Let me begin by saying thank you for your support. If you're reading this first of many (hold me accountable on that) blogposts it means that in some capacity you are supporting me professionally and/or personally. I believe that most of you have formed some sort of connection to me, my teachings or my lifestyle and for that connection I am grateful. I could write a novel about this experience and hopefully one day I will because it has felt like the ultimate lesson or surrender and trust.
What started out as a five day work trip to Hamburg, Germany while I was 31 weeks pregnant resulted in a 30 day trip in which we returned with a 20 day old baby. Our original plan was for this to be my last trip before the baby arrived on Dec 20th. We'd leave for Hamburg on Oct 18th, I'd teach at the Groove Yoga Festival and we'd return home to Red Deer, AB on Oct 23rd. Let me preface by saying it is extremely rare that Mike, my husband, ever joins me on a work trip, but for some odd reason I felt super passionate about him joining me on this one. Something about being 31 weeks pregnant and so far away from home without my partner felt wrong. Call it intuition? Luck? However you look at it I am so grateful he was with me. This journey would have been much scarier to navigate alone.
After a long day of travel we arrived to Hamburg on Thursday Oct 19th. The following day was my one day off, so Mike and I used it as an opportunity to see the city. We went down to the harbor to see the symphony hall called the Elbphilharmonieunder, climbed to the top of St. Michaelis church (where the picture to the right was taken), we walked the Elbe Tunnel which is the the under water tunnel, and ate delicious food along the way. It was a fantastic albeit rainy day. We tried to maximize the little time we had to explore, since the rest of the trip I'd be working.
When I woke up the morning of Saturday Oct 21st something felt dramatically different about my body. I was having a lot of what I thought was discharge/me peeing myself, which are common symptoms of pregnancy so I didn’t think too much of it. I made a mental note and carried on with my day. I taught two classes at the festival that day. I did my best to bring my A-game to those classes, but honestly my mind was elsewhere considering by the end of the second class it looked like I had clearly wet my pants. After the classes I continued to leak fluids throughout the day. By the end of the day I did what any sane person would do when something is off with their health - I went straight for Google. Always a bad idea. Still in denial, or merely hoping, that it was me peeing myself we called our midwife back in Canada for reassurance. She asked me a series of questions and based on my answers she recommended we go to the hospital, so they could check if the leak was amniotic fluid or urine. She insisted it was what we'd do if I was home and that it was a fast and easy test. Mike and I hopped in a taxi and off to the hospital we went.
This was probably the scariest night of the whole experience. We were in a foreign country, felt overwhelmed by the language barrier, and weren’t sure what would come of this experience financially since our travel insurance only covered me until I was 32 weeks pregnant and stated clearly in our policy that it did not cover the baby. I had never prayed so hard that I had wet my pants.
Upon checking in at the ER where the receptionist spoke close to zero English she managed to convey that we were to go to the "yellow house." By this time it was well past midnight, so we wandered out of the ER and aimlessly walked around in the dark trying to find the "yellow house." It turns out that was just the nickname for the building that housed the maternity ward, labor/delivery and NICU. We eventually found where we were supposed to go (side note: the building was not yellow nor was it a house) and checked in. Fortunately we had better luck in the english department this time around. We were told to go upstairs to see a doctor. We took the elevator up a floor. Upon exiting the elevator there were three doors labeled in German. Once again we had no clue where to go. We hit a button on what looked like an intercom and hoped the person on the other end spoke english. Fortunately they did and one of the doors opened. We entered. We were ushered to an examination room where it all began.
The room was dark which was somewhat comforting since it was now around 2am. Mike stood by my side as one of the doctors began to run a series of tests on me. They took a swab from my vagina to see if the fluid was amniotic fluid. Meanwhile she started an intravaginal ultrasound. At this point in time we hadn't found out the sex of the baby and miraculously it remained a secret to us until he was born. While she explored with the wand I felt extremely nauseous. I started to gag and go pale. She took the wand out of me and fluid began to gush out. It was then all three of us knew we didn't need the test results it was definitely my amniotic fluid. Fortunately after further examination we learned that I still had enough fluid left in my uterus that our baby was not in distress or at risk. The risk we would now monitor for was infection. Ironically the doctor working on me had been to the Groove Yoga Festival the night before, but couldn't attend the rest of the weekend because she was working. It felt reassuring to have a yogi with me on this journey. My blood results came back and there was no sign of infection. This was extremely positive since every day the baby stayed in my uterus the better chance he/she had of surviving. My treatment began immediately. They gave me the first dose of a two dose steroid to help the baby's lungs to develop. These shots are crucial when it comes to preterm babies, since they facilitate lung development. At 31 weeks and 5 days pregnant the lungs are often the baby's weakest link. I also began medicine to reduce high blood pressure. At this hospital they use it to help reduce the chance of contractions. The midwives and doctors were so kind that first night because they let us stay together in a room at the hospital that had a bed big enough for Mike and I. That evening Mike and I held each other extra tight as we drifted off into restless sleep.
