I was knocked up. After the initial bout of first trimester nausea, I felt fantastic. Better than I ever did in my entire life. Ever. I would say stuff like "I don't want this baby to EVER come out. She's my inside friend." Let's just put it out there, I am a total weirdo.
Anyway, I was totally gonna do it right. No drugs, alternative birthing center, breastfeeding till she was 16 and could drive away from me. I had a midwife, also preggo, who ended up having to have a C-section. "Oh that is sooo sad, I feel soooo bad for her", I thought, in a sickeningly sweet, "Oh hoooney," judge-y, condescending tone (yes, I think in tones).
So, chugging along, all’s well at 31 weeks. I go to a regular check up and my blood pressure, normally borderline high, was WAY elevated. I was sent home with a gallon jug to collect all my pee. It looked like an orange juice container and I had to bring it with me to work. Ever had to warn your coworkers against drinking the orange juice in the fridge because it was actually your pee? Uncomfortable.
The next day, I dropped it off at the doctor on my way to work. Coming home that night, I got a call telling me to go directly to the hospital. I asked if I could go home and pack a bag; they said no, that I was lucky they were letting me drive. Not what you should say to a panic stricken pregnant woman who doesn't know how to get to said hospital while driving on the highway in the dark and snow in February.
Miraculously, I parked the car and walked up to the hospital. It was closed. Abandoned. Apparently it had moved down the street.
I finally found it, checked in, etc. Diagnosis: Preeclampsia -- dangerously high blood pressure that can put the mother at risk of heart attack or stroke. I was put on hospital bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy.
It was actually not all that bad most of the time. I was put in a super kick ass, HUGE hospital room with tons of windows and a stunning view of Lake Michigan. I had to stop working. I got to lie around and watch "Arrested Development" on DVD all day long. But at night, like clockwork, my blood pressure would creep up and I would be whisked away to the labor and delivery room, to be monitored all night long.
They were looking for any sign to indicate stress on the baby. I couldn’t eat in case of emergency C-section. I couldn't sleep and be monitored at the same time. Daytime was vacation, nighttime was torture. So this went on for a little over a week.
On a Sunday evening, they decided that the baby's heartbeat was too slow and decided to induce. Pitocin, magnesium, all that crap. Manually breaking my water. I found out later that I was having the mildest of contractions, but I thought it was just the baby kicking. They estimated her at 3 pounds.
That was when I finally, truly lost it. How the f*ck was I going to have a 3 pound baby? ME? What was gonna happen to her? Would she be brain damaged? Would she be blind? Would her heart and lungs be developed enough? How am I going to be a mommy? Where was MY mommy?! What the hell am I supposed to do?!
Thirty-six hours later, I was in the OR for an emergency C-section. Formerly my greatest fear, at that point, they could have pulled her out through my belly button and I wouldn't have cared. I just wanted to sleep.
My husband Paul was near vomiting the whole time; neither of us got to even see our daughter as she was whisked away. It took me a long time to figure out that there WASN'T a kitty cat kneading on my stomach, it was the doctors putting my guts back in and sewing me up.
Paul and I were put into a little room to “recover.” It was 12:03 am Monday and we were parents. Who hadn't seen their baby yet. Weird. I couldn't feel or move my legs. Also weird.
A few hours later, Paul was able to check out our best girl in the NICU. Talk about a proud papa. I wasn't allowed to leave my room to accompany him, I was still recovering from the C-section. He made 8 trips to the NICU before I was finally allowed to see her at 6 pm.
She was so tiny; 3 pounds on the dot, covered in tubes and wires in an incubator. Her little hand was as big as my thumbnail. She was the cutest thing we'd ever seen.
When I look back at the (many, many) pictures we posted on Facebook of RJ, more apparatus than baby, I can see how they seemed sad or pitiful, troublesome or worrying. That wasn't the intent. We were excited parents wanting to share our joy, even if we couldn't pick her up or even see her all that well through the tubes and wires.
Three days into it, we finally got to hold her. For a long time, we could only hold her once a day. We could hold her as long as we wanted, but it had to start at a mealtime. Because she was so tiny, every calorie she burned counted.
Moving her from the incubator to our arms was a BFD, so only one of us got to have a go at holding her each day. Things progressed; we were able to supplement her feeding tube with bottles, and a few weeks later, breastfeeding. We both pretty much sucked at that, though I wouldn't admit it at the time. Oh wait, pun not intended.
Through out this whole ordeal, I remained extremely positive, which is unusual for someone as prone to complaining and sarcasm as I am. When people said, "I don't know how you guys are handling it,” I couldn't really respond with anything but a shrug accompanied with an "It really could be worse," or a joking, "At least we get to sleep through the night a little while longer." (Joking or not, delaying the sleep deprivation was kind of awesome). The reality is that we could handle it because we HAD to handle it.
After she was born, I didn't cry. I was happy, positive, well rested. But when we were at the six-week mark, a woman from the March of Dimes popped her head in and said "Just checking if you needed anything." I looked at her and burst into tears.
She said, "You've been here about six weeks, huh." Apparently that is a typical benchmark. By that time, I was just SO frustrated with driving to the hospital every day, sitting there, not able to do anything, but not wanting to leave.
Sick of the self-imposed feeling of inadequacy due to the superparents in the cube next to ours that were so involved, asking lots of questions and actually remembering the answers. Sick of feeling bad for the other babies whose parents couldn't visit as much. Sick of the false hopes that a good day of bottle feedings or weight gain brought -- only to be met with a resounding “SYKE!!” when she didn't continue on that path.
Once RJ hit five pounds, things started happening quickly, as we were told they would. At just under 8 weeks old, she finally got to come home.
Holy crap. Now we had to be parents.