During the past several weeks, my husband Brian and fiber artists Sayra Adams (of Atomic Blue Fiber Arts) and Robyn Story (of Yarns and Storys) conspired to knit me the perfect sweater... With Brian taking measurements and Robyn choosing my favorite colors and Sayra working hard at her wheel and needles... I now am the honored owner of a gorgeous handknit art yarn sweater that is full of love from coast to coast. Thank you guys. ♥
The Birth of Sam"The Brave"
Written 4/25/13 (12 days postpartum)
This is going to be really long. And I'm not sure who will read it. But before all the details become fuzzy, I wanted to write the experience as I remember it.
Brian and I took the Bradley Method Childbirth class, which was 12 weeks of 2-hour long classes covering Husband Coached / Natural Childbirth. We chose this class because of how it fit our relationship as a couple. A majority of the class was spent on avoiding medical interventions, including many wary stories from the teacher's experience being a RN at a local Hospital. We watched movies like "The Business of Being Born" and read literature by Ina May Gaskin. Everything made sense. My pregnancy was going well, and we were confident. We wrote up three birth plans. Our ideal plan, our augmented plan, and our emergency c-section plan.
We learned a lot, but looking back I'm not sure I would recommend the class to everyone. Maybe it was my own fault for thinking: if my pregnancy is going so well my birth will too. It was very idealized, and in the end left me feeling like I had failed in many ways. I remember after Sam was born, I didn't even want to email the class and let them know he had been born because I was afraid of being criticized for making poor choices. Brian gently reminded me that the class was geared toward students who didn't need medical interventions. I did.
So here is my story. I had a beautiful, mind-blowing experience with almost every medical intervention you could have. I'm hoping that by putting this story out there, people who feel guilty or sad about not accomplishing the natural childbirth route they may have hoped for will still see value and strength and beauty in a birth that requires intervention.
Birth is a positive experience. That was my goal from the beginning. Everything else is out of our control, but our attitude when we're in that moment is what makes it an awesome experience.
When I was 34 weeks pregnant I started putting on a lot of weight. I couldn't figure out why. At my 36 week appointment I cried when I stepped on the scale. Another 17 pounds!? Where was it coming from? I was active, I was eating well. At 37 weeks I gained 5 pounds in 2 days. How was that possible? My midwife told me she could tell I was putting on a lot of fluid. I started having high protein in my urine. I took a 24 hour urine test that was borderline. My blood pressure started creeping up. At 38 weeks I took another 24 hour protein test that was thru the roof. "Severe" preeclampsia has a protein count of 5 grams in the urine. I was at 8 grams and climbing.
"Globally, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. By conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year."
Friday April 12th
At 4:00pm I got a call from my midwife who had reviewed my test results. "You need to go to the hospital" she said. "And bring your bag just in case, you might be having a baby this weekend. But head over to the hospital, I'll call them and let them know you're coming. They'll do some more tests." I told her, "Okay I'll go there tomorrow." She paused. "You need to go now" she gently said. And I realized for the first time that hospitals are open 24/7. In my mind I thought they closed at 5. (What was the point of showing up at 4:30 when it was obvious it would take longer than 30 minutes to have a baby, clearly it made more sense for me to go tomorrow morning when I'd have more time...) I had never been to a hospital before.
Looking back I smirk, knowing my midwife knew if she had told me what was really going on, I would have started freaking out.
I started trembling with adrenaline. I called Brian and told him I was headed to the hospital and to meet me there. I called my mom and told her I might be having a baby this weekend. I texted a few close friends and family. I walked around my house one more time. I petted the cats and swallowed a lump in my throat. I grabbed my bag. I breathed deep. I left and locked the door.
Driving to the hospital the song "Lightning Crashes" came on the radio and the lyrics, "Her placenta falls...to the floor..." will always remind me of that drive.
The nicest valet man I ever met parked my car for me in the parking lot. I went up to the 5th floor of Newton Wellesley and signed paperwork for my admission. On the page where it said, "Relationship to Patient (baby)" I wrote "Momma". They led me to a room with a small TV and I sat on a table and waited.
A nurse came in to put in my hep lock. "Where is your hospital bag?" she said. "Oh it's in the car" I replied. "My midwife said to bring it just in case I'm staying." "Oh there's no doubt about that" the nurse said. "You're not leaving this hospital without a baby." I breathed deep as she put in the hep lock. It was official: I was locked in. This was it. It was a week before my due date and I was being induced. I was strapped to fetal monitoring to get a baseline of baby's heart rate pattern.
Brian came into the room where I was and gave me a kiss. His eyes were bright and excited. "We're having a baby this weekend" I told him with a nervous smile. He smiled and said something like, "Awesome, bring it on." and sat beside me. He was there for a few minutes, but having not eaten dinner or packed a hospital bag, I told him to go get some food with his cousin James who was in the waiting room. James took him to Olive Garden and home to pack his bag and Brian came back to the hospital a couple hours later.
