.
Why did we need fertility treatment? If you’ve been following my story over the last two years, you know that I had a benign brain tumor removed in November of 2017 that directly impacted my fertility. My issues are all brain related. My pituitary gland doesnâ€™t communicate properly with my hypothalamus and the hormones needed for fertility aren’t being produced in the precise amounts they should be each month. In other words: we needed medical intervention in order to conceive and maintain a successful pregnancy.
We’ve known this for a while and this spring wasn’t our first experience seeking fertility assistance.
Rewind to three years ago, when my husband and I walked into a fertility clinic for the first time after being married for two years. The fertility endocrinologist took one look at my endocrine history + latest MRI and kindly told us that it wasnâ€™t a good idea to begin treatment at that time. He felt that my tumor needed to be removed by surgery or reduced by medication/radiation first before proceeding with a healthy pregnancy. The same week,Â (yes, literally the same week!) the opportunity to move to San Francisco was presented to us and we felt like it was a sign. One door closing, another door opening.
The two years that followed were the toughest for me. I watched as friend after friend got pregnant and I celebrated with them. It was hard. Not a day went by that I didn’t wish it would finally be our turn to see those two little lines on a pregnancy test.
Then came the MRI in October of 2017 that pushed my neurosurgeons to schedule my brain surgery and life changed in a dramatic way. I knew that getting my brain tumor out meant that we had a shot at biological parenthood in the future. I was terrified and yet, in many ways, overjoyedâ€”I could see how God was opening a door that had been closed for several years.
My neurosurgeon and neuroendocrinologist told me that if I was healed six months after my surgery, they would give me clearance to return to the fertility clinic. So six months and two days after having my tumor removed, thatâ€™s exactly what we did.Â
The reproductive center at UCSF was absolutely incredible. They moved quicklyâ€”switching us to ovarian stim injections (the same ones used for IVF) after two doses of Clomid failed. Every other day, I took an Uber to the clinic for ultrasounds to see if the injections were working and if any follicles were maturing .
Truthfully, this was the most discouraging part of the treatment process for me. For nearly three weeks, I was injecting myself with stims everyday only to be told: nope, nothing changed, hormone levels weren’t changing and it appeared that my body wasn’t responding. Determined to keep going, the doctor doubled and then tripled the dose in the proceeding days, hoping that we would see an estrogen surge and the maturation of a single follicle.
The day before Huey and I flew home to Maryland for the 4th of July, we were expecting my doctors to cancel the cycle. We both felt that it had been too long without any progress and we were feeling deeply discouraged.
At the appointment, the nurse practitioner came into the room beaming. Our hard work paid off â€” my estrogen levels had risen for the first time and this was a promising sign. My body was finally responding to the hormones! We were one step closer!
In order to finish the cycle, I needed to return to San Francisco for a final appointment during my family vacation back east. Booking a last minute, roundtrip cross-country was stressful, but thankfully I had a ton of Southwest points stored up and was able to book the return trip to San Francisco the day after the 4th of July!
I was only on the ground in the city for 24 hoursâ€”just long enough for my appointment at UCSF and for the news that we had been waiting forâ€”three follicles had matured and we were ready for the trigger injection.
After weeks of daily hormone injections, lab work, ultrasounds, and monitoringâ€”we received the news at the end of July that treatment had finally worked. I was officially pregnant!
There are no words to describe the feeling of seeing my baby’s little ‘dot’ on the ultrasound for the first time and hearing the heartbeat.Â After years of yearning for this, we were so much closer to meeting our miracle babe.
Photo by my friend Lindsay ofÂ L. Bishop Photography
There are so many moments of that week that I rememberâ€”calling our families to tell them, sharing the good news with my closets colleagues at HoneyBook after they supported me every single day during treatment, and the slow onset of morning sickness that I welcomed because it was a reminder of the baby growing inside of me.
For the first two trimesters, my pregnancy was absolutely wonderful. My morning sickness resolved right around 13 weeksâ€”just in time for a lot of traveling for work and speaking at the United Conference. Before baby Huey was born, he had already traveled to Miami, Palm Springs, Cleveland, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Yosemite… and tagged along for our trek across the United States from San Francisco to Annapolis.
