When I was 29 weeks pregnant, the only thing more exciting than getting 5 uninterrupted hours of sleep was my upcoming trip to Hawaii. The day before our flight, my sonogram showed a healthy baby boy who enjoyed kicking me in the ribs.
Although I was an “advanced maternal age,” my pregnancy had been boring and uneventful. The gods must have thought I needed some excitement in my life because that was about to change.
We started the trip in Kauai and spent five glorious days eating, swimming and sleeping.
On our final day in Kauai, I began to have a very sharp pain in my lower left back, which I chalked up to one of my favorite pregnancy side effects, gas. I took copious amounts of anti-gas medicine and soldiered on. It never occurred to me that I could be in labor.
That evening, we flew to Maui. The pain in my back came and went, with no discernable pattern. The following day I still felt gassy, so I decided to call my doctor in New York. After a brief consultation, my doctor told me that he thought I had a kidney stone and advised me to go to the hospital.
Forty-five minutes later, a nurse was hooking me up to fetal heart rate and contraction monitors. I lay back on the bed, closed my eyes and waited for the doctor, complaining that my trip was going to be ruined.
Those kidney stones? Try contractions. Every two minutes.
I am pretty sure I told the doctor that she was wrong. I distinctly remember wishing I had that damn kidney stone. I heard things like, “steroid shots for the baby’s lung development,” “dilated 3 centimeters,” and, “complications for a baby born prior to 30 weeks.” Someone hooked me up to an IV so the doctor could administer a brutal drug called magnesium sulfate that would hopefully stop the contractions long enough for the steroids to make my baby’s lungs develop quicker.
The next thing I knew, we were in an ambulance headed for a private airplane that would take us to Honolulu. In my haze, I remember the doctor telling us that our son could not be born in Maui because the hospital lacked the expertise to treat a premature baby.
As we were leaving, the doctor told us we were going to Kapi’olani Medical Center in Honolulu, known as one of the best hospitals in the country for preterm labor and premature babies. Although our vacation plans did not include a stop in Honolulu, my son apparently had other plans. He wanted to be born in the same hospital as our President.
I was so out of it during that flight that I later swore we rode in a helicopter like in the opening credits of M.A.S.H. My husband, Seth, told me we actually rode in an airplane large enough to fit all of our luggage, plus seats for him, a pilot, two EMTs, and me in a hospital bed.
We were greeted at Kapi’olani by a team of what seemed like 50 doctors and nurses. The doctors determined that my contractions were slowing, I remained three centimeters dilated and our baby’s heartbeat was strong. Just in time for the next bombshell.
The doctors told us that we could not leave Hawaii until the baby was born. In fact, I could not leave my hospital bed. Seth was welcome to stay with me, but I was now a resident of Kapi’olani Medical Center, Room 321.
Always ready to talk myself out of any situation, I figured I would just let the doctors know how things were. We lived in New York (they understood that). The baby was not due until November 7th (also understood). We hadn’t purchased any baby furniture or taken an infant CPR class (they didn’t seem to see the relevance of these facts). We hadn’t even picked a name for our son. We weren’t ready (duh).
I gave up and finally asked a relevant question, like when they thought our baby might be born. Cue their silence. While there are certain things the doctors could do to try to hold off labor, there are never any guarantees. All we could do was wait and pray.
They offered as much information as they could. They sent in specialists to speak to us about caring for a premature baby, but I couldn’t bear to listen to the litany of things that could be wrong with our son if the doctors could not stop my labor.
We eventually let the doctors leave and care for the other patients on our floor. It was the first time we had been alone. We focused on the positive: the baby’s heartbeat was strong and I had not dilated any further. As a bonus, the hospital room was bigger than Seth’s first New York apartment.
We realized that we probably needed to tell our friends and family what was going on. I was too sick from the magnesium to talk to anyone, so Seth spent the morning making the same phone call over and over. We heard a myriad of reactions on those calls, from tears to jokes to disbelief. Lots of people offered to get us in contact with those they knew who lived in Honolulu since we did not know a soul. The outpouring of support and offers to help were staggering and humbling.
And the packages! By the end of our stay, we knew the FedEx driver on a first name basis.
I wasn’t allowed to do much during my stay at Kapi’olani. When I wasn’t playing Words with Friends or watching mindless Bravo shows, I watched the monitors next to my bed, counting our son’s heartbeat and willing the contraction monitor to be a flat line.
Every day the contraction monitor would jump and I would hold my breath. Some days there would only be a few. Other days I would start to go into active labor and the doctors would come racing in, checking the baby, upping my medicine and urging us to relax and just wait.
Four weeks later, I crossed the 34-week threshold. It felt like I had just completed a marathon. Everything changes at 34 weeks -- no more medicine, no more shots or continuous monitoring. The nurses cheered with us. We were close to being a success story.
Our son must have sensed our excitement because around 4:00 p.m., my water broke. During my four weeks of bed rest, I thought my water had broken on a daily basis. The nurses would come in, look at me, chuckle a little and tell me I would KNOW when my water broke. They were right.
At 7:43 p.m., our son, Jonah, was born. Our favorite doctor and our two favorite nurses were serendipitously in the delivery room that afternoon. I was so grateful that, thousands of miles away from home, we had a room of people with us who had become our friends.
He came out screaming (the only time I have felt relief at that sound) and was whisked away for testing by a team of neonatologists. When he was placed in my arms, we were told that he was 6 pounds 5 ounces and could breathe on his own. I don’t remember anything else the doctors or nurses said, but I can remember every single detail of my son that day, including his smell.
We left the hospital two days later and departed Hawaii after a week.
Jonah had some complications: jaundice, feeding issues and acid reflux, but nothing close to what I feared when we got on the airplane to Honolulu.
Jonah is now a 15-month old toddler who walks and talks and eats everything in sight. When I tell Jonah the story of his birth, I leave out the gory details and focus on the kindness of our friends, family and strangers.
I tell him about the nurse who came in on her day off to give us the infant car seat he left the hospital in. He knows all about our dear friend’s niece (whom we had never met before) who lent us her car for the week after we left the hospital so we could take Jonah for his daily doctor visit. I tell him about the emails, phone calls, and packages people sent us and how it gave us hope (and tons of baby supplies) when we had none.
I hope our story can teach him that friends and strangers will often pitch in to help out when you are struggling. Even more importantly, when in doubt, call your doctor. It might not be gas.