It was a dark and stormy night- apparently. I was flying a little high from the Ambien the nurse had given me three hours ago, just prior to sending us home. I was also a little preoccupied as wave after wave of contractions rolled toward me and then washed over me, leaving me breathless and with tears in my eyes as Matt sped us down the turnpike towards the hospital.
We had been going on mini-dates all weekend long: the zoo, the mall, the Wedge, Cuppies & Joe. We had walked- oh had we walked- and consumed large quantities of ice, a craving that still hasn't let go of me. It was a perfect weekend together. And on Sunday, Father's Day, I woke up with contractions coming every five minutes. Nothing to brag about, or run to the hospital for, they were strong enough to take my breath away, but weren't causing any pain. So we waited and waited, timing contractions, checking and rechecking all of our hospital gear until we couldn't take it anymore.
For various reasons, Matt and I had decided that it would just be the two of us at the hospital for labor and delivery. The idea of a crowd of people sitting around, waiting for me to do my thing, and getting regular updates on the status of my cervix just wasn't a comfortable fit for me. (Little did I realize how any semblance of dignity or privacy would fly out the window as soon as I put on that hospital gown- or how little I would care!). And so we stuck close to the house and waited... until we could take the waiting no longer. Matt loaded up the car with bags and pillows, a boppy, a pump, etc... and we headed to the nearest AMC theater, naturally. Neither of us really expected to make it all the way through Man of Steel, and neither did the woman who sat next to me, glancing nervously at my belly every time I took a deep breath. But the credits rolled, the lights came back on, and we had just enjoyed our last babysitter-free date night.
We had packed the car so we could head straight to the hospital and that's exactly what we did. We sat in the parking lot for a good fifteen minutes, talking, praying, and counting contractions... and then we took a deep breath, Matt grabbed my hand, and we headed inside. The sweet nurse that greeted us determined that I wasn't truly in active labor- but was surly just on the verge... so she had me walk and walk and walk. I could have worn a path in those halls on the 5th floor with all the walking I did. But, five hours later she gave us an ultimatum- start a pitocin drip to speed things along or head home and wait it out. We opted for home, and she handed me an Ambien, promising two things. One. I would be back within twelve hours. Two. The Ambien would help me get the rest I would need to deliver this babe, but I would be fully alert if he decided to make his debut in the middle of the night. And we should have known better... my memories of the next twelve hours are blurred around the edges and full of holes. Matt has helped me piece it together and has filled in the gaps, but I mostly have flashes of memories that flicker from scene to scene.
I'm suddenly awake, laying on my side, curled in ball, as the full force of a contraction hits me. I remember it hurt like the dickens and I knew this is the real deal. We had been told to wait an hour once the contractions picked up, before we headed back to the hospital... but there is no way I can wait that long... and I watch as my sweet husband rushes around the room, gathering the few items we had pulled out of the car and packs them back up.
I'm in the car and I can feel another contraction rolling towards me. I grab Matt's hand and groan as the weight of it bears down on me.
I'm in a wheelchair in front of the admissions desk and Matt has just run back to park the car. The anxiety of facing a contraction without him hits me as I feel another contraction building. I'm asking the orderly to wait for Matt to get back to us before he takes us to the fifth floor.
I'm in a hospital gown, laying in the bed. My nurse is somewhere in the room and I feel another wave growing. I'm searchng for Matt's face and I lock eyes with him as the intensity builds. He's breathing and I'm breathing. I try to match my breaths to his.
I'm asking the anesthesiologist to tell me everything he's doing, before he does it. No surprises. He agrees and directs Matt to the other side of the bed. We lock eyes again. Another contraction. Hold his gaze. Match his breath. The anesthesiologist waits for it to subside and then begins.
Matt is texting and calling our familes and telling me their responses. I'm reminding him of names, and making sure we haven't forgotten anyone. This is happening. This is really, really happening.
I'm holding up my sleeve as Matt presses the stick-on tattoo we bought for the occasion against my arm. "Ok let's do this!"
Nurses come and go from our room. Checking me, repositioning me. First on my right side, then on my left side, then sitting indian style, straight up in the bed. I'm propping up pillows around me. I'm afraid I'm going to roll off the bed because I can't feel my legs as they rotate me. My nurse assures me she won't let me fall.
My doctor is at the foot of the bed and someone is telling me to push. I remember wondering how I should go about that... since I couldn't feel my body. How do you make muscles move when you can't feel them? And so I imagine myself doing what they are asking me to do and I will my muscles into action. Again. and Again. and Again. and Just Once More.
There's meconium in the fluid. I hear someone call for the NICU team.
A nurse is placing my precious son on my chest. I'm crying and not even trying to rein it back in, as if I could. If there was one time to unashamedly let tears flow, this would be it. The nurse is wiping him down and he is perfect. She takes him from me. Too fast.
He's across the room and I can see his pink body squirming under the bright lights. Matt is glancing anxiously from Oliver to me and I wave him over to Oliver. I'm craning my neck to see around a nurse, trying to keep my eyes on him as hot tears continue to pour. I hear him cry and can't quite place my finger on a sound to compare it to- and I'm in love with that sound. The most precious sound.