I absolutely loved those first two trimesters and I am grateful that I felt healthy for so many months.
Maternity Photos by my friend Renee of Renee Hollingshead Photography
However, right around the start of the third trimester, the warning bells began going off. My blood pressure was steadily climbing and my face, hands, and feet started swelling. My OB referred me to a maternal fetal medicine specialist who started biweekly NSTs (non-stress tests) to monitor the baby’s heart rate and weekly growth ultrasounds to ensure that he was getting enough blood flow.
Simultaneously at 28 weeks, I slipped and fell on the ice while taking the trash outâ€”badly injuring my tailbone, sacrum, and lower back. Huey caught the entire thing on our Nest cam and y’all…it’s cringeworthy.
I knew that a severe tailbone injury could impact delivery because the tailbone has to bend completely backwards for the baby to exist the birth canal…yikes! And here I was unable to even sit or stand for long periods of time.Â There are not enough donut pillows in the world to truly make that pain go away.
It was the hardest part of my pregnancy and postpartum experience by far.Â (Even now, two weeks after giving birth… I have trouble sitting upright in bed to feed the baby. I’m hoping to return to physical therapy as soon as I’m cleared and continue healing!)
Well, my embarrassing fall landed me in labor and delivery of a day of monitoring and resulted in the nurse giving me strict discharge instructions that read: “Husband to take out the trash for the rest of the pregnancy. Avoid ice.” â€” Huey laughed reading her words because he had told me not to take out the trash in the first place. I’m just too stubborn to listen.
Then at 34 weeks, we had our first real blood pressure scare. During my daily morning blood pressure reading, I got a 162/110 on the home monitor and that was the signal to drive straight to labor and delivery. Heading into the hospital that day was intense. I was so afraid of delivering at 34 weeks and yet I was also questioning how much further we could go with my levels continuing to rise.
The good news is that eight hours of monitoring on the NST machine and several rounds of blood work laterâ€”my doctor gave me steroid injections for the baby’s lungs (as he suspected we would need to deliver preterm), put me on blood pressure medication, and sent me home on modified bedrest. We were told that baby Huey would likely need to be induced early and in the span of a few days we finished the nursery, prepped the carseat, and packed our hospital bags!
Slowly over the following two weeks, my health continued to decline. On Monday, March 4th I walked into my standard 36 week OB appointment feeling extremely dizzy and was immediately sent to labor and delivery. My blood pressure was in the high 170’s/110’s despite being on the new medication and I was experiencing episodes of tachycardia.
My mom, who works at the hospital, came over to stay with me while Huey rushed home to get the hospital bag and take our pup, Hunter, over to his parent’s house (just incase they were going to admit me). Twenty minutes later, the doctor on call took a look at my numbers and told us that it was safer to deliver baby Huey than to continue to term with the pregnancy.
I was getting induced. Baby Huey was coming a month early. Oh my goodness.
Right after the doctor left, I could feel the adrenaline taking over. It was go time. When I woke up that morning, I had no idea that any of this was going to happen. I drove to the hospital for a doctor’s appointment and now I was going to leave with a baby in my arms.
I quickly sent my husband a text â€” “It’s official. I’m getting induced. Ahhh!” â€” I was shaking so hard that it was difficult to type. Hugh told me that when trying to return to the hospital, he circled the parking garage three times and kept missing it because he was so nervous.
My mom called my sister who is in medical school at the Cleveland Clinic to tell her it was time. She hopped in the car and immediately started driving back to Maryland. We had always joked that my sister would get to cut the cord (since Huey was more focussed on staying conscious the entire time without passing out!) so we were grateful in many ways that this induction would give her enough time to get back before the baby was born.
â€” This is the part where it gets real. If you don’t want to read the nitty gritty of birth, just fast forward to the cute photos at the end!â€”
At the moment I was admitted around 2PM, I wasn’t dilated or effaced at all. Zero. Nada. Nothing.
