Courtney is a 35-year-old educational assistant and new mom from Markham, Ontario.
Right from the very beginning, birth was a wild journey for me: My husband and I had tried for a couple of years but nothing was happening. Since I suffer from two autoimmune conditions—Crohn’s disease and Ankylosing Spondylitis—I was concerned my medication was playing a role in my infertility. I also had a polyp removed, in case that was causing the problem, and then finally we did an egg retrieval.
We did one round of IVF and got pregnant on our first chance. After spending every month for years and years waiting for the test to be positive, and even though the line was faint, we were ecstatic! But I knew too that because of my Crohn’s this could be difficult. They referred me to Mount Sinai Hospital at Sinai Health to see Dr. Cindy Maxwell, because she’s an expert in pregnancies affected gastrointestinal conditions. I transferred my medical care there and she became my OB.
During an ultrasound at 18 weeks, I remember laying on the bed thinking, Okay, this is the big one where they do the measurements and let us know everything’s growing properly. Within 30 seconds, the technician said, “I see VP here.” I’d never heard of it, so I sat in the waiting room Googling on my phone. I remember thinking, Ohmigod, this is actually scary.
Dr. Maxwell confirmed the vasa previa, a super rare condition where fetal blood vessels are too close to the cervix. It felt really unfair, because I was already a high-risk pregnancy, and now I was going to need to be in hospital at 30 or 32 weeks. I’d be monitored every two weeks, and survival’s high when the condition’s monitored, but I still felt so unlucky. They said if I had a bleed, even just a spot, I needed to go to the nearest hospital right away. If the fetal vessel ruptured, we’d have about 10 minutes to get him out or else my son would die.
But I had a choice: I could be scared and make this pregnancy very hard on me, or I could be optimistic and grateful that I had an amazing doctor and incredible team. I realized I had the most amazing support system and even though I still felt like a ticking time bomb, by the time 30 weeks was coming near, I actually wanted to be in the hospital—said nobody ever! But I was having Braxton Hicks, I was very anxious, and I knew Mount Sinai was where I needed to be to feel safe.
For five weeks, I was in the hospital, just waiting. I made friends with everyone and my mom came almost every day. I was monitored twice a day and they brought in doctors and specialists as necessary. Dr. Maxwell came in to check on me a lot.
One night, after my husband and mother had visited and left, I was watching a show on my iPad and had this weird tightening sensation. I lay down, shut my eyes. I remember looking at the clock, and it was 5:47 pm, and when it happened again, it was 5:57 pm. I called the nurse, who called the doctor, and within ten minutes they were in the hallway discussing. Dr. Maxwell came in and said I was showing signs of labour, we’re gonna do this and was I ready? I was not ready. I was about to eat dinner!
I asked, “Do I have time to call my husband?” She said yes. I said, “but he’s not gonna make it, is he?” She said no. I remember wanting to cry, but instead, I started laughing because I was so nervous. I called and told him, “they’re taking me in and you’re not going to make it so don’t even try.” I said, “I have to go and I don’t know what to tell you but I love you.”
Dr. Maxwell arrived at 6:30 and set up the operating room. I thought I’d have to do it alone, but by total fluke, my sister—a nurse—was at SickKids working a shift across the street. They let her run over and be with me during the C-section. They wheeled me down, I sat up straight for the spinal, and then it all happened very quickly. I remember them saying, “Do you feel that?” I said, “Feel what?” And they said, “That’s the right answer.” It was a bizarre but not a bad feeling, like half my body wasn’t there.
Mostly I remember Dr. Maxwell saying, “We’re cutting here but not there, there’s the vessel, you’re doing great and everything’s going to be fine.” She was still stitching me up when my husband arrived, so he got to be in the delivery room too after all. At 6 lbs and 7 oz, Colton was born at 7:01pm.
Dr. Cindy Maxwell, obstetrician and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist, Mount Sinai Hospital:
If you need a team of caregivers that knows a lot about pregnancy and providing care for complex cases, Mount Sinai Hospital is that place. More than seven thousand babies are born each year at Mount Sinai, and two-thirds of those are high-risk. We’ve got one of the largest Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and one of the busiest labour and delivery wards in the country.
Everyone’s health history is different, and every pregnancy is different, so I provide care in hopes that everyone can experience a so-called “normal” pregnancy. It can be scary, but the majority of people with pre-existing medical conditions get through their pregnancies just fine.
Courtney came to Mount Sinai with Crohn’s disease, but then we discovered vasa previa, which is one or more blood vessels located in a vulnerable position with the potential to break open. This can lead to a lot of blood loss, which is potentially life-threatening for baby and mother, so she had to be hospitalized in the weeks leading up to her C-section. It’s a big moment for people when they receive a diagnosis like that, so they need time to digest and understand. It's a hard conversation for caregivers, too, but honesty is important, both about precautions they'll have to take and what my team will do to keep them, the baby, and the situation as safe as possible. I was there every step of the way with Courtney, and when she had to deliver through an emergency C-section, I was right by her side.
In these uncertain times, with the worry about healthy pregnancy and COVID-19, expert medical care can make all the difference for moms and babies—and our team will work tirelessly with you to make your delivery feels like the miracle it is.
See more about Courtney’s journey with Dr. Maxwell here: