Friday, May 29, 2015

Ronan's Birth Part One: The Birthing Games

So  . . . here I am . . . hopefully all caught up on my seven months of pregnancy . . . My son is now six months old (currently napping HYAH!), and I can now FINALLY get on with his birth story.
Which I really don't expect you to read in full. It's really more for me, I guess. Aren't all birth stories, in the end? I wanted to write it all down before it got too fuzzy.
So much happened, I didn't have the time to process all of my feelings. I remember wavering between fear, hope, and disappointment.
And there's just a lot to our story, really, there is.

For one thing, the first part takes place over a week. 

It's actually kind of a two parter . . . or maybe even a trilogy . . . yeah, I'd say it's more of a trilogy:

Part One: The Birthing Games
Part Two: My Body Strikes Back
Part Three: There and Back Again

Yeah, I'd say that's about right. 

And so, we begin . . .

A downright HIDEOUS picture of me, but it's the only one we have from roughly two hours before Ronan's birth.
Here's Chris filling out the paper work and me HATING that oxygen mask . . . and the fact that the didn't let me shower that morning. -_-
Thursday, November 13, I was standing at the counter, chopping veggies, when it hit me. My legs were throbbing, twitching, my whole body felt heavy. Exhausted. The same way I feel when a bad cold or a flu is coming on. Achy. Weary. So I texted my teacher friends and principal to see about getting a sub for the next day because this feeling on top of morning sickness meant I would NOT be making it to class in the morning.  And the weekend proceeds with me wavering between nausea and normality.
But, coming midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning, I started vomiting.
Every forty-five minutes.
Bile and stomach acid so potent it was ripping my throat to shreds so that I was coughing up blood. My throat was on fire.
My meds--usually almost miracle workers--did nothing to stop it.

Normally, I would say that, yes, this would be cause for concern.
Even more so when you're pregnant.
And doubly so when, the last time you were sick to this degree, you lost your baby.
So, I am trying not to panic, while looking at Chris, tears in my eyes, saying, "We need a doctor. This is not okay. This is too much like the last time. This is not okay."
We try my OBGYN. Nothing. I mean, NOTHING. Her office doesn't have an answering machine, no out-of-office message, NOTHING. I hadn't been given an emergency number or contact. So, here I am, hugging my toilet, crying, and no idea what to do.So Chris packs me up, hugging Puke Can to my chest, and drives me to the Emergency Clinic where they routinely process me and basically tell me I'm overreacting.
Or maybe they were just trying to play it calm so I would.
I don't know.
But it felt like they saw me as just another crazy pregnant kid with the flu.

My blood pressure, however, was concerning, so they tried a urine sample, but I could barely pull that off. They tried getting in touch with my OBGYN, and they didn't have any luck either. They did, however, get in touch with my high risk doctor, and, after the urine sample, they wrote me a prescription for stronger anti-nausea meds and sent me home.
As we were gathering our things, the sweet nurse looked me over and said, "Honey, you got a hospital bag packed?"
"No . . . we're only 31 weeks.
"Well, honey, things keep going like they're going, you're gonna have that baby sooner rather than later. Better pack that bag now."

Oh, I wish I had listened. 

Monday, my OBGYN squeezed me in for an appointment (you know, they actually pick up the phone during office hours). 
This is when I should have realized something wasn't right.
You see, before we left California, my previous OBGYN made sure I had memorized the symptoms of preeclampsia because my blood condition put me at more risk than usual pregnancies (as opposed to my current OBGYN's opinion).  If I were preeclamptic, I would have:
  1. Change in vision
  2. Unusual and persistent swelling
  3. A headache that wouldn't go away
  4. Pain in my right side (liver)
  5. High blood pressure
  6. Protein in urine
Unfortunately, I didn't know that sudden weight gain, reduced urine output, and excessive vomiting were also symptoms.
And, apparently, no one else did, either.

