Today marks four weeks since I gave birth to the boy that has forever enhanced our lives. Ironically, today is Easter Sunday- the same day we miscarried our first baby and the same day Henry was due to arrive. He arrived four weeks early though, giving us four bonus weeks to spend with him. I’ve been piecing together some of my favorite parts of his story, trying to appropriately articulate how incredible the experience has been. The truth is, I’ll never be able to articulate it as perfectly as I’d like, but yet I never want to forget a single moment. Henry was born on March 3, 2013 at 8:53 a.m. Here is my story of his story.
After a trimester and a half of constant bladder issues, swollen appendages, lack of sleep caused by my baby’s head lodged in my ribs, back pain, and an inability to put on my own socks, I stopped working. The plan had always been to quit working a bit before the baby was born, tackle some last minute “to do” items that remained dangling in the breezes of my pregnancy fatigue, and try to catch up on the sleep that I missed while going to the bathroom every hour for three months straight. I’d get my grays touched up, my toenails polished, our hospital bags packed, and our house spotless.
Our due date was March 31st, but our baby’s breech positioning meant we’d most likely need a c section. I’d spent my entire pregnancy fearing a pre-term delivery, but when our doctor finally scheduled our c section for March 25th, all my fears disappeared. I’d dreaded a c section. I’d attempted to “turn” our baby on my own by coaxing him south with music and flashlights and body contortions, but no luck. I’d been looking forward to meeting our child for so long, I didn’t want to be in a surgical fog. I didn’t want to forget the look on George’s face when our baby was born. And I didn’t want to be recovering for weeks. I’d waited for this for too long. I wanted to be a full-fledged, hands-on mom right from the start.
However, my anxiety leveled when our doctor declared March 25th as THE day. Having a plan calms me- even when it’s not the plan of my dreams. Having a date helped me reconcile the stresses of the unknown, and from that day forward, the idea and fear of delivering our baby any day other than March 25th completed faded away.
George spent my entire pregnancy treating me like I was breakable. He overcompensated for all my inefficiencies, and for that, I felt I owed him something. I opted to use money from my “final” paycheck to take him out for overpriced slabs of beef and expensive bourbon. He deserves far more, but I figured that “date” could be one of our last as a childless couple, and the time to throw caution to the wind seemed appropriate.
I dressed up (as much as a you can when you are nine months pregnant) slathered on my fancy lotion, posed for a 36 week pregnancy photo with George, and rode the subway to Union Square. We walked (George walked and I waddled) six chilly blocks, holding hands and marveling about how we’d not be doing this without a stroller much longer.
We arrived at the restaurant, checked our coats, and ordered food like it would be our last supper. Before dessert was served, I felt my nose burn and my eyes water as I attempted to tell George all the things he deserved to hear. I thanked him for all the times he settled my nerves and walked our dogs and did the dishes and mopped the floors. I thanked him for the countless times he made me feel beautiful and special, and distracted me from worry with laughter.
We had the meaty bones of our dinner wrapped up for our dogs, commenting about how no dog in the world deserved a bone with that type of price tag. We paid the bill, collected our coats, and stepped out onto the Manhattan sidewalks as the snow began to fall.
It felt magical- like the stage hands producing our evening had saved the light snowfall for our stroll back to the train. We walked slowly. I made a point to remember every step with the man and the city who made my dreams come true. We stopped to watch people dancing in the park for a few moments before hailing a cab and heading home.
I knew the night was special. I just didn’t know how special until the next morning.
I kissed my husband goodnight, noting the warmth of the bourbon on his breath, wrapped my uncoordinated body around my pregnancy pillow, and drifted off into slumber induced by sheer gluttony.
Predictably, I woke up each hour to pee, but at 4:30 in the morning, I found it impossible to get back to sleep. Henry’s head was pressed firmly into my ribs, compressing my lungs and maybe even my tonsils. Sleep was no longer an option. I checked Facebook. I texted with a few of my “late night scandalous” friends, and did my best to go back to sleep. At just before 5:00 a.m., I shifted positions, and felt a large gush unlike any I’d ever felt. Water??? I’d been concerned I’d been leaking amniotic fluid since we had our amniocentesis in the second trimester, but this sensation seemed to render all other “scares” completely moot. I ran to the bathroom, feeling my heart race.
I wasn’t due for another month, and at the very least, wasn’t scheduled to be induced for three weeks. I’d expected an early delivery. Something in my gut had told me this from the start; however, the day my c section was scheduled, I forgot all about the possibility our baby wouldn’t comply with our “plan”.
I sat on the toilet for several minutes, letting my water escape and my heart rate settle.
