Saturday, April 28, 2007

Happy Birthday, Prematurely

On this very day last year is when it all began. Well, it was actually April 29 but the same Saturday before I gave birth to my son nonetheless. In honor of his first birthday (in my eyes, it's a birth weekend), I give you an account of the events that led to his birth.

Friday, April 28, 2006 (approximately 3:00 a.m.)
I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. This had been a typical occurrence over the past few weeks and not that unusual considering I was 34 weeks pregnant. Actually, I was a little surprised the early morning bathroom breaks had not begun sooner. Everyone warned me about them, but fortunately, I only had to deal with them for a few short weeks. They really weren’t so bad; the interruption of sleep was merely a matter of opening my eyes wide enough to avoid stepping on a dog while getting out of bed. In less than a minute I could find my way to the bathroom, take care of business and slip back into sleep. I did tend to have the problem of trying to talk myself out of the need, though. Most mornings, the urge would wake me around 3:00 a.m. I would do everything in my sleep induced state to try to convince myself that I could hold it until my alarm went off. That rarely worked. In fact, I think I was successful at holding off until then on only one occasion.

This particular day was no different from any other. I woke up, thought I could wait, realized I couldn’t, and then got up. When I got back to bed, I noticed a new little trickle. I wondered why that happened when only moments before I had gone to the bathroom. I didn’t give it a second thought, though. I had read about how many pregnant women have these kinds of problems. So, I easily fell back asleep.

Friday, April 28, 2006 (daytime)
Friday was a typical day. I went to work and, as par for the course, it was a completely stressful day and I had to work late. The Professor and I decided to have dinner with his mother at an Ethiopian restaurant. The experience was wonderful, but throughout the entire meal, I felt just completely wiped out and my back was achy. I just blew it off as having a stressful week at work, though. Those feelings were really not out of the ordinary.

When the Professor and I got home that evening, I noticed that my pants were a little damp. Had I wet my pants? I was highly annoyed and remember telling the Professor that I couldn’t believe I was peeing on myself. I quickly changed clothes and went right to bed. Sleep was what I most wanted after a large meal and a difficult work week.

Saturday, April 29, (approximately 5:00 a.m.)
I woke again for my routine trip to the bathroom. I noticed again, while climbing back into bed that there was another little trickle. My concern grew a little this time because, while I had read about stress incontinence, I had also read about the possibility of leaking amniotic fluid. I was a little worried but not worried enough to get out of bed at 5:00 a.m. to look up the information in my copy of What to Expect When You Are Expecting. When I finally did wake up a couple of hours later, I was worried enough and found the information in my book. Of course it said to immediately call my doctor because leaking amniotic fluid could result in infection. Because it was Saturday morning (of course!), I decided to wait until later in the morning. When I finally did get in touch with the nurse on call, she of course told me to immediately go to the hospital because the risk of infection was too great. So, at 10:00 a.m., the Professor and I drove to the hospital, making comments along the way about how we needed to plan our route anyway for when the baby comes. Little did we know, that day would come much sooner than anyone had anticipated.

When we got to the hospital, we checked in. I had to go into an examination room. In fact, it was the same examination room that I had visited in November when fears of a miscarriage brought us there.

The nurses did their routine check and asked me loads of questions. After the exam, they determined that the leaking/trickling was probably just due to stress incontinence – urine leaking out due to the pressure of the baby on my bladder. While I was relieved, I just knew they were wrong. I had previously had an episode of “stress incontinence” and this just wasn’t the same. They also let me go to the bathroom before the exam, allowing me to wipe away any trace of amniotic fluid that might have been on my skin. They instructed me to go home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids. I took their orders but just had a gut feeling that this was something more than a little urine leaking out.

The Professor and I were famished and decided to go to breakfast – eggs, pancakes, biscuits and gravy at the Blue Plate CafĂ© - my last meal for days! After a quick trip to Lowe’s, we headed home. Of course, I felt a little more of a trickle on the way home, but against my better judgment and my instincts, I decided not to worry about it. I rested briefly while at home and then helped the Professor l unload the kitchen closet. Our plans to reconstruct our closet were well under way and I wanted to help! So much for resting.