While I waited, a doctor came in and we discussed the induction process. I would be given a cervical ripening agent, sleep thru the night, and wake up the next day. At that time we'd either do another dose of cervical ripening or start pitocin. My heart was beating thru my chest. I was doing everything the childbirth class told me NOT to do. I was going to die. I was taking Misoprostol.
When they brought the form for me to sign for Misoprostol, I started shaking. I saw my name embroidered on one of Ina May's quilt squares of maternal death across the grassy field. I saw the family of the woman who died when her uterus exploded, crying in front of the hospital, begging the hospital to stop using that drug. I inquired about the two methods that the Bradley teacher said I should request. The midwife and doctor said that those two methods used the same chemicals, and had the same risks, but were less effective, and due to my severe preeclampsia I needed to take the pill. I started tearing up and I told them, "I don't want to die. The class we took said I shouldn't take this drug. I'm afraid my uterus is going to explode." Then both their faces softened and they shared a knowing look. The midwife hugged me and said that I could trust them, that they wouldn't be giving me drugs to kill me. That I was safe and my baby was safe and the reason I was taking this specific drug was because my body was sick and needed to get the baby out to get well again.
I signed the form. They brought me a tiny pill and I said a prayer and took it. At that point I decided that bringing out my birth plans would be a waste of time. I was just going to make each decision as it came, and trust that God would bring me thru, trust the hospital staff to be educated and loving, and trust all the hands that would carry me thru this process.
They brought me to a Labor & Delivery room and I looked around in awe. I saw the warmer bed, perfectly clean and empty. With a tiny hat waiting. I realized that I would be giving birth in this room. This is the room where we would become a family. This is the room where Brian would meet his son for the first time. I took a picture in disbelief. It was starting to get real.
The midwife stopped by and sat on the bed with me and talked to me about all my fears of what I had learned in the childbirth class and watching those movies and films. She said that she was glad that more people were becoming educated about the natural childbirth movement. She had met Ina May, and had read all the same books and watched all the same films. But the sad disservice that "Natural Childbirth Advocates" did was instill a huge amount of distrust toward hospital staff. "You need to trust who is taking care of you" she said. And I agreed. Not every nurse wants to drug me up, not every doctor wants me to end up on a C-section table. I needed to breathe and trust the process. Even though it may be a process that those books and movies and films label as utter parenting/pregnancy failures.
Brian came back to the room with his bags and a small cooler of food (that we never opened) and my hospital bag and gave me another kiss and a loving smile. "I just took Misoprostol" I told him. He smiled big and said, "Awesome." I told him about the talk I had with the midwife and he was thankful that my heart had been put at ease so I could sleep thru the night without having nightmares of my uterus exploding.
They wheeled me down to the Ultrasound room and we got an ultrasound to make sure everything looked okay with the baby. Brian started welling up with tears as he sat in the corner and watched the pictures on the screen. I heard him sniff and turned my head from the screen to see his face. "I'm going to be a wreck tomorrow" he said as he took off his glasses and wiped his eyes. I smiled.
We went back to the Labor & Delivery room and settled in for the night. I unpacked my bag, taped a picture of the Three Sisters mountains in Oregon to my hospital bed as my focal point. Got my pillows propped up and fuzzy blanket and took a shower and put on the outfit that I would eventually give birth in. Brian unfolded the cot and settled in and was asleep within minutes. I spent the night tossing and turning and trying not to have a panic attack about what I would be facing the next day: Pitocin.
The next morning I woke up feeling raw and exhausted. A new midwife came in and checked my dilation. I hoped that I wouldn't be dilated at all, I'd survived the night on Misoprostol without exploding and wasn't ready for Pitocin. I knew Pitocin would take me thru hell, and I wasn't emotionally ready for that yet. But the midwife smiled big and said, "You're at 3 centimeters!" I was shocked. No pain, already at 3. Wow. "It's time to start pitocin!" she cheered. I started shaking. "Can I eat breakfast first?" She said, "Sure!" and I ordered food and tensely waited, without an appetite, trying to prepare my heart and my head for the upcoming worst hours of my life. The drug of drugs, that brings upon pain 3x the amount the God designed. If I couldn't survive Pitocin it would mean an Epidural and a 50% higher chance of C-Section.
Breakfast arrived and I picked at it. I called my mom in tears and asked her to pray. She said a beautiful prayer with Brian and I for me to have courage and strength. I listened to "Be Still My Soul" and wept. With tears streaming down my face and my heart cleansed from fear I knew I was ready to climb the mountain ahead of me.
They brought in a bag of fluids (for hydration) and the bag of pitocin. They hooked me up with the hep lock and I breathed deep, waiting for a wall of panic and unbearable pain to hit me like a truck. An hour went by...and another. And another. Nurses came in and said, "Oh your contractions are too close together, we're turning it down" and I felt nothing. Around lunch time I looked at Brian and said, "This isn't painful AT ALL."