I woke George up a few minutes later, asking him to guess whose water had broken. In a sleepy stupor, he asked “Who?” After a few seconds of silence, his eyes opened wide and in disbelief he asked, “YOURS?!?!” It seems I wasn’t the only one who’d have bet the ranch we wouldn’t meet our baby before March 25th.
I called the doctor, assured him Henry was still breech, and he told us to make our way to the hospital as soon as we could get there. His final words before we hung up the phone? ”Let’s have us a baby today!”
Okay, sir. Let’s do that. Oh my god. Let’s. Do. That.
We scrambled a bit. Our bags weren’t packed, although thankfully, our laundry was done. Our dogs needed to pee (and needed a babysitter.) And unfortunately, my contractions began soon after my water broke, leaving George to fend for himself.
We called a car service and were headed to Mt. Sinai within the hour. Oddly, I felt as calm as I’d felt in 36 weeks. I knew that before the day was over, my guts would be sprawled out on a table in an operating room in New York City, while my OB freed our baby from my body, and the entire idea gave me… peace. I realized I’d not had a moment of peace since miscarrying our first baby nearly a year before.
While I was aware our baby was arriving four weeks too soon (a late-term preemie, they would call him), I somehow knew after all we’d been through to get here, Sunday, March 3, 2013 was not going to be a day of defeat. On the contrary, I peered out of the car window and on to the East River knowing that this day was going to be the greatest celebration of my life.
We arrived at Mt. Sinai, which, as luck would have it, was not the hospital we were “supposed” to deliver. Because of the Hurricane Sandy damage done to the Labor and Delivery unit at NYU Langone Medical Center, our OB had been doing his deliveries at Mt. Sinai. Had “we” waited until March 25th, our OB would have transitioned all his patients back to NYU, thus our son would have been born there. As planned.
Our baby laughs in the face of plans.
I was checked in by about 7:15, and because of the intensity of my contractions, the clinicians moved quickly to get me to the operating room.
Once inside, my OB stood in front of me, bracing me for the spinal block. I closed my eyes and felt a pinch in my spine while the team of medical professionals armed to bring my first born son into the world spoke enthusiastically about child birth and the miracle of their jobs. My anesthesiologist happened to be pregnant, and she distracted me with banter over the wonder of what our bodies are capable of.
I didn’t believe any of them. I didn’t believe that tiny pinch in my spine would render me “paralyzed” from the chest down, all the while allowing me to be alert and present for the entire experience.
They guided me onto the operating table, spreading my arms as if I were being strung on a cross. My world was wrapped in flannel. I was safe. Henry was safe. And even though I knew I probably shouldn’t feel so relaxed until I heard the virgin cries of our baby, NOTHING but positivity ran through my mind.
George entered the room moments later. He was cute. Suited in disposable scrubs, he was smiling and seemingly as relaxed as I.
He took his perch by my side, kneading my hand like dough and kissing me ever so often. I wore glasses with lenses several prescriptions old, and although his silhouette was slightly fuzzy, his smile was in focus.
The physicians did their final “time out” before starting my procedure. They talked me through the entire process, alerting me when I should feel pressure. Truly, I felt nothing. I guess they’d not been lying to me after all. I felt the operating table rock a few times, alerting me they were actually performing surgery, but I felt no pressure. I felt no pain. I felt totally alive.
I believe I may have held my breath the entire time. The surgery seemed to last only minutes, and the idea that my insides were resting on the outside never escaped me, but it certainly didn’t concern me. I thought for a moment about the power of the man standing over my stomach- the man with a sharp blade pressed into my abdomen, just inches above my child. I trusted him fully. In a way, this man- this most calming and reassuring OB, had given me the courage to get here. I remember the day I sat on the table in his office and he presented me with a birth plan template and maternity leave paperwork. That day, I smiled and squealed about how I couldn’t believe how I was finally far enough along in my pregnancy to be able to complete such documents. He seemed confused, so I admitted that I never believed I’d make it that far and that even still, I couldn’t believe that I might actually have a baby someday soon.
“You know,” he said, “sometimes good things happen.”
It seemed so simple to him, and for some reason, I believed him above all others.
And now, there he was, sifting his way through my stomach towards my son. He was moments away from putting his money where his mouth was. He was about to make my good thing happen.
I heard him comment about seeing Henry’s butt. Then he confirmed he was a boy, and that was the last thing I heard before an overwhelming wave of nausea rushed through my body. I told the anesthesiologist, who promptly stuck a pan near my cheek as I vomited.
