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I was ambivalent about parenthood. Hearing that drives my husband crazy. But I won't pretend otherwise.
I was 33 when we started trying. I never worried about being a bad mother, just struggled with taking the leap. After 4 years, we started fertility treatment. Still slightly ambivalent, but ready for a leap of faith.
Our first IUI succeeded. I took the test at my parents' house. I stumbled from the bathroom to show my husband, who was overjoyed. On to wake my mom. She grabbed her glasses, not understanding what I was showing her until she suddenly did.
After early peeks at a blob with a beating heart at the fertility clinic, I saw on my obstetrician's office ultrasound a tiny baby giving a fist pump. I met my amazing, kindly, elderly doctor who, when discussing breast self-exams, quoted Yoda. "Do or do not. There is no try."
I was due on Halloween.
I felt fine. No appetite, then huge appetite, hot, peeing all the time, nothing major. At my first screening ultrasound, we declined knowing the gender. The baby was small, probably nothing to worry about. I bought a heartbeat monitor and listened daily. I loved it. Beatbeat. Beatbeat.
Things got more serious the next time. Dr. Yoda said sometimes babies are just small. I still heard the baby on the monitor. I tried not to worry.
At 23 weeks, the cord was failing. If things worsened, the baby could die. I asked to know the gender. Millie, the name we had chosen for a girl, rolled off our tongues as we started to cry. I was hospitalized. All I felt was terror, for myself and for Millie. My family rushed in from all directions. I got steroid shots and went home on bed rest.
I lived on the bed or couch. My husband fed me protein. My mom took care of me. We went for ultrasounds frequently. Millie never grew.
On July 25th, the doctor said the cord had stopped working. Millie had a better chance outside me now, at 26 weeks. I was admitted. I cried.
Hospital staff, friends, family came and went. I remember saying over and over, "Is her heart still beating?" I might have been ambivalent before, but now all I wanted in the world was for her to live.
That night Dr. Yoda cut me open and pulled Millie out of me. She cried like a kitten. My husband wept. I was stunned. I felt high. I glimpsed her as she was rolled by on her way to the NICU. Eventually they rolled me in to see her. I only remember how tiny she was. And her heartbeat on the monitor. Beatbeat.
I was a mom to a one-pound baby girl born 13 weeks too early, and I had never bought anything for a nursery, never taken a childbirth class, and never in my wildest worrying dreams imagined things could turn out this way.
The next day, Millie's vitals fluctuated wildly with noise or touching. We touched her gently and talked softly to her for brief periods. My milk came in. My husband beamed at the first drops of colostrum. The NICU froze it to give her once she was more stable.
We walked down to the NICU constantly with milk, or to visit. We watched the Olympics. We cried. I thought of Millie as my Olympian, my Bionic Baby, and that she had to get through this.
The next day they told me to go home and rest, call for updates, and visit the next day. They said this was the long haul of the NICU, not to wear ourselves out. At 4 AM they called. Millie was in crisis.
We headed to the NICU. I cried the whole way. We waited for hours. She remained unstable but fighting. They gave me graham crackers. I learned how to cry and eat at the same time.
Finally they gave us a little room available to the families of sick babies or those who were transitioning their babies home. I loved that little room. My husband and I slept curled up on the twin bed. Millie's condition changed constantly. I cried and ate. Ate and cried.
Doctors and nurses met with us, said that there was no reason she wouldn't make it, that she needed this procedure and that procedure, and so on. It all ran together. We visited her every hour, taking milk or just checking on her. My husband was so excited when she peed for the first time, which meant her kidneys were working, that he posted it on Facebook.
She was so stable we gave up the room.
The next morning before dawn, another crisis. We moved back in the room. Millie remained stable for several glorious days. We moved home and visited daily from morning until evening.
I pumped so much milk we filled their cooler and started storing it ourselves. We bought a better refrigerator. Vials of milk filled our freezer. My husband was convinced that when she drank the milk she would be much better. She never drank a drop.
The phone rang early on August 8th. Millie was a little stressed from a procedure the day before. She was slightly unstable. They said not to rush. We didn't.
I remember washing up as usual, two minutes at the NICU sink. We walked in and Millie's area was curtained off. There were frantic voices within. My husband asked me what was happening. I knew instantly.
He began wailing. They directed us to the conference room. I told him he had to keep quiet or leave. I was staying. He came back and managed to cry silently, holding me. I focused all my energy on being present to Millie. I knew I had to do this for her.
After an eternity of frantic activity, the doctor walked toward us. Said her heart was failing, that she had crashed a minute before we walked in. I first couldn't grasp that she was still alive.
When I understood, I wouldn't disconnect her from the machines until I was sure there was no hope. We held her head and hand. Her heart slowed. I told her how good she was, what a good job she had done, and how proud I was, as her heart rate dwindled.
We disconnected her from the machines and held her in our arms, swaddled in a tiny blanket. They checked her heart from time to time and told us when it stopped beating. It was the only time I held her. I wept. I told her that she was good, and brave, and that I was proud of her. Over and over and over.
We were ushered into the conference room where they told us her heart failed due to a massive infection. She had no immune system, and was receiving platelets the whole time, but it was not enough. They gave me a grief booklet. I told them we didn't need her body, that we wanted to donate it to science as we would our own. We signed something. We went home.
I wept the whole ride home. I don't know how my husband drove. In my yard, my mother and father wept and held each other. Divorced 17 years, it is rare to even see them in the same room.
I didn't know what to do with myself. I had to keep pumping until my milk tapered off. My husband cried every time he saw me pumping. We got Millie's box of possessions. Her ID bracelet, the hat she wore, some photos of her in a knit cap and bunting, the knitted items themselves. Her footprints.
I miss Millie. I regret not being with her constantly, although I know that I was only trying to do my best by not overstimulating her. We go to counseling. I tried support groups but was overwhelmed by all the pain.
We planted a maple tree that reminds me of her tiny hands. We dedicated a marker in the cemetery. I sketched her picture. I would do anything to hear her heartbeat again. Why didn't I record it? I smell her little hat and cry.
I am a mom with no baby. I want a baby so badly now that it is a horrible burden. Otherwise my husband and I go about our lives as before. Working too much, making each other laugh, watching stupid TV, fighting over chores, playing with our dog. Which seems more surreal than anything. To lose Millie, and still everything seems exactly the same.
The good news: I don't cry every day. We are healing. I am healing. And things aren't exactly the same. I am no longer ambivalent about becoming a parent. Becoming a mom pretty much put an end to that.