James came back to the hospital with food for Brian and I felt peaceful enough to have him come in. I ate a great lunch and sat on the birthing ball while we all wrote a song called "Cervical Ripening Agent Man" to the tune of "Secret Agent Man". My spirit flew thru the roof. I was full of happy endorphins and pain-free on 5 hours of pitocin. I was making great process and I wasn't scared anymore. Then James left to wait in the waiting room.
The midwife came in to check me and I was still at 3 centimeters. She said that in they'd break my water to keep things going. I asked if we could have an hour with Brian's family (Larry, Rosalie, and Cheryl) to come in and say a prayer before we did that - and she said that sounded like a wonderful idea. Brian's family (Larry, Rosalie, and Cheryl) came in for a short time to visit. They were all vibrating from excitement. They visited for a short time and Brian led a prayer for the next phase of my labor. Larry, Rosalie, and Cheryl all hugged me and I waited for the nurse to come in and break my water.
It took her a while to break it, but when she did it was one of the most bizaare feelings I had ever felt. I felt my stomach deflating around the baby. I felt the baby turn and adjust his position within my womb. And then I felt my first contraction. It took my breath away. It was a combination of tightening, tension, and a metallic pain. I laid on my left side and breathed thru it. Brian climbed into the bed with me and wrapped his arms around me as I breathed and moaned and writhed thru contractions. I remember his presence made me feel safe and comforted despite the pain.
They hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff and had it automatically set to check my blood pressure every 15 minutes. Since I was GBS+ they added penicillin to my IV drip.
I tried different positions, but anything other than my left side caused my blood pressure to skyrocket and send me closer to an eclamptic seizure. All I could do is lay on my left side. And that was my option for however long this labor lasted. After an hour the midwife sat by the bed and looked me in the eyes. "Your blood pressure is getting really high" she gently said. "Too high. For your safety and the safety of the baby you need an epidural. Epidurals lower blood pressure." I closed my eyes thru another contraction, and when it was over I asked Brian what he thought. "Get the epidural" he gently said. I nodded my head and signed the papers. Knowing I would be confined to the bed for the rest of my labor, I got up and walked around thru a couple contractions, hoping that the baby was in the right position. I felt like I was going out of my mind from pain. The pressure in my pelvis was unbelievable. My nerves were on fire, my bones were splitting apart, I couldn't breathe, I could only pant "Haaa...haaa...haaaa" while Brian held me. I thought all my Natural Childbirth friends were crazy. I experienced one hour of pain...one hour.
The anesthesiologist came in and I signed the papers. Brian held me while I breathed deep and he inserted the epidural. I wished in that moment I hadn't watched all the videos on how they insert epidurals. I knew exactly what he was doing and that grossed me out. When he added the medicine I felt an ice cold waterfall running down my back. It was bizaare. Another contraction hit and I thought, "This is the last contraction I will feel" and I made a point to smile thru it knowing I wouldn't feel another one like that for the rest of my labor.
Once the epidural took effect, my blood pressure was back to normal. A doctor came in and looked at my legs. She pressed her finger in my skin and it sunk in and the imprint stayed, as if my legs were sand bags. She pressed all the way up my legs to my thighs, leaving a trail of fingerprints. She gave the midwife a look. I was on a dangerous road. They took a blood draw to make sure my kidneys weren't failing. All this time the blood pressure cuff was taking numbers every 15 minutes.
The midwife said that to prevent a seizure I needed to have magnesium sulfate via IV. They explained the risks and benefits. The midwife said that, sometimes babies will be sleepy when they're born on mag, so a whole team of doctors and nurses would be in the room when he was born to make sure he was okay. If he came out screaming and crying, I could have immediate skin-to-skin and delayed cord clamping, etc. If he came out tired and sputtering, they would cut the cord and take him to the warmer immediately to make sure he was okay.
At this point I was hooked up to so many IVs that I needed two Hep Locks and two towers to hold all the bags of fluids and drugs that were literally keeping me alive. I had fluids for hydration, pitocin, magnesium, penicillin, an epidural, a catheter, a blood pressure cuff on my right arm, and a fetal monitor and contraction monitor around my belly.
Note: When Samuel was born his Apgar scores were 8 and 9. He came out breathing great and pinked up immediately. However, it was after a few minutes his breathing reduced to 88% (due to blood aspiration). Thank God I was on magnesium and that team of doctors was there to catch that or else he could have gotten brain damage from oxygen deprivation. Sometimes medical interventions, despite the risks, can save lives thru ripple effects too.