From that moment, time stood still. My body felt sluggish. My mind was unclear. I heard a faint cry from the corner of the operating room, but I wasn’t sure who’s cry it was. Maybe my son? Maybe someone else’s miracle in an operating room neighboring mine? My plan had been for my son to be placed immediately on my skin, but I imagine they took one look at the vomit on my chest and thought better of it. My comfortable flannel world had been replaced by a foggy, medicated one, and the only thing that resonated was when I finally heard George.
“Look over here, Jebbee. There he is.”
I felt my eyes tear as I squinted through my glasses. A nurse held him up for me to see, and oddly, I didn’t feel the way I’d expected to. I’d spent 36 weeks learning and experiencing and getting to know the boy inside of me, and before that, I’d spent a lifetime wondering who he’d be. And now, finally, he was in front of me. His fuzzy image bestowed delicate reddish skin sparsely patched with remnants from his former home inside of me. His gentle eyes were swollen and glossy, his arms and legs scrawny and panicked, and his sweet face smushed from being trapped beneath my rib cage for far too long.
Amidst my medicated haze, I heard someone assure the masses that his face would fill out and his nose would soon straighten. After that, I smelled burning (cauterization, I assume) and drifted into the type of slumber you never expect to wake from.
I awoke in a recovery room later. I was unclear how much time had passed or if I’d dreamt the entire birth. When I saw George’s face, it was clear that some time in the last few hours, we’d become parents. The fuzzy image of my son from the corner of the operating room came rushing back to me, and like a sudden flip of a switch, my cloudy, selfish, medicated brain turned into the mushy, devoted, protective mother I always thought I’d be. I was ravenous and would have clawed through steel to see my baby.
His bassinet was wheeled into the room and my heart raced. And celebrated. And grew larger than ever before. I’d felt shame that our first meeting in the operating room hadn’t been as romantic as I’d pictured, but it no longer mattered. His tiny body was placed in my arms and my entire existence made sense.
I memorized every curve and wrinkle, taking an instant snapshot of our masterpiece that will live in my brain forever. His features, although scrunched from his big day, shined exactly like the features I love in his father. I did not see an ounce of myself in him, but saw a duplicate of the man I will adore forever. His tiny body appeared delicate and frail, but I knew his looks were deceiving. Our boy was strong.
I closed my eyes and inhaled his skin, counted his breaths, and hoped being close to me made him feel safe- made him feel home.
The journey to meet our Henry was long. It was filled with heartache. And triumph. And amazement. Never before had I dreamt of something I never thought actually possible. Once upon a time, our son was the size of a poppy seed. He had a tail and grew arm buds and bones and hair and remarkable features all his own. In 36 weeks, he’d developed into the most beautiful human I could have ever imagined, far more perfect than I could have ever dreamt. He did this inside of me. George and I made a little boy. A most phenomenal little boy. Unbelievable.
George stood over us, involuntarily stroking Henry’s cheek and kissing the top of my head. I could feel him beaming at the family we’d fought so hard to build.
I was proud. Proud of myself and the body I never believed was capable of such miracles. Proud of the perfect little fighter who made his appearance despite unfavorable odds. And proud of the man who never doubted either one of us and believed in this day all along.
The days that followed Henry’s birth were a whirlwind. Against all advice, I didn’t sleep the entire time I was in the hospital. I couldn’t. I was high on life. I could feel the burn of my incision, but it was completely filtered by the electricity of my son. I felt I needed to get to know him. I felt that because he’d arrived four weeks too soon, I needed to provide him with more security than the average baby. The nurses would creep into my room at night, take my vitals, and ask for the hundredth time, “Would you like us to take him to the nursery, so you can get some sleep?” And while I knew it was probably a good idea, I couldn’t part with my new role as his mother.
Breastfeeding was a challenge unlike any I’ve experienced. Our son was born five pounds and 10 ounces- a perfectly respectable size for a boy born too soon. But coined a late-term preemie, the nurses and lactation consultants strongly encouraged formula supplementation until my milk came in. I smirked on the inside. I’d been lactating my entire adult life, and now, while I finally had a purpose for it, my milk seemed to be on vacation. Each consultant assured me that it would take time, and often times, more time with a c section and an early baby. My body hadn’t quite yet prepared to feed him. His neurological ability to suck (and help bring my milk supply to the surface) wasn’t what it should be. So I spent hours in the dark of my hospital room, aimlessly compressing my breasts in hopes of coincidentally nourishing him with drops of colostrum. He was hungry and frustrated, and cried louder than you’d expect from such a tiny thing. On the other side of my room, separated by a thin curtain, I would hear the new baby belonging to my roommate stir. I heard my roommate adjust her hospital bed to a height she was able to lift her daughter from the bassinet, and within seconds, I’d hear the tiny wimpers consoled as her full-term baby latched on and nursed for half an hour. The nurses asked each of us how long our babies had nursed each time they did their rounds. My roommate would sleepily answer with a simple, “She did great. Fifteen minutes on one side and 12 on the other.” Then the nurse would ask me. I had no idea. All things considered, I shoved my boob in his tiny face for an hour and a half and tried to hit the screaming, moving, uncoordinated target with the tiny drips I’d vice gripped out of my nipple. I didn’t know how to answer. We supplemented with formula and each moment I wasn’t feeding him a bottle, I was hooked up to the breast pump trying to expedite the arrival of my milk supply. It seemed an impossible feat, but certainly one I didn’t intend to give up on.
