Birth Story – “The Final Chapter”

I asked Arch if he wanted to write the Final Chapter and he said yes, and then he promptly went back to sleep as he has something resembling the flu. One of the fun things about having a preemie, is that when you’re sick, you wear surgical masks in your own home.

Anyway, enough about present day… I can’t remember how many days I spent on Labor & Delivery towards the end. 2 days? Maybe 3? I do know that the situation was labeled “emergent” and I was no longer allowed to get out of bed for any reason.

Instead of traveling to the maternal fetal medicine center for my daily high-res ultra-sound, they were coming to me. They used these ultra-sounds to measure the separation of the placenta from the uterine wall. Again, we were lucky. In many placental abruptions it is almost impossible to detect what is happening via ultra-sound. They were actually able to watch the placenta folding off, and using that data they were going to make a decision as to when to do a c-section. They were very cautious as they didn’t want Jack to be in any distress but they also didn’t want to deliver him until it was certain that he would be safer outside of me, than in the womb.

On the evening of the 26th, Dr. Playforth came in with the one of the maternal fetal medicine specalists and I watched them watch the ultra-sound machine. They looked at the screen together and then both kind of nodded at each other, than they turned the screen so that Arch and I could see. It was clear to everyone that the separation had gotten much more severe. Dr. Playforth explained that the placenta was almost 30% separated and that rather than wait and do an emergency c-section, that they wanted to do a controlled c-section the next morning. She sent Dr. Klein in to tell us what to expect with a 27 week old preemie, and she told us we should probably pick a name.

*We had been calling Jack, “Baby Jo-Jo” since we found out we were pregnant. We had been debating names between the two of us for several months and in the past couple of days we had settled on several finalists. We had to pick one, quickly, and we quickly narrowed down our field to the winner, Jack Kaden. A cowboy, kick ass, fighter name if there ever was one. We figured he was going to have to be a fighter. *

The night of the 26th was surreal. Arch slept next to me, I was wide awake. Anesthesia had given me a new, bigger IV, and it was hurting like hell. It was oddly quite on L&D and I had a not very nice traveling nurse who seemed to think that my need for a bedpan every two hours (despite the wide open bag of ringers lactate next to me), was a burden to her. I still think of her and want to scream. I mean, the one night that I really needed one of the lovely nurses who knew and cared about us and I got stuck with this one?

They started prepping me for surgery at 6AM and the waiting room was filling up with friends and family. I didn’t want to see anyone other than Arch so he had the unpleasant job of guarding our door and kicking all of the well-wishers out. Dr. Playforth came in and explained the surgery, which would be a modified classic c-section because Jack was in a breach position. She told Arch that he couldn’t be in the room while they were inserting the epidural but that they would bring him in right before they were ready to start, then they wheeled me away.

I don’t remember a lot of the details of the surgery. I remember that they had trouble inserting the epidural and it seemed like forever until they brought Arch in. There were a lot of people in the operating room. Surgical residents, Dr. Playforth, a NICU team and several OB interns who were observing. Dr. Playforth narrated as she went along, telling us when she was making an incision, what layer of muscle they had cut through etc. I was concentrating on only looking at Arch but I could hear her in the background at the same time. Then she told me I’d feel a lot of pressure and then we heard someone say, “He’s such a little wiggler” and then we heard a baby cry.

And then we cried.

We heard the NICU team working on him and then all of sudden on my left side, a nurse appeared. She was holding what looked like a small bundle of blankets. I didn’t really understand what was happening, so when I turned my head, I was shocked to see my son looking right at me. Tet, one of the NICU nurses had brought him up to see us before whisking him to the NICU. He was so small, but he looked absolutely perfect and beautiful.

It felt like it took them 10 minutes to get Jack out and another 50 to sew me back up. The epidural was making me incredibly itchy and after seeing and hearing Jack, and knowing that he was alive, all the adrenaline that had been keeping me calm drained out of my body. I started freaking out on the table. Arch did his best to calm me down but it wasn’t until they gave me a sedative that I felt like I could deal.