I don't know what time it was. Late. The nurses and midwives adjusted pillows for me to sleep. I slept well for a couple hours. When I woke up I felt an incredible pressure in my pelvis, I could feel the tendons and bones separating and stretching. The epidural did nothing for that. I laid on my left side and Brian stood by the bed with his hands on my hip and rocked me back and forth and the pain disappeared. His did this for hours.
The Magnesium Sulfate started to take effect. I felt like I had taken 20 Xanax and was wearing bifocals. My state of consciousness was altered and things started to get kindof trippy. For the next 24 hours of my birth story this might get a little cerebral and far out.
Sunday April 14th
Around 6:00am they checked me and I was fully dialated. I threw up and was the thirstiest I'd been in my life. The midwife kept asking if I had the urge to push, and I kept eating ice chips to try to get the strength. I'd start to feel strong and then vomit again. The fourth time I vomited I finally felt strong. I curled forward, grabbed my sand bag legs full of fluid with my swollen arms and pushed. I made immediate progress, and was pain-free but not numb from the waist down.
An hour of pushing went by. I only pushed when I wanted to. I remember falling asleep between pushes and waking up. Then there was a staff change. I remember laying in the bed looking up while nurses and doctors and midwives talked over my head, discussing my medical condition, what I was hooked up to, and my progress. I laid on the bed, irritated. While I held my legs back, with a baby skull clearly visible, I looked up at the medical staff and said, "Excuse me? Why are we having an Administration Meeting right now above my head? I need to push. Do I just wait for you all to finish up in the board room before I get this baby out? Can someone give me some direction? I'm laying right here." One nurse from the new shift held one leg, and one nurse from the old shift held the other while I pushed and they continued discussing my charts.
After the staff changed, the midwife who told me to go to the hospital on Friday came in. I was glad to see a familiar face. Another hour of pushing went by. Brian held one leg and counted for me. I'd push four times for every contraction, taking long breaks in-between. I could feel everything in a great way. The epidural took the edge of pain off, but I could feel the baby rotating his way out. I wished I could get on my hands and knees but between my legs being full of fluid and the epidural I didn't have the coordination.
I remember laying back and closing my eyes and feeling what felt like the hands of God in my womb, turning the baby and gently easing him out. That was amazing.
I remember feeling contractions and being ready to push and the nurse would look at the monitor and say, "You're not having a contraction yet" and then adjust the monitor and I'd lay there and wait for the monitor to give me "permission" to push - but by that time I didn't want to push anymore. The monitors were not picking up what my instincts were. After several minutes of that I said, "What is the point of having my contractions monitored when I can feel them and your technology can't? Your technology is pointless."
I remember they kept adjusting the fetal heartrate monitor. One nurse said, "Let's find the baby" every time she adjusted it. After several minutes of that I glared at her and said, "I know where the baby is. If you take a break from trying to find him, I'll show him to you. You're an idiot if you don't know where the baby is right now."
Note: I'm glad we did the continuous monitoring because by that we know that Samuel's heart rate NEVER DROPPED despite the drugs he had been exposed to. Having that in my head during the week in the NICU gave me great peace.
I remember I asked for a mirror and they set it up. I could see the top of his skull, purplish white. Another hour of pushing went by and I started making progress. I was entering my 4th hour. At this point I told the staff that I was going to push when I wanted to, I didn't care what the contraction monitor said, I was done listening to the machines and I was going to do it myself.
I continued pushing when I felt the urge, and when his head was almost out the entire staff cooed and said, "Look at his hair!" I looked and he had a wet mohawk of blonde and was wiggling his head side to side. In that moment things got really trippy. I felt my consciousness split in three ways. One part of my consciousness was hovering above my body, watching me from above on the bed. Like God the Father. One part of my consciousness was laying on the bed, giving birth. Like God the Son. And one part of my consciousness was within the mirror, in outer space, bringing life into the world. I was the universe and there was a planet within me, a life being born. The entire room went black except for the light shining on him being born. I could see Brian's face like a ghost in the mirror watching every moment.
Brian reached down and stroked the baby's head. He took a little tuft of blonde hair and twisted it into a curl and smiled, his eyes wide and awe-inspired. I'll never forget that moment.
I continued pushing and out came the head. I breathed and pushed slowly and out came the shoulders and body. It felt awesome. They laid him on my chest and I felt this overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility. I touched his purple feet in wonder and felt his hot, dripping warm body on mine. I wanted to memorize him one piece at a time, drink him in, learn who he was. I looked up and saw a glimpse of his face. I saw a flutter of hands and a cord as they wiped him off. He sputtered and blinked and reached up toward the ceiling. My midwife said gently, "Since he's not crying, we're going to cut his cord and make sure he's okay." I nodded my head, knowing that in a couple minutes of patience I'd be able to memorize him. Knowing he was safe. I laid on the bed and Brian went over and took pictures on his phone of Sam in the warmer. His Apgar scores were 8 and 9. He pinked up right away. Everything was perfect. He cried a couple small cries and I saw his feet kicking in the warmer across the room. I closed my eyes. I placed my hands on my empty stomach and felt satisfied and proud.