After completely emptying the closet of its contents, I felt a little wetness again. I was getting annoyed because I was already wearing my third or fourth pair of pants for the day, and being almost 8 months pregnant, I didn’t have that many to spare. I finally went to the bathroom and upon standing up, clear fluid began streaming out of my body. A moment of panic struck, then anger because I knew those nurses were wrong! I called for the Professor and we decided that we definitely had to go back to the hospital.

On the way there, neither of us thought that this meant we were having our baby. We really thought that I would get examined, get an antibiotic and go home. Boy, did we have a different experience!

Saturday, April 29, 2006 (approximately 3:00 p.m.)
We checked back into the hospital and I clearly remember hearing more than one person say, “Mrs. P’s back.” I went back to the same examination room. As before, they made the Professor wait in the waiting room until they got my situation assessed. The same nurses as before performed another examination and determined that yes, my water broke. I heard one of the nurses say, “Yea! That’s great!” The other nurse, however, quickly shut her up and let her know that I was only 34 weeks pregnant. I was not too worried until I heard the seriousness in her voice. Then, she told me that I would not be leaving the hospital until I gave birth. My initial reaction was sheer panic. I was only 34 weeks pregnant! The baby would be 6 weeks early! Would he be okay? What was going to happen? The nurse then proceeded to tell me that the goal was to keep the baby in me as long as possible, so it could be weeks before I even left the hospital. All of this information was being thrown at me while the Professor was still in the waiting room. It was all such a blur and happening so fast, and I was terrified.

Finally, the Professor walked into the room and when I saw him, I burst into tears. I was so scared and worried and the reality of the situation hit me hard when I saw him. The nurses and I told him what was going on, but it was all a little cloudy and in bits and pieces. We still weren’t sure exactly how everything would play out.

The nurse gave me a shot of something that she said would “hurt like hell and make you feel like your heart is going to jump out of your chest.” Apparently, this drug was supposed to suppress labor. While it may have done its job, it also gave me severe heartburn and an extreme case of the shakes. They also strapped on the fetal heart monitor, which I liked because I could hear my baby's heart beating the entire time we were in the hospital before he was born. Under other circumstances, I am not sure I would have wanted to use the monitor, but because the situation was as it was, the monitor was comforting. After a few minutes, they admitted me into a room, gave me yet another one of those wonderful shots and left me to wait for the doctor.

Dr. King finally came to see us and explained that they would give me a steroid to help the baby's lungs develop. The steroid shot had to be given twice over a period of 24 hours and would take 48 for it to have its full effect on his lungs. So, I knew that we would be there at least 48 hours. They also explained that if the shot that gave me the shakes didn’t work, they would have to put me on magnesium, a.k.a. MAG. The nurse explained that while it does a great job at stopping labor, it would make me feel miserable. I kept my fingers crossed that I would not have to endure it. After that, we made calls to friends and family explaining the situation and settled in for the night.

Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, a nurse crept into the room and explained that the moment had come for the MAG. Not only was it an additional IV to my liquid diet and antibiotic, it also strapped me to the bed – no more getting up to go to the bathroom because it was to make me extremely weak. She offered me a sleeping pill (which I didn’t take) and put an oxygen tube in my nose. Fortunately, I was able to get a little rest.

Sunday, April 30
That morning, I awoke pretty early to nurses poking their heads into the room and adjusting all of the IV bags. I was surprised because I felt pretty good; I felt a little cocky because I thought the ever horrifying MAG didn’t seem to have such a bad effect on me. We spent most of the day talking, sitting with visitors and basically just being in awe that our baby was about to be born.

