There have been three really terrible events that have occurred in my adulthood that have shaped the person I am today. The first happened when I was 25 years old. I was a pedestrian in a crowd and I was struck by an SUV. I was critically injured, but escaped with my life. Others involved in the accident were not so lucky. The second occurred when I was 30 years old. My father, who was not seemingly ill, died suddenly at the age of 57 from heart failure. And the third may be harder to understand. This one happened when I was 34. I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy. Wait, what? That doesn't sound traumatic, especially given the magnitude of the first two events. But this one, for some reason, has been my hardest to accept and put into perspective.
Jim and I wanted to have another baby shortly after my Dad's passing, but my body was not agreeable. After a little over a year of trying on our own, I visited a fertility clinic that I was referred to by the doctor who had delivered Tommy. Supposedly, the specialist who ran this clinic had been instrumental in helping other woman achieve pregnancies. But I have to tell you, he was super shady. I should have ran for the door. But I reluctantly proceeded through one monitored cycle and an IUI procedure. I was so stressed out by the every other day blood draws and the invasive ultrasounds that by the time the IUI came around, I knew there was no way I would conceive. And I didn't and it was heartbreaking. Afterwards, I decided that I would make small changes to my diet to improve the likelihood of another pregnancy and put it out of my mind. It would happen if it was meant to happen. And gratefully, it did!
My pregnancy with Nicholas was largely uneventful. My prenatal screenings, blood work, glucose test, and blood pressure were all normal. Other then measuring large for his gestational age, the ultrasounds showed Nicholas was developing typically. The technician that performed my ultrasounds said to Jim and I “Thank you for sharing this baby with me”, which helped put my mind at ease. I was even taking a step to control my anxiety by attending weekly prenatal yoga class.
Despite what I knew about childbirth already, I bought into the thinking that I may somehow be able to control "my birth experience" with Nicholas. So rather than try for a VBAC, as I once thought I would, I decided for a repeat c-section. Since Nicholas was also a large baby, I was afraid that attempting to deliver him vaginally would end up as Thomas’ birth did; with a baby in distress, with low birth scores and a subsequent NICU stay. My c-section was scheduled for January 11, 2012.
But once again, my body had a different idea about how this was all going to turn out. Right before the new year, at 37 weeks, I began having terrible pains in my left side. I also began vomiting. As you near the end of a pregnancy, everything that you read tells you “Yes, you are uncomfortable and yes you may be experiencing unusual symptoms, but all of this is normal and will subside after the birth of the baby.” But I needed relief. So on the morning of New Year's Eve, Jim and I headed to the ER at Cooper Hospital to find it. Unfortunately, I left feeling worse than when I came in. This was partly due to the nurse and residents’ uncertainty about what was wrong with me and also as a response to some of the other women in the labor and delivery suite and their frightening prenatal activities, including heroin use. Thankfully, my stepmother came to my rescue with some pain medication donated by a very generous family member. I rang in the New Year in bed, but with some measure of comfort. The following day, I was still weak but feeling better and looked forward to putting this “hiccup” in my pregnancy behind me.
Within only a few days though I began to experience the same symptoms and made another visit to the ER, choosing Virtua in Voorhees over another trek into Camden. They too sent me home, but with some muscle relaxers since my sides were in so much pain from repeated vomiting. My recollection is a little fuzzy here but it took almost no time at all for me to begin feeling sick again. And this time, it was very, very bad. I told Jim I’d rather die than continue to feel the way that I did. Needless to say, he packed up our sleeping five year old and his very sick wife and drove to Virtua in the middle of the night in some of the only snow we received all winter. But on this trip, I would not return home for 6 days.
No one could figure out what was wrong with me for close to 12 hours after my arrival. Finally, after an ultrasound of my entire abdominal area, they knew. The scan had reveled a partial bowel obstruction as a result of scar tissue from a previous abdominal surgery that had wrapped itself around my intestine. Did I mention that while I was waiting for this ultrasound I began having contractions? Yeah, it was awesome.
Here is where it all goes south real fast. First, the doctors told me they were going to deliver the baby that afternoon but they were going to have to do it under general anesthesia, so I wouldn't be able to hold him or see him for many hours after he was born (Did I mention I was intent on breastfeeding right away?). In addition, they were going to insert a catheter and an NG tube into my body BEFORE they put me to sleep. And the clincher in this trifeca of awfulness, was that instead of a neat little c-section scar, they would have to make a vertical incision in my abdomen to deliver Nicholas and repair my intestine.
I have very few memories of the remainder of that day. I remember my stepmother and sisters coming to visit me in the recovery room. I remember calling my Mom who was flying home from FL to tell her I had just had a perfect baby boy. But I don't remember meeting my son for the first time. This is me holding him the next morning. (Man, I look like shit.)
The following days in the hospital were filled with doctors visits, endless tests, little sleep and many more needles. Oh, and no food. I was not allowed to eat anything at all for 4 days. Despite having no sustenance other than the liquid nutrition that was being fed to me through my IV, I tried my best to breastfeed my baby. Even in the middle of the night. Everyone remarked at how sleepy he was in the hospital and in retrospect it was probably because he was too malnourished to wake up (although I know the nurses supplemented him with formula when he needed to be fed and I was "unavailable", thank god!) Once I came home from the hospital, my health did not improve for a few weeks. Of course, all of this physical and emotional stress led to an argument between Jim and I. Tommy was present to witness our outburst of anger. Over our shouting, Tommy exclaimed "Can't we just have a little peace in this house?". Out of the mouth of a 5 year old.
Peace would be a little further off though since I need sleep like a fish needs water and in his first year of life, Nicholas seemingly did not. Only this year, as I am starting to lift the shadow of the events of his birth (and sleep deprivation), am I able to see who he really is. A happy, bright-eyed child who is as enamored with me as I am with him. He is virtually my constant companion. On the doorstep of turning 2 years old, I am seeing all of these small things about his personality that I was either too tired or too depressed to notice before. I wish I could have some of those earlier moments back with him; to be more engaged, more "with-it". But time marches forward and the only thing I can do now is make plans and promises for the future. Even though it took him many years to arrive and his arrival was by no means ideal, I was meant to be Nicholas' mom and he will always be my perfect baby boy.