This meant that we had a long road ahead to prepare my body to give birth and the doctor told me it would likely take about 24 hours before we were ready to push. (24 hours! Oh boy!)
Shortly after being admitted, my aunt (who works in labor and delivery) arrived to take over for our nurse. Having her there in those early hours was one of the greatest gifts. She kept me calm, monitored the baby’s heart rate, and explained all of the medications I was being given. It truly put me at ease.
Because of my high blood pressureâ€”I was immediately put on an IV of magnesium sulfate (used to prevent seizures in women with high blood pressure +Â preeclampsia). Anyone who has been on mag knows that it makes you feel terrible. It also meant that I was going to be stuck in bed for all of labor and the 24 hours afterwards without any solid food. (Which truthfully, I didn’t mind the ‘not eating’ part during labor… but after working that hard to deliver a baby… I was so hungry and really wanted to eat!)
Once the magnesium started and my blood pressure stabilized, I was given pitocin to kickstart contractions. Huey was on ginger ale + ice chip duty, keeping me comfortable and cracking jokes whenever he could. I remember at one point (well before the contractions were painful), he jokingly said “this is pretty boring, can you wake me up when things get exciting?”
The good news is that he wouldn’t have to wait much longer. Things got moving really quickly after that.
Shortly after midnight, the doctor broke my water in order to speed things up and the pitocin fueled contractions immediately got stronger. I remember going from being excited about each contraction (yay! progress!) to mentally having to prepare myself for the pain.
An hour laterâ€”relief came in the form of an epidural and enabled us to catch a few hours of sleep while my body continued progressing. I didn’t know it at the time, but my epidural wasn’t in completely and so around 4cm dilated, I began feeling each contraction again. It started slowly until I was having to breathe through each contraction and squeeze Hugh’s hand to the point of nearly breaking it. (Sorry again, babe!)
The anesthesiologist quickly returned to fix my epidural and gave me another round of medication. Relief returned just as the sun began rising and my sweet Mom came back with my sister, Caroline, to keep me company.
At the change of shift, the new doctor on call came in and I was absolutely shocked when I realized who she was…
The OB who walked in was the same doctor who sent me for the testing all those years ago that led to the discovery of my benign brain tumor. Her intuition led to the diagnosis that changed everything.
Ultimately, discovering my tumor and having it removedâ€”led to my ability to conceive this miracle in the first place. Now, she was going to be the one to help me bring my baby into the world.Â Cue the emotions. I knew in my heart that this was a good sign.
Having her as my doctor brought our story full circle in a way that I never could have anticipated.
Around noon, two big things happened simultaneously.
My epidural failed once againâ€”this time during transition when I was at 7cm dilated. I went from being completely relaxed to feeling a level of pain that I have never experienced before.
At the same time, the baby’s heart rate began decelerating with each contraction. We didn’t know it then, but the cord had wrapped around his neck as he entered the birth canal. The nurse, watching the monitors closely, immediately started changing my position to improve the baby’s heart rate. We went from using the peanut shaped ball between my legs to having the bed elevated so that I was nearly vertical. That seemed to help a little!
She also gave me an oxygen mask to improve the amount of oxygen the baby was receiving during these early decelerations. This was a really scary moment for all of us.
The nurse brought the doctor back in to assess the situation and check how far along I was. In my heart I knew that my progression would determine her next steps and I was ecstatic to hear that I was at 9 centimeters! (Almost ready to push!)
With the epidural still not working and the pain causing my blood pressure to rise again, she sent for anesthesia to fix the epidural for a final and third time before we began to push. Thankfully, as soon as the anesthesiologist gave me a third round of medication and the pain subsided… we were ready to go.
Pushing was my favorite moment of labor and delivery. Now before you think I’m crazy for saying that… it goes back to the fact that after waiting for twenty-two hours, unable to ‘do’ anything to speed things alongâ€”I had the opportunity to physically contribute to the birth of my son. I was determined to get him out as quickly as possible and being surrounded by a strong support system enabled me to do just that.
