This article was originally published May 12 and updated May 14.
GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, N.L. - Natalie Foster and her 20-month-old daughter Julie are lucky to be alive.
They survived a rare birth ordeal that left Foster a firm believer in miracles.
Five years before conceiving Julie, Foster had an ectopic pregnancy, which means the fetus attached in her fallopian tube. A surgery left scar tissue, and she was told it would likely be difficult for her to conceive again. Nevertheless, she and her husband, John, kept trying, and after a year it happened. Foster had an easy-going pregnancy until the third trimester. That’s when she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
“I couldn’t fold towels without my blood pressure spiking,” she recalled.
When it came time to deliver, doctors had to induce labour.
“When I reached four centimetres dilation, I had the intense urge to push and can remember thinking, ‘if they don’t do something, this baby is going to come now even if it means my body ripping apart,’” Foster said. “The attending doctor checked me and said everything was progressing as normal.”
It was at this point that her blood pressure started rising and the doctor called for an epidural. When Foster was on the gurney being prepped for the pain medication, she fell unconscious and began seizing.
Although she showed no markers for pre-eclampsia, which would have triggered treatment by medical staff, Foster had become eclamptic, a condition in which a mother's blood pressure spikes and can cause seizures, followed by a coma.
Doctors had to use forceps to extract Julie because Natalie was either unconscious or having violent seizures for most of her child’s birth. Several nurses, paramedics, and Foster’s husband worked to keep her still so the on-call OBGYN could deliver Julie.
“Julie’s oxygen was being cut off each time I seized so they had to be quick in delivering her,” Foster said. “John was instructed to hold my head to the side, as I was foaming (at the) mouth during the entire ordeal. Because of this, John now suffers from PTSD and finds it very difficult to talk about the situation.”
She doesn't remember much of the experience, for obvious reasons, and has had to rely on her husband, mother, and hospital staff to help her piece it together.
When the doctors finally extracted her, Julie was whisked off to an incubator. Foster was moved first to the intensive care unit, where she was unconscious for seven hours, then to the maternity ward where she stayed for five days.
Foster was still far from well. Her hemoglobin was low. She couldn’t sit up or she would pass out, but she was able to hold her daughter. She said watching other families - who had been admitted after her - leave before she was able was a disheartening thing.
On the fourth day she was given a blood transfusion which gave her the strength to function again and leave the hospital. To Foster’s great relief Julie came out “perfect.” She was warned she and Julie both could have suffered brain damage from the ordeal, but tests proved this was not the case. Julie had come away with a small bump on her head and a mark by her eye from the forceps, both of which have disappeared.
Throughout her whole traumatic experience Foster remembers receiving phenomenal care at the Central Newfoundland Regional Health Centre. She called the nurses and doctors "amazing" and she often visits the obstetrics ward, especially during Nursing Week and at Christmas, bringing cookies and cards to show her deep appreciation.
Foster is still diabetic and still has high blood pressure, and will take medication for the rest of her life as a result. The couple decided the risk of repeating their agonizing birth experience is too great to try for any more kids.
Foster believes her faith pulled her through a difficult delivery and the experience has changed her whole outlook.
“I see life differently,” she explained. “I don’t take anything for granted.”
This Mother’s Day, her family, which includes her 14-year-old stepdaughter Charlotte, will celebrate the miracle of simply being here to celebrate it together