Hello Thomas Asher, Pt 1

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Three years ago today, I went into labor. For the first 10 hours I was in complete denial. I was only 33 weeks pregnant, and even though there were already concerns for our baby, I had been told I didn’t seem to be at risk for premature labor. Call it intuition, call it God speaking to me, but I had a feeling I wasn’t going to make it to 40 weeks. I just didn’t think it would be quite this early.

I had woken up around midnight on the 22nd. I was feeling some pretty sharp pains, but chalked it up to Braxton Hicks contraction. I lay in bed waiting for it to pass, then at 2am I moved to the couch.

I did a quick Google search for Braxton Hicks contractions and how to stop them. So I started drinking water and sitting up rather than lying down. Nothing was helping, but I knew I just needed to let it pass.

Nick and Milo eventually woke for the day. We had plans to go to the children’s museum and a Greek food festival, but I told Nick about my night and said I didn’t feel up to going anywhere. He asked if I should be calling my OB, but I refused and said it just needed to pass.

It was almost 10am and the contractions weren’t stopping. I hadn’t heard of Braxton Hicks contractions lasting so long, so I just assumed I was the exception to the rule (nope, just denial). I called the office and talked to the OB on call (this was a Saturday morning). She laughed at me and said to head straight to the hospital.

We dropped Milo off with Grandma Sharon, a wonderful woman from our church. As we drove to the hospital, I told Nick that when they stopped the contractions, and let us go, we should head to the Greek food festival for a quick date. That was wishful thinking!

We arrived at the hospital, and as soon as I stepped out of the car, my water broke. I still couldn’t, or wouldn’t, wrap my mind around this baby coming so early, so I told Nick that either my water broke or I peed myself in a major way. I was more inclined to believe I had peed myself.

I waddled my way into the hospital and to labor and delivery. I refused any kind of assistance because I was mortified at the thought of sitting on something in my pee. It’s a hospital and they’ve seen a lot, but I just couldn’t.

We got to labor and delivery and were taken to a bed. A medical student came in and I told him what had been going on, including that I might have peed myself.

The medical student said in a calm voice, “I’m just going to be looking, I’m not going to touch anything.” He started his exam and immediately popped back up. With a lot more urgency he said, “Ok, I wasn’t expecting this. I’m going to need to touch you now.”

He then told me I’m 6 cm dilated. I won’t filter my response. I looked straight at Nick and said, “oh shit.” It finally sank in that this wasn’t false labor; this was very real labor.

They moved me to a room in the delivery ward and got me hooked up to monitors. We contacted our families and my best friend, Jenni, who was coming to photograph the birth.

As if this little boy, Thomas, wasn’t causing us enough stress over coming early, he had decided to start his arrival process on a Saturday. Nick’s a pastor, so Sundays are a pretty big deal for his job. Fortunately we have a retired pastor, Walter, in our congregation. Nick immediately called Walter who, without hesitation, agreed to preach the next day (and for the duration of Nick’s paternity leave).

As quickly as it seemed my labor had progressed, it was as if Tommy decided to press pause. For hours, I had contractions but didn’t progress in dilation. Fortunately that gave my mother-in-law, Denise, and my photographer/best friend, Jenni, time to arrive.

I passed the initial hours Googling “survival rate of babies born at 33 wks”. A woman in labor should have her access to Google revoked, but I was reassured that 33 weeks isn’t actually all that scary in terms of how early babies can be born and survive. Then I Googled “complications from being born at 33 wks” and sufficiently frightened myself. It’s terrifying being stuck in a bed with no control over your body and worrying about all of the “what if?” situations that might or might not play out.

But nothing seemed to be happening, which was also good news because they had given me a steroid shot to help develop Thomas’ lungs. The longer he stayed in, the longer the steroids had to do their magic. But the longer he stayed in, the more my anxiety started to run wild.

So we waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually Denise had to leave so she could pick up Milo from Grandma Sharon’s and take him home to bed.

Nothing was going as I expected. I wasn’t supposed to be in labor this early. Once I accepted the fact I was indeed in labor, I expected him to come quickly. The hours continued to pass, and shortly after midnight, 24 hrs after the contractions began, we decided Thomas wasn’t coming any time soon and it was best to just shut off the lights and try to get some sleep.

Within minutes of calling it a night, Thomas decided he was ready to make his arrival.

Wounded

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Tommy has been home from the NICU for 2 months. For the first time in his life, he is flourishing. He’s gained over 2 1/2 lbs since discharge, which is the most steady weight gain he’s ever had. He’s not on any medications or supplements and is completely breastfed. He’s had a lot of follow up appointments but, instead of discussions on troubleshooting, we’re talking about how to maintain his success. Things are going well.

Except now I am falling apart. 
The timing is so weird to me. Tommy is doing great. I’m 5 months postpartum, so I don’t have the same hormonal surges. And yet these last few weeks I have slipped further and further into a state of anxiety that I can’t seem to get out of. 

I think it’s the fact that things are better that is making it tough for me. When Tommy was sick, I pulled together all the strength I had to be there for Tommy and still make life normal for Milo. Life dealt us a really crappy hand, but I rose to the occasion and stood my ground. But now things are better, and I’ve dropped my guard. I don’t need to be strong any more. And suddenly I’m aware of the ways this experience has wounded me.

I see a mom with a new baby and my heart sinks. There she is with her child just like it’s supposed to be, but my child lived in a hospital for the first 3 months. I look at the mom and baby and think it’s just not fair. Why couldn’t that have been us?




Or I see this stupid commercial that I can’t even remember what it’s for, but it’s these moms in labor and the baby is placed right on their chest as soon as they’re out. I relive Tommy’s first minutes and the way they whisked him off to an isolette. My first memory of him isn’t in my arms, it’s looking across the room at the nurse who is giving my son oxygen. The first thing I felt when my son was born was fear.

 

I didn’t get the first hour of skin-to-skin time. They wrapped him up and let me hold him for 5 minutes before taking him to the NICU. I had to stay in labor and delivery for 2 hours to be monitored before they let me go see how Tommy was doing. 

And that was just the birthing experience. Then I spent weeks watching my son fight to live and it’s hard not to assume he’s still doing that. I still see him as sick and struggling and it makes me anxious over every little symptom. I can’t shake the feeling that my son is still barely holding on.

I thought I was ok with all of this. I had shrugged it off to just the way things happened, that this was just our story. But now I’m realizing I had pains that went unnoticed while I was busy being strong. They’ve left me with scars that won’t ever fade; I’ll carry them with me as a reminder.

I know it will get easier. I know that the more removed we are from the whole experience, the better I will feel. Everything is still fresh, a little raw. I need some time to heal. But I wish time would pass a little bit faster. Because I’m ready to not feel so not ok. 

(All photos are credit of Joyful Exposures)

(Don’t worry, I’m not completely drowning in anxiety. I’m working on healing, but that’s for another post.)