Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid–these were the love stories I learned as a child, thanks to Disney and my mom, who brought me to the movies. When I think about love idealized on the big screen, at least, according to Disney, it seems so shallow in comparison to the big love my mom has for me, the big love I have for my new son.
I believe that a birth story is one of the most powerful love stories we have to tell.
Becoming a parent is a pivotal moment in one’s life story: your child is born and suddenly you are responsible for protecting and caring for this tiny human being, keeping it alive and well day in and day out. This is equal parts frightening and beautiful and transformative and humbling because the love we have for our children—deep, fierce, unconditional love—brings us face to face with the fragility of our human existence.
My son’s birthday was quite possibly the most terrifying day of my life. Because of this, I found it hard to celebrate, hard to write this story for a while.
I was blessed with an incredibly “normal,” complication-free pregnancy, though getting pregnant was a challenge for us. In more ways than one my son is, as all children are, a miracle.
When I first discovered I was expecting, it was 3 a.m. on a Tuesday. I was standing in our apartment bathroom with a positive pregnancy test in hand, wobbly with disbelief. I looked in the mirror at myself. Was this REALLY it? Was I becoming a mother?
I was. A few days, a few tests and a doctor’s appointment later, my husband and I were sure we were expecting, and we held this quiet joy in our hearts as we waited until it was safe to announce more broadly baby’s impending arrival.
Flash forward to January 29, two days before our baby’s due date. It was 8 a.m. and my husband and I were supposed to be getting ready for church. I’d been unable to sleep the night before so I’d stayed up late reading a book. I’d planned on hitting the snooze button on my alarm at least a dozen times.
Then a wave of pain hit me, a cramp-like tightening in my belly I’d never felt before. (I’d been having Braxton Hicks contractions throughout my pregnancy and kept asking my doctors how I’d distinguish them from the real deal. “Oh, you’ll know,” was their refrain, which was not comforting at the time.)
“Babe–I think this is IT!” I shouted to my husband, confident the acute pain that struck was indeed a real contraction.
We were definitely skipping church that day.
I spent the rest of the day in bed with the dog, letting slow and steady contractions wash over me like waves. By the time they were close enough together to call the doctor it was 3 a.m. on Monday.
By 4 a.m. my husband and I were in the car, him–speeding towards the hospital, me–drafting a text to send to a friend who’d agreed to help with our dog. I was low on sleep but amped up on adrenaline, giddy as a youngster on Christmas morning. I couldn’t wait to meet our son.
Once at the hospital, we checked in and were led to our birthing room. After morning broke, we texted family to update them on our status. My contractions continued to grow in strength and number and my husband held my hand and comforted me as I breathed through the pain (hat tip to my colleague who loaned us The Birth Partner).
Hours passed and the pain reached its peak–it was time for an epidural, the prospect of which terrified me. I took the shot shaking and in tears, relieved and grateful as the medicine kicked in. After the shot, there was still some time to wait until labor. My husband and I napped on and off throughout the afternoon and held hands thinking about what the future would be like with our new son.
At 4 p.m. it was time: working with the nurse and my husband, I began to push. At the top of a contraction, I’d take a deep breath, then hold it and push to the count of “1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10,” repeating that twice. Though my pain was dulled from the drugs, labor was still incredibly challenging, physically, emotionally and mentally. Because I was recovering from a cold, holding my breath was a challenge and I often couldn’t make it the full ten seconds without coughing. I knew baby wasn’t making much progress, and I was worried.
Time passed. My doctors came in and out to monitor the labor.
The med student Dan came in and then ran right back out, likely scared off by my incredulous rage when he introduced himself while I was in the middle of a contraction–I mean, the nerve! He later came back to help.
As we passed the two-hour point my pain increased. The epidural was wearing off, and I was beginning to overheat. Baby’s status hadn’t changed much, but my care team kept encouraging me to push.
I hadn’t realized until I began to labor that I’d always expected I’d deliver vaginally. As the prospect of that, with time, began to slip away, I became more and more frustrated. Tears clouded my eyes as I pushed with all my might, desperate to make my dream a reality.
At three hours my doctor called it–I would have an emergency C-section. Delirious from a fever and from sheer exhaustion, I cried even harder at the thought of surgery. I was scared of surgery, disappointed in myself and worried I’d be separated from my baby boy too long after surgery after hearing what had happened with my sister-in-law (after her scheduled C-section, she’d been separated from her baby girl for two days).
The nurses whisked me away to the operating room while my husband put on scrubs before joining us. Tears welled from my eyes. I felt alone and afraid.
Despite my worries, my surgery was efficient and painless. Laying on the OR table, I listened as they extracted my son from my body, waiting for the joyful sounds of his cries.
I heard nothing.
My heart began to race.
A flurry of activity followed.
“My baby, my baby, is he OK?” I cried out, grasping my husband’s hand. I could hear the medical team as they began to perform infant CPR and my heart sank.
“Oh God, Oh God, is he going to be OK?” I sobbed, gasping for air. My husband comforted me, “Everything is going to be OK, babe. He’s in good hands.”
The medical team continued to work. I continued to cry. I was inconsolable. I had never considered this bleak possibility that my son wouldn’t live past his birthday.
Terrified and panic-stricken, I imagined coming home to an empty nursery.
It was almost too much to bear.
Then, hope: the sound of baby boy’s cry, the collective sigh of the medical team, kissing my son’s forehead. My baby was alive.
Our son was born at 8:05 p.m. on January 30, 2017, weighing 7 lbs, 3 oz at 21 1/2 inches.
My husband went with him to the NICU, where our son continued to receive medical care. I was wheeled away to a new hospital room, separated from both of them.
I didn’t even have a chance to take in what my son looked like. It didn’t matter. I’d known and loved him since he grew in my belly, nearly forty weeks ago. I prayed he would live past that moment when I kissed his forehead.
I didn’t get to see my son that night. My mother and dear friend came to comfort me while I waited in my room feeling anxious and afraid and praying my son would make it through his first hours of life. A couple hours later my husband came back to meet me with an optimistic report from the doctor and glorious pictures of our beautiful baby boy.
We named him Jack.
Thankfully, I was cleared to meet my son early the next morning, on January 31. It was 6:30 a.m., and I roused my sleepy husband and asked him to wheel me down to the NICU, my IV and catheter in tow.
Meeting Jack in person for the first time was . . . wonderful beyond words. In that moment, my heart swelled with a deep, fierce love I didn’t know was possible.
We later learned that Jack had mucus in his lungs at birth that blocked his breathing, though the doctors were not sure of the cause. Jack spent his first night in the NICU hooked up to a CPAP machine, and eventually he grew strong enough to breathe without it. He was released from the NICU on Wednesday afternoon, and we were in the hospital a total of four nights and five days.
It took a long time for me to be ready to celebrate Jack’s birth. It was a traumatic experience that left me feeling, well, broken.
I’m so grateful God answered our prayers, that our son is alive and well today, that our love story will continue to unfold as Jack grows, day by day.
Thanks for sharing in our story.