The best way to remember is to write it down. As a writer of moments big and small, I just had to write about this one–the biggest moment of my life. It has forever changed me.
All of the cliche things are true: it’s magical, painful, scary, and it’s the most wonderful thing ever. I’m still in awe of what my body is capable of doing.
Before I jump in, I’d like to backtrack a little bit. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that last year I had a miscarriage. It was devastating–the most emotionally painful thing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never felt so empty, lonely, or sad before (you can read more about that HERE). It is true–that time heals. Because of this experience, I was terrified to become pregnant again (you can read more about that HERE). I wasn’t scared of becoming a mother, or losing my identity. I was scared to lose another baby.
My pregnancy wasn’t easy. Each day was a milestone for me. I grew a little more confident as the weeks passed, but deep down I knew it could all be taken away at any moment. I was guarded; I felt robbed of a carefree, easy going, excited pregnancy. I’d gone to the doctors office more times than I can count (even more than the usual appointments) because I experienced bleeding throughout my entire pregnancy. This might be too many details–but it is what scared me the most. Every time it showed up, I panicked. This is how my miscarriage started last time. But this time was different as I was continually reassured by a heartbeat that everything was going just fine, and the doctor would say, “bleeding can be common and normal.” It would go away for a while, and I’d be so thankful. And then it would show up again; I was dizzy with fear. What if I lost this baby, too?
THE EMERGENCY ROOM
At 33 weeks pregnant, the bleeding showed up again. We rushed to the ER and it was determined that this was “normal pregnancy stuff, as my body was preparing for birth.” I was dilated 1cm, which is also totally normal. What was strange though, was my abnormally high blood pressure. I am usually praised for having low blood pressure. Just to be safe, they did a swab test to see if baby could perhaps, come early. The test (fetal fibronectin), if negative, means it’s close to 100% that baby will not come early. However, if positive, there is a 10-20% chance that baby could arrive within 7-10 days. This is a small percentage, and there are often false positives; mine was positive. To be on the safe side, I was given steroid shots (betamethasone) which would boost baby’s lungs (which were still developing) just in case of an early arrival. The resident doctor assured me of the small percentages and sent me home. I arrived the next day to get the second dose of the steroid shot, and my blood pressure was even higher. Because of this, they admitted me for several hours to observe if it changed. It only got higher, and I had protein in my urine. I was diagnosed with gestational hypertension. This diagnosis meant that I would be induced at 37 weeks. I was nervous that my baby would be born 3 weeks early, and via induction.
HERE WE GO
Seven days later, Codey and I were at Target, literally buying some diapers and other stuff we thought we’d need before the 37 week induction date. I felt off all day. I was so hungry and so thirsty, my back was killing me; I felt like I was walking like an old lady. Then, in the public bathroom, the bleeding came back. We stopped our shopping trip and went back to the ER. The monitor showed small contractions, which I was told “were too small to turn into active labor.” After several hours, I was told again, that bleeding can be normal as my body prepares for birth. I was still 1 cm dilated, like the week before and baby was very low. We went home, took it easy. All I wanted was rest and lemonade. I drank lemonade all day long. Codey had to go to the store that night to buy more lemonade because I drank it all. I got ready for bed and curled up at 9:00pm. I could still feel the cramps, which I ignored and told myself that “if I just fall asleep, I’ll forget about it, and tomorrow will be a new day.” I couldn’t sleep a wink. I went to the bathroom every half hour (thanks, lemonade). And each time I was so thirsty that I’d drink more. By 1:00am, the bleeding and pressure got worse and I just couldn’t sleep because my back hurt so bad. I woke Codey and said we had to go back to the ER. Codey thought it was probably nothing, and he was very tired after being there all day, but went to be safe. I called the triage line to let them know we were on our way. The triage nurse proclaimed, “well, from the way you’re speaking, it doesn’t sound like you’re in active labor; you are far too calm.” She continued, “you were just here earlier, but if it makes you feel better, you can come in.”