Feeling world's better that Monday, I was actually a little excited to step on the scale at the doctor's office because, after a weekend of eating and then vomiting saltines, I thought that I should have lost at LEAST five pounds.
But, no, against all logic and science, I had GAINED weight.
And then the nurse had to take my blood pressure three times with two different cuffs before my blood pressure seemed normal.

My feet were a little swollen, but that and the weight gain were chalked up to third trimester symptoms (I mean, that's what happens, right??? You start to swell and you gain weight even more quickly? Nothing weird).

I was sent home with, "There's something going around--you probably had the flu."

But I had that gut feeling, you know (and I don't just mean the nausea).  The whole time we were in the clinic, I kept telling Chris, "It's NOT the flu. I know it's not. This is too much like the last time. This is hormonal. It can't be the flu."  Still, she was the second professional I had telling me it was just the flu, so it had to be the flu . . . right?

So, the next day, I dress myself up all cute (seriously, I got SO many compliments, and everyone telling me I FINALLY look pregnant, how much it suited me, and I finally felt "fun" pregnant), I go to work, and, by the time I get home, I am WIPED.  Still, it's business as usual.

Wednesday, the hubs and I head to our monthly ultrasound appointment with my high risk doctor.
I've gained even MORE weight.
And, this time, the nurse takes my blood pressure once, and says, "Wow, your numbers are really high."
"Are you sure? I just went to my OBGYN and they said my blood pressure was fine . . . She had to take it three times, but . . ."
"Well, we'll let the doctor give you a look, and then we'll see if we need to take it again."

They didn't.
The ultrasound showed that Ronan's heart was working much harder than it should have been.
They took a urine test . . . and my protein levels were so high that they couldn't measure them accurately.

So the doctor sits me down and tells me that I am severely preeclamptic, that I need to go to the hospital immediately for 24 hour observation. If things get better, I can go home on bedrest and would be induced at 36 weeks on Christmas day. 
If things did not get better, I would have a baby within two days tops.

And that's when the waterworks started.

You see, that morning, my Facebook feed featured a shared post about a family with their little preemie baby asking for prayers, talking about how it's the first time they've seen him without his oxygen tubes so they can really see his little face.  The day before, I had read an article on PTSD in NICU babies. I remember reading all of that and thinking, "Oh my gosh. I can't do that. I just can't. Thank goodness I don't have to go through that."
More than ever before, I KNEW having a baby prematurely was a huge, big deal.

And here we were, my doctor telling me this was going to be our story, and all I could think of was a tiny body hooked to tubes and wires, the pain, the tininess, and I feel myself breaking.  Just withering.  Because I can't do that to my baby. I just can't. I can't hurt him like that.

Here's the deal: life will always take you to your breaking point. It will stretch you and test you and wound you, and you then have the choice to let it crush you or come out stronger on the other side.
This was my valley.
This realization that my body could not nourish a child. That, no matter how healthy I tried to be, my body couldn't maintain a pregnancy on its own. I had to take the blood-thinner injections daily in order to keep from miscarrying (the theory is that "sticky blood" like mine clots in the placenta and starves the fetus).  Even then, my placenta was starting to die.
I know it's not my fault--that I did everything I could--but it still felt like I was failing my son and he wasn't even born.
Well, he was going to be.
And I knew it was a good thing--that this procedure could save his life and mine--but it didn't feel that way, sitting in the ultrasound chair, trembling, fighting back tears.

BUT . . . the doctor said I might still be okay. We might make it four more weeks. So I clung to that like oxygen. 
That things would be okay.
And they were.
They just weren't my definition of "okay."

So we go to the hospital, we are put in one room then another, and I am hooked up to several monitors, hooking up to an IV, and have my blood drawn regularly. I have to pee in a "hat"--an insert in the toilet to catch my urine for testing--and tug around a little IV stand feeling completely exposed in that little hospital gown.
I tell you what, by the time all of this was over, I had NO sense of modesty whatsoever.

The next morning, after night of watching Anne of Green Gables with my mom (always our sick day movie), a male doctor comes into my room. He's tall, with brown hair and glasses, and I have never seen him before in my life, but he says he partners with my high risk doctor.

