Ashlee Wells Jackson’s Birth Stories
Ashlee is a photographer, feminist and storyteller currently living in Chicago. Mother to Xavier (10) and surviving identical twin daughter Nova Emery (3) and Aurora Eisley (stillborn due to complications from Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome). Since mid 2012 she has been focused, along with business partner, Laura Weetzie Wilson, on 4th Trimester Bodies Project an international movement, photo-documentary and book series celebrating the uncensored beauty in motherhood. You can connect with Ashlee on Instagram @ashleewellsjxn or @4thTriBodies as well as Twitter and Facebook.
In today’s episode Ashlee shares the stories of her three children’s births. Her son Xavier was born when she was 23 years old and she and her husband did lots of research and were planning for a peaceful home water birth. Ashlee had trained to be a doula while she was pregnant and her midwife joked that she was the picture of a textbook perfect pregnancy, measuring right on track, healthy, and active.
28 Week Premature Birth
Ashlee went into the late stages of labor unexpectedly at 28 weeks, arrived at the hospital within an hour of realizing what was happening to find out she was fully dilated with bulging waters. She had a traumatic birth with the hospital staff screaming at her not to push and to lay on her back when she knew she needed to be in a different position. Ashlee was able to briefly see Xavier before he was taken to the NICU and even though he was 12 weeks early he was healthier than expected and spent a total of 46 days in NICU, improving each day. Ashlee struggled with feeling of empowerment and being on a high from giving birth while facing the fear of her son’s health.
When Ashlee found out she was pregnant again she and her almost husband met with a team of midwives and planned on having the homebirth she’d missed out on the first time. Again, Ashlee was the picture of healthy but was measuring a bit ahead of dates so her midwife asked her to have an ultrasound which she and her fiance had on the morning of their wedding day when they found out they were having twin girls! They were overjoyed and named both girls while on their honeymoon.
Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome
When they returned home they had a follow up ultrasound and 2nd Trimester screen and were told they had a stuck twin and that their daughter’s were suffering from TTTS (twin to twin transfusion syndrome). They were referred to an MFM (maternal fetal medicine doctor) where they were told the girls were stage 4 of 5 of TTTS (5 meaning they had both already passed) and were given three options – terminate the entire pregnancy, selectively abort one of their girls in hopes the other would do better or immediately travel from Chicago to St. Louis for a laser surgery that was our only chance to save them both by separating their placental vessel connections. The surgery was the only option they could accept so they drove to St. Louis and 72 hours later were in the operating room.
The surgery was deemed successful; they severed the girls’ vessel connections and drained 3+ Liters of excess amniotic fluid. Ashlee rested around hourly ultrasounds and felt at peace and relieved that they were going to be OK.
In the morning they had one final ultrasound before being discharged and within seconds of the wand hitting her belly, Ashlee knew something was wrong. The doctor who had performed the surgery grabbed her hand and told her that Aurora had no heartbeat. After having been told the surgery was a success, it was such a shock to learn they’d lost one of their baby girls.
Ashlee was left to deal with the process of grieving the loss of one daughter while growing her other daughter. She was told that Nova was doing well and that there was no reason she wouldn’t make it to full term. She had long ultrasounds each week to check on both girls, Nova’s growth and Aurora’s body. Her fluid levels were still very high (polyhydramino’s is a side effect of TTTS) but everything else was stable until she woke up at 3am during her 24th week in labor and felt the same way she had when she went into labor with Xavier.
24 Week Premature Birth
She rushed to the hospital but despite all of the medications they gave her, nothing would slow down her contractions. They removed her cerclage and her MFM, knowing how important natural birth was to her, encouraged her to push but Ashlee had been given a spinal block rather than an epidural and couldn’t control her body well enough to push effectively. Nova’s heart beat dipped, and Ashlee was soon in the OR being prepped for a crash cesarean and at 11:11am Nova was born, with Aurora following a minute later.
Nova was taken to the NICU and Ashlee, who had been put under completely for the surgery woke up alone. Ashlee was concerned for Nova and didn’t know where Aurora was. Aurora was brought to Ashlee and they were able to spend some time together while Nova was being stabilized.
It was determined that the girls came so quickly due to a rampant E-coli infection that must have happened during the initial surgery performed to separate them.
After Nova suffered from a brain bleed, they were told that Nova would likely never talk or walk but they sought second opinions and took her to a neurosurgeon at the Children’s Hospital in Chicago when she was 5 weeks old where she had a surgery to help her brain. Nova spent 100 days in the NICU, developed hydrocephalus and eventually came home with a VP shunt and an NG tube. They fought hard to exclusively breastfeed and are still going strong at 3 years old. Nova is now exceeding all expectations – beautifully healthy and extraordinarily happy today.
Since giving birth, Ashlee struggled with feeling like a failure and hating her body for not doing what it was supposed to do. Being able to breastfeed was a healing process and a way for her to connect with her body and her children as she navigated her new role as a mother. She took the first picture of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project as a self portrait and has since photographed over 1500 women and heard their stories. You can read more about my experience participating in the project here.