It will be ten years ago this July that I gave birth to our youngest son. Our oldest at the time was two years old, so we had an idea on what to expect this time around…or thought we did. As any parent of more than one child will tell you, no two births are exactly the same. This was definitely true in our situation.
My due date was scheduled for the third of September and things were going well as I headed into my third trimester. Due to the fact that I had had two surgical procedures done on my cervix, I had been internally checked at each monthly visit to make sure it was not weakening. Things were looking good and there were no serious concerns.
On the evening of July 4th, after watching our oldest son enjoy the wonder of sparklers in our back yard as only a two year old can, we laid him down for the night and settled in for what was to be a relaxing evening at home. It wasn’t to be. As I was walking to the living room to sit down my water broke…my newest bundle was attempting to declare his own freedom two months early. The combination of me being a procrastinator and the unexpected early onset of labor left us scrambling around the house to get my oldest ready to spend the night at his grandparents house and getting a bag packed for the hospital, desperately trying to make sure we had everything ready and were prepared to make the journey to bring our newest son into the world. On the trip to the hospital I sat gazing out the window at the many spectacular displays of fireworks we passed along the way, dreaming of what was to come. It should be said that when I gave birth to our first son, it was fairly uneventful in an exciting kind of way. He was healthy, my total labor was a short ten hours from start to finish, and he was actually ready to go home before I was. So I think it was only natural that I assumed this birth would be just as easy. I was wrong.
Upon being admitted, they tested my amniotic fluid to see if my baby’s lungs were mature enough to let my labor progress. The devastating news came and dashed our hopes for a smooth experience. His lungs were not developed enough for him to breathe on his own. They halted my labor and gave me the first of two doses of steroids to help speed up the maturity of his lungs. They told us that a NICU doctor would be in to see us the next day to tell us what to expect and to answer any questions we may have. When we were left alone, my husband and I just looked at each other, but didn’t say much.
The next day the doctor came in and gave us best and worst case scenarios. Much of what he said is hazy, but I remember certain things – there was a high chance of survival but also a chance of bleeding on the brain and blindness. If they could not halt my labor before the steroids had a chance to take effect, my baby would not be able to breathe on his own. We were told the first moments after birth would be critical…if he cried on his own it meant his lungs had matured sufficiently, if not, then it meant that they hadn’t and he would have to have machines breathing for him. It was a scary scenario…our giddy bubble of excitement that we had on the way to the hospital the night before had been burst. What we were now facing was a parent’s nightmare that you can’t wake up from. The good news was that if they could hold me off for one more dose of steroids, it should be enough to form our little guy’s lungs and he stood a better chance, but they would only give me one more dose. It was too risky to give me more and it was too risky to keep stopping my labor. We were told that once the second dose had been administered, if he wanted out, they were going to let the labor progress. So basically, the longer he stayed in the womb, the more time he had to develop. OK, easy enough to understand.
Because my water had broke, I could not leave the hospital or I would risk infection to me and my baby, so then came the waiting game. It wasn’t an easy wait. We still had our son at home, and I could only see him when my husband would come up after he got off work. We decided that he should continue to work since we didn’t know how long I would be in the hospital and we didn’t know what would be necessary after we had our baby, so it was best to save his days. I missed my son, but I think it was even harder on my husband. He was always on the go…get up and go to work, go home, get cleaned up and get our son to come visit me at the hospital, then turn around and go home and go to bed just to start the cycle all over again. Of course, at the time, I was wallowing in self pity and didn’t think too much about what my husband was going through. I was bored and I was heading into a mild depression from being stuck at the hospital watching old reruns of “Three’s Company” and talk shows all day. After the first week in the hospital I started thinking I wanted my baby to be born, and if one more person told me that “the longer he stayed in the better he’ll be” I was going to throw something. Irrational… yes, I know. But I’m being honest, and it’s hard for a depressed, hormonal woman to be rational. I knew it was better if he stayed where he was at, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to get this ordeal over with…I wanted him in my arms, I wanted him healthy and I just wanted to go home to start our life with our newest addition.
Towards the end of the second week and after the second dose of steroids, I believe the hospital staff could see that I was slipping into a depression and they took pity on me. They got permission from my doctor to leave the hospital for one hour, and my husband would be allowed to take me to the mall, or out to dinner, and then right back to the hospital. It was only for a little bit, but I could already imagine how that freedom would feel. To smell the summer smells of the outside world. I was looking forward to that and just the thought of that liberation alleviated the depression. I was excited and I was eager for my husband and son to show up in the early evening so we could pretend, if only for a little bit, that all was right in our world. And then it started…first one contraction, then another…and they continued on until my outing was officially canceled. Then the self inflicted punishment started…did I wish this into happening? Was it too early? Would my baby be OK? I had wanted out of that hospital so bad, and now that the moment had arrived, I was consumed with guilt because, in my selfishness, I wasn’t sure if I had given my baby a fighting chance. The labor progressed steadily into the night and at 3:15 a.m. on July 16th, our son came into the world.
It seemed the first moments of his life lasted a life time waiting to see if he would cry on his own. When he let out that first lusty wail, it was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard in my life. They set him on my chest for just a moment, long enough for me to stroke his skin, and then he was whisked away by the NICU team who had been standing by. My husband and I agreed that he should stay with our son, and I would join him as soon as I was able.
My first entry into the world of the NICU was heartbreaking. So many babies who are fighting desperately to stay alive and get stronger, closed off from the human world by a plexiglas case. We knew we were one of the lucky ones. We were in the NICU for two weeks only because our son did not have the coordination to suck, breathe and swallow at the same time, so he had to be fed with a tube down his nose. He also had a touch of jaundice that they were watching but it was never severe enough to go under the bili lights. But I’m not sure if knowing you’re one of the lucky ones, knowing it could be worse, really helps when you’re watching your baby lay there helplessly, afraid to caress him because you don’t know yet if he is too sensitive to the human touch.
In our time there, we were dealing with our own feelings pertaining to our situation. It seemed we were always leaving one son to go to the other, and once again my husband got the short end of the stick because he barely got to see our oldest son at all due to his work schedule. By the time he got off work, I was chomping at the bit to get to the hospital to see our newborn. We also had to deal with the emotions regarding the other parents in NICU. Each time we would see a couple getting ready to take their baby home, it was a mixture of being happy for them and dealing with the guilt of the resentment we felt because it wasn’t us taking our baby home. And every time we would see a baby whose condition was worse than our son’s, we dealt with the guilt of having a fairly healthy preemie while at the same time being grateful he was doing so well.
After two weeks, we finally got the OK to take him home. It was nerve wracking. We were experienced parents, yes…but what if something went wrong? What if he stopped eating? What if the jaundice came back? Would we know what to do? Would they put him back in the hospital, forcing us through another ordeal? We did indeed have a few scary moments, but nothing that lasted for very long. He eventually learned to eat so well that he gained weight rather well. We eventually settled into a pattern of normalcy, and he has flourished into an amazing, smart, beautiful, healthy boy. To look at him now you would never know the close call we had and we know that if not for advancements in the medical field, we may have lost him.