This holiday season, I want to give thanks for my healthy Baby A, who is almost four months old (I can’t believe it!).
This past summer was one of the toughest of my life. Some days I think I’m being a little melodramatic, but other days I just accept it: I have a little PTSD from the events of this summer. (Yesterday I took Baby A to the pediatrician’s office, and the too familiar smell of hospital hand sanitizer made my stomach churn.) I thank God every day that I have a healthy Baby A, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have “Why did this have to happen to me?” moments, and moments where I think of what could have happened, of the pain and sorrow that could have resulted from this near tragedy.
My water broke when I was less than 23 weeks pregnant. In the state of Idaho, 24 weeks is when a fetus is considered “viable.” After finally going to the hospital to be checked out (honestly, I thought I was just being cautious — I mean, whose water breaks at 22 weeks?!) and having the triage nurse confirm that I was indeed leaking amniotic fluid, Alex and I decided to have me admitted to the hospital, to start a round of antibiotics, steroid shots, and hospital bedrest. (Apparently some patients decide to take a more “natural” approach by going home to “see what happens.”)
Thus began my first summer in Idaho — within the confines of a hospital room. It was my first time away from Baby M for more than three hours — that was really tough on both Baby M and me. (I will NEVER forget that on the day I was hospitalized, Baby M was crying, sprawled across my chest, as a tech performed an ultrasound on my belly.) Three months after coming home, we are finally getting our relationship back to the way it was. (It makes sense, and yet hurts me at the same time, that she was closer to Daddy than to me, since I was gone for three months — even if Alex did bring her to see me almost every day.)
When the neonatologist came to talk about our baby’s very definite NICU stay, and what to expect if he was born at 23 weeks, 24 weeks, etc., I sobbed. At 24 weeks, there was a 44% survival rate, and an 85% chance of severe disability (which would require a lifetime caregiver). Alex and I had just started house hunting in Boise. Now we had to think about a new criterion: did we need a single story home, or to at least have one bedroom on the first floor?
I didn’t even pay attention to the survival rates the neonatologist gave us for 28 weeks. Five (long) weeks into the future just seemed too far away. So impossibly far away.
And then there were the “smaller” every day issues I had to deal with. Having a sore back/behind from all the lying down/sitting. Eating almost all of my meals alone. Suddenly sleeping alone — on a very uncomfortable hospital bed. Going stir-crazy from staying inside my room. Trusting Alex to buy a house, without being able to see it for myself (he did pretty well… and thank goodness for Facetime!). Not having a chance to make any friends in Boise. Not being around to set up our new house and not being there when our shipment finally arrived from Korea. But the very worst was that I missed Baby M’s birthday. Yes, Alex brought her to my hospital room on her birthday, and we celebrated with cake. But, it was only for a few hours, and understandably, she got bored and cranky in my hospital room. I didn’t get to throw her a birthday party… and even if I could have, I hadn’t met anyone to invite!
Every day, I had this overwhelming sense of guilt. What kind of mother was I, being away from Baby M for so long? What kind of wife, to make Alex be Mr. Mom (and he was even more than that — he had to be both the sole breadwinner and both mom and dad)? What kind of woman’s water broke so early, when life outside the womb isn’t even viable? I wasn’t even good at being pregnant. And a bunch of “what ifs” ran through my head. What if I had rested more? What if I hadn’t let the stress of our move from Korea get to me? What if I had taken more vitamin C/eaten more protein/done something to make my membrane walls thicker, more robust?
My friend Janna recently sent me this article (88 Days Trapped in Bed to Save a Pregnancy), saying that it reminded her of me (and jokingly asked, “Too soon?”). As I read the article, I shuddered and cringed, remembering my days on bedrest in the hospital, the loneliness, the immense fear that I could give birth to a very premature baby, or worse yet, lose my baby.
If you want to try and understand the summer I went through, please read through the entire article. I can relate to so much of the article, I feel like I could have written it myself (although unlike the author, the doctor on call immediately confirmed that I was leaking amniotic fluid; I did not have to use a bedpan — thank God!; my broke again a few weeks after I was released from the hospital; and, I already had a baby at home to worry about/be separated from). But here are all the similarities: the incessant stress and worry, the constant non-stress test (NST) monitoring, the sequential compression devices (SCDs) pumping my lower legs to prevent blood clots, the antibiotics, the steroid shots to accelerate baby’s lung development (the lungs are the last organs to develop — because, why waste energy on something you don’t need in utero?), being prodded every four hours, and thinking that this was definitely NOT what I had in mind when I had sometimes relished the idea of “staying in bed and reading and watching tv all day.”
“Fifty per cent of women with pPROM go into labour within 48 hours, and 95% deliver within one week of rupture. Four of the remaining 5% deliver within two weeks. One percent of women with pPROM experience spontaneous resealment of the membranes and go on to carry the baby to term. One per cent.”
Like the author of the article, I was a(n almost) one percent-er. My OB and the antepartum nurses were surprised — they hadn’t met anyone who resealed. I spent three weeks limping around (it hurt to walk!) and during that time, we moved twice — from our extended stay to a hotel to our house. Just when I was beginning to have hope that I might actually make it to 37 weeks (term), if not 40 weeks (or even go past my due date!!), my water broke again. This time, it was “it.” Gushes and gushes of amniotic fluid. Alex took me back to triage, and we went through the entire process again. “Oh, you’re back!” said all the nurses, surprised to see me again.
One thing I did get out of the whole experience is a new perspective. When I was pregnant with Baby M, at my 34 week checkup, my OB at the natural birthing center wanted to induce me because my amniotic fluid level was low. At the time, I felt like my heart dropped down into my stomach. It seemed like the end of the world. Deliver at 34 weeks? We weren’t ready! She wasn’t ready! What about her lung development; how long would she have to stay in the NICU? Luckily, we made it until almost my due date. But I remember thinking how early 34 weeks was. And here I was this summer, hospitalized, wishing and praying to make it to 34 weeks. At the time, it had seemed impossible. All of us thought 34 weeks would be a miracle (I did make it, and it was a miracle). It’s funny how your perspective changes, though, based on the situation.
Anyway, I am incredibly thankful that Baby A was born healthy, and had a relatively short stint in the NICU. I’m thankful for Alex’s support and love. I’m thankful that both grandmas flew out several times to take care of Baby M and relieve Alex. And, I’m very thankful for my own mother’s optimism. She had said, from the moment I was hospitalized, “I believe we are going to have a good baby.” And, we did.
The last paragraph of the article sums it up perfectly (down to the plastic water pitcher, that I asked the nurses to refill frequently — if I was leaking fluid, I was going to take in even more fluid!): “One day, when Angus was about three years old, I cleaned out a closet and unexpectedly found the plastic water pitcher that had been by my hospital bed. In an instant, the lighthouse in my head revolved, and everything went white and cold. I was certain that the baby was in danger – so certain that I had to run to the bathroom and vomit. I don’t know why this surprised me, or why I thought I would be different, immune to the after-effects of my ordeal. All survivors have scars.”
I definitely have invisible scars. And I will always remember my very first summer in Boise, stuck inside a hospital room. Praying. Hoping. Waiting.