When I was pregnant with my first child, there wasn’t a room that could contain my joy. I had been waiting my entire life to have a baby and after I saw the two pink lines on the pregnancy test stick, I walked on air. I went to bed in the same way I woke up, with a smile on my face. I couldn’t wait to have this baby and the first time I heard the swoosh of his heartbeat on my 8-week exam, I laughed out loud from happiness.
People told me I looked radiant, and I felt it. I had an energy and excitement for this new baby and I wanted to do everything right. I took my prenatal vitamins, got enough water, ate the right foods, and went for long walks. I never shorted myself on sleep and I counted the days until our baby’s arrival.
All was going along as picture perfect as my pregnancy calendar predicted, until at 31-and-a-half weeks of pregnancy, when I awoke with excruciating lower back pain and swollen hands, feet and face. I went to work, but sitting was impossible. The shoes I had to wear that day were my loosest slip-on loafers, and my feet were pushing against the seams. A nurse walked past my desk that day and saw me with my legs elevated on a waste can. She asked how I was and when I told her how my back hurt and that my fingers were too puffy for rings, she insisted I call my OB/GYN. I had an appointment the next week and didn’t think I had to, but she refused to walk away until I made the call. To my alarm, when I called my doctor’s office and told her of my symptoms, she asked me to come in right away. I didn’t feel that I needed to be seen, but I was scared enough by my doctor’s concern to go in. On the drive there, I felt one of the worst headaches I’ve had in years.
When I arrived at the doctor’s office, they immediately measured me and told me I was measuring four weeks larger in size for being 31 weeks. Then they took my blood pressure. I saw the exchange of glances between the nurse and the doctor. My OB then took the blood pressure herself. She put the instrument down, and placed her hands on my knees. I felt dizzy with an anxiousness I had never felt before. “We’re going to have to admit you. Your blood pressure is through the roof and we’ll try to get your numbers down, but you’re entering pre-term labor.”
This couldn’t be. I told her, “But I’m only 31 weeks! And my husband’s in Australia!” She made a tense moment lighter by joking, “Well, the baby doesn’t care about that. He’s on his way if we don’t do something about it.”
And so ended an idyllic pregnancy. I wept because of all the things that weren’t going according to my dreams: I hadn’t had my baby shower, I hadn’t celebrated my last day at work, I was alone at home, and my baby might be born early! I wasn’t ready for this pregnancy to end and there were beautiful maternity dresses I had yet to wear! I was being yanked out of life as I knew it and things felt out of control. The tears came as they admitted me to the hospital and the soonest my husband could get back to the United States was three days. I was alone, and so overwhelmed.
My doctor began contraction-stopping medications and I was ordered on bed rest. One evening during my second week of hospitalization, I suddenly felt as if I couldn’t get air and begged for the windows to be opened. My doctor was called and she told me I was having a panic attack. She said, “It’s being in here, with these four white walls. We’ll give you something for tonight.” Unable to leave the bed, even for showers, I felt as if the room was the size of a shoebox. At 35-and-a-half weeks’ gestation and a month of bed rest, the doctor felt my baby Alec was viable enough for life outside the womb and so we discontinued the magnesium sulfate. We had made it! I knew that everything would be better now that the bed rest was over. I had felt like a ticking time bomb for the past four weeks and now I could relax and have this baby.
My labor started within hours of stopping the medication. Despite my eagerness to have this baby, I was weak from not moving for four weeks. Since I had been on bed rest I missed the birthing classes. When the doctor told me during labor to “breathe, push, like we taught you in class,” I had to remind her I hadn’t been to the classes. After 13 hours of laboring, Alec finally came, but I felt weak and my blood pressure plummeted. The doctor ordered a blood transfusion and I felt as if this pregnancy and labor were just one problem right after another allowing me no time to breathe in between episodes. I had thought that after the bed rest, all would be well again, but then the doctor told me Alec was having trouble breathing on his own.
My pregnancy and delivery were difficult enough, and now Alec had to spend a week in NICU. On the fifth day, I finally had the strength to nurse him, but his sucking reflex was weak from being premature. My pregnancy hadn’t been what I dreamed of, my labor and delivery were touch and go, and now breastfeeding was close to impossible. It had been almost a month and a half of high emotion and no sleep and being more scared then I’ve ever been in my life. After three days of Alec being in NICU, my doctor told me Alec had jaundice and would have to be under lights and would have to remain longer. I fell apart at the thought of going home without a baby.
It was too much. I was getting slammed before I had a chance to get back up again. I remember my heart pounding so hard that I thought my ribs would break. I felt light-headed. There were visitors coming to the hospital and everyone expected me to be trilling with joy at this new baby but what I wanted to do more than anything was run away. That’s not an easy thing to say, and I still feel the weight of that confession 18 years later. But those days, of wanting to escape and the fear of being judged as someone who didn’t realize the gift I had in a baby, have impacted my life to the degree that almost two decades later I still feel the anguish of those moments. We were discharged after a week, but once home, my symptoms of fear for Alec’s health, my anxiousness over feeling so alone in not understanding what was happening to me, manifested itself in agitation that didn’t let my mind quiet, keeping me awake. My appetite completely disappeared and I lost 15 pounds within three weeks. I finally had my baby, what was wrong? I didn’t even recognize myself.
In those first months of being a new mother, I needed that hope that I wouldn’t always feel this way. If my baby and I were going to make it, I needed a promise of a tomorrow.
*This is Part I of an original series written for Postpartum Progress. Part II will be published here tomorrow.
It is an honor and a thrill to be part of the Warrior Mom Leadership Team. Thank you so much, Katherine Stone, for the opportunity to tell my story. Writing, heals.