I was the one little girl in my ballet class who had hips. I was fully developed at 12, before most of my friends. My mom and grandmothers had no trouble at all getting pregnant and carrying their babies. An obgyn told me when I was pregnant with J that I should have no trouble delivering because all the room in my pelvis was “nice,” a moment that embarrassed my husband and still causes us to giggle to this day. I am healthy and somewhat athletic. I thought I was built to have babies. I always believed that I could do labor and delivery. I just knew it.
And I never got a chance to try.
I still struggle with how my two deliveries happened. There was nothing peaceful, magical, or beautiful about either one. Both were scary—terrifying, really. Both required major surgery. Both had complications. Both ended in tiny, tiny babies with long NICU stays. Seeing your child for the first time is still special, but I don’t think it has the same aura when he is whisked from you within seconds to be intubated and stabilized. The thought that your baby could die right before your eyes is a fear that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Neither my husband nor I saw J enter the world—the first people to speak to him were the doctors and nurses saving his life. My husband wasn’t even allowed in the room because I was unconscious. We prayed it would all be different with M—most of it was but not in a good way. I still had complications, a VBAC as an option flew out the window, and I was terrified and awake for that C-section. But, I had one lovely blessing: We got to hear M cry when she was born. It sounded like a tiny kitten mewing, but it was M and she was alive and we were there to hear it. Just like in other people’s stories, just like in the TV shows and movies, I looked to my husband, and I cried and said, “She’s here! She’s here!” I cherish that one moment because it was the one thing that seemed like it should have been, like what other people experience.
Sometimes I am a little jaded. Most women I know complain about some part of the delivery experience: it was painful, it was too long, they had to have a C-section, they wanted a water birth, the baby was whisked away, they had to take drugs when they wanted to go au naturel. I get it. I really do. I too wanted more control over my deliveries. But, here’s the truth: so much of what happens during labor and delivery is out of our hands. If you have a water birth with no pain meds or if you have a home birth in your own bed with your husband holding your hand or if you had a relatively quick and easy birth in the hospital, good for you. You should be proud, but you should not be judgmental because the simple fact that you had a chance to do those things is a blessing. So many things can go wrong in labor and delivery, and I believe modern medicine has separated us from that reality. It doesn’t mean you have to be frightened of the process or that you can’t have goals and dreams for what kind of birth you want. But, one of my pet peeves is when someone moans about not being able to have a drug-free delivery. I want to scream: “Do you know who you’re talking to?! Someone always has it worse.”
If you’re here, you probably have more experience with preemies than you’d like and so you know about pregnancies and deliveries not going as you’d hoped. But, I will say this: Both my tiny babies lived, and every time I feel a twinge of jealousy for other mothers with more normal experiences, I remind myself of that fact. My babies lived, and one of the joys of this journey has been a total transformation in my perspective. So many things in life are trivial now. It’s like I’ve had a near-death experience, only it was my children, and now everything in life is more precious, more beautiful, and more sacred. So, I allow myself a little room for sadness or disappointment and reflection on how things were so terribly different from how I’d always imagined. And then I smack myself around, look at my lovely children, and tell myself to be grateful. The truth is that NICU birth stories are terrifying by and large, but for those of us who leave the hospital with a baby, we are the lucky ones.
My friend with quads born at 28 weeks has said this to me many, many times: “We are the lucky ones.”