This originally ran as a column in the newspaper I write for – I control the rights so it’s fine to reprint. Since I wrote this column, my son has grown to nearly 14 pounds and is on track and even ahead of his adjusted age in some areas. He spent 71 days in NICU and is currently 5.5 months old, 3 months adjusted.
I dreaded my next prenatal appointment. I had to take the gestational diabetes test and I had heard many stories about how awful it was.
You had to drink a pure sugar concoction (in either orange, lemon-lime or fruit punch flavor) that often made women vomit or pass out, then you had to wait an hour and get blood drawn. If you failed the test, you had to come back and drink even more of the vile liquid and sit for three hours and get blood drawn several times during that period. If you ate too much sugar before the test – even just a banana – you could skew the results.
That was what I was concerned about the morning of Aug. 16, not the fact that I had been getting more Braxton Hicks false contractions or that my hips were killing me or that I was feeling more pressure in my pelvis. All of that was normal as the baby continued to grow, according to my doctor and my friends.
That same morning of the gestational diabetes test (which, by the way, I had no problems with – I even liked the way the drink tasted!) I had an ultrasound. It wasn’t a routine ultrasound; my doctor wanted to get a growth scan of the baby because of my history of high blood pressure. I didn’t care – it was an excuse to see my little one again!
Sure enough, he was a cute little bugger – the 3-D scan showed he had Nathane’s face! We both looked at each other at the same time and grinned. Then the tech had trouble seeing my cervix because the baby’s head was in the way (good, he was head down, he had been breech the last time we checked) and she had to do a vaginal ultrasound. She spent several minutes measuring things on that scan, then sent me on my way for my blood to be drawn.
When I went in to see the doctor a few minutes later, she sat down and said the growth scan looked perfectly normal and right on track with his gestational age. However, my cervix had nearly disappeared. It had thinned to 4 millimeters (it should have been 3-4 centimeters) after being completely normal at previous checkups. I needed to get to the hospital right away to see if I was in labor.
“Um, okay,” I said.
So we drove downtown to Methodist and checked in with the triage nurse in the maternity center. They monitored my contractions – I was having a bunch of Braxton Hicks again – gave me pills to stop the contractions and gave me a shot of steroids to help the baby’s lungs develop faster in case he was born prematurely. They told me I needed to stay there overnight for observation.
Well, not exactly how I had planned my day, but okay.
I spent most of the day in the triage room because it took forever for a room to open. I had a great nurse, however, who was very knowledgeable and friendly and helped put me at ease.
The doctor told me I would actually need to stay at least 48 hours to get another steroid shot. I wrinkled my nose at that – another wasted day in the hospital – but what could I do? I figured they would end up putting me on bedrest for the rest of my pregnancy. It would be difficult, but at least I could work from home.
I had another ultrasound the next morning. It showed the baby’s head had funneled further into the birth canal.
The doctor broke the news: I had to stay in the hospital until the baby came or until I made it to at least 34 weeks. I was 27 weeks and 4 days at the time I was admitted. That meant as many as six or seven weeks laying in a hospital bed on strict bedrest. (At least the obstetrician bargained for me to be able to get up to use the bathroom; the perinatologist wanted me completely immobile.) How was I going to stay sane?
Both Nathane and I were in shock. How on earth had I gone about my daily activities – including a day at the Iowa State Fair, lifting things for a garage sale, and a strenuous workout just the day before – without spontaneously giving birth? It was a miracle that I happened to have that ultrasound that day, or I could have gone into labor at any time and possibly lost the baby.
I quickly discovered that working from the hospital was going to be nearly impossible. Because I did need to lie almost completely flat, it was extremely difficult to type on my laptop. Thankfully I had most of the “Happy in the House of Frilly” article written, because I could only type one-handed and my arms cramped up every few minutes.
Thank God for my laptop and my Kindle. They kept me sane that first week, but many of the stories I read online and heard from the nurses said that most bedridden women start to break down after two weeks.
