“Am I officially twelve yet? What time was I born? What was that day like?” So many questions from Jaybird this morning. Its her birthday. She has never asked these types of questions before today. We talked in generalities about the day, how it was the election of 2000, the infamous Bush v. Gore, that I had been in the hospital on bedrest for three weeks prior to her birth and that I was able to vote absentee with the help of my friend Sandy and the NAACP. And, of course, that she was born at 5:53pm.
Three weeks in a hospital bed while lying only on your left side affords you the luxury to reflect on some serious stuff. It also allowed for me to read a few books, (not on pregnancy, though, I was too nervous). I also had time to call every organization I could think of for assistance in getting an absentee ballot for the presidential election approaching. When neither the republican or democratic campaign offices could help, saying a deadline had passed and I was SOL, I called the League of Women Voters. Again, no luck. I called local representatives’ offices with no luck. Then I called the NAACP, (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). That’s right. This white girl from a small town in Wisconsin called the NAACP, explained my situation to a very patient person and got answers. They told me how to get a ballot, how to get it to the correct place, everything. I am thankful to the NAACP and to Sandy for their assistance in voting that year.
Three weeks and twelve years ago I was admitted into the hospital with severe preeclampsia, a condition that means my blood pressure was similar to that of a shaken soda can. During those three weeks on bed rest in the hospital, I often asked myself, “why? Why me”? I had done everything in the “right order”, attended and graduated from college, fell in love, got married, and then we waited until we were financially stable to start a family. Okay, “financially stable” may be a stretch, but you get my point. So, why, then, was I lying here in this hospital bed? I had many friends and family come to visit me while in the hospital, my brother and I would read the Wall Street Journal sometimes and solve the world’s problems. My husband or my parents were a constant at my bedside. As the days went on, though, Jaybird was becoming more stressed in utero. I remember telling my OB/GYN on a Friday that I didn’t think I would make it much longer, that I had a feeling that I would need to deliver soon. He was patient and kind, assuring me that I was in good hands and that everything would be fine. I came to a realization while in the hospital. If one in eight babies (from March of Dimes website) was to be born premature, perhaps the question is not “why me?” but “why NOT me?” After all, I had good health insurance and a terrific support system of family and friends. Just thinking of all those kids out there that have daily challenges of getting clean water or food or are orphaned or abused or whatever made me realize that if the act of being born was her greatest challenge, we were a lucky family indeed.
As the day of November 7 progressed, a few things happened. I was growing more confused as a result of the preeclampsia and my parents had come to my room for a visit. Thank goodness they did. My mom, a nurse, had instructed me upon being admitted to the hospital to write a list of everyone that I could think of that could get in touch with my husband if something unthinkable happened. The afternoon of November 7 my physician had given the orders that I was no longer allowed television, as election coverage made my already-high blood pressure enter the stratosphere. It was also the afternoon that during my daily ultrasound all pleasant small talk ceased. A strange seriousness came over the resident doing the ultrasound and she told me that she would be right back. The Chief Resident entered, who continued the ultrasound. My mother left the room. I looked at my dad. He grabbed my hand, sensing that I was frightened. The Chief Resident looked at me and asked, “Where is your husband?”
I replied, “I don’t know.”
“Is he here?”
“Okay. Get him here as soon as possible. I am calling your OB and we need to deliver her today.” The rest is a bit of a blur. As stated above, my mother had instructed me to write a list of how to contact JB in the event of something unthinkable. Something unthinkable had just happened. I forgot where JB was and how to get in touch with him.
I was whisked away, prepped for surgery and told to relax. Relax? I was freaking out. Only 29 weeks along (a pregnancy should go 40 weeks) and barely able to put a sentence together, I had no clue what was happening. Listening to the OB/GYN and the Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist discuss the best way to deliver my baby was surreal. I kept thinking of a news story that I had read a few weeks earlier about a woman who gave birth alone, on a treetop in Mozambique during a flood (http://babyworld.co.uk/2000/03/a-woman-gave-birth-in-a-treetop/). If she could do that, what was my problem?
JB arrived at the hospital and was brought into the delivery operating room. I asked him how his day was and what he had for lunch. He stared at me incredulously. I begged him to talk about something mundane and normal, as I was about to jump out of my skin in fear. He had a sandwich, some fruit, water, you know, the usual. The leaves were falling, Al Gore was predicted to win Florida’s electoral votes (this still makes me giggle a bit), and it was a nice day outside.
Then we heard her. She was so very tiny and translucent, as many preemies are, yet screaming something fierce. “Is that her?” I asked. Yes, it was her, and she was screaming. She was small, 11 weeks premature and a bit translucent, but she was screaming and that was a very good sign. There were so many people in the room at this point that I have no idea who was doing what. I just know that they placed this small, crying baby on my chest and I have not been the same since. She looked into my eyes and I instantly loved her. Then, they took her away. She weighed in at 1 pound 10 ounces, and was 13 inches long. She fit in the palm of JB’s hand. She was very small, on a ventilator, but was otherwise healthy. The vent lasted three days before it was no longer needed. She graduated to the little prongs but eventually pulled those out on her own. Her determination inspired me. I had many more complications from giving birth so early but Jaybird continued to grow and develop. The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) became home for a couple of months for us. We were able to hold her, feed her, change her thumbelina diapers and love her. JB will tell you that I cried quite a bit during this time. It is a blur to me. We brought her home two weeks before her due date, when she was able to hold her body temperature, could eat and breathe on her own. She was four pounds.
I am so thankful for the (very) little girl who was given to us on this day twelve years ago, and thankful for the person she is becoming. Happy Birthday, Jaybird!