While Brian was with him, I delivered my placenta and asked the midwife to show it to me. She opened it up and explained the different parts. I took it in my hands. I ran my fingers up and down the cord in wonder. I got blood all over myself and didn't care.
"What is his name?" the Doctors asked. I called to Brian, "What is his name? Is it Samuel?" and Brian said, "Yes...yes it is."
Minutes later they had him swaddled up and brought to my face. He was softly crying. The midwife said that he was having difficulty breathing and they were going to take him to the nursery to make sure he was okay. I nodded my head, trusting the process, kissed him and told him it would be okay and I would hold him soon, and Brian went with him.
Brian came back several minutes later, after I had been cleaned up. He explained to me that Sam was having a hard time breathing and they didn't know why. The medical staff would be back to let us know. We sat in that room alone for over an hour, wondering what was wrong with our baby.
During this time I started going thru my birth process, looking for clues. Looking for things I could have done better. My midwife came back and I cried. I had done everything wrong, and now my baby was sick. I was induced. I took that stupid pill. I had pitocin. I had an epidural. I had magnesium sulfate. I had GBS/penicillin. I took too long to push. I...I...I... I had failed the Bradley method and look where it got me. A sick baby who might be dying. All my Natural Childbirth advocate friends would use me as an example of an uneducated, medically invasive, broken-baby mother who made stupid choices after being educated and now her baby was sick. "Look what happened to her baby" I could hear them say. "If she had only waited for nature to take it's course, and hadn't done all those drugs, her baby would be fine."
The midwife counseled me and told me it was nothing I did. I didn't believe her. They didn't know what was wrong with him, so how could I know if it could have been caused by my choices.
A nurse came in and told us that Sam had a lot of fluid in his lungs. She pulled out a metal instrument and explained that she had tried to put a breathing tube in and found blood. She didn't know if the blood came from when she administered the breathing tube (he had been fighting her a lot) or if it was already there. She didn't know if the blood was mine or his. They didn't have the care he needed at Newton Wellesley. We were going to be transferred to Mass General Hospital.
I thought of my baby being covered in wires and force-fed a tube down his lungs to make him breathe. I thought of his struggle, his fight, and how scared he must be. I thought of what it must be like to be cozy and warm for 9 months, only to be forced into a world of pain and fear. My heart broke for him. My entire spirit broke for him.
For hours all I had were the pictures Brian took of him on his phone. I had given birth, I had felt the presence of God, I was the universe just an hour ago...and now the room was white and silent and I had no baby. The warmer was empty. The little hat was gone. "Babies die." I told myself. "Some babies just die."
I remember looking at Brian in a moment of realization saying, "If I went to the nursery I wouldn't know which baby is mine. I don't know my baby. If he was lost I couldn't find him. I don't know what he looks like." That thought terrified me.
A couple hours later they brought Samuel back into our room. I saw his face for the first time and he looked just like me. A team of 20 doctors came in with him. They explained we would be transferred to Mass General to find out what was wrong with him. I calmly asked the head doctor about his viability. "My mother had a baby with anencephaly and another with downs syndrome" I calmly said. "They died. I know that babies die. I am prepared for my baby to die. I need you to tell me if I should protect my heart and prepare to let him go, or if I should bond with him. Because if he's going to die I need you to tell me." The doctor said that I should bond with him and he would probably be fine. I reached into the intubator and stroked his tiny hand. He was sedated. He grabbed my finger with his tiny hand and held it tight. "Be brave Sam" my heart whispered. "We'll all be brave together. We'll all be strong and courageous and then we can go home and be a family." Then they wheeled him away. "Our little Hobbit is going on his first adventure" I said, watching him leave. Stunned and numb and confused.
I was put on a stretcher and wheeled to an Ambulance. "I've always wanted to ride in an Ambulance" I said. I took a picture. I thought to myself, "Sam is already giving me a lot of adventures. He is going to make my life fun." I was checked into a room at Mass General and an older nurse came in to hook me up to a blood pressure cuff. Every hour over the next 24 hours my reflexes were checked, my catheter was emptied, my blood pressure taken, and my symptoms checked.
I remember laying in the Labor & Delivery room at Mass General overlooking downtown Boston while the sun was setting. Listening to other women give birth down the hall, their baby's first cries and the room cooing and cheering. I had a moment where I had to decide not to feel sorry for myself or jealous of other mothers who had what I did not. My room was empty. The sky was growing dark. I was alone.
Brian came in with our bags and gave me a kiss and told me he loved me. My friend Lindsey stopped by to listen to my birth story and bring Brian some food. Brian and Lindsey went down to the NICU to see Sam while I sat in bed watching a Relaxation Channel. It was of beautiful landscapes put to serene music. Landscapes of mountains, fields, and National Parks. I realized in that moment that I had been to almost all the places that they were showing on the channel. It was like God showing me a slideshow of all the beautiful places I had seen in my travels. "I've had a good life" I thought to myself. "And we can give Sam a good life too...if that's God's will."