My husband tried to visit as often as possible and even stayed in a cot in the room a few nights. The nurses were all wonderful, although I wasn’t too fond of being woken up in the middle of the night for vitals. I slept quite well after the first night. After a few days, they removed my IV and only checked my contractions every eight hours.
As the days progressed, I noticed more and more pressure in my pelvis when I got up to use the bathroom. Nearly a week had passed when I started to get Braxton Hicks again. They came on and off all day, and I was passing more mucus.
The night of Aug. 22 I was chatting with my husband on Facebook at 9 p.m. when I felt it – a massive wave of pain in my abdomen that wrapped all the way around my body. It took my breath away and lasted nearly a minute. This was no Braxton Hicks contraction. It felt like the worst gas pain I ever had and it scared me to death.
“Oh crap oh crap oh crap I just got a really painful strong contraction get your a** down here,” I typed.
“Are you serious?????” he responded.
I didn’t reply. I got several more, almost constant, pains after that, but none of them were anywhere near as bad as that first one. I started to wonder if it really was just bad gas pains – I had eaten a cheeseburger with a lot of raw onions for dinner and sometimes I can’t handle onions, especially since I got pregnant.
I called the nurse in and she hooked me up to the monitor. None of the contractions showed up. I called Nathane back and reassured him, feeling a bit stupid.
I rolled over onto my back to get more comfortable and suddenly the contractions showed up on the monitor.
“Are you feeling those?” the nurse asked, her eyes widening.
“Yeah,” I said.
I was in labor.
They gave me a shot to stop the contractions and it worked like a charm. They monitored me for another hour and everything had settled down. It was nearly midnight and I was exhausted. I finally turned onto my side and adjusted my pillows and closed my eyes.
Almost instantly, the contractions started up again. I tried to ignore them, but they kept coming. As soon as the nurse hooked me up to the monitor, I felt something leaking. Was my water breaking?
They called in the doctor, who decided to do a cervical exam.
She looked up at me.
“You’re eight centimeters dilated,” she said. “You’re having a baby tonight!”
My entire world changed in the space of one week.
In one week I went from planning the birth of our son later this fall and starting to think about registering for baby items to having him outside of my body and hooked up to a dozen tubes and wires.
In one week I went from being told I could give birth any day or weeks from now to screaming in terror and agony as he was born.
As soon as the doctor told me the baby was coming that night, I reached for my cell phone and called Nathane. It was just after 1 a.m.; I woke him up. It took a few seconds for my words to register – “It’s going to happen tonight!”
Meanwhile, nurses were rushing around my room, trying to get an IV into my arm (my veins had shrunk after a week of bedrest), reading monitors, raising my bed and preparing to wheel me down to the operating room. The doctor confirmed the baby was facing head-down so it would be a vaginal delivery, but I had to deliver in the OR because they needed room for the neonatal intensive care doctors and nurses to work on the baby after he was born.
The contractions continued to roll over me like ocean waves – at least that’s what it looked like on the monitors – but I barely noticed them. The doctor commented that I must have a high tolerance for pain. No, not really; I was just numb from shock.
Nathane arrived about an hour after I called him. He announced that he got pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy on his way to the hospital, which delighted the nurses. The deputy must have been dumbfounded as Nathane explained that his wife was giving birth but she wasn’t with him, she was already at the hospital. The cop waved my husband on with a “drive safely” and that was that. We all laughed at the absurdity of the situation.
They had me start pushing soon after Nathane got there and it didn’t take long for my water to break. Unfortunately, my labor stalled at that point and the room full of people emptied after the obstetrician decided we should wait for a half hour. Even then, I couldn’t really feel the contractions anymore and got frustrated because we weren’t making any progress.
Suddenly, things began to change. I started to feel pain when I pushed and I could no longer control my pushing to make it stop and I panicked. I started hyperventilating and crying and wondering how in the heck a tiny premature baby could make this much of a fuss coming out. But soon Mother Nature took over and instinct overcame my fears, and with screams that made everyone in the room turn around and stare, I bore down. I don’t even remember his head coming out, just the slither of the rest of his little body.
Jacob Gary was born at 4:44 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, at 28 weeks and 4 days – 12 weeks early.
