My sweet, sweet boy:
Born at 33 weeks, 6 days gestation on Friday April 19th, weighing in at 5 pounds, 4 ounces, 18 inches long. He arrived by c-section. I will attempt to tell our story without over-using the word "shock". Be forewarned though, I might fail. ;)
April 19th, a Friday. It began like any other day. I tidied the kitchen, I spent time taking a few pictures of the kids doing their homeschool work in preparation for our Tuesday Get Real series post on home learning. Around 11am I laid down with our toddler for a nap. I slept a long time, until after 3pm. Other than this oddly long nap, I had none, zero, NO signs of an impending labor. Just nothing!
I awoke from my nap and noticed I was having some strong Braxton Hicks contractions, or so I thought. Not thinking much of them I got up and expected to go on with my afternoon. It was about 3:30pm. I had another couple contractions while changing my youngests' clothes/diapers. Those were painful enough to really get my attention. I put a hot water bottle against my stomach. No change. I decided to take a hot shower- that always stops my contractions ("ctxs" from now on) unless it is the real deal. The thought that it could be the "Real Deal" didn't enter my mind until I was in that shower, because suddenly, there they were- hard, painful ctxs that were coming every 4 minutes. I could not believe it. I was shocked standing there. What on earth should I do next?? I hadn't mentioned my bizarre ctxs to anyone.
Then, I decided to check my cervix for any signs of dilation. Whoa. That was a little weird- I couldn't find my cervix- only a large bulging... thing. "Okay, that CAN'T be my water bag bulging and about to break.... can't possibly be". That is when I began crying.
I don't have early babies! I don't experience premature labors! This didn't make any sense! Although my first baby had been born 5 weeks early 21 years ago, she was a very sick baby that required surgery. Her early birth was not shocking. Each of my 5 children after her came after entirely complication-free pregnancies and were all full term.
They were all born naturally and drug-free.
I stepped out of the shower and called to my teen son. "Umm, I think I need you to call _Husband_..... Umm, I think I am having a lot of ctxs. Tell him he needs to come home right now!!" My husband was at work 45 minutes away. I couldn't call my midwife over and expect to deal with this at home, I was much too early in my pregnancy. I knew I needed to go to the hospital. The hospital is a 45 minute drive from our home. So, I was looking at a minumum of an hour and half before I could get through the doors of the emergency room. My last labor was only 44 minutes long, one other was 90 minutes. My ctxs were strong. I was terrified that I didn't have an hour and a half to wait. My husband agreed and suggested I call our neighbors, a busy family with 3 children of their own.
So, I call our neighbors out of the blue around 4:30 or 5pm and say, feeling embarassed (!), "Um, I seem to be having a lot of ctxs, I was wondering if you might be able to give me ride to the hospital, like right now?" And she did. Dropped everything and came right over. What an awesome neighbor, I'll be forever grateful.
My husband met me at the ER. Although my ctxs were regular and strong, I hadn't felt any pressure yet- no desire to begin pushing. I was still hopeful that they'd be able to give me a labor stopping drug and I'd get to go home to all my shocked children who I'd just suddenly left alone at home!
On a side note, my teen son's dad had been on his way over to our house to pick our son up for the weekend. In the end, he stayed at our house overnight, watching all our children at home, making them dinner and making them breakfast the next morning. How awesome is that. Again, I'll be forever grateful.
In the ER I was found to be 100% dilated and my bag of water was in fact about to burst. I was told I was deeply in labor and would be "having this baby very soon". They began prepping me and the room for my delivery.
Shock. Shock shock shock!
Having this baby tonight?? But I didn't have any signs of labor! No warnings! This couldn't be happening. AND, we hadn't even discussed baby names yet. I hadn't dug out, sorted or washed a single piece of baby clothing or diapers from our shop yet. Hadn't washed his blankets, ordered the last minute things I needed, upped my iron & alfalfa supplements in preparation for laboring. I hadn't even ordered my homebirth supplies! (lol)
I continued contracting strong and painfully every couple minutes. I was bleeding. I was feeling impatient- where was my urge to push? Where was the pressure of the baby's head needing to be pushed out? If I'm going to have this baby tonight, let's get the show on the road- I'm done with this labor pain! (Oh my goodness have I been spoiled by fast labors or what! Here I'd been contracting for maybe 2 hours and I was impatient and getting frustrated already.) A doctor arrived. By the way, I had never set foot in this hospital before. I was surrounded by strangers in strange surroundings. This was not my cozy homebirth I had been expecting!
The doctor listened for the baby's heartbeat but couldn't find it. Huh, let's roll the ultrasound machine over here and find this baby's heart he said. It took all of about 5 seconds. He holds the ... wand(? or whatever it's called) way up in the high right part of my belly and says to his nurse, "there's the head".
