I’ve debated for a long time whether to post my children’s birth stories. On the one hand, it feels a bit narcissistic to publish them, but on the other, aren’t all of my posts a bit narcissistic? It does seem from what I’ve read elsewhere that many people enjoy reading birth stories, so in honor of Sarah Kate’s 10th birthday tomorrow, I’ve decided to go ahead with a multi-part narrative. Part 1 can be found here; Part 2 is below; Part 3 will be published tomorrow.
I wasn’t concerned when I woke up around 1:30 on the morning of Sunday, December 22, 2002 with damp sheets.
I had just entered my third trimester, and my raging hormones had caused night sweats for weeks. I was in about the tenth day of a nuisance respiratory bug which I was convinced could have been eliminated in a day or two if I’d been able to suck down a few good doses of Nyquil. I attributed my fatigue to a combination of beginning the third trimester, the annoying cold, disturbed sleep, and hosting my husband’s family for a Christmas get-together. I was so tired from that first round of Christmas cheer that I left my gifts exactly where I’d received them and fell asleep in the living room chair.
The soft whisper of the humidifier, my largely futile attempt to chase away the cold bug, was the only sound I heard. I wanted very badly to drift back off to sleep, but my ever-increasing midsection was placing ever-increasing pressure on my bladder, so I stumbled in the darkness to the bathroom to relieve the pressure. The initial relief I felt was replaced by terror when I felt Something pass. Over four years earlier, I’d had a first trimester miscarriage, and this Something was reminiscent of that experience. I reached for the light switch, terrified of what I would find, but knowing I had no choice but to look. I began to scream for my sleeping husband as I stared into the face of the largest blood clot I’d ever seen.
Something was very, very wrong.
I don’t know how in my panicked state I remembered the number of my doctor’s office. I can only assume that God gave it to me so that Mr. Andi wouldn’t have to leave my side to go and look it up. The on-call physician told us to come straight to labor and delivery, and off we went, completing a 21-mile suburban drive in about 15 minutes. As we were pulling out of the driveway, a flutter in my belly provided a glimmer of hope in the darkness, but the relief was short-lived when the contractions began.
Once we arrived at the hospital, a flurry of activity ensued.
Nurses strapped me first to a monitor to check the baby’s heartbeat, then to an ultrasound machine. The undercurrent of fear that I was feeling seemed to have no effect on the nurses who came and went. They asked lots of questions – everything from the sex of the baby to my pregnancy history to whether or not I smoked or did drugs. A bit later, an obstetrician that I had never seen before came into the tiny room in his scrubs. We could see that he had been roused from sleep to attend to me because of the rooster tail near his crown. A little while later, a neonatologist took his turn to provide bad news. He was a soft-spoken, gentle man, but his demeanor couldn’t allay our fears once he told us that if the baby were born now, there was a good chance she wouldn’t be able to breathe on her own.
I was stunned. Why was this happening to us? Had I missed signs of a problem? Did I participate too vigorously in my water aerobics class? Should I have seen a doctor about my cold? And the most terrifying thought of all – was God punishing us for our treatment of our child with triploidy?
Mr. Andi put his head in his hands and said simply, “I can’t go through this again.”
By the time the nurses changed shifts at 5:00 a.m., we weren’t doing so well. With each gripping pain of a contraction, we knew that we were a step closer to delivery. I had been placed in a small room near the L&D desk, which was different from the other labor and delivery rooms in that it had more monitoring equipment and less room to move. We knew very little about premature birth, and had no idea what to expect or even what the mortality rate was for babies born at twenty-nine weeks. I had known two people who had delivered prematurely, and both of those babies died without ever leaving the hospital.
I felt fearful and helpless, like a child, wishing for my mother, because mothers always have answers. But my mother had never been through an experience like this one, and I would have to face it on my own. It was at that point in my ordeal that an angel arrived in my room. I’m not talking about a mirage or wings and halos – this angel’s name was Katie Parker. Katie was a sorority sister of mine in college, and although we never close and I hadn’t seen her in several years, she was a breath of fresh air and a symbol of hope for me. I knew her to be a warm, considerate, calm, and very intelligent individual. True to her reputation, she offered to switch to another patient to avoid my feeling uncomfortable.
I quickly declined, feeling that Katie had been sent to me for a reason.
During the next twelve hours, I experienced steroid shots, to mature the baby’s lungs, and the surreal experience of having a bowel movement while on a bedpan with instructions not to push (!!!). I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything because I couldn’t have an emergency c-section on a full stomach. At one point, the doctor began to doubt that my water had broken, since I had not leaked any fluid since coming in to the hospital, and made the decision to try to stop labor. It was decided that I would be put on magnesium sulfate – “mag,” as they call it – to stop the contractions. Although we didn’t yet know it, the birth and first several weeks of my daughter’s life were to be a long series of goals to be achieved. The first of these goals involved the steroid shots. The shots were to be given three times, twelve hours apart, with the maximum benefit achieved twelve hours after the last shot.
Our first goal: to make it 36 hours.
Through her whole twelve hour shift, Katie’s cheerful, relaxed demeanor helped to calm both Mr. Andi and me. Katie patiently answered our questions about her experience with delivering premature babies, and did much to soothe our frazzled nerves. On Sunday evening around 5:00 p.m., at the end of her twelve-hour shift, Mr. Andi asked hopefully “Are you working tomorrow?’ Katie told us that no, she wouldn’t be working again until Friday. Although deep down inside we knew the odds were against us, I cheerfully told her that my goal would be to hold on until Friday when she would be back.