"Good morning, Sarah. How are you?"
"I'm doing pretty well, feeling better. How are you?"
"I'm good, I'm good.  So . . . well, it looks like you're having a baby today."
"Wait . . . what???? They told me . . . if I felt better . . . I could go home. I can't?"

And he tells me that my kidney levels are falling rapidly, my protein levels are through the roof, and my blood clotting factors are dropping too rapidly, so rapidly, in fact, that they can no longer give me my prescription blood thinners because I will bleed out.
He also says that I will have an emergency Caesarian.

"But . . . but . . . They told me I have a 50% chance of vaginal delivery . . . "
"Yes, but, you see, labor is stressful--for you and the baby--and we really don't want to put unnecessary stress on you two.  We're going to give you a steroid shot now, and, hopefully, we can hold off long enough to give you the second. The steroid's will help with the baby's lung development."
"How long until he can come home???"

That becomes my question for the next three days. Over and over and over again to every doctor and nurse I meet. "When can my son come home?"
And over and over and over again, they tell me, "We don't know. It depends on how he does, but the typical goal is by his due date."
Eight weeks.
That morning, I was EXACTLY 32 weeks pregnant. That means eight weeks until my son can come home.
Two months.

As soon as the doctor left, I called Chris as he was on his way to the hospital. I had done so well holding it together, but now, I start to cry, not hard, but real tears, real tightening in my chest and throat, the mourning of my pregnancy, of our plans, of my son's homecoming. "Chris . . . um . . . they . . . um . . . we're having a baby today."
"Wow . . . um . . . wow . . . Are you okay?"
I start to compose myself, "Yeah, I think so. I . . ."
I don't remember what else we said, but I remember that soon I was okay again.
We were moved to ANOTHER room where the hospital staff began processing my request for transfer.  Our son could not stay in our current hospital because their NICU didn't cover babies younger than 34 weeks. I didn't want to separated any more than I absolutely had to--so I asked to please deliver in the hospital where he would be treated as a NICU patient.
Miraculously, the request went through and, hours later, I was on an ambulance.
My only complaint was that, in all those hours, they wouldn't let me bathe. I felt like a greasepot. This is NOT how you're supposed to feel before those just-gave-birth photos.
As it turns out, we didn't get to take any of those anyways, so there's that.

The EMT beside me in the ambulance smiled and said, "Don't worry--everything will be fine. I had to have my baby early at 32 weeks, too, and he came home in three weeks.  It's going to be okay, I promise."
Oh, what sweet sweet comfort, what a gift to have as I was trying so hard to be brave. I don't know her name, but I will always thank God for that precious EMT.

You know, I had a birthing plan . . . The doctor told us that we would have to be induced by 39 weeks if I hadn't gone into labor naturally before then.  You see, my blood condition puts me at risk of stillbirth past 39 weeks gestation.  Still, we had arranged to have a doula and try for as natural a birth as possible. Just because I wanted to see if I could do it, because I wanted the experience. We had prayed Ronan would come early so I could have a natural labor without induction.
I guess we kinda got our wish . . . we weren't anticipating for him THAT early, but hey . . . whatever works, right?

But I wouldn't get my natural birth.
I wouldn't even get to go into labor.
Some mamas out there may be throwing up their hands and saying, "You lucky son of a gun! No labor! That's the way to go!"
You want to know what's funny? I feel like I missed out on something.
Sad because I never got that experience, because I never got to feel how strong I was, because I didn't get to hold my baby boy as soon as he was born, because I didn't get to breastfeed him once he was in my arms, because nothing about Ronan's birth was the way things SHOULD have been.
I mourn that.

But that's all okay.
You know why?
Because Ronan came into this world healthy.  Too tiny, but healthy and strong.
I didn't get to breastfeed him in his first days.
But, three months later, I did get to breastfeed him.
If we had not delivered when we had, I would have had full-blown eclampsia and started seizing, and then there would be nothing anyone could do.

We are alive, so it's all okay. It's better than okay.

