Ten years ago?
I would love to start this one by saying, “I remember when the contractions started: we were out to dinner when my water broke…” I cannot say that. Because the contractions as I know them started at 18 weeks. A “late miscarriage”, they called it. Except the drugs, which weren’t indicated that early in a pregnancy, worked and I returned to our small apartment still pregnant.
I remember being sent to the Big OB Hospital known for its NICU, because it was so early. I was 20 weeks this time, and the contractions had to stop. Had to. John would fall asleep in the chair next to me, softly snoring as nurses and doctors would come and go from my room, replacing the empty IV bag of mag sulfate. And alternate the hot and cold packs packed around my arms because the viscosity of the medicine as it coursed through my veins honestly felt exactly the same as the time I broke my wrist. Except for every third day. Every third day, I would get a break from the drug. Because fluid would collect in my already-asthmatic lungs. And I would get a chest x-ray and a water pill. We did this for a month, this orchestrated dance of critical OB care. On the days where I got a break from mag, I got subcutaneous Brethine injections. And they would start a new IV in preparation for my return to mag the next day. Because it was so hard on the veins at the strength they were having to give it, they had to change the infusion site before starting it up again. I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom because the mag had made my muscles too weak to support me, and I couldn’t sit upright without support, let alone stand. At 25.5 weeks, we reached the stage of viability. It wouldn’t be a miscarriage then if I delivered. It would be a birth. And I was allowed to complete my bedrest at home.
My eyes twitched for months after that. My muscles, recovering from the insult of magnesium toxicity, didn’t want to work. I was back to the hospital only when I felt pressure with the contractions. John and I got tired of the trips that never resulted in relief from the contractions. I suffered quietly at home whenever possible. Non-stop contractions. I had a fetal fibronectin done, back when there was only one lab in the country to process it. I remember them telling me that there was a chopper in the air, taking it to this lab. Just that. A helicopter with my baby’s future in a test tube. The bill was ridiculous. I had an amniocentesis that allowed the perinatologist to tell me that there was nothing wrong, that I just had an “irritable uterus”. I had lots of ultrasounds. At 28 weeks, I had a doctor look me in the eye and tell me to have a late abortion, that he could justify it medically if need be, to refuse further treatment. That my baby wasn’t going to make it, and even if he did, he would be so grossly impaired that he wouldn’t have any quality of life. Still, we hung on. He was so wanted, so loved already.
After months of this, we had lost everything. We had to move in with my in-laws. That is how I ended up in Madisonville, Kentucky. And I sat in a U-Haul truck for the 4 hour drive, with a complete copy of my OB records in my hands, just to be sure that the doctor I would get down there would know my history. Evan’s history. And the contractions continued. I had no veins left. I had track marks up and down my arm, so I would wear long sleeves in the summer to hide them from people who would come and go from the house, embarrassed by the fact that I could not successfully do what it is that a woman is supposed to do. We went bankrupt and had to declare a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Somewhere at the end of 33 weeks, the contractions got worse. Stabbing. Intolerable. And off we went again to the hospital. That was ten years ago tonight. “We can feel his head on the other side of your cervix,” they said. That was different, and so I had hope. But I wasn’t dilating. This was before we knew I couldn’t. The sent me home with a tiny red sleeping pill and told me to get some rest, that it was “false labor”. And I sobbed. Because there was nothing false about any of it. But I did as I was told. And I tried to sleep. And the next day, John was to be at work. I couldn’t do it without him, but he didn’t want to call in yet again if there was not going to be a baby. We couldn’t take that hit again. And I called the OB on call for the practice, which wasn’t my doctor. And I unleashed on him.
I spoke in his language. And I was able to recall the tests and the results. The meds I had been on and the dosages. And I recited them all for him. And I told him I was not going to come into the hospital only for them to try, fruitlessly, to stop the contractions. Like a patient wanting to die in the comfort of their own home, I wanted to spend the remainder of my pregnancy not being a burden to those around me. I didn’t want to be in the hospital. But something was different. It was different when they gave me the sleeping pill the night before, and it was still going on. And he told me that, since he wasn’t my doctor, he didn’t have the final word, but he did have some say. And to go to the hospital. And we did.
