I should have known something was wrong.
There’s sick and then there’s sick.
I’d thrown up and called the OBGYN thinking it was listeria, but it wasn’t. I was experiencing a sudden onset on acid reflux and indigestion and just figured it was normal – as the baby was growing and getting bigger at 26 weeks (about 6 months gestation), there was less room inside me, after all. Pregnancy isn’t a comfortable ride for everyone.
Still I should have known something was wrong.
I should have known when I could no longer sleep at night from the discomfort. I should have known when I cried (then laughed) when my husband tried to get me to eat pizza at the mall. Eating was starting to upset me because it meant about 8-12 hours of total discomfort that couldn’t be ignored. But I mean…It was funny too. A man flapping a piece of pizza in a giggling/weeping big ‘ol pregnant lady’s face urging her to eat at the mall. Silly business.
I should have known.
One morning I woke up after only about 2 hours of real sleep and started crying and I didn’t know why. Just weeping. It hadn’t been a particularly hormonal pregnancy. I just felt…Welm. Later I would find out it was a distress cry from my body. Eating - even if I was only consuming a small, liquidy shake, had started to feel like I was jamming a square peg in a round hole. If my cells had a face it would match the one that weight lifters make when they really push themselves. The exertion of the simple act of digestion was becoming too much.
I should have known. The discomfort had been intermittent and had started slowly. The OBGYN had cleared me for listeria. They hadn’t seemed concerned. Still I should have known.
I let the wave of of sudden emotion subside and headed out the door to my fibroid specialist. We had a standing appointment with him (Thank GOODNESS!) because they’d noticed the baby had been lagging in growth. All my visits had been positive I loved being there, getting to see the baby on the ultrasound and while there I told them how I’d been feeling.
I miss my pregnant belly. I used to imagine the old A&W theme song when I walked (waddled) everywhere.
They did the usual blood pressure measures, urine samples and questions. Instead of the appointment being over and done with its usual efficiency and good news however, we were asked to wait in an office while I heard the doctor on the phone. I couldn’t catch what he was saying but you just know when it’s not good, right? Something in the tone…
At that moment I was so glad Chris was on spring break and could be there to hold my hand.
The doctor told us we needed to go to the hospital next for further tests but insisted it was probably nothing - they just needed to be sure my blood pressure was okay and run a few labs.
Chris held my hand as we waited in the little room they tucked us in, and we tried to keep things light, making jokes, and talking about life. The nurse was very comforting and told me the odds were low anything was wrong.
I was still trying to believe nothing was.
Then the doctors came with the results and everything seemed to happen too fast. I heard the words “preeclamsia with HELLP” and then some even scarier ones: Elevated blood pressure…Imminent stroke…liver failure, and finally the phrase no pregnant mother wants to hear three months before she’s due:
“You have to deliver your baby in the next few days.”
My heart dropped. I went into a daze.
They had to take her or I’d die. Three months early. Twenty-six weeks gestation and unfinished developing. What did that even mean?!
Well of course that was the very next thing that was covered. The doctor calmly explained the possible risks to the baby if born early:
Cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, brain bleeds, necrotizing enterocolitis, learning delays, heart problems, respiratory distress syndrome, anemia…The list went on but I don’t remember it all. There was no choice but to agree to the C section. I was in distress.
I kept nodding as tears ran down my face as I consented.
I should have known. And now I did.
The doctors explained the Plan: To keep me hospitalized for 2 days while they administered steroids and magnesium to help boost the baby’s brain and lung development before taking her out. My baby. My girl. Losing her life support system at 26 weeks. I couldn’t believe it.
I hadn’t known it was possible for children to be born that early before.
While pondering all the outcomes we were now potentially facing, we made The Calls. I heard my husband weeping from the other side of the room. I’d never heard this strong man cry before. I had to leave a voicemail for my dad that I couldn’t get through. I started out ok, but then when I got to the part where I told them they had to take the baby I got blubbery. I think that was when it became real.
Then the magnesium kicked in. I was told it would feel “a little bad.”
I.HAVE. NEVER. FELT. SO SICK.
BLARRRG!!! Right into the barf bag.
I can normally remember how bad various illnesses have felt, everything from food poisoning to tooth extractions but I have since forgotten just how bad this particular thirty minutes was. This nausea was SO awful that I didn’t have enough memory space to actually store all the layers and textures of pure sick I felt at that time. Then catheter went in and constant blood pressure checks were administered.
When the latest set of labs came in that evening we were told we couldn’t wait any longer – after only 8 hours my body was no longer able to support the baby. A stroke or liver failure was imminent.