A nurse is handing him to me. My tiny baby is swaddled tightly in thick receiving blankets. I can't feel his body beneath them. His face is scrunched and swollen, a tiny piglet of a baby. I cannot believe he's here. But they tell me that he's breathing too fast and the nurse takes him again. Someone tells me that he is going to NICU. Matt and I quickly agree that Matt should go with him. And just like that- they're gone. I can do this. We can do this.
The crowd that had suddenly descended upon the room during the delivery begins to thin. Matt and Oliver are gone. The NICU team is gone. My doctor and his nurses are gone. It's just me and my nurse, and then she is gone. My room is completely empty. This was not what I pictured in my head... not even close. I can do this, we can do this. But I can't do it alone... I call my mom, still crying. She and my dad are on their way. Help is on the way. I can do this. We can do this.
My mom is here, helping me through another wave of naseua and vomiting.
Matt is sending me pictures and videos and updates on Oliver. They are monitoring his breathing, which is too rapid. I remember thinking how desperately I want to stay calm. I remember assuring myself that he was in good hands, even though they weren't mine. I remember feeling preoccupied with not causing any of my nurses any trouble, trying to be mellow and and choosing to stay calm. I remember that it was a choice not to panic.
Someone told me I had to wait until the epidural wore off before I could be taken to Oliver. And so I waited. and waited. and waited. Feeling began to come back in one of my legs, but not both. And so I waited. For six hours. I still couldn't feel my right leg, but someone finally said I could go. I could not have cared less about my leg, I didn't even think to be concerned about it. It was an inconvenience and an obstacle that kept me from Oliver. I needed to get to my son.
Matt wheeled me down the hall and into the elevator. Up one floor. We were buzzed through the NICU doors. Three minutes of hand washing took an eternity. And finally Matt pushed me through another set of doors and into a tiny room where my son was laying on his back, naked except for his diaper. His eyes still glossy from the drops. He looked so calm. Laying there, quietly blinking. I ached to hold him. Literally, I could feel the ache in my arms and in the empty space against my chest. I stroked his face and said his name. I remember thinking how distinctive he looked... newborns always looked so similar to me. But those eyes, and that nose, and all that hair. Our miracle.
I remember having so many questions about why and how long and when can I hold him and what are we waiting for... and it suddenly occuring to me that I was his mom and could ask those questions. Should ask those questions. And a sweet nurse explained about his breathing and walked me through the numbers blinking on his monitors and what we were looking for and how long we were waiting. Technically he was in the transition unit, and he had so many hours to get his breathing within normal limits before he was formally admitted to the NICU. The hours were almost up... it felt like a race agains the clock for his breathing to slow. We were rooting for him and cheering for him and hoping and praying for him.
He was eventually admitted to the NICU and a few hours later our sweet boy was in our arms. All full of life. Deeply loved. We were three.
The next six days were a blur of anxious tears and answered prayers. It felt like we were constantly sprinting between my room and the NICU. And by that I mean, Matt was spirnting and I was along for the ride in the wheel chair. We eventually learned that a nerve in my pelvis was injured during labor, which caused the numbness and muscle weakness. And so we held on for dear life all week, utterly and completely at the end of ourselves. But oh so in love with each other and with the little man in our arms. Together Matt & God carried Oliver and I through that week, holding things together when they were unraveling at the seams. Holding me together, when I unraveled at the seams. And boy did I unravel. At one point our nurse suggested that Matt lay in bed with me; I was uncontrollably shaking and needed some deep pressure and to hear his heart beat and feel the rhythm of his breath. I remember trying to match my breathing to his once again.
And then it was Saturday. And our family and friends gathered outside the NICU as we received final discharge instructions, loaded all seven pounds of Oliver into his car seat, and with a breath of relief walked out of the hospital and back into the world. I will never forget opening those doors of the NICU and being overwhelmed at the sight of a crowd of our loved ones there to celebrate with us. We felt so wrapped up and surrounded and supported, a feeling that washed over us, soothing and life-giving after a week of surviving.
And then we were home. And we could breathe. And we weren't asking anyone's permission to hold our baby, or feed him, or change him. The freedom in that was beautiful- beautiful and terrifying. But we were home, filling our space.
Sweet Son, You had a rough start, your first few days being outside of my tummy. It was not what we would have chosen for you, but you were so brave and our God was so faithful to protect you. In your first week of life, we watched God really show up when you needed him. What a way to enter the world, son- right in the palm of your Heavenly Father’s hand! Daddy and I pray that as you grow up you will keep seeing God show up and rescue and heal and save and redeem. And you, buddy, you did a wonderful job. Before you were born we really sensed God telling us that you would be a warrior. And day one, you came out ready to do battle and with God’s grace, you fought off an infection and learned to breathe the right way and endured being away from your mommy and daddy. Super job, Oliver. We could not be more proud of you.