It all began one warm morning in December. Well, really I guess it started some time in the spring of that same year, but I'll save that part for a juicier novel. I was thirty-seven weeks pregnant with baby number four, as big as a house, limping from a pulled groin, and more than ready to pop out a baby. With Christmas looming ever closer and baby due the twenty-fifth, I was growing nervous about spending the holidays in the hospital and missing all the action at home. I got my wish, but the delivery of our second son was nothing like I ever would have imagined.
The day I saw those two pink lines show up, I was a disaster. We were planning on adding to our family, but the reality of that positive pregnancy test left my knees shaking. My last pregnancy had been the poster child for "When Pregnancies Attack" - basically, everything that could go wrong, did. The placenta was five times larger than it should have been. I was severely ill and my liver, kidneys, and platelets shut down. In spite of the best medical and prenatal care, our daughter was born ten weeks prematurely. She spent six weeks in the NICU and came home at just a hair over four pounds. Thankfully after a few rocky weeks at home where we almost lost her, she thrived. However, that sort of traumatic experience leaves a mark on you. It's not something you can fully grasp unless you've been there, but the fear, the flashbacks, the panic attacks, the guilt, the worry, and the protectiveness don't just go away. Talk to a mother of a preemie born twenty-five years ago, and you can see in her face that it takes her right back to that day in the delivery room. It never goes away.
I wasn't sure what to expect. I was monitored more closely given the prior issues, but no big problems came up on the radar. Yes, once again I had an enlarged placenta, but it was only twenty percent larger than expected. Much better than five hundred percent. There were lots of headaches, but I was also nervous and stressed. I was incredibly apprehensive in the weeks right before that thirty week milestone at which I had delivered in my previous pregnancy. Many of my fears abated when we reached that magic number, but I was still nervous. I dreaded bed rest. I dreaded the thought of another NICU baby. I dreaded bringing home an infant that might stop breathing at two in the morning and require resuscitation.
Thirty-five weeks passed without incident. Then at my weekly visit, my blood pressure was high and I had the omnipresent headache. My doctor sent me to the hospital immediately. The fears came right back - here we go again. I was certain I wouldn't be leaving there until I had delivered, whether that meant bed rest or immediate induction. Much to my surprise, my blood pressure was normal at the hospital's triage unit, and I was sent home with nothing more than a prescription for headache medicine and an order for twice weekly ultrasounds.
December tenth, the day before my birthday, fifteen days before the baby and Santa were due, I left my doctor's office with orders to head to the hospital. Upon routine exam I was found to be four centimeters dilated, and given my history of fast labors and this being baby number four, I didn't argue. The older kids were dropped off with my best friend, and we headed off to the hospital to meet our impending arrival.
Having had three vaginal deliveries free of pain medications, I wasn't prepared to let number four do me in. I sat around in the uncomfortable delivery room bed, bored, watching my husband aimlessly change channels on the tv as nurses meandered in and out. I was ready for this baby to come along like any of my others, fast and furious. Finally, sitting through some inane midday television comedy rerun, I thought I felt my water break. A nurse came in to check, and suddenly there were two more. Yes, I was gushing fluid. No, it was not of the clear amniotic origin. I was bleeding, and it wasn't stopping.
The bleeding continued. I could tell it wasn't stopping in part by the constant in and out of nurses, and in part because I could feel it seeping out of me. Then the bleeding escalated to blood clots, first small, and then bigger than a fist. Everyone's faces around me were looking more and more concerned. Then nurses were coming in to the room and asking me to lie on my side. They were jamming towels under my back to try to keep me tilted to the left, because the baby was showing a lot of heart decelerations.
I was suddenly in severe pain. My lower abdomen was burning with a furious, constant, white-hot fierceness. I was crying from the pain. I knew I was having a placental abruption. I knew what was about to happen. Suddenly doctors were running into the room. I was being stripped of my clothes, eased into a surgical gown, and my doctor was on the phone. "Can I get your verbal consent to perform a c-section?" he asked me, as my hand trembled and I tried not to drop the receiver. Moments later, I felt hands all around me as I was lifted onto a gurney.