It was time.
There was just one thing – we hadn’t picked a name yet. I had spent hours upon hours going through apps and list and writing down names I loved since the day I got pregnant. I even did a whole scrapbook page before I got pregnant because I actually had a “we’re trying” book (yes way) but No matter how much I loved a name it just wasn’t her.
But here we were, facing the possibility that either we were going to become new parents that night, or two people in mourning. I had morbid thoughts about coffins, and whether they made them small enough for fetuses and equally vivid thoughts about what her first birthday would be like (I imagined pink and white balloons and lots of cupcakes).
This was taken the morning of Courtney’s birth.
All I knew was that I couldn’t face either prospect without giving our baby a name.
“Courtney” I told my husband suddenly. I had thought of it before and it had ended up on my short list.
He smiled. “I like it,” he said. “But why that name?”
“Courtney was the name of the only kid who invited me to her birthday party in grade one. She had dark hair like I think our baby will have. She was sweet. I guess I want our baby to be like her.”
I still hope this is true. I was always that kid that never got invited to anything, but I always remembered sweet little Courtney from grade one who made me feel included. Talk about one act of kindness that can last decades!
And that was it. Our baby had a name.
I was eventually wheeled into pre-op where they got me ready and warned me that she might not make noise when she came out and that I shouldn’t worry, which of course I did.
Next thing I know I’m on my back, epidural having been administered, staring at the green sheet they put up to block my view of the surgery. I remember the anesthetist was extremely kind and thorough. I remember Chris was suddenly there, holding my hand. I think the whole thing lasted forty minutes but felt much much faster.
All ready to hold my hand and help me through the birth.
Then she was out and she was ROARiNG mad! She sounded like an enraged lamb on helium. I cried I was so happy. Something about her outrage made me think that she would be ok. The whelm was back, but this time it felt good. Really good. As precarious as her situation still was I had this feeling of relief for a moment. Maybe a little giddiness, too. I didn’t know babies could cry at 6 months gestation. Boy did she give us hell!!
Chris tells me that about ten people suddenly surrounded Courtney as they got her prepared for her life outside the womb. I remember VERY clearly the feeling of being scraped out like a pumpkin. Even with the pain killers it was awful. I remember THAT with total clarity.
I don’t remember the recovery room but I’m told I was very thirsty. I don’t remember drinking anything but I don’t remember my entire body stopping up with indigestion either. It seems as though as soon as the baby was out the inner pressure and congestion I was feeling immediately diminished.
Then sleep. Short as it was. (No real rest for new Mamas)!
The baby was out – Courtney was out, and she was holding on. I was alive and my blood pressure was coming down.
Courtney was born 3 months early at 1 lb, 7 oz.
The next few days, weeks and months would be the test of our mettle as parents.
Now the REAL work was going to begin.
Last Friday we celebrated Courtney’s second birthday. She has turned a LOT of corners and we as parents right along with her.
We’ve been through two surgeries, 4 months in 2 different NICU’s, and one terrible moment when her heart completely stopped. We got to appreciate the friends and acquaintances who stayed by our side or reached out, and endured the disappearance of those who did not. A common thing to happen to people going through times of trauma apparently. It was a LOT.
Although it was a hard day (week, months, year) it was also one of the best in my life. I have a daughter! I’m a mother! And I must give her a thousand kisses a day – a million tickles. She enchants me. And she makes me so happy. As does my husband, who continues to be my hero daily.
I’m a little weepy because I had just sung Courtney to sleep with Chiquitita by ABBA which was one of my favorite songs as a little girl. This was around her first birthday.
Making faces. It’s what we do.
One thing that shook me about the whole thing was that I heard stories from my friends I’d never heard before. One had given birth to a storm baby, and since the doctors were run off their feet because of all the other storm babies she had a scary incident involving hemorrhaging. Another had nerve damage that cost her mobility for months after her baby was born. Another suffered drastic post-partum depression. Yet another spent a good chunk of time in the hospital before delivering her baby due to complications, hours from home and her husband. I know a woman who lost 20 pounds in her first trimester and could barely eat. The same doctor that got her on track was the one who saved my life. We thank you, Dr. Maqueira!!
After I gave birth I realized that all mothers have undergone trauma, no matter how straight-forward the birth may be. Our bodies change. We morph physically and mentally and emotionally to accommodate the new life we made. Our husbands and life partners stand by us, cheer-leading and holding our hands.
This post is dedicated to all the mothers and fathers out there, and all of YOUR stories.
You’re a little mad for joining this club, you know.