This is my birth story. It is atypical, long and painful and will forever be a heart wrenching memory for me. I believe our ending is the stuff of fairy tales, a happily-ever-after in which, after years of infertility, we meet our daughter, born 15 weeks premature weighing just 1lb 9oz, and she steals our hearts.
It was a Wednesday. Three Wednesdays prior I left an ultrasound appointment with a blurry photo of a baby girl in my hand, which Tiffani and I promptly took to the mall and exclaimed over as we bought tiny skirts and tights and future Christmas dresses.
On this particular ordinary Wednesday, I drove to my best friend’s house for our weekly girl time and we spent the day watching the baby kick in my belly. I nudged her back as she pushed against my hand. Tiffani and I asked her what she wanted her name to be. I furrowed my brow. “Tiff, I mentioned casually, I keep randomly feeling like someone is pricking the skin on my stomach with a straight pin. It doesn’t hurt, it just feels like a quick pin prick. That’s not what Braxton Hicks feels like is it?” We watched my belly, determined I was not having Braxton Hicks and continued about our day. I told her about Maelani, showing her pictures of a baby born too soon, unknowingly foreshadowing our story.
It was that afternoon as I drove to pick up Jeff from work that the feeling intensified. Nothing hurt. My stomach didn’t tighten. I just felt off, different, and the pin-prick feeling was back. My OB-GYN’s office was near Jeff’s work and it was fifteen minutes until closing time. I thought I was being anxious. Then I thought about Maelani. “I’m just going to run in for peace of mind” I told him. We thought they’d tell me I was being anxious and send me home.
Dr. B smiled at me as he pulled on his exam gloves. He was quite used to my anxiety and I was grateful he was indulging my worry. We had a routine, me and Dr. B. I’d tell him what I was worried about and he was quick to reassure me during my exam. Only this time, this time he was silent. I saw him motion to my nurse, the one who held my hand through each ultrasound when we thought the baby was ectopic, and again when I suffered a subchorionic hemmorage. Then I saw her turn from me with tears in her eyes. “I’m dialated, aren’t I?” I asked. Dr. B squeezed my leg and confirmed, ordering me to go straight to the hospital. “I’ll meet you there in 10 minutes, he told me, this is serious.”
I’m not sure what my face did to Jeff’s heart as I walked into the waiting room. I called Tiffani, sobbing. “But you were fine. You were fine” she kept saying. “It’s okay, I remember telling everyone, at least I’m not having contractions.”
That false sense of security subsided as apparently, you can have contractions without feeling them. This is quite contrary to everything I had ever known about labor. But a machine strapped to my stomach didn’t lie. I was contracting every few minutes. They began talking about labor. “But I don’t know how to give birth, I told them, I haven’t gotten that far in my baby book yet.” One day that will be funny. One day.
In a flurry of activity, they began ordering medicines to stop labor and a neonatal expert came down from the NICU to talk us about the odds of survival for our daughter. I remember hearing her say statistics. I failed statistics but I knew the numbers swirling in my head were bad. And then she kept going, naming things I’d never thought of in conjuction with the tiny baby growing inside me; things like blindness, brain bleeds, ventilators. At the same time, another ultrasound, and we learned that I wasn’t as far a long in the pregnancy as we we’d thought, gaining more knowledge that our baby was in serious danger. I felt so helpless, all the while growing unbearably hot, as they administered magnesium and something else and then something else and tried to calm me down as I fought against thoughts of losing my daughter, my only daughter. I begged Jeff to give her a name before we lost her and then I fell into a darkness of pain and hallucinations.
Everything from that moment on is faded, like a perfectly aged photograph, memories clouded by pain and suffering. They tell me Tiffani and Natalie came to see me, but I don’t remember that. They tell me I did nothing but ask about how my baby was, but I don’t remember that either. I just remember flashes of things too graphic to write about.
I remember Dr. K telling me I had dialated more, that she could feel the baby’s feet and my bag of waters. I remember them turning me upside down in the bed, trying to get gravity to work for me instead of against me. I remember grasping Dr. K’s hand and softly asking her to tell me the truth, if I was going to be able to keep the baby in and her quietly shaking her head and telling me no. “Just get this baby to 25 weeks,” she told me gently. I remember a nurse telling me that all of my crying was bad for the baby, and then I remember going numb and not letting a single tear escape my eyes.
I woke up Saturday afternoon in another room, sunlight streaming across my husband’s face as he slept, hand in mine. Things had slowed down, maybe we could keep the baby in longer after all. I slept on as Saturday turned to Sunday. Sunday. I had made it to 25 weeks. Someone bathed me, doctors visited me, Jeff went home for a shower and change of clothes. We made plans to stay in the hospital indefinitely and then I felt it.
My parents and Jeff exchanged silent looks, worry creasing their faces as they watched the monitor begin peaking, high sharp peaks every two minutes. “I’m having contractions. I can feel these. I can feel these!” I said, panicked. My mother slipped out to get the nurse. My dad and Jeff bit their lips. “These hurt. These really hurt.” I find it funny, looking back, that they all tried to keep it a secret from me that I was having contractions, as though I couldn’t feel those.
6 centimeters dialated and the baby was breech. They hooked up the IV, started the drugs and I knew they weren’t working. Someone was rushing my bed down the hall. Examining me again, even more dialated. Someone else told me I was going to have a c-section. “We’re taking the baby.” Something about something about fluid on my lungs. Something about something about how the baby was so fragile, she could break during delivery. I remember Jeff’s face. I remember hearing a conversation take place and Jeff’s voice telling them to put me first. “No, save my baby, save my baby” I gasped, gripping the nurses jacket.
I remember them remarking on how well I was doing with contractions. I also remember telling them that my physical pain was nothing, nothing compared to the pain I was having at the thought of them cutting my baby from me 15 weeks too early. I knew they had to take her to save her and I slipped deep into myself, spending what I thought were my last moments with my daughter. I thought if she died, I’d never return from that place.
Strong arms gripped me as an anethesiologist administered a spinal block. He had nice eyes, kind eyes, I thought as he hovered over me. They let Jeff in and he stroked my hair and wiped silent tears from my face as they drew a scalpel across my stomach and uttered medical terms that had no meaning to me. “The suction quit working” someone said. Suction seemed important. “Is the baby intact?” someone asked. I broke somewhere in my heart at those words. The anesthesiologist gave me something to calm me down, as though drugs were going to touch me.
She sounded like a kitten, her cry. Faint and small, it carried over the curtain. “Is that my baby?” I asked in wonderment. They had told me she wouldn’t breathe, they had told me I wouldn’t hear her. “That’s your baby, mommy, Dr. K said, she came out kicking and screaming.”
They let Jeff see her as they worked on her and I watched his heart move from being just mine to being hers. He stood between us, torn. “Can I go to her again? Are you okay?” he asked me. I wanted him to be with her, I didn’t want her to be alone. I couldn’t bear the thought of her being alone.
They positioned the scale where I could see it as they weighed her. One pound eight point six ounces. She was so perfect, so tiny and miniature.
Then they brought her to me. They had told me I couldn’t see her, that they would take her straight to the NICU. In the most perfect moment of my life, they brought her too me and her tiny fingers wrapped around mine. Her entire hand was smaller than my knuckle and I stared into her face, her eyes not yet open “Oh my love, oh my love” I whispered again and again. And then they whisked her away.
And that is where Scarlette’s Story begins.
“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you.” -Isaiah 41:13
We are 120 140 150 days into HOME! from our stay in the NICU and so grateful for your love, prayers and suport during this time. Thank you so very much.