My children were born a year ago today, at 8:39 and 8:40 AM respectively. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year. If I sit down and think, I can still feel the way I felt that day – albeit slightly better rested now, thank goodness. I can still summon up the feeling of stinging anxiety in the center of my chest; there was a lot of not knowing what was going to happen involved in my delivery, because it was an early one.
We knew it would be early; my blood pressure began to rise at 36 weeks on the dot and I was being carefully watched for pre-eclampsia. I was sent to the Labor and Delivery ward three times that week for monitoring. By Tuesday – 36 weeks and 4 days pregnant – we were all just desperately trying to make it to 37 weeks, so that the babies would be considered full term. My hopes of making it to my scheduled c-section at 38 weeks were gone.
On Tuesday, I was on bed rest at home. The doctors had ordered me to start my maternity leave from work early, to keep my blood pressure down. So I lay on the couch, doing nothing but periodically checking my blood pressure and watching the Food Network. At lunchtime, I stood up to get myself lunch – a microwaved quesadilla! – and my blood pressure rose dramatically. By 5, it was still high. My husband came home from work and we headed to the hospital. Again.
For hours, the doctors monitored and debated. My blood pressure was high, but it fluctuated; sometimes it would go back down into a reasonable range. The babies were fine. Could we make it? Maybe. Meanwhile, I was slowly starving to death, because once you’re in the hospital with even a remote chance of surgery, you don’t get to eat. The drama-causing quesadilla was a vanishing memory.
Finally, the doctor came and said to eat dinner. It was late – well after nine o’clock – and there didn’t seem to be room on the OR schedule to deliver that night anyway. She told us to eat, and that we’d probably stay the night and be checked again in the morning, to see if delivery or release was the right option. My husband raced downstairs to the Subway in the hospital lobby and got us sandwiches, which we promptly devoured.
I was literally brushing the crumbs from my fingers when the doctor popped back into the room with only the barest knock. “Did you eat?” she asked, then looked at my lap, where the empty sandwich wrapper lay. “Oh.”
It seemed that she had come to the decision, after looking at various results, that delivery was in fact the best option. My blood pressure was still high, the placentas looked fully mature on the ultrasound – so mature, in fact, that degradation was possible sooner rather than later – and, at that point, waiting two days simply to make it to the arbitrary full term deadline didn’t make sense. The OR had found space on their schedule, so she had hastened back to us – but too late.
If it weren’t for an admittedly delicious tuna sub, my children’s birthday would have been February 25th.
Instead, we were moved to an overnight room in L&D, and tried to settle in. I didn’t sleep at all; I was required to have heart rate monitors on both babies all night, and either the babies would kick them off or any shift in my position would move them, and the nurses would have to come in to try to reposition them. So we started out our lives with babies at a major sleep deficit. We were told we were first on the schedule for the morning, although of course we would be bumped by any emergencies that came in.
I remember very little of the actual birth, or the first day (or – if we must be honest, the first two months). Just little flashes.
They had to put the epidural in twice, all the way; the first time he thought he had it, but it was in the wrong place, so he had to re-do it one vertebrae up. The nurse bear-hugged me from the front to hold me still and murmured that I was doing great both times.
The anesthesiologist told me to tell him how I was feeling throughout the process. I knew that a lot of people panic when the anesthesia hits their chest, and I swore I wasn’t going to be that person. But when the time came, I was sure that I couldn’t breathe. And I told him so. Repeatedly. Finally, he asked if I would like him to give me something for that. I said yes. He put something in the IV, and I promptly fell asleep. I spent the rest of the surgery – and much of the rest of the day – struggling to stay awake.
When they pulled the first baby out, it squalled and I distinctly remember that it sounded like a frog croaking. I said so. A minute later, the second baby sounded just like a duck, and I informed everyone.
Later, the anesthesiologist asked what we planned to name the babies; we told him, and he said, “Oh, not Duck and Frog?”
When the surgery was over, I began to shake violently as soon as they unstrapped me from the table. It’s a fairly common reaction to the morphine mix in the anesthesia, but my shaking was so violent that I couldn’t hold the babies. Normally, the mother holds the babies and everyone is wheeled to recovery together. My entire body was shaking in different directions, so I couldn’t hold anything. They offered the babies to my husband to carry. He was too scared to try it for the first time walking. So the delivering OB carried them. She was thrilled – “I never get to carry the babies!” she said.
I continued to shake on and off for most of the first day, but recovered enough to hold babies for periods in the recovery room. The bear-hugging nurse came to help me try to breastfeed. She asked if I minded her touching me and I laughed. She grabbed my nipple and pinched it, and showed me how to shove it into the babies’ mouths. I appreciate her efforts even if we couldn’t manage to get the hang of it until four months later.
After things had calmed down, the doctor came in and told me that delivery had been the right choice after all. My blood pressure reading as they prepped me for the OR was dangerously high – higher than it had ever been. And, as it turned out, my cervix was beginning to dilate. So my body was ready. We were lucky; though the babies were technically premature, they didn’t need any NICU time and their only issue was learning to suck and swallow for the first day or two. They generally hit developmental milestones on target as if they were full term, although they both remain on the smaller side of average for their age.
It’s been an amazing year. Everything has been a ‘first.’ The first few months were gritted teeth and tears, but once the babies seemed like actual babies instead of terrifyingly fragile things life got a lot easier. The best part is what I realized around Christmastime: we have so many more years ahead of us of enjoying these things with our children. As good as this first year has been, it only gets better from here. I can’t wait.