First Time Mom: Preemie Edition
Turns out, pregnancy didn’t suit me. I wasn’t glowing and a surely didn’t feel beautiful.
The saga started March 4th, 2011.
I found out I was pregnant at 12 weeks along. I actually missed the whole first trimester. I was lucky I didn’t end up on one of those TV shows that no one thinks could be possible. We weren’t planning this pregnancy, but this little girl growing inside me was already a joy. We were in our mid-twenties, I was still in college, but we lived on our own. We were doing ok…not great, but ok. I was terrified of the process in general but we were excited.
Turns out, pregnancy didn’t suit me. I wasn’t glowing and a surely didn’t feel beautiful. I was tired, fat and felt “off” (this will be important later). I went to the doctor for every scheduled checkup, tried to eat somewhat better. My doctor was a man that had very little in the way of bedside manner. I didn’t particularly mind this during the early appointments, it was just extremely cut and dry, which at the time I almost appreciated. I had a history of hypertension (high blood pressure) so that was a concern, but the doctor didn’t seem anxious about it so I tried to not worry about it.
My monthly appointment approached and I had been feeling, well, sluggish. I’m not even sure now what word I would use for how I felt, but the online verbiage is a “sense of dread”. Something didn’t seem right. I had done all the testing, all signs pointed to preeclampsia. The baby seemed fine, my blood pressure and proteins in my urine sample were just slightly high. The doctor told me to sleep on my left side (supposedly this takes pressure off of your heart and blood vessels) and I borrowed a blood pressure cuff from my mother to check myself daily. I was told I didn’t need bed rest or any of that “nonsense”, he would just up my medicine and that should take care of it, I was just an over concerned first time mom and was far enough along that we should be fine. So home I went, unsure and worried. I must’ve checked my blood pressure 15 times a day that entire week. It didn’t seem to be changing, maybe the doctor was right…I should relax.
That weekend my husband had scheduled to go out of town to watch State Wrestling in Columbus. No big deal, it was a last hurrah before baby sort of thing. He made sure I was ok, had all my favorite snacks and off he went. We only had one phone at the time so he left me that with the numbers for all the friends he would be with. I was almost excited for a weekend by myself to watch some Dr. Phil and be fat and lazy.
Friday night went off without a hitch. I ate snacks and checked my blood pressure. I took some pictures of the baby bump. There was a lot of laying around and watching TV, checking and double checking that baby name we had picked. Reading my “What to Expect” trilogy, while googling the best and worst scenarios, like any good first time mom. I slept in Saturday morning, talked to my husband for a bit before he had to go into the arena for wrestling. I remember doing a couple loads of laundry, but that didn’t last long since my washer and dryer were downstairs and that seemed like an awful lot of work for my fat, baby growing, self.
Saturday evening I was tired, truly tired. I felt completely "off", I couldn't pin point the feeling, but something was wrong. I checked my blood pressure again, it was a bit high, but I just thought I overdid it with some chores. I put my swollen feet up and took a nap. When I woke up I had some terrible pregnant lady indigestion, I figured I needed to eat, my solution to most pregnant lady problems. Waffles. I distinctly remember the giant plate of waffles that I made and took up to the bedroom. As I ate I really started to feel bad. I wasn’t sure if it was indigestion, constipation, both. I tried to sleep, but the pressure in my upper belly was too aggravating. I tried the bathroom, tried water, tried tums. After a couple hours it went from pressure to pain.
I called the nurse line around 10 pm. I tell him what was going on, thinking he’d tell me that I was overreacting, take more antacids. To my surprise his response was that I “needed to go to the hospital Now! Do NOT drive, call an ambulance or someone to take you!” He stayed on the line, gave me instructions in case of seizure. “SEIZURE!” I said when he hung up “What the heck…” I mumble. I called my parents, trying to not panic them; they got out of bed and headed my way. I tried to call my husband, but no answer. By now its past midnight and to my surprise no one answers their phones. They all get called a variety of unseemly names. My parents get to the house making their way through the snow to take me to the emergency room. I start getting more ill on the way. When I get there, they forgo the usual paper work and send me straight to the OB department.
The only cure? Delivery...
My parents and I rotate trying to call my husband. He gets called a few more names. The doctor, not my usual one, but a woman fairly new to the area, says it might just be gallbladder problems. In the meantime I’m hooked up to all kinds of machines and they do an ultrasound of my gallbladder only to find that it is totally normal. They do more tests, something comes back “weird” and they rush in to give me a steroid shot. I am not told much but they tell me the shot is to help the baby’s lungs, you know, just in case. Instantly the urgency in the room is noticeably more intense. Soon the decision that life flight needs to be called is made. I’m in a daze. I’m sitting up, coherent, it can’t be that serious. But rapidly I’m prepped for a helicopter ride and off I go. Someone got ahold of my husband and he made it to the hospital in record time.