I was in my room in the labor & delivery unit, still 6 weeks from my due date. I had the toco strapped to my belly. Nurses confirmed that I had not dilated, but the doctor was coming in to see me. And he did. I will never forget his large man hands unstrapping the monitors. Placed on either side of my pregnant belly as he told the nurses to leave me alone and quit touching me. And he looked me in the eyes as he told me how he wanted me to breathe through the painful contractions. He never broke that eye contact as I followed his instructions and the contractions started as soon as the last one had stopped. And a nurse told him that it was false labor because I wasn’t dilating. And he told her there was nothing false about it, that my body was trying to deliver the baby, and for some unknown reason, it wasn’t working. That the contractions were real. And hard. And strong. And he had an emergency tubal ligation to handle first, but to get me prepped for the OR, that he was going to “end this girl’s misery tonight”. And I cried. No, that is an understatement. I weeped. Because finally someone understood.
Evan Robert came into this world at 12:01 on the night of August 31st. Late enough that it was September 1st, 2001. But the dance that brought him into the world began 10 years ago tonight. And he emerged with lusty, fierce cries. And I sobbed even more when I heard. Because he wasn’t impaired or mentally retarded. Because all of his parts were there and there was not a thing wrong with him. He was a Miracle. And those nurses and doctors earlier in the pregnancy? Well, they were so worng and I was so grateful that we didn’t listen to them. The next morning, the rounding doctor explained. “Cervical dystocia”, he said. Meaning I cannot dilate because there is dense scar tissue left over from a cervical surgery I had when I was 21. I will never have a vaginal delivery. Never. But he also told me that this is probably the reason I didn’t miscarry. My body would contract and not dilate, and so I never delivered. My dysfunction is the reason Evan survived. The reason he is here.
Ten years have gone by and I have had two pregnancies end in much the same way. I hold on and hold on until I cannot take anymore of it. And the pregnancies weren’t ended early spontaneously, but in a cold and calculated way that minimized risk as much as possible. Both of my children were preemies because I couldn’t hang anymore. And that leaves a sort of guilt. In my defense, when you are faced with hard contractions like that at 18, 20, 21, 24 weeks, when you prepare yourself to deliver a baby that is either not viable or at the best, just beyond viability, 34 weeks seems like a dream and might as well be full-term. It is only when we are faced with something that could be a result of the prematurity that makes my skin crawl and my heart break for my boys.
If you know the story of Zachary’s, you know that their stories are very similar, and yet different in ways. I recovered from Evan’s pregnancy because I never dreamed back then that I would never have a normal pregnancy. Zach showed me differntly, but that isn’t my focus.
Evan doesn’t know. I didn’t keep a blog of the hardships we faced to bring him into the world. He saw what I went through with Zach, and we mentioned that it wasn’t much different than it was with him. But I have told him frequently that he is a miracle. That it could have been so different with him. And I love him so, so much. He has been the greatest gift. They both have.
So it has been a decade. Ten years ago tonight. It’s funny that the pregnancy, even though shortened by 6 weeks, seemed to go on forever, yet the ten years Evan has been in my life seems to have flown by. Time flies when you’re having fun.
As he is facing the difficulties he is currently enmeshed in, it does me good to recall the way in which we entered this world. Because I am reminded of how much of a fight I am capable of putting up for him. I have fought with my heart, my soul, my body. And as we go through these next stages, I will fight some more. Because I love him. Because I want the world for him. Because there is so much in store for him, and I can just see it. He really is bound for greatness, somehow and in some way. I know it now, and ten years ago, I could feel it with each contraction. And so I fight. Because I was given a gift.
Ten years ago.