As many of you know, I delivered my first child just 25 weeks into my pregnancy and spent a subsequent 156 days in the NICU. (You can read her birth story here.) When we found out that we were expecting again five years later, I was incredibly fearful of another extremely early delivery. I’m so thrilled to tell you that this month we welcomed healthy baby boy into our family. This is his story.
I spent most of this pregnancy on bedrest for incompetent cervix and was receiving weekly progesterone shots to help keep me pregnant but I still started having contractions in the middle of my second trimester. I ended up in the hospital on a few different occassions to stop contractions and I started on a daily medication to help keep them at bay. I was thrilled to make it to 36 weeks, when all of my medication was discontinued and bedrest was lifted. While my due date was May 1st, I was fairly certain that I was going to have a baby pretty soon after going off the medication.
So when I went to my 36 week appointment I was pretty surprised that I was not already in labor.
OR SO I THOUGHT.
The doctor asked me about my contractions and I told her that they were stronger since going off the meds but that I had been timing them and they weren’t regular. I even had instructions to go to the hospital much sooner than the normal intervals they give people based on how quickly Scarlette’s birth had progressed but according to the nifty little app that I had installed on my phone they still seemed erratic.
“So maybe I’ll have a baby next week” I said to the doctor while she was all up in my business.
“Yeah, you’re about four and a half centimeters dilated. We’re having a baby today” she responded.
And then I was all “WHAT? WHY DON’T I EVER EVEN KNOW WHEN I’M IN LABOR?”
That’s right. Remember how I had no idea that I was in labor with Scarlette? Apparently that is my thing. Personally, I’d prefer a different forte, like maybe being a good cook or the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But no, my thing is walking around in active labor for days without being at all aware of it.
By the time I got to the hospital my contractions were starting to feel a bit more regular. They hooked me to a monitor and I told the nurse each time I felt one, guessing that I was having contractions every ten minutes or so. J hesitantly replied, “Um, I’m not sure but those lines look like you’re having way more than that. They’re all going all the way to the top.”
That’s when the doctor came in and said that actually I was having contractions every two to three minutes and they needed to do the c-section right away.
And then I was like “I’m sorry, baby doctor say what?!”
I literally could not feel over half my contractions. Apparently I have “painless contractions and dilation” and so all of the conscious effort I was making to be really aware of my body this time around did not even matter. Which, on one hand made me feel better about my birth experience with Scarlette in that it really wasn’t anything that I missed. I just simply can’t feel myself in labor until I’m pretty far along. With Scarlette I did not feel a single contraction until I was eight centimeters dilated.
So given all that, can I just tell you how happy I am that I did not deliver this baby AT MY HOUSE?
At that point some of the NICU nurses came down to see us and wish us luck. I kissed Scarlette goodbye and then J began reading girl’s names off his phone as we wheeled down the hall because we still hadn’t picked one. We were totally prepared for this baby, obviously.
After I had the spinal my blood pressure kept dropping and setting off alarms, which had me feeling a bit nervous, so I was grateful for J and the kind anesthesiologist who kept making me laugh. (Sadly, here is where I leave out the funniest part of our whole birth story on account of how I need material for my next book, which I am currently in the middle of writing. True story. I like to call this “building anticipation.”)
We had decided not to find out the sex of the baby and can I just say that managing to do that while having over a dozen ultrasounds is probably the most willpower I have ever exerted in my entire life?
They let my husband be the one to announce it so they lifted the baby up and J, who was convinced we were having a girl, said “Oh wow! It’s a boy!” Everyone cheered and then I started crying and the anesthesiologist wiped away my tears for me, on account of how my arms were strapped down and all.
I am so glad that we waited to find out the sex of the baby because that was such a fun moment. In a pregnancy that was incredibly tumultuous, that will stand out as one of my very favorite memories.
He weighed six pounds, seven ounces and we named him Ridley Jackson.
They took Ridley over to be assessed by the NICU team and I was so grateful that Scarlette’s former nurses were the ones who took care of him immediately after birth. I felt much more peaceful and calm knowing that he was in their hands. They had told me it was a possibility that they might take him to the NICU for observation since he wasn’t 37 weeks so when they handed him to my husband we could not stop marveling over the fact that he was able to stay with us.
We wanted Scarlette to feel very special so we decided to let her meet Ridley first and then get to be the one who introduced him to her grandparents as well as announce his name/gender. When J brought her in she ran to me and asked “So is it a brother?!,” kissed us both and then promptly lost interest in favor of exploring the buttons on the hospital bed.
We called our family in a bit later and she bounced up and down as she yelled “It’s a BOY! And his name is Ridley Jackson! And GUESS WHAT?! He eats from Mommy’s BEWBIES!”
(Y’all just wait until I tell you about the first time she helped me change a boy diaper.)
Everyone told me that a repeat c-section is a breeze but I was a hot mess afterwards. That is a polite way of saying that despite copious amounts of Zofran, I vomited for 6 straight hours after delivery. Except that I didn’t want to let go of my baby so J stood next to me and would quickly whisk him off my chest when I would get sick and then tuck him back in while handing me cold cloths. I’m pretty sure he’s the one who earned the push present in this scenario.
Early the next morning, before the dawn broke across the sky, J slid in next to me and I leaned my head into his shoulder as I cradled our son. “I’m just so happy” I told him through tears.
I didn’t know that having a baby could feel like this.
When I had Scarlette I loved her immediately and intensely. But I was just as intensely flooded with fear as day after day we faced the very real possibility that she might die. That marked my entire motherhood experience for a very long time, the way love and sorrow intertwined.
I didn’t know that having a baby could unleash such a wave of overwhelming, unabashed joy. I have never been as purely happy as I was the day that J and I curled up on a hospital bed to hold both of our children.
I am hesitant to call this experience redemptive, because I never needed to redeem what I went through with Scarlette. It is our story, she and I, and I was perfectly content with the chapters we were writing.
But this unexpected blessing has been such a beautiful plot twist.
I am enamored by all of the little things about new motherhood that I did not get to experience the first time around. Things like the sweet sounds of tiny newborn coo-ing, which were stifled behind a ventilator five years ago. Or the ability to nurse instead of threading down a feeding tube. Or rolling over to see him next to me at night.
And the freedom to mother my baby.
I can touch him whenever I want. I don’t have to wait for a ten-minute touch-time period every four hours. I don’t have to share diaper changes with a nurse taking vitals. I don’t have to worry that a feather-soft stroke of my finger might tear his tender skin. I don’t have to leave him behind in the hospital night after night for months on end. I can keep him tucked close to my heart and brush a kiss over his downy head anytime that I like.
The day we went home a nurse wheeled me through the hospital corridors, down unfamiliar halls that I had never passed through before because my previous route had always led me straight to the doors of the NICU. In the atrium Canon in D played over the speakers as I waited for my husband to collect us, the same song that had played almost ten years earlier as he waited for me to come down the aisle.
It felt like an anthem.
And then I walked out of the hospital, this time with my son in my arms.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth… I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:19
*all photos courtesy of Ashley Mushegan Photography