I fell asleep.
Monday April 15th
At 10:30am they unhooked me from the Magnesium. I was able to eat for the first time in over 24 hours. They kept checking my blood pressure, reflexes, urine output. I asked the nurse how many mL of urine I had since being checked in to Mass General. I used my smart phone to calculate it: 5.5 pounds in less than 24 hours. Just by laying in bed.
Brian went to the NICU that morning and took more photos and a video of our son to show me. He already looked different from the day before. Brian talked about him with such love and warmth in his voice. I'd never heard him speak of someone so little with so much adoration before. He brought me a little hat from the NICU saying it was "from Sam". He told me how strong Sam was, how they had to restrain him from pulling out his wires and tubes. How he wanted to get out and go home with us. How we all just needed time and everything would be OK. How his oxygen levels were rising already, and things were looking better every hour.
An hour later they transferred me to a Postpartum room. Once we settled in there I ate lunch and it was time for me to meet my baby for the first time. Brian helped lift me onto my feet and into a wheelchair. I had never felt so weak and uncoordinated in my entire life. I had absolutely no strength. My body felt like gelatin. Brian wheeled me to the NICU where I would meet my son for the first time.
They handed him to me, so tiny and so strong. He was crying, but had no voice because of the breathing tube. I didn't know if he was scared or hurting or a wire was poking him somewhere. I didn't know if he was hungry. But I cradled him close and spoke soft words to him of how proud I was of him for being so brave, so strong, so courageous. He melted like butter in my arms. I kissed his head, his hair still unwashed from birth and crunchy on the tips like a baby lamb.
I don't know how long I was able to hold him for. I could see how hungry Brian was to hold him, and I wanted him to hold the son he had waited so long to meet. I had held him inside me for 9 months already, and Brian hadn't. So I passed him to Brian and they loved on each other for over an hour.
I went into the NICU waiting room to eat and saw footage of the Boston Marathon bombing. Brian's parents and his sister Cheryl and her two kids were there. I talked to Lukas about what was going on. "The best and fastest runners in the world had a race today to see who was the fastest in the whole world" I explained. "But someone decided to put a bomb at the finish line to hurt people. What do you think about that?" I asked Lukas. He asked me, "Was it a bad guy?" and I said, "Would a good guy put a bomb at the finish line of a race that people were really excited and happy about?" and Lukas said, "No." Then I pointed to the police on the screen and I told him, "Lukas look at those men in black with the yellow vests. They are the helpers. They are going to help look for clues to find the bad guy. People who find clues to track down bad guys are called Detectives. When you grow up you can help find bad guys too, if you want to. Detectives are very smart and work with Police and Firemen too. They are a team of helpers keeping people safe and finding the bad guys who hurt people." Lukas was amazed. Ever since then he's decided he wants to be a detective when he grows up.
I went back to the NICU and it was time to put him back in the bed. He fought hard and silently cried while they wrestled him to keep him from pulling out his feeding tube. Brian proudly smiled and chuckled at his little man cub, throwing off the nurses. They called him a "bruiser". My heart ached for his life to not have so many tubes and wires and technology.
We told him we loved him and would be back in the evening. We left back to our room to nap and eat and breathe. I put on the marathon footage for 5 minutes, but we couldn't take it. From our window we could see the helicopters life flighting to/from the hospital. We put on the relaxation channel and talked about what each landscape photo reminded us of. We slept.
That night a nurse came in and told us the hospital was on lockdown. The sky outside was dark. We went down to the NICU to be with Sam. We sang hymns to him of God's care and protection. We prayed with him. We told him all about the Martineau family, and what a wonderful family he was a part of and how many people around the world loved him and were praying for him. We told him how proud we were of how brave and strong he was, and how he helped us be brave and strong. And how we were a better family because of these days already. And how we'd try to make each hard thing worth it in the end.
Tuesday April 16
For the first time since Saturday I walked by myself. I changed out of the clothes I had given birth in and took a shower. We ate breakfast and went to the NICU. We talked to the Doctors and Nurses, who gave us a lot of "maybe" and "probable" and "hopefully" responses. It was frustrating. We were exhausted. Later that afternoon the Doctor came to remove Sam's breathing tube. We could get to hear him cry for the first time. I didn't want to watch the process of removing the breathing tube, so I waited in my wheelchair outside the door. Brian stayed at Sam's side. With a few minutes I heard a little coughing and sputtering and a little cry. The whole room smiled. Sam's raspy, sore cry came out gentle at first and grew in strength. "Beautiful" Brian said "Absolutely beautiful. The most beautiful sound I've ever heard in my entire life."
