Friday, May 31, 2013

M's Birth Story

I keep flashing back to a moment of desperation when my son was five months old, and life with a preemie was stressful. It was Christmas Day, and I was walking in a dusting of snow talking to my best friend on the phone. “I cannot EVER do this again,” I whined. And she told me that this time in my life wouldn’t last forever. She was right. I had several more long months ahead of me, but things did get better. So much better that my husband and I considered having another baby.

I wanted my son to have a sibling, and I had always thought—before I had a preemie—that I’d have three children.

And as much as I adored my son, I wanted a little girl too.

It didn’t take long before we leaped off of a cliff on the faith that another pregnancy would be different from my son’s when I unexpectedly had him 14 weeks early.

It was different.

The first part was easy, just like with my son, and at 13 weeks I started seeing a high-risk doctor, who monitored me for signs of early labor. Every week, I had an internal ultrasound, and I saw my baby on an incredibly clear flat-screen TV. And one advantage of the weekly visits: I found out at 15 weeks that I was carrying a baby girl!

I resolved not to worry between appointments, and as one week blended into the next, I began to relax. Once we passed the 26-week mark when I had my son, I told my husband that at least we wouldn’t have a repeat of that horror of having him so early. Christmas came, and in all the bustle of the holidays, I didn’t pay much attention to the swelling in my feet. I had to start sleeping propped up so that I could breathe, but since I’d never made it to my third trimester before, I blamed my baby’s growth spurt for it. What a cruel joke! It turns out M was growth-restricted and probably hadn’t grown after Week 26 or 27.

We went to spend a few days with my husband’s family in Texas after Christmas. I felt really big and bloated and tired, none of which is much of a cause for concern in your 7th month of pregnancy. My high-risk doctors had seen me just before the trip and okayed me venturing out of the state one last time. But, after a few days in Texas when I couldn’t put on my wedding rings any more, I started having a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. The only time in my life when I’ve swelled at all was after my C-section with my son. Finally, on the evening of December 30, I asked my mother-in-law for a blood pressure monitor, and I was shocked by the reading. Normal blood pressure is around 120/80, and high blood pressure in pregnancy is 130/90. My blood pressure was 185/105, which is stroke-level. Given that I was pregnant and had no prior history with high blood pressure at all, I knew this was really bad. I called my regular OB, and she told me to get to an emergency room immediately.

I cried.

I cried because I knew.

I knew because I’ve had things go haywire with a pregnancy before, and though the circumstances were totally different, the feeling was the same. I was on a high-speed train racing out of control, and I knew it was headed off the tracks. I knew we were going to have another preemie. And I cried out of that feeling of dread and defeat and fear you feel when you know your health is in jeopardy and your baby’s health hangs in the balance.

On the way to the hospital, my husband held my hand, and we gave each other a sad look but didn’t say much.

It didn’t take long to confirm that I had preeclampsia, and the test results showed it was severe. There really was no chance that we could stop it or change it. The doctors and nurses just tried to stabilize me in the hopes that we could get back home and to a familiar NICU. For that night and the whole next day, I laid flat on my left side to promote blood flow to the baby and reduce my blood pressure. The doctors were so kind. They kept checking on me with the intent to get me home if they could.

My husband and I rang in the New Year in the hospital. Afraid. Away from home. And wondering what in the world we’d do with a baby in the NICU in a different state. All I prayed for was to get home. I knew we’d have M early. I knew she’d be small, and I knew she’d be in the NICU for a while. But, I just didn’t want our family to be separated with my husband and son at home and me in another state in the hospital with M.

Around 8 a.m. on January 1, the doctor on-call came into my room, and he pulled a chair up to my bedside. He said he’d woken up thinking about me and my situation. What would he want for his wife? He said that my blood pressure was steady and that I had a short window of time before the preeclampsia took over. He wanted to release me with the understanding that I would drive the eight hours straight to my hospital at home. I still feel amazed that given my diagnosis, a doctor would do something so radical and so unlikely and so incredibly kind.

Our family loaded our stuff into our car, and the hospital released me. We spent January 1 racing across a few states. I’ll never forget that trip for many reasons, only one of them being that I knew I’d never be pregnant again. Another lovely pregnancy was coming to an abrupt and unlikely end. As I walked out of a rest stop, I held my belly and thought, “I’ll never be pregnant again, and I’ll remember this moment and what it feels like forever.”

My parents met us at the hospital, and they took my son to our home. I actually felt pretty good that night and most of the following day. When they weighed me in the hospital, I told them their scale was broken, and I meant it. I had gained 20 pounds in 29 weeks of pregnancy, and then in one week I had gained 20 more. I looked puffy, but even the doctors said I didn’t look like most women with preeclampsia. I wasn’t flushed. I didn’t look swollen. And after days of liquid diets, I was scarfing down food and chilling out on my left side, watching TV to pass the time.

That day I had the last of many ultrasounds. There she was, the tiny star of the show. And she was tiny. They estimated she was about three pounds, and she was so low on the growth chart, that they deemed she had not been faring well while my blood pressure was high. The free flow of nutrients into the placenta depends upon healthy blood pressure, so I was starving her, even as a horrible witch of a charge nurse told me I should pray for my baby who would be in the NICU until her due date. As if I could do anything about my situation, and as if I hadn’t already had a preemie in the NICU for 91 days! There is just nothing nice to be said about someone who judges other people during a health crisis.

In a matter of hours, I went downhill quickly. My body had given subtle warning signs for about 10 days, but all of the sudden I felt my body fall apart. I was tired. My blood pressure was outrageously high and uncontrollable. My head felt like it was splitting, and all of the fluid that had accumulated in my abdomen was pressing on my lungs so I couldn’t breathe. My body ached from lying for so long on the left side, and as they started pumping me full of magnesium sulfate and labetalol for my blood pressure, I knew we’d reached the end. In fact, I begged for the C-section because I was starting to get really scared.

My first C-section was unfortunate because I was asleep and missed the birth of my son, but my second C-section was unfortunate because I was awake! I consider myself to be tough, but it’s unnerving to feel people cutting on you and to hear them discussing how they can’t get the baby out the original incision because of excessive scar tissue and how they’re making an additional incision. But, it was worth the odd sensations because I heard M cry. She sounded like a kitten mewing, but I was there to hear it. And my husband witnessed her birth. Her parents were there to welcome her to the world.

I asked my husband how big she was. Three pounds? And what day was she born? Did I make it to 30 weeks? Nope. She was born less than an hour from the 30-week mark, and she only weighed an ounce more than our son. Another 2.5-pound baby.

I wish I could say my children’s births were beautiful. They were terrifying. They were the worst days my husband and I have survived to date. I really hate that. But, they were also spectacular for one simple fact. Our tiny babies lived. Both of them. And that is beautiful.

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