As a high school English teacher, Emma Bireline loves a good story with a happy ending. She had just turned the page on her wedding and honeymoon, and she was ready to start the next chapter: parenthood.
“We had decided to have children right way. We thought we would try for three months … and just immediately we were pregnant,” said Emma, her voice relaying the joy and surprise.
Emma, stunned and happy, wasn’t sure what to do next. She called Tammy Wyman, the nurse she knew at Atlantic Medical Center.
“Tammy really made it simple for me. I had seen Dr. Brown in the past, and I felt that was the right choice for our family,” she explained.
Tammy beams when she talks about their patients. “I take care of these girls like they are my own,” she said. As the primary nurse who works with Dr. Brown, Tammy fields questions, concerns, and fears from patients every day. “Every experience is different, because every person is different, and we’re here to answer any question. We want them to have the best experience they can have.”
And that was the case for Emma as her pregnancy progressed normally. “Everything was going so smoothly,” she said.
At 20 weeks, the happy couple had their first ultrasound and found out they were expecting a baby boy. What they weren’t expecting was the follow-up phone call that came just a few days later.
Something was wrong.
The ultrasound had revealed that the baby’s left kidney was dilated and looked a bit bigger than the right. With that discovery came another round of appointments with a perinatologist in Omaha.
“Up to that point I was thinking very positive,” said Emma. “But at our appointment, it became clear there was something serious with his left kidney. That was a pretty upsetting appointment.”
That same day, Tammy and Dr. Brown received the report from the perinatologist, and both called Emma to reassure her things would be okay. “It was so comforting and reassuring,” said Emma.
“We both called, and we always try to focus on the positives,” said Tammy. “That’s when my momma skills come out – you have to be calm and reassuring, and to encourage them to not read all the scary stories out there – but to instead talk to us and get their information from us.”
Emma remembers how frustrating that point in their pregnancy was. “We couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong. We knew there was an abnormality, but not the specifics. They’re just too little to know, and it was scary.”
As baby Bireline continued to grow, Emma continued to see the perinatologist every 4 weeks, and felt relieved with she got the all-clear to deliver at Cass County Memorial Hospital. “We were hoping to be able to deliver in Atlantic,” said Emma.
10 days before her due date, Emma’s water broke in the middle of the night. “I think that childbirth is the most vulnerable situation you’re ever in, the most private part of your life is just on display for everyone, and it never bothered me once. They never made me feel embarrassed or ashamed. It was just like I was one of their own,” said Emma.
“My labor was pretty much textbook easy,” laughed Emma. “At one point, I said to Dr. Brown, ‘I thought you said this was going to be hard!’” Emma received an epidural and was able to rest and nap while in labor. “And then I gave birth to him after pushing through 2 contractions,” she said.
Reu Alexander arrived; a healthy baby boy at 7 pounds even and 21 inches long.
For a first-time mom, it was a fairy-tale perfect labor and delivery. According to Dr. Brown, Emma had a great experience because she was healthy and fit.
“Emma was already engaged in healthy habits with her exercise and diet,” said Dr. Brown. “That’s important for your overall health and well-being – we’re reducing the risk of metabolic problems, reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems – all of those things that carry over to the baby.”
Emma was initially concerned about cutting back on her exercise routine, but was pleased to hear that Dr. Brown held the same views on fitness as her, and encouraged her to keep at it. “Exercise and fitness help a woman’s ability to push during labor, and psychologically, you’re stronger and can withstand stressful situations,” said Dr. Brown.
While still in the hospital, Reu’s doctor, Dr. Ben Howard, came to check on the family. As Reu’s primary care provider, he had been following his progress all along.
“Once a patient selects us as their baby’s physician, we are regularly informed about them,” said Dr. Howard. “In Reu’s case, I received and read the reports from the perinatologist, and I had been in communication with a urologist at Children’s Hospital, too.”
Dr. Howard talked to Emma and Alex about their appointment at Children’s, letting them know that he had scheduled the appointment and been in contact with the urologist. “He was already completely updated on Reu’s condition,” said Emma.
For the new parents, that took a huge weight off their shoulders. “Alex had called to try to schedule an appointment,” said Emma. “But scheduling appointments, and being on hold, and also being kind of ignorant of what’s going on with your own child—it’s so difficult and so having them take care of that, despite their busy schedules, is just awesome. It’s been really nice, you know when they just said, yup, you have this appointment out here and you’re going to go at this time.”
Since then, Reu was officially diagnosed with a duplex collecting system, and he will continue to see a urologist on a routine basis, but he will have all of his normal well-child checks right here in Atlantic with Dr. Howard.
Throughout this experience, Emma stressed how supported she felt at Cass County Health System. “I felt that everybody was always on my side, and doing the best to help us out, and to know about our situation, and that continues to be like that.”
With Reu safely delivered, Emma thought that naturally their happily-ever-after ending would come next. But every hero deals with adversity, and for Emma, the next battle had just begun.
“I felt lied to by so many women because you see all these people on social media, and you talk to all of these people, and they say ‘it’s the best moment of your life, you’ll never experience more love.’ I was thinking once I had my son, that my life was going to be rainbows, sunshine, me and my baby – and all this love. I think for some women, that is a reality and that is so fortunate, but for others, you just have this massive hormonal crash,” she said.
Emma struggled during those first two weeks with feelings of sadness and anxiety, and what she described as the baby blues.
“I wasn’t prepared for that, and I felt just like it was all me, that I was the worst mom,” she said. “People ask how you are, and you feel uncomfortable telling the truth.”
Thankfully, Emma had a lot of support at home with her family and friends. At two weeks and three days postpartum, Emma told her husband that she thought she should call the doctor. Alex was very supportive and agreed. “Then the next morning, I woke up a different person. I don’t know if it was that my hormones had finally leveled out, but my outlook was completely changed.”
Today, Emma loves her new role as mom and hopes to write about her experience soon. “I feel a responsibility to share what I went through, because I don’t want them to feel like I felt,” she said.
Another thing Emma wants to share with women who are looking to start or grow their families – is to have your baby here at CCHS. “I wouldn’t even just recommend, I’d encourage it,” she said. “You get spoiled here. You know it wouldn’t even be a question for my next child to be born here.”
From all of us at CCHS, we look forward to the day when Emma and her family return for the sequel.
Photos used with permission from Lindsay Dinkla Photography.