Something I was reading made me realize how much children like hearing the stories of their births. As I kid, I’d bug my mom to tell how dad barely got her to the hospital in time to have me because of a snow storm.
That got me thinking of James’s birth…three months early. How it was the scariest and most traumatic event of my life – all for an amazing result, of course. But nothing, absolutely nothing, from that day on has gone in a way I may have guessed. He’s even still in the hospital, which has to be his main caregiver right now. Paul and I are officially parents – yet parents with training wheels, and almost no control.
It all also got me thinking that if I write the story of James’s surprise arrival, it’d be good. Cathartic and all of that. In doing so, I hope to eventually be able to pull out the kid’s version.
I went to work as usual. I felt a lot of pressure on my pelvis and had to make a few more trips to the bathroom as a result. But nothing felt unusual…until the evening.
I had abdominal pain, kind of like a stomach ache or mild menstrual cramps. It was constant though, not like contractions. Paul and I researched online around 10 pm and found lots of credible sites saying some abdominal pain is part of pregnancy.
Well at 3 am I decided it was too weird and called the midwife. She asked if the pain was intermittent (like contractions) and when I said no, it was constant, she said it didn’t sound suspicious but that I should come to the hospital anyway to be safe.
I did. They hooked me up to a contraction monitor and, there you go, I WAS having contractions.
They kept me on the monitor and gave me a muscle relaxer. They also hooked me up to an IV, thinking that I may be dehydrated, which can cause preterm contractions. I felt such relief when the contractions started to slow.
The next part makes me grit my teeth and spin a lot of “what if” stories. A doctor took a fetal fibronectin (fFN) swab, which is 90% accurate at predicting delivery within the next two weeks. Well, they botched my swab, and you can only have one in a 48-hour period. That swab could have shown that James wanted out and maybe (yes, lots of maybes) I could have been put on bed rest like so many other NICU (neonatal ICU) moms I’ve met and held James in for longer. Maybe.
Instead, I was sent for an ultrasound. Everything looked good and with the contractions coming further and further apart, they sent me home around 2 pm. I finally felt relaxed and got a couple of hours of sleep.
By 7 pm, I was feeling very uncomfortable again. Yet I had no bleeding or any of the other signs I was supposed to return to the hospital for. That’s the only place I wanted to be by 10 pm. Paul and I called a cab and got there quickly.
As the doctor examined me, I knew things were serious. I felt truly scared. He couldn’t find my cervix because the amniotic sac was in front of it. He said I’d have to be transferred to the hospital for high-risk pregnancies and that he’d called the ambulance to take me. He also got on the phone with a doctor from that hospital, finding out what to do in the interim. He gave me the first shot of steroids for the baby’s lungs. (The steroids have to be given twice, 12 hours apart, and are most effective for 48 hours.) I believe he also started one of the many drug cocktails I was given to try to keep little one in.
Less than an hour later, Paul and I were delivered via ambulance to the high-risk hospital. One of things I’m grateful for is how they let Paul stay with me the whole time. They put me in a private room and set up a bed for him. I believe that’s when they started me on magnesium – another drug for keeping babies in. Like before, my body started to relax a bit and the contractions ebbed. Paul and I managed to doze for a few hours.
But also like before, the contractions came back. I tried to lie absolutely still because I could see that the slightest movement would set them off. I felt guilty if I turned on my side for some relief: I’d see the needle on the monitor jump. I figured out that if I squeezed the bed rails and focused on breathing, I could stay quite still.
My daytime nurse was fabulous. I had never been a patient in a hospital before. She helped me through all of my horrified firsts, like IVs, drugs, bedpans, and on and on it seemed to go. Thankfully, I got the second steroid shot for baby’s lungs.
Then it was time for another ultrasound. And um yeah, they couldn’t see my cervix. Ugh. Around this time, the daytime doctor arrived. He’s the chair of the department and well, wonderful. I’m so grateful he was my delivery doctor. He was always calm and reassuring. He gave me “the shot” for stopping contractions. It worked…for an hour. I felt such dread when the pain resumed.
Then he pulled back the sheet to what Paul says was a lot of blood. Lying flat, I couldn’t see that, so the doctor said there was a little blood. Kind. He also said I was fully dilated. Since baby was breech and only 26 and a half weeks, he said it was time to deliver via c-section.
Here’s the part that Paul had to remind me about. As I was gripping the bed rails and Paul was gathering all of our stuff, the doctor who is designated to give the “preemie speech” arrived. Yep. In her middle-of-the-road, singsong-ish voice she started rhyming off the repercussions of delivering before term, as IF I was willing it to happen. Paul says she faltered a bit given that neither one of us would look at her. Then we were in motion, en route to the operating room.
I remember being lifted onto a steel table and staring up at orbs of light that looked to be from Star Trek. Still the contractions were coming and I was miserable. I also still wanted a bedpan. While waiting for the epidural, the doctor kindly gave me his meaty hand to squeeze as if I were a little kid. I didn’t refuse. It’s sadly ironic that I coiled myself into a fetal position, trying to pay some attention as I met the operating team.
The epidural kicked in around the time Paul appeared by my left shoulder. Much to our relief, the screen went up. They said I’d feel pressure and I did, increasingly. At some point, I figured out we had a boy! Paul says there was a grand announcement but sadly, I don’t recall it. I then became focused on the fact I could really feel my insides being moved around and re-arranged at different levels. I guess the epidural was wearing off a bit. I wanted to scream but instead, I politely asked if they could take a break just for a minute. And that’s when they gave me morphine.
Paul went off to meet our baby boy. He returned. We agreed on the name James. Sadly they couldn’t bring him over for me to see because he was getting worked on. I was whisked off to recovery. That evening in the NICU, I met our adorable, impatient, strong James.
The delivery part of the story ends rather abruptly, but so much else began because of it. Sometimes that day feels like eons ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. We’re in this odd bubble of time and context. We pay daily visits to the NICU, watching our James grow and waiting for the day when he can come home with us.