The marvelous Mariah Cope, Lily Grace (10), Kane (8 - born at 28 weeks), Ava Pearl (3- born at 35 weeks), Eloise Mae (10 months - born at 34 weeks).
Conceiving was never an issue for Mariah but keeping her babies in long enough was a challenge. With Lily she had "morning sickness" all day, everyday, for the entire pregnancy. She delivered in the hospital and was so tired after laying in bed, being told not to move, that she finally accepted the epidural so she could rest. Things progressed pretty quickly after that and Lily arrived after 24 hours of labor. Although she wasn't sure if she wanted to breastfeed initially, Lily latched right on and they never looked back.
Mariah knew that she wanted something different for her next birth and found the Women's Birth and Wellness Center in Chapel Hill, NC. When Kane was conceived she had issues right from the start. She spotted for the first 15 weeks and was told she would likely miscarry. At 18 weeks things looked good and she started to share her pregnancy with family and friends. Another ultrasound was scheduled to monitor placenta previa though her team thought it would move on it's own prior to delivery.
At 23 weeks they had another ultrasound and got the all clear that the pregnancy should go to term but at 23 weeks and 6 days her water broke. There is no known reason for her premature rupture and she was admitted to UNC with a plan to deliver that evening. They asked if she would like them to try and save the baby or if they wanted to let him pass as it was not protocol to intervene until babies reached 24 weeks. Her first goal was make it to midnight and give him a chance to fight. "That's when I chose the name Kane meaning "little warrior" because if he was going to make it he was going to have to fight for it. I felt as though I had been hit by a truck. I had a 16 month old at home, no family locally, and was looking at a long hospital stay for me and/or a baby. My family staggered vacation days and took advantage of school breaks to come and watch Lily so I could rest. Thankfully I never went into labor".
Mariah remained on full bedrest in the hospital waiting for Kane to grow and monitoring for the inevitable infection that would lead to delivery. She continued to leak fluid for the next 4 weeks. They learned that Kane's lungs had stopped developing, he was breech and had no fluid to help him move. At 28 weeks, she started having dull back pain she mentioned to her night nurse and morning doctor. The doctor pushed on her abdomen and the pain was horrendous. They learned infection was setting in and it was time to deliver. She was prepped for a cesarean immediately and taken to the delivery floor. Kane was born weighing 2lbs 4oz and not breathing at all. She never heard him cry and didn't get to see him. "Instead, he was whisked away with a fabulous team that undoubtedly saved his life". They finished her operation and she was taken to recovery to rest but had no idea how her baby was doing. "No one was allowed in to see him or get a report because they were trying to stabilize him. When we got our first update he was fully intubated, his lungs had stopped developing around 24 weeks it seemed, his skin had developed more quickly than expected and we were given the shocking news that his eyelids were still fused together and he may not have eyes at all".
Since breastfeeding had gone so seamlessly with Lily, she assumed she would be able to pump for her baby since she knew his immune system needed all of the help he could get. For months she pumped and pumped and tried every tea, domperidone, reaglan, and anything else that was suggested to try and get her milk to come in but it never did. Mariah was able to hold Kane for the first time when he was a week old. He was hooked to so many wires and monitors but slowly they learned how to care for him in the NICU and change his tiny diapers. After 11 long, exhausting weeks of ups and down Kane was released on nasal cannula oxygen and a take home oxygen and heart monitor. "That machine is the only reason I was able to sleep at all. After watching him stop breathing or when his heart would just stop I never would have been able to stop staring at him if we didn't come home with that. After slowly weaning the oxygen Kane was finally tube free at 6 months old".
When Kane and Lily were three and four, Mariah separated from their father. He had anger issues but she had thought she could help him - "He came back from the military even more angry. The holes punched in the walls went from a room away to directly over my head. I always made it ok in my mind because it was just words or calling me names. He never actually tried to hurt me. I told myself countless times that as long as it never got physical... Until one day it did. I knew at that point that it was over. I could not stay with him and let my kids watch this and continue the cycle I had brought them into".
Just months after leaving with her children, Mariah met her now husband. She was very forward about the relationship she needed and she says that he has stepped up to the plate. He loves her children as his own and has become an amazing bonus parent to them. They knew they wanted to have a child together and were thrilled to conceive shortly after their wedding. Besides morning sickness, the pregnancy progressed without issue. Due to her preterm delivery with Kane she began weekly progesterone shots to hopefully help her get closer to term with this delivery. Her doctors wanted to deliver via cesarean at 37 weeks but at 35 weeks she went into spontaneous labor. They decided to deliver then and her 4lb 10oz baby came out screaming. Ava was taken to the NICU for observation when the surgical team suddenly began shouting. "They told my husband he needed to leave the room immediately and explained that she was loosing a lot of blood. They told me that there was a chance they would need to put me completely under and they would do all they could but that I may need a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding". It was determined that Ava's placenta had grown into her previous cesarean scar and wouldn't separate from her uterus. After 7 blood transfusions they were finally able to stop the bleeding.
Ava was in the NICU for two days for observation and Mariah started pumping as soon as she could move, determined to breastfeed her. "There was no donor milk available at the time through the hospital and her blood sugars were low. Although I was getting some milk it wasn't enough yet. Rather than allowing them to use formula my sister came to visit and hand expressed several ounces. Just enough to stabilize Ava's blood sugar until my milk came in! She latched on the first chance they gave us and nursed until she weaned at age two!"
It was recommended that Mariah not have any more children because her uterine wall was so thin and so she expected Ava to be her last. Mariah soaked up every bit of baby she could and her husband had a vasectomy consultation. When she learned she was pregnant again she was in shock. Still, Eloise's pregnancy went on to be the easiest of all. She saw a high risk OB every two weeks of her pregnancy. Took progesterone shots weekly and had extra ultrasounds where everything looked great. Delivery was scheduled for 37 weeks but at 34 weeks contractions started. They arrived to the hospital and things moved quickly. Eloise was born via repeat cesaren without complication and taken to NICU for observation. Determined to breastfeed again, Mariah started pumping so they could use her milk for tube feeds. Eloise began to latch and nurse but would only stay on for a minute or two before falling back to sleep. She had to beg her team to turn down her tube feeds and let me nurse her and when they finally let her try she nursed beautifully. Eloise was discharged the following day and has been doing beautifully since.
"I have followed 4TBP for a very long time. I always admired the women for putting themselves out there and said if you ever came close to me, I was doing it. I booked my spot before really thinking about it or giving myself a chance to talk myself out of it so I was incredibly nervous leading up to the shoot. I've never done anything like this but I want to remember this time in our lives. All of the fun we're trying to have, all of the chaos of having four kids. Being a mom is hard. I've been a stay at home mom and now I co-own a more than full time business. The grass may look greener on the other side- but it's actually just a different kind of grass. We all have our struggles and challenges. There is no "right" way it's all about finding the balance that works for your family in the phase of life you're in. And it *will* change many many times. If we could all just be kind to one another we as mothers could start changing the world for our children now."