There's the head? THERE??
He pushed for a bit, trying to turn him into the proper position for birth. I contracted so hard throughout the painful attempt. It wasn't happening.
And right about then is when time stopped. There was a sort of whoosh in my head and everthing around me disappeared for a moment. I think it was a wave of shock rolling through me. And the words came to my head: C-Section. Oh my God. Not only am I having this baby suddenly, right now, this doctor is about to tell me that I am going to have a C-Section. Something I had never considered could happen to me. Silly I know, but the truth. I had never even had an epidural- the thought of a big needle traveling into my spine was scary enough. But now I was going to experience major surgery. Right now. I was so overwhelmed.
Our wee Baby T had been head down just 3 evenings before at my midwife appointment. But on Friday, April 19th, he'd decided to go hang out up at the tip top of my uterus, lying sideways with his back facing toward my heart. It's like he didn't want to come out and was trying to get as far away from the birth canal as possible.
And so, a mere 4 hours after those very first, strangely painful "Braxton Hicks", our little son came into the world by C-section at 7:28pm. They'd had a rough time getting him out for some reason. The doctor said he was "way up there" and he had to do some extra tugging and pulling to get him out. What a bizarre sensation- not painful, but I could sure feel a lot of pressure and yanking of my belly area. Since I was behind the sterile blue drape when he was finally pulled free, I couldn't see him. The large number of specialists and nurses that had gathered around to care for our preemie whisked him over to the warming table, cleaned him up a little bit and checked him out.
I cried because none of this was right. "I'm supposed to be holding him! He's crying and I should be holding him against my skin, and comforting him with breastfeeding. This is all just not right". When a nurse carried him over to me very briefly so I could see him for the first time, he was naked in her hands. The first thing I said? "He is so small!!" Wow is he a little guy compared to our others. In fact, our largest baby was 10 pounds 6 ounces at birth, so Baby T is just about half that size!
Once he was found to be stable, he was swaddled in blankets and kind of set by my face. I asked if I could hold him on me skin to skin (or perhaps it was my husband that asked that- everything is fuzzy in my memory). Although we were told they "don't normally allow that", they allowed it for us. :) And Baby T was un-bundled and laid on my chest while I was being sewed & stapled up. That was sweet. So I cried some more.
Baby and Beloved Husband go to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). I continue to get my guts put back together and am rolled away to recover from the drugs I was given to make my lower 2/3 numb. After quite awhile we were really wanting me to get to the baby so I could breastfeed. Finally, I attempted to step from my bed to a wheelchair that would take me to the NICU. I stood up, and then I bled.
I hemorrhaged. Sigh. It was scary. The anti-hemorrhage drugs I was given didn't take effect. The nurse began giving me a deep massage of my uterus to get the blood clots out and get the hemorrhage to cease. Apparently this is the protocol for hemorrhaging post-partum moms. It is more painful that childbirth. I screamed out in pain. I reflexively fought off the "attack" to my body. I was conscious of what they were doing- trying to save my life and my uterus (I might have been rushed back into surgery to have my hemorrhaging uterus removed in order to save me) but I physically couldn't stand the pain. It was awful. A different anti-hemorrhage drug was given, along with more torturous massage. And thankfully, the bleeding slowed. But it was too late for breastfeeding as the baby's blood sugar was lowering so he was put on an IV. And so, that was how we spent the evening of April 19th, 2013.
How Baby T is doing now:
At 11 days old and still in the NICU, he has been doing amazingly well for his gestational age. We're told the most common trouble that preemies like him experience is respiratory related. He's not had any trouble in that department. Never needed extra oxygen and has handled all his own breathing. After just a few days, he was even able to handle his own body temperature. He requires lots of bundling but he is able to keep warm enough he doesn't need any heating lights. All his organs are functioning, and he never even went below his birth weight, only gained.
On my lap:
The areas we are working on now- what is keeping him from going home- is his gaining strength in his eating, his jaundice going away, and his oxygen level staying consistent when he's in deep sleep. He's just a tiny little guy who is supposed to be peacefully dreaming his days away in my uterus for more than a whole month from now. But here we are asking him to do so much! Eating on his own, breathing, and regulating all his own systems with no help from a placenta. His suck is weak, he has a hard time with breastfeeding and bottle feeding. He tires out and falls in a deep sleep so the rest of his feeding has to be done through the feeding tube going down his nose to his stomach. Just yesterday he began making huge strides in this area and I'm feeling really excited about it. He has been able to complete several meals all on his own and not needed supplementing through his feeding tube. It's a great step.
He has jaundice, pretty much expected for all preemies we're told. He went under photo therapy lights for a couple days until his bilirubin level went down. It's slowly scooted back up a bit since then. The doctors want to see it stop inching up before sending him home.