Around 3:00 in the afternoon, when my mom was visiting, I started to feel the ill effects of the MAG. It wasn’t bad, but I noticed a little blurred vision, fatigue and oddly, my speech was a little slurred. It was like I was drunk without the fun of drinking (or the buzz). Again, I thought I was a champ because its effects were only minor! Later that day, however, things started to go downhill. The MAG was awful! I could hardly move my body or speak! It was as if someone was trying to put me in a coma! I couldn’t stand it! I couldn’t even sleep well. It felt as if I had the flu (without the headache and vomiting) but I couldn’t go to sleep. In the middle of the night, I tried to lift my arm and it seemed to weigh 500 pounds! I could hardly even tell when I had to go to the bathroom! I get the point – the way that stuff slows down labor is that it slows down everything in your entire body.

Monday, May 1
Monday morning, I woke up – yet again – to nurses poking at me. I was tired, groggy and inches away from being completely miserable. I hadn’t eaten any food since Saturday’s breakfast, I hadn’t showered since Friday morning, and I was completely wiped out from the MAG. Then, my world changed…

At some point that day, the nurse wheeled us downstairs to get an ultrasound. We were definitely excited about seeing the baby in my belly. They wanted to get a look at him and check the progress of his lungs. When they put the sonogram tool on my belly, we could see our baby! His heartbeat was strong, his lungs looked good, and most importantly, he had his giant foot shoved in his mouth!

Around 8:00 a.m., Dr. Miller, the doctor on call, came into my room. She immediately did a quick exam and began to take care of business. Right away, she ordered that I be taken off the MAG and put on Petossin, a drug that induces labor. Yea! We knew Charlie would be born today! I guess doctor Miller determined that by the time the MAG wore off, the Petossin kicked in, and labor got under way, he would be born around 10:00 p.m., which would be just over the needed 48 hours for the steroid to take effect. I was so happy!

It took a while for the magnesium to wear off, but it didn’t matter. We were going to have our baby today! The Professor and I were just giddy and goofy and excited!

That day, we had lots of visitors – Nana, Papa, Gammy, Tiffany, Taylor, Morgan, and Diana. Even the girls from work came by. The contractions started coming pretty early, but I couldn’t really feel them until around 1:00. The Professor decided to start keeping track of them around 1:30, but they didn’t really hurt until around 3:00. I was also forced to drink some medicine that the nurse said tasted like a REALLY SOUR SweetTart. And she was not kidding! It was sour and tart and just disgusting. I had to even drink it twice.

Between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00, the contractions were almost fun. I would be talking to someone and all of a sudden, I would feel the pressure and breathe through it. And then it was over. They didn’t really hurt much at that time. Around 3:00, the level of discomfort started to change. The contractions got more and more intense, lasted longer and longer, and came closer together. I even started having to moan through some of them, which I swore I would never do. I was at the point of needing to make a decision regarding the epidural. I really wanted to give birth without it, but I also knew that it was only 4:00 and we weren’t expecting the baby to come until at least 10:00. That would have been 6 more hours of pain and I didn’t know if I could handle it. I continued to wait until around 5:00 when the pain starting to intensify even more. I decided to go ahead and get the pain relief because for all I knew, it would just continue to get worse, and to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Charlie was early and I was not prepared.

At this time, Dr. Miller came in to check on us. We told her we wanted the epidural; she ordered it and let us know that she was going to Germantown to deliver another baby. She assured us that the trip would be fast because this was the woman’s third child. We all left and felt at ease because no one expected the baby to come for several hours.

The anesthesiologist came to our room around 5:20. She and the nurse had me sit on the side of the bed with my legs hanging off. The Professorl stood by to help support me while the nurse raised the bed about 4 feet in the air. I had a brief moment of distraction where all I could think about was Regan floating in the air off of her bed in The Exorcist . But those thoughts soon left me when they started giving me instructions, “Do not move.” But what if I have a contraction (at this point, they were close to brutal)? “Just breathe through it.” What? You want me to simply breathe through this pain and remain still? “Yes.” So, almost teary-eyed, I hunched over while the Professor held my hand and the anesthesiologist put the long needle into my back. It totally creeped me out, and of course, I had a contraction while all this was going on. Fortunately, the medicine had begun to trickle its tingly way down my back and I was able to get through the contraction without squirming. Did I mention that this completely creeped me out?