The rest of that day and the following are very blurry. I was given morphine as soon as they wheeled me into recovery. I know that Arch visited Jack in the NICU as soon as the drugs started working on me, but I didn’t see Jack until later that evening when they wheeled me into the NICU for the first time. I wish I was more lucid for that meeting but I really wasn’t. I was a hormonal, medicated mess. I remember that Jack had a spot by the Window in Room #1 and how scared I was of all the wires and alarms. He was SO little.

Those first days are sort of fuzzy around the edges. Dr. Bradley managed to keep us in the hospital for 4 days (the longest allowed by insurance) so that we could be close to Jack. The nurses would bring me reports on him every 3 hours and as soon as I could walk I was in the NICU 4, 5, 6 times a day.

They say that parents of preemies go through different stages of denial, grief, acceptance and, if they’re lucky, joy. Those first few weeks Arch and I were walking around in a state somewhere between joy and anticipatory grief. We knew how lucky we were, but we were scared that he still wouldn’t make it. It was a weird place to be. Feeling guilty for not being happy that your son is alive, feeling guilty at how his arrival came to be (a sensation that has not left me, and, I suspect never will), scared to become attached to him, yet somehow only feeling calm when you’re next to his isolette, being so proud of him, but then seeing the expression on other people’s faces when they visit the NICU for the first time.

Now, when you look at Jack it’s kind of hard to imagine him as a premature baby. The only clues are the flat spot on the right side of his head and the huge bald spot on the back of his head. He’s large for a 2 month old although very small for a 5 month old. He’s alert and engaged and he grins, yes grins, with delight at his mobiles and toys and at our faces. Yet we’re reminded every day that he is different. From the surgical masks when we’re sick, to the isolation during RSV season, to watching his eyesight with the help of Early Intervention, he is not a normal baby. I wish I could say that I wouldn’t want Jack any other way but that would be a lie. I wanted him to have a normal begining to life. I am sad that he did not. I feel like I let him down. I also feel guilty for feeling sad, because I know that despite all of our ups and downs, that we’re quite lucky to be together as a family.

Okay. I am a notoriously bad “story ender,” all of my stories tend to just sort of trail off…I am not sure what else to say. “you know the rest of the story” seems a little to tidy and fairytale-y (making up words over here). But, um *scraping my toe against the ground* you know the rest of the story.

7 Replies to “Birth Story – “The Final Chapter””

  1. This made me cry.

    A good friend of mine had a baby on Christmas at 30 weeks that didn’t make it. I know how hard it has been for you guys and Jack, but you are all very, very lucky.

    Oh, and all babies have flat spots. At least all babies I know. He’ll outgrow it when he starts sleeping on his tummy.

  2. Tissues, please. After I read this I crept into Henry’s room just to give him a kiss.

    Jack is a lucky little man to have you for parents. It may have been a rough start, but your strength as his parents will bring him all the love and support he’ll ever need. He is blessed, truly.

    I think the catharsis will take a while–I think it still does under even far less strenuous and emergent births. Give yourselves the time to process, be it weeks or years. And hug that sweet little baby boy!

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Hi. I have read your blog from the very beginning and it is not until now that I felt like I could write. Your entire story has touched my life and has brought back many memories as not too long ago I had a preemie born at 24 weeks and weighing 1 and a half pounds. Her name is Liliana. She was born on August 29, 2005 on Long Island, NY (not too far away). Your feelings of guilt about his birth are all too familiar. While my daughter was in the hospital my husband and I remained positive, but once I brought her home, I felt the same feelings as you did. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling this way. Over much time, most of the guilt went away and now 17 months later I look at her and think that there is a very special reason for her being here and for her coming into the world the way she did. I cannot wait until she shares that with me and even more I cannot wait to share her story with her. All my best with you and your family. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

  4. As a first time mom to a 7 week old, sometimes I need to be reminded of just how lucky I am and how special it is that right at this very moment I am typing as my daughter snoozes on my chest. I get so caught up in the diapers, spit-up, and endless nights that I truly forget how amazing it is to have a little baby.

    Your experience and your blog reminded me today that despite the fact that we had a difficult birth, and I felt sad about the way it happened, I am extremely lucky that she is here and healthy.

    Thank you.

  5. Dearest Sarah,

    I am very proud of you. Your strength and good sense are so impressive. You should be the presidential candidate.

    I do know tha Jack is lucky to have you and Archie as parents.

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