I looked down and caught a glimpse of him – he was a lot bigger than I expected – and I laughed with tears streaming down my face when he let out a cry. I hadn’t thought he would be strong enough to cry.
The next thing I knew he was surrounded by doctors and nurses on the far side of the room who murmured among themselves in terms I didn’t comprehend.
I found myself back in my room with nothing to show for my laboring except a deflated belly and a throbbing between my legs. It was so surreal I wondered if it had all been a dream. Had I ever even been pregnant? I had barely showed, but he had been an active baby in the womb, constantly kicking and reminding me that there really was life growing inside of me.
Nathane got to see Jacob first. He followed him to the NICU ward and got to touch his tiny hand. He came back with photos the staff took and the grin of a proud papa as he asked me how much I thought Jacob weighed. He had ranged between 2 pounds 6 ounces and 2 pounds 10 ounces the week before during my ultrasounds.
He weighed a whopping 3 pounds 4.5 ounces at birth and was 15.25 or 15.5 inches long – they didn’t really confirm his length.
I finally got to see him for the first time later that morning. He wasn’t in a true incubator yet, but on a table with a heater above him and a plastic tent covering his rosy pink, scrawny little body. He wore a white knit cap and diapers that were smaller than my palm. His forehead was wrinkled like an old man’s. His fingers were long and delicate, like a pianist’s, and his feet looked huge. He was on a ventilator and numerous other tubes and wires stuck out of his body. I was afraid to touch him; he was like a china doll that could break into a million pieces.
In the past month he has grown like a weed; he weighed 4 pounds 13.6 ounces on Monday as I wrote this column, and he finally looks like a chubby baby instead of Benjamin Button. He no longer needs humidity control in his incubator so he can wear clothes, although he has nearly grown out of preemie sizes already. He has had a few close calls and (so far) minor setbacks along the way, but the doctors are pleased with his progress so far. In spite of his gains, he is still at least a month away from coming home.
I’ve learned a whole new language living with a NICU baby: CPAP, vapotherm, apneas, bradys, desats, intraventricular hemorrhages, hemoglobin counts and RBC retics, RSV, vesicoureteral reflux – just to name a few. The sound of one of his alarms going off absolutely terrified me at first; it still does, but now I know what they mean and that (most of the time) it’s completely normal for him to have a brady (bradychardia/low heart rate) or desat (oxygen desaturation).
I feel an odd thrill whenever I get to say “my son,” but I still don’t feel like a mother. It’s like I’m in limbo; I gave birth but my baby isn’t mine yet. He belongs to the doctors and nurses who see him 24 hours a day. They know his cues – when he’s sleepy, when he’s upset, when he’s hungry, when he’s sick, when he’s in pain. I know nothing about him. I only get to spend a few hours with him each day, and maybe one or two of those hours I get to hold him. A nurse has to take him out of the incubator for me and either position him skin-to-skin on my chest or swaddled in a blanket in my arms, making sure all of his wires and tubes stay connected. A machine drinks the milk from my breasts that he receives secondhand mixed into a cocktail with fortifiers and vitamins and medicines.
The only time I feel like a mother right now is when I get to change his tiny diapers. I almost have it down to an art, which is quite an accomplishment given that I have to do it from the side using the little portholes in his incubator!
Those moments when I do get to hold him are so rare and special. His warm little body snuggles perfectly into mine and he almost always instantly falls asleep, his hands splayed on my chest. I don’t feel like a mother then, either. At first I feel awkward, especially if he is fussy, but once he settles in and closes his eyes I feel like a goddess, embracing life. I am blessed to be in the presence of an angel. It’s impossible for me to believe that Nathane and I created this miniature life – and that we somehow managed to keep him safe inside me long enough for him to survive.
Even when he does come home, however, Jacob has a long road ahead of him. He will have an extremely weak immune system – right in the heart of cold and flu season – and he will likely have growth and developmental delays and maybe even physical or mental disabilities.No matter what happens, he will always be my son, my little Jacob, my miracle; the feisty little boy who couldn’t wait to be born.
|5.5 months old|