Once that debacle was finally over, I was able to lie down again – ahhhh! The warm and the tingly feeling was a relief, but it was still unnerving. While I loved that the pain was reduced, I continued to have mild panic about this thing taped to my back.

I am sure that Charlie sensed my anxiety because after the anesthesiologist left us to relax, things took a sudden turn. While the pain of the contractions was not as severe, the intensity of them was even more so! For a brief moment (and I mean BRIEF), I just thought that this was what contractions were supposed to feel like with an epidural. But then, I had the most uncompromising urge to push. It had a force with which I could not contend. The Professor called the nurse, who immediately came in and did another exam. 8 centimeters dilated. The last exam measured around 5 or 6, which is why Dr. Miller felt comfortable leaving to deliver another baby. When the nurse announced “8 centimeters”, she immediately said, “we need to get Dr. Miller back here.” Meanwhile, I still felt like I had to push. It wasn’t just a mild pressure, either. It was a gigantic force – Charlie was ready to be born and was not going to sit idly by any longer. That’s when things got difficult.

First of all, Dr. Miller was somewhere between our hospital and Germantown in 5:00 traffic. There was also a lot of construction going on around the hospital which made driving around there a nightmare no matter what time of day. I was so afraid it would take her a long time to get back. Were they really going to make me wait until she got there? Wasn’t there another doctor who could deliver my child
? Are they serious????
Dr. Miller finally arrived. It was sometime between 5:30 and 6:30. At this point in the experience, time was a little fuzzy and insignificant. It was amazing how swiftly everyone was in preparing for Charlie's birth. Nurses helped Dr. Miller sweep on her scrubs, gloves and masks. Nurses prepped the area with her tools and all we had to do was wait for the NICU nurses to arrive, and then we were ready. And we waited. And he was coming regardless. Finally, what was probably only moments but seemed like forever, the NICU nurses and doctor arrived, and it was time to push. FINALLY! Dr. Miller gave me the go ahead, but I didn’t know what to do. She asked if I had taken a childbirth class. “No,” I said, “I am scheduled to take one next weekend.” Aha. The best laid plans....

Dr. Miller quickly gave me her 10 second rendition of childbirth instructions and we were off! But wait, she said to push when I have a contraction? The group got geared up to count me through my first push, and I had to meekly interrupt their enthusiasm. I wasn’t having a contraction at the moment. Everyone exhaled calmly with a hint of exasperation. And then, at last, the contraction came and we were well on our way to welcoming Charlie into the world.

The first time I pushed, I was a bit shocked that he didn’t just pop right out. Just moments before I was in agony to keep from pushing and now, I was having a little trouble. I pushed for ten seconds, took a breath, and pushed for ten more. I took another breath and pushed another ten seconds and then took a little break to wait for the next contraction. The next contraction came, and I pushed again, took a breath, pushed, took a breath, pushed, and rested again.

Everyone was cheering me on. The Professor was to my right, Nana to my left, and Gammy on the sidelines. I swear, I think everyone was trying to push for me. I was tired from all the medication and laying in bed for three days, plus, I had never done this before. I lay there in the hospital with only 6 pushes behind me. I was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Finally, another contraction came and I pushed. It really felt like he was not budging, but Dr. Miller cheered me on and swore to me that we were “almost there.” I don’t know how I did it, but for the next push (#8), I dug deep and decided that I did not want to be pushing until midnight. I was already feeling the exhaustion and losing my confidence. At that moment, I decided that I was going to give birth right then. I didn’t want to put it off any longer. All I needed to do was focus and push with all my might. I was determined. And with that push, he came out! It was Monday, May 1, 2006, 6:43 p.m.

When they first put him in my arms, I was in a daze. He was so cute and puffy, and I honestly couldn’t believe that he were actually in my arms. I kissed his tiny little head and hand and held him close for just a moment. I cried a little, too. They passed him to the Professor, and Nana even tried to grab his toe.

