A week ago today, at about seven o'clock in the morning, I gave birth to my son. This is a blurry picture that my husband took of him in the special care nursery. It pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole experience.
It's not a super dramatic story, but I would like to exorcise it.
I realized late Friday that I hadn't felt as much fetal movement as usual, so before I turned in to bed I sat down to watch The Daily Show and do a kick count. What care providers want to see is ten noticeable movements in two hours. From 11 p.m. until 1 a.m. I felt zero, despite giving the sort of firm nudges to the belly that always evoked a response. I called in to our 24 hour consulting nurse service and was told to drink some juice and call back with another two-hour kick count. From 1 a.m. until 3 a.m. my count was zero. I was told to go into the ER.
I left my husband at home with the sleeping kids and drove myself. I had no idea at that point whether or not my baby was alive; I told myself I was being paranoid and simply buying myself a couple hundred dollars' worth of reassurance. Thankfully the baby gave me one good thump on the walk down to labor and delivery.
I dressed in a hospital gown and was hooked up to a monitor while the on-call ob/gyn made her way to the hospital. He had a heartbeat, but it was overly fast and not variable, which is a sign of fetal distress. The doctor performed an ultrasound, and he simply wasn't moving at all. She told me that she couldn't tell what was wrong but that he needed to come out straight away.
"Yes, as soon as possible."
My whole body shook. I called my husband, who called our dear friends and neighbors; she came to the house to be with the kids and he drove my husband to the hospital. My husband was suited up right away for the OR, the surgical team called in the anesthesiologist and we went in at 6 a.m. to deliver the baby. I was by myself with the nurses and doctors for the spinal block and surgical set-up. Katy Perry was on the radio. The room was cold. They were talking about football.
My husband came in just before they made the incision. I could feel them moving me around, and, when it was time to pull the baby out, an enormous amount of pressure as they yanked and pushed down from the top of my uterus. When he came out his cry was so, so small. I couldn't see him. They told me he had hair.
They wrapped him up and gave him to my husband. I got to see him and kiss his face. He was beautiful. Then he needed to go to the nursery because he was having trouble breathing. My husband went with him. They stitched me back up, cleaned my body, and covered me in warm blankets before transferring me into recovery. I needed to be there for two hours. My son was still in the nursery.
After recovery I was wheeled on my bed through the nursery to see and hold him for about twenty minutes before I was moved into my room. He had been given an IV, had blood drawn, and was on monitors for his heart rate and breathing. He was "grunting", making a laboring noise with each out-breath. He had low blood sugar. He needed a chest x-ray. I was flexing my feet and toes furiously to bring life back into them so I would be ready to get up as soon as possible. My sister and aunt and cousin had all come down and were with us. They were enormously comforting and later relieved my friend from watching the girls, brought the girls to see me and their brother, and took the girls away for the day. They were wonderful.
Later in my room on the day of delivery I waited several more hours while feeling came back to my legs. When I could walk the nurse helped me into a wheelchair and took me back to the nursery. I was there for the chest x-ray and was able to hold him again. Then I was supposed to go back to my room. The nurse wheeled me over to the nursery a couple more times that night. I was able to nurse him. He latched beautifully.
The next morning I was able to walk by myself to the nursery, although I was cautioned not to do it too much. I did it constantly. I annoyed the baby nurses who didn't want him disturbed. I just needed to hold him, and he breathed easier when I did.
All told he stayed in the nursery for two and a half days. He had a suspicious patch in his lungs that was probably normal fluid that he was struggling to expel, but might have been pneumonia. He was treated with antibiotics. I was there every three hours, minimum. My nurse knew to bring my medications and do my vital signs over there. In between visits I used a breast pump to get my milk going, and took my meals. I had dessert with lunch and dinner, because screw it. My family came to see us. I couldn't sleep.
By 60 hours after delivery his breathing had become normal and we had established breastfeeding enough that his blood sugar was stable without the IV sugars. Another chest x-ray showed nothing alarming. He did a couple of oxygen tests and then he was brought to stay with me in my room. For the first time in three nights I slept more than an hour at a time. I held him close without cords and tubes. I took all of the band-aids off of his heels and hands.
The next day we were both given the go-ahead to check out, together, after lunch.
I've had him home for four days now. It took me a bit to feel okay letting anyone else, even his dad, hold him.
He seems fine. He's gained weight. I'm healing up with virtually no discomfort. I haven't taken so much as an ibuprophen since I left the hospital.
No one knows why he started to fail in utero. Nothing cultured out of his blood, so he didn't have an infection. His cord was wrapped around his neck, which is not uncommon and not necessarily a problem (my second daughter was delivered that way with no distress). It sounds like, based on the amount of blood I lost during the delivery, that there was some suspicion of a beginning abruption, but that hasn't been confirmed by the doctor. And he had an impressive true knot in his cord. The nurses were blown away by it. None of that was pointed out as the cause.
He was born at 36 weeks and came home the day he would have been 37.
I know that there are much, much harder birth experiences; I've seen them in my own family. I know that babies can come out very seriously ill indeed. We were fortunate.
But I can't think about his birth without crying. I've had a few nightmares about hospitals.
Over time I will feel more at peace with it. I try not to mull the I'd-rathers and the what-ifs: I'd rather have had those last three weeks of pregnancy. I'd rather have not been separated from my son for the days following his birth. I'd rather he had not experienced the pokes and prods that he did during that time. And what if I hadn't been paying attention to his movement that night? I have to try to not be any more afraid for him than I would be had he arrived differently.
It happened how it happened. The surgery saved his life. Our care providers were skillful, compassionate and kind. My tribe stepped up and cared for my little family when I could not. I have so very much to thank them for.
And he's here. He's mine. He's beautiful.