In the room was my mom, sister, husband, and his mom. Hugh sat in a chair by my side, holding my hand and whispering encouragement into my ear. My mom held my leg while one nurse held the other and my little sister, Caroline, was the delivery room DJ and photographerâ€”playing music and snapping photos on her iPhone.
My sister put on a relaxing Spotify station and I remember rolling my eyes. “Put on your workout music or something uplifting,” I told her. “We need to get things moving!” She ironically chose ‘I’m Coming Out’ by Diana Ross which made all of us, including the doctor, laugh.
With each contraction, I pushed with everything I had and within an hour… Baby Huey was here!
We all cried as the doctor put him up on my chest. He was born at 2:10pm, weighing 7 pounds + 6 ounces and 19 inches long. I will never forget watching my husband, Hugh, crying as the doctor put the baby on my chest. Seeing him become a dad was one of the greatest moments of my life and the emotions in that moment were truly overwhelming.
After a brief moment of skin to skin, the team assessed baby Huey and one of the nurses was concerned about how lethargic he was. He wasn’t crying even when they pricked his foot and I remember nervously asking the nurseâ€”“Shouldn’t he be crying? Why isn’t he crying?”
She told me that Huey’s glucose levels were so low that they weren’t even registering on her monitor. I would find out later that low glucose levels are common with preemies, but I remember seeing how concerned everyone became and it worried me.
The decision was quickly made to take him to the NICU and my husband, Hugh, and my mother in law went to be with baby Huey. My mom and sister stayed with me as they moved me to a new room and continued the magnesium IV.
Seeing your baby being rolled away in his bassinet to the NICU and not being able to go with him is really tough. I have so much love and respect for any parent that has to go through that. It was the hardest part of the entire birth experience for me and at 36 weeks, we were much further along than many other parents who have to endure the same thing.
Thankfully, about six hours after delivery, baby Huey passed his remaining glucose and oxygen tests in the NICU and we were reunited. I cried as they put him back into my arms and I didn’t sleep at all that night because I just wanted to stare at his chubby little cheeks and watch him breathe.
My poor husband, Hugh, after being up for nearly two days straightâ€”finally fell asleep on the sofa next to my hospital bed. His mom stayed with us to help with the baby because I was too weak to hold the baby for long periods due to the magnesium and couldn’t get out of bed to care for him.
The following day they took me off of magnesium and my aunt arrived with a warm Potbelly’s sub to celebrate (cue more happy tears!) â€” After two days without food, I was so happy to finally be able to eat again! I also got to stretch my legs and get out of bed to shower and do a slow lap around the mother and baby floor.
The following day, as they went to discharge us from the hospital, Hugh jokingly said to the nurse â€” “Can we stay a while longer?” She looked at him confused and said, “How much more time do you need, hun?”
My husband replied… “At least a year. Can we stay here for the first year while we figure this whole parenting thing out?”
Our initial birth plan was to have my friend Maddie visit us in the hospital to take a few photographs before heading home. After enduring a very challenging induction and birth experienceâ€”I truthfully wasn’t feeling well enough to take photographs in the hospital.
So the first full day we were back at home, Maddie dropped by our house for a fifteen minute photoshoot in the nursery. I quickly threw a sweater on over my nursing tank and had Huey put on a flannel shirt. It was spur of the moment and captured the sweetest images that we will cherish forever.
It’s safe to say that our birth experience didn’t go as I initially envisioned, but as I sit here with my baby boy sleeping peacefully in his bassinetâ€”I’m completely fine with that. I left the hospital feeling empowered and stronger than I ever have before. I did it! We did it!
The last year and a half was a rollercoaster every step of the way, but we ended our fertility journey with a healthy baby and for that, I am unbelievably grateful.
Hugh and I are excited for the next few weeks and months as we bond with our little boy! We’re a whole new level of sleep deprived, living our lives in two hour increments… and loving every second of it. We know this season won’t last forever so we’re doing our best to soak up every second that we can.
© 2023 Natalie Franke