Under the lights to help cure his jaundice:
And, when he is deeply sleeping, sometimes his monitor shows that the oxygen level in his blood has gone down. He needs to remember to keep breathing deeply while he's sleeping to keep oxygen flowing freely to all his tissues. He used to have this problem many times during every meal but just recently nearly stopped, so that is also some wonderful improvement!
He is tiny and very quiet. His cries are like little kitten cries. He is so so so sweet and wonderful and I never tire of staring at him. He's perfect. I'm sad he was forced out of his cozy uterine home so early & is begin forced to live like a big kid so soon. I spend a large amount of time while cuddling my teeny guy pondering how crazy this all is, how he is here already, how I had a C-section, a hemorrhage, how all my children are at home without me. I feel shocked at how fast and unexpectedly we found ourselves traveling on this path. I can't help but wonder if the extreme stress and anxiety I experienced due to the loss of my mom had anything to do with this. Strangely, my sister-in-law, who also spent those last days with my mama and our family, also gave birth by emergency C-section, 3 weeks before her due date. I ended up giving birth on her due date! Her baby was already 3 weeks old, and mine 6 weeks early....
The NICU nurses are all wonderful. I trust them and have had a fun time getting to know them while chatting in the wee hours of the night. The 3 neonatologists are also great and have been rooting for our "little NICU rockstar". They often tell us that he has done much better than they predicted, better than the statistics for 34 week preemies. So, that's awesome. But we still cannot wait to get him and me home again so our family can be all in one place and the chaos of this time can calm....
Look at those teeny feet and little stick legs :)
How I am doing now:
I was able to stay in the hospital for several days after birth. I was at his bedside every 3 hours for his feedings and often sat and held him skin to skin between. Even after I was discharged the hospital allowed me to stay in a room for 2 additional days at no cost just so I could be near my NICU baby. Once there wasn't enough room for me to stay any longer, a bed was found for me at a house very near the hospital that is set up just for people like me. It is sort of like a "Ronald McDonald" house- for people that live too far away from the hospital to get there conveniently, but have a family member in the hospital that they should be near. I am SO grateful.
Here is my room in that house. Mostly I sleep, keep my things, and pump breastmilk here. I am pumping with our rented breast pump every 3 hours around the clock to keep my milk supply up so I will have plenty of milk for him when he's strong.
The doctors don't have a theory why I suddenly went into labor. That just happens sometimes and we never figure out why they say. Baby and I both underwent all sorts of blood tests and exams but nothing amiss was found. We're both healthy. I lost a lot of blood, but not quite enough to require a transfusion. My body is weak, my incision is quite painful, and I suffered back spasms for several days after my spinal block. But, I will be fine. Eventually, Baby T will be fine. I am full of gratitude, and give prayers of thanks over and over day and night.
But right now, is hard. My husband is home with all our children. He is working from home temporarily(remember he just got this new job about a month ago, & is supposed to commute to the city for it). He is building fencing for our animals during his spare moments so they can get out on the spring grass. He's attempting to put in our garden, keep the house under control and our kids from suffering too much due to mom suddenly being absent.
Our children at home are 14, 7, 5, 3, and 19 months.
My 14 yr old is working too hard. He's been forced to take over many of my jobs and care for his siblings a lot so Husband can work. He has a fantastic attitude and we remind him often how thankful we are for his help and hard work. He did get away for a bit for a Boy Scout camping event that was great fun for him. My in-laws have come over to help us a few times.
This is the toughest time Husband and I have experienced in our relationship, yet we have to do it an hour apart from each other. That has been so, so hard for me. I have come home for a short stay (less than a day) twice now. It's rough for me to see how much the kids are acting up due to the stress of my being gone, the laundry piling up, all the housewifery jobs that I love to do not being done... But everybody is fine. I know this is temporary. My husband is a loving dad, everyone is being cared for. Just not by me for a short while.
And, I miss my mom. I really miss my mom a lot. My tears come as quickly as they did the first week after her passing. She is always by my side when I have babies. I see "It's a Boy!" balloons in the gift shop and suddenly lose big drippy tears. I know my mom would have bought that balloon for me I think to myself. Once I was asked, perfectly innocently by a hospital staff member, if my mom would be "coming to help me" and I burst into tears. It's hard seeing so many grandmas on the birthing floor where the NICU is. I am happy for them, genuinly so, when they gush to me with excitement over their new grandbaby. And then I lose a tear or two. "It's not fair", I think to myself. Why can't MY mom be here gushing with excitement to all who will listen about HER new grandbaby?
Apparently it is spring outside! I spend much of my time in windowless rooms. On the hospital grounds:
I never tire of staring into that face!
There is much more I could say, so many more thoughts and emotions and stories. But I have a baby in the NICU I need to get back to. This post is going to have to come to an end!