He weighed 4 pounds and 5 ounces. He was 17 inches long. When they took his footprints, I cracked up because his feet looked huge! He looked just like the Professor from his eyebrows, to his fingers, to his big toe. It was incredibly awesome to see him in the flesh.

Because he were pre-mature, though, they had to whisk him off to the NICU to make sure all his parts were working properly. Everyone said that he would be fine - “he’s just small.” They took him upstairs and got me prepared to move to another room.

I was grateful when the nurse came to take out the epidural. I really think (in hindsight) that I would have been fine without it. Everyone gathered up my belongings and the nurse wheeled me upstairs to a room just down the hall from the NICU. On the way to my room, I got to see my new baby. They wheeled me into the NICU with the Professor . I looked at his tiny little body and was in awe. I admit it was a little scary but everyone did their best to assure me that everything would be okay. I kissed my son and pet him and told him they I love him and headed back toward my room.
The Professor played host and took Nana and Gammy in to see Charlie. Tiffany stayed with me. At that point, everything hit me. I realized that I was full of worry about my baby and I was terrified that something bad would happen, and I started to cry. He was so tiny! He looked so fragile! Finally, the distraction of food came and the exhaustion set in. Everyone left, and the Professor and I slept.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006
The next morning, we woke early so we could see Charlie as quickly as possible. I took a steaming hot shower and I think it was the best shower I have ever taken. The Professor and I have gone days while camping without taking a shower, and it usually feels pretty gross. But being in the hospital for 3 shower-less days felt even more disgusting, especially after giving birth. So, we showered and walked down the hall to see our son.

In order to get access to him, we had to call into the NICU and let them know we were there. Outside the unit, we had to scrub in as if we were going into surgery. The giant sinks were operated by our feet and we had to wash our hands and arms with a new sterile, soapy, scrubbing sponge each time were to enter the NICU. Each washing session lasted at least 3 minutes (it was timed). Then we had to don scrubs and call again to be let into the unit.

The large room was warm and dimly lit. Tiny and sick babies lay all around in 4 foot tall cribs that were heated under warming lamps and connected to all sorts of monitors. Charlie was in the back of the room, cozily sleeping with monitors taped to his chest and around his foot. He had an IV of antibiotics strapped to his hand. His hands and feet were blue and purple from where the nurses tried to get the IV in. He must have fought like hell to keep them from sticking him. He had a piece of fleece over his head to help keep him warm and sooth him, and he had his tiny little leg flopped over the side of the U-shaped support. He was my precious baby – tiny and in the hospital connected to all of these contraptions. It was overwhelming and heartbreaking.

The Professor and I got to hold and attempt to feed him. The goal was to get him eating on his own as soon as possible and fatten him up enough to take him home. If, in fact he did not eat on his own, the nurse informed us that they would have put a tube in his nose and pour the milk in that way. To my horror, I desperately prayed for him to suck down his milk quickly and with little effort! Unfortunately, sometime during the day, Charlie was not cooperating (he kept falling asleep), and the nurse strapped on the tube. I was saddened that he was going to have to endure that kind of feeding. I’ve gotten water up my nose before – it’s not comfortable! Once the nurse turned her back to get some of my breast milk (I was pumping into bottles throughout the day and night), Charlie swiftly put his long lean hand to his face, screamed and yanked the tube out of his nose. I laughed and could not help but feel proud that he might be as stubborn and willful as I am. We continued to feed Charlie via the bottle, and they never had to put the tube in his nose again.

Over the next week of monitored feedings and cuddling, pumping at the hospital, driving back an forth to the hospital, the Professor and I desperately asked when he would be ready to go home. And finally, on the following Monday, just one week after he was born six weeks early, we were given permission. We were overjoyed!

Now that we've had Charlie in our lives for over a year, I honestly can't remember what things were like without him. He is truly special and unique and I love him more than anything in the world.

Happy Birthday Weekend, Charlie!

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