Our Christmas surprise (part two)

I wish I could say that when my son was born, everything was hunky dory and we went home on Christmas day. But that’s a pipe dream with a premie. Once Jonathan was born, the OB placed him on my chest because it’s important for mother and baby to start bonding right away. He lay there for a few hours while the OB stitched me up. At one point she exclaimed, “Oooh, this is such an unusual tear! It’s like a star burst!” Great, lady, I’m glad one of us is happy about this ripped up hoo-ha, I remember thinking through the haze of having just pushed a person out said hoo-ha and feeling completely overwhelmed at the absolutely perfect amazingness of the tiny person on my chest. But ah, the glorious moments of soaking in the wonder of my little Jonathan Dean was pretty short-lived. I noticed after a while that he was sort of grunting. I mentioned it to a nurse and then it was time for him to go to the nursery because the nurses wanted to make sure he was breathing alright.

When I joined my husband and little boy in the nursery a little while later after taking a shower, there was a breathing tube in Jonathan’s nose. The nurses explained that premies frequently have “respiratory distress” — breathing too fast, something like 90 breaths a minute, which wears the little ones out — after birth and the breathing tube was fairly normal procedure. Random newborn fact: Did you know that drawing one’s first breath is something like 15 times more difficult than drawing a normal breath? Thankfully Jonathan only needed the tube for about six hours. But later on, Jonathan would get an IV in his head (baby veins are so tiny, often the easiest place to put an IV is in the head) with a glucose drip to keep his blood sugar up. Premies often don’t eat for the first few days because their little stomachs just aren’t ready to. Looking at photos of Jonathan’s “unicorn horn” still make me weak in the knees.

Jonathan also seemed to sprout cables… the doctors and nurses also monitored his blood oxygen saturation and his heart rate. In the nursery (thank goodness they never called it the NICU to my face), Jonathan’s bed was beneath a heater to make sure his temperature stayed consistent until his little body could regulate itself. All this meant no rooming in (having the baby in the hospital room with us). It also meant trips to the nursery every three hours around the clock to try to feed the little boy.

At first, Jonathan’s suck reflex was too weak, hence the pacifier in the above photo to give his sucking reflex a workout. The doctors gave him one bottle of formula at some point to make sure he got some nutrition while I frantically pumped in hopes my milk would come in (while agonizing over my suddenly basketball-sized and very painful breasts … OK they weren’t quite that big but they sure felt like it!). Finally the milk did, just a few drops at first and then in ample amounts (yeah, the deep freeze in our kitchen is full of sacks of milk… I think I could probably feed the neighborhood at this point). But Jonathan couldn’t really suck yet so we used a silicon nipple shield to help him suck while passing a supplemental nursing system cord underneath the shield full of milk. The SNS made it a lot easier for Jonathan to get the milk without having to try very hard. This was important because, like all babies, he lost weight after birth… but for him, that meant dipping to 4 pounds, 13 ounces. Oh my tiny boy.

And like many babies, Jonathan started to look a bit yellowy-orange after a few days. Jaundice is a condition of the liver, which is trying to process bilirubin (helps with pigmenting) in the baby’s blood. The liver is one of the (many) things that isn’t quite fully developed when a baby is born, and so many babies need some help processing the bilirubin under the bili lights, which are UV lights. Safe bilirubin levels are below 12. Higher than that and it’s time for treatment because excessive bilirubin levels can lead to brain damage. The nurses outfitted Jonathan with a face mask thing to keep his eyes covered so they wouldn’t be damaged by the light, and he got to lounge in the nice, heated bili lights box while a noise machine played sounds of ocean surf. Truly, like a day at the beach. Jonathan got two trips to the beach while we were in the hospital, the first for about eight hours, and the second time for 18 hours.

So where were Shawn and I during all of this? Well, Shawn drove back and forth from the hospital to home every day to feed the kitties, pick up fresh clothes, and get a little time away from the hospital. I only left the hospital in the last couple of days because of the constraints of Jonathan’s feeding schedule (every three hours). Frankly, it felt like the twilight zone in there. The days dragged by, but they zipped by, too. And honestly, I think completely living in the moment for that week kept Shawn and I from truly realizing the gravity of the situation, of having a premature baby — alone just us two — a thousand miles away from family. We just didn’t think about it. And that saved us.

And there were really good parts of that week in the hospital. Marveling at our beautiful son and his strength. Loving each other more than ever now that we have a child together. And for me, feeling a little bit of wonder at myself for giving birth. But by the end of the week, we were more than ready (and a little terrified since we wouldn’t have a bunch of nurses just down the hall anymore) to go home.

 

It’s not been an easy two months since that time. But it’s been a great two months (despite the fact that I have never been more tired in my life… getting up every three hours during the night takes a toll on a body). And I had Jonathan weighed today. Ten pounds, 9 ounces. More than double his birth weight. Still he continues to surprise. What an amazing son I have.

Our Christmas surprise (part one)

OK, folks, I finally have found some time to get this post written! I apologize it took so long, but, well, babies are time consuming! This is a long story I have to share, so it’s going to be in two parts. This part is about labor and delivery. The next part will be about the week we spent in the hospital.