The short ride down the hallway to the operating room was surreal. I was in agonizing pain, bleeding, terrified. I stared up at the acoustic tiles, my mind numb. The doors banged open on the surgical suite, and I'd never seen lights so blindingly bright. The room was filled with people - surgeons, nurses, technicians, anesthesiologists, pediatricians. They sat me up on my gurney and quickly went to work administering a spinal block. I hunched into the nurse in front of me, tears pouring out, nose dripping snot, naked, groaning in misery and terror. Another nurse held a stethescope on my abdomen, searching for the baby's heartbeat. Then I was shifted onto the operating table, and a welcome numbness overcame me.
Minutes later, husband by my side, Hobie McGee was born. Hearing his cry was a tremendously welcome gift. I got to see him for a few moments, kissing his sweet little face as a nurse held him next to me. Then he was rushed off to the special care nursery to monitor his abnormal breathing, and my husband was sent with him. I had indeed sustained a large placental abruption - fifty percent of abruption babies don't make it. The operating team finished up with me, and I was transferred to a small, curtained recovery unit just outside the surgical suites. I sat there for over four hours, waiting for the numbness of the spinal block to wear off. My husband came and went, and I saw many moms and their newborns united all around me. All I could do was sit there, staring at my name up on the surgical board hanging at the nurse's station in front of me, and will my uncooperative butt to move. Finally, my body cooperated and I was sprung to a regular room. By this time it was almost midnight and I was alone - my husband had gone home to be with our other children.
The next day was a blur. It was my birthday, I had a new baby, and I was eating Italian ice and drinking apple juice - no cake for me. The pain from the c-section was surprisingly minimal. Being in the hospital was incredibly boring, but friends and family came by and my children got to meet their new baby brother. Then night rolled around, and I fell apart. I think the hospital does that to me. Combine exhaustion with a nonstop-screaming newborn, virtual helplessness immediately following abdominal surgery, another night alone, and you get one big fat sobbing mess : me. I broke down in hysterics at about 1am, and a nurse finally wised up and slipped me a couple of potent painkillers and took Hobie to the nursery while I briefly went comatose in my rock-hard hospital bed. Two hours later and I had my wailing infant back, but I was refreshed and ready for another round.
My saint of a doctor checked over my incision and then let me check out that day, a day and a half after delivery. No four-day-stay for this woman! I think the hospital employees probably all feared another night of Sobzilla and her screaming offspring, and pleaded my case to go home. I was more than happy to oblige. It was a wonderful feeling being wheeled down to the lobby with a baby in my arms. I had spent six weeks watching countless other lucky women engage in this normal process just a few years prior, as my own tiny fighter incubated upstairs. It was a huge victory to be leaving with Hobie right then, all together. It felt like a big, scary hole was closing in our lives.
I bounced back quickly from the c-section. The pain from the incision wasn't terrible, although my abdominal muscles were incredibly sore, which I had never known about prior to surgery. The hardest part was connecting with the new baby on a primal level. Of course I knew clearly he was mine, and as a breastfeeding, co-sleeping mom we were immediately physically attached, but on some subconscious level my mind wanted to believe that this baby was actually Coral, baby number three. I would frequently refer to Hobie as "her" whenever I was tired. I felt like I missed out on actually birthing a baby from my body. Since he was surgically removed from me and then rushed away, it was on some level almost like he hadn't been born. It took a couple of months to dispel the feeling completely.
I learned a few things from his birth : one, that yes, even the fourth baby can be the c-section baby. Just leave it to me. I learned that my body has a propensity for attack, but also an ability to grow and hang on. I learned that being naked and having snot pouring from my nose in a brightly lit operating room is kind of embarrassing, but only kind of since the pain and fear were of much more importance at the time. I learned that I'm a terrible patient, and I hate being alone. I learned that the love for Hobie is just as strong as the love I have for my other children. I learned that natural childbirth occasionally does not have its place.
Hobie just reached thirteen months. Two days ago, he started walking. Last month, he ate his first cake and made a terrific mess. He terrorized the Christmas tree. And he constantly reminds me of just how lucky I am.