We assumed we would be told “this is normal”, and be sent home, so we left our packed suitcases at home. The drive was a blur. It hurt to sit in the car; I felt like I was squishing baby’s head. I thought my hips were going to crack apart. I began to breathe differently, and then Codey knew this time was different. By the time we got to the hospital at 1:30 am, I had trouble speaking because the pain was pretty intense. The pain is hard to describe…but it felt like my lower back and uterus were in vice that kept tightening. The triage nurse who I had spoken with on the phone a half hour before was my nurse as I arrived. She attempted casual conversations with me, and I began to shake uncontrollably; I couldn’t stop. This actually scared me. It felt like I wasn’t even in my body anymore. The bleeding got worse. The nurse rushed to find a doctor to examine me. The doctors were too busy. “I’m not supposed to do exams,” she said, “but I’m going to do it anyway.” She examined me and said, “oh, yep. You’re 5 cm dilated, you’re going upstairs to labor and delivery. Gosh, you seemed so calm on the phone!” I couldn’t talk. She stuck an IV in my wrist, and asked me about pain management. Codey spoke up for me, as he knew my wishes. “She’d like to attempt natural childbirth, but isn’t against an epidural if it comes to it.” The IV was for antibiotics as I had never done the Strep B test (which is done at 35 weeks). Things progressed so fast, I didn’t even get the antibiotics and my IV was never hooked up.
The nurses in the ER said, “congratulations!” as I was wheeled out of there and into the elevator. Once there, my nurse said, “almost all 34 weekers will be okay, so don’t worry.” Just then it hit me and I began to panic a little bit: my baby was going to be born a month and a half early.
LABOR + DELIVERY
Once we got to the labor and delivery room, everything was really a blur. I remember the nurse who greeted me there was so kind and warm and made me feel comfortable (as comfortable as can be, I guess, when you’re giving birth to a human). She helped me change into a gown and blood was dripping down my legs. I felt an enormous amount of pressure and insisted I had to go to the bathroom. She helped me sit down, and obviously I didn’t have to go to the bathroom, my baby wanted to come out! I climbed into the bed and stayed on my hands and knees as the rushes of pain got more and more intense. I couldn’t lie down on my back because it hurt too much. Another nurse was called in and so was a delivery doctor (not my doctor, because this was very short notice). They examined me and I was at 8 cm. Everything progressed so fast–to me, the entire thing felt like 20 minutes. And just like that, I was at 10 cm. No time for pain management. I rolled over onto my back and they told me to push. The encouraging nurse held one foot and Codey held the other. My mom arrived just in time. Baby’s heart rate dropped, so they broke my water. I was given oxygen and was told, “Okay. You have to push baby out in the next couple of pushes, or we will need to use forceps.” The thought of big metal prongs pulling my baby out by his fragile head scared the hell out of me, so I pushed! After several big pushes, I remember saying, “I can’t.” Everyone cheered me on. I’ve never been cheered on that hard before. As baby’s head came out (the “ring of fire” description is no joke), Codey said, “he’s beautiful!” and I couldn’t believe it was over already. I had it built up in my head that labor would last forever. Two hours after arriving, at 3:31 am, our baby boy was born. He didn’t cry.
Baby was whisked away to make certain that he could breathe. The doctors were so surprised he could breathe on his own–all thanks to that steroid shot the week prior. He was small, 4 lbs 12 oz, and 17″ long. Codey cut the cord, baby was cleaned up, and I held baby on my chest for a few moments. I couldn’t believe my baby boy was here. Codey and I had a short list of names, and we decided then and there that he’d be called Arthur. After our very brief moment, baby and Codey went upstairs to the NICU.
I remember feeling so confused. Why is my baby somewhere else? It’s like I forgot that he was born prematurely and that he needed intensive care. My mom stayed with me as the doctors cleaned me up. I’m glad she was there–otherwise I would’ve been all alone. The nurse pressed really hard on my belly and it hurt. The doctor examined the placenta and said that I had Placental Abruption; he said it with a very serious tone. Placental Abruption (occurs in 1% of pregnancies) is when the placenta breaks away from the uterus, and causes bleeding–and in some cases, a hemorrhage; it deprives the baby of oxygen, and causes severe back pain. He said I’m lucky I got to the hospital when I did or things could’ve been worse. In the moment, I didn’t realize how serious this was or how close to danger we were.
They added a few stitches and continued to press on my belly. The nurse gave me a bagel with cream cheese–I was shaky and starving. She helped spray me off in a stand up shower, and helped dress me in some hospital socks, undies, and a clean gown. Then she showed me how to use a breast pump–which was so other-wordly to me. The last thing I wanted to do was try to use a breast pump while my baby was somewhere else. But I was assured that it would encourage my milk to come in–and premature babies thrive best on breast milk. I was determined to breastfeed and to provide for my baby. This interim time of belly pressing, and pumping seemed to drag on for an eternity.