The next day they moved me into a shared room downstairs where I met my roommate Stephanie. She and her boyfriend Ole extended so much kindness towards us including the offers to let Mike crash on their couch and even offered to do our laundry. By the end of our trip Steph had been discharged and they hosted us at their home for dinner. There two were just the beginning of the kindness that would be extended towards us throughout the whole experience. My good friend and fellow yoga instructor Erica Jung and her boyfriend Udo came to visit us, did our laundry and brought us copious amounts of German treats. Nadine, the owner of Damn Good Yoga Hamburg, connected us with a local doula named Agnes who speaks English fluently. I spent the next several days having my IV moved multiple times, getting blood drawn and tested daily, monitoring of the baby's HR, taking pills to prevent blood clotting from bed rest, just to name a few... For someone not very fond of needles that had to change really fast. I spent a lot of time laying around while Mike tried to frantically figure out what having a baby in Germany would look like for us because it became evident they had no intention of discharging me until the baby was born. We set up a meeting with Agnes to see if there was a connection between us, so that we could have a German and English speaking person on our birth team. Agnes was an angel and an integral part of making this birthing and post-labor process smooth for our family.
It was in the first few days that after Mike had hounded our insurance relentlessly we received the news that they would be covering my medical expenses AND the baby’s as well. This was a HUGE stress relief and still is. Thank you Blue Cross Alberta.
On my fifth day in the hospital I starting having pelvic cramps. They weren't bad, but were new to me so I informed my nurses and they said to keep track of them but not to worry. Later that afternoon the results from my blood that morning came back showing elevated white blood cells and my temperature was reading a low grade fever. This wasn't good because those two signs combined meant there was a chance I developed an infection. They decided to check my blood again in a few hours to see if anything had changed. They hooked me up to a monitor to check the baby's HR and my vitals. It turned out the cramps I was having were contractions. A few hours later they received my blood results back with a similar outcome. They consulted the head doctor on staff and decided to take my blood one last time at midnight. They rushed the results, so that they'd be back within the hour. At that time we decided as a team that if nothing had changed it would be best for the baby if we did a c-section to reduce the risk of the baby catching an infection.
Personally a c-section was my last option when it came to delivery, but I would have done anything to keep our baby safe. The results came back and it was clear I had an infection and it was getting worse. The doctors and nurses quickly began to mobilize me. They loaded me onto
a new bed and wheeled me into a new room. This was to be my post-op room. Several doctors came in explaining their role in the surgery, what could go wrong and had me sign legal documents all in German. Not super reassuring. It was all happening so fast. I felt stunned and paralyzed. My yoga practice came in particularly handy at this moment. I focused on staying connected to my breath and remaining calm. I couldn't focus on all the things that could go wrong in surgery or if my baby would be okay. I had to stay in the present moment and take one breath at a time... The time had come. They wheeled me into the "theater" aka the operating room. The moment I was most anxious about had arrived: the epidural. I was quite afraid. I had spent years of my asana practice focusing on building a strong and stable spine. The thought that this could be compromised by the slip of a needle terrified me. The midwife on shift spoke fantastic english since she had gone to school in England. She held both my hands, looked me in the eyes and talked to me as they administered the epidural. Her presence was crucial. My reaction to medical discomfort has always been the same throughout my life - pass out and/or throw up. This time around I thought I was going to vomit. I gagged several times and began to feel lightheaded. I asked for water which they denied and I knew they would. Shortly thereafter the nausea passed and I felt ready. They successfully administered the epidural and the numbing began to kick in.
Once they were close to ready Mike got decked out in scrubs and joined me in the OR. The surgery itself was quite short. It was nowhere near what I had built it up to be in my mind... Isn't that usually the case? Having Mike by my side helped keep me calm and focused. It was odd feeling that something was happening to my body and yet there were no sensations of pain. As they cut, pulled, and stitched I tried to stay as relaxed and reactionless as possible. I figured my resistance wouldn't help anything they were doing. Out of what felt like nowhere, since Mike and I were telling jokes and laughing, we heard a nurse say 2:27am in english. This was the only english spoken by someone besides Mike and I in the OR during the c-section, so it was out of place, but then I heard the sweetest cry I've ever heard. Mike and I looked at each other in disbelief. I had a tear rolling down my cheek and so did Mike. The midwife came from behind the curtain and said, "Meet your son." I looked at him in disbelief… He was perfection. Adler Hardt Kozlowski had entered this world. When born Adler weighed 1890g and was 43c long. I've never seen Mike look so proud (as seen in the picture to the left). In that instant we had become parents. They began to stitch me back up and whisked Adler away for a series of tests to see how he was doing. For the first time ever I could identify as a mom. That was the moment my heart burst wide open and my life was forever changed.
Here are some pictures of Adler and I 90 minutes after delivery:
After Adler's birth we remained in Germany for 18 more days. I'll share the rest of the story about getting Adler home in a later blog.