Our baby boy was two days old and we got to hear him cry.
After the breathing tube was removed they put him on a Cpap machine to make sure he was getting enough oxygen. When all his old machines and wires were taken away, and the new machines and wires working for him, I went into the room. I spoke gentle words to him and his crying melted away. He reached for my face with his strong hands and his whole body quieted. Now that he could cry it broke my heart in a thousand new ways. I could hear his voice. How he was scared sometimes. How he wanted to go home. How he didn't understand everything that was going on. Why we weren't there with him all the time. I answered all his heart's questions the best I could with my maternal instincts and love.
I was discharged on Tuesday and Brian and I decided to spend the night in the NICU. After Brian had gone home to get more clothes for himself, take a shower, make sure the cats were still alive and the apartment was in one piece - he came back to the hospital and wheeled me to the NICU. Sam had been transferred from his own private room to a room full of other sick, tiny babies. He looked huge compared to them. I started wondering if spending the night in this busy place would be a good idea.
Brian, exhausted on minimal sleep since Friday, was starting to fall apart. I had never seen him so battle weary in my life. I didn't know how much more he could take. Our marriage was starting to feel the strain. I didn't want us to crack under all this pressure. Sam needed strong parents to have a happy life. My mind wondered if this was all worth it. If I should run away, or jump out the window, or kill myself. I knew in that moment if I didn't get out of there I'd be in a really dark place. This was the darkest night of all.
I left the NICU at 1:30am and called a friend from church who is a doctor and had him unravel the truth of the "hurry up and wait" NICU system to me. He gave me the best advice in that moment. "Go home" he said. "You two have been thru enough already. The NICU is one of the most stressful places in the world to be. You are not bad parents if you leave. Other parents need to leave their babies for months. Sam is in excellent hands. He will be taken care of. You cannot teach him how to eat or how to breathe. You need to go home." I felt nauseated and shakey. I hadn't eaten well for days, I could barely walk, my body felt like my internal organs were going to fall out. I was sweating and claustrophobic. I went back into the NICU and told Brian we needed to go home. We spoke to the head nurse who cleared up a lot of facts and details for us and she assured us that we weren't bad parents for leaving our son behind. We needed to hear that.
As we left the NICU we glanced around the room at the tiny babies in their bassinets, hooked up to wires and tubes. And we looked at Sam. Twice their size, healthy, strong. We knew that parents coming to visit their babies would look at Sam and consider us blessed. We took that to heart. We heard a nurse telling a father in the other room, "Born so early...lung disease..." and we looked at each other and our eyes filled. As Brian wheeled me in the chair toward the exit we saw a very tiny baby kicking it's feet, still red from it's transparent skin, and Brian leaned down and whispered to me, "Look at that one...look how tiny..." We knew the parents of that baby didn't have weeks or days left in the NICU. They had months. And months. And months. And their baby might not make it. We thought of parents who watched their babies die in the NICU. And in that moment our hearts just cried and cried and cried.
With numb & thankful hearts we went to the car. It was the first time I had been outside in 4 days. The fresh air hit my whole body like a icy ocean wave. I felt like I could breathe again. As we drove away we held hands and told each other how proud we were of each other as parents, how we had done such a good job over the past 4 days, and how he must know that we weren't abandoning him. We spent the night in the same bed for the first time in 5 nights, wrapped in each other's strength and warmth and love and support. We told each other we loved each other so many times we lost count. We had never been so raw, so exhausted in our entire lives. Yet thru it all we never said a cross word to each other, we never cast blame, we never stopped cheering the other on. We could do this. It was really, really hard. But God would never give us anything we couldn't handle.
We were home at 2:30am in a quiet house I had left on Friday, unprepared to give birth. A home that still lay silent and empty of child. My memories of my birth still fresh in my mind and heart. And my baby far, far away in the care of people I didn't know.
Trust. Trust the process I reminded myself. That's what I had done when I took that first little pill, and what I needed to do throughout this entire parenting journey. It isn't my plan that will make it work. It's trust and faith and hope and love. Sam needs more than we can provide as parents, and we need to always be open to anyone in this world who can help him be the strong, brave, courageous little man he was born to be.
Wednesday April 17
We woke up after noon and lay in bed processing our thoughts and feelings. I knew I wasn't ready to go to the hospital. I could feel my body aching and screaming to allow it to heal. To be still and get strong and healthy again. I needed to grow strength and Sam needed to grow strength. Brian went grocery shopping and made a huge dinner. He paced the house anxiously, aching to go to the hospital. I didn't want to say goodbye again so soon. I needed time.
Brian decided that we should go on a date, since Sam had the best babysitters health insurance could provide that night. We went to see Jurassic Park in 3D at Jordans Furniture IMAX up the hill. They had tempurpedic seats that felt good to sit in. We held hands and leaned on each other the whole time. We whispered inside jokes to each other, and memories of playing the Jurassic Park soundtrack thru our trip to Yellowstone. "I can't wait to take Sam to Yellowstone" I said. Brian nodded. We snuggled as close we could in the bucket seats. I drank a root beer.
