My pregnancy with J was so easy: no morning sickness, no major weight gain, no diabetes, no risk factors for anything at all. I loved knowing I was carrying a new life. Every ultrasound was thrilling. During the first ultrasound, I remember being amazed that something so tiny had a heartbeat. The whole world was shifting, our priorities were changing, our lives were being irrevocably reshaped. We bought our first house; we moved to a new state; we bought some baby furniture. I took long walks, just my baby and me. My mom said something almost prophetic when I was four or five months pregnant. “I hope you don’t have problems later on because the first part has been so easy.”
We had lived in our new home in a new city for six weeks when I started feeling pressure. I thought about the next three months. How would I survive it if I already felt so uncomfortable? I was naïve, and I had no idea that things were spiraling out of control.
Two days before my son was born I went for a check-up. Everything seemed fine, and I didn’t complain about how uncomfortable I was feeling.
Saturday morning we went to the Farmers’ Market, but by the afternoon, I was feeling off, odd, and really uncomfortable. We canceled our dinner plans, I researched contractions online, and I took a bath to relax. I also hydrated myself, thinking maybe I had just gotten dehydrated in the summer heat. At dinnertime, I just knew something bad was wrong. I packed an overnight bag. I called the doctor, and we hurried to the hospital. The ER lost my paperwork and failed to rush me to labor and delivery until my husband complained. By the time they started monitoring my contractions, it was about 10 pm.
They didn’t tell me something I didn’t already know. I definitely had contractions. In my heart, I knew they were wasting their time hydrating me, but I hoped the muscle relaxer would help. After an hour or two, I thought the contractions were better because I couldn’t feel them. My husband, who could see the monitor, told me they weren’t.
When the nurse finally checked me in the wee hours of the morning, I could tell she was upset. She hurried off, saying she was calling the doctor, whom I met for the very first time in the middle of the biggest health crisis of my life. She told me the news. Not only was I dilated to a 3 out of 10 but my son was breech. His foot was actually pushing the sac through the birth canal. I was at risk of his foot breaking the sac, allowing the amniotic fluid to rush out and pulling parts of him with it. He was in immediate risk, and an emergency C-section was our only option. They tilted the hospital bed until I was practically on my head to use gravity to keep my son inside me. The anesthesiologist consulted with the doctor, and they decided there was no safe way to give me an epidural or a spinal block. They would have to put me under. This meant that not only would I miss our son’s birth but also my husband would be alone in the waiting room during the surgery praying for both of our lives.
I was 26 weeks and 4 days pregnant.
I was beyond terrified because it wasn’t just about me. I had no way of knowing how my son would tolerate the surgery. Would he even live? Everything moved so fast, with me signing waivers, talking to doctors and nurses, and being prepped for surgery that I didn’t have time to call my parents. As an after-thought I told my husband to call our parents and my best friend and give them the middle-of-the-night shock everyone dreads: someone you love is being rushed into emergency surgery. My poor Daddy threw on clothes, hopped in the car, and left my mom and sister at their house because they were taking too long; he shaved nearly an hour off of a four-hour drive.
Everything was such a blur that I didn’t even tell my husband I loved him. On the operating room table while I waited for the anesthesia, I begged my nurse to tell him I loved him because I was afraid I might not wake up. I’d never even had major surgery before. As we waited for me to drift off to sleep, the anesthesiologist started stroking one of my cheeks, while the nurse anesthetist patted the other, and I will always be grateful for that kindness, that human touch during a dark time. I was staring into their eyes, and then nothing.
I woke up enough to ask if my baby lived. The answer was yes. Thank the Lord! I asked where my husband was—he was on his way into the room—and then I fell asleep again.
The next thing I remember was being roused to see my son before they transported him to a NICU 20 minutes away. I was mesmerized by his tininess. I had never seen anything like it. He was a kitten in a glass box. I looked at his miniscule hands and feet, the size of my fingertips. I studied his face, his dark hair, the length of him, all 13 inches. I looked for myself in him and only found my husband. “How unfair!” I joked with him, a moment of joy in a sea of sorrow. And then they whisked my baby away, no cuddling, no touching, no more of his mother’s love. I didn’t see him for another two days.
It was the beginning of his 91 days in the NICU.