So it was okay when they gave me my spinal tap, and I sat there, head pressed against the stomach of the doctor, breathing deeply, as they stuck a needle in my back.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah . . . yeah . . . I'm just trying my yoga breathing to calm me down."
And the doctor chuckled.
I must have sounded like I was hyperventilating instead of practicing yoga.

So it was okay when they strapped me down like a crucifix--arms spread wide--and Chris held my hand while the sweet anesthesiologist held the other and narrated everything happening behind the curtain.
"You're going to feel some pressure and some flicking--the doctors are making sure you're numb. Can you feel any pain? Yes? Okay, we'll up the dose a little. How about now? No? Good, good. You're doing great, Sarah. You're doing great."
"They're making the incision, now, you may feel some tugging. You're doing so well."
"Okay, his head is out now. And he's born. He's beautiful."
I remember thinking that she said that just to be nice--that she couldn't mean it--because all newborns look like potatoes.

It was okay that I was shaking so hard and uncontrollably that Chris asked if I was okay, and I said, "Yeah, I'm just scared for him. Is he okay?" And Chris chuckled and kissed my forehead.
And I heard this tiny, mewling wail. Just one.
Then someone said, "Well, it's definitely a boy."
Thank goodness for that.
And Chris tried to get a picture, but Ronan had disappeared through a window and was whisked away to the NICU. Chris only caught a glimpse, a tiny glimpse, and just enough to recognize Ronan when we were finally allowed to see him hours later.

The anesthesiologist squeezed my hand. "You did great.  They're patching you up, now."
And blood splattered the curtain.
Right at eye level.
Okay, so it was more like a squirt.
Just a tiny bit.
Right in front of my face.
And I thought, "Welp, now I'm officially a member of the zombie apocalypse."
Chris laughed. The man actually laughed. I suppose my face was wearing a rather, bug-eyed, horrified expression, after all.

"And they're all done! You did great! And look! You have your flat tummy back!" She moved the mirror so I could see my naked reflection.
I didn't have the heart to tell her that I'm positively blind without my glasses, so all I saw was a flesh-colored blob.  Or that it wasn't flat.  Or that it should NOT have been anywhere near flat.  Because it was supposed to have gotten bigger. Two months bigger.  But now it wouldn't.  And so they wheeled me into the little curtained recovery area because I was still frozen from my chest down. 

A NICU doctor visited while I was still regaining control of my toes.  He told us that Ronan had made 9/10 on his APGAR test, was breathing on his own, and had the gumption to try to suckle one of the nurses. 
And again, I asked, "So when can he come home?"
And, again, the doctor couldn't tell me.

We were wheeled into the NICU, and we were allowed to touch him, but not hold him.
He was so tiny.
And looked so bewilderingly like a tiny, shriveled version of my father. Nothing like either of us had anticipated.  When we first saw him, we did a double take.  I mean . . . he didn't look ANYTHING like either of us.
And, maybe I'm a terrible parent, but we didn't think he was cute right away. He was so skinny with folds of skin hanging off his tiny, bony arms, and he was all eyes and mouth.  He looked like one of those baby baboons.

Oh, how I loved those tiny arms and giant eyes and wide mouth, that little monkey baby.

And he felt like velvet. To this day, I think he was the softest thing I had ever touched.

He had an IV stuck in his skull because his veins were too tiny.
It broke my heart.

I don't attach easily.
I'm wary of letting things and people too close.
So I looked at this tiny little person and tried to feel like a mother.
It was so surreal and bizarre.
And distant.
To not get to hold him. To look at him through this plastic casing.  To not know what to do.
But I touched him--because I knew I needed to, because, deep down, I wanted to.  This was the little dude who bounced on my bladder every morning at 7:00 AM sharp and kicked like mad when Chris played his guitar. The tiny person we had gone to doctor after doctor for, doing everything we could to keep him healthy.  The little boy we had prayed and waited for with such anticipation.

And here he was:

17 inches, 3 pounds and 6 ounces.
8 weeks early.
Thursday, November 20, at 6:06 PM

And so entered our little warrior: Ronan Oliver

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