Recovering after birth was not how I imagined it to be. I had imagined snuggling my newborn bundle in my hospital bed and remembering every small detail with my husband as our family became three. I do remember the small details, but I didn’t get to snuggle my baby in my bed.
As the time kept crawling by, Codey and my Dad eventually came back to the delivery room, all smiles telling me that Arthur was doing great in the NICU. Because I didn’t have an epidural, my legs weren’t numb, so I could thankfully get out of there sooner than if I had one. The nurse pressed on my belly one more time and said, “are you ready to go see your son?” I cried happy tears–my heart was in another room waiting for me. I would’ve leapt off the bed, but I couldn’t. She helped me into a wheel chair and wheeled me to the elevator. We went up to the top floor where the NICU was. After getting off of the elevator, we had to fill out some paperwork at the check-in counter and sanitize our hands. Then the greeter pressed a button to open the doors to the NICU and I was wheeled inside. Arthur was in room 11; I was went past door after door of rooms with baby names on the outside: Carter, Pearl, Mason, Teddy, Peyton…eventually we got to ours: Arthur. The glass door slid open to a dimly lit, quiet room.
I’d only met him briefly in the labor and delivery room, and already he looked different. He was all curled up in his crib connected to wires. I was pushed closer so I could reach out to him. I was a little scared to touch him as he seemed so fragile in this new environment. I said, “hello, mom’s here,” and then the tears quickly fell from my eyes staining my hot cheeks. A kind nurse lifted him out and put him on my chest as I sat in the wheelchair. I was in shock and awe–I was holding my precious baby–my strong little rainbow. I can’t begin to describe how it feels to finally hold the person you’ve been carrying for months. After our visit I was wheeled down to my recovery room on the post partum floor. Although Arthur was just upstairs, the lump in my throat was hard to swallow as I left him.
The rooms that lined the hallway next to mine were joyful. Doors opened showing moms snuggling their newborn babies in their beds, surrounded by excited family members ooh-ing and ahh-ing. The little infant cries I could hear through my closed door broke my heart. I couldn’t hear if my baby was crying upstairs. I couldn’t rest. At this point, I had been up for two days straight and was barely able to function, but my heart felt broken. Codey reassured me of what the doctor had said, that the average NICU stay for a strong baby who can breathe on their own is only one week–and our baby was strong–his stay would be short.
The days all melded together. Due to bladder trauma, I had to stay admitted for an extra day. Like I said before, I couldn’t rest. I did begin to wonder when I’d ever walk like a normal person again, or be able to sit down without grimacing. Caring for myself and any thoughts on healing were far from my mind. It was honestly just something I had to deal with–the more pressing matter was going upstairs to see my son and assuring him that I was there and he wasn’t alone.
Resting in a hospital is kind of a joke. Dr’s and nurses come in and out every few hours (which is great healthcare! but I was exhausted). I saw a lactation consultant several times and instead of counseling me on the perfect latch, she made sure my pump flanges were the correct size. Pumping turned into my job. I pumped every 3 hours around the clock–I was determined to provide food for my baby. Because I couldn’t be with Arthur 24/7, pumping became the very first way I could care for him as his mother. Each night I pumped several times and Codey proudly took the minuscule amounts of milk upstairs to the fridge in Arthur’s room like it was his job. One night Codey was sleeping so hard, and I didn’t want to wake him; I slowly made my way to Arthur’s room. My nurse said she could bring the milk up for me, but I wanted to see my baby. It was 2:00am and he was peacefully sound asleep. I put the milk in the fridge and told him I’d be back soon. On my way out, a nurse showed me a closet full of handmade blankets; I got to choose one. The blanket is snuggly and made of flannel. Of all the bold and colorful prints, I chose the one with Winnie the Pooh and friends. This very sweet gesture made me cry.
On the fourth night of my baby’s life, I left him in the hospital and went home. I was discharged, and he wasn’t. He was alone, without us. I sobbed the entire walk through the NICU, in the elevator, and all the way to our car. People stared and I didn’t even care. Arthur’s nurses encouraged Codey and I to go get some sleep in our own bed. Well meaning friends had told us various forms of: “enjoy the rest while you can!” This statement seemed kind in theory, but it hurt me; how could I rest when my brand new baby was without me–his nurturer, his mother?