We attended a breastfeeding class in the hospital. I slowly pushed his bassinet to the end of the hallway, shuffling my feet and trying not to jostle my guts. I sat in the classroom with other new mothers armed with chubby eight and nine pounders. Henry looked like a different species. The lactation consultant started the class by having us latch our babies, so she could assess our needs. The other mothers promptly cradled their newborns, guided their heads into position, and within seconds, the room was filled with the sounds of contented swallows. It’s a rare instance I’m not an overachiever, but in this situation, I felt like a total failure. I cradled my son, guided his wiry head toward my body, and instantly, he began to fight and scream. I was jealous. And discouraged. But the lactation consultant was patient and kind and gently explained that my breastfeeding challenges may be a bit different than those of a mother nursing a full term baby. Either way, she assured me we’d figure it out. And I believed her.
After three nights in the hospital, I received the discharge orders from my OB. I was healing well, moving around better than they’d anticipated, and by all accounts, was ready to start my new life- at home- with my miracle boy. It was then a matter-of-fact pediatric resident gave me the news that Henry would need to stay in the hospital under the photo therapy lights for the night. He was showing bilirubin levels that needed improvement, and a night under the lights would most likely resolve all concern. The news hit me like an intersection collision. I had no worries about his health. I knew he was in perfect hands. I knew plenty of babies with jaundice in the early days of their lives. But, I was devastated to leave him alone. I’d been discharged and despite my most tearful pleas, I was unable to stay with him for the night. I pumped breast milk until my nipples felt they might implode, hoping to leave him with as much of his mother as I could for the night. George and I kissed him goodbye and left the hospital without him. I nearly cried the whole way home.
The next morning, we made our way back to Mt. Sinai to see our baby. When we arrived, we stood at the nursery glass watching our tiny son, in a diaper and tiny “sunglasses” soak up the artificial rays. The bottle of breast milk was empty, comforting me and helping me feel as though maybe Henry had felt me with him through the night. Nurses buzzed through the nursery, burping and feeding and swaddling with finesse, and finally, one of the nurses finished diapering a dark haired little boy and motioned for us to come see our son. She flipped off his photo therapy lights, swaddled him, and brought him into the hall.
She explained they’d tested his bilirubin earlier that morning, but were waiting for the doctor to review it. Regardless, I felt total confidence his results would be perfect and he’d be coming home with us soon. We wheeled him into a waiting room, found an isolated corner, and I cradled him in my arms and attempted another breast feed. Oddly, it seemed things were clicking. We were FAR from “good” at it, but for the first time, I was able to provide a timeframe. Had someone asked, I’d have proudly reported that my son, my brilliant son, had nursed for about three successful minutes. Victory!
Shortly after the worlds shortest, but successful, nursing session, the pediatrician reported his bilirubin levels were within normal range, and we were free to take our new baby home.
Our days following Henry’s arrival in our home have been busy. We’ve lived life in two hour “Groundhog’s Day” increments. We diaper, feed, pump, swaddle, rock, nap, diaper, feed, pump, swaddle, rock, nap. We were fortunate enough to have the help (and company) of both of our mothers and one of my very best friends. And today, on our son’s actual due date, I can report that we are in a very good place. Despite early concerns, he’s gaining weight, my milk came in, our son grasps how to nurse (for the most part), his nose is straightening and showing no signs of impairing his ability to breathe, and our dogs have settled into their big sister roles like professionals.
For years I doubted I’d ever know the wonder of child birth. I feared I’d never feel a baby inside of me, or a baby nourishing at my breast. I marveled at the mystery I would most likely never know. And now, I no longer wonder. I know. I have experienced joy that cannot be described and miracles I cannot understand.
My life will never be the same. And I am eternally grateful.
It is an absolute honor to introduce you to our most amazing son. He was born at 8:53 a.m. on March 3, 2013. Thank you for following his journey, for rooting for his survival, and for being a part of all of our lives.