I get to a room in at the big city hospital around lunch time. The doctor checks me over, looks concerned but says we have time. HELLP syndrome is what they tell me. Never heard of it. But now I know more about it than I ever thought possible. That sense of something being "off", the pain in the upper right quadrant of my belly, it was not just preeclampsia, but a severe standalone syndrome that stands for Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count. My liver was shutting down, the baby wasn’t getting enough oxygen, and I was at risk for seizures, abruption, and death. The only cure? Delivery. He explains to us that this baby is going to be early, but we are going to try and postpone it as long as possible. (I think the exact quote was “give her more time to cook”)
I relax, start talking to my husband. Worried about things like the baby’s room not being ready and not being able to have my baby shower. My husband jokes that I just didn’t want him to have the weekend away. My family goes to the cafeteria. By the time they get back, so do my most recent test results. The doctor swings in and says “Never mind, we are going now!” I look at husband and he looks at the doctor. I was quickly in the OR. I remember it being freezing, I remember my husband was told several times that he couldn’t watch them cut me open for the caesarian section, him complaining that he guts deer all the time and it couldn’t be that different…he’s met with an eye roll and a stern “Sit Down”. Within 30 minutes we had a baby on the outside. I see her from the corner of my eye. Her dad goes to her and takes some pictures before they whisk her away. I pass out.
When I woke up, my mom was there. My husband was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Nurses are bustling in and out, erasing the goal they had written on the white dry erase board the day before. “Stay Pregnant” is replaced with “See Baby”. And that’s all I wanted. To see her. But I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was on anti-seizure medication that created patches of lost time throughout those first 3 days. I was too sick to leave my room. I had great nurses, and I probably wasn’t the most cooperative patient. Any moms out there know the joy of the Depends style panties they give you after birth. They are as attractive as they are easy to put on. It took two nurses to shimmy them up my legs that were still paralyzed from the epidural. After a few days I can move my legs again, my vitals are somewhere close to normal. My husband has been splitting time between my room and the NICU, bringing me updates and pictures. They finally give me clearance to leave my room, but I must have someone take me each time. No problem, that’s what I have the husband for. He gets me in my wheelchair, and off we go to a separate floor with a locked wing for the sick babies. You give them your name, and if it’s on the VIP list they open the doors for you. I had arrived to meet my daughter for the first time.
And though she be but little, she is fierce. -Shakespeare
Her due date was May 25th, she arrived March 6th, 11 weeks and 5 days early. 2 pounds, 3 ounces, 11 inches were the official measurements. Technically she was a “Micro” Preemie (if being premature weren’t enough). I had a cousin immediately find a website dedicated to these smaller than small miracles and order clothes. She looked like a doll. Her “Baby’s First Easter” bib covered her like a blanket.
That first time down to the NICU was brutal. I saw tubes and monitors, other parents tired and worn from their extended stays. I was scared. What the hell was happening? This wasn’t in the books. I couldn’t even hold her. This wasn't in the "What to Expect" books. She had a breathing tube in, a tube down her nose for nutrition. They even had foam sunglasses for when she needed some extra bilirubin from the special lamp. I don’t know if cute would be the word I would describe this first meeting with. I was devastated. I cried. The guilt was overpowering. To be honest it still can be. I should have been able to prevent this, maybe I didn’t eat well enough, and I should have done those stupid Pinterest posts for yoga while pregnant. My husband does his best to comfort me, the nurses begin telling me all those things they should…”it’s not your fault, these things happen, it will all work out fine”. But none of them know that.
Looking around, I realized most of the parents here looked just as confused as we did. It wasn’t just happening to us. We all didn’t talk much, there were mostly knowing nods in each other’s directions. There wasn’t a lot of desire to get to know anyone, just a desire to survive and advance (it was March madness after all). And advance we did. We didn’t count milestones like other parents. We counted ounces, not lbs., centimeters, not inches and she drank by the milliliter, not by the bottle. They gave us a conversion chart for centimeters to inches and ounces to milliliters. Our world was forever changed. We sat, we watched her for that first week. They repeated girls are stronger, girls survive. And man, were they right. She grew, got rid of those wires one by one. Kicked her little feat when you tickled them. Grabbed fingers when you gave them to her.
There were twin boys that were situated across the aisle from each other. Every so often their mom and dad would switch seats. One twin was stronger than the other and got to go home first. The other followed in the next couple weeks. I had never seen a woman so happy and frantic at the same moment. There were twin girls who were in open cribs and would co-sleep together, often crying when they had to separate them. Their stay was brief, maybe a couple days. There was a boy on the end who never seemed to have visitors, and when they were there the mom and dad argued and had to be told to be quiet or leave. He was there before us but I’m not sure how long. He seemed to be struggling from withdrawal symptoms…he would cry… a lot. I watched that same little boy sit alone as the nurses tried to call family because it was his turn to go home…but no one came for hours. When they did come they were met with the social worker. I wanted to offer to take him, but they don’t just give babies out because you ask. Babies filtered in and out as the days went on. As I watched other babies leave with their excited parents, I got more and more anxious paired with ongoing frustration. I wanted to leave too. I wanted to take her home and put her in the crib we had put together.
But then there was Maggie. Maggie started out in the big room with all the other babies. Maggie was there for a long time. She had hydrocephaly, or fluid in her skull. She seemed to be making progress until one day she wasn’t out with the other babies, she was in one of the private rooms towards the front of the NICU. Until now I didn’t realize what those rooms were for. I would watch as her mom and dad would come out every so often and look more and more hopeless. One day they didn’t come out, other family filed in and out and then they stopped. We heard the cries of a mom, and soon watched as the parents left empty handed. I didn’t see them or Maggie again. I think every nurse and parent shared in that grief for a moment. My perspective changed, we weren’t suffering. We were still lucky. We were still here, she was still headed in the right direction. I never wanted to see the inside of those rooms.
© 2018 Frances Conrad