Let’s start at the beginning of our little saga. First of all, keep in mind that my son’s due date was January 23, 2012. So it was December 22, 2011. I got up about 3 a.m. (For the last month of my pregnancy I had terrible back pain. I couldn’t sleep for longer than five to six hours at a stretch without needing to get up and do something other than be prone for a while.) to use the bathroom and when I came back to bed I had several contractions in quick succession. I’d been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for weeks, but I knew these were different because they hurt. Not terribly, but no picnic either. But after 15 minutes or so, the contractions stopped and I went back to sleep.

That same day I had an OB appointment. Keep in mind that I live 75 miles from my OB. Anyway, we drove in for an appointment and things went normally. Because I have Factor V Leiden (I’m a super clotter! This is good because it will keep me from hemorrhaging during childbirth, but bad because of the Western diet… I’ve got to keep an very close eye on my blood pressure, eat healthily and exercise to keep my weight at a healthy point.), my OB had me come in weekly from 32 weeks on to be hooked up to a fetal monitor to make sure my little guy wasn’t in distress. And that Thursday, everything was just fine. I mentioned the contractions to my OB and he did a cervical examination. I was 2 cm dilated, but that’s pretty normal and many women walk around 2 or more cm dilated up to and past their due dates. My husband and I had lunch and went home.

Fast forward to 6:45 p.m. that evening. We were making dinner (homemade Swedish meatballs with lignonberries… so good!) and the contractions started again. Odd, but it was a month early. I couldn’t be in labor, right? After an hour or two we started writing down the times and duration of the contractions. At 9 p.m. I called my OB and asked for his advice. He said if the contractions got closer than five minutes apart, to head to the hospital. He also suggested I take a bath or shower because that can stop false labor. I took his advice and took a bath followed by a shower (glad I did! I was nice and clean when I got to the hospital!), but no dice. The contractions continued so Shawn and I threw a bunch of stuff in a little bag just in case (remember I didn’t think I was in labor).

At 11 p.m. we went to the hospital. We decided to go to the one here in town instead of traveling to my OB’s hospital 75 miles away, because I was certain the doctors there would check me out and send me home. On the way to the hospital, I had multiple contractions. Throughout all of this, the contractions hurt, yes, but they weren’t terrible. I always figured childbirth would be excruciating and so I think I convinced myself that it couldn’t be labor because it didn’t hurt enough! We quickly got checked in to the labor ward, and while Shawn was filling out paperwork signing my life away, a nurse examined me.

“You’re 8 cm dilated,” she said.

“What!” I yelled. It should be noted that “what” is not what I yelled. Let’s just say it’s a word that starts with an F. It’s a good thing Shawn and I decided to go to the close hospital, or we might have had a baby in the car on top of the continental divide in the middle of the night (Shawn thinks that would have been really cool… me? Not so much.)

A few minutes later an OB came running in to the labor room wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

“I’m ready!” she announced.

Apparently everybody thought I’d have that baby squeezed out within the hour.

Oh I wish. I had to have a penicillin drip because the results of my Strep B test weren’t back yet (I’d had the test that morning at my OB appointment, whoops.) and anybody who’s had a penicillin drip knows that’s nasty stuff and oh buddy, it burns.

I labored for another hour and got to 9 cm. The OB broke my water (Hey, it’s not like the movies folks – just as often as not the OB has to break the water for you! No gushing all over the sidewalk in public.), so the baby definitely had to make his entrance. But then things slowed and ground to a halt. I went back to 8 cm. And those contractions that before had been bothersome but not terrible became TERRIBLE. A few minutes apart and unbearable. My husband was holding me up because it hurt so badly I couldn’t support myself. It didn’t matter my position — on my side, standing, walking, on an exercise ball — the pain was beyond intense. The only thing getting me through them was the fact that they only lasted a minute. And while I was contracting I was focused on watching the fetal monitor to make sure my baby was doing OK throughout the process. I’m proud to report his heartbeat was steady as could be the entire time. What can I say, he’s a pretty chill little dude.

So the OB, concerned about the situation, recommended I have an epidural. She’d had time to put on scrubs at this point.

Oh the moment of truth. See, Shawn and I had decided that we were going to do this thing naturally. No drugs for my baby! And frankly the decision was just as much about the eye-popping cost of that shot — $1,400! — as it was about protecting my baby from unnecessary medications. But of course things like having a baby make the best-laid plans quickly fall apart. The OB said that we needed to get the show on the road and it clearly wasn’t going anywhere on its own. And one after another of excruciating (oh hey, there’s the excruciating pain like the movies) pain convinced me that she was right. The next 20 minutes waiting for the anesthesiologist to arrive were just about the longest 20 minutes of my life.

I think that was the hardest part of the labor — sitting completely still through several awful contractions (no small feat, my friends) while a doctor put a needle in my spinal column. Freaky?

Of course the minute the epidural went into effect — quickly, thank goodness — I felt relief and labor became a breeze. I dilated to 10 cm pretty much instantly and pushed for 45 minutes. And out into the world came Jonathan Dean! He was born at 4:54 a.m. — 5 pounds, 3 oz. — on December 23, 2011, a month early!