We called the NICU that night and they told us that Sam was off the Cpap and we could start breastfeeding the next day. He was breathing all by himself. All we needed to do from that point on was to feed him and we could go home. We were elated. We thanked God for giving us such a strong boy and we prayed for all the parents of the babies in the NICU who had far tougher struggles than we had. Especially that tiny baby with the tiny red feet kicking in the air.
Thursday April 18
We left that morning and went to the Hospital. My mom had flown in from Oregon the night before and stayed with Brian's sister Cheryl. They would meet us at the hospital.
Brian and I arrived at the NICU to find a little boy sitting in a swing where Sam's bed had been. I looked around the NICU room for where Sam was. I didn't recognize him without the tubes or wires on his face. We were absolutely delighted. It was the first time I had seen Sam's whole face. We held him and kissed him and rejoiced together. We started working on feeding right away. As I cradled Sam in my arms, and we learned the ergonomics of breastfeeding together, I caught Brian's eye as he sat on the couch and watched me feed our son for the first time. He gazed on us both with more love than I could ever put into words.
Cheryl and my mom came to the hospital. Cheryl got to hold Sam for the first time, and my mom held him as well. He slept beautifully and seemed so content and happy not being hooked up to so many wires.
Later that day we were discharged from the NICU to Special Care. Sam was put in the incubator for transport and we followed him like a parade to his new room. We passed several rooms in Special Care, one had a father sitting in a chair reading a book to his daughter who had no hair. Brian and I looked in each others eyes. Thankful. Blessed. We had nothing to complain about. So many parents have struggles so much harder than this.
We settled into our new room, with a riverfront view of the city. Sam had a huge crib all to himself. He looked like a little prince. We went to dinner with friends and came back to kiss Sam goodnight. My mom suggested she stay at the hospital with him overnight in the spare bed in the room which was a perfect scenario for us.
Friday April 19
Boston was on Lockdown. One bomber shot and the other on the run in Watertown. I was so glad that my mom had stayed with Sam at the hospital that night,. I forgot to mention that I had been pumping milk for Sam every 3 hours since Monday. I went to my first post partum Doctor appointment that morning at 7:45am and the midwife didn't recognize me. I stepped on the scale and I had dropped 30 pounds in 5 days. My blood pressure was still high, but they understood that was probably due to the fact my baby was in the hospital and I needed to bring him food and the city was on lockdown.
We stopped by Newton Wellesley hospital and signed the paperwork for his birth certificate. "Baby Boy Martineau" finally had a legal name. I loved seeing the Lawrence in his name right above the Lawrence in Brian's name. My Laurels.
We drove to Mass General for the last time that morning, although we didn't know it yet. We drove right past Watertown, where the bomber had lived for over a year. Helicopters circled overhead. News crews sped by us at near 90 mph. Police cars zoomed past and flew up the Watertown exit. There was no traffic. It was surreal.
We were able to get to the hospital without any difficulties. There were Swat teams outside and security guarding every door. When Brian wheeled me in there was a wall of Secret Service. I showed them my bracelet and they let us thru. We went to Special Care and met my mom there who looked like she had been feeding a baby every three hours, but was happy.
I sat down to try feeding Sam again. The rest of the day was a blur of discharge procedures and checklists. He passed his hearing test. He passed the car seat test. We watched a creepy CPR video with an inflatable baby called "Mini Baby". We setup his pediatrician appointment for the following Monday. The nurses were exhausted, many of them having worked double shifts since the city was on lockdown - half the staff hadn't shown up that day. But despite all the challenges, everyone was supportive and working their hardest to get us out of there.
Doctor after doctor came to check on Sam and sign off on his approval. They all said he was healthy and strong and ready to go home. Finally around 8:00pm we were discharged. I couldn't believe it. We wheeled out to the car, Brian reinstalled the car seat like a boss, and we put him in it. He fussed for a couple minutes and settled in immediately. We drove home, walked in the front door with a baby, and unlocked our front door. I carried him over the threshold, the kitties sniffed the air, and I knelt down and told them, "Look. I had a baby." And that was all the introduction they needed. Brian and I unpacked, mom snuggled Sam, and we all settled in for the night.
He slept 7 hours that first night. (3 hours + 4 hours). When we woke up the next morning Brian and I turned to each other, amazed, and in disbelief. We had a baby. And he slept WELL.
He's an amazing newborn. He fits into our family so perfectly. We're still working on feeding, but he's drinking my milk and gaining weight and his pediatrician said he's one of the best temperamented babies he's ever seen. He is a joy and a delight and a blessing and is a purely positive light in our lives. Brian and I are already looking forward to the rest of them.